Learning to Move Forward
We aren’t born knowing anything. We have to learn to communicate and navigate the new, confusing world around us. Our motivation is pretty clear – we need to learn how to get what we want. If we learn the word cookie, we get a cookie. These tangible results are absolutely worth the effort that learning requires.
As addicts, we take that concept and tie it into a knot. We still want what we want. We’re willing to put in effort to get it. But we get so caught up in habit that we forget the process of learning.
We only develop the part of our brains that support our ability find and secure more substances. We only learn what we need to, to get high.
As we enter recovery, relearning how to learn is difficult. We have developed core beliefs and behaviors about how to operate in our escape-seeking world. For many of us, this goes beyond habit; it’s doctrine. Breaking these beliefs and patterns is going to be a persistent challenge, and motivating ourselves to learn new ways to live will be just as difficult. We can no longer focus on immediate gratification, so planning and celebrating accomplishments over time is essential. Without these rewards, nothing really seems worth it.
Recovery: Playing the Long Game
In active addiction, I was focused on the short game of life. My actions led to an immediate result, always. In recovery, things develop much slower. It’s a longer game, one that requires much more patience.
It’s easy to get discouraged, so I’ve built little reminders and rewards along my path to motivate me to keep learning. Creating the process is its own accomplishment. I have a list of goals I call micro goals, macro goals, and universal goals. These lists are key part of my recovery framework. They help me know what I’m trying to accomplish, and give me a roadmap for getting there.
Micro Goals: Daily Accomplishments
I always make a micro goal list right before I go to bed at night. The first goal on that list is always: Get a good night’s sleep.
The first goal on that list is always: Get a good night’s sleep.
By the time I wake up the next morning, I have already accomplished something. And that feeling of achievement gets transferred over into everything I do.
The other goals on my list for the day – going to the gym, reading meditations, updating social media for my job and attending my home group meeting – have been ruminating overnight, and I start from a position of strength on what I have to accomplish that day.
Micro goals are designed for reinforcement rather than challenge. These should be goals I can reasonably expect to accomplish. And that feeling of achievement then gets transferred over into everything I do. Throughout the day, as I achieve my micro goals, that feeling of accomplishment makes tackling the big things much easier to handle.
Macro Goals: Moving the Bigger Stones
Macro goals are bigger rocks, usually accomplished over a few days or weeks. They generally revolve around career and recovery. A couple of my recent macro goals were to earn a promotion at work and complete the fourth step. These take more directed effort than my micro goals, but because I already have a taste of how achievement feels, I’m ready to take on bigger challenges that require my effort over time.
As hard as this sustained effort is for someone driven by a desire for instant gratification, I am learning to be patient with myself. I take it one step at a time. If I am working on the fourth step out of a work book, I dedicate myself to answering a certain number of questions per day. Rain or shine, these questions must be done. Soon enough, after a period of days or weeks, the fourth step is complete.
Universal Goals: Always a Work in Progress
These goals are almost a little incomprehensible. One of my universal goals is “Be Happy”. Like macro goals and micro goals, these universal goals require consistent and directed effort, however they are not something that can be achieved and then moved on from. You can’t “check the box” on universal goals; they are a lifetime work in progress.
Take “Be Happy.” Happiness for me has always been ethereal. I can grasp it for moments at a time, but I can’t ever seem to hold onto it for very long. I can be very happy and move through my day in a way I think will bring me more of that happiness, then something bad happens. Someone cuts me off, I get a flat tire, someone says something that makes me mad. I have the tendency, as most addicts do, to make a mountain out of this small situation. When my tire goes flat, automatically my car is ruined, so therefore my life is ruined. At least this is what my brain tells me.
Learning to accept a situation for what it is, forgiving myself for reacting the way I did, and moving on whilst making a commitment to try to respond better next time is a really big idea. I am learning how to not get caught up in one discouraging moment and make more out of it then what it is. When I can let it go, I have succeeded in making progress on my bigger, universal goal.
Accomplishment and rewards
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s the importance of rewards. With micro goals, the feeling I get from accomplishing them is sufficient enough to motivate me. After achieving a macro goal, I am mindful to give myself a much bigger reward – a night out with friends, or an expensive dinner. However, wWith microgoals, the feeling I get from accomplishing them is sufficient enough to motivate me. ith big goals, I’m am sometimes so happy from achieving these things that finding the effort to move on to the next goal is a little bit more difficult. I make it a point to go back to my list as soon as I’m done with one goal, so I know what I have to do next. While relaxing and enjoying the accomplishment is important, stagnation is moving backward and I must always remember to keep moving forward.
Learning to navigate in the world of recovery can be difficult. It is not something that can be done in one day, or one week. It takes a lifetime. Looking at this was discouraging to me. The fact that I had to be clean for the rest of my life was daunting. The goals lists are a set of steps that help me move forward, one day at a time, one goal at a time.
Stay strong, stay in the center,