The Penultimate Step

To live is to choose. But to choose well,
you must know who you are and what you stand for,
where you want to go and why you want to get there.

 —  Kofi Annan

The word, "penultimate" means: "Coming next-to-last in a sequence." This is the penultimate step on the path to mindful action. As you may discover when you are in the Action Stage and come face to face with great stress or temptation, your performance during that moment of conflict depends upon how well you prepared for it during the Contemplation Stage.

This penultimate step is your opportunity to transform your understanding of your Core Values and Motives into effective tools for action. You may have arrived at this step via shortcut or gone through a long journey to get here. Regardless of the path you took, you are now at the penultimate step of the passage from dependence to self-direction.

Prepare for Action

Now that you have access to your Rational Processing System, you can appreciate the predicament of a rational being whose Core Motivation is often in conflict with the pleasure-seeking motives of the creature it inhabits. To prepare yourself for the conflicts you are bound to encounter, consider the situations that evoke this conflict. How will you feel at those moments? How will you appraise your options? How do you want these conflicts to resolve?

To act in accord with your interests and principles during times of great conflict your Core Motivation must be salient at that moment. Before leaving the Contemplation Stage, it is important that declare your understandings of your Core Motivation in ways that will be useful to you during high-risk situations. Three declarations will be used by Action Stage tools:

  1. A clear Declaration of your Core Motivation. This is the conclusion of your personal research on your values and motives. The appreciation of what you want to have, do, or be during this one lifetime your get, can influence your actions during moments of conflict.

  2. These Are My Beliefs. Your challenge here is to compose clear and salient reminders of what you know is true about your relationship with the incentive and the conflict between your Core Motivation and Incentive Motivation.

  3. A rough draft of your Decision about what you intend to do keeping in mind the implicit No Exceptions commitment.

The Declarations Worksheet:

Print and Complete the Declarations Worksheet

  1. Declare Your Core Motivation - Compose a clear and simple statement that summerizes your Core Motivation. For example H's : "My most important motivation during this chapter of my life is to Fulfilling my responsibilities to my family is what I want most during this chapter of my life."
    • Space is provided to specify your Hierarchy of Motives and Core Values for those who have done the personal research.

  2. These Are My Beliefs - Write out specific statements that will remind you of your interests and principles in a way that will make sense to you when you are in a high-risk situation. [Note: Research suggests that early in the change process, images of the penalties of relapse are more influential at eliciting the motivation to prevent relapse. Later, once you experience some of the payoffs of success, imagery of the benefits of success become more influential]. Examples:

    • When I think, "I can just do a little," I understand it as a corruptive illusion.
    • Giving in means I am putting pleasure seeking ahead of being a good mom.
    • Using pornography causes pain to my family and myself.
    • I will never get out of this mess if I keep using the incentive.
    • If I continue to play these games I will lose everything.
    • Exercising my will to resist temptation strengthens me.
    • Even though it does not feel like it, if I do the right thing now I will be glad I did.
    • If I continue my addiction I will die without getting what I really want.
    • The next time I use cocaine may cause a stroke and cripple me.
    • I tell myself I can use once in a while, but I know that is a lie.
    • Alcohol is not my friend; it is an enemy that is destroying me and everything I love.

  3. Draft of Your Decision - The decision is your specification of the rules you will not break  —  no matter what the circumstance. Once you define the rules you must adhere to them without exception (even when local conditions make an exception seem reasonable). Be mindful of this implicit "no exceptions'' clause. This Penultimate step gives you an opportunity to explore the implications of your commitment. So, what is your decision? To act in accord with your interests and principles, what rules must you follow? Examples:

    • Complete abstinence
    • Sobriety sampling [recommended]  —  e.g. complete abstinence for 3 months and then decide upon future rules.
    • Controlled incentive use —  e.g., no more than 2 drinks during any 24 hour period. [Note: controlled use is dangerous. If you are considering it, see The PIG's Bet].

Navigational Options

The Action Stage begins with a clear and unambiguous Decision. If you do not have a clear definition of your interests and principles, or if your motivation to act in accord with them is not sufficiently robust, then you need to invest more time and energy on the Contemplation Stage. While you may find it helpful to read ahead and begin to work the Action Stage, I strongly recommend that you return here to do more personal research if there is any doubt about what you really want. Here are some links to guide your research:

  • Looking Within describes some general principles and guidelines for researching your motivation.
  • The Existential Path to Meaning describes some abstract and philosophical ideas that may pertain to your personal research.
  • Contemplation Exercises offer opportunities to personally explore and directly manipulate motivational phenomena.
  • The Decision Matrix is the next step on the default path. Here you will create a potent tool to influence the outcome of motivational conflicts.


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