Addiction Recovery - Alumni

How to Set Achievable and Realistic Goals

How to Set Achievable and Realistic Goals

Setting realistic and achievable goals increases your self-confidence and aligns with your core values. Develop clear, reachable goals.

Setting a goal is a powerful way to motivate and challenge yourself, particularly in addiction recovery. Yet, it is all too easy to overestimate what's reasonable and set unrealistic goals. Goals should be carefully considered in terms of achievability and realism, so you don't get discouraged. Purposes that are clear and easy to track are practical. Conversely, goals that aren't specific and can't be measured aren't as helpful. 

In the latter part of the 1960s, Drs. Edwin Locke and Gary Latham (Locke and Latham) conducted research that is the basis of solid goal setting. Their study demonstrated the best way to set and outline goals to reach your desired result.

Why Should You Set a Goal?

A challenging and achievable goal will inspire you to develop skills, lifestyles, or career changes. In addition, the act of setting and pursuing a goal can increase your self-confidence. While you're pursuing your objective, you can use your skills and expand your abilities to think creatively. Creative thinking comes in when you're faced with an obstacle and must find a way to get around it without losing sight of your goal. 

Choosing Goals

A life goal, like living a substance-free life, declares what you want to achieve and reveals what is meaningful to you. The decision to stop using substances is significant. Your desire to improve or gain something in your life allows you to thrive. Locke and Latham believed if you decide what will benefit your well-being, you can set goals to reach your chosen objective. For instance, the goal to free yourself from alcohol or drugs requires many steps; it's not a one-and-done situation, but it will improve your life greatly.

Clear goals give you feedback. You know where you want to be, can see where you are, and, as you complete each step, you can see your progress. Feedback helps you assess anything that may need to change. Plus, if you receive positive feedback, dopamine levels (the feel-good chemical) in your brain can increase.

Clear Goals

When you set a clear goal, it is measurable and understood. Therefore, your plan should allow you to understand the steps you need to take, measure them, and succeed. 

  • Clear goals set a definitive time for completion. For example, if your goal is to improve your personal running record, you can work to achieve a 30-second decrease every couple of weeks until you reach you're desired time to run a mile by the time you run your chosen race. 

  • An unclear goal might be to simply improve your running time without clear or measurable markers.

Challenging Goals

Goals that are too easy rarely motivate people. On the flip side, too-challenging goals discourage people. You may find yourself feeling ambivalent or failing to meet a goal. Motivation is essential when goal setting because it fires you up with the anticipation of achievement. 

Taking an idea and following it to the end is about accomplishing a positive change. But make sure you don't overreach.

For example, if you fancy becoming a chef, but have never done more cooking than toast and frozen pizza, this may be too challenging of a goal. Learning to make one dish may not be challenging enough. A sufficiently challenging goal — perhaps as one of the steps toward becoming a chef — might be to cook two new recipes each week. Perhaps when this becomes easier, you try cooking classes, then culinary school, and later become a chef.

Making a life change like becoming a chef is challenging but not unrealistic if you break it down. Of course, setting a more precise goal such as learning to be a pastry chef for a restaurant is clear, understandable, and straightforward. You can review your desires and your progress, as well as anything you need to change at any point in your journey.

Realistic Goals

Write down what you want to achieve before you set out to accomplish an objective. Now, assess its clarity. Is it an explicit goal? Is it unclear or unrealistic? Take some time to break down the goal. Are there details you need to add? Is it too easy? Too difficult? You can rewrite your goal, breaking it down into steps or adjusting your timeline as necessary until it reflects your intention. 

While deciding on a goal, ask yourself if it is meaningful. A meaningful goal usually aligns with your values and code of ethics. They enhance a good character or skill that you have. They're also likely to be achievable and realistic because it's something you care about.

The Pathway

Goals should have a defined endpoint and accessible ways to approach them. Break your goal into smaller, bite-sized steps. For example, the decision to stop using alcohol or drugs takes smaller steps before reaching the endpoint of sobriety. You need to:

  • Research drug rehabs

  • Call or schedule an appointment to learn about services provided

  • Choose the right treatment center for you and apply

  • Enter treatment

  • Participate in therapy and activities

  • Complete treatment

By breaking this into smaller steps, you set a clear and achievable pathway to your decision to stop using substances. In whatever goal you set, make sure that it is clearly defined, achievable, and realistic. Also, make sure that it challenges you without discouraging you and will result in something meaningful.

Realistic & Achievable Goal Setting Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

Once you choose your goal, determine if the goal is challenging, meaningful, clear, and easy to review for progress. Be as specific as possible, make sure it aligns with your core values, and be flexible. Be prepared to use healthy coping skills, creativity, and a support system to see you through rough patches.

The Edge Treatment Center can teach you to set realistic goals like living a substance-free life. In addition, we provide therapy that can strengthen your resolve to maintain your sobriety during and after your stay with us. To learn more, call (800) 778-1772.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery


February 2, 2022