Learn Key Skills

Minnesota Alternatives - Building the Foundation for Self-Regulation

This is a foundation for self-regulation on which the other five key skills are built. Integrating the foundation into daily life is one of the signs you may be ready for program completion.

Engaging in Basic Self-Care – when we care for our bodies, it is much easier to use our minds.

  • Get adequate sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and time in nature
  • Manage stress - avoid over extending
  • Be intelligently self-attentive
  • Understand Will Power (limited amount each day and fuel tank runs low after a lot of decision making and self-regulation which adds to your stress-vulnerability)

Practicing Mindfulness – ability to be present and learn to observe thoughts, feeling, and body sensations with both compassion and curiosity

  • Meditation to learn to take the seat of the observer
  • Gentle with self vs. white knuckling and inner discord
  • Practice mindfulness activities (eating, walking, music, drawing, coloring, movement)
  • Using breathing to stay aware of the present

Activating Parasympathetic Nervous System – learn how to self-calm through conscious activity

  • Basic understanding of how neurons and neurotransmitters work – inhibit and excite
  • Understand roles of parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of nervous system
  • Demonstrate how you can choose to both self-activate and self-calm
  • Deep breathing activates parasympathetic

Using Your PFC (pre-frontal cortex) – ability to think before acting. Freedom comes from thinking, not emotion - learn how to think greater than how you feel

  • Understand brain structure – evolution and role of 3 different parts of the brain and why PFC functioning is so important
  • Engaging your PFC is not automatic. You need to turn it on, but then becomes the command center, but harder to engage if mid-brain is on “fire” –  quiet your mid brain using basic self-care and skills to activate parasympathetic
  • Understand neuroplasticity - where you focus our attention defines you neurologically
  • Understand connection between emotion/impulse mind (mid brain) and PFC becomes very weak or severed after severe substance use
  • Recognize that a disease state occurs when neuro networks representing other parts of life (job, family, health, hobbies) are pruned away
  • Identify ways to build and strengthen the connection to PFC – you must find a reason that is meaningful enough to get off the “highway” and create new roads/pathways

Five Key Skills

Gaining Perspective- building pathways based on positive states of mind

  • Cultivating hope and gratitude
  • Practicing Acceptance
  • Practicing attached detachment
  • Reframing
  • Experiencing emotions

Developing Meaning - connecting in deep and meaningful ways

  • Understanding attachment/attunement
  • Learning social skills
  • Demonstrating understanding
  • Developing meaningful activities
  • Building positive experiences

Creating Optimal Environments – understanding the critical role of environments

  • Creating safety/sanctuary
  • Skillful use of boundaries
  • Sharing examples of how powerful environments can be (rat park example)
  • Exploring procrastination and how to overcome overwhelm
  • Creating a sense of order and being accountable

Understanding MH Issues and Effects of Drugs and Alcohol – use knowledge to help make informed decisions

  • Reviewing basic neuroscience of tolerance and withdrawal and reducing risk for harm
  • Understanding how drugs and alcohol affect your body and your brain
  • Learning about various MH conditions including symptoms and treatment strategies
  • Understanding the interplay of substance use on MH symptoms
  • Understanding trauma and impact of adverse early childhoods experiences/attachment issues

Managing High Risk Situations – developing specific plans in response to risk

  • Developing a recovery vision
  • Writing down specific plans and setting up accountability and support
  • Practicing using in vivo opportunities and also using imagery and role plays
  • Understanding Impermanence
  • Focusing on effectiveness 


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