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How To Change Bad Habits

In this long read, you will find some understanding for why you do some of the things you do and how to change bad habits into better and more healthier ones.

This is especially helpful for those that feel trapped in the routine of habits that they just can’t seem to get out of.

Ones that seem impossible to shift and perhaps are performed automatically.

How do we change our bad habits? Let’s firstly understand;

What is a Habit?

A habit is an acquired behavior that is regularly followed until it has almost become involuntary.

It’s something that you do often and on a regular basis and at times without knowing you are doing it.

An automatic response to a specific situation.

We are creatures of habit and in fact according to a study from Duke University in 2006 found that more than 40% of our daily actions are not actual decisions, they are habits.

The Brain and its relationship with Habits

When a sequence is repeated and repeated, our brain will “wire together” the sequence into its hardware to conserve energy. Rather than having to keep working through such patterns, the hardware is programed and allows us to perform the repeated task more or less without thinking.

Think of it as an “Autopilot” mode. By conserving energy and using autopilot, the brain is able to focus on other important matters while at the same time, the repeated program can keep operating.

However, a word of caution – if we do not check in on our repeated programs, they may become problematic.

Think of how a high street store, that was once very successful, continued to market and sell in the very same way that has also been successful. The world changes, technology advances and yet the high street store continues to market and sell in the very same way that it has always been successful with.

In time, this store will start to lose sales, fall behind and the business becomes problematic. (I can think of store such as Blockbusters or HMV as an example)

Without checking in on our auto pilot sequences, the very same thing might happen.

Dangers of not checking In on Autopilot

Let’s pick drinking as an example;

Initially a pint after work while waiting for the train home seems fairly harmless. This would become a frequent event, pretty much 3 out of the 5 working days and overtime, the brain wires this sequence of events into its hardware. What once was a decision to “stop for a pint” becomes something that is not even through about, it’s just performed without any attention.

The 3 out of 5 days become 5 out of 5, without any further thought as Work, The Train station, The Pub and the Pint become fused together into one sequence of events, rather than a number of sequences. The brain does this to conserve energy and hence the habit is born along with an Autopilot mode for it.

Had we checked in on our repeated program, we may have taken the time to consider if this habit was becoming problematic.

Let’s look at this a little deeper

Think about a time where you have purchased a new gadget. Maybe a new musical instrument, or a new smart TV – yes let’s use a Smart TV for the example.

You purchase your Smart TV and bring it home all excited and ready to unbox and explore this new marvel.

Once unboxed you fix it together and begin on the instructions (all 200 pages of them!)

During this moment, your Brain is fully focused on learning. It wants to understand how you can use the remote to find your favourite channels, how to flip between cable TV and your DVD player etc.

You make many mistakes and frustration kicks in, but you keep going back and trying again and again until finally you master the smart TV, the remote control and all the functions relevant to your personal enjoyment.

So far we have used the “Thinking Brain” and have “repeatedly moved around the functions”

What comes next is the brain saying “I have mastered this and I no longer need to use energy to work it out and off it sends the sequence from The Pre Frontal Cortex (the thinking and decision making part of the brain) to the Basal Ganglia area where the task becomes more automatic.

The next time you use your Smart TV, so much less thought and attention is paid to the operation and therefore the “Habit” of using the Smart TV is born.

Can you relate that to anything you do (any bad habits that you want to change)?

Habit Loops (According to James Clear)

To understand further, let’s look at what is known as a habit loop.

James Clear (2018) details this very clearly in his book Atomic Habits and according the Clear, there is a four stage model within a habit loop.

change bad habits

Our brain likes reward. Practically everything we do, has the motive for a reward. I am not just talking about the obvious, but of all the outcomes that our brain acknowledges as a “reward”

This stems back to our ancestors. Humans that would hunt for food, the reward being they do not starve as an example.

Here are a few obvious and not so obvious examples;

If we clean our teeth – the reward being that we may not have to have fillings

One work’s hard – the reward could be promotion or self-satisfaction of a good job done.

We do our best to dress our children appropriately when it’s cold – the reward being that they do not fall ill.

Take a moment to think of a few routine things that you do and see if you can link the reward as to why you do this……

So the brain like rewards and therefore it is motivated to remember the habit loop in the future.

Take Gambling as an example.

A big win on the pokies is certainly a “reward” the brain will remember. But all the other loses?

It is noteworthy that Habits that tend to have a reward the brain likes, are remember much more that Habits that have no reward.

This may raise a question in your mind about the gambler and the pokies. Surely if one loses more times than one wins, then the habit will not be remembered?

I spoke with a Gambler recently who continues to play the pokies every day. Even though he loses more times than wins. He tells me that all he pictures is that grand jackpot that he won 4 years ago. The remember habit of 4 years ago remains as the powerful motivator.

But this is changeable as we will find out later on.


The cue for a habit is the bit of information that predicts a reward. In today’s world rewards can be a whole diversity of things (Money, Power, Personal Satisfaction etc). The Cue therefore is about noticing the reward.

Again we draw back to the gambler who visualizes the grand jackpot. This is the Cue to the reward (even though this reward may never eventuate)


The natural progression at this stage would be the craving. The craving is the motivational force behind every cue. When we feel that a reward is close, we crave for it.

A Gambler will get the dopamine hit of a reward just by anticipating a possible win, even when the wheels of a pokie machine are still spinning!


This is the actual habit that you perform. This could be a thought or an action.


The end goal of any habit – period.

We chase rewards because they satisfy us and also because they teach us – being that the reward teaches us which actions are worth remembering in the future.

It is worth noting that the first purpose of the reward is to satisfy the craving.

Problem and Solution Phases

All behavior is driven by the desire to solve a problem. Therefore we can understand why the first two stages (Cue and Craving) are the problem phase and the response and reward stages are the solution. These stages are where we take action and archive a desired change.

What’s going on in the brain?

I touched on earlier about the Pre Frontal Cortex and the Basal Ganglia regions of the brain. The PFC being responsible for the learning and the BG (which plays a key role in emotions, memories and pattern recognition) taking over in auto pilot mode.

However early on in the learning process (before auto pilot takes over) a signal arises in the BG region (known as the dorsolateral striatum – DS) and starts to bond together the task-related events so that the brain sees the whole task from beginning to end as one event.

As an example let’s go back to the smart TV. When we were reading the instructions, pressing buttons, linking various items together, the DS was noticing the whole procedure step by step. Once mastered, the brain tries to be as efficient as possible and bonds all the tasks together and calls it a single task. So to turn on the TV, press the remote buttons, load the DVD player all become one task “to watch a movie”

Think of it this way;

The first time you set up the TV you are thinking more. Then the second time you think some, but not as much and by the third of fourth time, you think little at all. All the procedures have been bonded together to form one task, thus freeing up brain energy.

Habits and the Environment

Research has demonstrated that triggers from our environment play an important role in habit formation. For example;

Those trying manage to maintain sobriety can do so very well in say a controlled environment of rehab, however fail to so when they return to the old environment.

I remember someone saying to me once, “If you want to quit smoking, go on holiday” (I was used to thinking “I will quit when I get back from holiday”). But taken out of the old environment, there is a fresh opportunity to form a new pattern as the old cues and rewards are not there.

The gambler or the drinker who frequents the same pub or gaming room would barely notice the journey to the venue, however change the environment (example take a different route home that avoids pubs) and there are chances for a new pattern to form.

The environment could be considered as stronger than willpower and even possibly motivation. Consider what you can do the change your environment should you wish to learn new or break old habits.

Want to learn French? Plaster sayings and words around visible areas of you home.

Have a desire to stop gambling when you are out drinking? Be aware of the environmental cues (the pub or casino.) and replace these cues with a new environment.

It’s easier to build new habits in a new environment because you are not fighting against old cues.

A client of mine used to go to the same pub every week and order his beer and make his way to the Pokies.

He wanted to stop gambling and reduce his beer intake. Having researched the local area, he found that there was a friendly wine bar that he had never noticed. The first time he visited this new venue, he took a book and started to read while enjoying a small glass of wine. Finding this pleasurable (and much less expensive), he created a new habit, in a new environment. It was much easier to resist the temptation of the cues to gamble from his old environment.

As we will read later, making the Environment invisible, is a very positive way to making the cue invisible.

Remember though – old habits don’t die, they lie dormant or covered over with new, more desirable habits. Should you return to the old environment or return to doing one of the behaviours, you may begin to re-awaken the habit as well.

Making and Breaking Habits

By now, I hope you have some understanding of how habits form and why they become a task that we often hardly notice at all.

1 – We simplify life and free up brain space by automating certain sequences of behavior

2 – Once a sequence has been repeated a number of times, it is bonded together to become a single task as opposed to a number of tasks.

3 – This single task becomes able to perform with little thought (auto pilot)

Let’s now have a look at how we can make or break a habit (the juicy content!)

Changing Behavior

Again I return to the wonderful work from James Clear who says that changing behavior begins with asking oneself 4 questions with each one of them being related to one of the stages (Cue, Craving, Response, and Reward)

1 How can I make it obvious? (Cue)

2 How can I make it attractive? (Craving)

3 How can I make it easy? (Response)

4 How can I make it satisfying? (Reward)

It is very worthwhile noting that this can be reversed to breaking a habit

1 – How can I make it invisible? (Cue)

2 – How can I make it unattractive? (Craving)

3 – How can I make it difficult? (Response)

4 – How can I make it unsatisfying? (Reward) (Clear, 2018)

Let’s break these all down into examples;

Rule 1 How can I make it Obvious?

Our brains and bodies do so much without us consciously telling them to.

Your stomach starts to rumble – cue for eating

You yawn – cue for sleeping

Your lips are dry – cue for water

The point here is that we do not need to be consciously aware of a cue for a habit to begin (yes sleeping can be considered a habit with the reward of recharging our bodies)

Caution though, this can also make them very dangerous. “We can’t change a habit we aren’t aware of”

But we can with awareness. Behaviour change comes with awareness.

Lets set an example;

I am from the UK and therefore well versed to driving on the left side of the road. Its something I have done this all my life and so the “Habit” of driving on the left is completely set to auto pilot. Rarely, if ever, do I get in my car and think “which side of the road should I be on”

During the summer, I drove to France via the Eurotunnel. Upon arrival, I was nervous about driving on the other side of the road, so I concentrated fully on my driving and the road (especially the roundabouts!)

My Pre Frontal Cortex is in full operation as I thinking things through and concentrate on learning to drive on the other side of the road. I have to think about distances between the middle lane markings as they are now on the opposite side of the car. Mirror checking seemed different as well. Turning into a road was somehow a new experience.

After a few days my confidence had grown and I was much more relaxed with driving.

However suddenly, one morning I found myself steering right towards an oncoming bus!

I let out a scream and swerved my car back onto the right hand side of the road, narrowly missing a potentially life threatening accident.

What had happened here?

The danger had come because I had repeated the action of driving on the right side enough times to start to form a habit. We could say that my basal ganglia had took over from my pre frontal cortex, allowing me to drive from habit. But my habit is to drive on the left.

The point being here is that behavior change starts with awareness.


*Create a Habit’s scorecard.

*List all the habits you can think of that you do

*For each habit, decide whether it’s a good habit, a neutral habit or a bad habit.

Changing habits begins with noticing what we are actually doing.


Habit-stacking is where we “stack” a new habit on top of a habit that is already taking place. The original habit therefore serves as a cue to perform a new second habit. One can stack more than one habit together and can create a very advantageous momentum of behavior.

S.J Scott’s book Habit Stacking 97 small life changes that take 5 minutes or less suggests;

“Linking habits together is a way of getting more done in less time, resulting in a positive change in your life. As you perform the stacked actions every day, they become part of your daily routine.”

According to Scott, there are 8 elements of a habit-stacking routine;

1 Each habit takes less than five minutes to complete.

2 It’s a complete habit.

3 It improves your life.

4 It’s simple to complete.

5 The entire routine takes less than 30 minutes.

6 It follows a logical process.

7 It follows a checklist.

8 It fits your life.

A simpler version can be the use of awareness to form positive habits that can be stacked onto current habits.


Health – While I wait for the water to boil for my coffee I will do 5 push-ups against the wall (I am aware that this will help my health)

Health – After I clean my teeth, I will allow time to sip a large glass of water before I leave for work

Mental Health – While drink my daily morning cup of coffee, I will write down 3 things that I am grateful for today. I can follow this by writing down my 5 most important things I need to complete today. (Note here, we have stacked 2 new habits onto the original habit of making coffee – this can be known as a habit staircase)

Work – I will start on the most unpleasant task first (Reason being that if you focus on your hardest task first, the rest of the day doesn’t seem that hard)

Relationships – After our nightly dinner we will allocate 15 minutes to talk about the day, before we watch TV.

Rule 2 – Make It Attractive (Craving)

If we make the cues attractive, we are more likely to desire them. If it’s attractive, it sticks. For this, we use the term supernormal stimulus.

Supernormal stimulus is an artificial stimulus that produces in an animal a response that is stronger than would be evoked by the natural stimulus it resembles.

Have you ever looked at a magazine front cover such as a fitness magazine? See how that lean and fit that person looks, smiling at you from the shiny cover? Perhaps you would like to have the same look? Perhaps you buy the magazine? This is an example of supernormal stimulus.

Should that same magazine feature the same person but without the makeup, without the fake white teeth and dressed so that you cannot see their muscles, I wonder if we would be attracted to the very same magazine?

Think of fast food restaurants. They spend millions of dollars just to get the right smell that puffs out of their chimneys and air circulation. Who can deny that smell of KFC (sometimes you can’t even see the store!). Is it the same experience when you walk past a store boiling cabbage?

So for Rule 2 we need to make it attractive. How, I hear you say, can we make washing the dishes attractive?

Well we can habit stack this habit. Perhaps if you like music, make it a habit to play your favourite songs while you wash up. We can additional be aware that the reward of washing up is that we have clean dishes ready for our next habit of eating.

Remember, the more attractive we can make the things we must do, the more habit-forming they are.

We can make our habits more attractive by pairing what we want to do with actions we need to do (I want to see the next episode of this new program, but I can only see it if I wash the dishes first)

To get rid of a bad habit we can invert rule 2 by making the bad habit unattractive (think of how cigarette companies were forced to put photos of dying people on their cartons)

The Crucial Point of Breaking Bad Habits

Every craving has a deeper, underlying motive. If we went deep enough and traced it right back, it would probably relate to survival. Our most modern habits (example spending huge amounts of time on social media and neglecting other duties) will more than often have ages-old motive. (Perhaps being on social media could be traced back to the same need for love and approval, hence survival in tribal times)

The point being that most habits are a modern solution to an old problem.

Habits are associations in which we receive a cue (example the aroma of fresh coffee) and determine, based on previous experience (example – enjoying the warm coffee) whether we can predict that the habit is worth repeating or not.

Once we have realized the link we have made between the cue and the habit, we can make a different prediction (the coffee will make you hyper. Stopping for that coffee is going to make you late). We can then re-program, finding a different solution (reward) to the problem (grab a fresh drink that you can enjoy when you get to work)

Let’s put this theory to our Gambler;

What about if rather than picturing that big won all those years ago, he instead brings awareness to that cue and then can apply a different prediction to the cue such as picturing the ATM withdrawals, taking a sense of that feeling when nearly all the money has gone? – Make the cue as unattractive as possible.

Remember once we realise the link we have made between the cue and the habit, we can make a different prediction.

In addition, measures to change the environment can be applied. If he thinks about the patterns of where he is and what he is doing, prior to the trigger of the habit, maybe changes can be made there? – Changing the environment not only for the actual habit, but prior to the cue.

A heavy drinker once told me that he implemented a new habit of having to drink 1 pint of water in-between every pint of beer he had. – Habit Stacking.

What can you think of doing to;

  • Bring awareness to habits
  • Modify a habit for the better by habit stacking
  • Break a habit by making the cue as unattractive as possible

A Note on Cravings

The gap between satisfaction of the desire and the current state is the strength of the desire to feel different.

Example –  when the cue of a grumbling stomach occurs the desire is to eat and be full

It is our feelings and emotions that tell us something is missing. That something has not been fulfilled and we therefore want to fill that gap between the current sensations and what we want to actually sense.

This can be illustrated in the drinker who feels lonely. He or she desires to rid of the feeling and turns to the bottle to find the sense they want to feel.

A craving is an attempt to address a basic underlying motive.

When the habit successfully address the motive, the craving develops to do it again.

Therefore to successfully change a habit, we must find a new solution for an existing need.

The new solution, to be effective in changing the habit, must make the old habit unattractive while still meeting the need that the old habit was trying to meet.

The drinker, with support, may well be able to discover that there are other, more positive ways to satisfy his need to rid his loneliness.


In today’s world, the culture we live in determines which behaviours are attractive to us. We are pressurised to “fit in” and in doing so, we often adopt habits that the people we look up to, admire or want to be like have.

For many of us, smoking start in the early teens because we wanted to “fit in” We desired to be one of the “tough kids” and so we adopted the habits from the others we aspired to.

The same can be action-ed for the changes we want to make to our lives. Joining social groups where the normal behavior of the group is in line with the changes we want to make can be very effective.

If one wants to stop drinking consideration can be made to changing the environment (not going to the pub) and enjoying the company of friends or new associates that socialise away from drinking and the pub.

Simple to write I know, but with small steps and tweaks this is all possible.

The key t o fixing bad habits is to re-frame the associations we have about them, associating them now with negative feelings.

Counselling is a great idea for finding the tools and support to action this.

Rule Three – Make it easy (Response)

Rule Three and Four belong to the solution half of Clear’s habit formation cycle.

It is very common for people to ask “how long does it take to form a new habit”

One can research and find all kinds of opinions about this “do the same things for 28 days and will will become a habit”

“take to 100 day challenge and all will be cured” and so on.

There is no definitive answer as the answer is actually another question “how long will it take you to repeat this behavior so much that the structure of your brain changes to become efficient at the activity”

However the easier we make the action we are trying to make a habit, the greater the chance that we will perform it repeatedly and in turn, the sooner we can turn it into a habit.

The advice therefore, is to keep the plans simple. Just like goal setting, start with small, achievable goals that are specific.

We can look at this both ways for creating new habits and breaking old habits. Make new habits simple and make old habits difficult to do (example cutting up your debt card that you used to use for cash withdrawals at the expensive pub ATM machine. Therefore on would have to go to the bank to draw card-less cash – making it difficult to continue the habit)

“The right thing is easy”

“The wrong thing is more difficult”

The 2 Minute Rule

James Clear (2018) recommends following the two minute rule. Start something new for just 2 minutes every day and build up over time. I quote his wonderful example of this;

If you want to, say, run a marathon, it is a worthy but very difficult goal. Running a 5-kilometre run is still hard. Walking 10,000 steps is moderate in difficulty. Walking 10 minutes is easy. And putting on your jogging shoes? Ah, that, says Clear, is very easy. You can do it in two minutes.

It can be the start of the eventual completion of the marathon. Putting on your shoes is a “gateway habit”: one which leads as a small action to a bigger piece of action. The small action begins to shape your behaviour. That is, you expect to put your jogging shoes on each day.

Clear notes that, what happens after the two minute “gateway” behaviour may be challenging (e.g., doing a whole run today), but the first two minutes should be easy, so that you can “buy in” fairly small, and start wiring together the neurons that lace up your jogging shoes with the ones that see you step out onto the jogging track Clear, 2018)

Remember that Rule Three can be inverted

Take time to consider how you can make your bad habits harder to do. The gamblers cash card destruction is just one example. You can adapt a whole range of ideas and actions to make your bad habit difficult.

Rule 4 – Make it satisfying (Reward)

We understand by now that behavior that is rewarded is likely to be repeated. After all, we like rewards. Our brain is wired for seeking reward.

On the flip side, behavior that is not rewarding in some way, will drop off over time.

It’s also worth noting that behavior tends to be led by what happens right after it as opposed to later on.

Example – we savour that look/taste of a cold beer on a summer day and get the immediate reward of the cool drink. However later on we may feel tired, slower and conscious of the carb overload of a beer)

Have you ever noticed that, often, the immediate results of the behavior are just the opposite of the long-term results?

We enjoy at the time staying up late to watch the game, but feel tired and cant concentrate at work the next day.

We reward ourselves with a burger and deep fried chips, but are overweight because of it.

I am remind of a saying from French economist Frederic Bastiat;

“The sweeter the first fruit of habit, the more bitter are its later fruits”

But don’t get me wrong, we do not have to deny ourselves of pleasure. We just have to be smart about things and remain aware of habits that we do and do not want.

In short – we should question, when we get immediate pleasure from and action, does it align with our long-term goals.

If a behavior is immediately rewarded, but in the longer term punished, we need to address these habits.

Find ways to feel successful right away.

When we start to change bad habits, it is important that we feel satisfaction. By resisting the bad habit, we need to ensure that the “reward” of resistance is visible.

We return to our gambler who has resisted playing the pokies for the last week. Perhaps his reward is having more money in his account? Or a pot full of notes at home that would not have been there?  There may be enough reward just by having the pleasure of seeing the bank account healthy. But perhaps he could search deeper and pay a little more than usual off the credit card? The reward being that he has slightly less stress about the credit card balance and that he performed something positive.

Somebody else may have a habit of spontaneous buying of cloths. Suppose this lady wanted to save money for a dress for a wedding that is coming up. She wants tp change this “bad habit” so she creates a new habit of “saving” and resists the temptation to buy those shoes that look stunning in the window. By doing nothing other than not spending, this may not be completely satisfying, but perhaps she could look at those shoes that are $300, walk away and immediately transfer $300 to her savings account.

Identity-based habits

Change Bad Habits

Identity-based habits start with a focus on who we wish to become. This is followed by the seeking of processes to assist that. The end result being an outcome. Such an outcome has a really chance of sticking.

Many people tend to start any chance process by starting with the outcome “what they want to achieve first. (Example quite drinking, lose weight, treat their loved one better etc.). They then seek out the process that will help them achieve the outcome. The problem with this is that they may never get to the final stage – the Identity. If the identity does not change, then there is always the treat of the old identity returning and therefore it will be difficult to maintain the behaviours of the new habit.

As an example, if someone asks a drinker (who has set an outcome first of becoming a non-drinker) if they would like a drink, the answer may most likely be something like “no thanks, I am trying to quit” – this is stating that they are still a drinker buy “trying” not to drink.

Flip this around and start by identify and identify that you wish to become a person that does not drink. Your answer to the same question might be “No thanks, I am not a drinker” – this is stating that your identify, as a person, is someone who does not drink.

Where the first reply could change tomorrow if the person decides to have the drink, the second answer has more permanence in it. The person is affirming that they won’t ever drink again because they are not a drinker. There is power in this.

Words such as “Do” or “Don’t” are more empowering than words such as “Can” or “Can’t”

Track your new Habits

We know by now how much we like rewards and the reward of a good habit is…. A good habit!

Tracking progress is a good way to satisfy us and make our habit obvious. Once you have affirmed your new identity, start creating a track record of every time you manage to action your new habit. It can be very motivational (another reward)

Be on guard for any days that you miss your tracking as we don’t want to form a habit of missing our check ins!

Sign a habit contract

Finding a friend, colleague, counsellor or just about anyone you are comfortable, and inviting them to be you accountability partner, is a fantastic way to keep you on track and motivated.

This person holds you accountable. Perhaps you can set rules in the contract (example – I will donate $100 to charity if I have a drink)

There are many variations that you could work with here. But the main purpose is they just need to make it instantly painful for you not to go ahead with your chosen habit.

As part of my counselling service, I offer further insight and support for all individuals that have the desire to make change.

Thank You For Reading

I trust that you have found this blog interesting and my tanks extends toe the acknowledgements listed below.

Finally – why the peacock in the first photo? If you would like to offer your answer, please email me –


Let us help you change your bad habits. Feel free to reach up to Colwill counselling at any time here

Little Hinges Swing Big Doors – Steve Scott


Sources and Acknowledgements

Scott, S.J. (2014) Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, New Castle: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

James Clear (2018) details this very clearly in his book Atomic Habits

Mental Health Academy (MHA). (n.d.). Educating clients about physical wellness (continuing education course). Fortitude Valley, Queensland, Australia: MHA.

Sam Thomas Davies

Supernormal stimulus

Nir Eyal is a habits expert –

Addiction Counselling, Anger Management, Anxiety, Corporate Stress Counselling

The Power Of Being Mindful

Mindfulness Skills

Being Mindful is very powerful and can improve our life in so many aspects. In this post I will introduce you to some of the skills and exercises that you can implement into your life.

If you suffer from Anxiety, or have anger management concerns, you may find this article very helpful.

Mindfulness skills are the vehicles for balancing emotion and reasonable minds. There are three “What” Skills (Observing, describing and participation) and three “how” skills (taking a non-judgmental stance, focusing on one things in the moment and being effective)

“What” Skill 1 – Observing

1 – Observing

Attending to events, emotions and other behavior responses without necessarily trying to end them because they’re painful or prolong them when they are pleasant.

What we learn is to allow ourselves to experience with awareness, in the moment, whatever is happening rather than leaving a situation or trying to end an emotion. Generally, the ability to attend to events requires the ability to step back from the event itself.

Example: I hate hanging up the washing. But rather than pay attention to the “I hate” I carefully attend to the clothes and intensely observe. I observe the feeling of the textures of the clothing. Perhaps I notice the slight breeze and how that feels on my face. Or I notice the smell of the freshly washed clothes, the different colours of the pegs, the creases in the clothes, and how one type of clothing seems to be dryer than the other style even though they were washed at the same time.

I observe all these features rather than letting my emotional mind let me curse and hate every piece of clothing, or count how many more to go. I live in the moment and observe (without judgement – we will come to that later)

On the flip side, I love listening to music. I try to listen to the music without letting my emotional mind control the situation. This is hard as I want to sing along and smile and while this is pleasurable, I try to observe the music instead. Then I listen to a piece of music that I do not like, but rather than let my emotion mind take control, I try to observe the music itself. Or maybe an element of the music such as the singer or a certain instrument. I never used to like to listen to Jimmy Hendrix, but by observing, I picked up a very interesting guitar break in the song and observed this piece of the music as opposed to turning the music off because my emotional mind tells me I don’t like it.

Anger Management

When we talk about Anger Management, learning the skill of Observing can have significant changes to how we react to Anger. Picture a moment when Anger started to build for you. Can you recollect if you observed what was going on around you? The passing car and its passengers? The sounds of the street, the tones of the voices, what people were wearing etc?

Most often we are caught in the situation and react to our emotion mind, as opposed to our wise mind. Observing is the first skillset of the “what” skills in mindfulness.

Can you think of a situation in your life in which using this skill might have been helpful? How do you think the outcome would have been different? Can you make a plan to use it in a situation that is upcoming and might be difficult?

 “Being in the moment and observing without judging or putting a value on something”

“What” Skill 2 – Describing

2 – Describing

This follows in par with Observing. One would describe by saying to themselves statements about what one observes. Let’s look at hanging the cloths up.

I could say things to myself (one is not required to shout these out, more like just a quiet voice in the mind is all that is needed)

“The breeze feels pleasant on my face and cools me down a tad”

“The feeling of this shirt is silky”

The describing skill helps us remain in the present. During distressful moments when there is no one to talk to, this skill can be used to ground us and by describing aloud the things one can feel and see will help you stay in the present.

“I” Language

The use of “I’ language can be brought in to describe and apply verbal labels to feelings;

“I feel disappointed about missing the party”

“I sense my feelings of being happy to be meeting up with my mate tomorrow”

“Today I have to go and do the shopping and I feel frustrated by that”

“I Acknowledge that I feel tired after such a long day at work”

Being able to verbally describe events is necessary to both communicate our thoughts and feelings to others and also to help us manage our feelings.

Remember, we need to learn not to take our thoughts and emotions literally, as gospel.

As an example, feeling afraid does not necessarily mean that something is threatening or dangerous to us. Our fear may come from some past experience, or from something that has some connection to the current situation, or from confusion about the event that triggers our fears.

Also it is important to note that having a feeling or thought about something does not mean that that thought or feeling is fact.

Example could be “no one likes me” or “I am un-lovable” does not validate these statements as true. They are just thoughts or feelings (see the exercise “Taking the thought or feeling to court” further down in this blog)

By practicing to describe the events around us and putting our feelings into words, helps us to figure out whether such thoughts and feelings actually fit the situation.

Example – you may have an exam coming up. You may feel anxious and nervous. You may think “I am going to fail this exam”

Describe those feelings

A – Do you have any physical symptoms (sweaty hands, butterflies in your stomach etc?)

B – Describe your thoughts. What are you thinking about this exam?

C – Are these thoughts connected with the exam?

D – Are your feelings actually connected with the outcome of the exam? (Remember that you don’t actually know the outcome yet)

By following this strategy, it helps us see how the thoughts and feelings are actually separate from the event. These thoughts are feelings are just what they are, thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean that the thoughts and feelings are not real. Of course they are real, but they are not the event or the situation itself. They do not necessarily explain or predict events in our lives.

I invite you to pick one experience that you have. Cooking a meal, going for a walk, watching TV etc. Observe this experience, without judging or evaluating it.

Describe what you are doing or seeing. What do you see, hear, and touch?

Give words to your feelings. Keep them free from judgements or evaluations.

Can you see that your thoughts and feelings about the situation are separate from the experience itself?

Keep a journal, for a day or more. Recording your experiences, what you observe. Observe your feelings and describe them on paper. See how this works.

“What” Skill 3 – Participating

Participation is about awareness. It’s about being totally present when engaging in an activity.

Example – Think of how a child learns something new. How they focus on the activity with their child like curiosity and how they listen or learn the instructions. The concentration involved to allow an understanding of what they are learning. If you have the chance, watch a child discovering something new. Everything is new to them at first. See how they are curious, how they use their senses to explore.

We can practice this in our adult life.

We have the ability to learn to know what we are doing, when we are doing it.

It is possible to be present in everything that we do.

The beauty of being present is that we allow ourselves to leave our problems and sorrows or attitudes behind so that we can concentrate on what we are doing right here and now.

We can be in the “moment” and this allows us to step back from our lives and thoughts and can be aware that we are alive in this moment and we are okay right now. This can be especially helpful when you are in distress.

Exercise 1 – Mindful Driving

As an exercise, try, the next time you are driving, to fully engage in the experience. As opposed to thinking about if you are going to get to the destination on time, or what the meeting holds, try to instead, pay total attention exclusively to the driving. Notice things that you may not normally notice (maybe a building or an amazing tree), notice the sounds around you. Notice the different smells as you drive through different areas. All while of course, paying attention to the safety aspects of the drive.

See how you feel when you arrive at your destination as opposed to how you might have arrived should you have been spending the whole time thinking about possible future situations or lost in memories or concerns. It talks practice and if thoughts enter your mind, try to simply accept they are there and return your focus to the driving experience.

The end goal here is that with practice, we are able to participate fully and engage in the moment without self-consciousness.

By the way, it’s Okay to have fun doing this!

Exercise 2 – Taking the thought or feeling to court

Taking the thought or feeling to court

When we have thoughts such as “No one likes me” or “I am unlovable” we can take a moment to put that thought to court

Perhaps you might like to give the thought a name as it goes into court to stand trial.

Mr. or Mrs. “I am unlovable” is now in the dock (you can badge the thought with any name that you see fit)

You are now the defense attorney and your roles are to both defend the truthfulness of the thought, and also the role of the prosecuting attorney attempting to undermine the truthfulness of the thought (known in CBT as the Negative Automatic Thought or NAT)

What we generally see here is that the thought (NAT) cannot be determined as 100% true or in many occasions, there lies no truth at all in the validity of the thought.

Remember, automatic thoughts are not facts, but they are so immediate and familiar that we often assume them to be true.

“How Skills” 1 – Nonjudgmental Stance

This stance really puts the jigsaw pieces together. We are conditioned as a human being to place judgement on our observations.

As an example;

You may be reading this blog and thinking, “I won’t remember this”, or “I won’t be able to do this” or” what is this guy talking about?” maybe something else, but these thoughts are what is known as a judgement of the observation and is not helpful.

Another example could be

You receive information about a job that has become available and you instantly find yourself thinking about if you are good enough for the job, or you start thinking about the fears of the first day at the new job. Perhaps you automatically think that other people will have a better chance of getting the job than you.

This is again judgement of the observation and is not helpful

The point of taking a nonjudgmental stance is to give ourselves an opportunity to observe the same old things that we always observe in our minds or in the environment or about other people, but we open ourselves to thinking about it in a different way. So if we can remain without judgement and simply observe it instead and note it, we can then let it go. This allows us put aside all the negative thoughts and focus our attention to the actual situation. We can think and problem solve much better when we focus in the moment, rather than be led by negative / emotional thought.

Let’s take another scenario

You and your partner are at home having a discussion. You notice that your heart is starting to beat faster when the discussion starts to heat up. It is common for this to be a trigger (or any other symptom that you individually feel when a discussion heats up) and for you to think along the lines of;

“It’s your partner’s fault that your pulse is starting to race”

“They don’t listen to you and now they are shouting…..”

The situation intensifies and you begin to shout back at your partner. Before you know it, it’s a full blown argument.

How about this instead? Say to yourself;

“I notice that my heart rate is faster during these discussions with my partner”

Resist making a judgment about why your heart rate is beating fast or what you partner is doing. Instead, notice that change in pitch of your partner’s voice.

Resist the judgement as to why their pitch is higher, or what it means to you (If you cannot resist the judgement, just observe the judgement and withhold any further judgement).

Next you may still notice other areas of your body rising to the heat (perhaps you feel a flush coming on, or something else in your body). Again force yourself to simply observe the feeling without any judgement. Finally you will notice that you will start to regain composure, freeing yourself from the prison of emotional pain.

As your felling of anger diminish you may well start to hear the pain in your partner’s voice. You don’t judge that pain. Instead you let them have their pain and just listen.

This is known as “Healing rather than seeing”

In time and with practice, you will be able to perfect this skill and be able to use it for so many situations in life.

When someone avoids you when you are walking down the road. No longer will you be tempted to think that they were avoiding you because you think you are unlikable. Instead if such a thought comes in, you will have made a decision not to judge your observations and those false thoughts do not concern you.

Exercise 3 – Mundane tasks

The next time you do a mundane task, try to observing and describing as you complete the task. Notice when your mind begins to make a judgement. Do not get caught up in this judgement (or the fact that you made one). Just notice that your mind is judging and let the judgement go. See if you can continue to pay attention in more circumstances, like when you judge an observation, or when you see someone at the office or across the street. Basically it can be anything, the main thing is that you begin to notice when you start to judge what you observe so that you can begin to see what it feels like and gain skill in catching yourself in judging observations.

Exercise 4 – Observing and describing emotionally charged situations

See if you can observe and describe in more emotionally charged situations. Remember to notice your judgements, but not get caught up n them. Notice the judgement in the same way that you notice the tone of voice as an example.

See if it is easier to let go of emotionally charged reactions when you withhold judgements. Parts of observing is also withholding assumptions. Describe your observations to the other person.

“I am noticing that you are raising your voice”

“Why are you doing this?”

“I am curious, tell me what makes you want to say that to me?”

Does the situation seem different to you? Are you seeing it in another way? Is the other way more healing?

Exercise 5 – Mindful eating

Eating a raisin

Place a few raisins in your hand. If you don’t have raisins, any food will do. Imagine that you have just come to Earth from a distant planet without such food.

Now, with this food in hand, you can begin to explore it with all of your senses.

Focus on one of the objects as if you’ve never seen anything like it before. Focus on seeing this object. Scan it, exploring every part of it, as if you’ve never seen such a thing before. Turn it around with your fingers and notice what color it is. Notice the folds and where the surface reflects light or becomes darker.

Next, explore the texture, feeling any softness, hardness, coarseness, or smoothness.

While you’re doing this, if thoughts arise such as “Why am I doing this weird exercise?” “How will this ever help me?” or “I hate these objects,” then just see if you can acknowledge these thoughts, let them be, and then bring your awareness back to the object.

Take the object beneath your nose and carefully notice the smell of it.

Bring the object to one ear, squeeze it, roll it around, and hear if there is any sound coming from it.

Begin to slowly take the object to your mouth, noticing how the arm knows exactly where to go and perhaps becoming aware of your mouth watering.

Gently place the object in your mouth, on your tongue, without biting it. Simply explore the sensations of this object in your mouth.

Ready to Eat

When you’re ready, intentionally bite down on the object, maybe noticing how it automatically goes to one side of the mouth versus the other. Also notice the tastes it releases.

Slowly chew this object. Be aware of the saliva in your mouth and how the object changes in consistency as you chew.

When you feel ready to swallow, consciously notice the intention to swallow, then see if you can notice the sensations of swallowing the raisin, sensing it moving down to your throat and into your esophagus on its way to your stomach.

Take a moment to congratulate yourself for taking this time to experience mindful eating.

Ask yourself truly – Was it more enjoyable than gulping down the raisins while you scan the latest news on your phone?


Mindfulness has to do with the quality of awareness that we bring to what we are doing and experiencing, to bring in the here and now. It has to do with learning to focus on being in the present, to focusing our attention on what we are doing and what is happening in the present.

We have to learn to control our attention. Many of us are distracted by images, thoughts and feelings of the past, perhaps dissociating, worrying about the future, negative moods and anxieties about the present. It is sometimes hard to put these things away and concentrate on the task at hand.

While you read this blog you may find yourself judging the words you read, or thinking about your anxieties. Please do not judge yourself about this. Mindfulness can be difficult to learn as a new skill. It requires lots of practice and willingness, but it is very rewarding.

Be patient with yourself.

The idea of one-mindfully is to do one thing at a time.

Attempt to change your daily routines

If you are eating – eat. We all know the temptation to pick up our phone and rad the latest Facebook updates, or check in on events around the world. Perhaps you find that you must watch TV when you eat. But resist the temptation. Eat and enjoy all the pleasures of eating rather than shoving food down your throat as quickly as you can while you give your attention towards your phone or the screen.

When you are working – work. Don’t try to work and worry about something else going on in your life. Leave that to another time. Concentrate on your work, explore your work. Give your time to being present while you work.

When you are talking with a friend – talk to your friend. Don’t try to be texting someone else or thinking about what you are doing tomorrow while you talk to your friend. Be curious about what they are saying. Withhold judgement and be present.

The reason for this is so that you can give your full attention to what you are doing and do your best job. But it is also so that you will feel completely present and not fragmented when you are doing these important things.

There are many techniques for introducing mindfulness into your life and enjoying the numerous benefits that it has;

Mindful Breathing




Mindfulness can help in so many areas of your life. It is a great tool for dealing with Anger Management and Addictions alongside a whole host of other concerns.

In my next post, I will dive deeper into the beauty of becoming mindful in your life.

If you would like to learn more about these skills, techniques and how they can help you, please reach out to me here at Colwill Counselling.

During my research I was enlightened by the wise minds of dbtselfhelp and therefore express my thanks to




Wise Mind and Mindfulness Skills

What is a Wise Mind?

In DBT it is considered that there are three primary states of mind;

1 – Reasonable Mind

2 – Emotional Mind

3 – Wise Mind

A person is in “Reasonable Mind” when they are thinking rationally (acting so as to achieve one’s goals, given one’s beliefs) and logically. They base decisions by observations and experience rather than theory. They can focus attention and remains “Cool” in an approach to problems.

A person is in “Emotion Mind” when their thinking and behavior are controlled primarily by their current emotional state. Thinking in a reasonable or logical way is very hard. Facts are amplified and can be distorted  and any approaches to the problem are “hot” being driven by the current emotional state.

“Wise Mind” is the integration of both the “Reasonable and Emotion Minds” In fact it goes even further than that. “Wise Mind” adds intuitive knowing to emotional experiencing and logical analysis.

So how do we create our own Wise Minds?

We have to implement the skills required to balance the “Emotion and Reasonable Minds”

Mindfulness skills are the vehicles for such balance. Becoming Mindful requires a number of skills (all of which we can implement in our lives)

There are three “What” skills

1 – Observing

2 – Describing

3 – Participation

There are three “How” skills

1 – Taking a non-judgemental stance

2 – Focusing on one thing in the moment

3 – Being effective

“Wise Mind” is that place where “Reasonable and Emotion” mind overlaps. One could call it, the integration of the “Reasonable and Emotion” mind. It is that part of all of us that can know and experience truth. Where we know something to be true or valid. Wise mind is not Hot or Cool, it is almost always quite. This place is a special and rewarding place and has peace of mind. It is where the person knows something in the centered way.

Think of how we all have a heart, but some of us do not currently experience things “from the heart” Having a wise mind is very similar to experiencing things from the heart.

Wise mind is like a deep well in the ground. The water at the bottom and the vast underground river linked to this water is our wise mind. Sometimes though it is difficult for us to reach that water. There are things that are blocking the descent to the water. Sometimes there are trap doors and these doors are so cleverly built that one can believe there is no water at the bottom of the well. In fact, the trap door could look like its the bottom of the well, but its not. It might be that you just need a key to unlock the door, or maybe its nailed shut and you need a hammer to remove the nails.

Finding the way to opening that trap door allows us to reach our wise minds.

Wise Mind “AHA” Moments

You can experience “Wise Mind” moments when you listen to someone else describe their behavior. You may find yourself thinking ” Yes I have experienced that too” or “so that’s why I do that”

Wise mind is sometimes experienced in the center of the body (gut feeling) or in the center of the head or between the eyes.

Sometimes a person can find their wise mind by following their breath in and out.

When someone has to make a decision and they know that their decision is absolutely the right thing to do and their decision is not influenced by any sense of fear, dread or anxiety, they are experiencing wise mind. They “just know” they are doing the right thing, there is absolutely no doubt of mind.

Wise mind can often follow after a crises or chaos. Have you ever experienced clarity of thought following a crisis? For example, when we have had a big bust up with our partner there can be a period after, when we get to the heart of the matter and we see or know something with clarity.

We can make better choices for the dilemma, when the feeling comes from deep within rather than from a current emotional state.

Therefore if we can generate “Wise Mind” moments when we are faced with dilemmas, conflict or chaos, we are in a much better position to tackle the situation as opposed to allowing our emotional mind to override the situation. This can be especially beneficial for anger management, addiction concerns and well being.

In my next article, I will introduce the basic skills for Mindfulness. Skills that you can adopt and integrate into your everyday affairs. Being Mindful will allow entry to your Wise Mind and promote a more positive and healthy lifestyle for you and those that you care about.

If you would like to talk to me directly about your concerns, please reach out here.


(Research and some wording recited from Core Mindfulness by Marsha Linehan)


Addiction Counselling, Gambling, Uncategorized

Playing the Pokies. Concerns with Poker Machines?

Brisbane Counselling Clinic | Colwill Counselling

Concerns With Playing The Pokies

An area that seems to be rarely discussed as a major concern is one particular style of gambling here in Australia. That being playing the Pokies (or Poker machines).

So many features talk about Gambling in general, but I want to home into one area here: The Pokies.

For some the odd $10 here or there when visiting the local pub is viewed as “harmless” or “a bit of fun” and that may well be the case. But for others, playing the Pokies can become way more than “having fun”.

Machines that advertise 100 spins for $1 can also allow for up to $5-$10 per spin (state determined) and the temptation to bet higher amounts is often hard to resist as one either tries to chase lost money, or be attracted to the higher Jackpot amounts that larger bets open up.

I am not here to write about all the obvious reasons why Poker machines can be dangerous. No, I am here to write about the misunderstanding some people have when their partner or family member is found to have a problem with these machines. Or to try to relate to those that are traveling through their own issues with Poker machine by themselves.

My intention is simply to try to expose the difficulties faced for some who cross the invisible line. It is not intended to excuse the behavior, but to attempt to shed some light as to the pains one may go through when dealing solo with a problem relating to this form of gambling.

What Does Typical Poker Machine Venue Look Like?

Let’s look at a typical Poker machine venue and what it could look like should a video recorder be placed behind one’s eyes;

Inviting – Soft lighting, uplifting music, free drinks (some venues will congratulate your win with a “on the house” beer/drink)

Free food/snacks/spring rolls/cake.

Smoking areas in “open air” Poker rooms (state dependent)

Private bar to allow ordering of drinks away from the busy main bar (or maybe you can order your drinks without leaving your chair).

Air conditioned rooms for those hot summer months.

Not many rooms have natural light or windows. Instead lush velvet curtains and ambient lighting allow the feeling of being in a magical secret palace.

Sounds Like A Wonderful Den Right?

And there they are, all lined up, twinkling hypnotic lights, big dollar signs displaying 4 figure Jackpots, themed machines featuring characters holding gold nuggets, seductive female superheroes winking at you. Or maybe Characters that seem to take us to a childlike fantasy of make believe. It’s like a wonderland for the adult imagination (or so it seems).

Add to the mix the music that pipe from these money jukeboxes. Happy cheerful sounds. Maybe a delighted ringtone each time the slot pulls in a $50 note at an impressive speed.

Finish the icing with comfortable decedent furniture, state-of-the-art LED screens and high definition graphics (that rival any top quality video game) and you have a pretty stunning set.

Every now and then a bell rings. The natural instinct is to turn in the direction of the sound. Someone has the feature! Someone is winning money! That someone could be me next!

Maybe you hear the familiar Jackpot chorus. A chorus that you can hear in your sleep at night. One just like a catchy pop song, sticks in your head and embeds itself in the sound bank of your memory. They remind you of the circus you used to visit when you were a child. Oh how wonderful.

Someone has one big! Someone is tapping their favourite machine! That someone could be me next! I want it!

Remembering That Big Win

Maybe you cast your mind back to that big win you had a few years ago. You remember it very well and all memory in-between that big win and right here and now are, for this moment, irrelevant.

Next up is a sip from your favourite drink (“this one’s on me” you remember the bar staff saying. How important you feel) Chances are that the drink of choice is Alcoholic.

You like the song that is playing in the background. You might even sing along in your mind.

And into the game you go. The room disappears and it’s just you and the machine. The world becomes you and the machine. Money becomes just a piece of paper that activates the happy chirp sound from the machine and allows the reels to spin.

Consciously or sub-consciously every spin gives a tiny trigger of excitement. Anticipation for the free spins feature is never far from mind. You just need 3 symbols.

Often the symbols will show two on the win line and the third just visible above. Your heart skips a beat. “Nearly had it” “It’s coming, I can feel it”………

The person on the machine near you breaks your trance as they clap their hands symbolizing a win. Someone has the feature! Someone is winning money! That someone could be me next!

Another bell rings over the other side of the room. “I knew Tuesdays are a good day for coming to this venue”

Sound Familiar?

Returning your gaze back to your machine, you crave for the next hand clap to be coming from your world. But you know if the bell rings on your machine, you won’t hand clap. It’s not your style. You’re too busy waiting to find out what you will win. Too busy to see if the win will set you free of worry about how much you have put in already.

Following a few minor wins (minor meaning that the machine gives you a happy fanfare of music and proudly displays a win. Often the win can be less than the actual bet size, sometimes a little more. But it still sings a happy song just for you irrelevant). “Oh well the win is not as much as the bet, but it’s a win and will allow some funds to get closer to the big win” you hear yourself say.

Then comes along a decent win. “I knew it” “See I know this is a machine that pays” “It was the way I touched the button that triggered the win” “the machine knows me/likes me” “I can always rely on this machine”

What do you do now? Stay on the same machine or switch to another?

And so the journey continues……

Should you leave now while you are up? Can you win more? Are you on a streak? Are you happy to “cut your loses” and exit? Do you need just another similar win and your out of there?

Likely chance is that you will continue (and if not today, it will be another day)……

Anger Management Brisbane | Mens Counselling services

Funds Are Low. Crossing the line

The win felt good but you need another now. Funds are low (and so is your drink). “Must find the reserve sign as no-one can touch your machine”

Heading to the bar you know where the cash machine is. Or if this venue is new to you, you just have to look for a discreet wall, hidden from normal view. Or head to the toilets, there’s often an ATM near there. You know it’s never in the Pokie room – that would not be right hey! The ATM machine is almost like a dirty little secret machine hidden away from the mighty giants of the Poker room.

Its only $2.95 to withdraw (“that’s only like 1 spin” you say to yourself) $50. “Might as well make it a $100 as I will save $2.95 if I don’t win on the first $50 and need to come back. Actually make $150 but I won’t put all that in.…..”

The drink this time is not free but you pay by card so avoid breaking up the machines $50s. Don’t want shrapnel in your pocket, the machines don’t like coins anymore. They even give you tickets back instead of cash- how convenient. The bar person does not appear to be so friendly this time. That’s strange considering the money they have made from me so far.

The journey back to your machine allows you time to find all the reasons why it’s OK to just lose another $100. In addition you find it very easy to convince yourself that there is the chance that actually you will get your money back. Maybe you will even be up? You are convinced that the extra $50 you took out will not be part of the gamble. You even put it in another pocket. Elements of guilt maybe creeping in, but the power of the chance, for this moment supersedes any guilt.

Are we still in the pleasure zone?

The happy music piping through the discreet speakers somehow now sounds a little irritating “I don’t like this song”

The player on the other machine annoys you a little. “Why are they so loud” “Bet they are a fake customer employed to look like they are winning”

It’s at this point that our videotape stops recording. It’s at this point that for some, the illness (yes it is an illness for some*) has taken its next hold and any false belief of fun has been replaced with fear, anxiety, worthlessness and stress.

Possible Outcomes

Relieved – “I am lucky I got $100 back so only lost $100 in the end”

Convincing ourselves that is OK to go through all that stress to walk away with a loss that could have been bigger. Allowing ourselves to believe that the investment was worth the “Fun” that we had.

Depressed – “I can’t believe I just did that” “What am I going to do” How am I going to explain or hide that?”

The walk of shame through the pub (but of course you keep you head up high and say goodbye in a cherry manner. The bar person hardly looks up). The walk to the car or the Uber is long. You don’t notice the blue sky and pure sunlight.

Feelings of anxiety, shame, guilt and hopelessness are very common following a loss on the Pokies. Can we share these feelings with those that we are close to? For many people they feel like they cannot, for fear of the consequences. Fear of uncovering a behavior that they are not proud of. So what do we do with all this emotion? For many it’s bottled up and buried somewhere inside. For some, keeping a secret is an art they have mastered.

But there is help. There is support. There is the ability for change

Happy but not – “I am up” That’s great” “I have all these notes in my pocket” “I am not going to play them for a while now and I am going to buy that gadget I have had my eye on”

What are we doing here? We have concerns right? Concerns that this win will be back in the machines before we can even celebrate? We feel the need to spend the money as fast as possible to stop the urge to play again.

Can we even share this win with those that we are close to?


For many people, the energy they use to cover up their feelings guilt and shame requires most of their reserves. It is very common to turn to Alcohol to try to blot out such feelings, but we know that’s not the answer. In my next blog I will talk about the relationship of Alcohol and playing the Pokies.

A restless night is often what follows a loss and it is not uncommon for the person to try in all vain to win back the loss, the very next day.

And so the spiral continues…but remember there are ways to make change by seeking support. This spiral can stop.

Covid-19. The Pokies Are Closed

I am not creating this blog in an attempt to re-write the rule books and have Pokies banned from venues (it would be dream come true if they were!), but on that note I do want to reflect back on the past 6 months during the inital outbreak of Covid-19 where we saw all Pokie rooms (and 194,000 Poker Machines in Australia) closed for periods of time.

I have spoken to a number of people that were relieved and in fact hoped that they would never open again.

For some people battling poker machine addiction turned to other forms of Gambling (the Sydney Morning Herald reported in June that search request for the term “online casino Australia real money” jumped almost 540% in April during the first period of lockdown.

This further strengthens my belief that this form of gambling can be, for some, an illness as opposed to simply being irresponsible.

But what about all those people that resisted the temptation to seek other forms of gambling during lock down?

Many turned their attention to other activities. The CBA reported in May (VIA ABC News) that spending on household furniture and equipment was up by 53%. Perhaps some of this spend came from those that may have otherwise played the Pokies?

Again, many people have shared their stories with me and detail how they turned their attention away from daily visits to the Pokies and toward other more healthy activities. Many report that even now that the Poker rooms are open again, they have kept away.

This proves that regardless of illness or no illness, change is possible and as long as you have a desire to make change, I am here to help support, motivate and generate such change.

I would like to encourage anyone that reads and relates to this story, to reach out and say hello to me. I offer a complimentary consultation phone or zoom meeting prior to any formal sessions.

For further information click here.

Where is the misunderstanding?

Misunderstanding from partners / family members tends to lend itself to the lack of awareness of just how powerful and addictive Pokie machines can be for individuals.

Many people can relate to addiction to drugs or alcohol but gambling is often frowned upon and not viewed in the same light. But it needs to be.

It’s easy to view the person as being selfish, irresponsible or uncaring. I understand how one would be angry and confused. But I would encourage a pause to try and understand the hurt that the person with the problem is feeling.

The journey above merely gives an example of how powerful and easy it is to cross the line into the addiction of Poker machines.

Counselling for Gambling concerns can include partners and family members of the person concerned and this can provide help for those that find it difficult to be open about their problem. It can also help explore ways for partners and family members find understanding and ways to support the person who is seeking change for the better.

Misunderstanding for the individual can often be generated by “self-convincing” that there is not a problem, trying to tackle the problem on their own or by letting fear, embarrassment or guilt prevent them from reaching out for support.

Counselling is an excellent start to making the desired change.

Written by Mark Colwill (Founder of Colwill Counselling) Brisbane October 2020

One to one and family sessions available to tackle the concerns of Pokie addiction click here 

Learn how to walk away from the Pokies with Colwill Counselling





Anger Management

Holding The Door Open

Gambling Support | Colwill Counselling Clinic Brisbane

A saying I came across the other day went like this;

“If I can hold the door open for someone, that does not mean that I need to have someone then open the next door for me”

Read this a couple of times and think about how one interprets this.

How many times have we opened the door for someone, or given way to traffic only to then not have this returned back on the next occasion?

Does this mean that the next time someone wants to turn out of a side road in traffic, we ignore them and don’t let them in?

Or how about when you are rushing into the office and others are behind you (perhaps even some who have not held the door open for you the day before).

Do we just let the door close in their face and think to ourselves “serves them right”?

Showing compassion to others, regardless of if we receive it back, is where our own self compassion begins.

Try if for yourself and see what gives you more true value to your own self……Holding The Door Open for others helps Holding The Door Open for yourself.

Visit our Anger Management page here

About Colwill Counselling

At Colwill Counselling we are dedicated to helping you achieve your goals in overcoming the challenges you faces during times of mental and emotional difficulty. Whether you are suffering with addiction, gambling habits or anger we help you to take back control with professional counselling at our Brisbane counselling clinic.

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