If you’re moving into recovery, the New Year can feel like a new start. The 1st of the year is a good time to emotionally let go of baggage and essentially give yourself permission to refresh, start anew, and be a new person. For many of us, that aligns with New Year’s resolutions and goals. Here, you might set anything from maintaining your recovery to personal improvement or health goals. Whatever you choose, it should align with your recovery, support your ability to live a happy and healthy life, and move you towards where you want to be in life.
Unfortunately, many of us set New Year’s resolutions that do anything but move us towards these goals. If you’re the type to set big goals every year and fail them, you know what that means. If this is your first year in a long time trying to improve yourself for the new year, it’s important to plan to get it right the first time. As a recovering addict, setting the wrong kinds of goals will contribute to relapse by adding to feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness. This article will cover some of the steps you can take to ensure your New Year’s resolutions are healthy, achievable, and contributing to your ongoing recovery.
Don’t Aim for Perfect
If you’re planning to go out of the gate running and work hard all year, you’re not alone. The Fitness Industry Association shows that gym membership nearly doubles in January, with the second week of the year being the busiest. By the second week of February, more than 80% of those have dropped off. The remaining 20% taper off throughout the year, with just 1-2% maintaining an active gym membership for the full year. What does that mean? Most people commit to difficult, high-impact goals that simply aren’t achievable for them. When they fail to attend in a day, they feel like a failure, they’ve already failed, why go back? This sort of mindset sets you up for failure.
No matter what your goals are, don’t aim for perfect, uncompromising success. Set goals that are realistic, achievable, and which leave room for off days and failure. Adopting a Pareto Principal approach of “80% success and 20% failure” will help you achieve those goals. And planning in off days means you can get ahead of your goals if you don’t feel the need to have those off days.
Manage Stress Levels
New Year’s resolutions are often seen as negative because they contribute to feelings of stress. If you have to go work out, to clean your home, to do an hour of yoga, to meditate for an hour or more each day, it gets stressful. If you fail goals or consistently don’t make goalposts, you feel bad. People who wanted to lose 20 pounds by March are almost certain to be disappointed but with that disappointment comes shame, poor self-esteem, and guilt. You couldn’t make yourself do it. As a recovering addict, you know how bad this sort of mentality can be for your recovery. Motivation and self-acceptance therapy are essential elements of many modern rehab programs. Learning self-esteem and willpower are critical to maintaining recovery, which is why they are essential elements of behavioral therapy for addiction.
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Undergoing stressful situations, like feeling shame at not meeting a goalpost, also depletes your willpower. This means it will be even harder to meet the next goalpost, to reduce cravings, or to take part in the daily habits and goals that contribute to your ongoing recovery. What can you do about this?
- Set goals that allow for success. Aim for an average of so many hours a week, not “exercise every day”
- Take time to de-stress
- Take time to yourself and remember you get to relax and have fun
- Don’t take on too much. Remember, you’re already working hard towards recovery, you might have a job, and other responsibilities. The more you load on, the harder it will be
- Set goals that incorporate into your daily life
We all want to improve, to make friends, to learn new languages, to travel, to get fitter, to improve our health, etc. At the same time, it’s important to take things slowly, to set goals that are achievable, and to work those goals into life and habits, rather than approaching massive lifestyle changes like a marathon. In the long run, the saying “slow and steady wins the race” remains true.
Focus on Habits, Not Goalposts
Most people set New Year’s resolutions around goalposts. E.g., “loose 20 lbs. by March”, “Read 50 books this year”, “Make 6 new friends”, “Save $5,000”. This can provide motivation, but it won’t likely build a long-term habit. Once you reach that goal, what then? If you’ve been to addiction treatment, you know the value of building long-lasting habits. They provide the structure that will get you through, even on your worst days. Building habits takes time. Research shows it can take anywhere from 28 to over 360 days to build a habit. But, by focusing on building habits with consistency, rhythm, and structure, you are setting yourself up for long-term success. That might look like:
- Spending time most mornings cleaning up before you go to work
- Waking up and going to bed at the same times each day
- Planning meals and doing meal prep so that you can eat at the same time every day, even if you’re busy
- Scheduling time off and time to relax
- Going for a walk or a run first thing in the morning
- Attending regular therapy sessions, self-help groups, etc.
- Adding money to a savings account once a week at the same time every week
If you can consistently do something that contributes towards your goal, in roughly the same way, at roughly the same time, and do it at least 80% of the time, you will eventually build a habit. In this way, you can make waking up and making yourself a smoothie and a healthy breakfast before going for a morning bike ride as natural as waking up and brushing your teeth.
Whatever your New Year’s resolutions end up being, make sure that you’re respectful of yourself, your energy, and your recovery. If you’re adding extra stress to your life, you might need more therapy and more support from counseling or self-help groups. If you’re making self-improvement a goal, make sure you work in learning life skills and coping mechanisms. And, make sure that nothing you take on is too much. You don’t have to be perfect at every goal. Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions and your recovery. Happy New Year!
If you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, break the pattern today and start off your new, drug and alcohol-free life. Call 800-218-1573 to speak in confidence with an experienced treatment advisor now.