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How to Develop a Successful Personal Recovery Plan

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to help a number of people in recovery from mental illness or addiction develop plans to begin to achieve their personal goals. Careful preparation and planning is a critical step, for as artist Pablo Picasso said, “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

Not having a plan for recovery is like trying to go on a long cross-country road trip without a reliable car, directions, or gas. You’re either going to get lost a few times along the way or you won’t make it to your destination at all. I’m still surprised to find so many people who either don’t have a plan at all or their plan is likely to fail because it’s not very well developed.

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Here are 10 key points to help you develop a successful personal recovery plan to achieve your goals:

1. Prioritize your goals

In a previous post, we talked in-depth on the topic, “How to Set Achievable Personal Recovery Goals.” Generate a list of specific focus areas to work on, and make sure they are important, realistic, and measurable.

Prioritize your list to first focus on goals that are vital to your health (maintaining sobriety, managing mental and physical health issues) and that secure basic needs (housing, income, transportation). Additional goals can then be addressed.

2. Write it all down

Your plan must be written down. This can be either handwritten or stored electronically, but your plan has to be captured in some medium so you can go back and review it regularly. Don’t rely on your memory, because it’s really hard to remember all the details of your plan. Plus, writing your plan makes it concrete and real. If you don’t like doing this step or have challenges that make it difficult for you, have someone help you write down your plan.

3. Start with just one goal

Start with your most important goal and develop a plan for it using these steps. Then repeat the process for your next most important goal, and so on. It gets too confusing to develop multiple plans for several different goals all at once. Also, the specific plan for each goal will look very different.

4. List specific action steps

Generate a to-do list of small, specific action steps that will lead you in the direction of your overall goal. Each step must pass the test of being realistic, important to you, and measurable, which means that you (and others) will be able to know when the step is completed.

Examples of possible action steps for a goal of maintaining sobriety might include: 1) Don’t use drugs or alcohol; 2) Attend a 12-step meeting or another support group; 3) Request a sponsor at the group meeting; 4) Read addiction recovery self-help materials; 5) Attend counseling sessions; 6) Get eight hours of sleep each night.

5. Add time frames

Without specific time frames for each action step in your plan, it’s all too easy to drift and put things off. Then your plan can get derailed and you may find weeks or months have gone by and you are no longer moving forward toward the desired goal.

Add tentative time frames or deadlines to each action step. For items with specific dates, like therapy appointments or group meetings, put in the exact dates and times. If some steps are ongoing, add frequencies like “three times a week,” “weekly,” or “daily.” Other steps may only need an estimated target date for completion. This is also a good time to start using a calendar or planner to schedule your standing appointments and other time-bound tasks or reminders.

6. Enlist your support team

You will need support to help you achieve your goals. I’m still amazed at how many people think they must fight their battles alone and who can’t or won’t ask for help. There are a lot of emotions that sometimes keep us from asking for help, including pride, shame, guilt, anxiety, and fear of rejection. Help is available, but you will need to ask others directly to help you.

Who should you ask to be part of your support team? That’s a personal decision but first look for people who are positive, healthy, and available. Likely candidates will include friends, family, co-workers, healthcare professionals, peer supporters, faith leaders, and support group members or sponsors. Talk about your needs with them and discuss how they may be able to assist you with specific parts of your plan.

7. Include crisis contacts

Even the best-laid plans don’t always go smoothly, and the inevitable obstacle or crisis will occur, often when you least expect it. To prepare for this, include names and phone numbers of people or agencies you can call for immediate help if you are in crisis.

In the US, “911” is always available for emergencies, but also look for 24-hour crisis lines dedicated to mental health or crisis intervention. Additionally, therapists and support group sponsors may often agree to be available for crisis-related calls. This step is vital for mental health concerns and some physical health issues, but may not be necessary for other types of personal goals.

8. Build in rewards

Working towards your goals takes a lot of effort and may take a long time. But as we know, all work and no play made Jack a very dull boy. So, make a list of fun rewards you can give yourself for making progress toward your goals. Ideally, build in a simple reward each day. The only rules for rewards are that they have to be affordable, accessible, and healthy.

Rewards can include hobbies, physical activity, getting together with friends, watching a movie, and so on. The possibilities are limitless. This gives you something pleasant to look forward to each day and helps keep your motivation strong. Who says recovery can’t be fun?

9. Make a commitment

Now that you have most of your plan developed, make a commitment to carry it out to the best of your ability. First, make a private commitment to yourself and then make a commitment to your support team. Making a public commitment is tough, but it is stronger than a private one because now you are accountable to others and you won’t want to let them down. To seal the deal, give your support team a copy of your written plan or at least discuss your plan in detail with them.

10. Set a start date

As you finish developing your plan, set a date to launch it in the near future. Don’t procrastinate too long because you don’t want to lose all the great enthusiasm and momentum you have built up while putting your plan together. Tell your support team what the start date will be so they can also be ready to jump in and actively help you.

If you have followed these steps, you should have a well-developed personal recovery plan. In an upcoming post, we’ll talk about how to put your plan into action and keep it moving forward in a positive direction to reach your goals.

Copyright David Susman 2017

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