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new year resolutions for young adults in recovery

Rethinking New Year Resolutions By Doing Your Best, One Day At A Time

Est. reading time: 5 mins
Posted Under: Recommendations

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


It can be overwhelming to be an adolescent or young adult who struggles with addiction and/or mental illness at this time of year. There is a huge amount of external and societal pressure to “start over,” “begin again” or revamp your life. This stigmatizing thought process is both unhelpful and counter-productive to recovery and growth.

There is nothing wrong with resolving to make this year better than the last; doing so can give you hope for the future and inspire real change. The problem arises when you fall short of your goals. For many people, failing to meet a resolution starts a spiral of self-loathing that can lead to harmful choices like overeating, substance use, isolation, self-harm, or procrastination.

The dawning of a new year may also bring with it new pressures to conform to idealized standards—to be thin, always healthy, perpetually moving, and ceaselessly striving for perfection. The pressure to be what society demands—and not what you want to be, or what feels good to you and congruent with who you are—can be every bit as harmful as an abandoned resolution.

It is not only impossible but also inadvisable to attempt to start over or become entirely new people when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. We can only try a little bit harder from where we are in the moment – to take small steps toward mental, spiritual, emotional, physical, interpersonal and social growth.

In fact, chances are, if you struggle with mental illness or addiction, you are already trying incredibly hard every minute of every day. At The Dorm, we embrace dialectics and thus believe that each of us is doing the best we can AND we can all do a little better one day at a time. Below are ten examples of goals our clients have created to push themselves a bit further in the new year!

  1. I will be kind to myself and resist negative thinking. I will not talk to myself in a way I would never talk to someone I love. For instance, I would never tell someone I love that they are a “fat pig” for indulging in a holiday dinner. And so, I will not say those words about myself. Going over and over the negative feelings and anxious thoughts that pop into my head causes me to feel irritable, depressed, hopeless and helpless. Whenever a negative thought pops into my head I will counter the thought with a positive mantra about myself. For example “I deserve love” and “I am worthy of dignity and respect.”
  2. I will set healthy boundaries. Sometimes I give other people too much power in my life. I will define my limits and boundaries at work, at home, school and socially/romantically. I will not be lied to or verbally abused and I will say “no” directly and assertively and without anger.
  3. I will exercise regularly. I know that regular movement, especially outdoors, helps my mental health and physical health. I also know that exercise is hard…especially when I lack motivation and energy. Rather than setting unrealistic exercise goals I will start slowly. I will schedule time on a weekly basis for a walk, bike ride, yoga class, boxing, or swim and stick to it no matter what. Even when I do not feel up to it, I will exercise. Five minutes of exercise is better than no minutes!
  4. I will try new hobbies or revisit old ones. Mental illness and addiction can cause the world to feel grey and uninspiring. Things that were once beautiful and vibrant become dull, boring and strenuous. I used to love playing basketball when I was younger and I always think about getting back into playing basketball, but the thought of finding people to play with or a court to visit, of getting out of bed, getting dressed, possibly having to talk to people at the basketball court just seems…exhausting. What I end up doing is sitting in bed, isolated and playing video games. This year I want to make a reasonable and doable plan to push myself onto the court. I will ask two friends at The Dorm to go with me and hold me accountable to go so that I don’t have to conquer this alone.
  5. I will set aside time to unplug. I am constantly on my phone! Social media, texts and games. I feel like my life is sometimes driven by technology and that my mood and happiness is contingent upon how many likes I get on Facebook or Instagram. This year, I am going to set aside my phone for one hour each day to either read, write, meditate or take a walk.
  6. I will be nicer to others. When I am stuck in my mental illness or addiction I tend to shut off the world. I isolate and forget about the important people in my life. I become detached and uncaring towards friends and family. I know, however, that helping others and being kind to others actually makes me feel better about myself. This year, once a week, I will try to put someone else’s needs above my own. Even just buying a coffee for the person in line behind me may make me feel great.
  7. I will communicate my needs more openly. With mental illness and addiction, it is vital for me to have a trusting support network. I will make an effort to communicate my needs openly and directly with my support network. For example, I may ask my best friend to hold me accountable if she witnesses me attending fewer AA meetings.
  8. I will try to live in the moment. If I spend my life constantly worrying about the future or regretting the past, I miss out on the here and now. While there is nothing wrong with self-improvement plans and goals for the future or with taking an inventory of the past, it is equally important to work on being mindful – generating an ability to live in the present moment. On a daily basis, I will try to focus on the sounds and sights I see, the positive aspects of my current life, or simply what it feels like to be alive in my skin right now.
  9. I will make time to engage in self-care. If I were to wait until everything was done and had plenty of time, I would never have time for self-care. There’s always something I can find to prioritize ahead of myself. Yet if I don’t care for myself, nobody else will. I will commit to an act of self-care every day. Self-care may be journaling for 10 minutes, hanging out with a friend, buying myself a 10-minute massage, taking a bath, lighting candles and meditating. The possibilities are endless!
  10. I will seek to give up defensiveness. Defensiveness is a defense mechanism. It allows me to blame others and create interpersonal distance. Defensiveness blinds me to my own role and part in my problems. It prevents me from becoming a better person and from achieving attachment and intimacy with others. It makes my relationships difficult and one-sided. I want better relationships this year and every year. I am going to work to give up defensiveness. I will diligently work to see my own role in every conflict or concern. I will not wait for someone else to change before I am willing to change. Ultimately, I can only change myself.


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