How to Build Momentum in Recovery By Achieving Successive Goals

How to Build Momentum in Recovery By Achieving Successive Goals


Yesterday we looked at how to use holistic health in order to grow in your recovery. Today we are going to look at the idea of momentum, and how you can build a stronger recovery by achieving successive goals.

There is a struggle between the idea of “acceptance” and “growth” in recovery. After all, if you have full acceptance of where you are at in your life, then where is the incentive to push yourself to change? The very idea of total acceptance does not lend itself to making changes in recovery.

And yet positive changes are what drive success in recovery. Positive changes are necessary in order to overcome the long term threat of addiction (and of complacency). Without a series of positive changes in our lives–perhaps even a never-ending series of changes–we are doomed to relapse.

There is this (somewhat popular) idea that we should not concern ourselves with pressing change all the time, that we should practice some acceptance and be happy with the way we are in life. There is this idea out there that if we are living the good life and being happy then we are not racing around trying to make all of these changes, but instead we are just kicked back, practicing acceptance, and enjoying life as it comes. No need to get worked up and try to make too many changes or rock the boat, just use a little acceptance and things will work out fine.

This idea may work for long term recovery (no idea really?) if you have already achieved many positive changes in your life and are quite stable, but I do not see how it could ever work in early recovery.

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In order to create a successful life in recovery you have to change everything! Yes, everything! This cannot be done while you are just kicked back and practicing acceptance for every little issue that pops up into your life.

In fact I believe that there is a tipping point in recovery that comes after you make enough positive changes. Once you reach this point, you are NOT cured or anything–don’t get me wrong. But if you make enough positive changes in recovery and build some serious momentum then you will suddenly “level up” your consciousness a notch and realize that you can do anything you want. You will have gained the discipline and the skills (mostly the ability to learn and take consistent action) and realize that you can, in fact, accomplish anything that you choose. It is simply a matter of priorities.

And this is an amazing place to get to, where you realize that you have such power to create the changes that you want in your life, simply by focusing on them and taking positive action towards your goal.

But you cannot get there by accepting every little aspect of your life and being OK with the status quo. You have to want to shake things up a bit, to create positive changes, to make something happen.

The best way to do this is to build momentum with the changes that you make in life. So many people in recovery make a positive change, then stop. They just go back to being lazy and letting life happen to them, instead of being proactive about it and creating the changes that would make them happy. And so they end up relapsing.

Just look at all of the people in recovery that you may see at meetings and such. There are among them a small group of people that we label “the winners in recovery.” We are told to look up to such people and follow their example. The saying in 12 step recovery is “stick with the winners.”

Have you ever studied such people, and figured out what they are doing that the rest of the AA group is not?

I can tell you what the difference is. The “winners” in recovery are taking action on a daily basis, they are pushing themselves to make positive changes in recovery every single day. If you listen to one of “the winners” speak at a meeting, you will notice that they talk about real examples from their daily lives. And they do it in a positive way, they show you how recovery is working for them.

The rest of the group in AA or NA (those that we do not label as “winners”) are living a much more passive existence. They may show up to meetings all the time but they are struggling to maintain sobriety. And thus each person of this crowd faces a choice: either start taking action and pushing themselves to make positive changes, or they can keep struggling and eventually relapse.

The winners in recovery make positive changes in their lives, and then they start seeking out another positive change that they can make and another path of growth to follow. They do not kick back and put their feet up and decide that they are cured. Instead, they keep pushing themselves to find a new path of growth, a new way to improve themselves, a new way to help others, and so on. Their journey for personal growth never ends. They frequently will say in meetings “we never stop learning in recovery.”

The passive group in AA that struggles is actually never learning a thing. They may show up to meetings every day and they may even read the literature and study it, but they have learned nothing (other than going to meetings every day can keep you barely sober and struggling, so long as you are not taking positive action). The reason these passive folks are not learning anything is because they are not living recovery outside of the meetings. They are not proactive about their life and about making changes. They are not pushing themselves to dig deeper and find ways to improve their life.

The passive group sees recovery as an event, rather than as a process. They quit drinking and using drugs, now they struggle with meetings in the hopes of remaining sober. This is the wrong attitude entirely.

Instead you might challenge the passive group in AA and say “What if you were told that you could never attend meetings ever again, but you still wanted to remain clean and sober. How would you do it?” Hopefully this would wake a few people up and the ones who really want sobriety would start taking action. When you remove the safety net (daily AA meetings) then the person is much more likely to start pushing themselves a bit. Now there is pressure to make something happen, to create positive change, to create positive momentum.

Why is momentum important?

Momentum is important because it is all about continuous change.

If you just make a single change and then kick your feet up, you are headed for eventual relapse. It takes more than a one-time event. Recovery is a process. And the process is one of learning and growth.

And if you go to a few meetings, you will hear this bit of wisdom that may sound like a death sentence at first: “The process never ends. You only stop learning when you die.”

The people who stay clean and sober, the real “winners” in recovery, are the people who continuously make positive changes in their lives. They build momentum because they make one positive change after the other, and each success that they have increases their self esteem slightly.

Relapse prevention done right should be all about increasing your self esteem. This has to do with the tipping point that I mentioned earlier. You reach a point in your recovery journey, after making positive changes, in which you would not want to throw away your progress on a relapse because you have built up so much healthy self esteem based on the changes you have made.

In other words, creating momentum through making one positive change after another is going to protect you from relapse. This happens because each positive change increases your self esteem. When you make enough of these positive changes you start to hold your life as being more valuable. You start to see how valuable your sobriety is. Maybe you are helping other people in their recovery at this point as well, so you see that your own life now has more value, and you become reluctant to throw this value away. You know that if you relapse all of this value will disappear, so you are more likely to fight to protect it.

Another way to look at it is this:

How close do you want to be to your next relapse?

Every recovering addict and alcoholic is a certain distance from their next relapse. They may never relapse again, in fact, but the potential is always there. The possibility always exists. And if they are not doing anything at all for their recovery and their life is sliding towards total chaos and misery, then that person may be very close to their next relapse. The possibility becomes greater that they will take a drink or a drug. Maybe they are functioning on sheer will power at this point and could snap at any moment. In such a case they are very close to relapse.

On the other hand, picture someone who has been making positive changes all along, and has put in a ton of effort in order to become a better person in recovery. Maybe they recently started reaching out and helping others in recovery in their own unique way. They are pushing themselves to be healthier, to help others, and to make positive changes in their own life. They are trying to learn more and grow as a person. They have pushed to make great changes and they have received the rewards and benefits for doing so. They know that recovery is a process and they have embraced that process. They are excited about future changes and challenges. They know that new challenges await them and they are excited to find out what they are. They are excited to learn new things and work through future problems.

Such a person is far from their next relapse. They have built a wall of protection around the possibility of relapse. Even if something bad happens in their life today, they are not going to pick up a drink or a drug over it, because they have so much positive momentum built up. This is why you want to build momentum and embrace recovery as a continuous process of change–because it protects you from the threat of relapse.

Does this mean that the person making positive changes could never relapse? Of course not. They are still vulnerable to the possibility. But notice that they are much less vulnerable, and that they have a huge buffer of positive stuff to protect them. If such a person were to relapse, it would only be after a long slide into chaos and despair and misery. They would have to start making poor choices, and keep making them for a while before they finally allowed themselves to self medicate again. Sure, they could short cut the whole thing and just pick up their drug of choice and use it one day, but this is not realistic and this is not how relapse happens. The relapse happens emotionally first, then mentally, then finally they pick up the drug. This will only happen “suddenly” if the person is already in a bad space both mentally and emotionally.

Note that someone who is building positive momentum based on creative recovery is definitely NOT in a bad space mentally or emotionally. They have been making positive changes and therefore they have this “protective moat” around their recovery. This is real-life relapse prevention. Sure, it could all come crumbling down at some point, but in this case that will take a fairly long time (compared to someone who is not making positive changes in their life or on a path of growth).

Therefore the person who is creating an active life of positive change is much more protected from relapse than someone who just sits in meetings all day and basically struggles to remain clean and sober. The passive person cannot figure out why recovery is so hard, because they are essentially not putting any real effort into it. They just show up at meetings and kick their feet up. But the “winners” in recovery are being proactive–they are setting goals and then chasing them. They are living with purpose and seeking to improve themselves and to learn more.

Your first goal in recovery

Your first goal in recovery is always going to be the same:

Physical abstinence from addictive drugs and alcohol.

In order to get started in recovery you have to stop putting the chemicals into your body.

Pretty simple really. If you make growth in recovery and create positive changes, most of that will be wiped out if you relapse.

Some people have to test this several times before they really believe it. You hear people talk in meetings about how they “lost everything” when they relapsed. What they really are referring to is the fact that they lost all of the progress they had made their first time in recovery.

If you relapse, you lose all progress. Then you have to start over, provided the relapse did not kill you. Not good.

Therefore, goal number one is always “physical abstinence.”

Firmly wrapping your mind around this concept is known as creating a “zero tolerance policy” with yourself. You have to get it straight in your mind that the most important thing in your life today is that you not use alcohol or addictive drugs, period. This is more important than everything else, regardless of what you hear in meetings. Physical abstinence comes first and must remain your number one priority.

Prioritizing and building on your sobriety

Once you are stable in early recovery you will want to start creating positive change.

Don’t go nuts and try to do too much at once. Don’t try to take on the whole world in one afternoon. You’ll just overwhelm yourself or burn out from exhaustion.

Scientists have actually proven that we have a limited amount of mental energy with which to make changes in our lives. Luckily, after you have made a positive change, you can then recharge this mental capacity and then take on another positive change in the future.

This should outline a clear strategy for you that is dead simple:

Make one positive change at a time.

Set a goal. Achieve that goal. Lock in the change.

Then move on an seek out your next potential change in life.

This is really the whole key to recovery and the core of the process. It is quite simple and anyone can learn it, but of course the real key is that you have to actually DO SOMETHING.

Set a goal – such as quitting drugs and alcohol.
Achieve that goal – perhaps by asking for help, going to rehab, etc.
Lock in the change – by living the change in your everyday life.
Evaluate your next change – by reflecting on past changes and also by asking for feedback from others.

This is the entire recovery process. The key is that you have to keep engaging this cycle, over and over again.

Evaluating and considering your options

If you made the decision to get clean and sober, that was an excellent start.

Seeking sobriety is probably your highest-impact change that you could make.

So what is the next highest impact change that could be made?

That is up to you to figure out. And you must put effort and thought into doing so, so that you are not wasting your time chasing worthless goals in your recovery.

Therefore, ask for feedback. Ask a friend, sponsor, or family member what they think you should focus on as your next change in life. Ask several people. Get lots of feedback and listen to their ideas.

Find the change for yourself that would have the biggest possible impact on your recovery.

What is the one goal that you could achieve that would change everything for you? Find that goal, then attack it.

Do this over and over again.

Building discipline and then transferring it to a new goal

If you take the suggestion above and keep pursuing your highest-impact goal in life, you will eventually build a great deal of discipline.

For example, two of my early goals in recovery were to become a distance runner and to quit smoking cigarettes.

You can bet that after I had accomplished both of these goals that I had built up a great deal of discipline in my life.

So much so that I had reached that “tipping point” that I spoke of earlier. It was then that I realized that I could create nearly anything that I wanted in recovery, simply by taking consistent action. I understood how to reach a difficult goal. I understood the price that one had to pay in order to reach a difficult goal, such as running a marathon after not being in shape at all, or quitting smoking. Those were tough goals and after I had conquered them I had fully learned what it took in order to achieve something tough like that.

I then decided that I did not like really enjoy working a day job, and would prefer to replace that with business income. The discipline that I had learned from my previous goals allowed me to do exactly that. Not only did I have the know-how from conquering previous goals, but I also had the positive momentum from doing so. I was on a roll. I had experienced some success, so I chased some more of it.

Life is much easier when you are not being held back by your addictions. You just have to realize this and then capitalize on it.

Once you have your freedom (in recovery), go create something!

Figuring out what you really want

After cleaning up the garbage in your life left over from your addiction, you should reach a point where you want to create something positive, rather than to simply eliminate negative habits (addiction, smoking, etc.).

At this point you need to look within and find out what you want to do, what you want to create, and how you want to leave your mark on the world. Recovery gives you plenty of energy and freedom, so aim high. You have momentum on your side, so make something amazing happen.

Go create positive change. Really, what else would a person do?


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