Setting and Achieving Goals in Recovery

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Whether you’re going into recovery, just getting out of rehab, or are well into the recovery journey, goals are an important part of the process. Not only do they give you something to look forward to, they give you guidelines, things to strive for, and purpose. That’s why they’re used in almost every form of recovery. They allow you to go “This is what I want” and then work towards it. And, that process can be extremely motivating to you, while giving you a sense of purpose and direction.

However, not all goals are equal, achievable, or worth your time. Setting good goals is as important as setting goals at all. And, you’ll need ways to track and stick to your goals so you can stay accountable to yourself and to others.

Why Set Goals

Goals give you tools to inspire yourself, to keep yourself on track, to do resource management, and to align yourself with what you want. Here, goals have a lot of purposes:

  • Defining what you want and why you want it
  • Ensuring that your wants are realistic and achievable
  • Focusing on being in the present and moving towards the future
  • Developing patience
  • Creating a sense of pride when you achieve goals
  • Determining what steps you need to take and what resources you need to achieve your goals


Even the aspect of setting goals can make those goals more achievable. For example, if you have a vague idea that you want to be sober and in college studying for a thing you love in 5 years, it’s probably unrealistic. Once you set goals and plan out the steps to get there and what you need, you’ve already started the journey and suddenly that’s much more achievable.

a man and a woman settings goals in recovery

Goals Can:

  • Inspire you to achieve something
  • Keep you on track
  • Give you ways to measure your progress
  • Remind you of what you’re working towards

Setting Goals in Recovery

Most people think recovery goals and think “Staying clean and sober”. However, goals can be anything you want to achieve. They can mean working on yourself, working on your health, improving your quality of life, getting to a point where you’re healthy enough to get a dog, pretty much anything you’d like. However, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound (SMART).

Specific – A good goal specifies what you’re trying to achieve. What do specific goals look like?

  • I want to improve my health by working out more often
  • I’d like to stay clean and sober and I will do that by working on getting therapy and then following up with longer term aftercare
  • I’d like to improve my relationships with my friends and I will start that by apologizing to them
  • I’d like to enjoy my job more so I will enroll for a course that will help me move into this thing that I think might be more interesting for me

Specific goals list your desired end result and then steps to achieve them. You can keep it fairly high level at first. However, you should have a good idea of the steps involved.

Measurable – Your goals should be measurable. This means you should be able to track progress. “I will drink less” is not a measurable goal. Instead, you want something you can count or measure. “I will drink no more than two beers per week”, is measurable (although chances are, you’re going for abstinence instead). Specific and measurable goals allow you to tell when you’re meeting or not meeting your goals and if you’re progressing in the right direction. For example, if you’ve set a goal to work out 3 times per week and you go from doing one per week to on average two, you know you’re not reaching your goals yet, but you are progressing in the right direction.

woman thinking about her goals in recovery

Achievable – Aim for the stars – but make sure you have the tools to get there. Goals should be broken into bite-size pieces that you can achieve in steps, so you can move forward. If you go “I want to quit drinking tomorrow” it’s not realistic or achievable. A goal of “I want to be clean and sober” isn’t a good overarching goal because it’s one big step. “I will go to rehab, then go to a sober home, and then work on ensuring that I stay clean and sober, and if I fail, I will go back to rehab and keep getting help” is achievable. In addition, goals shouldn’t be all or nothing. For example, “I want to exercise every day of the week for the next year”. The second you miss a single day, you’ve failed, why would you start something you’ve failed again. Instead, “I want to exercise on average four days a week” is a better goal. If you’re not meeting that, you increase the frequency and you can go back to meeting your goals. That also holds true with staying clean and sober. “I want to maintain my sobriety and if I don’t, I want to get more help”.

Relevant – Your goals should be relevant to what you want right now. That means it’s probably not a good idea to make it a personal life goal to have a 6 pack by Christmas right now. It also means it’s a good idea to make your own goals and not just adopt what other people hand you. You should understand goals, you should feel them on a personal level, and you should know what you’re working towards and why.

Time Bound – Any goal should have time limits. However, recovery is something that is ongoing. You will never stop being in recovery as long as you keep trying. However, setting goals for time means that you can achieve those goals. For example, “I want to make it to the new year clean and sober and if I am not, I want to be getting more help”. Once you make it to the new year and you’ve met those conditions, you’ve made your goal of ensuring you’re working on yourself, whether by maintaining recovery or by getting more help. From there, you can set more goals. That also means goals like “I want to spend 6 months in a sober living facility so I can get additional help”. Or goals like “I want to improve my habits over the next three months so that at the end of three months, I am regularly spending 15 minutes per day cleaning my home”.

Good goals can vary a lot depending on where you are, what you want, and what your mental health is. Making goals small enough to achieve while still being a challenge is also important. You don’t want to pat yourself on the back every time you make another day sober, it will get old and you’ll get bored. Instead, create challenges for yourself, make sure they are still achievable, and make sure you have ways to measure your progress and achieve your results. Good luck with your goals.

Solace Treatment Center provides modern and effective  outpatient substance abuse treatment and outpatient mental health treatment to those looking for the next step in their recovery. Our staff of seasoned and trained professionals are here to help you or your loved one grow into their new sober way of life.