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Collect your Thoughts: Techniques to Help you Stick with a Lifestyle Change

By Shatyra Williams, MSW, RSW

Published: April 2014

So you find yourself in a crisis situation. You do the responsible thing: confront your problem head on and seek professional help in hopes of repairing your situation. Your professional counselling program gives you a host of new approaches to dealing with your situation. You feel energized and motivated to make a healthy lifestyle change. But naturally, as time goes by you become caught up in the motions of life and a few months later you find yourself unable to cope. All of the professional information, tools, and ideas have gone out the window and you are tempted to return to the old habits that got you into your crisis situation in first place. You ask yourself “Why...Why am I back here again when I know this is the wrong thing to do?!”

Oftentimes we develop habits and continue to engage in them for years before recognizing the detrimental effects they are having on our wellbeing. Once we do realize that a change needs to be made, the challenge is to be consistent with our new direction. It is very easy to slip back into old habits if we allow our old thoughts to rule our minds and forget about the new found ideas that enticed us to change.  The key to controlling your mind frame is to focus on replacing your thoughts rather than erasing your thoughts.

For example, if you are trying to overcome a smoking habit you may have once lived by the belief that “you only live once”.  With this notion in mind, you would have suppressed the idea of smoking as an unhealthy habit and focused on the idea of freedom, comfort, and carefree living as a reason to continue your habit.  You may develop a new and different perspective about smoking at one point in your life, but in order for your new perspective to truly replace your old perspective you will need to dig deep and confront your true desires. Take control of your life by acting in favour of your values, passions, and strengths as opposed to your habits. The following section will show you how.

Collect your Thoughts Technique

Permanently replacing your thoughts takes a much larger commitment than simply gaining a new catch phrase. In order to avoid falling into old habits you will need to commit to ongoing self-reminders that will re-train your mind and re-create your logic. In order to help you through this process, I will present you with a strategy called Collecting your Thoughts. This method gives a new, tangible, and concrete meaning to the notion of collecting your thoughts .

1. Clarify your vision for change: Write yourself a detailed commitment letter which specifies what it is you would like to change, stick with, or become inspired towards at this moment in your life. Some examples: I am committed to taking better care of myself physically, I am committed to being a more attentive parent, friend, or partner, I am committed to quitting smoking, I am committed to losing weight, I am committed to addressing my anxiety issues, etc. Be sure to include the following information  in your letter: Why you would like to commit to this direction in life, why it is important for you to make this change, how you plan to get started towards change, and How you see your life improving as a result of this change. The key to writing a powerful Commitment letter is to be very specific and honest.  

2. Select a Box, Folder, Bag, or Storage Unit to be used to collect a large quantity of small objects, items, and documents. Place your Commitment letter in your Collection box.

3. Add to your collection: Seek out items and information to fill your Collection box, such as:  quotes, inspiring pictures, poetry, sentimental items, books, and other symbolic objects that remind you of your new found direction in life.

4. Continue to fill your box on a regular basis: Devote a realistic amount of time to feeding your mind with positive thoughts and helpful tips to keep you motivated towards your goal. For example, every day print out one inspiring poem to add to your box, or every weekend spend at least half an hour drawing art, seeking art, or writing journal entries/letter for your collection.

Be creative. Decorate your keepsake box and personalize your keepsake items. Display your passion for change through this personal collection.

5. Try new things: Search for new coping mechanisms that will help you to manage triggers, weaknesses, and challenges. If you find that a technique helps you through a crisis, write yourself a reminder note and add the note to your collection. For example: Note to self “Yoga really helped me relax and avoid reaching for a glass of alcohol during that stressful weekend”.  

Whenever you feel that you are straying from your new direction in life, return to your personal collection for inspiration, guidance, and reminders.

This strategy can be very effective as an ongoing self-care method as it is personalized and consistent. Unlike a tool or tip from a counsellor, the collection box is designed by you, specifically for you. It will grow with you and evolve as your ideas evolve. The key to truly benefiting from this method is to recognize the joy and excitement that come with changing your life for the better. The opportunity to re-create your lifestyle or better yourself in any way should truly be celebrated.

By developing a collection of your new thoughts, ideas, and inspirations, you are fueling your passion for change. You are encouraging yourself and constantly reminding yourself why this change matters. The constant reminder and the personalized aspect of the collection box will help you to remember your personal reasons for wanting to change and encourage you in times when this change is difficult to maintain. Over time you may forget all of what you’ve learned in a counselling program, but with this collection you have a constant reminder of what you stand for, why you want to change, and how to stay inspired in times of difficulty.


Creative ideas for filling your Collection Box:   


Inspiring articles





A personal journal

A letter to yourself reminding you of the negative consequences of reverting back to old habits

A letter to yourself reminding you of the positive outcomes associated with sticking to your new life direction

Sentimental jewelry

Information received from a counsellor or supportive professional

A list of goals that you would like to achieve

A picture of a safe, quiet, peaceful place

A CD, MP3, or other music source to play an uplifting song

A print out of inspiring song lyrics

A picture of yourself as a child as a reminder that this little child deserves the bright future that you are seeking to move towards

Your favourite flower (or picture of a flower)


A Bible or spiritual script

A light weight as a representation of your strength

A Feather as a representation of your new freedom

A picture of / or a real remote control to remind you that you are in control

A tiny toy car to symbolize that you should keep moving through the hard times

A list of your favourite neighbourhood escape spots to calm down in times of stress including cafes, restaurant, lounges, libraries, etc


Colleting your thoughts is more than taking a breath and thinking about what you want to do. Sometimes in the moment, we decide how to act based on our emotions, environment, or habits. Use this technique to free yourself from reverting to old habits. You have authority over your life and deserve nothing less than wellness.

Inspire yourself and stay motivated!

About the Author

Shatyra Williams MSW, RSW is a Toronto-based Social Worker with a passion for women's wellness. As Program Manager of RWRJ's Artistic Healing Group, Shatyra teaches healthy coping strategies for women survivors of trauma. Through a variety of creative educational techniques Shatyra helps women to challenge themselves, to embrace their imperfections, and to love their journey. 

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