Four Rules of Changing Old Habits
William James, the pioneer psychologist and pragmatist, established four rules for breaking old habits and forming new ones. They are:
1. Old habits are destroyed by forming new ones. In forming a new habit, launch yourself with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. You must be convinced of the necessity of replacing the old with the new, sincere in your conviction; and you must make the strongest effort you can summon up.
2. Never suffer an exemption to occur in the formation of a new habit. To allow an exception to occur, to repeat an indulgence just once, is to strengthen the destructive habit pattern and to sabotage the constructive one. You are trying to eliminate the old pattern by disuse; to use it just once is to restore its original strength.
3. Seek the first possible opportunity to act upon a new resolution. Any delay is in itself a demonstration that the sincere conviction of a needed change is absent. Delay is an excuse; the time to start is NOW!
4. Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by little gratuitous exercises daily. You must be constantly aware that you are forming a new habit pattern in order to be able to fight off the unexpected pressure that would hurl you back upon the old. Mere abstention from some action is not enough; there must be positive action.
Understanding Your Values
Now that you understand the importance of setting some new positive goals, it’s time to spend some time thinking about what’s really most important to you in your life. Understanding your own personal values will help you to set your own priorities, and determine what to do first, what to do next, and so forth.
Much of the key to understanding your current priorities may lie in the reasons why you decided to quit drinking in the first place. Perhaps your reason for quitting was primarily health related, perhaps because of deteriorating personal relationships, or perhaps to avoid serious legal or financial consequences.
You’ll also want to spend some time thinking about who you really are, and who you would like to be. Perhaps financial security and material possessions are of utmost importance to you… or perhaps you are more interested in creative endeavors, spiritual growth, or in having plenty of time to spend with your loved ones.
Though your values in life are important and will help guide you in the right direction, it’s not as important WHAT you do now, as that you DO SOMETHING. You can always re-evaluate and make adjustments as you go along.
Let’s Get Busy
The first step in setting your personal goals is to consider what you want to achieve over the course of your lifetime. This will give you the overall perspective that shapes all other aspects of your decision making. Remember that setting long-term goals does not mean that you have to do everything all at once. So consider setting some long-term goals in each of the following categories:
Artistic – Creativity and artistic self-expression can be among the most satisfying of all the possible leisure-time activities. Painting, writing a novel, learning to play a musical instrument, carving or woodworking… the possibilities are endless.
Attitude – Many of us can benefit from changing some our negative thinking. Especially if you are still carrying around some guilty feelings over past behavior while drinking. What can you do to develop a more positive attitude about life?
Career – Most of us are faced with the reality of having to work for a living. Some are even lucky enough to enjoy their work, while others are content to bring home a paycheck in order to support other interests. What’s important to you?
Education – One of the best ways to keep life interesting, and your mind active and healthy, is to always be involved in the process of learning something new. Even if you’ve finished your Ph.D., your education is never completed.
Family – Repairing and restoring your relationship with your loved ones is among the first priorities of a happy sober lifestyle. Make a concerted effort to spend more quality time with them. It’s highly unlikely that you will someday look back over your life, and wish you’d spent more time at the office.
Financial – A certain amount of financial security is a desirable goal for everyone. Beyond that, you decide how important money is to you. Will you be happy in a small house with a white picket fence, or do you want the big house on the hill with the Ferrari in the driveway, and the bank account to match?
Physical Health – Maintaining or improving your physical health will pay big dividends in your efforts to remain sober. When you feel good physically, you feel better emotionally (and vice-versa). A program of physical exercise, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep will help put you in a positive upward spin, instead of the old, self-destructive cycle.
Pleasure – Can you even remember what you used to do for fun, before you started drinking? Many people can’t. Learning how to have fun again, without alcohol, is one of the most important things you have to do. The world is full of fun, exciting things to do, that don’t necessarily involve drinking. Get out and try some of them, and find out what you do enjoy. You didn’t get sober to sit at home on the sofa, and you won’t stay sober for long if you do.
Public Service – Giving unselfishly of yourself can be an extremely rewarding experience. Opportunities to volunteer your time and talents are plentiful. Give it a try… you may be pleasantly surprised at how much you’ll get in return.
Social – Do most of your social activities with friends revolve around drinking? How are you going to change that, without giving up all of your friends? Are there some acquaintances that you may have to give up, because of their drinking? What other social activities can you participate in, that don’t involve drinking?
This list is a good place to start, but you may think of some other categories of your own, in which you would like to set some goals.
Setting SMART Goals
Now that you’ve considered some of the different categories in which you might want to set some goals, lets turn our discussion to the process itself. In order to insure that your efforts are successful, here are some general guidelines to follow when setting your goals.
SMART is an acronym which stands (in this instance) for goals which are:
Perhaps these terms will be best illustrated by working a practical example, and discussing it as we go along. We’ll start out with a specific category, which we’ll call “My Recovery”. (See the sample Goal Setting Worksheet which is provided at the end of this chapter.) This is a broad, overall category which will encompass all of your other, more specific categories.
We’ll start by entering the name of the category in the blank at the top of the form, in this case, “My Recovery”. Next, we move to defining our objective within this category, by setting our “Long Range Goal,” and putting it down in the blank provided.
You might be tempted at this point to write down something simple, such as “Abstinence” as your Long Range Goal, but first, let’s examine whether-or-not that really meets our five SMART criteria. In this instance, we’ll define it as meaning “Abstinence from Alcohol”, but some may wish to make it more SPECIFIC to include the words “Abstinence from Alcohol and Other Drugs.” But is even that specific enough? Isn’t the real goal something larger than that… something having to do with not missing our alcohol? So we may want to rephrase this to include “To be happy in abstinence.”
Secondly, the word Abstinence does meet the criteria of MEASURABLE, since having even one drink is a violation of abstinence. Thirdly, Abstinence is ACHIEVABLE, since we know others before us have done it (though we also know that it won’t always be easy). Fourth, Abstinence is REALISTIC, since it may in fact be more likely than yet another attempt at moderation (or controlled drinking.)
And lastly, let’s consider our 5th criteria, TIMED. Have you completely accepted the idea of giving up the alcohol for the rest of your life? If so, great, include that in your goal. But if not, and the idea of never having another drink for the rest of your life seems unimaginable and UNREALISTIC to you at this point, then set a period of time that you feel you can live with, such as one year, and set that as your goal.
Putting it all together, we’ve arrived at our SMART-modified Long Range Goal, which now reads something like “To be happy in abstinence from alcohol for life.” We’ve already written it in for you. If your goal is something different from that, take one of the blank Goal Setting Worksheets, and write it in the appropriate space.
Once you have clearly defined what your goal really is, it’s easier to figure out how to go about achieving it without going astray. You do that by breaking down your overall goals into smaller, Short Term Goals, and then breaking those down into even smaller, bite-sized pieces which we call Tasks (or Things-to-Do). Tasks are simply small goals which can be accomplished in 5 minutes to an hour’s time, which move you in the direction of your larger goals.
You’ve already made some decisions about your Short Term Goals within the “My Recovery” category, because you’ve already enrolled in the Assisted Recovery Program, and started working it. So you’ve already got your first Short Term Goal, which is to “Complete the ARCA Program”. Write it down.
Now you’re ready to break that down into the individual tasks that you will have to complete in order to successfully complete the program. We’ve already written them in for you on the sample “My Recovery” Worksheet, though you may want to revise it in accordance with your own Initial Treatment Plan, or the goals you’ve set for yourself.
We’ve written in the sample, the following tasks:
Take my Naltrexone EVERYDAY (without fail) for the full 6 months.
Allow (person’s name) to monitor that I’m taking my medication.
Attend ARCA group meetings at least once a week for the first year.
Attend one-on-one counseling sessions as scheduled.
Complete all homework as assigned.
On the second line under Short Term Goals, we’ve written in for your second goal, that you promise to yourself to try to “Maintain an attitude of being ‘In Recovery’ for a minimum of the first full year.” You may find that you will want to continue this attitude (and the work that goes with it) for a lot longer than that, but the length of time that you will want to continue working at your recovery, is really up to you.
Maintaining your attitude of recovery means doing the work that’s involved, and on the tasks list side of the worksheet, we’ve written in the following suggestions:
Reading a variety of Recovery related books and other materials.
Developing a sober support system, making new friends who are recovering.
Trying out a variety of activities and finding some you enjoy doing sober.
Working on rebuilding and restoring any relationships we may have damaged while drinking (where appropriate).
Looking for opportunities to “be of service” to others less fortunate than ourselves, and especially to others who are still suffering from active addiction to alcohol, if there are ways in which we can be of help.
You may be thinking that some of these things overlap with some of the things you’ve already thought about to include in some of the other specific categories. That’s fine. Better to have your goals written down twice than not at all.
You may have also thought of some other things that you want to include here, that are part of your own personal program of recovery. That’s fine too… in fact, its GREAT… so feel free to write them down, and add them to your list. And remember too, we’re merely explaining the Goal Setting Process here… not trying to force any goals on you, that you’re not completely ready to accept as your own goals. These have been offered as suggestions and ideas… not hard and fast rules.
Now you’re ready to move on and set some goals in some or all of the other suggested categories. Try to remember to set goals over which you have as much control as possible. You don’t want to become discouraged early on, because you set goals which included too many factors which were beyond your control. Try to set goals based upon improvements in personal performance, rather than strictly on outcomes. (For example, set a goal to increase your sales by 10% next month, rather than to become the top salesperson in your division next month.) And remember when going through the different categories: just because you set a goal doesn’t mean you have to start working on achieving it immediately. Write down everything you can think of that you’d like to accomplish… you can always revise later on if you change your mind about something.
Prioritizing your Goals – What to Do First
Now that you have set some specific goals within some or all of the individual categories, and broken them down into smaller goals and tasks that you will have to accomplish to move in the desired direction, you’ll have to make some decisions about which things you need to work on the most. You do this by reviewing your Goal Setting Worksheets, and by moving some of the tasks from your worksheets to the “Things to Do This Week” list. We’ve provided you with a blank form which you can copy for future use, and another sample form, on which we’ve already moved some of the items from the previous “My Recovery” worksheet.
In addition to a place to write down items for each specific day of the week, there is a place for items you want to remember to do Everyday, such as “Take my Naltrexone.” Be sure to write down anything in this space that you want to make into a positive new habit.
If you sometimes forget to brush your teeth or take your vitamins, write it down here.
Next, go through the “My Recovery” worksheet, and you should end up with a list very similar to the example we’ve provided. Now finish the process by moving some of the tasks from your other Category Worksheets onto your “Things to Do This Week” list.
Remember that at this early stage in your recovery you need to stay busy, so move lots of tasks onto the list. Don’t worry: if you don’t get around to doing them all this week, you can always decide to try again next week by moving it to your next weeks list, or you can decide that it’s not a high priority right now, and that you’ll get around to doing it later on. It will still be there on your Tasks list to remind you to get back to it later.
Repeat this process at the end of each week. Go over last week’s “Things to Do This Week” list, and move to next week any items you didn’t get to, which you want to try again next week. If you had 30 items on your list and you checked off 25 of them, it should make you feel pretty good about yourself, for having accomplished so much towards achieving your goals. On the other hand, if you only checked 5 things off your list… better resolve to try a little harder next week.
As you work this process week after week, you will soon begin to see that you’re actually beginning to accomplish some of your goals. There’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction you get out of working towards your goals, and then finally achieving some of them. In some ways it’s very similar to that feeling of happiness that we used to get out of the “quick fix” of alcohol, but with two distinct advantages: it doesn’t wear off as fast, and you won’t wake up the next day with a hangover.
So get busy, and GO FOR YOUR GOALS!