Setting Goals in Addiction Recovery

a person hiking while thinking about setting goals

Once you’re detoxed, self-evaluated, and feeling hopeful for a substance-free future, it’s time to clarify your vision for that future. Few things are as universally advocated as setting goals during substance abuse treatment. Yet, even the healthiest people struggle to define what those concepts mean for them. As the saying goes, “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.”

We hear a lot about goal failure and the possible reasons. Usually, though, the reason for quitting is related to one or more of the following misconceptions:

New Year’s is the Time for Goal Setting

Or graduation day, or Lent, or the start of the school year, or whatever conventional “fresh start” time is nearest—even when “nearest” is seven-and-a-half months away. This sort of thinking has let more than one worthy goal die of neglect. The truth is, every day is a new day for whoever will take advantage of it. There’s no need to wait six months (or six days); start setting goals while you’re fresh and eager.

A Universally Effective Planning System Exists

The SMART goals acronym lacks a universally-agreed-upon definition. Learning from what worked for someone else is fine; copying them slavishly and expecting a guarantee of identical success in the identical amount of time is foolish. We are all created for individually unique purposes; listen to your instincts, and customize your chosen goal-setting template into a plan you can get passionate about.

You Only Have to Conceive It, and It’s as Good as Done

Someone has referred to certain Law of Attraction advocates as “those who think they can sit on a hill and Om their way to success.” Even writing down a goal isn’t a 100 percent guarantee of achieving it, if you then put it in a drawer and forget about it. Unless you regularly focus on setting goals, and act on moving toward it, it’ll remain a dream at best.

Goal-setting is a Tool Exclusive to Financial/Career Success and to Physical Fitness

It’s true that goals in these areas are easiest to define concretely, and thus easiest to plan for. But you can, and most people should, also set goals for self-care (“get a massage every month this year”), learning (“read three classics this summer”), and human relationships (“spend every Thursday evening with my family”). One note: setting goals for your relationships (or anything else) doesn’t mean letting others set the goals for you! A vital element of recovery is being considerate of others without sacrificing your individuality in the name of pleasing them.

The More Goals, the Better

Speaking of goals in different areas of life, many planning experts use a list of seven or eight “goal categories”—financial, physical, vocational, educational, relational, spiritual, familial. Some people read those lists and feel obligated to choose a goal from every category, immediately. Try not to take that approach; when you’re fresh from a medical detox program, the resulting pressure is likely to be overwhelming and may well increase the risk of relapse. Start with just one to three goals that suit your needs and stage in life.

Goals Should Be Easy to Reach

Or, conversely, “goals should be a challenge.” Again, this depends on the individual’s temperament and stage in life. For some people, the A in SMART Goals stands for Achievable, and aiming beyond their range of vision is a quick path to giving up in discouragement. For others (usually those who have strong faith in a Higher Power backing them up), the A stands for Adventurous or Ambitious or even Audacious. Only you can decide where your personal line falls.

You Need to Plan Every Step of Your Way Before Starting

No more than you need to count every traffic light before setting out on a road trip. Those who are most successful in setting goals and reaching them are not those who best plan every detail in advance, but those who have the clearest view of the final objective. Trying to figure out every step in advance is far more likely to stall you indefinitely in the planning stage—or, if you do get a good start, leave you at wits’ end the first time something interferes with your well-laid plans.

The Path from Starting Point to Goal is a Straight Line

So we all wish. Even Thomas Edison reportedly said, when asked how his goal to create a new storage battery was going, that so far he had discovered 1,000 ways not to do it. Detours and dead ends are an inevitable part of the path to any worthwhile goal; just make your way back to the main path and keep going.

Deadlines are Vital

Yes, but only when they are also flexible. Many beginning goal-setters underestimate the time it will take to reach a goal, then when the original deadline arrives and they aren’t yet there, see it as another proof they “never get anything right.” Often, they then give up when success was just over the next hump. If your own original deadline is three days ahead and you’re only halfway to your goal, that halfway is still progress.

If You Get Off Track, You’re Back to Square One

Not necessarily: most mistakes set you back just a few steps, or leave you in the same spot with only the getting-up to do. One stumble can’t erase all the progress and learning you’ve accumulated.

Short-Term Goals are Better than Long-Term Goals

Or, conversely, “You must set five-year and ten-year goals.” This is closely related to misconception #6, which would bind every goal-setter to a specific level of challenge without considering the individual. What counts isn’t conformity to a universal time frame, but genuine progress and genuine joy in the progress.

Setting Goals with Kemah Palms

At Kemah Palms, our substance abuse treatment programs give you the support and tools necessary to stay motivated both during recovery and after the fact. We offer many programs to help you or your loved one overcome addiction once and for all. Some of these programs include:

Call [Direct] today to speak to an addiction expert about the treatment that is right for you.

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