How Your Habits Define Your Future in Sobriety

How Your Habits Define Your Future in Sobriety


Your daily habits dictate what becomes of your future in recovery.

Every day is another opportunity for personal growth.

You are either working on recovery, or you are working on a relapse.

Therefore, our daily habits have tremendous power in recovery. We must choose them wisely.

How we become what we do every day

Part of the problem with recovery is that you cannot do everything based on simple, “day at a time thinking.” In other words, you can’t just live for today and not plan for the future at all.

- Approved Treatment Center -


I am sure some people will probably argue with that idea, but I stand by it as being correct.

For example, what would be the point of exercise or working out if you were truly just living for the day? Why try to improve your physical health for the long run if you are just concerned with the present day?

The same argument could be made for things like proper nutrition. If today is all that matters, then by all means, eat junk food instead of nutritious food.

And why bother to get a good night of sleep? You see where these arguments are headed.

But there are many reasons to establish positive habits that can then build into something positive in the long run. Daily exercise can transform your life, but it doesn’t happen in a week or even in a month. It takes longer than that.

The same can be said for many of the healthy lifestyle choices that you might be making in long term recovery.

This is why the “holistic approach” to sobriety is something of a hard sell. Where are the benefits? They are all out there in the future, quite a ways down the road.

If someone asks me what to do in order to recover from alcoholism, I would suggest a holistic approach. Start taking care of yourself every single day on several different levels:

* Stop putting drugs and alcohol into your body (total abstinence).
* Start sleeping 8 hours per night (some will need more or less, but this is a general guideline that many of us fall short of, especially in early recovery).
* Start eating healthier foods every day. Feed your body well.
* Detox emotionally. Avoid stress. Take time to relax every day. Meditate.
* Heal relationships. Eliminate the toxic relationships and nurture the healthy relationships in your life.
* Practice gratitude daily. This is your spiritual foundation.
* Move your body every day. Physical fitness.

This list is just a general starting point, a few things that make sense for most people.

It is by no means comprehensive. And what works for some people will not work for everyone. To some extent, you have to explore the actions and the habits that might work best for you.

But the key is that you have to actually take action. You cannot just theorize about these concepts, you have to actually try them.

And not only that, but you cannot just try them for a few days or even a few weeks. That won’t cut it.

For example, you can’t start exercising and then give up after three weeks and declare it to be unhelpful to your sobriety.

You didn’t give it a fair chance.

How long do you have to keep it up for? I’m not sure, to be honest, but I know that I quit exercising after a few weeks at one point and I walked away from it for a few years. This was a mistake. Later on I came back to the idea, stuck with it this time, and it completely transformed my recovery.

In other words, I had to give exercise a fair chance to work in my life. I had to firmly establish it as a new habit before I could really see the full benefits of it. And only then could I accurately judge the value of keeping it as a daily habit.

And this is what makes the holistic path such a hard sell.

It takes time. It takes hard work. You can’t just exercise for a few weeks and suddenly feel great from it. It generally takes longer than that for most of these things to really kick in and reward you.

And here is another important point:

The holistic approach relies on a combined approach. It relies on synergy. So in other words, you can’t just take one aspect of the holistic approach and say “OK then, I am going to exercise I guess,” and expect for that to completely transform your life.

Instead, this is a total package. If you are still eating junk food every day and getting lousy sleep and having all sorts of emotional stress in your life from relationships then how much good is the exercise really going to do you?

This is an important question.

You are only as strong as your weakest habits when it comes to the holistic path to sobriety.

In other words, you have to take care of yourself every day in terms of your:

* Physical health.
* Emotional health.
* Mental health.
* Social health.
* Spiritual health.

And if you are neglecting one of these areas completely then you are leaving yourself vulnerable to relapse.

So you are only as strong in recovery as your weakest area of personal growth on this list.

Because a relapse can attack you from any direction. You cannot predict what form your relapse temptation will take, but you can bet that it will be in the area that you are least prepared for it. And that means the area of your health that you are not working on actively.

The solution is to take care of yourself every single day in all of these five areas.

And if you want to make that automatic then you must take a conscious look at your daily habits. Because choosing the right habits will protect you from relapse.

Your habits in sobriety are especially important

If you pay attention in early recovery then you will hear many of the same suggestions over and over again. They are trying to help you recover and so they are attempting to tell you which habits can be most helpful to you.

Perhaps one of the most popular suggestions is to go to 90 AA meetings in 90 days when you first get out of treatment. This is solid advice and I don’t really know of many people who regret following through with this particular suggestion. I followed this advice myself and in fact I went to more like an average of 2 or 3 meetings per day for quite a while in early recovery. At the time I was also living in long term rehab and I was required to do so, but I still made the commitment.

The idea of going to an AA meeting every single day is about much more than just the immediate benefit that you might get from each meeting. A big part of that suggestion is in actually following through and establishing a new habit, creating some discipline in your life. It is more than just the meetings themselves. It is about reprogramming your brain, in a way. If you can follow through with the 90 meetings then you have an excellent chance at being able to create other major changes in your life as well.

Early recovery is all about change. Our old habits die hard, because we were generally wrapped up in our addiction for so many years before seeking help. Everything in your body is screaming at you to go get a drink, to go back to the old bar, to go self medicate and forget about all of this recovery stuff. It takes a great deal of effort to overcome these cravings. You need to give yourself every advantage that you can in early recovery and therefore you should try to establish some powerful habits.

If you have strong habits in early recovery then you don’t have to think. You don’t have to decide. You don’t have to agonize.

Call you sponsor every day. No question about whether you should or not, simply do it every single day and it will not be an issue. Just do it.

The same can be said for meetings. Or for writing in your journal. Or for sharing in an online recovery forum. Or for working on the steps. Or whatever.

Establish the habits to make recovery more automatic for you.


If you design your recovery program based on powerful habits then in the long run you will accumulate amazing benefits as a result.

One of the things that I noticed in my long term recovery is that the benefits of sobriety slowly accumulated.

Note that they did not all fall into my lap at once. Note that I was still pretty upset and even struggling a bit when I had 90 days sober, six months sober, maybe even at a year sober.

Right now I am at 13 years sober and I honestly don’t remember when each benefit of sobriety kicked in. I just remember still being pretty frustrated when I had less than a year sober at various times.

But after I had, say, about three years sober I was really starting to experience some amazing rewards in sobriety.

Now don’t get me wrong–I probably had 80 percent or more of all of these recovery benefits when I was at six months sober as well…..but I didn’t know it yet!

And that is part of the journey. That is part of what you will slowly learn and realize.

You have already arrived, most likely.

Maybe you have a few weeks sober, or a few months, or a few years.

Unless you have a few decades sober, however, then you probably lack the perspective to realize just how good you’ve got it.

I can look back now and realize that I have things really good today. I am grateful today on a number of different levels, in ways that I just couldn’t grasp when I only had six months sober, or 18 months sober, and so on.

So some of this is about your perspective. You will gain more perspective the longer you remain sober, and your ability to be grateful will likely increase as well.

But you will also tend to accumulate more benefits as you go along too.

For example, I do not feel like I have ever been this healthy before in my recovery as what I am today. I am talking of course about the 5 different categories of health and how I try to work on them every day: Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.

In early recovery I was obviously trying to get better, trying to learn the secret of sobriety, trying to be happy again in my life. And I was trying different things and I was learning more and more about myself.

Have I officially “arrived?” Of course not. We never fully get there. We have to keep reinventing ourselves over and over again in recovery if we want to remain sober.

But I can look back today and realize that I am experiencing some benefits in recovery today that have been built up over the last decade. Because I have been doing this now for over 13 years and some of the success that I experience today is built on top of previous success.

And this is what I mean by “accumulation.”

My life is different today because of the foundation that I laid down 13 years ago. And twelve years ago. And eleven years ago. And so on…..

Every year in my sobriety I have been able to make progress.

Because I have been blessed enough not to relapse in this 13 years, all of the gains and all of the benefits and all of the progress that I have made…..

Wait for it……

I get to keep it.

This is a critical point.

When you remain sober, you start to make positive changes, right?

And those positive changes start to reward you in different ways. Healthier life, healthier body, healthier spirit, and so on.

You are improving your life in many different ways.

And then, you know what happens? The growth that you make starts to build on the previous growth that you made.

Your success starts to build on previous success.

And so you start to accumulate greater and greater benefits of sobriety.

Or as I have heard it said in AA meetings: “It just keeps getting better and better.”

Doesn’t that sound enticing? It just keeps getting better and better?

Trust me, that is a great goal to shoot for. Because once you start on this feedback loop of positive growth and then setting higher and higher goals for yourself, things get really amazing. You will one day look back and be amazed at how far you have come in your journey. And to think that you might have been stuck in addiction all of this time instead, and spiraling further and further out of control.

What is your daily routine, and does it get you to where you want to be in 5 years? In 10 years?

There is a saying that is something along the lines of:

“We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but we underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.”

This is wisdom. And after you have a few years under your belt in recovery, you will probably start to see the truth in that perspective.

I wasn’t exactly shouting from the rooftops when I got to one year sober. I mean, I was relatively happy and I was amazed that I no longer had the obsession to drink every day, but I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy yet. And I sure as heck did not really appreciate my life and my sobriety at that time the way I should have.

Now fast forward to when I had three years sober, or five years. At both of those times I was in a different position. I had realized the full impact of the transformation that I had gone through. I was truly grateful. I was excited to be exploring my recovery. I was excited to see what the next growth experience was. I was actively living my habits each day and allowing myself to grow in recovery. I was challenging myself to improve my health in various ways. I was much more excited about my future in recovery.

So in other words, I realized the truth in that advice: One year is not really enough to see the full impact of your sobriety. Sure, things will be better. But I did not really get the full impact and feel the full gratitude until maybe year three or so. And then from then until now (at 13 years sober) it has been an amazing journey indeed, full of challenge and excitement and new goals and so on.

At one point in my journey I ran a marathon. At another point I graduated from college. At another point I built a successful business. In all of these goals, I think it is safe to say that my daily habits are what determined my future outcome. None of those goals just fell into my lap. None of them were acts of luck. Not even a little bit. Each of those things were deliberate acts of creation, made possible by daily habits.

So you could ask yourself the question:

“Where do I want to be in five years?”

And then when you figure out the answer to that question, look at your daily habits right now.

Are those the habits that will get you to your goal?

And if the answer is “no,” then you need to change your daily habits.

It is as simple as that.

Either your daily routine is moving you closer to your goals, or it is not.

But in my opinion you need to look at least 3 to 5 years down the road. Don’t ask yourself what your goals are for this afternoon, because you will just lay around the couch all day and eat potato chips. Instead, project a few years out. Think big. Get ambitious. What is your big juicy goal that you want to hit in the next five years? What would make you push yourself a bit in order to reach it?

That is the goal that you want to help define your recovery. You need to embrace a goal like that and allow it to help dictate your daily habits. Without that purpose and that mission driving your long term behavior it is going to be really tough to make positive changes that last.

Long term personal growth

Long term growth in recovery has to have some balance to it.

This goes back to the threat of relapse.

Remember that your disease will try to attack you at your weakest point.

Your life is segmented into five areas of health: Physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.

If you neglect one of those areas for too long then your disease will attack that particular part of your life and try to create relapse.

So the key is to establish a set of daily habits that ticks off all of these check boxes. All five of those areas need to be addressed in your daily routines.

This is not that overwhelming. In fact, there are some activities that can touch on several of them at once, or even all five (moving meditation comes to mind: Yoga, Tai Chi, even jogging).

Challenge yourself to find a set of habits in your life that help to protect you from the threat of relapse.

What are your habits that help to protect your sobriety on a day to day basis? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!

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