I recently wrote about whether or not designing your own program in recovery could actually produce success.
After deciding that carving out your own path in recovery is in fact a valid option, let’s now take a look at actually designing the optimal recovery program that will work for you specifically.
Customizing recovery for your life – one goal at a time
When I got into recovery this time around, I did not realize what I was doing in terms of personal growth until I looked back in retrospect.
What I realized is this:
I set goals and achieved them throughout my recovery, one at a time.
This worked beautifully. I never got too overwhelmed, because I was always focusing on just one goal at at time (in addition to maintaining my sobriety).
I did not do this intentionally, at first. It just sort of happened that way.
The reason that it started like that was because I was a cigarette smoker, and I wanted to quit very badly. But every time I tried to quit smoking in my recovery, I failed. I tried to quit so many times that my friends got sick of hearing about it. Some of them even said to me “oh forget it, Pat! Just smoke already! You’re driving us nuts with your crazy quit attempts!”
They were half right…..I was driving them nuts, because I tried nearly everything to quit smoking.
So finally, what happened was this: I sort of drew a line in the sand, and made up my mind for good. I decided that I would give it my ultimate, most sincere effort. I was actually going to dedicate my life to the goal. I would stop at nothing. I would pour every resource and every ounce of energy into the goal of quitting.
And so I did exactly that. I decided that my work stressed me out when I had previously tried to quit, so I planned well in advance to take time off work. I organized a family vacation to distract me while I was quitting. I also saved money and set it aside so that I could reward myself while quitting.
And you know what? It worked.
After years and years of failure, I finally succeeded by using overwhelming force. I dedicated my entire life to the goal. It became my singular purpose; the ultimate achievement to strive for. After my sobriety, quitting smoking became the most important thing in my life. So I put all of my energy and resources into it, and I finally achieved success. I made it happen. I successfully quit.
And so this success brought a revelation with it: I could do other stuff, too. I could achieve other things. I had quit drugs and alcohol, and now I had finally cracked the code for quitting smoking. This goal which had eluded me for so long, even in my recovery, I had finally figured out what it really took to overcome it.
So this was a turning point for me in my recovery: I could improve my life, one goal at a time. It was all about priorities, and taking massive action.
Pick one goal, dedicate your life to it, and follow through.
First: Pinpoint your biggest opportunity for personal growth in recovery
The way I see it, there are 2 types of goals:
* Striving for positive things, and
* Eliminating negative things.
Believe it or not, the biggest immediate gains that are available to most people come from eliminating negative things in their lives. These types of goals typically give us the best bang for our buck in terms of being happier and having a better life.
So for example, say that after getting clean and sober, you still:
* Smoke cigarettes.
* Eat unhealthy foods every day.
* Watch excessive amounts of television every day.
In our example here, these would all be things that you consider to be “bad habits,” and would all be things that you would like to eliminate from your life.
My thought (and experience) is this: before you form any positive goals in your life, you should start by working hard at eliminating these negatives (or any others you may have). The benefit from eliminating the bad stuff is more noticeable than chasing some other goal you might have (that you may only think will make you happy).
Choose your worst habit, the thing that is most dragging you down or holding you back in your life, and resolve now to eliminate it.
If you are still abusing drugs or alcohol, that is your starting point.
If you are in recovery but continue to smoke cigarettes, then that is probably your starting point.
If you no longer smoke or do drugs or alcohol, then carefully consider any bad habits you have and how they affect your life and your health. What is the one change that you could make that would have the biggest positive impact on your life right now? What would benefit you more than anything else?
Find out what that is and resolve to tackle the goal with everything you’ve got.
Whatever your big goal is, make it your number one priority in recovery. Make a promise to yourself that even if you fail, you will not let yourself rest for one minute, but you will reassess your situation and go after the goal again with renewed energy. Make a firm decision that this is what you want most in your life right now, and you are going to stop at nothing to achieve it.
Depending on your specific goal, this could unfold in many different ways. In my example, I tried and failed to quit smoking many times before I got serious enough to tackle the goal with all of my available resources. I had to fail in order to learn. I had to try many different tactics and quitting strategies. And I found some tricks along the way that seemed to help a bit, even though they were not enough to put me over the top into success (at least at first).
Eventually, however, I had failed enough–and amassed enough knowledge–that I was able to make a supreme effort.
Next: Carefully examine how you conquered your big goal, so that you can apply it to other areas of your life
I achieved my big goal…..the hardest thing I had ever done in my recovery, and I learned a great deal about myself in the process.
And that is the key to your ongoing success in recovery:
Once you achieve your first big goal, take the experience and replicate in other areas of your life. Come to the profound realization that I did after quitting smoking: you can do stuff. You can achieve stuff.
And now you know how. Once you conquer that first big goal, your whole world opens up to you:
Run a marathon?
Start a successful business?
Yes, yes, and yes. These are some of my goals; yours may be different of course.
Finally: Continuously re-examine your opportunities for personal growth and apply previous lessons learned
Regardless of your specific situation, the process is clear enough:
1) Get a big fat hairy goal that would rock your world if you achieved it.
2) Dedicate your life to achieving that goal.
3) Learn from the experience and apply your new knowledge to other areas of your life.
You met your big goal. Now you are a rock star. What do you want to do next?
After seeing the power of intense focus on a goal combined with massive action, you can now decide to do pretty much whatever you want in life. The only limits you have are self imposed–like the same limits that kept you from achieving that first big goal for so long.
Enjoy the process of challenging yourself to improve
Should we always be striving for continuous self improvement? Is it OK to slow down once in a while and simply enjoy life without feeling the need to constantly better ourselves? The answers to those questions depend on how driven you are. If you enjoy the process of setting and reaching new milestones in your life, then by all means–crank up the heat. Be an achiever.
Others might prefer to reflect more and enjoy life in a more relaxed fashion, and that is fine too….so long as they occasionally challenge themselves to make some sort of personal growth in their lives.
This does not have to be about constant achievement or success. But to keep making growth in recovery, you have to make some positive changes that get you excited from time to time. Don’t get too stagnant, or your risk complacency. The ideas that I outlined in this article are designed to avoid complacency as you push for more and more self improvement.
You must always be making progress and pushing yourself to grow. The pace is largely up to you. Too fast and you burn out, too slow and you relapse due to complacency.
My suggestion: tackle one big goal at a time, with a short break in between for reflection. But always have an idea about the next big thing you want to change in your life.
So can you design your own recovery program in advance?
I don’t necessarily think you can design it in advance.
But you can definitely design your own program as you live it….as you go along.
The key is to keep learning, and then watch your learning process itself. See how you achieve each goal, and then use that experience to help you achieve your next goal in life.
If you are simply following someone else’s agenda (such as a sponsor perhaps) then you might be missing out on a whole lot of learning experiences that could deeply enrich your life.
Each success will nudge you towards your next opportunity. Pay attention and really listen to the feedback you are receiving in your life, and your next challenge should reveal itself to you.
This has been the path of success in recovery for me.
If you think this process of growth might be valuable, then please use it and share it with others!