The exercise is wonderful work therapy for the participants. After the pictures are presented, the budding Picassos wad them up. I set a large wastebasket underneath a toy basketball hoop, and after all the artwork has been shot into the wastebasket they set to work at creating the kind of workplace where they can flourish.
I know the exercise is effective, and not only because I've seen it turn around even the most calloused clients. It's an adaptation of a useful method I used 15 years ago when I quit smoking. I know breaking myself of this powerful addiction would be difficult both physically and emotionally.
To facilitate it, I wrote down all the negative results of smoking I could think of: money wasted, setting a bad example for my children, addictive behavior and so on. I put all those sheets into a pile. Meanwhile, I created another pile listing all the positives of quitting: better health, a longer life, a more efficient worker, etc. On it went.
When I finished, I lit a match to the pile of old negatives and watched my old smoking habit go up in flames. That made it official: I was done with cigarettes. Whenever I felt the urge for a cigarette in the next few weeks, I pulled out my list of positives and studied them to reinforce my decision. I haven't smoked since.
Too often we try to simply wish away bad habits and unproductive attitudes, but that's a flabby way to trigger change. No wonder we fail. We become like the would-be dieter who grabs for another piece of chocolate cake and vows to start the diet tomorrow. Deep down, we don't believe we can change. We don't know how. Awash in excuses, we tell ourselves that change is impossible.
That's why taking some physical action to rid yourself of limiting habits and limiting attitudes is so effective. I still do it, even writing a letter to God when all else fails, asking Him to rid me of negative feelings and behaviors. Then I burn the letter. As I watch the flames, I can actually feel the release of all the toxic behavior I no longer want to own.
Change is a choice. Watching negative habits dissolve into ashes turns "impossible" to "I'm possible." Try it. It's the most powerful way I know to kindle change.
Donna Rae Smith is founder and president of Bright Side Inc., which develops programs to inspire leadership and change. She is author, most recently, of The Power of Building Your Bright Side.