Making Small Changes That Lead to Big Changes in Your Recovery

Making Small Changes That Lead to Big Changes in Your Recovery

Viewing each victory as a step can lessen the emotional burden and build momentum toward long-term recovery

Recovery can feel overwhelming because of the false idea that recovery is one enormous change. Viewing each victory as a step can lessen the emotional burden and build momentum toward long-term health in a variety of ways.

The Power of Small Successes

Many terms have been used to describe how a small beginning can reap larger benefits over the long term including the following:

  • Snowball effect – In the same way a snowball rolling downhill gains speed, size and momentum, so goals can build upon each other.
  • Domino effect – Tying small changes together can build a sense of excitement and power to keep going.
  • Butterfly effect – No change is too small to potentially be significant, even the flap of a butterfly’s wings. In the same way, no change should be discounted.
  • Avalanche effect – A mountain can be torn down by a single well-timed pebble, so too can the mountain of your recovery be radically altered with a single victory.

The imagery is much less important than the concept. Recovery is and always will be a series of small steps building toward a healthier and sober life. But there is more to small changes than motivation. There is also hard science behind it.

Breaking Habits Takes Time

The next piece of the puzzle is understanding that the neurological response to an event or a potential choice changes when it is already established as a habit as compared to when the choice is not a habit. It has been scientifically proven by various neuroscientists that there is a habit loop in which the brain moves from a conscious choice and focused effort over time to a nearly automatic response.

This habit development cycle is the neuro-scientific explanation for tasks individuals are comfortable with. The habit loop is why most automobile drivers can carry a conversation or change the radio station while still driving effectively though the attention span is admittedly lower. It also is the explanation for how a person can type 60 or more words per minute without looking or even consciously considering the placement of his hands upon the keyboard. This habit loop is a three-part process including the following:

  • The Cue – The trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode
  • The Routine – The event itself
  • The Reward – The good thing received as a result that creates the habit loop in the first place

Once a habit loop is established, the behavior takes place in a different part of the brain than when a decision is made. Automatic decisions are maintained by the basal ganglia, which allows you to tie your shoes without looking or brush your teeth no matter your environment. Choices take place in the prefrontal cortex.

Part of the recovery process is breaking the habits so that the decision to eat unhealthily becomes a conscious choice in the prefrontal cortex instead of the basal ganglia. This habit breaking process takes time, in the same way nobody starts typing at 60 words per minute the first time she puts her fingers on the home keys.

Small Successes Build Self-Esteem

One very practical side effect of small successes is the growth of self-esteem in the individual. The typical person in recovery struggles greatly with his self-esteem. He feels worthless and even feels justified in this assessment. He has broken promises, wounded friends and family, been unable to break the habit on his own and has let everyone down, most importantly himself. A low sense of self worth will limit her ability to keep pushing during tough moments because she will be unable to believe that she is worth more or capable of anything different than what she sees today.

Each victory is a building block toward a better self-image. While addiction is definitely a chronic illness, it nevertheless requires cooperation, effort and energy from the individual suffering from the illness to move toward recovery. Every small change is a declaration that change is possible and will allow the individual to believe in herself just a little more. If enough of these changes are piled upon each other, then a new tapestry of hope is built.

Any Change Is Worth Celebrating

Any change, no matter how small, is worth celebrating. Addiction is always a risk, and one you must remain vigilant against in every way. Having a history of victory makes vigilance easier because you do not have the bear the burden without believing a better future is possible.

The cost of addiction is too high. If this is where you are right now, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about addiction. They can help you find your way.