For many people, the start of a new year means a New Year’s resolution—a pledge to lose weight, drop bad habits, or take up a new hobby. But for people in recovery, is a new year’s resolution the best path towards self-improvement? Lynn James, Corporate Director of Health and Well-Being at Recovery Centers of America, says maybe not.
“People often make resolutions that are too lofty or ambitious,” James says. “This is risky because it can lead to disappointment and feelings of failure, which can unravel the gains people have worked hard to achieve in recovery and set them back, increasing risk of relapse.”
Resolutions require a change in behavior, and that’s never an easy thing to accomplish. Simply resolving to do something is never really enough, because making a decision doesn’t mean you have changed the behavior or, even better, addressed the underlying behavior that caused the behavior. This is why James estimates that only 8% of New Year’s resolutions are successful.
“A resolution with no behavior change only holds for a while,” says James, “until the discomfort and urges return.”
But just because stating something as a New Year’s resolution may not be an effective way of changing your behavior doesn’t mean that change isn’t possible. Whether it’s your health, your physique, your career, or your spirituality, you are capable of change. The key is thinking small, not taking on too much at once, and breaking your goals down into reasonable steps. James suggests the following as a model for building new habits:
Step 1: Accept where you are today. You can never change your habits if you start by blaming yourself for who you are.
Step 2: Create a plan for a personal well-being vision. Whatever it is you’d like to achieve, what does that accomplishment look like? Be specific, and keep your goal concrete.
Step 3: Assess your motivations. Knowing why you want to change—and why it’s been hard to do so in the past—is essential for keeping on track.
Step 4: Understand your obstacles. What’s getting in the way of this achievement, and how can you move past it?
Step 5: Set three-month priority goals. Keep the list short!
Step 6: Break those priority goals into weekly “SMART” goals, or steps that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Structured.
As an example of what this process looks like, James uses one of the most common New Year’s resolutions: exercising more. Rather than declaring on January 1 that you will start running three miles every morning—a difficult undertaking—James suggests starting small. First, accept your current exercise regimen. Then create a plan for your ideal exercise routine. Think about why you want to exercise—and why you haven’t in the past. Assess the obstacles to your exercise, and then break the plan down into manageable goals.
A three-month priority goal might be as simple as saying, “I will include exercise into my weekly routine to help manage stress and cravings and to feel healthier.” A weekly SMART goal could be to go for a short walk twice a week. Start with that, build from there, and never blame yourself if you have to slow down.