How to set Recovery Goals in the Beginning
Recovery requires thought, planning and intention. With the incorrect mindset, recovery is like running a marathon without a proper training schedule. Just like it’s nearly impossible for someone who never runs to successfully complete a marathon, those who make sudden and extreme recovery goals are also likely to fail. Not because recovery is impossible or because they’re “not cut out for it,” but because sometimes, setting the bar too high when your mental health is fragile, can be exhausting and cause burn-out fast. Although you may feel a sense of urgency, it’s helpful to sprinkle in as much patience as you can. Like the old fable tells us, sometimes it pays off to be the tortoise and not the hare.
When starting recovery, ginormous recovery goals like “from now on, I will always follow my meal plan perfectly” or “I am never going to binge and purge again” feel more like wistful, unrealistic vows than actual achievable steps. It’s important to be careful with your language when setting goals. Definitive words like always or never will trap any capable eager beaver into a lose-lose situation. Why? Because perfection is not sustainable.
Please do not be mistaken. I love big, lofty exciting goals. It is important that recovery is one of your eventual goals for the big picture for your life. But here’s the thing. Reaching recovery takes patience and perseverance. Sometimes you need to take the baby-est of baby steps to slowly rebuild a sense of self-trust and increase confidence in your ability to take care of yourself and protect your own recovery.
When you set a recovery goal that requires perfection, you’re widening the gap between you and where you want to be. Perfection leads to black-and-white thinking which only has two outcomes: success or failure; You’re in recovery, or you’re not. With dichotomous thinking, there is no space for the gray & sacred I’m almost there thought patterns. In recovery, you need to be OK with living in the gray. You need to be comfortable with little improvements, and failing forward opposed to quitting. There is a space where your soul can linger throughout recovery in which you can be a little more self-forgiving and a little more patient with your progress.
Think of recovery like a little flame. Throwing a dense, heavy log onto the flame is going to suffocate the flame immediately. To succeed, you need to feed the flame little twigs or dry grass for the flame to take.
Here are some examples of baby-step goals that will eventually turn your little recovery flame into a brilliant, blazing fire:
Write down one recovery affirmation in your planner a day
Follow your meal plan for two days instead of seven (just to prove you can do it)!
Decide to skip one or two workouts this week (if you engage in excessive exercise)
Journal before or after you engage in a behavior to build awareness
Call your sister or a friend when you have an urge
Focus on self-care for 10 minutes
Go to a recovery support group (just to try it out)!
Unfollow 3 triggering social media account(s)
Achieving little goals like the ones above is a lot like collecting more fuel for the fire. Eventually the fire grows, and you can start throwing in sticks and logs. The larger the fire, the more difficult it is to extinguish. The entire point of goal setting in the beginning of recovery is to build confidence and to stretch yourself a little. Give yourself a few easy wins on purpose and seek the positive, it will keep your motivation up!
Meg McCabe is a Life Coach and Eating Disorder Recovery Coach located in Boston, MA. She's fully recovered from anorexia and bulimia and works to help people heal their relationship with food and their body. Meg utilizes her platform to interview recovered survivors about their recovery journeys and raise awareness by having vulnerability and honest conversations about eating disorders. When Meg is not coaching, she's the Communities of HEALing Lead for the Boston Chapter of Project Heal, and a health educator at Boston Children's Hospital. In her free time Meg loves to dance, take care of her plants, and listen to podcasts. Visit her Website.