Improvements in behavior

DBT skills groups are often structured so that clients in the groups do homework for week to week. The homework assignments might include ways of problem-solving emotions, finding ways of being attentive or mindful when in distress, or effectively approaching a relationship conflict. Sometimes there is an emphasis on doing or trying the homework, and some clients can do the homework without really getting how it “fits.” While I like to encourage people to try new assignments, I try to pay attention to- and discourage- doing homework for the sake of doing homework in my groups. This is because over-rehearsal of content learning often lacks the value of experientially “getting” something meaningful and relevant to painful life problems.

One thing that I like to encourage my clients to consider is this: What would be an improvement in behavior?. The application and acquisition of new learning has to do with how you would do something differently from how you always do things. After all, if you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’d continue get the same results.

Improvements in behavior can be incredibly small- and can even be characterized as noticing or paying attention to something not paid attention to before. This can be a minor yet critical item, especially for people who automatically “find themselves” doing behaviors that they did not intend.

Since big changes in behavior are often way too overwhelming, it may be helpful to think about ways of experimenting with smaller changes. Here are some ideas for thinking about small ways to improve behavior:

  • If you are a person who doesn’t speak up much, make an effort to say something
  • If you are a person who withholds a lot of personal information- try disclosing small things, even if they are not that “a big deal”, and see what the effect is
  • If you are a person who tends to act on urges, try tolerating urges.
  • If you are a person who tends to say “I am fine” when you are not fine, try observing or paying careful attention to how you know you are not fine. See if you can gently indicate a more accurate description of feeling.

Improvements in behavior vary from person to person. Someone who is loud and overbearing may make improvements by holding their tongue, while someone who never sticks up for him/herself may become persistent in a disagreement. Since change involves risk, new behaviors are generally not entirely comfortable! Hence, tolerating distress may take on a whole new meaning.