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Making Change Happen

Last year, I wrote an essay called What’s Working? A 5-Minute Exercise for a Better Life for Psychology Today.

Although everything else seems to have changed since last year, the ideas in that essay have not. 

Today, I want to talk about using it to take a few steps forward that will make your next year better. 

Here’s how it works:

1. Identify the problem you want to solve. Maybe it’s getting to school. Maybe it’s working while your child’s in pain and trying to take classes online. Maybe it’s your pain rehab program. Or getting out of bed before noon. Or your whole life. I do this exercise at least once a season – on big thing and small. Find your topic.

2. Take a piece of paper.  Divide it in four sections.  You can fold one piece of paper or draw a line across a two sheets in a spiral notebook. But give yourself some SPACE. Don’t cramp your ideas.

3. Write a question in each section.  What’s working? What’s not? What should I do more of? What should I do less of?  

4. Think about your problem and write. Just write. It doesn’t have to be in order, but do spend serious time on each one of the four quadrants.  Especially the stuff that bugs you.

BE SPECIFIC. Nothing is too small.

What’s Working? This is the easiest quadrant to forget, the one I usually do last, and the most important one to think about. Keep coming back.

What’s Not? Think through the small annoyances in your life. Does your wrist hurt from texting? How’s that desk chair? It might be something big. Maybe your job and your body clock are completely out of synch. Nothing is going to change unless you make it.

You get the idea. Go thruogh each quadrant carefully and repeatedly.


5. Make what works happen more often. You’ve got it on paper.  Take a breath. Read through your quadrants. Add more things that come to you. I like to focus first on what’s working and what I should do more of.  Build on those strengths! Make sure they happen. Build them into your day.  

6. Prioritize and problem solve. Look at what isn’t working and what you’re doing that’s making your life worse. We ALL do things that make things worse.

You probably can’t fix it all.  Fix what’s bugging you most.

  • Look at your ‘do less of’ quadrant. Why are you doing them? What could you do instead? Take some time to find other strategies.
  • Look at what’s ‘not working’. Identify the problem you’re trying to address. What would make this better?  
  • Look at the ‘do more’ quadrant.  Are there things in there that would help with the things that are going wrong?

It’s not a miracle. It’s a process.

This technique is a PROCESS.  Do it yourself. If it’s a family problem ask them to do it too. Then sit down and see what you can do together to do good stuff more and bad stuff less.

7. Wait a few weeks.  Do it again. In my classes, I have students do this process every few weeks. Sometimes they share it with me, when I’m asking them about what the class should do. Sometimes they do it for themselves, thinking about their study habits. Sometimes I have them do it with a group, when they’re working on a joint project.  

Identifying what’s wrong and building on what’s right is the first step of moving ahead.

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(c) 2021 Nancy Darling

1step2life is the only app for people living with pain and other chronic conditions that focuses on emotional well-being and functioning. With a Caregiver mode for parents, partners, and other supporters.

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