New Indiana State Museum Exhibit Aims to Help “FIX” the Opioid Crisis in Our State

Since at least 1999, when opioids began to be prescribed at a high rate, the United States has been gripped by the major public health crisis that is opioid use and overdose. This epidemic of prescription and illegal opioids has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and had an impact on countless more. According to statistics from the CDC, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, and of the 70,200 recorded drug overdose deaths in 2017, around 68% involved an opioid.

The opioid crisis has hit many Midwestern states particularly hard, and Indiana is no exception. The State Department of Health reports that in 2017, Indiana had a drug overdose rate of 29.4 deaths per 100,000 people, it’s highest rate ever. This put our state in 14th place in the nation for most drug overdose deaths, with a greater year-to-year increase in overdose rates than any other state except New Jersey and Nebraska.

In response, Indiana governor Eric J. Holcomb has stressed the importance of helping individuals who suffer from substance use disorder as well as understanding the nature of their disease:

“Substance use impacts our family, friends and neighbors. That’s why continuing to help more people enter recovery will always remain a top priority. The more we know about the ways it affects people, the better equipped we’ll be to avoid dependence or support someone you love.”

Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb
Governor Eric J. Holcomb

To this end, the Indiana State Museum is opening a new exhibit called “FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis.” A collaboration between the State Museum and more than 50 community partners across Indiana, the exhibit will explore the many faces of this crisis that affects all Hoosiers, ultimately aiming to build empathy and reduce stigma surrounding opioid use disorder.

Cummins’ Carman Allen, a Certified Recovery Specialist with a Substance Abuse Endorsement, is contributing her personal story of addiction and recovery to one portion of the upcoming exhibit. We spoke with Carman to learn more about her contribution and what to expect from FIX when it opens on February 1st.

Viewing the Opioid Crisis through a Personal Lens

Carman Allen, CRS-SA
"I like to encourage and inspire hope with everything that I do, not because of my job, but because of who I am," says Carman Allan, CPS-SA, a peer recovery specialist at Cummins Behavioral Health.

For Carman Allen, the opioid epidemic is a crisis with very personal stakes. “Part of my history includes opiates and other drugs,” she says. Today, she leverages her own experiences to help others who struggle with substance use, co-facilitating Intensive Outpatient Therapy groups at Cummins and serving on the Board of Directors for the Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition. As such, she is able to speak about substance use disorder from the perspective of both a behavioral health provider and a person who is in recovery.

This made her a perfect choice for a part of the Indiana State Museum’s exhibit that focuses on the stories of individuals in recovery from substance use. “I was at an event for Cummins, and I ended up meeting someone from the State Museum,” Carman explains. “She talked about this exhibit and how the museum wanted to take a bold voice to the community about the opioid epidemic, and I was invited to do an interview. The whole idea is to give an up-close-and-personal view of people that are recovering and what that looks like in the community.”

Carman’s interview will be shown alongside others in the exhibit at special video kiosks, providing a glimpse into the recovery stories of real people who have survived opioid dependence. She believes her contribution, and the contributions of others like her, will help the public see individuals with substance use disorder as real people and inspire the hope of recovery for those who are still suffering. Carman says,

“I was so grateful that it gave me liberty not only to share about my addiction and recovery, but also to focus on how, for me, that was a co-occurring disorder. It allowed me to not just say, ‘I started using drugs and this is what happened.’ It allowed me to create a picture, so to speak.

I really do believe that recovery is real, and I believe that it is possible for everybody. And it’s no longer connected with just one type of person or a couple types of people. This is something that is affecting our whole community, our whole state, our whole country. And I think that the more we can put a face on it and bring awareness to it, the better, even for people that still might be suffering. They might see it, and that could spark hope.”

What to Expect from the Full State Museum Exhibit

FIX: Heartbreak and Hope Inside Our Opioid Crisis

In addition to stories of recovery like Carman’s, the FIX exhibit will include many ways for attendees to learn about the history and scope of the opioid crisis. “The exhibit is about building awareness, decreasing stigma, empowering the community with education, and showing what it looks like to be in the process of recovery,” Carman says.

In the exhibit, visitors will also be able to:

  • Explore the science behind opioid use disorder and cravings, and walk inside a giant fabric brain.
  • Hear true stories of recovery in video kiosks.
  • Experience art created in response to the crisis, including photography of what recovery can and does look like by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Foley.
  • Get up-close with artifacts from similar health crises in the past, and find out how what we learned then could help us today.
  • Engage in stress-reducing exercises such as a worry shredder, calming table or “recovery yoga” which can help everyone—not just those in recovery.
  • Find ways to affect positive change in this crisis and explore resources provided by community partners.

Along with the exhibit in Indianapolis, programs addressing the crisis will take place at the museum in Indianapolis as well as the 11 historic sites around the state, utilizing the help of community partners. The programming will extend beyond the run of the exhibit, for as long as the communities see a need for it.

These programs will include:

  • Courageous Conversations: A forum featuring different community members from around the state who will speak about their ties to the crisis and open a discussion for all to participate.
  • “Love Over Dose”: A play from Young Actors Theatre written by teens, for teens about a teenager who overdoses—and leaves close friends and family to decide whether to follow in her footsteps or make positive changes.
  • “One Choice Changes Everything”: A program featuring a CVS pharmacist who speaks to teens and their families about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and answers questions.
  • Daily engagement throughout the run of the exhibit, including music therapy, art therapy, community conversations, hands-on activities and more.

“FIX” opens at the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, February 1st and will remain open until February 7th, 2021. We encourage anyone who cares about the health of our community and our state to find some time to explore the exhibit.

For Carman Allen, initiatives like the FIX exhibit show that the tide is changing in our country’s decades-long battle with opioid use and overdose: “The doors have been opened to walk through and to keep reminding people that recovery and healing is real. But it is a journey, because we don’t arrive. Recovery is not a destination; it is absolutely a journey.”

If you’d like to learn more about substance use disorder and how Cummins can help those who suffer with it, we suggest reading our blog post with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services!

Dual diagnosis SUD
Managing Dual Diagnosis: Cummins' Tracy Waible on How to Identify and Treat Substance Use with Co-Occurring Disorders

Exercise and Mental Health: How Physical Activity Improves Mood, Cognition, and Overall Wellness

“Food is the most widely abused anti-anxiety drug in America, and exercise is the most potent yet underutilized antidepressant.” — Bill Phillips, nutrition and fitness author

There are many proven benefits of regular physical activity. It’s well known that exercise can help people control their weight and decrease their risk of health conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure, but it has also been shown to increase energy levels, improve sleep quality, and boost self-confidence. Unfortunately, only 23% of American adults get enough exercise, according to statistics from the CDC.

Exercise is so beneficial for health that the government recommends adults get as much physical activity as they can throughout the day. Kaitie Delgado, a Registered Clinical Dietitian and ACSM-Certified Personal Trainer at Hendricks Regional Health, explains:

“The new 2020 guideline is that you should be moving as much as possible. It used to be, and it will still be encouraged, that you get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week. You may have heard the suggestion that you do a 10-minute walk in the morning, a 10-minute walk at lunch and a 10-minute walk at dinner. Now they’re saying that you should be doing that all day long, and that the more activity you have, the better.”

Kaitie Delgado, Clinical Sports Dietitian at Hendricks Regional Health
Kaitie Delgado, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, ACSM-CPT

In addition to the numerous physical health benefits that exercise provides, it can also improve many aspects of mental health. For example, research has shown that exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression after only a single session of physical activity. Exercise is also highly effective for alleviating feelings of distress, and it has been shown to increase cognitive functioning and mental acuity, especially among older adults.

For these reasons and more, physical exercise is a simple and effective method you can use to improve your mental health, regardless of whether or not you have a diagnosed mental health condition. We spoke with Cummins’ own Letitia Haywood, Director of Operations for Boone County and an advocate of the benefits of exercise, to learn more.

Exercise and the Mind-Body Connection

Letitia Haywood, Director of Operations for Boone County at Cummins Behavioral Health Systems
"I recognize the benefits of exercise for mental health because I know how it makes me feel better," says Letita Haywood, LCSW, LCAC, C-IAYT, and Director of Operations for Boone County at Cummins BHS. In addition to her 25+ years working in the field of mental health, Letitia is also a yoga facilitator and International Certified Yoga Therapist.

You may be wondering how exercise, an activity that uses our physical body, can have an effect on our mental state. In an earlier blog post about laughter, we explained that our physiological state can actually change our emotions and mood, an interaction commonly referred to as the mind-body connection. In the same way that laughing can make us feel happy, exercise can affect our minds by altering activity in areas of the brain that control motivation, mood and memory.

“Research has proven exercise to be a good source of medicine for many mental health issues,” Letitia says. “We know that those who exercise feel energetic throughout the day, sleep more deeply at night, experience greater clarity of mind, tend to have a greater outlook on life, are more optimistic and feel a greater sense of happiness, self-confidence and overall well-being. Research has also proven that exercise relieves stress and boosts overall mood.”

On top of its impact on energy and mood, physical activity tends to improve memory, cognition, and neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s natural ability to change the way it operates. This can be especially beneficial for people who suffer from trauma-related stress and anxiety, as Letitia explains. “When I was participating with the team at Heartland Yoga Community, we worked with stroke victims, veterans with chronic pain and veterans with PTSD to demonstrate the long-term effects of yoga on their brains, their mood, their anxiety, and on any residual trauma effects that they had from their service time. We saw some phenomenal results. The veterans continued to come back, and we knew their minds were being rejuvenated just by way of their self-report,” she says.

According to Letitia, the restorative effects of exercise make it an ideal way to manage the symptoms of a variety of cognitive and mood disorders:

“Exercise can positively impact anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder. Back when I did my first practice with Larue Carter Hospital, they incorporated daily exercise for the adults who had schizophrenia, just to keep them mobile and not sitting in the corner of a room. It can really change the perspective of any individual that has a mental health disorder. It’s an opportunity to breathe deeply, to relax, to socialize, to strengthen their muscles and to strengthen their brain output, just by changing the environment and doing something that lifts the heart rate and helps calm the nervous system.”

How to Begin Reaping the Rewards of Exercise

Exercise for mental health

If you’d like to begin exercising for your physical and mental health, then you’re in luck, because it’s not difficult to get started. Some people hear the word “exercise” and think they need to join a gym or start doing long-distance running, but your physical activity doesn’t need to be high in intensity to provide health benefits. “It’s been noted through research that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference, which is fabulous news for those who may not have tons of time to commit to the gym,” Letitia says. “No matter one’s age or fitness ability, exercise can be modified to be a powerful tool to help anyone feel better mentally and physically.”

Before beginning any exercise regimen, it’s a good idea to talk to your physician about what kind of physical activity would be most appropriate for you. This is especially important if you have certain medical complications like high blood pressure, a heart condition or weak joints. Once you know what kind of exercise will suit you best, it’s important to choose an activity that is both challenging and enjoyable for you. “What feels good to you? What makes you smile but also makes you want to scream a little bit when you have to do it?” Letitia says.

When you begin exercising, be sure to take things slowly at first and ease into your routine. Exercising too strenuously, too soon increases your risk of sustaining an injury, so you should start with lower-intensity exercises and gradually increase their difficulty when they are no longer challenging for you. Letitia offers a few suggestions that you can consider:

“If you’re a runner, then maybe you can start with a walk-run program, where you walk for one minute and then run for one minute. If you’re older and you have some joint issues, then you can start with walking, and maybe that program would be walking for 15 minutes one day and then taking a day off to do some strength training exercises. I also think you should try to find an accountability buddy who can say, ‘Hey, Letitia, we didn’t do our five minutes yesterday. Let’s make sure to get in ten minutes today.’ It’s always nice to have that support and accountability when you’re doing something that you know is good for you, that you can try to get out of by making excuses, but that you feel really good about when it’s all done.”

Getting regular exercise is an easy, inexpensive and surprisingly effective way we can manage and improve our mental health. However, the physical component of exercise isn’t the only thing that makes it good for us. When done correctly, exercise also has a mental and a spiritual component, as Letitia explains:

“It isn’t just physical exercise that leads to better mental health. We want to make sure that we’re going a little bit deeper and focusing on body, mind and spirit as a collective, whole-person exercise experience. We might do that through deep breathing exercises, positive affirmations, or participating in an exercise group or an organized sport—things that feed our mental body as well as our social, more spiritual body. The three have to go together to provide the greatest benefit to our mental health.”

Looking for more ways to improve your mental health through basic wellness interventions? We recommend our posts on nutrition and sleep below!

Fruits and vegetables
How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins' Jamie Selby and Hendricks Regional Health's Kaitie Delgado
Dr. Ashleigh Woods Explains How—And Why—to Get a Good Night's Sleep

Managing Dual Diagnosis: Cummins’ Tracy Waible on How to Identify and Treat Substance Use with Co-Occurring Disorders

Substance use disorder, otherwise known as substance addiction, afflicts millions of people across the United States every year. According to statistics from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, the exact number is around 20.3 million people aged 12 or older. Substance use disorder, or SUD, can be a devastating disease for the person who has it as well as their loved ones, affecting everything from their physical and mental health to their economic stability.

In addition, it’s not uncommon for someone with substance use disorder to also struggle with other mental health issues. When this is the case, the person is said to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. According to the same survey mentioned above, 9.2 million adults had both a mental illness and SUD in 2018. However, about half of adults with co-occurring disorders did not receive treatment for either ailment.

As these statistics show, co-occurring disorders are a very significant issue in modern mental health. If a person who is suffering from co-occurring disorders does not receive proper treatment for both conditions, then there’s a high probability that their problems will only continue. Therefore, it’s important that mental health professionals and their patients know how to identify and treat co-occurring disorders.

As part of its mission to inspire the hope of recovery for everyone, Cummins Behavioral Health is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who suffer from substance use disorder. We spoke with Tracy Waible, our Director of Recovery Services, to learn more about SUD with co-occurring disorders and the best way to treat this difficult condition.

The Problem with Co-Occurring Disorders

Tracy Waible, LCSW, LCAC
"There's a high correlation between substance use disorder and an array of other mental health disorders," says Tracy Waible (LCSW, LCAC), Director of Recovery Services at Cummins Behavioral Health.

In general, substance use is more common among people who have a mental health issue than it is among people who do not. In cases of co-occurring disorders, it’s possible for either disorder to develop first. An individual who has a mental health disorder may turn to substance use as a way of managing their symptoms, but research has shown that alcohol and drugs worsen the symptoms of many mental disorders, proving that substance use is not an effective coping strategy for mental illness.

People who suffer from mood disorders or who have experienced traumatic situations can be at especially high risk of developing co-occurring SUD. “There’s a very high correlation between PTSD and substance use disorder,” Tracy says. “A lot of people that come through our programming might have experienced trauma as a child, which could lead to them developing substance use disorder over time.”

In fact, trauma and mental illness are two key risk factors for developing SUD, especially when they occur during a person’s childhood. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, risk factors are qualities of an individual or their environment that put them at risk for developing behavioral problems. Risk factors are offset by protective factors, which are qualities that promote successful coping and adaptation to life situations. Understanding risk factors and protective factors is an important part of preventing and treating substance use disorder, as Tracy explains:

“When someone comes to Cummins seeking treatment for substance use, we use the Surgeon General’s Report on Drugs, Alcohol and Health to go through the risk factors and protective factors for developing SUD. We even train our elementary providers to do this, because some of the risk factors have to do with behavioral health issues that emerge as early as kindergarten. For adults, we use this activity to decrease stigma and shame. They can see what risk factors they had as a child, what protective factors they lacked, and how they got to where they are now. Overall, we see what we can do for prevention or wrap-around services to bolster some of those protective factors for people.”

Providing Dual Treatment for a Dual Diagnosis

We know that SUD can often come with a co-occurring disorder, and we know that treating both disorders is essential for a person’s recovery. The question that remains is how to manage treatment of a dual diagnosis.

As with any person coming into treatment, the first thing a therapist should do is assess the appropriate level of care for the client. “We use an evidence-based tool called the ASAM Criteria at intake to decide how many hours of service someone needs,” Tracy explains. At Cummins, a therapist can identify any disorders an individual may have on top of SUD and refer them to a variety of additional outpatient services, including individual therapy, family therapy, peer services, skills training and employment services. Medication-assisted treatment for substance use and medications that can help manage mental health symptoms are also available.

If a person requires a high level of care for their substance use disorder, then they might be a good fit for Intensive Outpatient Treatment, also known as IOT. This level of treatment lasts longer and goes more in-depth than standard outpatient SUD care. “IOT is nine hours a week, and it’s done in a group setting. We currently have two IOT groups in Hendricks County and one group each in Marion, Boone, Montgomery and Putnam counties,” Tracy says.

In addition, all substance use treatments provided at Cummins leverage peer recovery services to increase consumer comfort and improve treatment outcomes. Tracy explains,

“Peer recovery specialists take part in our IOT groups and are embedded in all of our SUD programming. They offer lived experience and help consumers find hope that recovery is possible. If a person isn’t sure that they want to engage in IOT, the peer recovery specialist can talk them through our services and why they’re important. They can also help people feel more comfortable when they get to their first group session, because they’re someone the person has already met and is comfortable with. Finally, peer specialists will also see some of the group members individually to help them find community resources like 12-step meetings.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, we encourage you to look into treatment with Cummins BHS. Our therapists and counselors can provide treatment for substance use as well as any co-occurring mental health issues you may have.

In the words of Tracy Waible, at Cummins, “Our philosophy is to treat the whole person. We want to look at every area of their life to see how we can help them move forward in those areas and be happy, healthy, productive human beings.”

For more information about the different types of services Cummins provides, we recommend reading our blog posts on school-based services and employment services, which you can find below!

How Avon Community School Corporation and Cummins BHS Are Supporting Students' Mental Health
Employment Services: Helping People with Mental Disabilities Find Rewarding Work

The Power of Being Thankful: Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire & Mindy Frazee Explain the Benefits of Gratitude

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude isn’t a concept that we tend to give much thought on a regular basis. Most of the time, we’re too preoccupied with work, family matters and the little concerns of daily life to stop and feel grateful. However, making the time to think about gratitude can be very beneficial for our mental health and wellness.

The benefits of gratitude have been well established through psychological research. For starters, a large body of evidence suggests that gratitude is associated with an overall sense of well-being in life. Gratitude is also a protective factor against many types of psychopathology, as gratitude interventions have been proven useful in reducing symptoms of depression and distress. Practicing gratitude is also beneficial for interpersonal relationships, as studies have shown that expressing gratitude toward another person improves our view of that relationship.

This research has established that there is indeed a power to being thankful, but as with all wellness behaviors, knowing what to do is only part of the solution. The key is in putting that knowledge into practice, especially when the behavior, like gratitude, goes against our natural mode of thinking and acting.

To better understand the importance of gratitude, we spoke with Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire, and Mindy Frazee. Together, they explained why gratitude can be so difficult for us to practice sometimes—and how we can gradually “rewire” our brains to be more grateful in life.

Why Gratitude Doesn’t Come Naturally

Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire and Mindy Frazee
Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC (left), Jeremy Haire, LMHC (middle), and Mindy Frazee, LMHCA (right)

For better or worse, human beings are very good at detecting problems. This probably has to do with the way our brains are “wired,” which may have helped our ancient ancestors avoid danger and survive. Today, it means that we’re simply more inclined to see the bad in life than the good. “All too often, our minds are focused on solving the issues of the day (i.e. what’s for dinner, do I have to go to the store again, who is going to pick up Billy from practice) and not so often do we set aside time to focus on what’s going well in our lives,” Mindy explains.

The problem with this mode of thinking is that it takes for granted the good things in our lives. These could be anything from relationships with friends and family to a roof over our heads, a filling meal, a pleasant day outside, or even our favorite song playing on the radio. Even when we are struggling in life, we usually have something positive to be thankful for, and focusing on these things can make a significant difference in our outlook. According to Jessica, “When we stop focusing on the negative and instead focus on the positive, it can really change our attitude, our mentality, our mood—it can just change everything.”

Of course, looking for silver linings can be difficult when we feel surrounded by problems. The good news is that gratitude becomes easier and more natural with practice, and it’s a behavior that we can choose even when other parts of our lives seem out of control. Jeremy says,

“With depression especially, consumers may feel like their mood is out of their control, like it’s something that is controlling them and so much of their day. Gratitude is helpful in the sense that it’s something people can do on purpose. It can help them feel like, ‘Oh, this is something I can choose. It’s something I can do regardless of what I’m feeling in a moment. It’s something that, once I get into the practice of it, I see the benefit of.’ And once they practice it, it gets easier and easier, and the things that they notice are things they would’ve never paid attention to at the beginning.”

Simple Exercises for Practicing Gratitude


Fortunately, practicing gratitude is relatively easy to do in our day-to-day lives. One of the simplest and most popular ways is to keep a gratitude journal. Journaling is a great way to increase mindfulness and manage mental health problems, and regularly writing down things that you’re grateful for is a sure way to build a mindset of gratitude. “It’s a way to focus and reflect on the events or moments that you appreciate and want to remember,” Jeremy says.

If you choose to try your hand at gratitude journaling, there are a few different ways you can approach it. “There are different kinds of gratitude journals you can get,” Jessica says. “You can do free-form, where you might write down three things that you’re grateful for today. You can also get journals with prompts, because some people really can’t think of anything positive right now. They might think, ‘Nothing is positive today,’ but the prompt can get them thinking outside the box.”

If journaling isn’t for you, you could try meditation instead. “One of the gratitude exercises I recommend is a guided meditation focused on compassion and kindness,” Mindy explains. “You can find some great free apps for this. I usually recommend Stop, Breathe & Think. Affirmations are another way one can cultivate a mindset of gratitude towards self and others. An example of an affirmation might be, ‘I am grateful for my body and all of the wonderful things it does for me.’ “

Finally, you can experiment with different ways of reminding yourself to be grateful. You could leave post-it notes with positive affirmations around your home or in your car, or you could set daily reminders on your phone to do your gratitude exercise. Another strategy is to have a gratitude partner whom you express your gratefulness toward, which is particularly useful for romantic couples. Finally, you can create a gratitude jar filled with pre-selected exercises that you pick at random and complete each day.

However you choose to practice gratitude in your daily life, remember that gratitude is just that—a choice! If we choose to be grateful for the good things around us, it won’t solve all of our problems, but it can help us lead happier, more fulfilled lives.

For more wellness strategies and coping skills you can use to improve your mental health, check out these other posts from our blog!

Laughter: Do It Just for the Health of It!
What Do Food Critics Know About Savoring Life?

How to Set New Year’s Goals You Can Actually Accomplish, According to Behavioral Health Professionals

Many people think of a new year as a fresh beginning. With the old year gone, we may envision the coming one as a clean slate for redirecting and refocusing our lives. We may set goals for ourselves that we’d like to accomplish in the new year, with the tradition of making “resolutions” being particularly popular.

But as common as New Year’s resolutions are, they’re also notorious for being abandoned. In fact, one study conducted by the University of Scranton found that only 19% of people still kept their resolutions two years after making them. The question is, why do so many people fail in their resolutions? And perhaps more importantly, what are the secrets of the 19% of people who succeed in them?

A big part of the answer revolves around goal setting. Specifically, the way we set goals for ourselves can have a large impact on whether or not we achieve those goals. For example, a well-set goal is achievable as long as we can maintain our willpower and stay motivated to complete it. By contrast, a poorly-set goal is nearly impossible to accomplish even with the utmost determination and an iron will.

With this in mind, we spoke with several therapists here at Cummins Behavioral Health to learn how they guide clients through goal setting in their day-to-day work. Here’s how behavioral health professionals suggest setting goals that you can actually accomplish in the new year.

Four Steps to Setting Better Goals

Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, Jeremy Haire and Mindy Frazee
Cummins therapists Jessica Hynson, MA, CSAYC, LMHC (left), Jeremy Haire, LMHC (middle), and Mindy Frazee, LMHCA (right)

The process of setting achievable goals can be simplified down to four main steps:

1. Define your objectives

The first step of setting any goal is defining it. This may seem obvious, but it can be surprising how often we may want something without having a clear picture of exactly what it is. Jeremy Haire, a therapist at Cummins’ Crawfordsville office, gives an example:

“When we set goals with consumers, we’re trying to summarize what the problem is. First, the person has to identify the thing they want to improve. We start with the intake assessment, and at that stage, they’re usually just describing symptoms. For some people, or maybe even most people, they haven’t really put that into a goal. It’s more like, ‘These are my problems.’ For their goal, I like them to answer the question, ‘What is that important thing that I’m willing to do something about?’ “

When choosing a goal to work toward, spend some time cataloguing any problems in your life and thinking about their root causes. Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to set objectives to effectively address those causes.

2. Make your goal simple, realistic, and measurable

When setting your goal, it’s important to think small and practical. The goals that are easiest to accomplish are simple instead of complicated, realistic instead of exaggerated, and easily measurable instead of vague and intangible.

An important part of this step is determining the specific actions you can take to reach your goal. In psychological terms, this is known as operationalization. In other words, you must plan out the operations you can perform that will lead to accomplishment. Jessica Hynson, a therapist and team lead at our Avon office, elaborates:

“When I’m working on goal setting with consumers, people might say things like, ‘My goal is to lose weight.’ I’ll ask, ‘How are you going to do that?’, and they’ll respond, ‘Well, I’m going to lose weight.’ The problem is that doesn’t mean anything, because if they could just magically lose the weight, they would. So I have to change that up and ask, ‘How do you lose weight?’, and they might say, ‘Oh, well, maybe if I stop going out to eat so much.’ Then they can make a goal to only eat out two times a week, for example.”

In addition, instead of trying to set a large, multi-faceted goal for yourself, you should set a series of small goals that you can work through one at a time. “I would emphasize the importance of setting goals that one can attain in order to build momentum. Once a small goal has been successfully achieved, then you can move on to the next level,” says Mindy Frazee, another therapist at our Crawfordsville office.

3. Track your progress

Once you’ve set the goal you want to work toward, you need to make sure you don’t forget about it. Again, this may seem self-explanatory, but experience shows that this is not the case. “Probably the biggest downfall to people’s New Year’s resolutions is saying them on January 1st and then never looking back on them again. By June, they wonder what their resolutions even were that year,” Jessica says.

The best way to remember your goal is to keep track of your progress toward it, and the easiest way to do that is to build it into your routine. For example, if you use a calendar or daily planner, you could schedule a progress check-in at the beginning or end of each week. Alternatively, you could set daily reminders for yourself on your cell phone or another electronic device.

Tracking your progress toward your goal is essential for staying motivated and assessing your performance. It’s also a great way to identify problems and obstacles, as Jeremy explains:

“With consumers, we set objectives for a time period, so that way we can come back and review. We can talk about progress, what’s been helpful, what’s been working, where they are, and what that looks like as far as where they’d like to be. We see if there’s anything getting in the way of their progress. It gives us a chance to review, evaluate and reassess. Are we on the right track, or do we need to make some other changes?”

4. If you slip up, don’t give up

The last thing to remember when working toward a goal is that one misstep doesn’t constitute failure. Rather, it simply means that you need to refocus your efforts and try again. “People can get discouraged and think, ‘Well, I didn’t go to the gym this week, so I failed. Where’s the chips?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, just make a better choice tomorrow,’ “ Jessica says.

In fact, the same study on New Year’s resolutions cited above found that even the people who kept their resolutions for two years suffered slip-ups along the way, with an average of 14 slips per person. This shows that it doesn’t matter how many times you suffer a lapse in your target behavior as long as you keep trying and practicing.

Above all, try not to expect perfection from yourself, as this will only lead to disappointment and frustration. “Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves at once. Then, when we struggle, we might give up and feel negative about ourselves, which impacts our mental health in negative ways,” Mindy says.

New Year's resolution

If you put these simple steps into practice when creating goals for yourself, you’ll have a much greater chance of successfully completing them. We encourage you to use these steps for any New Year’s resolutions you’re working toward, or for any and all goals you set for yourself throughout the year!

Goal setting

Looking for suggestions for improving your mental health in 2020? Consider making a New Year’s resolution to improve your wellness in one of the categories below!

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How Nutrition Affects Mental Health with Cummins’ Jaime Selby and Hendricks Regional Health’s Kaitie Delgado