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Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on March 3, 2024


The skill of being effective refers to actively doing what needs to be done so that you will have your needs met or in order to move closer to a certain goal (Marsha Linehan). This DBT skill is directly related to experiencing positive emotions: when you get things done and are effective in life you feel good. Maybe you've been feeling depressed for a while and you have been postponing your obligations and this, in turn, makes you feel more depressed.

Being effective can be hard, but look to make small progress to get the ball rolling, and over time you can make real progress at developing this skill and improving the quality of your life by reaching your goals.

DBT Emotion Regulation: Being Effective
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In order to practice being effective, first you need to know what your goals are. We are going to look at the short-term goals that you have for this day and the long-term goals that you want to achieve in the near future.

Part One: Short-Term Goals

Think about the things you need to do today. Start with the small and obvious tasks - when people experience depression and low mood, even these tasks can seem like too much work. That's okay. We'll look at the basic needs, step by step. Think about cooking a meal, getting a shower, cleaning or tidying your apartment. If they seem too much to you, just remember that you will do them spread out over several hours.

Then, continue with the other obligations that you have, such as work or studies. Set realistic goals. Think about what you've been perhaps postponing. Write all these short-term goals in the worksheet.

Next, think about the precise steps you have to take in order to achieve this. For some, it may be obvious and self-explanatory (like taking a shower, or getting something to eat). For the others you may need to write the steps.

You may find this exercise beneficial to do on a daily basis. If that is the case then we encourage you to do so.

Short-term goals for today: Steps to reach them:
1. Getting a shower Get in the shower!
2. Eating a healthy breakfast Choose recipe, get ingredients, prepare meal, enjoy, do dishes
3. Doing the work activities I've been postponing Making phone calls, and answer mail for starters.
4. Cleaning up my apartment Cleaning the piled up dishes and doing laundry

Part Two: Long-Term Goals

Thinking about the long-term goals that will make you fulfilled is a very important task that also can be very enjoyable. Think about all the things that you wanted to do, but for some reason, you never got to do. Relax and think broadly - do not limit yourself to things that you feel like you should be doing. Maybe there are certain hobbies or activities you always wanted to do.

If you want to work on developing a certain aspect of your life, then you can refer to the Actions Based on Values worksheet. Think about all these aspects.

Choose one goal from the brainstorming that you did and write it down in the worksheet. Then just like with short-term goals, think about and write down the steps to achieve this goal.


1. Long-term goal: I want to pursue painting on a semi-professional level in my free time. Eventually I would like to have some of my paintings shown in an art exhibit perhaps in some local, independent gallery.

2. Steps to achieve this goal:
- I feel like I should educate myself a little more. I will search for online courses and enroll in one of them.
- I will spend two hours each day painting. Not only do I find this very relaxing, but it brings me an aesthetic fulfillment which feels amazing.
- I will work until I have several paintings I am comfortable showing to other people.
- I will start researching on how to approach indie galleries so that I can get my work exhibited.

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Use the worksheet to set your goals, and break them down into actionable steps.

DBT Emotional Regulation: Being Effective

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Q: I can't get motivated to start doing the steps to achieve my goals. Any advice?

A: Sometimes, the best thing to do is to stop waiting for the perfect time to get motivated and just accept that at the beginning you might not feel like doing the activities you planned. That's okay, it is a common issue. Start small. Promise yourself that you are just going to start with 5 minutes, and then take a break if needed. Set a timer for 5 minutes to make it real. Often, once we start with the activity, we don't need to put the starting-up energy into it again, and it is easier for us to continue with the activity.

Q: I feel like I don't have the time or resources to pursue a long-term goal that is important to me. What should I do?

A: Start with the things that you can do. For example, if your goal is to get fit and physically stronger by working out, your first thought might be that you don't have enough money for a membership in the exclusive gym that you wanted. Maybe the gym is in the opposite direction and is very far. You don't have to give up on this goal, as you can try to come up with more flexible solutions: like jogging, working out at home, or doing online research on how to maximize the effects in a healthy way. There is always something that you can start with.

Q: I think that I will forget the long-term plan that I made, once I finish with this exercise.

A: If the goal you chose is something that is important to you, then you can try reading what you wrote once a day for a week. This way you might strengthen this train of thought and in one week you will find that you are more sure and determined to do the steps needed. There is also a chance that you find out that you don't really feel like this goal is the most important to you, and that you actually want something else.

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If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental health care provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Comments About Being Effective

  1. The link to the worksheet does not connect with this lesson’s content.

    ADMIN – Hi Rick,

    Thanks for pointing this out. We have it fixed.

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