Living intentionally is one of the hardest to grasp concepts when struggling with addictive behaviors or substance abuse. We’re going to talk about what it means to live intentionally and how it relates to recovery. To live intentionally you need to be focusing on the body’s physical needs, focusing on living in the now and most importantly the importance of goal setting. Additionally, kindness, empathy and being grateful plays a role in your overall success. Dr. Mcgee, board certified in addiction psychiatry states, “Personal growth and recovery do not happen by accident, but as a byproduct of intentional living.”
What does it mean to live intentionally?
When you struggle with unhealthy behaviors or substance use disorder it’s important you take each day and live each moment with intention.
But what is living with intention all about? Glad you asked.
Intentional living is how you live your own life based on your values and beliefs. I’m not here to tell you how to live your life.
I am here to help you recognize some of your own deep rooted intentions.
It is about choosing to live in a way defined by your choices. Not your subconscious. Not just going through the motions.
If you’re in recovery or working on kicking an addiction, being complacent can lead to high-risk situations and relapse. You always need to be on your toes – let me preface this by explaining first, being on your toes doesn’t mean you can’t relax. In fact, we talk a lot about self care and giving your body a chance to relax and recover but there is a difference between calculated relaxation time to just vegging out and not thinking consciously about what your body is going through.
In recovery, everything you do should be done with intention. You should be taking care of your physical body, with intention, your mental health should be taken care of with intention, your relationships need to be thought through with intention. There should be nothing that you do that shouldn’t be without intention.
How does living intentionally help in health and addiction recovery?
A study conducted at an inner-city state-funded residential substance abuse treatment program showed a positive correlation between one’s purpose in life and relapse. Living with intention helps with balance and ability to discover one’s purpose.
Living with intention can have incredibly positive effects for people in recovery. Living intentionally can bring great results for everyone; not just those who are struggling with an addiction by reducing the impact of stressful situations. LIving intentionally means staying focused, thinking critically about things and making moves that will benefit your overall well being. Living intentionally can help with things like an addiction trigger or drug craving. However, someone who is not struggling with an addiction, can go through periods of times or maybe never live intentionally and the outcome won’t affect them like it would someone who is in recovery. They may not gain the success they want or achieve a goal but it wouldn’t put them at risk for a relapse like someone who is struggling with an addiction.
For example, my friend Lisa, who does not struggle with an alcohol or drug addiction, can go home from work after a hard day, throw her clothes on the floor, veg out by the television and watch reality TV while eating ice cream all while turning off her brain and won’t have any repercussions. She’ll be able to get up in the morning and go to work and pick up where she left off.
On the flip side, my friend Matt, who struggles with alcohol, if he were to have a bad day at work and turn off his brain when he got home, like Lisa, he would likely, without even realizing he’s doing it, go to a liquor store or drink whatever liquor is at home, binge until he passes out and then would suffer the repercussions of a relapse. By turning off his brain and not living intentionally he is putting himself in high-risk situations.
Instead, Matt should go home after a hard day at work, take a long walk with his dog around the neighborhood, and eat a healthy meal. Meditate to reduce the uncomfortable feelings and then turn on the TV and find a show on TV to help him relax.
You see it’s unrealistic to never have down time or do normal things like watch TV. The difference is that people with addictions need to do all of these things with intention so that his subconscious doesn’t overpower and cause him to make a bad choice. One unintentional action can lead to another which can lead to another which can lead to a relapse and you don’t want that.
Meeting the body’s physical needs
In recovery it’s super important that you’re making sure you are meeting your body’s physical needs. If you’re not meeting your body’s physical needs then you are going to be at risk for relapse. And this where intentional living comes into major play.
It’s important to make sure you get medical treatment if you have a medical condition or chronic disease. Always make sure to take the advice of a health professional.
Another physical need you should be aware of is how your body is getting its energy. We know that’s food of course but what kind of food is put into your body to meet your body’s needs? If you fill yourself with junk food, you’re not going to feel very well whereas, if you eat a well balanced healthy diet that is low in sugar you’ll set yourself up for success. In order to be successful with a healthy eating lifestyle you need to eat with intention. Every bite you take should be a conscious bite. Something you know that is going to give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs to be healthy and strong. When you mindlessly you tend to overeat but when you eat with intention you are much more likely to stop when you are full or when you know your body has had enough.
Another physical need to meet is fitness. Everybody needs some sort of regular exercise. If you eat well but you’re sitting all day or not moving your body you still won’t feel as good as you would if you incorporate both healthy eating and fitness together. So to do this, you must intentionally get up and move your body. When you turn your brain off, it’s easy to forget to move. Whether you’re at work, at home, or hanging out with family and friends, be sure to incorporate fitness as often as possible. You should be doing this both rigorously (like joining a gym, hiking, biking, etc.) and also passively – so like making conscious choices to take the stairs instead of the elevator or go for a walk outside on your lunch break.
And the last part of meeting your body’s physical needs is making sure you are sleeping the right amount. This means that you must intentionally go to bed every night at a time you set for yourself. If you turn your brain off it’s easy to lose track of time. When you intentionally focus on fitness and nutrition, you’ll also be able to sleep better because of it.
Focusing on the Now
Focusing on the now is a big part in the whole recovery process. I talk about it often in most of my courses because it’s just that important.
There is no way to intentionally do things if you’re thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Your mind is somewhere else when you’re not focusing on the now.
Focusing on the now is a lot harder than most people think. I mean just think about this right this moment, Are you listening to my voice or are you thinking about something else? Bring your attention here and don’t let it wonder. My challenge for you is to see if you can make it through this entire lecture without having your mind drift. Of course your mind is going to wander off though – that’s normal but how fast can you catch it and bring it back – that’s the key.
So as we continue and talk about things like goal setting and intentionally working through each day, just remember, the moment your mind starts to wonder to gently bring it back to the present moment. Try not to get too frustrated with this task as it takes a lot of patience and time to really master this concept but if you practice as often as you can, at least a few times per day, you’ll start to see the benefits of what it means to be living in the present moment. Anxious feelings will lessen as you won’t be thinking about the past or worrying about what’s coming next because all you have is this moment right here, right now. It is a comfortable experience you are striving for.
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The Importance of Goal Setting and Structure
We are all different people and we all have different ideas on how we can live our best possible life. Setting goals and creating structure will give you the opportunity to really work each day on living intentionally to lead productive lives.
If you’re not working towards something then what are you working for? Everyone has goals but not everyone knows how to set them, set structure and implement the tasks required to acheive those goals. In our next lecture we’ll talk about setting big and/or small goals but for now let’s talk about how to set goals and what to do. I want to give you some examples.
Something that you can work on this week.
Example: “I want to be more kind.”
So for this, you will put that as your goal and every day this week, living intentionally, you would aim to be the kindest person you can possibly be. Be mindful of every interaction you make.
Example: “I want to have a better relationship with my mom.”
For this, maybe you would send your mom a text on Monday and call her on Wednesday. Or perhaps go see her on Friday.
Example: “I want to take a vacation to the beach.”
For this, maybe on Tuesday you would work out the cost of this trip and then on Friday you would work out how much money you would need to save in order to make this trip happen. You get the idea!
So as you can see, your work is to work backwards and the best way to do this is to set a date that you’d like to achieve the goal and then carve out time each day or week to work towards that goal. But don’t just carve out time, think of it as an outline. You know how when you were in school and you would write a paper, you always started with writing an outline. You can do that with goal setting. Write an outline or a task list of everything that needs to happen in order for you to reach your goal and be specific. Then on the days or times you set aside to work towards that goal you will know exactly what you need to do. This eliminates the feeling of the task being too big or unsure about where to start. What types of goals do you want to set for yourself? think big or small
Think Big or Small
I often get the question of how to set goals and should they be big or small? And that’s always a great question and never one size fits all. Really it all depends on where you are in your recovery.
For example, some of you may have the goal of not partaking in your addiction and that’s a great goal if you’re just starting your recovery journey. But I do caution you to think deeper as you progress through. You shouldn’t just have that one goal forever.
I want you to think of one goal big or small that you have for your life and write it down; anywhere, on a piece of paper or jot it down in your phone. I know that seems incredibly broad but think of something you’ve always wanted to do or maybe a way you’ve wanted to be.
Now look at that goal. Is it a big goal like going on a vacation or is it a small goal like calling your mom. Either way, a goal is a goal and once you write it down you can then take the steps to put it into action. Really, as long as you’re setting goals you’re making progress no matter how big or small they may seem. And that brings us to our next topic. Setting goals doesn’t have to be addiction related.
Life Beyond Addiction
Oftentimes, treatment of substance abuse or behaviors encourages people to get stuck in the trap and believe that their entire life revolves around setting addiction goals: How many common triggers can I overcome? There is life beyond addiction.
Recovery is a beautiful thing but it’s important to have balance in your life too. And I say this as again this all really depends on where you’re at in your recovery. If you’re new to recovery then perhaps all of your goals will be recovery related but as you get some time under your belt start thinking of other things. You can combine your goals as well so maybe each week you have one recovery focused goal and one non focused recovery goal.
For example you might have a goal to get a new job and another goal of making it to 100 days, without partaking in your addiction. Again this is not to say that you should ever lose site or not have your recovery goals in mind, it’s just to say that recovery doesn’t have to feel like it’s the only way or there’s no possibility of ever living a regular life – but regular is subjective too right?
As you progress you’ll start to notice that your goals will become more clear and focused. Just be sure that you are constantly moving forward, setting intentional goals and never losing sight of the bigger picture.
Recovery and Being Grateful
Living intentionally is one thing but being intentionally grateful can take your recovery experience to a whole different level. It’s not easy being grateful. Most of us have had strong past experiences, some might even have past trauma or have had so many obstacles and unlucky things that have been handed to them.
But if you can think beyond all that and take time to be intentionally grateful you’ll surprise yourself on the impact that this can make.
You might feel like there isn’t much to be grateful for, especially early on your recovery but there’s always going to be something you can be grateful for. If you have eyes and can see this course or if you have ears and can hear my voice – those are things you can be greatful for right off the bat. As you progress through your recovery other things will start to come into your love that you can be grateful for. Maybe you start to rebuild and something amazing happens like a new relationship, getting to know your family again, starting a new job, moving to a new home, and so on. As things start to manifest it’s going to be important that you’re not just grateful but you are intentionally taking time each day to reflect and be grateful. Everyone can start with being grateful they are making the choice to kick their addiction or they already have made the choice.
A good way to start is to write in your journal, Find something, at least one thing per day to be grateful for.
One of my clients had an especially hard time with this activity and was very resistant. We did this activity together each week and I remember his first entry was that he was grateful that he didn’t have diarrhea. I know that sounds icky but at that moment he was truly grateful for that as his addiction caused him a great amount of stomach pain with irritable bowels. We laughed a little together and as the week’s progressed it was truly amazing how things transpired. AFter about 3 months we ended up reflecting back to week one and even he was surprised that that was the only thing he could think of in the beginning.
My point is, it doesn’t matter where you start with this activity. Some of you may have a ton of things to be grateful for and that’s wonderful! WRite them down and think about those things daily but if you don’t have a ton of things that’s okay too. Just find one small thing each day.
Kindness, Empathy, and Giving Back
I know it’s completely cliche to hear what goes around comes around, especially in recovery because everyone has a past but when I think of this phrase I truly believe this as far as coming from a positive intention. When you are kind, empathetic and give back to your community without expecting anything in return, good things will start to happen. LIfe isn’t always tit for tat so for example it’s not you can say oh I’ll be kind today and then get upset when someone cuts you off driving or a cashier is rude to you. This is more of an overall what goes around comes around and it doesn’t happen overnight.
For example, if you start making changes every day to be more kind than overtime you’ll start to build up your trust with people who you have lost it with in the past. In a few weeks or months you’ll start to notice that your relationships get better and stronger and that’s what I mean by what goes around, comes around.
I truly believe it starts with kindness, intentionally being kind. It’s a lot easier said than done but really just be nice. Don’t overreact and when someone or something upsets you do your best to stay present, calm and kind, even if you don’t get the same respect in return. It is not good to prove points, to give lessons, and so on. If you find yourself feeling like it’s impossible to say or do something kind in a rough moment, the kindness thing you can do for yourself and the other person is to walk away. Walking away is much better than not being kind.
Once you start to figure out how to be more kind – and trust me I know this, it’s not something that everyone can do naturally but you can learn and it will come with practice but once you start to figure that part out then it’s important to practice empathy.
Empathy is doing your best to try and put yourself in other people’s shoes. So let’s say you are in a fight with a friend or family member – just remember, everyone has baggage and a history so if you can try and find common ground or relate to them in any way you are practicing empathy.
Part of being empathetic is also remembering that it’s not always about you. Yes you are going through a lot and yes you deserve to have someone there for you but remember, everyone is human so taking the time to get to know others and understanding their situations is a form of empathy.
And once you start to make those changes in your life, getting better each day as your recovery is stronger each day you can think about how to give back. Giving back doesn’t have to be the typical things like volunteering at a food bank or whatever, I mean if that’s what you want to do then that’s perfectly fine too but make it your own and something you’ll truly appreciate and enjoy. A lot of people like to give back in areas that have once affected them or things that they feel passionate about whether it’s people, animals, the environment, doesn’t matter just think about that. And it doesn’t have to be big either; it can be small things each day that can truly make a difference.
Maybe you give a homeless person your apple or pull over when you see an elderly person with a broken down car. Whatever way you want to give back is up to you but once you start living with kindness, empathy and giving back to the world, your life will start to evolve as well.
Now I know we’ve covered a lot here and I also recognize that no one person can implement all of these strategies especially at once so let’s now let’s talk about not burning yourself out.
Don’t Burn Yourself Out
When struggling with addiction issues and in recovery there’s always so much thrown your way, do this and do that and everything will be great. It’s impossible to implement every single thing you’re supposed to. It takes time, patience and small gradual changes for recovery to be a success. If you go all out too hard, too fast, you will burn out.
One thing to remember is to not beat yourself up if you can’t fit everything into one day. We talk so much here about making sure your physical health is okay, that you take care of your mental health and all of your social circles. If you struggle with a mental health disorder it’s important to talk to a mental health professional to treat your mental health and disease of addiction at the same time. Behavioral therapy and individual therapy can be a benefit to the continuum of care.
Remember, recovery is never an overnight success. The goal is to implement what you can each day and for today to be better than yesterday. Living intentionally is a lifelong process. If you forget to journal one day, or if you don’t have the chance to work out, maybe you miss a counseling appointment or forget to take time to set goals, it’s okay! This isn’t about perfection, it’s about longevity and taking things one day at a time. You’ll get stronger each and every day you’ll be able to handle more and more. Your chance of success will increase every day. Eventually you’ll surprise yourself on how much you are actually able to take care of your mind, body and soul. But please, be kind to yourself and if you fall off somewhere, just pick up where you left off.
Addiction and Recovery Care
If you struggle with substance abuse or a behavior addiction it’s important to find a treatment plan that meets your individual needs. Effective treatment embraces flexibility and uniqueness by using a holistic approach which is exactly what Live Rehab offers. People in recovery deserve a chance to kick their addictions without having to leave their family, pets, friends or work. Traditional treatment centers may not always be the best options and their treatment outcomes are not great. If you struggle with drug or alcohol abuse then Live Rehab could be a solution. Recovery from addiction is possible.