Motivated Man

Self-Motivation: Why it Makes a Difference in Recovery and Life

Written By: Gentle Path

By Beau Black

Deciding to enter recovery is a complex process driven by a variety of motivating factors. Where do we get the willpower to make a lasting life change when we’re struggling with substance abuse, depression, or other mental health issues? Finding and keeping the self-motivation to enter into and stay in recovery is vital to success.

How Internal and External Motivation in Recovery Work Together

We are motivated by both internal and external factors. Internal motivators include our own feelings, desires, values, and goals for ourselves and our lives. How do you see yourself now? How do you want to see yourself? What’s really important to you? What do you want out of life? Asking yourself questions like these helps to motivate you internally.

External factors that can enhance or decrease our motivation include social or peer influence (which can be positive or negative), authority (whether from a supervisor or boss, legal authorities, or even parents), consequences, a therapist/counselor, money, relationships and sex, family, and more.  

Motivators from both areas can work together in recovery. According to Alcohol Research and Health, “Although internal motivation appears to be more effective for long-term success, external motivation [for example, financial incentive] seems to promote short-term abstinence from alcohol and other drugs.” But external motivators must give way to internal motivation for us to succeed.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that a counselor or peer cannot give us motivation, but they can help us identify our reasons and need for change: “Successful [substance use disorder] approaches acknowledge motivation as a multidimensional, fluid state during which people make difficult changes to health-risk behaviors like substance misuse.”

SAMSHA also reports that an individual’s motivation to change can be “positively influenced by supportive family and friends as well as community support.” Conversely, it can also be negatively influenced by “lack of social support or negative social support [by friends who also abuse substances], and negative public perception of SUDs.”

One key component to assist with this, SAMSHA says, is an empathetic counselor who can help you not only remain in treatment but lower your substance use. Studies show that a counselor or treatment program that helps patients in strengthening their own motivation will increase their likelihood of commitment to a specific behavioral change plan.

Such a counselor can help a client zero in on their “desire, ability, reasons, and need to change” to see clearly why they’re entering recovery. They can also help patients identify behaviors that don’t line up with their goals so they can take steps toward course correcting.

What’s really important to you? What do you want out of life? Asking yourself questions like these helps to motivate you internally.

How to Get — And Keep — Your Motivation in Recovery

Convinced, but not sure where to start? Here are some small ways to maintain self-motivation in recovery, adapted from

  • Start the day

Get up, get dressed, and maybe even make the bed. Morning habits are tied to both getting on a routine and focusing on small wins.

  • Exercise regularly

Exercise releases endorphins, which can ease depression.

  • Control your schedule

Again, focus on small wins; every task completed can help fuel establishing and keeping a routine.

  • Keep it positive

Whether it’s what you read or watch, the people you talk to, or your own self-talk, try to stay positive with uplifting news, people who encourage you, and thinking that’s going to help you meet your recovery goals.

  • Get out

Socialize and participate in activities with good people. Volunteering can help you to pull away from the narrow focus on yourself and redirect it to something (or someone) else that will benefit from your time and attention.

  • Build your own support group

When your own motivation tank is near empty, it’s helpful to have people around you — friends, family, co-workers, church or support group members — who can help to refill it.

  • Sleep

Getting enough sleep, but not too much, is essential to staying on track.

Treatment Success is Possible

According to SAMHSA, there are two elements of motivation that can forecast success in treatment:

  1. How important change is to you
  1. Self-assurance in your power to change your life

Building a recovery success story begins with your own recovery motivation. Are you ready and willing and committed to change? If so, why? What’s motivating you to change? Can you maintain this commitment throughout the recovery process? And are you ready to begin now? If so, your journey can start here.

November 1st, 2021

Categories: addiction recovery mental health recovery sex addiction recovery

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