Pacific Northwest Road Trip

I’m finally recovered enough from our recent road trip to Seattle/Portland to start writing about it. We ate and drank our way through both of these cities as well as several surrounding towns. We did not have a single bad meal. In fact I think some of the meals we had should have come with a handgun so that you can go ahead and finish your life right there, because there’s a decent chance the rest of it will be a bit of a let down.

Over the course of a week we drove about a thousand miles, but it was well worth it. I’m going to break it down into a few different posts over the next couple of weeks so that you get a sense of how it all went down. Particularly if you like good food Portland should not be missed.

The view from our hotel room in Portland.
The view from our hotel room in Portland.

Habit Development Case Study: Alcoholism

Author’s Note: Some will say it is not funny to make jokes about a topic as serious as alcoholism. To this I say: I thought alcoholics had a sense of humor.

As I indicated in the last post, it’s useful to take a tour step by step through the stages of change applied to specific situations. In this one we look at alcoholism. Join me, won’t you?

Stage One: Pre-Contemplation

You aren’t even thinking about changing. You literally walk around all day quoting Nicholas Cage from the movie leaving Las Vegas. People are afraid to tell you they’re having a party because you’ll liven it up for sure, right up until the point that you go nuclear and try to use the house-cat for toilet paper and then drive your car into the Chappaquiddick. Allegedly. BTW after that reference everyone now knows I’m super old.

Stage Two: Contemplation

This noise just got real. When you were booked into police custody it was a super short trip because all they had to do was pull you out the window of the car that you drove through the wall of the police station.

Stage Three: Preparation

Everyone else calls it rehab, but you can call it preparation if it makes you feel better.

Stage Four: Action!

Probably this is still rehab. Now you’re sitting in the corner learning to knit and singing Norah Jones songs. This could also be you getting out of rehab and loudly declaring to everyone that you can’t listen to the Motley Crue song ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ because it reminds you of the ‘old days’. Otherwise known as 30 days ago. Let’s face it, ‘Action’ in this scenario is really about you making sure everyone knows you are in recovery and that if they drink around you it’s the equivalent of them trying to blow your brains out.

Step Five: Maintenance 

This looks a lot like Step Four, except that you also find Jesus and really up the ante. This cuts one of two ways. Either you just became a generally better adjusted person or you end up in the Heaven’s Gate cult. Pretty much everyone secretly wishes that you were still drinking. You also write me an angry e-mail while crying after having read this post.

Step Six: Termination

You’re dead. You walked out a third floor window looking for your bottle of whiskey. At noon. This post has turned into the most screwed up book I’ve ever read in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series.

Oh yeah, it could also be that you’re successfully recovered, which unfortunately for everyone else just looks like steps 4-5 played on a loop until we all die.

Keys To Habit Development

One of the biggest lies we have been sold is that you can’t change. You can’t change your stripes tiger. Once you get to a certain age you cannot change who you are. It’s actually not that you can’t change.

You just don’t know how. 

When working with clients I do a lot of work with habit development. This has been highly useful in my own habit change practices because in effect, I get to practice over and over before applying it to myself. This is hugely important, particularly if I am trying to change a habit I have perhaps had for a very long time. It’s not enough just to tell you that you can in fact change, you need to know how and what the steps are. This brings us to the trans-theoretical model, also known as the Stages of Change. Below is a graphic I like quite a lot that gives you some detail as to how this all works.


The most important part of this model to observe (in my opinion) is that little blue snake at the center that says “chance of relapse.”  Not only is it a ‘chance’ it’s actually very likely. In fact, most people will cycle through this model 6-12 times before successfully reaching termination. This information is incredibly powerful because it helps you to understand that a lack of success does not equal failure.

Think about that for a moment, because it can be kind of a mind blowing concept. Just because you didn’t win does not mean you failed. It’s just data collection. You are harvesting useful (and necessary) information regarding your readiness for change, and perhaps where you most often get stuck in this cycle.

Another important point is that there is no requirement for you to move through this model at any specific speed. You are not on a schedule. Think you need to stay in preparation for a few months? You might be right about that, and it could be an important factor in your success. Leaping into ‘action’ without having laid the proper groundwork could be setting you up for actual failure.

In the next post on this subject we’ll look at a few possible habit change scenarios and how we might apply this model to each one.