Making New Year’s resolutions may be a time-honored tradition, but most of us aren’t very good at keeping those resolutions. Often, our lack of follow-through isn’t a matter of motivation or willpower. It’s because we haven’t taken the time to set goals that are effective in bringing about real changes in our lives. If you’re in recovery, setting SMART goals can help you stay sober and prevent relapse.
What Are SMART Goals?
Effective goals follow the principles outlined in the acronym SMART.
- SPECIFIC: The goal involves a precise outcome that is desired.
- MEASURABLE: The goal has a way to measure your progress.
- ACTION-ORIENTED: The goal explains what behaviors you must follow to achieve your objectives.
- REALISTIC: The goal is reasonably attainable given the current tools and resources at your disposal.
- TIMELY: The goal comes with a built-in timeframe that gives you a sense of completion, such as doing something every day or once a week.
The SMART goal framework helps prevent some of the most common mistakes people make when setting goals by encouraging you to turn vague ambitions into specific and actionable steps that can be undertaken to achieve your objective.
Why Use SMART Goals for Addiction Recovery?
The SMART goals acronym can be used in any situation, but it’s particularly useful for people in recovery. Getting clean after being addicted to drugs or alcohol for a long period of time requires a total lifestyle change, which often feels overwhelming. The SMART goals acronym helps you visualize your recovery as a series of smaller and more manageable steps.
For example, one common goal people try to set for themselves in recovery is “I’m never going to relapse.” While this is certainly an admirable sentiment, the time parameter involved is too long and there are no steps explained for how you want to prevent relapse. (Remember that addiction is a chronic illness, you can’t simply pronounce yourself cured after going through detox.)
Better examples of goals to set for yourself include:
- When I feel the urge to drink or use drugs, I’m going to call my sponsor.
- I will write in my journal for 15 minutes before bed each night to better understand what factors in my life affect my cravings for drugs and alcohol.
- I will exercise for 30 minutes per day to keep my energy level up and release endorphins to improve my mood.
- I’m going to go to guitar lessons once per week, since music helps me cope with my cravings.
- I will attend worship services each week, using my faith as a tool to assist in my recovery.
- I’m going to apply for two jobs per week that offer at least 20 hours of work until I find a position that suits my needs.
- On Friday nights, I will cook dinner for my family while we talk about what has happened during the week.
- I will begin each day by spending 15 minutes celebrating the progress I’ve made in my recovery.
Short Term vs. Long Term Goals for Recovery
When setting SMART goals for your recovery, it’s important to think about both short term and long term goals. A successful recovery plan should include a mix of both goal types.
Short term goals are those that focus on the immediate challenge of maintaining your sobriety, such as controlling cravings, staying in contact with your sponsor, and attending therapy regularly. The sobriety chips given in AA meetings for 24 hours, 30 days, and 60 days of sobriety recognize the importance of setting short term goals in recovery.
For many people, long term goals often focus on what type of sober life they want to build for themselves. For example, you might be imagining a special anniversary trip to celebrate 25 years with your spouse. Or, you might want to finish your degree so you can be a good role model for your child as he or she enters high school. Long term goals can be one year, five years, or 10 years away—as long as they help keep you motivated on a day to day basis.
Evaluating Your Progress
Setting goals is an important part of creating a sustained recovery, but you also need to evaluate your progress periodically to make sure you’re on the right path. If you’re struggling, it may be time to approach the problem differently. For example, if you’re worried you’re not making any progress finding post-recovery employment, you may need to arrange a meeting with a career counselor who can review your resume and offer some interview tips to boost your confidence.
It’s okay to make mistakes along the way, as long as you don’t use minor slip ups as an excuse to stop trying to live a clean and sober life. Recovery is about progress, not perfection.
By Dana Hinders