Exploring Refraining

Intentions and notes

The intention for this group is to give people an opportunity to explore NOT doing something which would normally be second nature to them, and to learn that by mindfully practising not doing small things they will get more control over the big things – and thus a better chance of avoiding their substance of choice.

The suggested practice is a body scan, but could be anything you feel appropriate for the group – to ensure they’re getting a balance of different practices throughout the course.

The farmyard theme seemed appropriate for this group – exploring our PIG (see the group outline) using the COW may sound filthy(!), but it seems to catch people’s imagination and stick in the mind. Discussing reactions to our PIG can invite really rich discussion – you can mention the jack-in-the-box theory of fighting our impulses (the more you fight them, the more power they’re gaining, ready to pop up when you least expect it!) – or using phrases such as ‘what we resist, persists’. Always check out with people whether what you’re saying resonates, and if not – get curious about what they think.

The point of the COW is to show that there is another way to deal with impulses to act. Rather than try to lay out all the attitudinal foundations for people, simplifying it down to these three aspects makes it easier for people to remember and use in future. It’s adapted from a 12-step talk about the HOW of recovery: Honesty, Openness and Willingness, so if you have any 12-steppers in the group they may have heard of this.

In terms of the fruit pastille, this is suggested because they’re famous for being impossible not to chew and are small, so not too bad for you (though you should check if anyone in the group has diabetes before doing this). Other ideas you could use (sadly equally as bad for diabetics) might be:

  • eating a sugared donut without licking your lips (though in the early stages of recovery sugar can be a huge issue and these contain lots!),
  • exploring how a piece of chocolate smells, looks, and feels, before putting it in the mouth and not sucking or chewing it.

You can also mention the difficulties in not scratching an itch (mentioning an itch often induces itching in people! You could practise with that), or the urge to say something when it feels like you really have to say it – or ask for other examples that bring up people’s PIGs.


Download the printable group outline and handout here.

You will need

  • handout with summary of group
  • Fruit pastilles


  • Title and running order of group
  • COW

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