New Year, New You: The Importance of Goal Setting in Recovery

setting goals in recovery

With 2019 now here, many of us are making resolutions for the months ahead – resolutions that might involve becoming better, healthier, stronger, smarter, more stable versions of ourselves. For those in addiction recovery, the start of the new year can be a great opportunity to create (or to re-adjust focus on) personal goals for the days, months, and years ahead.

Goal setting in recovery goes much beyond the idea of “new year, new me,” keep in mind. Because in recovery, there is no single, annual time stamp. Every day, a person should be setting (and working towards) a goal – in their treatment program, and also beyond it. Recovery is not limited by a yearly goal, but rather, a string of goals that are accomplished one day at a time.

One of the first (and foremost) things we do at Turnbridge is help clients set goals for their recovery. Usually, these young men and women arrive without clear focus on what they want to accomplish – in treatment and in life. Many arrive unsure if they want to get sober, at all, hesitant to make real changes. Some clients come to us because their initial recovery goals got off course, due to illness, stress, or other challenges in life. Those who turn to drugs often feel lost or without clear direction, explains David Susman, Ph.D. And in absence of clearly defined goals, people can also feel without purpose.

Goals can help a person prioritize their actions, achieve their aspirations, and re-establish feelings of purpose and self-worth. They inspire a person to keep going and to keep committing to sobriety. Goal setting is important in recovery, but it’s also important in life. Goal setting allows people to move forward, to find meaning, and to become the best possible versions of themselves.

What are Goals in Recovery?

In treatment terms, goals are specific, realistic, carefully-conceived and measured objectives that are set at the different phases of recovery. Goals can be small, short steps forward, or large and longer-term. Short-term goals – such as, “stop using drugs for a week,” or “delete drug dealer’s contact information” – are achievable within a brief period of time, while long-term goals – such as, “rebuild relationship with mom” – are attainable in 3-6 months or longer.

Goals in recovery are always realizable with dedication and work. They should never come with a fear of failure, but rather, a specific course of action for how they can be achieved. This is the trick to goal setting in recovery – specifics. Specific goals, specific steps, and specific time limits. Without specific clarity on what goals are, it can be difficult to measure any progress made towards them.

As a general rule of thumb, goals in recovery should follow the S.M.A.R.T. acronym. They should be Specific and Measurable enough to quantify, Acceptable and Realistic enough to be challenging, but also within reach, and Time-Bound so that clients can aim for a target completion time.

When goal setting in recovery, then, a counselor will ask questions like:

  • What are you specifically hoping to achieve? What is it you are working towards?
  • What small steps can you take to get there? Where and how can you start?
  • How long until you’d like to accomplish this goal – a week, a month, a year? Is that realistic?
  • How will you know you have achieved it?

Even large aspirations such as “I want to get sober” can be made into smaller, specific, actionable goals. A counselor, for example, can help the client create a list of steps to get closer to sobriety – connecting with a sponsor, attending so many 12-step meetings, graduating treatment in a certain timeframe, attending meetings after treatment, etc. These small steps can feel much less overwhelming. While a long-term goal of yours might be to rebuild a relationship with your mother, a short-term goal might be to give her a heartfelt apology, or to call her once a week. In recovery, little successes are just as important when it comes to meeting goals. They show progress towards the bigger-picture goal, and inspire clients to continue moving forward. These little successes also have a strong healing effect.

As philosopher John Dewey once said, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.” When someone in recovery achieves a goal, they feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. They are proud of the work they have done and the conscious effort they made to make a positive change. This is a milestone, and milestones are turning points. When one milestone is reached, clients then think, “What’s next?” Another goal accomplished, another goal sought. The positive feeling of success can give a person in recovery the hope, the drive, and the encouragement needed to keep moving in the right direction. It gives them something to look forward to and work at, rather than turning back to drugs.

Goal Setting in Recovery at Turnbridge 

At Turnbridge, we believe in emergence – that the person who became addicted to drugs was never the best version of themselves; and that, rather than returning to this previous state of living, their goal should be to emerge, go forward, and become the best possible self they can be.

The young men’s and women’s recovery programs at Turnbridge are designed to facilitate emergence in clients. At the beginning of treatment, our clinical staff takes time to listen to each client, discuss their reasons for being there, and discuss their hopes and wills for the program. A counselor will also help clients to accept positive changes, and create positive goals to see them through. Goal setting is the roadmap to recovery, and an essential resource in any recovery toolkit.

In the different phases of treatment, clients take small steps to accomplish their goals. They build healthy relationships with peers, a mentor, and a sober network that will support their goals throughout the journey of recovery. They learn how to eat healthy, establish an exercise routine, and cope with difficult cravings. They also actively begin to plan for their future – enrolling in tutoring or high school classes, applying to college, volunteering, building resumes, working outside treatment, and more.

Goals in recovery can be both big and small. They may relate to a person’s physical, emotional, or spiritual health. They may focus on enhancing one’s self, or on enhancing one’s relationships with others. They may be future-focused, such as going to college or starting a successful career sober. No matter what a goal is, it should be important and meaningful to you. If you are looking to set goals in recovery, start by asking yourself:

  • What is most important to you? Why?
  • What do you want to improve? (For example, mental health, physical health, lifestyle choices, relationships, finances, etc.)
  • Which goals are most vital to your overall physical, mental, and emotional health?
  • Are these goals realistic?

The day you decide to set goals in recovery is the day that you regain control over your life. It is the day that you are start living, and living with purpose, again. That is why goal setting in recovery is so important. And it can also start today. If you are wondering how to live sober and stay committed to your recovery goals this year, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 to learn how to get back on the path towards sobriety.

 “To live a fulfilled life, we need to keep creating the "what is next", of our lives. Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” - Mark Twain