Knowing how to set goals is a valuable skill in all areas of life. But it is especially important when you are recovering from substance abuse or addiction.

The process of setting realistic and achievable goals will give you milestones to look forward to on your recovery journey. These milestones make an open-ended and sometimes intimidating process easier to break down. If you can wrap your head around step-by-step goals, you can make it to long-term and sustained sobriety.

According to a recent study in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, therapeutic and monitored goal-setting is an effective strategy to treat alcohol and other drug abuse disorders. These treatments are more easily tracked and are fundamentally collaborative—this stimulates long-term accountability.

But individual goal-setting is a part of this process, too. It helps you stay focused, provides a measuring stick, and ensures that you stay motivated.

What Are the Benefits of Goal-Setting in Recovery?

  • Goals Help You To Stay Focused

Goals give you a target for you to focus your energy on. When you are in addiction recovery, your long-term goal can feel a bit abstract and hard to grasp. This makes short-term milestones a great way to keep yourself focused. When you can look forward to a tangible result in a short period of time, it is much easier to keep moving forward.

  • Goals Help You Measure Progress

If you set your goals effectively, you will consistently achieve goals and arrive at benchmarks that show you exactly how much progress you’re making toward your ultimate goal. Steps can be counted much easier than marathons. By splitting up your long-term goal, you can achieve short-term victories that make it all seem more manageable.

  • Goals Help You Stay Motivated

Along with staying focused and measuring progress, goals help you remain positive and motivated on your healing journey. Positivity and motivation can often make the difference between a downward spiral and resisting temptation. When you are rewarded with short-term victories, it is far easier to keep the final goal in sight and say “no” when you need to.

The “SMART” Acronym

The acronym “SMART” can help us remember five steps to effective goal-setting:

  • “Specific:” Use specific words and phrases to say exactly what you mean to achieve. Vague goals will be lost over time and might even hinder rather than help you get there.
  • “Measurable”: Good goals need to be measurable. In other words, how many days do you have to accomplish this? How do you know if you accomplished the goal or not?
  • “Attainable”: You must be able to reach the goal in order for it to be effective. If in doubt, start smaller rather than bigger and see how much easier to is to stay on track.
  • “Realistic”: Is everything about your goal realistic? Beyond the goal itself being attainable, have you set realistic parameters that will allow you to succeed? It is always better to start small and work your way up.
  • “Time-Bound:” Make sure to set up a realistic time frame for your goal. If you don’t have some time of a framework bound to time and space, your goal will dissolve into vague aspirations.

4 Steps to Effectively Setting Goals

#1: Make a “SMART” Plan

  • The plan is the most important part of the goal setting process. Think about a long term goal and them plan smaller steps that help you get there. Use the SMART acronym to make sure these steps are realistic. This will ensure that you’re on the right track and help you to decide where to focus your energy.

#2: Make Use of Your Resources

  • To set your mind at ease and make sure your plan is achievable, do some research on what others have done and how they’ve done it. There are many people who have been on a similar journey as you, so don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Use the knowledge of others (whether they’re people you read about, close friends, or support network) to plan effectively first time around.

#3: Stay Accountable

  • Without accountability, goal setting doesn’t work. It’s key to have someone checking up on you and asking about your journey. Think about it: it’s much easier to skirt a responsibility when you don’t have to tell anyone about it. But if a partner or teammate you trust is keeping you accountable, they’ll help you stay motivated and on track.

#4: Use the Reward System

  • As you begin to meet your goals, give yourself some rewards! Rewards affirm that you’re doing a good job and help keep you motivated to get to the next goal. They also tell your brain and body that there are benefits to their hard work. Rewards are different for each person but can be as small as a bag of candy, dinner out on the town, or whatever feels special to you.

Goal Setting As A Way to Keep Healing

Finally, don’t get disappointed if the journey is a little more tough than you imagined. The key is to start with a short-term goal that you think you can achieve. Once you achieve that goal, reflect on the process, learn from it, and then set off to achieve your next goal.

A short-term goal could be something as simple as researching holistic healing and taking one day a week to stretch and start practicing yoga. As that becomes a habit, you can then expand that goal to start to eat healthier or other strategies to improve your well-being.

Remember that goal setting has also been proven to boost your self-esteem and self-confidence in all aspects of life. When you live a goal-oriented life, you are more likely to have a positive approach when hard things come up and are better prepared to handle small setbacks. This is what makes all the difference in the healing journey of addiction recovery—step by step.

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