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Steps 8 and 9: Taking Action

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

8. Act On Your Plan. Put your plan into action, and commit to sticking with it, though it might be uncomfortable or inconvenient to do so. Dealing with your problem now will help your problem from getting larger, more distressing, more complicated and overall worse than it already is. Acting now will also help you avoid regrets you might have later on for not acting as soon as reasonably possible, before the problem got worse. Deal with your problem now; Problems rarely just go away on their own.

One thing that keeps people from committing to a self-help plan is the fear that they don't know enough yet to choose the best plan. Rather than risk acting on a less-than-optimal plan, some people simply don't at at all. Try to avoid letting this happen to you. It is not necessary that you have the very best self-help plan possible in order for it to work. It only needs to be a "good-enough" plan in order to work. Your plan need not be fixed, unchanging and set-in-stone. As you act on your initial plan, you will learn new information about what you can and cannot accomplish. You may become aware of new ways for addressing your problem that you didn't know about at first. You will learn what approaches work and don't work for you personally. Your goals regarding what you want to accomplish may change as well as you go along. You can modify your plan so as to accommodate what you learn so that your plan grows and improves as you grow and improve.

Example: Despite all his careful planning and clear communication, Bob may find that Sam never does return that toolbox. Bob may ask himself whether he wants to continue his friendship with Sam at all, or whether he wants to maintain the friendship as it is but refuse any further requests Sam makes to borrow things. How Bob decides to handle his relationship with Sam will depend on how Sam reacts, and how Bob feels about Sam's reaction. It may occur to Bob that he has the same problem expressing his anger and standing up for himself with other people; that his assertiveness issue is not limited to his interaction with Sam. If this is the case, Bob could then write a new plan based on a new, more general goal of learning how to become more assertive when he is faced with irresponsible or insensitive behavior. He will have already asserted himself towards Sam, so he’ll likely feel that he can learn to assert himself towards others as well.

9. Stick With The Plan, Despite Relapses.The final important part of self-help involves learning to stick to your plan even when you relapse. Relapse occurs when you fail to do the things you said you would do in your plan. Relapses are common. They occur because the old habits and ways of doing things that have contributed towards you having issues and problems in the first place are quite strong and deeply ingrained into your mind and body. It is always easier to continue doing what you are used to doing than to make changes, even when those changes are good for you. Understand that relapses are likely to happen from time to time (and especially likely when you become stressed) and that they aren't the end of the world when they do happen. When you relapse, you need to simply admit it, and get back to working on your self help plan. Forgive yourself for your failure and get back to moving forward with your plan. When it comes to self-help efforts, the only relapse that ultimately really counts is the one that you don't recover from.

Example: Let’s say that Bob lets Sam get away with not returning that toolbox this time and doesn't say anything about it to him. Let's also say that he continues to let Sam borrow things. After all the time Bob has spent developing a self-help plan for asserting himself to Sam, this failure to take action would constitute a relapse. It would be easy for Bob to relapse into passivity with regard to Sam. After all, he feels friendly toward Sam and probably doesn't want to rock the boat with his friend. Yet, Bob knows at some level that it continues to make him angry whenever Sam takes advantage of their friendship. He knows that if he continues to let Sam's bad behavior go unchecked that he will probably get angrier and be inconvenienced again in the future when Sam doesn’t return some other tool he has borrowed. Allowing this to happen wouldn’t be good for Bob and it wouldn’t be good for his friendship with Sam either. Recognizing this, Bob decides to say "No" to Sam the next time Sam asks to borrow something, and then actually does say "No" when Sam next asks to borrow something. Although Bob relapsed from his original plan, he later decides to get back on track with his plan. It probably feels uncomfortable for him to assert himself in this manner, but probably it is ultimately more comfortable for him to assert himself than to seethe with unexpressed anger again and again. By choosing to go back to acting on his self-help plan for asserting himself and setting limits on Sam, Bob creates a chance for preserving his friendship with Sam. If Bob never says anything to Sam and keeps letting Sam's bad behavior slide he will probably end up feeling permanently disrespected by Sam and may end their friendship (an outcome Bob would like to avoid if possible).