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Staying Motivated: 5 Tips to Keep On Keepin’ On!

In Monday’s post I wrote about an injury I sustained this past weekend.  Today is day 6 in dealing with a bum knee.  Here is a thumbnail sketch of the past 6 days:

  • Days 1 and 2:  debilitating pain keeps me a model patient:  I adhere to every directive designed to expedite healing
  • Day 3:  Despite every natural inclination, I make and keep Doctor’s appointment, at which I find that I am doing all that is necessary, but that I need to keep doing it
  • Day 4:  Feels quite a bit better than the first 3 days, which I take as a positive sign, begin to function more normally
  • Day 5:  Feeling same as yesterday, so increase my activity, which I then proceed to overdo.  Now the pain level is back to day 3, and I am dejected.  I try to recover in the evening
  • Day 6:  Wake up feeling as bad as yesterday, and now, besides being in pain, I am also outraged… how can this be happening?

Now, you might read this breakdown and scratch your head in bewilderment… is there something wrong with this woman?  Of course the pain has returned, she did not give it enough time!

But really, this is just an example of so many things in life:  we have a goal, we start out with gusto, and then, either fizzle out due to fading motivation, or to some wrench in the plans of life.  And what a perfect time of year to discuss this topic.  It is January 9th.  Had I not injured my knee, I would have been embarking on resuming my running regimen.  And I guarantee you I would have been facing feelings similar to the ones I am facing with this knee injury… either impatience that I am not progressing fast enough, disgust that I am not seeing any results, or simple boredom with the new routine.  Same with sobriety, the first several weeks of my recovery I remained sober, but life continued to plummet downward.  It’s hard enough making the decision to give up drinking/drugs, but to do so in the face of chaos, even more challenging.

Now, with this injury, I can cry and gnash my teeth all I want, but it’s not going to change anything.  But with other goals… new eating plans, staying sober, physical fitness… the mental engagement is critical to success.  So how to maintain the passion that drives someone to embark on a lifestyle change?

There are probably a million and one great articles out there on staying motivated, but here are the top 5 tips I have come across, have used myself, or will attempt to use in the upcoming weeks:

1.  Have a specific goal:  In terms of my injury, I want to completely recover from my injury so that I may resume my fitness routine.  This goal is specific, it is measurable (return to zero pain), it is attainable (doctor’s opinion), and it is time-bound (doctor-given guidelines).  For many reading this post, the goal could be sobriety:  I want to live my life chemically unaltered.  The simpler and more specific the goal, the better.

2.  Know why you wish to achieve this goal:  I want to recover from my injury so that I may have the full use of my leg… so that I may walk, run, climb stairs as any healthy person can.  The why behind this goal are more obvious that some other goals.  In terms of sobriety, it is important to know clearly why you want to be drug and alcohol free.  The reasons can be to attain benefits, such as “increased health,” or it can be to avoid negative consequences, such as “so that I don’t lose my self-respect, or the respect of others.”

3.  Visualize the end result:  For me, I really want to get back to my goal of running, so I picture myself as I was last summer and fall, when I was at my peak.  I can also visualize what it would be like to do even better than my best, as in run (not walk) in a 5K.  For sobriety, there are so many ways to visualize the end result:  how you will look and feel knowing that you have overcome an unhealthy relationship with drugs/alcohol, the joy of attending functions and not behaving irrationally, the peace that would come from living life with a clear mind, and without the worry of what you may have said or done under the influence.

4.  Learn from failures:  So I overdid things this week, and I recognize that only sets me back further from my goal.  I can bemoan this fact, or I can chalk it up as a learning experience… now I know what I can do, and what I cannot.  This is a critical piece for people in early sobriety.  Many times someone will accrue a number of sober days or weeks, and then slip.  Okay, it happened, so now there is the choice:  decide that all the progress was for nought, or figure out what led to the relapse so that you do not repeat the mistake.  As Buddha says, “There are only two mistakes along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”

5.  Reward yourself:  The more long-range the goal, the more mini-rewards should be given.  Celebrate every milestone along the way.  The more positive reinforcement you give yourself, the more likely you are to keep going!

I would love to hear from my friends in recovery:  what methods have you used to keep motivated in staying sober?

Today’s Miracle:

Giving advice on motivation is a reciprocal gift… I feel better as I type!

Examining Motives

The ”Inside-Out” approach to personal and interpersonal effectiveness means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self / with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. The inside-out approach says that private victories precede public victories, that making and keeping promises to ourselves recedes making and keeping promises to
others. It says it is futile to put personality ahead of character, to try to improve relationships with others before improving ourselves. –Stephen R. Covey

The main topic that came out of my meeting this morning was about denial.  Here’s why that is interesting…

Last night, as I was going through my son’s backpack, I found a letter to me that I have a parent-teacher conference scheduled for next week.  These conferences have taken place every year that I have been involved in this school (8 years now), but I have never had to attend one, because they are only scheduled on an as-needed basis.  So, bottom line: trouble’s a-brewing in the 4th grade.

My first reaction was a blinding fury towards my son, who was, thankfully, already asleep by the time I found this letter.  Within the first 60 seconds of reading the note, I had punishments lined up for him until he was off to college.  Directly behind this fury came the second, and just as powerful, rage, towards the teacher herself… how dare this woman schedule this kind of conference for my son?  I have been hearing a litany of complaints about this woman for months, and at the moment I believed all of them, and more.  So within the next 60 seconds I had a series of punishments lined up for her… scathing emails, refusal to attend the conference, and other ways to dress her down.

So at some point I have had to honestly examine the true source of my angst, because none of my elaborate revenge schemes are going to get the problem solved.  As I worked through the emotions, I realized that I was frustrated that my extremely intelligent child repeatedly makes poor choices, and now we are both paying the price (I know, I know… Karma’s a bitch).  And when I look further into the frustration, it is not with a 10 year-old boy, it is with myself.  As far as he goes, the buck stops here, with me.  If he his not grasping that his bad choices are leading to bad consequences, then I am not doing my job effectively.

So here’s the good news:  the tools I have gained in my recovery will help me solve this problem.  First, I can hit the reset button.  Today is a new day, and a new chance to figure out how to make my son understand the consequences of his daily choices.  Second, I can better understand what is in my control, and what is not.  If this teacher is the type to nit-pick, or she has some vendetta against my son… well, that’s not in my power to change.  What is in my power is how I handle the problem, first with my son, and by extension, how my son learns by my example.  Finally, and as I have written about numerous times before, if something isn’t working, time to try something new.  Clearly, something isn’t working, so time to change it up!

To be continued, the conference is on Valentine’s Day…

Today’s Miracle:

That I am able to tackle this problem clean and sober.

Act Today, Shape Tomorrow

The things you do today affect not only today. They build you and prepare you and position you for all the days that will come. -Ralph Marston

I heard something similar to this quote earlier this morning, and it struck a chord.  Small example… I started several mundane projects yesterday, but did not get around to finishing most of them.  Now I am looking at a full schedule for today, and guess what else is waiting for me?  So I can make a choice to defer any activity, but it will have the consequence of creating more work in the days to follow.

Bigger example:  I can choose not to resolve an interpersonal issue, and I can even justify why I won’t make time for it (busy schedule, not good for my recovery, uncertainty over the correct way to solve the issue).  That choice does not make the problem go away, it simply pushes it off until a later date.  And, more often than not, the more I put off dealing with an issue, the larger and more complicated the issue becomes.

So my challenge for today, in both large issues and small, is, as the Nike ads say… Just Do It!

Hitting a Plateau

There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect. -Ronald Reagan

I have written frequently about the idea of perspective, and how things are as bad or as good as you believe them to be.  Someone might look at my last 293 days of sobriety and think, “big deal,” whereas someone who has been trying and failing to get sober might think 293 days is a lifetime.

So when I look at other areas of my life, I try to put the same grateful, positive spin that I do on my recovery… every day is a miracle, and every accomplishment is a milestone.

BUT…

Try as I might, that old thinking does come creeping back, and it is hard to fight.  For example, I have started an AA meeting, today was the 4th time I have held it.  The first week I had three attendees, second week, 7 attendees, third week, 5 attendees, and this morning, back to 3 attendees.  YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!!! (quote from Planes, Trains and Automobiles).  Don’t get me wrong, this is still my favorite meeting of the week, I have left each time with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, and the small numbers make for some really meaningful exchanges.  But to show my results to almost anyone else on the planet, it looks like I am, if not failing, then certainly not succeeding.

Same general concept with this blog.  I have been writing for 8 months now, and my “numbers” have certainly grown, but when I compare my blog to some of the others I follow, then I have to wonder… what am I failing to do?

So, to combat these insecure feelings, I have to rely on my newly formed instincts… for the meeting, while I feel like I’ve done a decent job getting the word out there, I just have to keep trying, and keep marketing.  I am working on getting it listed on websites and our local AA directory.  Most important, I have to remember what I learned at the first meeting 293 days ago, which is that TIME stands for This I Must Earn.

For the blog, I have asked myself what it is I see happening with others that I do not see happening for myself.  In reality, it comes down to something so ridiculous, I am embarrassed even writing it down… I have yet to see my own blog listed on others’ “blog rolls.”  So, the next logical question, who do I have listed?  Answer:  no one, because I have never taken the time to develop that particular table of contents.  So, in the spirit of evolution, I have spent (I kid you not) two hours of my lifetime figuring out how to do it, and I now have a “blogs I follow” section on my front page.  Seriously, it took me 10 minutes just to figure out how to even view my own blog!  I also attempted to upgrade my “Gravatar” to include a picture, who even knows if that actually worked.  Here is the point:  if I want to break through the plateau, I have to keep moving in a direction.  If it doesn’t work, at least I am moving!

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