One of the common themes of recovery advice is to make sure you set goals. It sounds like an easy feat, but when we actually get down to it, setting goals can be difficult! If a goal is too vague or big it can feel impossible to reach and the more we tie ourselves in knots trying to work out the best approach, the harder it seems to ever achieve them.
But there is hope! By following S.M.A.R.T you can break down your goals more easily and take those first steps towards recovery. But what does S.M.A.R.T mean?
The S.M.A.R.T approach:
S = Specific
Your goals need to be specific. Something vague like “I will stop drinking” is difficult and big and shapeless as a goal. But if you break it down a little to something specific like “I will limit myself to two drinks a night”, it is a lot more manageable. It’s clear and you know exactly what you need to be doing.
If you’re having trouble working out how to make your goals specific, ask yourself
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Why do I want to accomplish it?
- How can I accomplish it?
Give yourself time to think about these points, you don’t have to know the answer right away, but giving yourself that bit of reflection time can help you really hone in on what you’re trying to achieve.
M = Measurable
Making a goal measurable means you’ll have a clear way to see if you’re making progress towards your goal. The goal “I will limit myself to two drinks tonight” is specific and also measurable. You know exactly how much you’re going to try to cut down over a specific period of time. Another measurable goal might be “I will not drink on Thursday nights”. Again, it is clear and measurable.
A = Achievable
No one likes to feel overwhelmed, so why set goals that are just going to make you stressed? By setting smaller, realistic goals, you can have confidence in yourself as you work towards them. Setting a limit such as “I will drink two drinks tonight and one drink tomorrow” is a lot more manageable than telling yourself you will stop drinking entirely by the end of the week. By having a series of small achievable goals, you will feel a greater sense of overall accomplishment.
When thinking about how to make a goal achievable, think about any barriers that might present themselves, and then how you can overcome them. Remember, giving yourself time to reflect on and plan your goals is important, and will put you in a good place to manage any bumps in the road.
R = Relevant
Goals are only really useful if they’re helping you along your journey. Not all of your goals have to be directly related to cutting down the number of drinks you have on an average day. You might have a goal to start writing in your journal every day or exercising three times a week. While these goals aren’t specifically substance related, they are both great for your mental health and can be useful supports during the recovery journey. Developing goals that will help you holistically is important and sets you up for the future.
T = Time-Bound
Give yourself a specific timeframe, it’s hard to stay motivated to work on your goals when they seem to have no set end date. The time frame can depend on the size of the goal. For example, if you want to cut down your drinking pick a start date and create a clear plan. “I will have four drinks on Monday night, three drinks on Tuesday night, two drinks on Wednesday night and one drink on Thursday night”. By doing this, you’ve set a specific, measurable and achievable goal, with a clear time frame. You will have a clear date to work towards, which helps keep you motivated.
A few other tips
The SMART technique is useful in getting your goals clear in your mind, but once you start to work towards them, it’s important to remember that sometimes things don’t work out the way we had planned or hoped, so be flexible with yourself. Sometimes it's harder than we think to reach a specific goal, no matter how much preparation has been put in. So be prepared to revise your goals and be flexible. This will help take some of the pressure off yourself, and stop you from losing motivation or feeling put off.
Write your goals down.
It’s always worthwhile once you’ve settled on your goals to write them down somewhere you’ll be able to easily refer back to them. That way you know exactly what they are and you can revisit them whenever you need. Print a copy of the Pocket Guide it is a useful place to record goals, get reminders on checking in on yourself as well as tips to manage urges.
Let yourself celebrate
When you reach those milestones and smash through those goals it’s important to find ways to celebrate how far you’ve come and the determination that’s got you there! Recovery is serious, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have fun! It’s also always more fun knowing that you get to celebrate once all the hard work has paid off!
It can also be useful to have someone you share your goals with. A close friend, counsellor or family member can be useful, as long as it’s someone you can tell about your goals and have confidence they’ll check in with you and see how you’re travelling. They can help you revise goals when the going gets tough, and support you through the ups and downs.