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How to Make a Change in 4 Easy Steps

Making big changes is hard.  Making little ones, well, why not.  They say to gain a habit takes 30 days.  The older you are, the harder it is.  But right now the young people have it right.  Do not accept the status quo.  Whether it’s sensible gun regulation or stopping biting your nails, the trick seems to be in baby steps.

For example, I have a client who wants to stop her OCD hand washing.  So according to “Talking Back to OCD” workbook she can focus on taking her washing from 6 times a day to 5.  In the end, it always comes back to frustration tolerance.  What is frustration tolerance?  Now we call it DBT (a great practice with an incomprehensible name.  Even if you know what dialectical means, it’s still hard to grasp –

  1. 1.
    relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions.
    “dialectical ingenuity”
  2. 2.
    concerned with or acting through opposing forces.
    “a dialectical opposition between social convention and individual libertarianism”)

Nevertheless, it’s that thing you learned in kindergarten when you have to sit there even though you want to jump out of your chair.  It’s that impulse that kids with ADHD never seem to control.  You just sit with it.  Hard.  Unless of course you practice.

Another client wants to stop her racing thoughts.  We practice something called “thought stopping” which is really a thing.  You just say to yourself or even outloud, “STOP!” and move on to something else.  Once you experience the experience of having some modicum of control you are more likely to try it again and again.

  • Close your eyes and think about the stressful thought. Try to imagine yourself in a situation in which the thought may occur. Repeat it in your mind for about three minutes and shout “Stop!” This shout is your physical cue to turn your mind away from your imagination and toward a place of mental stillness.
     Let your mind relax and go blank for about one minute. If the thought intrudes, shout “Stop!” again. Recite your positive substitution statements and affirmations. Repeat these substitutions for about three minutes. Visualize your success in the stressful situation as you repeat your thought substitutions.

    As you re-visit this negative thought, the shout should fade to a normal voice, which fades to a whisper. After the whisper, you should think “Stop” in your mind. 

And another wants to get through the semester without falling behind.  We practice saying “so what?” just because your teacher has a rule doesn’t mean you can’t break it.  You will find your way if you create some discipline like doing your work first or in spite of feeling bad.  Teachers don’t like excuses but learning to deal with obstacles is part of life.  College requires motivation and creativity.  Don’t sleep through it!

Since change is inevitable, like a Tai Chi master, it goes easier if you go with the flow.  So make the following changes and just observe.  Then report back.  You can’t stay the same even if you try…

  1. Practice sitting still
  2. Practice no judgment
  3. Practice small changes
  4. Practice doing something you don’t want to do

Then, Relax!

How to Make a Change in 4 Easy Steps

Donna C. Moss

You can learn more about Donna's work at her personal website.

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APA Reference
Moss, D. (2018). How to Make a Change in 4 Easy Steps. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 9 Apr 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Apr 2018
Published on All rights reserved.