The role of willpower in recovery is often misunderstood. Substance use disorders are biologically based chronic illnesses with complex interconnected environmental triggers. This means a person doesn’t develop an addiction because they lack willpower. However, learning how to strengthen willpower can help promote the resiliency you need to continue to progress in your recovery journey.
We Use Willpower Everyday
Willpower is involved in hundreds of choices we make each day. Whenever you make a choice that prioritizes your long-term well-being over short-term rewards, you’re using willpower. For example:
- Choosing healthy foods instead of sweets
- Working out when you’d rather watch television
- Completing a project at work that you find tedious
- Controlling your temper when someone has upset you
- Postponing a luxury purchase, so you have more money to save for bills or other necessary expenses
While these choices may individually not seem like a big deal, their cumulative effect can be significant. When your willpower reserves start to run low, you can find yourself giving into temptation in all its forms.
How to Effectively Use Willpower in Your Recovery Efforts
It can be helpful to think of willpower as fuel in a tank. It’s a limited resource, and you need to set yourself up for success by creating an environment that doesn’t require you to be constantly tapping into your reserves.
Here are some tips that can help:
- Treat your mind and body right. Trying to eat well, stay active, and get the rest you need can be difficult, but these healthy habits help refuel your willpower tank. When you’re hungry, tired, and sluggish, it’s hard to continue to make good choices.
- Give yourself positive reinforcement for the good choices you make. People in recovery often feel so bad about the mistakes they’ve made in the past that they forget to reward themselves for the good choices they’re making each day. Celebrating all of your accomplishments keeps you motivated to continue working towards your goals.
- Eliminate unnecessary temptation. In the early stages of recovery, it’s best to stay away from bars, nightclubs, and environments where substance use is likely. Avoid contact with anyone you used to drink or get high with. Instead, surround yourself with positive role models who will support and encourage your quest for self-improvement.
- Don’t try to change too many things at once. You may have lots of exciting plans for your new sober life, but building new habits takes time. Focus on getting your cravings under control so your sobriety is firmly established before you start working on building new relationships, going back to school, finding a new career path, or planning a move to a new city.
- Keep yourself accountable. Let your sober support network help you stay on track with your recovery efforts. Accountability is one of the primary benefits of 12-Step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, but supportive friends and family can also let you know when you’re starting to lose focus.
If you start to struggle, resist the urge to think of willpower as an “all or nothing” proposition. Everyone makes mistakes and gives into temptation from time to time. A person may seem to be blessed with great self-control in one area, but it’s likely that there are other parts of their life where they have more difficulty making appropriate choices. For example, a person who never seems to be tempted to indulge in sweets might struggle with money management and keeping their impulse spending in check.
You can’t compare your progress to anyone else’s journey because your circumstances are unique. When you have a setback, think about what went wrong and what you could do differently to avoid a similar result in the future. Self-reflection helps build willpower by keeping you in tune with your personal strengths and weaknesses.
We’re Here to Provide the Help You Need to Succeed
Since addiction isn’t caused by a lack of willpower, a person can’t stay sober relying on willpower alone. They need access to a full continuum of care that is personalized to fit their specific needs and relies on scientifically sound principles.
Waypoint Recovery Center’s South Carolina drug and alcohol addiction treatment program provides men and women struggling with substance use disorders access to detox, counseling, 12-Step support, medication-assisted treatment, and holistic services that help build the foundation for a lasting recovery. Graduates who complete residential treatment can participate in an intensive outpatient program and continuing recovery/recovery management services that help support the transition back to independent living. If you’re ready to change your life for the better, we’re here to help.