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The Power of The Sticky Note

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

When I am working with people on changing a behavior that has been identified as unhealthy or problematic, we often focus on two areas that help with this change, 1. Addressing the underlying issues that led to this behavior, and 2. Specific skills needed to manage this behavior change. When we get to this second one, I often discuss with client’s the power of the sticky note as a tool to help with changing a behavior.

           Behavior change can be anything, stopping yourself from texting that ex, stopping drinking, cutting down on marijuana use, eating healthier, etc. As mentioned above we want to address both areas, the reason for this behavior, and how to manage changing it. The second will be our focus here, but we should never lose focus on the first one either. So, we are now talking about how we stop texting, drinking, slow our use of gummies, or eating healthier, etc. One of the main pieces of this puzzle is to figure out how to avoid encountering the tempting behavior, if it’s drinking maybe we get rid of all the alcohol in our home and avoid the bus stop that is right by the liquor store, if it’s texting an ex, delete their number, unfollow, etc. Cutting down on encountering this thing is going to have a big impact and set you up well.

           Next, we look at how to manage our reactions when we do encounter our triggers. For many of our behaviors we are not able to avoid the things we are trying to change. Maybe you live with others and they drink, social media is ubiquitous, avoiding an ex may not be easy, food is everywhere, or maybe certain substances are helpful to you and you are trying to just cut down but not completely cut them out. Even if we do cut these things out, the temptations will come up somehow so it’s important to be ready. This is where the sticky note comes in.

           I often tell clients when thinking about changing an entrenched behavior it is important to acknowledge an overarching goal and build it well, but then you should focus on the subgoals instead, the larger goal can be overwhelming. So, it’s not about I am going to get healthier and change my eating habits and lose 20 pounds in 4 months. Instead, it is today, I am not going to eat that food that I love but is a complete calorie bomb, or I am going to try cooking a healthy recipe for dinner today. The reason this is important is of course, because big change is daunting, but it is also because so much of this change happens in the small moments. So, you need to find ways to create space to think and act in a way that feels true to what you are trying to do. You can only do this in the small moments when you might absentmindedly eat something you intended not to, or text your ex because you felt lonely when that song came on your playlist that you always listened to together, etc. It is about doing something that catches in your mind in that moment, that makes you pause for just a moment of clarity and think a second longer about what you are doing.

           So, imagine, you decided you are not drinking hard liquor anymore, you decided it has been unhealthy for you, but you are changing it. You love bourbon, you had a bad day at work, on your walk home you see that liquor store right in front of you, you even see an ad for the bourbon you like in the window. You go into the store, you walk right up to the familiar shelf it sits on, you grab the bottle, you walk up to the counter and take out your wallet, and that’s when you see it. Inside the sleeve of your wallet where you keep your credit card you see a sticky note. The sticky note you put in there, you remember now, you wrapped your card up in a sticky note, in order to pay for this bourbon, you have to unravel your card from this bright blue note, and you know if you do there are going to be the words you wrote yourself; you’re going to have to read it to pay for this bourbon. Maybe you get annoyed with yourself, or laugh at yourself, in this moment you are completely aware of the choice you are making, you created the space to think clearly instead of acting on impulse, and maybe you buy the bourbon and maybe you don’t, but at this point you are fully making the choice.

           The power of the sticky note is that you write something on it, something powerful, maybe hard-hitting or humorous that when you see it it hits you in a way only your insights can, and it freezes you and slows you for a moment which allows you space and time to make a healthier choice. It can be a powerful tool in your fight for changing unhealthy behaviors.

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