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December 2018

Hope for working together for the greater good; Stump the Shrink and more Tiny Habits; That’s service.


I am excited and positive about what just happened in our political process. This can now genuinely be a season of hope and goodwill. Just in time for holiday celebrations and the start of a new year.


Highlights of the FIRST STEP Act and Important Implications

The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act or FIRST STEP Act is legislation to reform the federal prison system.

  • After an initial version passed the House of Representatives (on a bipartisan 360-59 vote) on May 22, 2018, a new version was passed by the U.S. Senate (on a bipartisan 87-12 vote) on December 18, 2018.
  • The House passed the act, the most far-reaching overhaul of the criminal justice system in a generation, on December 20, 2018 with a 358-36 vote.
  • The bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 21, 2018.
  • It reflects a major pivot from a punitive, law-and-order stance of the 1980s to policies emphasizing rehabilitation with the aim to save money; a pivot from the tough-on-crime prison and sentencing laws which ballooned the federal prison population, creating a criminal justice system many conservatives and liberals view as costly and unfair.
  • The bill affects only the federal system; it does not cover state jails and prisons. As of December 13, according to the Bureau of Prisons, there were about 181,000 federal inmates. This is a small but significant fraction of the total US jail and prison population of 2.1 million.
  • The FIRST STEP Act takes modest steps to reform the criminal justice system and ease very punitive prison sentences at the federal level. A similar move has been afoot in many states as crime rates have dropped; officials have pursued cost-effective ways to cut the prison population.
  • State-level reforms passed in recent years have taken more significant steps- from reduced prison sentences across the board to the defelonization of drug offenses to marijuana legalization. That’s one reason the bill is dubbed a “first step.” Still, it is a step – the kind Congress hasn’t taken in years, as it has debated criminal justice reform but failed to follow through.

Here are the highlights and why they are important:

  1. Shortens sentences for some offenders. The bill revised several sentencing laws, such as reducing the “three strikes” penalty for drug felonies from life behind bars to 25 years. It retroactively limits the disparity in sentencing guidelines between crack and powder cocaine offenses.
  • A drug is a drug is a drug. Whether cocaine was smoked as crack; or snorted as a powder, the sentence time should be the same.
  • The bill made retroactive the reforms enacted by the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which reduced the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences at the federal level.
  • This would affect about 2,600 current federal inmates. Poorer people of color caught with crack got more time than the wealthier and whiter “cool crowd” who snorted cocaine.
  • It also expands early-release programs and modifies sentencing laws, including mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, to more equitably punish drug offenders.
  1. Expands job training and other programs for prisoners aimed at reducing recidivism rates among federal prisoners. Federal prisons will also rehabilitate and heal – not just punish.
  • When people are released to the street with felonies on their record and they have to declare this on their job applications, is it any wonder that a return to crime seems to be the only way to survive?
  • When people are given the opportunity to develop skills to re-integrate into the community and develop prosocial relationships and activities, not only is public safety improved, but so are lives.
  • Authorizing new markets for Federal Prison Industries expands the opportunities for developing work skills and productive, tax-paying citizens upon release.
  1. The bill increases “good time credits” inmates can earn. Inmates who avoid a disciplinary record can currently achieve credits of up to 47 days per year incarcerated. The bill increases the cap to 54, allowing well-behaved inmates to cut their prison sentences by an additional week for each year they’re incarcerated.
  • “The First Step Act mandates a new Risk and Needs Assessment system that matches people in prison to programs and classes most supportive of their growth and transformation.” (CNN)
  • Allowing inmates to obtain “earned time credits” by participating in more vocational and rehabilitative programs can improve prosocial functioning, develop skills and confidence to function in society.
  • Those credits would allow them to be released early to halfway houses or home confinement.
  • Not only could this mitigate prison overcrowding, but the hope is that the education programs will reduce the likelihood an inmate will commit another crime once released. As a result, it is hoped this will reduce both crime and incarceration in the long term. (There’s research showing that education programs do reduce recidivism.)
  1. There are other bill changes aimed at improving conditions in prisons: these include banning the shackling of women during childbirth; improvements to feminine hygiene in prison; and requiring inmates be placed closer to their families.
  • Treating people with dignity is the right thing to do. It may even break the cycle of punitive domination, violent resistance and perpeptual conflict.
  • Mandating de-escalation training for correctional officers and employees gives them the skills to protect both their own safety and those of the prison population and environment.
  • Acute psychiatric settings know better now how to contain out of control behavior with minimal use of restraints. Prisons should also be able to restrict the use of restraints on pregnant women.
  • Expanding compassionate release for terminally-ill patients is safe for the public and saves precious financial and people resources.
  • Placing prisoners closer to family increases the frequency and quality of family visitation, which is good for the well-being of inmates and for the safety of the prison community.

Sources of information: Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and Wikipedia


TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More

This bill was the culmination of TEAM.  A slow, long process started in the Obama era and extended into the Trump presidency.  Shepherded and doggedly pursued by President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, we now have a first step towards justice transformation.It is unknown who invented that pithy and true acronym. I am excited because I have always believed in TEAM.  However I was despairing that our elected officials either can’t, or won’t, embrace TEAM.

Could this be just the first of many coalition-building, TEAM efforts. Notice the positive comments from both sides of the aisle and the White House:

  • Trump took to Twitter shortly after the bill passed, hailing the bipartisan achievement. “When both parties work together we can keep our Country safer,” he said. “A wonderful thing for the U.S.A.!!”
  • During floor debate Thursday, December 20, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Republican-Virginia), called the legislation “a meaningful and historic criminal justice effort,” adding that federal prisons should not be nursing homes.
  • “This legislation is not the end of the discussion,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Democrat- New York), who will take over as Judiciary Committee chairman January 2019 when Democrats take control of the House. “It will not solve long-standing problems with the criminal justice system … but it does demonstrate we can work together to make the system more fair.”

Yes, “we can work together” – Together Everyone Achieves More

stump the shrink & skills

Last month’s guest writer, Dr. Deborah Teplow outlined BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habitsmethodology. If you missed it, here’s the link to last month’s edition:

Tips & Topics November 2018

This prompted a message from a reader:

“Maybe it’s just me that is struggling with this…applying this formula on an addictive behavior might have helped me to better understand how I can help my clients with their areas of need. Maybe I am not understanding this clear enough; could you address this/apply this in the next edition of Tips & Topics? Applying it to the “meat” of addiction?”

Rhonda Hart BS LAC

Yankton, South Dakota

So I asked Deborah to help Rhonda (and me) address her question:


First, a quick review of Tiny Habits

A lot of people asked how to use tiny habits to break bad habits.

* Tiny habits is a method developed by Stanford professor BJ Fogg which makes it super easy to start new behaviors.

* Tiny habits is based on the Fogg Behavior Model which shows that behavior occurs when three elements (motivation, ability, and a prompt) occur at the same moment (Behavior = Motivation + Ability + Prompt (B=MAP).

* The Tiny habits method uses the formula “After I [______], I will [desired behavior].”  Tiny habits ends with a quick verbal and/or physical celebration.

Here are four classic tiny habits:

  1. “After I brush my teeth, I will floss one tooth.”
  2. “After I get into bed and pull the cover up, I will think of one thing I’m grateful for.”
  3. “After I pee, I will do 2 squats.”
  4. “After I sit down at the table, I will take one sip of water.”


Contrast breaking bad habits with starting new habits

  • The good news is breaking bad habits uses the same three elements in the Fogg Behavior Model as starting new habits.
  • The bad news is that breaking bad habits is much more complicated and more difficult than starting a new habit from scratch.
  • Right now, there is no “official” tiny habits method for breaking bad habits, but the Fogg Behavior Model and the tiny habits method still offer valuable insights.


Tiny Habits in the Recovery Process – Use tiny habits to begin new, desired behaviors.

The new behavior can be anything meaningful that enhances and/or improves the client’s life. It should be a behavior which comes with no emotional baggage, and which is fun to do.

The rationale for this idea is:

  • Behavior change is a skill that takes practice.
  • Tiny habits invites people to experiment with the key elements of any behavior change.
  • Learning the method can deepen clients’ insights about how behavior change works and boost their behavior-change skills.
  • Tiny habits is transformative for many people because it reveals key aspects of the change process most people overlook or don’t appreciate.
  • It puts positive change within easy reach of everyone and enables people to succeed multiple times per day.

For many people, being able to celebrate success related to positive behavior change can have a dramatic impact on their confidence, determination, curiosity, and skill.


Tiny Habits in the Recovery Process – Use tiny habits to set the stage for positive change within the recovery process.

Here are some examples:

  1. In addiction treatment, we often encourage clients to get names and numbers at 12-Step or other recovery support groups, so they can reach out to someone. But it isn’t easy to suddenly have the courage to walk up to a person at a meeting and ask for their name and number. Here’s where tiny habits can help:
  • “After I open my eyes in the morning, I will think of one person to contact who encourages me to stay sober…and I’ll say, ‘Great!'”
  • “At the next AA meeting, as soon as I take my seat, I will look at one person and smile…and say to myself ‘You can do it!'”.
  1. In recovery, it’s easy to be hard on yourself. As they say in AA, ‘easy does it’ and ‘one day at a time’. Tiny habits can help this too:
  • “After I get into bed and pull the covers up, I will think of one positive thing I did for myself today… and make a fist pump.”
  • “After I get into bed and pull the covers up, I will remind myself to take one step at a time…and say, ‘You’re doing good!'”
  1. Recovery is a process, not an event. It is easy to get impatient and lose hope:
  • “After I open my eyes, I will take one slow deep breath…and say, ‘You can do it!'”
  • “After I turn on my phone, I will write down one reason to stick with my program.”


Tiny Habits in the Recovery Process – Use tiny habits to address critical moments when motivation and triggers for undesirable behavior may be high.

We can help clients: (1) identify their relapse or continued use trigger situations and danger zones; and (2) fashion a tiny habit to develop new behaviors:

  • “After I get an invitation to go outside to smoke with the gang at the office, I will look at the photo of my children on desk and say “no thanks.” Then, I’ll say, “Good job! Good dad!”
  • “After I arrive at the party, I will find a place to stand which blocks my view of the drinks…and say, “Out of sight, out of mind.'”
  • “After I recognize I’m getting tense, I will stretch my arms overhead and take a deep slow breath…and say, ‘You’ve got this!'”
  • “After I walk out the door from work, I will remind myself to take the route home that passes the park and my church (not the bar)…and say, ‘One more victory!'”

Thanks, Deborah for helping Rhonda, me and all of us working with addiction and recovery

sharing solutions

Ready to take the plunge?

You can learn a lot more about tiny habits and develop the skills you need to get the most benefit from them by taking a free, quick 5-day online training program with BJ Fogg and Deborah Teplow, certified Tiny Habits coach, trained by BJ Fogg.

It will take you a total of about 45 minutes (25 minutes to get started over a weekend and then no more than 5 minutes per day for the next 5 days).

You can sign up here for programs in December and early January:

Take look and sign up here


Every day, hundreds of people with addiction and mental health needs reach out for help.  Every day, too many of those people in some level of desperation are placed on a waiting list for days, weeks and even months.

Earlier this month, I was lucky to spend a couple of days in Hong Kong. (I am afflicted with the travel bug.) One evening I was shopping at the Yue Hwa Chinese Products Emporium near Jordan train station on the Kowloon side.   I was in the Men’s Section when I spied some comfortable casual style trousers.

Great fit around the waist and butt…..way too long in the legs. I was about to sadly hang them back up on the rack, when the shop assistant said:

We can fix and shorten the legs.”

“But we are only here for another day or so” I said.

No problem, we can fix.”

(I remembered how Hong Kong has lots of tailors who can even make you a custom fitted suit in 48 hours; so I figured she had some local tailor nearby she could whisk my trousers off to, and I could pick them up the next day. But then we’d have to come back and time was short. I was about to say that maybe we’d let it go, not that important.)

“You buy now, we can fix.”

            “But when would I have to come back tomorrow? We are only here another day.”

“No, we fix now.”

(I was thinking we were late already meeting a friend for dinner, she was on her way to meet us at the store, then we had to go to our reservation, so not much time.)

“How long will it take to fix the legs?”

“Maybe 20 minutes. You shop, I do now.”

(I thought, wow 20 minutes and she herself is going to do it? I don’t even have to come back tomorrow and she herself is going to do the alterations right there and then?)

Sure enough, she measured my leg length, moved over to the sewing machine I hadn’t noticed until then; and proceeded to cut and sew the hem. The ironing board was out to press the new hems. It wasn’t 20 minutes, it was 10 minutes. Just as our friend came up the escalator and greeted us, the shop assistant handed me the perfectly fitting, new casual trousers.

I was amazed. What customer service! What efficiency! What responsiveness!

Back in the USA, on my Southwest flights I notice how flight attendants both service the flyers and clean up the cabin to prepare for the next passengers and flight. Southwest Airlines turns flights around faster, moves more passengers and consistently makes more profit than other airlines.

I wonder about all those addiction and mental health treatment seekers and the waiting lists. If Yue Hwa Department store in Hong Kong and Southwest Airlines in the USA can do it, why can’t we do it for people desperately seeking help?

Better customer service; better efficiency; better responsiveness.

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