By Sandi Burningham, LCP, CSAC
It is once again that unique time of year in which we have the opportunity to both review and reflect on the year past as well as to ponder and prepare for the year to come. In the focal point of this transition, many choose to set goals or resolutions for the year to come. In fact, for many of you, recovery may have even started in a fashion similar to this. While some see New Year’s resolutions as a set-up for failure or just some fly-by-night, fanciful thinking, others structure and utilize resolutions effectively to achieve the desires of their hearts. When structured and utilized effectively, resolutions have the potential to result in great and long-lasting rewards. Yet, as with so many other things in life, the level of reward and satisfaction associated with achieving resolutions is directly correlated to the level of commitment and effort invested.
Therefore, it might be helpful at this time to explore various levels of commitment as well as possible behavioral manifestations of each of the levels.
1. My life is fine the way it is, I don’t need to change anything, I have no goals.
2. There are things about my life that I would like to change but I have no motivation to set goals or make changes.
3. I’ll set goals and then try to make changes in my life.
4. I’ll set goals and then do my best to make changes in my life.
5. I’ll do whatever it takes to make changes in my life and achieve my goals.
As we all know, it takes at least a little effort to climb a set of stairs. Therefore, I would like you to envision a set of stairs as we now discuss each of the levels of commitment. As you approach the set of stairs and you stand firmly on the ground floor, you can see at the top of the stairs what it is you might possibly achieve. The ground floor is Level One of our five levels. At level one, an individual finds him/herself thinking, “I don’t want what is available and I am not willing to do anything about it.” At this level of commitment, or non-commitment the individual would not proceed further, would not invest any time nor energy and would remain on the ground level. At level one there is no acknowledgment of problems and there may even be a certain depth of denial related to one’s own life.
At Level Two, or the first step up, you can again see, and a little more clearly now, to the top of the stairs and you want what is available yet are not willing to do anything to achieve it. Individuals at this level of commitment find themselves from time to time thinking about what it is that they would like to change in their lives but what they want is never transformed to anything more than a thought or some random moments of contemplation.
Next comes level three, or the next step up the flight of stairs; at this level you think, “I’ll try.” This attitude and willingness often leads from random thoughts to random behaviors. For example, if you are wanting to achieve a healthier body weight, at this level of commitment, you would likely engage in occasional exercise and healthy eating. At level three your behaviors are likely to manifest only when it is most convenient. However, your attempts to try, might take you to the next level or step up where you are likely to experience an, “I’ll do my best,” attitude.
At a commitment level of four, you are likely to schedule time and reserve energy for specific efforts to assist in achieving your goals; you stick to your schedule in almost every case, even at times when it is less convenient than others. With persistence and practice you find that you are starting to experience some of the potential payoffs of what it is you are working toward. The experience with some success has the potential to drive you to work even harder.
The landing at the top of the stairs is now in plain sight and achieving what it is you have set out to do or gain, seems closer than ever. Reaching that landing and experiencing all that achieving your goals has to offer requires a steadfast belief that you will do whatever it takes in order to achieve your goals. Here, at level five, you explore all your options and find that you truly are willing to do whatever it takes even when “what it takes” is extremely difficult. At this level of commitment, it is not unusual to see individuals doing things such as making a job change, a change of residence, or a change of friends; true exploration of your goals and the means by which to get there may show you that some of your current lifestyle choices are standing in your way.
Another hallmark of level five commitment is that of making oneself accountable despite potential embarrassment. Human beings are more likely to maintain commitments when they know others, or at least one other person, is aware of what it is they are trying to achieve. Accountability means sharing with others what it is you are working on, what it is you want to achieve and then asking them to be active partners in keeping you accountable to your own goals. This is not to say that you need to shout your faults and weaknesses from the rooftops, however, confiding in some of those closest to you, will inevitably help you achieve your goals.
Let’s shift gears a little here, in an effort to address the fact that some of you may be reading this and thinking about the powerlessness associated with, and inherent in addiction. Due to the powerlessness that is experienced in addiction, some tend to think that goals, resolutions or commitments are a mute issue. However, the potential power and benefits of resolutions for addicts come in the form of structuring a lifestyle that is not conducive to addiction or addictive behaviors. For example, if you find yourself looking at pornography everyday on your lunch hour, your resolution for the year might be to meet someone (wife, co-worker, friend, sponsor) for lunch everyday. You can make yourself accountable for this resolution by explaining to whomever it is that you will be meeting why it is important to you to make this change in your schedule and how important it is to you that they help hold you accountable.
Additionally, according to Norman Doidge in his book “The Brain That Changes Itself” resolutions that require intense focus, concentration, the mastery of new skills and material naturally result in the use of the higher functions of the brain, thus moving one out of the more primal parts of the brain often associated with addiction. Therefore, some other examples of resolutions that have the potential to create a lifestyle not conducive to addiction might be: going back to school, learning a new language, making a career change, solving challenging puzzles, etc. You need to regularly engage in activities that engage the parts of your brain used for logic, reasoning and decision making. When making resolutions in an effort to overcome addiction, think outside the box; rather than thinking in terms of “I’m not going to look at pornography,” think in terms of, “I’m going to make myself accountable,” “I’m going to get the best possible treatment,” “I’m going to learn and new language or start a new hobby,” and/or “I’m going to make new friends.”
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors and let each new year find you a better man.” In that spirit, may we each structure and utilize our new year’s resolutions such that the year finds us as better men and women. So here’s to hard work and the resulting rewards in 2011.