When you first enter recovery, your goals may simply revolve around getting through a single day without using or drinking. But once you’re past the initial stage of quitting a substance, setting goals for short-term and long-term abstinence helps you stay focused on recovery while improving your life on many exciting fronts!
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Goal Setting On New Years Eve
We have all been there, deciding what our New Years goals will be, often common goals are set such as joining and going to a gym, dieting, saving money among others. These goals that we set, fail 90% of the time we we became overconfident or didn’t plan or prepare for it. We then become disheartened, loose interest or prioritise other things as we didn’t plan small, simple, achievable targets that will help us to succeed in obtaining our ultimate goal, whatever that they be.
The Trap Of Becoming Ignorant & Overconfident In Early Recovery
Many people forget what their pre-addiction goals were and some fall into the trap of believing that now their are abstinent and drug/alcohol free, that they can simply carry on living life without putting any effort into maintaining their recovery. After this occurs, this is the most risky time for the individual to relapse because they either weren’t prepared with knowledge or tools/techniques, didn’t have a daily schedule/recovery plan in place or haven’t set achievable goals to continue striving forwards positively in their recovery.
They may have forgotten what once brought them joy and meaning in life. Setting goals helps to rekindle those old inspirations and ignite new ones. Striving to reach your goals gives you purpose and achieving them improves self-confidence. These go a very long way toward helping you stay abstinent and in recovery for the long-term.
Goal-Setting Theory & Science
After decades of research into how the human brain works, scientists now know that for our brains to figure out how to get what we want, we must first decide what we want. Once we lock-in our desires through goal-setting, our mind can step in to help make our desires and goals a reality.
Experts on the science of goal setting and success know the brain is a goal-seeking organism. Whatever goal you give to your conscious and subconscious mind, the brain will actually start looking for information, for resources and for opportunities or ways to achieve the “want/desire” you have identified by setting your goals. While this may sound like an impossibility given your current situation or circumstances, scientists have seen countless individuals achieve or get what they want often from a source or opportunity that already existed in their life or was available to them elsewhere previously because they didn’t see how it could benefit their recovery until they have planned goals or targets and could see how it could fit into their recovery goals and help benefit them. For example, people try to meditate when they wake up in the morning to “steady” their mind and prepare them for the day ahead. However, if they were to contact their drug and alcohol service, they would find out that they could also benefit from attending acupuncture and mindfulness sessions twice a week but otherwise wouldn’t have benefited from this if they hadn’t added daily meditation as a goal towards their ultimate, long-term goals.
Setting goals or targets can help us to prioritise other areas of our lives and allow us to utilise resources in different ways we wouldn’t have normally considered or found that was available to achieve our goals or end result.
Short-Term, Mid-Term and Long-Term Goals
Goals and targets for longer-term abstinence aren’t just about abstaining from drug or alcohol use for the next few years. Your longer-term goals can be about anything you want to achieve. The point is that setting goals has been shown through a large body of research to help you get to where you want to go by keeping you focused and interested in the things you want to achieve. Long-term abstinence can be a long-term goal, however the journey and what you plan to do in between now and then to get you to your desired goals are just as important as the result at the end.
There is an art to goal-setting and it starts by looking ahead and thinking about where you would like to be at a certain period in time and what you would like to achieve before then or no later than then. These are your goals/targets and each one should be broken down into small, manageable, achievable steps that you need to take in order to achieve the desired result at your chosen point in time. These, then are your mid-range goals. Break each mid-range goal down into the essential steps you need to take in order to achieve your long-term goals, these then become your short-term goals.
For example, if your long-term goal is to have a degree in five years, your mid-range goals will bring you closer to that degree. These may include getting accepted to a university and finding a way to pay for it. Breaking each of these mid-range goals into short-term goals gives you a road map to follow. The short-term goals in this case might be to gather information about admissions, find out about and apply for financial aid and fill out application forms, finding accommodation near your chosen university, ensuring you have all the books and study materials you need to have with you when you start your course.
Another example may be that you want to come off of your Methadone prescription now you have been stable for a while.
Long-term goal: To completely come off of your Methadone prescription in 6 months time.
Medium-term goal: To work with the doctor who prescribes the Methadone to calculate a dose reduction that is achievable to get you to your goal within the set time limit has been set whilst minimising any withdrawal symptoms.
Short-term goals: To design and implement a daily schedule/recovery plan that fills your time with beneficial recovery activities, participating in fellowship meetings to make new, positive friends who are also in recovery, eat, drink and exercise regularly each day to help minimise any withdrawal symptoms as the doses of Methadone is reduced.
As you can see, preparation and planning your goals and targets properly will help you stay on track, to remain motivated and make achieving your goals and targets much more likely!
Setting Goals For Long-Term Abstinence The SMART Way!
Once you have your short-term goals, the next step is to apply the “SMART” framework to them. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Frame. We will go over these steps in more detail below.
Specific means the goal is exact, such as “fill out one application for residential rehabilitation and detox each day” or “call the drug and alcohol service to find out what other therapies or treatments are available at 1:30pm tomorrow.”
Measurable means that you can measure the progress you’re making. “Get accepted into a rehab or detox” is not a measurable goal, but “fill out all application paperwork and submit it to the chosen rehabilitation facility no later than next Tuesday” is.
Achievable means that the goal is realistic. Filling out one rehab application a day is realistic, but filling out 5 a day may not be.
Relevant means that meeting the short-term goal will propel you that much closer to reaching the mid-range and long-term goals. For example, posting your application forms off to the rehab you would like to attend most is relevant but researching and applying for rehab facilities abroad when you know that you aren’t able to get there is not.
Time-Frame means that you have a fixed deadline or time frame in which to complete the a specific task by, so that you stay on track to reach your long-term goals or targets.
Choosing Your Goals for Long-Term Sobriety
Maintaining long-term abstinence requires having a sense of purpose, some form of responsibility and a meaning in life that makes you feel valued, that your contributions are valued by others and that you feel pride in what you do. The happier and more fulfilling your life is without drugs or alcohol, the easier it will be to abstain from substance use, according to an article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Think about your inherent strengths and values and think about what would give your life more joy and meaning that you may currently be lacking or areas that you would like to work on. Then, set SMART goals to get you there.
Rewarding Yourself Or Someone Else
One you or whoever may be working towards a goal or target achieves short or medium term goals, it is vital that some type of reward is given to recognise that effort and determination has been made towards achieving longer-term goals. They don’t have to be expensive or grand, just that it is rewarding for the person in question. For example, my brother has been working hard to stop drinking alcohol, so as a reward, the family will be taking him to the cinema to see a film that he has wanted to see for a while. We then have a nice dinner out somewhere afterwards. Once he achieves his next short/medium-term goal, we will give him another reward.
Rewards can be anything, as long as that they are valued or wanted by the person in question will motivate them to achieve their targets. It doesn’t have to be for someone else, even if you live alone, even simply having a nice relaxing bath, new hair cut or clothes or even buying a new collar and toy for your dog will make your dog happy and in turn, make you feel good too!
Tips For Setting And Achieving Goals & Targets:
– Focus On What Is Working, NOT On What Isn’t Working
Often in addiction, we want instant results, instant highs or instant relief which can then cause us to become frustrated. If you do become frustrated because you’re not progressing as quickly as you’d hoped, it can be easy to focus on the negative instead of the positive.
You may even find yourself entertaining self-destructive thoughts like “I’m not good enough”, “It will never work” or “Something must be wrong with me since others have it or are doing it”.
However, you get more of what you focus on. So if you pay more attention to the things that aren’t working, you’ll encounter more negative experiences, thoughts, people, and even results. And there’s not much success in that!
On the flip side, if you actively focus on what IS working, you’ll be able to see where you’re getting the best results for your efforts and then will start identifying new ways to get even better results! None of us want to Pursue negative ideas as we did during our active addiction so actively trying to work on the positives rather than the negatives will give you better results and help you to feel better about your choices too.
– Keep A Written Record Of Success
Humans have a built-in negativity bias. It’s an evolutionary thing and often in addiction, we feed these thoughts through our using or drinking. This bias helped us stay alert to danger back in the prehistoric days when everything was out to kill us however in modern times, things have changed, yet we still have to deal with these emotions and thought processes.
In modern times, this negativity bias causes us to feel and remember the bad things much more powerfully than we feel and remember the good things. It really helps to have a written record of what’s working so you can keep track of your positive achievements and remember them at the end of the day when you are struggling or having a “down day”. Using this tool can help you remain motivated when ordinarily you would’ve given up by now.
That’s why I recommend you keep a daily journal in which you can track your successes as well as offload any thoughts, feelings or ideas. It’s a great way to focus your attention on the positive and continually stay on track with your vision for your ideal life.
If you can, spend a few minutes each morning writing a list of what you’re grateful for in your life (a gratitude list) Then, at the end of the day, write some notes about what went right that day. Be sure to write down everything, no matter how small it may seem. When you train yourself to recognise and acknowledge your own achievements, you are guaranteed to promote even more success and positivity into your life.
Using your diary, you can also write down anything that is bothering you, upset you or caused you to feel negative feelings as getting them out on paper will give you more room for the positive things.
– Use Meditation To Cultivate A Positive Mindset
Meditation can be a powerful tool to help you find solutions to problems and shift your feelings, emotions and attitudes so you can help achieve success and positivity sooner rather than later.
Meditation can shut down your judgemental, highly-critical brain and allows your unconscious mind to take over. You can enter a deeper state of inner peace, joy and contemplation and tap into a higher level of creativity and productivity that will help usher in the results you want and drive negative thoughts and feelings out.
– Use The Rule Of 5’s
A good way to get more done every day is to follow the Rule of Five. Here’s how it works: every day, identify 5 specific things you will accomplish to get you closer to your goals, then don’t call it quits for the day until you can cross each one off your list.
These things can be small, tiny steps such as print off application forms for the rehab facility you would like to go to or to plan a budget so that you can put some money aside each day, week or month for when you come out of rehab and maybe either want to move to a new area of the country to start over or to be able to put in place vital things for when you come out and return back to your old community and home to ensure that you don’t have a lapse or relapse completely.
Not only will this give you a proven structure to ensure you get more accomplished each day, but it will also give you a clear sense of what’s actually achievable in a day and you can round up your goals or scale them back so they help you move forward consistently without exhausting yourself by working until midnight every night. Balance is important. Doing nothing will get you nowhere but likewise, overdoing it and burning yourself out will likely lead to failure or even worse, backtrack or relapse!
– Prioritise Your Targets & Goals
Setting goals in addiction recovery is about more than maintaining abstinence. That is of course essential to the success of your recovery journey but achieving your goals as you make it through that journey is crucial as well.
Take your list of goals or targets and put them in order of importance to you and your recovery. Have you included:
- How is your mental health? Do you need help or if you are already getting help, what do you need to do, when and where so that you don’t get worse by neglecting your mental health conditions.
- Where are treatment programs or therapies, at what times & when? Which are most beneficial for you and how will you get to them to benefit your recovery?
- How you will pay for your your rehab or detox if you are paying privately for them? What do you need to do to achieve this?
- What physical health conditions do you have? If they will get better, what do you need to do and when to improve?
- How is your housing? Do you need to move somewhere else or upgrade/downgrade?
- Do you have children? What do you need to do with/for them? By when?
- Do you have any criminal charges pending? What do you need to do and by when?
- Do you have problems with your finances? What do you need to do and by when?
Focus on reaching those goals you rate highest (most important) first. Then, create smaller SMART goals that will help you work towards achieving your bigger/longer-term goals. Remember, it’s not a race, it’s a marathon. You’ve got a lifetime of abstinence and recovery ahead of you and prioritising your goals will help you overcome, achieve and secure long-term recovery success, prosperity and happiness.
Remember to believe in yourself, you can do this and succeed!