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Setting SMART Goals for Recovery

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Goal setting is important in all areas of your life and is especially important when you enter recovery, since healthy goals can help you build the life you want. Using SMART goals for recovery can help you work towards achieving all your goals.

What Are SMART Goals?

A SMART goal is a type of goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. It's important to have goals that are realistic and achievable, but also meaningful and relevant to the individual or group pursuing them.

A good way to think of a SMART goal is as a roadmap towards success.

smart goals


When setting goals, it’s important to know what you want and how to achieve it. Knowing what you want to achieve will drive away distractions and help you keep your eye on the prize. 

Writing down specific goals and keeping track of them will help you stay focused. An example of a specific goal would be “I am going to call my sponsor once a week,” instead of the vague goal of “I am going to maintain my support network.”


Once you have set a specific goal, you will have to figure out if you are achieving it, by making sure that your goal can be measured. 

For example, the goal of “eating healthier” can be difficult to measure but if your goal is more specific and quantifiable, such as, “I will only drink one can of soda per day,” you are giving yourself a quantifiable measure to track your success.


Recovery is a challenging and a slow process, and setting goals beyond your reach can leave you feeling discouraged. An attainable goal is fun to strive for and can help you stay positive and follow the plan that you laid out for yourself. 

A guide to smart recovery

When you set an attainable goal, you’ll make the other changes that need to happen in your life in order to achieve it.

If you recognize that you need to get more sleep and your goal is to “get 8 hours of sleep per night,” you’ll soon identify the reasons that you weren’t previously reaching that goal, such as staying up too late when you need to get up at a certain time in the morning.



To maintain healthy growth, it’s important to set realistic goals. Before setting your goals, consider whether you have the resources or tools to achieve them. 

In recovery, there is often an expectation that when a loved one engages in addiction treatment, they will go back to being the person they were before their life was controlled by substance use. In reality, every single one of us is changing all the time and tomorrow will be different than yesterday or several years ago.

Instead of looking to the past, set realistic expectations on how you and your loved one can work together for a bright, new future.


When creating goals, it’s important to ask yourself whether you can accomplish the goal within a specified time. Timely goals are essential so that you are accountable to achieve them within a certain time frame and don’t keep pushing them back. 

If your goal is to work on your mental health by meditating, you’d want to set the goal to “Start meditating today, for 5 minutes each day,” so that you actually take the steps you need to get started, rather than just planning to start it “soon.”

Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

Many people set New Year’s resolutions without creating SMART goals. Their resolutions are often unrealistic, unable to be measured, are not time bound, which leaves these resolutions nearly impossible to achieve. 

Without the characteristics of SMART goals, it can be difficult to know exactly what you are working towards, how to measure your progress, and whether or not your goals are realistic. Without a clear plan, it can be easy to get sidetracked or lose motivation. 

There also tends to be a lack of accountability with New Year’s resolutions. When you share your goals with others, you have people to help keep you on track and make sure that you are actively working towards these goals. 


Benefits of SMART Goals for Recovery

SMART goals are important for staying on track and help to reaffirm your recovery process. Poor goal setting can make you feel like you’re not achieving anything, and can hinder your progress toward recovery.

man on top of mountain

Additionally, SMART goals provide the following benefits. 

Provide clarity: SMART goals help you focus on your recovery efforts and monitor your progress by helping you identify exactly what you want to accomplish.

Motivational: Setting definite, achievable goals can keep you motivated and on track during your recovery process.

Self-empowerment: By establishing and achieving your own goals, you can take charge of your recovery and increase your confidence in your capacity to overcome obstacles.

Increased accountability: Sharing your goals with others and having a support system in place can help you stay accountable and motivated.


What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. It is not directly related to SMART goals, but they can work in conjunction with each other. 

SMART Recovery is a non-profit organization with an emphasis on four points:

  1. Building motivation
  2. Coping with urges
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Lifestyle Balance

SMART Recovery places a strong emphasis on managing with cravings, cognitive behavioral strategies, and self-empowerment.

Is SMART Recovery an Alternative to AA?

SMART Recovery doesn’t follow the 12-steps that programs such as AA follow. If you feel like AA isn’t the best fit for you, SMART recovery may be a good alternative. 

SMART recovery

The foundation of AA is the belief that addiction is an illness that can only be cured by a higher power and by adhering strictly to the program's 12 steps.

SMART Recovery, on the other hand, takes a more secular approach, focused on empowering people to take charge of their own recovery through self-directed transformation and the application of scientific tools and practices.

SMART Recovery meetings are less structured, and more discussion-oriented, with members talking about their individual struggles and coming up with solutions together.

Choosing the Recovery Program for You

In the end, a person's unique beliefs, objectives, and requirements will determine which program they choose between SMART Recovery and AA.

It's important to locate a support network that enables you to feel empowered and supported during your rehabilitation process.

At Aquila Recovery, we offer treatment for alcohol and substance use disorder through outpatient programs, or our intensive outpatient program.

To learn more about our programs and how Aquila can help, reach out to our addiction specialists.