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Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions for Recovery

Making and sharing New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored tradition of pledging to drop old bad habits and enjoy a life transformed. The sense of a “clean slate” and new beginnings is exciting but set-in-stone resolutions can lead to disappointment and a sense of failure. For those in recovery, making and keeping New Year’s resolutions can be especially tricky.

Recovery is all about making progress, and not about perfection. For people in recovery, making a New Year’s declaration that you’ll stay true to your recovery plan in the new year but failing to back up that declaration with the work needed to succeed can trigger feelings of inadequacy or even lead to relapse.

In an article originally published by the American Psychological Association, psychologist Lynn Bufka, Ph.D., warns against promising “sweeping character changes” in the new year, but instead finding ways to ramp up positive lifestyle changes. This is great advice for those in recovery, who are already working to become healthier, happier individuals. By identifying small, attainable steps you can take to enhance your quality of life, you’re much more likely to maintain success in recovery.

Bufka suggests, “It is not the extent of the change that matters, but rather the act of recognizing that lifestyle change is important and working toward it, one step at a time.”

Make positive life changes, not resolutions

There are countless ways to improve your quality of life and strengthen your long-term recovery. We’ve listed some ideas below, but don’t limit yourself. You may have always wanted to try a new hobby or sport, learn to play a musical instrument, write a book, or foster homeless animals. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled and your recovery program will be that much stronger.

Cultivate the power of positive thinking

The health benefits of positive thinking are well-documented. According to the Mayo Clinic, some benefits include better physical and mental health, a stronger immune system, better ability to cope with stress, and longer life—all great news for those in recovery.

On the other hand, according to an article published in Psychology Today, negative thinking “saps the brain of its positive forcefulness, slows it down, and can go as far as dimming your brain’s ability to function, even creating depression.”

As the article points out, not only does a pattern of negative thinking slow brain function, it “impacts your left temporal lobe, which affects mood, memory, and impulse control.” This is especially dangerous for those in recovery, as mood and impulse control are contributing factors to substance use, depression, and relapse.

If you’ve struggled with negative thinking for a long time, it can be a challenge to pull yourself out of that cycle. Surrounding yourself with happy, optimistic people while cutting ties with negative, judgmental individuals is an important step.

Here are some techniques for becoming a more positive person:

  • Train yourself to avoid negative self-talk. Every time you catch yourself saying something negative about yourself, stop, and turn it around to something positive. Encourage yourself, compliment yourself, reflect on all your good qualities. It’s a process, but as you practice positive self-talk, you’ll feel better, stronger, and more optimistic.
  • Use the same approach with others. Instead of saying or thinking something negative about another person, stop and turn it into something positive.
  • Listen to speakers or read books that are inspirational and positive. Watch inspirational movies or TV shows. Listen to recovery related materials or speaker-tapes. Take a break from difficult news stories, political bickering and violent books, movies or TV shows.
  • Incorporate positive affirmations into your daily routine. Positive affirmations are inspirational words or phrases repeated to yourself that can effectively transform negative beliefs into a positive self-image.
  • Start or end each day by listing things you’re grateful for. These could include, for example, a beautiful sunrise, a kind smile from a stranger, a child’s laughter, or whatever else springs to your mind. Regularly practicing gratitude has been shown to lift mood, elevate self-esteem, increase optimism and support recovery. Include gratitude for your recovery and for the people who support your journey.
  • Take care of yourself and expand your horizons
  • Commit to a healthy lifestyle. Eat a nourishing diet that’s low in sugar and fat, drink lots of water, exercise regularly, practice stress management and reach out to others if you need help.
  • Spend time in quiet reflection, taking time to give thanks. Write down all that you’re grateful for, verbally thank those who have supported you in your life and in recovery and practice deep breathing, meditation or yoga. There are many classes and YouTube videos that teach mindfulness practices. Yoga is often offered at low or no cost through community libraries or other community centers.
  • Return to a once-loved hobby, sport, or other activity, or start a new one. Pursuing a new—or beloved—activity in a sober environment will keep you active, engage your body and mind, boost your mood, enhance your health and sleep and enable you to meet people with common interests.
  • Express your creativity through art, music, acting, dance, writing, sewing, or another creative channel. An article in Psychology Today on how creativity supports addiction recovery states, “approaches such as art therapy, music therapy, and psychodrama allow people to express difficult thoughts, memories, and feelings without being constrained by words.”
  • Use your words. Writing in a personal diary or journal is not only cathartic, but it can also help you identify the origin of the emotions you’re experiencing and give you time to reflect on a positive response.
  • Maintain and expand healthy social connections
  • Nurture your relationships with family and friends. Take time to talk on the phone, meet for coffee or a meal, or go to a movie. Let others know you appreciate and value them.
  • Strengthen social connections. You can expand your social life by meeting people who share your interests. Check out www.meetup.com for groups in your area. Meetup has groups for hiking, biking, meditation, discussion and many other activities. If there isn’t a group representing your interest, consider starting one!
  • If you can, volunteer your time. We all need a little help to get by. Find ways you can reach out to help those in need. Volunteering has been shown to improve happiness and self-esteem and strengthen recovery. Check with your church, library, community center, or organization like JustServe to find volunteer opportunities near you.
  • Never hesitate to ask for help if you need it. If you’re feeling vulnerable, reach out to someone you trust – your therapist, sponsor, support group, or friend.

Have fun in the new year and enjoy all the new and exciting places your recovery takes you.

From all of us at Turning Point of Tampa, we wish you a truly happy and healthy 2020!

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Addiction, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or admissions@tpoftampa.com.