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10 Keystones to Support All Your New Year Resolutions in Addiction Recovery and Beyond

Well, Happy New Year 2023!!

Sparkler, Happy New Year, gold on black.
Happy New Year Sparkler! Photo by Beesmurf, Pixabay

New Year’s Resolutions

Resolving to be better in the new year. To put issues to rest. To attack problems or endeavors in our lives and solve them. There can be a lot of pressure to undertake BIG life-transforming endeavors for the New Year, to get healthy, learn a new language, to start exercising, make more $, to succeed at something important.

I want to offer some basic principles and suggestions that will help regardless of what your resolution(s) may be, and even if you don’t do resolutions at all.

I think it’s nice to take some time to reflect and plan, in general, and regularly checking in with what we’re doing and how things are going in relation to our goals is a great idea. It’s useful to set big year-long goals like this, but there are some dangers.

A synonym for a resolution is a “definite promise,” in this case a promise to ourselves. But there’s an edge to this word for me -- that “I RESOLVE,” sounds so formal and rigid -- a little bit scary, right off the bat. The timeframe is big, too. That can be freeing, but it can also be a little intimidating. What if I can’t do it?! Then I feel discouraged, like a failure.

The Downsides of New Year’s Resolutions

There can be a sort of desperation to it, like we can ONLY start important efforts at this important time, and if we miss it or fall short, or don’t start on that very first day, our optimism plummets, and we think, “Oh well, now I’m doomed to wait for at least another year, and it’s probably a sign that I can’t do it at all and that my whole year is going to be full of failure.”

The biggest problem is that we envision being able to do more, faster than we can, and we become discouraged before we hit the payoff with a lot of our efforts. Many of us start off like gangbusters and then aren’t able to sustain that pace. Some of us can’t get ourselves started, it feels so overwhelming or impossible at the pace we’ve set ourselves.

10 Concepts and Suggestions to Support Your Resolutions or Goal Setting

Notebook. New Year: goal, plan, action.
New Year Planning Notebook. Photo: USA-Reiseblogger, Pixabay

So how can we make big plans and set ourselves up for success without being tripped up by day-to-day surprises, challenges and losing our motivation or feeling discouraged?

Keep the following ideas in mind to create an environment where you can pursue goals, achieve the things you want for yourself, and enjoy life all along the way.

1) You matter

This is key, and I realize this can be a tough one for us to really embrace. I don’t necessarily mean on a big, global basis, like you’re going to save the world, but in the sense that life matters, people matter, our individual actions add up to something that matters.

2) Accepting reality is freeing

Accept that we, others and the world actually are the way we are -- flaws and all. Acceptance in the here and now doesn’t preclude change. It allows us to see more clearly so we can figure out what we best can change. Acknowledging that we are sometimes selfish, angry, wrong just like we’re sometimes heroic, kind, brave, smart or altruistic helps us figure out what we can do with our resources at hand, and which we want to cultivate or guard against so we can see our options clearly and try to make good decisions and plans.

3) Our beliefs are not always true

Sometimes we believe things that aren’t true. As we learn, we adjust those beliefs. For example, many of us used to believe Santa Claus was real; our beliefs in religion often change, grow, transform or are sometimes abandoned over time. We have a lot of beliefs about who we are, what we can and can’t do, what we should and shouldn’t think, say, do and feel. Some come from the past. Some are more recent. Some are painful or traumatic. We can gently start to examine these beliefs of ours. We can poke and prod at them a little bit and see if they stand up. In addition to asking whether they are true, we can also ask if they make logical sense or if they are helpful to us.

We can look to our values to help us here, and for consistency between our beliefs, goals and values.

4) Making mistakes is part of learning

No one likes making mistakes, and when we’re trying to learn new skills or information, it’s frustrating to feel like we’re not learning “fast enough,” or we’re not getting the results we want. But we learn from practicing, trying, trying again. Think of some of our most basic skills -- learning to walk, learning to tie our shoes. Struggling with how to read.

5) Watch for negative thinking

Most of our internal, judge-y negative thoughts, those tapes that just run automatically in our minds, are just plain wrong, if not wholly, then they are at least highly distorted. “You’ll never be able to do it,” “You’re not _______ enough,” “There’s no point.” Don’t accept these thoughts at face value. Where did that thought come from? Who told you that? What are you basing this on? What if you could? What if you are enough? Maybe there is a point, even if you don’t gain perfection?

Start just being aware of those just under the radar thoughts, like a running dialogue in our heads. We may narrate or criticize or have a bunch of thoughts all over the place. Challenge those negative ones.

6) Let trying stuff be fun

We can have fun trying new things out, fumbling around with the basics. We’re hardly ever good at things without a little bit of practice. See what works for you in trying to set up new routines and habits to support your goals. Pay attention to what feels good, and also what works well (as two separate things).

Practice, patience and persistence, as they say at SMART Recovery.

7) Be kind to yourself and others

Be gentle with yourself and others. Consider that we’re all doing the best we can at the moment, even if it is a far cry from what we envision. Look for ways to encourage rather than berate yourself.

And don’t give up!! Sometimes we falter a little bit before we find our groove.

8) Set a low bar

When trying to put new things into place, set a truly low bar. For example, if you want to start running, don’t set an hour a day to run; start by getting dressed and going outside and loosening up for 5 minutes, three times a week. If you feel like walking or jogging down to the mailbox and back, great! Go for it. Then add 5 minutes of walking/ jogging in, intersperse some running for a short time, etc. But commit to that initial 5 minutes, no matter what. You can consciously build up to more and more challenging goals, but let yourself be successful. If you do that 5 minutes. Everything else is a bonus.