Dr. Thomas G. Kimball, Ph.D., LMFT / Texas Tech University George C. Miller Family Regents Professor & Director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities
As we close in on the final days of 2016, it is natural to look ahead to the New Year. One of the traditions associated with the New Year is making New Year’s resolutions. A resolution is synonymous with setting goals and deciding toward an activity or course of action.
For anyone in recovery, making resolutions and setting goals is a good thing. An entire field of study with dedicated researchers has worked hard to understand the factors impacting goal-setting and the theory surrounding the phenomena. The professionals who research goal setting and its impact on performance have discovered some interesting findings.
A summary of the research in goal setting teaches us that setting goals effects performance in four important ways. First, setting goals increases the probability that attention and energy will be directed toward goal relevant activities. Having a vision of where we are going focuses our mind toward that end. Second, goal setting has an energizing effect. Making goals enhances our own energy levels. Third, setting goals impacts our persistence to achieve our objectives. Persistence is an important quality in the making and keeping of resolutions. And, fourth, goals affect our action. Without goals, sometimes our actions are random and haphazard. With set goals in place, our actions can build toward important accomplishments. (Lock & Latham, 2002).
In light of the impact that resolutions or goal setting has on our ability to accomplish our purpose in life, I have outlined a couple of tips: The best and worst of recovery resolutions.
The Best Recovery Resolutions…
Are Written Down / People in recovery know the power of writing things down. Step work, journaling, and recovery plans are all good examples of recovery writings. Writing things down helps to open the door to learn more about yourself. It can also be a powerful way to remember events, choices, and feelings and is an important accountability measure. In making resolutions this year, remember to take the time to write them down and refer to them often.
Are Specific / People in recovery need to be specific with their goals. In my work with college students in recovery, I often find that students set goals that are too abstract. Focusing on an abstract outcome, such as “I want to make good grades”, rather than being specific is unproductive. A specific, similar goal would be to focus on the specific process required to make good grades. For example, instead of setting a goal to make good grades, one might set a goal to study for 10 hours each week. The more specific the goal, the more one increases the likelihood of accomplishing it.
Include an Action Plan / The best kinds of resolutions include an action plan. Action plans empower persons in recovery to write down goals and to not only be specific with those goals, but to also outline specific actions necessary to accomplish them. Action plans also help to assess how willing you are to take certain steps to achieve your resolution. Thus, refining and modifying steps based on willingness becomes possible. Within an action plan, consider the actions you are willing to take now and the actions that may need to be put on hold.
The Worst Recovery Resolutions…
Are Motivated By Fear / Fear can be a powerful motivator in the short term. However, being motivated by fear does not propel us to the long-term, sustainable change and accomplishments necessary for recovery. Fear is a reactive emotion and may get us through a critical moment but it comes up short. Love, however, is the opposite of fear and recovery resolutions established in an act of love and self-care will ultimately carry more weight than any fear-based notion
Depend on Others to Accomplish / Recovery resolutions cannot be dependent on other people to change or motivate you. Instead, New Year’s resolutions ought to be fully dependent upon yourself. For example, setting a goal to receive a big raise this year may not be within your control. Knowing what you have control over and what you do not will help you to set resolutions based on your efforts alone and not on others.
Are Out of Reach / I’m a believer in dreaming big. But dreaming big and goal setting are two different things. Instead, we need to learn to accept where we are in life and set meaningful and attainable resolutions—I can’t possibly become an astronaut now and it does no good to set a goal that is out of reach. Setting out of reach goals has the potential to erode self-confidence and positive recovery identify – it’s best to set yourself up for success rather than failure
Good luck in setting obtainable recovery resolutions for 2017. If done well, by writing them down, being specific, and creating an action plan, New Year’s resolutions help you to grow and develop. Let’s embrace the best, leave the worst, and never be afraid to dream big!
Lock, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (2002). Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation A 35-Year Odyssey. American Psychologist 705 Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
Thomas G. Kimball, Ph.D., LMFT
Dr. Kimball serves as the Director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Community and holds the George C. Miller Family Regents Professorship at Texas Tech University. He is co-author of the book, Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery, Hazelden Press. He is also a Clinical Director with MAP.