Here’s How to Eliminate Frustration in Recovery, Stick to Your Goals

depressed man holding his head in his hands

Painkiller addiction

When lack of results toward recovery goals brings about increasing frustration, it’s all too easy to get so caught up in the emotion that you miss out on the bigger picture. Recovery isn’t a straight-line progression of one success after another. Often, the learning curve takes a number of twists and turns before flattening out and heading toward a desired goal.

In the meantime, when frustration threatens to overwhelm you and cause you to cast aside your recovery goals, instead of giving up, get it together. Take constructive action. Work in ways that can help put you back on the path toward the realization of your most earnestly desired and worthwhile goals.

A Plan Is Always Necessary

Setting out on any important journey is best accomplished by first preparing a plan of action. Without a plan for the time of departure, the route to take, the items that may be needed en route, deciding where and when to stop for meals, beverages, to use the rest room, to get gas, even to determine what side trips or other detours to make, the journey is likely to be haphazard, at best, and fall to pieces, at worst.

The same could be said for working toward recovery goals. When any powerful emotion – and frustration certainly counts among them – gets in the way of a plan, or decimates the plan, no good can come of it. That is, the results will be less than favorable unless the decision is made to create a plan and to be willing to stick to it even though some aspects of the plan, or the events surrounding it, may prove frustrating.

This does not mean that every single thing that you do from the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed at night has to be laid out in order. In the beginning, say, the first few days and weeks of recovery, this might be appropriate, even a good idea. Over time, however, your daily schedule and recovery routine will tend to become second-nature. You won’t have to think as hard about what it is you need to do right now. You will know what to do because you have done it many times before.

Even with daily schedules, however, frustration can wreak havoc. Suppose that you are not able to make it to your regular 12-step group meeting because something comes up at work or there is a family situation that you absolutely have to take care of. While your recovery needs have to take priority, you also have to recognize that unforeseen circumstances can alter your plan. You can still tend to your recovery needs, but perhaps you’ll need to address them in a different manner.

The point is to always have a plan. Then, have a backup plan, just in case the original plan fails to pan out. This is an excellent suggestion to help cut down on the frustration that would naturally ensue when you can’t do what you intend to and feel completely out of sorts because of it. When you have more than one plan, you have options. You don’t feel so powerless over events. This helps increase your sense of self-confidence at the same time as it reduces your level of frustration.

Remain Flexible

Here it’s a good time to make another observation about those plans. They should never be cast in stone. If you feel like you have to rigidly adhere to the plan you’ve created, worked so carefully to construct and get familiar with in your mind, what are you going to do when life intervenes and your plan goes haywire?

The more adamantly you try to force the plan to work, the more frustrated you are bound to feel. As the stress builds from mounting frustration, so, too, does your level of anxiety and a sense that your plan is just slipping away. None of this makes you feel any better and, in fact, can cause you to toss out your plan as unworkable.

What many individuals in recovery, especially early recovery, fail to take into account is that by remaining flexible they can come into contact with additional solutions to frustrations that get in the way of recovery goals. Maybe you are frustrated that you never seem to have enough time to get things done each day that you wind up at the end of the day feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by all that remains undone.

Does what you have to do require that you cannot deviate, even a little, from the stated plan of action? If you think about your daily routine and the tasks that you involve yourself in and do so honestly, isn’t there some breathing room that you could allow? In other words, aren’t there opportunities for you to try to do things a little differently, or in a different order, or even to rearrange your priorities so that you have more time to devote to some of your recovery goals that have become more important at this time?

Granted, it takes being able to remove yourself from the equation in order to think logically about what is going on. This is almost as if you are watching the tableau unfold from afar. The key is to keep your options open by remaining as flexible as possible. With practice, you’ll get better at doing this and will begin to see your level of frustration diminishing.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Being in recovery means that there is a whole new lifestyle to become acquainted with and accustomed to. What most newcomers to recovery find is that it takes a period of time for this to happen and that time is different for everybody.

Naturally, you want to get as much done toward your recovery goals as quickly as possible. Who wouldn’t want that? But the truth of the matter is that by trying to force the issue, putting yourself in situations or taking on challenges for which you are clearly not ready you also add to your frustration and defeat your goals at the same time.

How do you get around this? One way is to take the time to set reasonable expectations for yourself.  While you may want to tackle the biggest and most complex and complicated challenge on your to-do list right away, maybe now is not the most opportune time to do so.

The old adage that you have to walk before you can run has some application here. Before taking on the really big projects, tasks, challenges, issues or duties, it is far better to start off with ones that are more short-term in duration. These should be things that you feel comfortable doing, that you are fairly sure that you have the knowledge and skill level to accomplish, and that you have adequate time in which to complete them.

Put succinctly, work on the easy ones first.

What this does is give you practice in succeeding at accomplishing goals that you set for yourself. It establishes a track record of success. It makes you feel good about being able to achieve results. It also helps reduce the frustration that you might be feeling if you load yourself up with too much to do, too soon.

Try Not to Take Things So Seriously

Let’s face it: life in recovery is a pretty big deal. Your entire life may seem like it was turned upside down. Indeed, things are likely vastly different now that you are clean and sober than they were just a few short weeks or months ago. When you were deep in the grip of addiction, you either didn’t care about the consequences or you pushed ahead in spite of them. Now that you are on the other side of rehab, you can look back on those dark days with some relief and gratitude that it is over.

The magnitude of what you have done in your addictive past may still be around to haunt you. It is possible that you will need to make restitution or amends for some very serious negative consequences, along with a number of minor ones. No one, however, is likely as hard on you as you are on yourself.

This can also take a toll on your emotional state at this point in your recovery. When you feel like you have too much of a deficit to overcome, to want to make up for lost time, to push yourself harder than anyone else so that you can regain the trust of others and be considered a worthwhile human being, you are likely taking yourself entirely too seriously.

Here is a suggestion that may help. Try to imagine how you will feel about or even remember some upsetting or frustrating concern you have right now in six months’ time. If you think this is nonsense, try to recall what was so time-consuming or upsetting six months ago. Can you name what it was? Did it resolve itself or go away as the result of action that you took. The point is, if it bothers you right now, it probably won’t have the same effect or importance six months from now. This should help you to learn that your life in recovery doesn’t need to be taken so seriously.

Short summary: lighten up and learn to take things in stride. This will greatly cut back on frustration that keeps you from your goals.

Learn From Your Mistakes

Whoever thinks that someone is immune from mistakes is not living in the real world. We all make mistakes, some colossal blunders, while others are minor ones, and the majority are likely somewhere in-between.

It isn’t the mistakes that you make that matter, however. It is what you learn from them. Certainly no one relishes falling down on a project or coming in at less than the expected result. That hurts, undeniably. But there is always something that you can figure out about what just happened that can serve you well for the next time you are in the same situation or even things that you did that you now know you should avoid in the future.

They say timing is everything, and this also applies to learning from your mistakes. Maybe it is important for you to slow down and carefully think things through before barreling ahead with whatever you’re going to do. In hindsight, maybe you would have done things differently. That’s called learning from what just happened so that you are smarter the next time.

While it can be temporarily upsetting – indeed, frustrating – to make mistakes, if you can glean something positive from the experience, you are adding to your recovery toolkit. You are also helping to eliminate the frustration that nearly inevitably accompanies making a mistake.

Keep a Positive Attitude

In many respects, attitude is everything. When it comes to how we live our lives in recovery, attitude can literally make the difference between making significant progress toward goals and giving up on them. Of course, there is also the in-between area where attitude is middle-of-the-road in nature, not really pessimistic, but not overly optimistic, either.

Many newcomers to sobriety may find themselves squarely in the dour and pessimistic camp. For one thing, the rehab process may have been grueling. For another, they may be coming home to a severely dysfunctional or fractured family environment. There are also the mounting negative consequences of addiction that will need to be addressed at some point, not something most recovering individuals are eager to tackle.

With all this coming at you, it would be understandable if you aren’t feeling all that excited about your prospects in recovery. Fortunately, this tends to change over time and with more experience in living the clean and sober lifestyle.

Still, learning how to boost your positivity quotient can be instrumental in how you go about working toward recovery goals. It always helps to talk with others who have learned key fundamentals in how to adopt a more positive attitude. Who knows, some of what they have to say may make sense to you. At the very least, you’ll have some thought-starters, a place from which to begin.

Maybe things haven’t worked out the way you had hoped, at least to this point. But consider how different your life is now and how much you have already changed. It will only get better from here – as long as you commit to continuing your recovery work, create goals that you really want to work to achieve, and give yourself time to implement them.

In short, the power of a positive attitude in recovery can only help you achieve your goals. Even if you do experience frustration now and then in pursuit of this or that goal, the fact that you have a positive attitude will help mitigate the frustration and motivate you to get back to work on what you deem most important.

There is another point to be made about positivity. The more positive you are, the easier it is to remain positive even in the face of challenges and difficulties. This is tremendously instrumental in getting past frustration and recommitting to goals.

Network With Others

Whether it is a business networking organization, a social gathering, neighborhood group, or 12-step recovery group, there is value in the ability to network with others. When you are in recovery, isn’t it helpful to be in the company of others who know what kinds of frustrations you are experiencing and, even more important, how they were able to overcome such frustration and get back to working on their goals?

In the rooms of recovery, there are any number of individuals from many walks of life with stories and accounts of how they were able to get clean and sober and what sobriety means to them now. Some of the stories are familiar, perhaps resonating with your own. Others sound like tales of the absurd and impossible, where the individual has overcome tremendous odds to even be alive today. Most are somewhere in the middle, but all of them have the potential to inspire, motivate, support and encourage your own efforts to overcome frustration that keeps you from your goals.

You don’t have to raise your hand and ask how they figured out the best way to deal with frustration. But listen carefully to what’s being said in the 12-step rooms. The discerning ear will be able to pick out nuggets of information that may prove useful.

There is also your 12-step sponsor to consult with on the subject of frustration. This could be an ongoing discussion or something you only bring up when you find yourself in a quandary over why you are unable to achieve your goals.

Remember that there is power in numbers and recovery groups have plenty of numbers. Keep an open mind and pay attention to the group dynamics. After all, your fellow self-help group participants all want the same thing: to remain clean and sober and to help others with the same commitment.

Be Willing to Try New Approaches

Just because you haven’t been successful in achieving a certain goal does not mean that you will remain that way. The test here is how willing you are to keep on experimenting, to seek out and try new approaches to solve the difficulties or problems you currently face.

In recovery, people generally want safe solutions. They don’t want to rock the boat, afraid to try something new for fear that it will jeopardize their hard-won sobriety. While this is understandable and quite common, always playing it safe may mean that you miss out on some powerful and effective solutions.

It can be difficult to see past a current situation, to envision how this or that approach may turn out. In a way, life in recovery is like a puzzle with constantly rotating pieces or a maze where the through-path switches at every turn. But the truth is that everyone gets better at recovery with time, dedication, commitment and practice. A sense of curiosity is also beneficial, and this is something that you can train yourself to have.

When you decide upon an action or a plan to achieve your goal, also try to identify alternative courses of action that you might take. Why is this important? For one thing, you will have something to fall back on if your current plan is less than successful or is an outright failure. For another, having alternatives means that you may be able to feel a little more secure and self-confident. You won’t be back at square one if things fall apart because you have another plan.

Recovery experts talk about how the trial-and-error approach is a proven method to make progress in recovery. You try something. It works. You file this piece of information away so that you can use this approach again when needed. Or, you try something and it doesn’t work. Then, you need to figure out why it didn’t and attempt to determine what would make it work better, if that is possible. Maybe you need to throw out what you did or put it on the back burner and take a different approach. Through the process of utilizing what works, modifying what doesn’t, and trying something new, you will be adding to your recovery toolkit – and make substantial progress toward your goals at the same time.

Evaluate the Good You Have Accomplished

From time to time, looking over what you have accomplished thus far can be a real eye-opener. Everyone needs something concrete to point to in the way of successes, if nothing else, to give them motivation and inspiration to continue.

There is another reason to look over your accomplishments to-date and that is so that you can evaluate the good efforts you have achieved. This may be especially helpful when you engage in brainstorming efforts on how to address a new problem, challenge, or opportunity. Having a supply of effective strategies that worked in different situations will add to your sense of self-confidence and self-esteem when contemplating or tackling something new.

It is also important to remind yourself that you do have what it takes to get the job done, occasional frustration notwithstanding. Look over the good that you have accomplished and give yourself some kudos. Then, get right back to work on your recovery goals, feeling a little more upbeat and positive about your prospects for success.

Try Again

In the end, how you manage your frustration that tends to get in the way of your recovery goals will be a personal and unique approach. The only way to be successful in achieving what you desire is to continue to work at it – even if this means trying again and again.

Is the effort worth it? Only you can answer that, but if your commitment to recovery is strong, you will want to do everything you can to ensure that you continue to make progress. This means regularly revising your goals, adding new ones, modifying or eliminating those that no longer apply. It also means that you strive to learn something new each day, seek to apply what you know works to new situations, network to interact with others who may have good ideas on how to best deal with recurring problems, and maintain a positive attitude.

This is, after all, your life in recovery. You want it to be as happy, healthy, productive and fulfilling as possible. In a nutshell, what this means is that when you are frustrated over not being able to get to or complete your goals, you simply need to try again. You will eventually succeed in reaching your goal or you will determine that another goal takes precedence.


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