Motivation, Determination, & Habit in Recovery
Have you ever been envious of a highly motivated person (i.e., the fit guy who gets up at 4:30 every morning to hit the gym or the single mom who works full time and attends college classes at night)? Consider that in life there are times when you are inclined to do something, not because you want to, but because of the payoff. The fit guy and the single mother may actually be lacking in motivation but possess drive or habit.
Drive is doing something you do not want to, despite how you feel. Habit is doing something time after time because it has become a routine. Motivation, meanwhile, is fickle. It is a moment of inspiration and/or desire.
When it comes to making big changes, including the decision to stop using alcohol and drugs, motivation is less of an underlying trait and more of an emotion. Like all feelings, it can be powerful, but ebbs and flows.
Motivation as the Spark, Not the Fuel
At times, motivation is the perfect spark to start the fire. It provides a compelling nudge or push in the right direction. Strong emotions are influential. People are motivated to get clean because of how badly they feel (as both a direct consequence of their drug use and about the consequences of their addiction).
In early recovery, motivation is a powerful driving force, but is not sustainable. Motivation is not going to keep you sober. When you get clean, the consequences of addiction may become less severe. Without consequences, motivation dwindles. This ultimately leads you back to substance use. Once motivation fizzles out, there must be something else to keep you going.
For example, if you are motivated to stop using cocaine because you are sick of the aftermath of a binge — shakiness, anxiety, depression, and self-loathing — you lose sight of that initial motivation the longer you are sober. When you feel good, consequences become a distant memory, especially when the boredom of reality kicks in. You can either find a new motivator (i.e., "I want to work at Home Depot, but they do random drug tests") or you can rely on the power of determination or habit. While it may be enough to get clean, a spark of motivation is not enough to stay clean.
One strategy for harnessing the power of motivation in recovery is to have multiple motivators instead of relying on a single motivating factor (i.e., to save a marriage or keep a job). When one motivator wanes, focus on the next.
Furthermore, the goal is to develop intrinsic motivation (vs. extrinsic). Intrinsic motivation takes place in the absence of external rewards because it brings about a sense of personal satisfaction.
Examples of motivators, both intrinsic and extrinsic, include:
· Feeling less anxious or depressed
· Not missing work
· Landing a promotion
· Better concentration and focus
· Increased self-respect
· Improved sleep
· Not fighting with significant other
· Not missing out on family events
· More spending money
· Feeling a sense of accomplishment
· No hangovers
· Increased energy
· No DUI's
· Closer relationship with God
Create your own list of motivators. Be as specific as possible and be thorough. Include motivators from different life areas:
· Emotional (mood, mental health, etc.)
· Intellectual (education/career)
· Personal growth (values, ideals, contributing to the world, etc.)
In developing multiple motivators, always keep in mind that while powerful, motivation lacks staying power. Even intrinsic motivation may not be enough to combat a strong craving. (The very nature of addiction, after all, is to hijack and destroy the brain's reward center, which directly affects motivation and decision-making.)
Take advantage of motivation when you can and be pragmatic when you cannot by improving determination, forming new healthy habits, and seeking out connections and support.
Determination & Habit Formation
By developing determination (in contrast to motivation), you remove the need to rely on emotion to stay on track in recovery. Determination (or drive) is a skill that you can practice and improve. Drive involves grit and resolve (vs. feeling).
You can be determined to stay sober even (or especially) when you don't feel like it. When you make a conscious decision to not use, you're rewiring your brain. This process takes time and is difficult due to brain changes that occurred in active addiction, but the payoffs (your recovery and your life!) are worth it. Other ways to heal your brain include taking medication, consuming a healthy diet, exercising, and practicing meditation/mindfulness.
As you develop determination, establish new healthy habits to replace old behaviors. Get up at a set time each morning, meditate for 30 minutes per day, talk a daily walk during your lunch break, etc. Habit may hold more power than motivation or determination.
Author Bio: Cassie Jewell is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in substance use treatment in Northern Virginia. She is also the author of Mind ReMake Project, a blog where she shares mental health information and free resources for consumers and other clinicians.