Cost Benefit Analysis

Tool Overview

It is very common for us to feel ambivalent about making a change. We may be able to see the potential benefits of stopping or cutting down, but we can also be reluctant to give up the good things we associate with the behaviour of concern, or we may not yet have thought through the consequences fully. Until we explore both sides (benefits and consequences) of our behaviour, we may find it difficult to commit to making a change. The cost benefit analysis (CBA) can help us to find the motivation and make a decision about changing a behaviour. 

The CBA encourages us to write down both the pros (positives) and the cons (negatives) about the behaviour we are thinking of giving up or changing. Although at first glance this may seem very simple, seeing all of the pros and cons in black and white can be powerfully motivating and can often tip us from precontemplation into the contemplation and preparation stage of change.

The CBA can be useful in any situation where a change is being considered;  it doesn't only apply to behaviors of concern. For example, before getting into an argument with a partner, we might apply a CBA by asking if it is worth it. 

When to Use This Tool

a) To explore Motivations to Change

This tool is useful for us to understand our motivations for change as well as reasons for why we engage in our specific behaviour. During check in at a SMART meeting participants share why they are attending and what they want to change. A CBA can then be utilised in Work Time to explore further how that behavior is impacting our lives using questions such as:

  • “Tell me more about how your alcohol is affecting you, 

  • What areas of your life is it impacting the most

  • If you do not make a change what will happen?” (consequences) 

It also gives an opportunity to explore the reasons we engage in the behaviors we do, by looking at the “payoffs” or benefits of the behavior using questions such as:

  • “What are the reasons you use alcohol?

  • What benefits do you get from using it?

It is important to explore the benefits as well as the consequences of the behaviors we engage in as we may need to find alternative ways to obtain these benefits once we give up the problematic behaviour.

b) To help develop discrepancy

Particularly in the precontemplation stage of change, it can be useful to look at the discrepancy between our behaviour and our hierarchy of values. The CBA tool can help to highlight a misalignment. E.g. ”My family is the most important thing to me but if I keep going with this behaviour I could lose my job and this will affect my family”

c) To maintain motivation when we may be in danger of lapsing:

During the stage of maintenance, complacency can rear its head. We may begin to think about “just once / just one time”. We can start to miss the “good” things about the substance or behaviour and start to forget the negatives / consequences of it which became a problem. A CBA at this time can be really beneficial to remind us of the reason we wanted to change in the first place.

How To Use This Tool

This tool can be used during the meeting or by participants between meetings. Often when a facilitator uses it during the meeting it will inspire other participants to take a worksheet to fill out after the meeting. The facilitator can fill out the tool on a piece of paper or whiteboard as the participant answers, or use it in conversation without documenting the answers. There are 2 parts to the CBA. the Pros and Cons of Using / Doing, and the Pros and Cons of Not Using / Doing (or using / doing less).

Additional Considerations

Be sure to fill out all quadrants of the CBA. You are missing an opportunity if you shortcut and simply use the top half of this tool. It’s important to think about the disadvantages of not doing what we’re doing. The things identified in this quadrant are likely to need some problem-solving help. 

Example Scenarios

PDF 05/16/2023

Cost-Benefit Analysis Example Scenario