“The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” — Charles Du Bois.
I really believe that success in recovery is driven by positive changes.
Think about it carefully: what is recovery if not a series of positive changes?
If you are not making changes for the better in recovery, what are the alternatives to that? Either you are making changes for the worse, or you are doing nothing.
Now obviously recovery is not about making changes in which things get worse. That would make no sense at all, and would simply mirror your life in active addiction.
And obviously you are not going to sit idle and do nothing in recovery and expect for your life to get better. The whole point is that something needs to happen. Stuff needs to be different. Your life has been a train wreck in active addiction, and now you want to change things for the better. So in order for that to happen, you have to make a series of positive changes. Period.
So there is not necessarily any great magic here, but there is a great incentive, in my opinion. If you want to succeed in recovery then you absolutely should be seeking out life changing decisions. It is not enough to merely abstain from drugs and alcohol and expect for things to magically get better.
You may feel cheated at this idea, or you may feel like I am trying to con you in some way. Why is abstinence not enough? Why is this one change not sufficient to bring about success in recovery?
Quitting the drugs or the alcohol is indeed a positive change. It is one positive change. But it is just the tip of the iceberg, and as many have pointed out in recovery–the drugs and the alcohol were but a symptom of a much deeper problem. We were not addicts strictly because we took drugs or alcohol. Instead, we are prone to addiction at our very core, and this manifested itself when we took the drugs. We were already an addict, deep down inside.
I knew this myself when I took drugs for the first time. I had been seeking something, and I found it instantly the first time I tried drugs. It was obvious to me that I was an addict just by my first experience with drugs. Nothing could have delighted me more than that first experience. I was instantly hooked for life.
So when we look at addicts and alcoholics and we talk about solutions and what they need to do in order to recover, it is important to realize that the solution is multi-dimensional. It is not enough to pursue abstinence and expect for things to turn out well.
Just look at the typical addict or alcoholic’s struggle with their disease: almost all of them try to conquer their disease themselves by trying abstinence. It never works. If it does work, then they simply move on with their life and they never have to seek out help or even label themselves as an “addict” or an “alcoholic.” Those labels are reserved for people who cannot quit on their own, who need additional help in order to quit.
So to pursue abstinence is to make a single positive change in your life. But in order to sustain that change, you are going to need to keep taking action, to get some help, to get some direction, to make additional positive changes. It is not enough to say “I am going to quit” and then simply try to do it yourself without any additional follow up.
Instead, quitting the drugs and the booze is a continuous process of evolution, a constant re-inventing of the self, a series of positive changes. This is the path to success in recovery and if you talk to people who have achieved many years in sobriety you will find that none of them just walked away from their drug of choice and then sat around doing nothing, not pushing themselves to grow in any way. No, the people who have achieved success in recovery can look back at their journey and see a series of positive changes and even, yes, some life changing decisions along the way.
So my message to you in all of this is that if you are pursuing a better life in recovery and trying to overcome addiction, one of the things that you should try to do is to make some life-changing decisions along the way.
Why? Just to shake things up and create chaos in your life?
The point is to make life changing positive decisions in your life.
We want big juicy goals, creating positive changes that make a huge impact on your life.
These are the sorts of things that fuel a successful recovery.
What is the one achievement in your life, the one goal, that would change everything?
My favorite technique is to single task this process of finding a life changing decision. Do not try to make more than one at a time, that is just silly and will likely overwhelm you.
Focus is important. If you are going to make this massive positive change in your life then you need to clear away all distractions and really focus on this one change in order to increase your chances of being successful at it.
So you are looking for the one thing in your life that would have the greatest amount of impact on your life. You are not just trying to create disruption for the sake of change, however, instead you want to be making changes to improve your life in some way.
So you need to think a bit about what you really want in life and in your recovery, and then make a list (either mentally or written) of the various goals that you have in your life right now.
Maybe some of your goals are avoiding negatives (like quitting smoking) and some of them are purely positive (like wanting to travel to a certain country).
It can be a bit counter-intuitive, but I would urge you to take a strong look at the “avoiding negatives” goal first (such as quitting smoking) and consider the idea that these may be your current, biggest impact goal that you could possible tackle right now.
You may think that chasing the positive goal in your life would take precedence over the “elimination of a negative.” But in fact, it is the negative stuff in our lives that make use unhappy, and so eliminating those negative things is the quickest way to create a huge positive impact on our life.
So you might consider the potential “negative states” in your life first, things such as:
* Cigarette smoking.
* Being overweight.
* Being out of shape.
* Being addicted to drugs.
* Being addicted to gambling, sex, food, or other things.
If you have any of those negative states in your life (or any others that I missed) then your first course of action, your biggest step that you could take in your recovery is to work on making a positive change and eliminating that negative habit.
This would be your biggest impact change that you can make in your recovery right now, and would have a greater positive effect on your life than pursuing one of your “positive” goals (such as travel to a foreign country, learning a new skill, etc.).
In contrast, “positive” goals would be things like:
* Travel to a another country.
* Learning a new skill.
* Making a career change.
* Starting a business.
Like I said, this part is a bit counter-intuitive. Look carefully at your life and find any of the negative states first, then figure out which one is having the MOST negative impact on you and causing the most unhappiness, and then make a plan to overcome that problem and eliminate it completely.
So this is really the first step in making a life changing decision:
First, you evaluate your life, and make a list of goals. Think carefully about what you want out of life, what you want to achieve, and what you wish was different about yourself.
After you have created a comprehensive list, order them by which ones would have the greatest impact on your life, keeping in mind that “eliminating negatives” is always more powerful and effective at producing happiness than pursuing the positives.
Once you have your list and it is put in order of “greatest impact change” to least, then you are ready to tackle that first goal on the list and pursue a life changing course of action.
How to define “positive” changes
The first way to look at possible changes is in terms of their overall impact on your life and your happiness. As described above, eliminating the negative garbage from your life is typically more important than pursuing your other positive ideas. If you can quit smoking cigarettes, for example, this will produce more overall happiness and eliminate more misery than if you take, say, a trip to France or learn how to play the piano.
So if you follow this method of recovery then you will quickly start eliminating bad habits and poor lifestyle choices during your first few months and years of recovery. Hopefully this will get you back to a baseline where you are generally happy with yourself and with your life situation and you can continue to build on those positive changes from there.
One way to define positive change in your life during this process of early recovery is to think carefully about your health. Not just your physical health but your overall health. We might even label this as “holistic,” because we are thinking about your overall health and how it affects every area of your life in recovery.
For example, you may be physically healthy in recovery and you may even be fit and eating healthy and have eliminated all drugs, but maybe your life is an emotional mess. Perhaps you are emotionally unstable and you are frequently getting into arguments and fights with someone who is normally close to you. If this is the case then your overall health in recovery is still in question, and there is some work that could certainly be done that could improve your health.
Or perhaps you are spiritually bankrupt and you feel this huge disconnect in your life and you cannot seem to muster the faith to go on and move forward at all. So you have a spiritual crisis on your hands and you know that you need to do something in order to get back into better health in terms of your spirituality and your faith.
Or maybe you socially isolated and even though you are sober for the moment you are not really interacting with any people each day and you have to social outlets. Your social health has declined and one solution might be to get out and start going to some 12 step meetings, simply to get yourself socially healthy again.
Your financial health may be in turmoil, creating much stress and chaos in your life. This would be another aspect of your overall health that might need to be addressed in recovery.
So think holistically. Think about every aspect of your health in recovery. Do not limit this exercise and this goal setting to just one dimension. In traditional recovery programs they typically only think of your spiritual health, and try to get you to make positive changes to improve along spiritual lines only.
But addiction is a complex disease and it affects people in many different ways, and it can cause a decline in many different aspects of your health. Therefore it makes sense to consider all of these various aspects (holistic approach) and to try to make positive changes in various areas of our lives.
For example, one of the biggest decisions that I made in recovery was to become runner and start exercising on a regular basis. Now at the time I had no idea that this would create such a huge, positive impact on my life and on my recovery. So how did the decision even come about?
It came about because I was open to the holistic approach. I was open to making positive changes in ALL areas of my life. I was not locked into the idea that increasing my spiritual growth was the only path to success in recovery. I was seeking positive changes in various areas of my life.
It also came about because I was taking direction, and asking for help. Anyone who has made the leap into recovery should realize that this is, in itself, a very powerful technique. Most people got clean and sober because they asked for help to begin with and then took direction and advice. I know that is how I got started. I asked for help, people told me to go to rehab, and I followed their direction. The people at rehab told me to go live in long term rehab, and I took their advice. People told me what to do, and I did it. That was how I succeeded in recovery. Not very glamorous (it is actually quite the opposite….ego crushing!) but it works.
So later on in your recovery, after you have achieved sobriety and you are stable in your recovery, you can still benefit from this technique. Someone suggested to me that I start running on a regular basis and get myself into shape. So I started running on a regular basis and the idea took hold. The positive change had such a large impact on me that eventually it became a permanent part of my recovery. But initially the change came about simply because I took a suggestion from someone else.
This is a great way to make positive changes in recovery….listen to other people, take suggestions from them, and even ask them for their opinions. “What do you think I should do to improve my life in recovery?” Or you might even get more specific, and say something like “What do you think I should do in order to get into better shape?”
Or maybe: “I feel socially isolated from people. What do you think I should do in order to fix that?” You might ask several people these questions, and then take their best ideas and act on it. You don’t have to become a robot or sacrifice your self will to live this way, rather, you are simply taking advice and sampling the best ideas that people have to offer you. It is actually a very clever way to live, because you are drawing on the experience and wisdom of other people, using their best ideas to help enhance your own life.
Build on previous success. Lock in changes.
One thing that I suggest that you try to do in your recovery journey is to build on your previous success. This helps lock in those positive changes so that you are not regressing or sliding backwards in your recovery.
For example, this is a fairly logical progression, and one that builds on itself as you go along:
1) Quit drugs and/or alcohol.
2) Quit cigarettes.
3) Start exercising.
That may sound a bit simplistic but actually each goal builds on the ones before it. You would not have quit the cigarettes if you were still stuck in drug or alcohol addiction, and you would not have started exercising if you were still using all the drugs and the cigarettes (I am sure there are exceptions out there, but you get the idea).
So what happens if you follow a progression like this is that you keep pushing yourself to take the next evolutionary step in making positive growth. You got clean and sober? Great. Now quit smoking those cigarettes. You quit smoking cigarettes? Great. Now it’s time to get into shape, and start moving your body. You got into shape? Great. Now it’s time to start eating healthier, and giving your body the right fuel that it needs. And so on.
Each change builds on the one before it, and therefore if you are always pushing yourself to take it to the next level, to take things one step further, then you are naturally locking in the previous changes that you made. Of course if you were to relapse and go back to your addiction, all of these positive changes would come tumbling down like a house of cards. And that is exactly the point. If you continue to build on your positive life changes, then you will be that much more likely to stick to your recovery. Each positive change that you have made will depend on your sobriety to sustain it.
Case in point….if I were to relapse on drugs, I know that I would also go back to cigarettes and likely quit exercising as well. Therefore, each positive change that I make in my recovery journey that builds on previous changes is more “insurance” against relapse.
Aim slightly higher than you think possible
Tim Ferriss says that “In order for goals to truly be effective, they have to be a bit unrealistic.”
In other words, don’t aim low. There is a Chinese proverb: “Aim high, hit high. Aim low, hit low.”
What are you really trying to do in your recovery? You did not get clean and sober to just sit on the couch all day and watch television.
Go create something. Organize a list of goals and figure out what changes you could make that would have the most impact on you. Then, start at the top of your list and dedicate your life to making those positive changes, one at a time. Build momentum, create your own freedom, and success will come to you naturally as you seek more positive change.