Improve Your Attitude and Improve Your Recovery Success
You’ve probably heard the saying, “attitude is everything.” But, really, what is attitude and how does it affect addiction and recovery?
Attitude describes the way we think or feel about something or someone. It comprises a viewpoint, an outlook, or a perspective that typically affects a person’s behavior. Attitude affects how you treat other people, how you look at life, how you respond to challenges, and often whether you succeed or fail in any endeavor. Attitude affects your relationships, your health, your self-image and your self-confidence. Attitude is “everything” because attitude really matters, in recovery and in life in general.
Where Do Attitudes Come From?
Attitudes originate from our beliefs – those ingrained ideas that we take for granted as being “truth.” Our beliefs live deep within the subconscious part of our minds, where countless ideas, assumptions and preconceived notions that we collected and developed over a lifetime have been sorted and stored away. Beliefs provide us with a built-in mechanism for quickly making decisions because they offer a sense of certainty, but sometimes these “truths” are not as accurate as we imagine.
Most of our beliefs were programmed into our brains at an early age. By age six, a child’s brain has catalogued enough ideas and perceptions to create a blueprint of how to perceive themselves and their world. This blueprint becomes the child’s belief system, and unless these beliefs are later consciously re-evaluated and updated (which too often does not happen), they remain as assumptive “truths.” Attitudes then, demonstrate or express to the world, the content and meaning of these innermost beliefs.
Attitudes, and the beliefs they are built upon, affect not only our thinking and behavior, but many other important aspects of our lives as well.
How Attitude Affects Your Health
One of the most important reasons to concern yourself with the idea of attitude – and to possibly consider improving yours, if need be – is that attitude can make a real and profound difference in your health.
In a 2016 Harvard Health Publishing Women’s Health Watch blog, Dr. Laura Kubzansky, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, stated that having a positive outlook, or attitude (defined as a sense of optimism and purpose) seems to be predictive of health outcomes. She also found that emotional vitality – characterized by enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life, and the ability to face life’s stresses with emotional balance – is associated with a substantially reduced risk of heart attack and stroke.
How Attitude Affects Recovery
In addition to affecting health, attitude can significantly affect your chances for recovery success.
Recovery requires motivation. Motivation is more than a desire for an outcome. It includes additional elements, such as confidence in your ability and an intention to maintain the desire for success over a long period. In recovery, motivation also requires an ongoing decision to prioritize the goal (such as sustained abstinence) every day.
Motivation in recovery is aided by a positive attitude. To be resilient and overcome setbacks, it is necessary to focus on what is possible and desirable, rather than on what has gone wrong. With a positive focus, it is easier to “get back on the horse” and try again, limiting the negative effects of a misstep or setback and re-establishing forward momentum toward your recovery goals. First decide to see yourself as someone who is capable of being an honorable person, and someone who is willing to work toward that goal. Once you have embraced this attitude in your mind and heart, you will find it easier to remain on the path to success.
Remember, in every situation you can always find something that is good and something that is not; which of these you mentally lock onto is entirely a matter of your own choosing. Recognizing that attitude is a choice and not a matter of fate or luck allows you to take charge of your thinking and become empowered vs. helpless.
Attitudes for Successful Recovery
Some attitudes, like choosing to view situations from a positive perspective, can increase your chances of recovery success. Here are a few more to consider:
- Choosing Honesty: As I noted in my article,The Changing Perceptions of Yourself During Recovery, the first step in changing negative self-perceptions and self-beliefs is to embrace honesty – radical honesty – where no distortions, minimizations or half-truths obscure the reality of one’s situation. One of the reasons 12-Step programs work for people is that they provide a place where the recovering person can be radically honest and bare embarrassing secrets about themselves without fear of judgment or ridicule. Becoming honest with one’s self is the first important step on the road to recovery.
- Having an Open Mind: Being willing to try different approaches is important because there is no “one size fits all” recovery program. Community-based programs such as AA, NA and other 12-step programs work for many people, but they are not for everyone. Some people do better in a structured inpatient or partial inpatient rehab program. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques work for many, while alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, biofeedback or yoga may provide more stress relief and cravings-control for others. Find the programs and therapies that work for you, even if it they are different from what you anticipated.
- Learning from the Past. Experience is often the best teacher. Look back and reflect on how you previously coped with a difficult situation. Your own experience (or that of a trusted support person or sponsor) may provide you with insight to help solve a current dilemma. If you can be adaptable and can remain flexible, you can respond to challenges with wisdom and insight, rather than reacting (via habit and old patterns) to them.
- Practicing Gratitude: Alcoholics Anonymous describes attaining serenity and gratitude as two of the most characteristic markers of success in the AA program, stating that “gratitude and serenity are two sides of the same golden coin of sobriety.” By choosing to have a positive attitude and to feel gratitude, you create a mindset that strongly supports recovery success.
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