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New Year’s Recovery Resolutions That Work

It’s the start of a new year, and for many of us it’s the start of new commitments to improve our habits and reach our goals. Just under half of us regularly make New Year’s Resolutions – those consciously created, self-imposed pledges to improve ourselves in some way during the coming year.

Our intentions are certainly good, and we are serious about making positive changes. But sadly, simply resolving to make a change does not get the job done. Studies indicate that about 25% of New Year’s resolutions are dropped within the first week. By six months later, fewer than half are still intact; and sadly, only about 8% of New Year’s resolutions are fully followed through to completion. It appears that it is a lot harder than we think to remain steadfast to, and actively engaged in, our commitments over a long period.

Are New Year’s Resolutions for Those in Recovery a Good Idea?

With the failure rate for New Year’s resolutions so high, is it helpful, or potentially perilous, for those in recovery to take on such self-imposed discipline challenges? As I wrote in the Dec. 2014 Pro Corner article, New Year’s Resolution: Should You Make One or Not?:

“New Year’s resolutions can be especially risky for those in recovery because the stakes are higher and the opportunity to feel disappointed in one’s self is greater, if the resolution’s promise is broken. Since self-doubt, self-criticism and shame are often issues a recovering person struggles with, making a resolution that may be easily broken is like setting one’s self up for failure.”

Here are two of the main pitfalls to watch out for if you decide to make New Year’s resolutions:

  • Using New Year’s resolutions to “reinvent” yourself, rather than motivate yourself.

    Instead of pledging to make small realistic, achievable changes, many of us go overboard and attempt to use our resolutions to provide motivation for goals that are too lofty for us to reach. Making exaggerated promises to ourselves is a sign that we are hopeful and have a sincere desire to change, but such promises can backfire because they require us to reach beyond our current capacities. They provide false hope, rather than true motivation, and are therefore counterproductive.

  • Using “all or nothing” thinking.

    Many resolutions are abandoned at the first sign of failure. Rather than viewing a misstep as a temporary setback and renewing our commitment, many of us choose to abandon our entire goal. If your self-esteem is too tied to the success of a goal, there is no room for adjustment when things go off course. If you feel like a failure, it is often easier and less painful to call it quits than to face the challenges of regrouping and re-motivating yourself.

However, this is not to say that making New Year’s resolutions is never helpful. The key is to set realistic, achievable goals that relate to achievements that you are intensely interested in achieving. Your recovery goals, certainly, should fit into this category.

Making Your New Year’s Resolutions Work

So how can you make recovery-related New Year’s resolutions that work for you? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Tip #1 Don’t over-reach.

    Focus your resolution on one specific and realistic recovery-related goal.

  • Tip #2 Take it one step at a time.

    Like the AA strategy of focusing on “one day at a time”, focus daily on only one small step that is a stepping-stone to your larger goal. Break your goal down into objectives, or smaller steps that build on one another to lead to the final outcome. Don’t concern yourself with future objectives until you have reached the current one. This will keep you from feeling overwhelmed, and you will gain confidence and motivation with each objective reached.

  • Tip #3 Include an “accountability partner.”

    Just because your New Year’s resolution is a promise to yourself, that doesn’t mean that you can’t involve another person. By joining forces with an “accountability partner”–someone who knows of your commitment and who is willing to encourage you and hold you accountable – you are more likely to follow through and keep your promise.

Suggestions for Recovery-Related New Year’s Resolutions

Since recovery should be your most important overall goal, by keeping your New Year’s resolutions focused on that, you automatically increase your odds of maintaining motivation and commitment. Here are some suggestions for recovery-related resolutions that are worthy of a New Year’s resolution pledge:

  • Resolve to increase your participation at self-help or 12-step meetings.
    The more involved and engaged you are with your peer-support-group members, the more likely you will be to attend meetings. Also, attending more meetings will help you maintain motivation and stay focused on your commitment.
  • Resolve to work (or re-work) the 12 Steps.
    The greatest success in a 12-Step program comes when you are sincerely working the steps. Even if you have completed all the steps, commit to them again and work them from your current perspective. There will likely be things that you can see and understand after having been involved in your program for a while that you were not able to see or understand when you first worked the steps.
  • Resolve to have a closer relationship with a sponsor or sober buddy.
    Having the support and understanding of a peer while going through recovery is a key element in achieving your goals. If you have a sponsor, commit to being even more honest and open with him or her. If you haven’t regularly used a “sober buddy” to join you when you go to places or events that may be risky for you (ex: parties), then commit to finding one or using the one you have more consistently. Having such support available is a priceless opportunity that you don’t want to ignore.



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