Jack was beyond discouraged. In the online support group, Steve just posted a pic of his three year coin. Earlier that day, Tyler posted that he had 5 years, 8 months and 17 days sober. Everyone around him was doing great, but Jack couldn’t get past day 18. Why? What was he doing wrong? What was everyone else doing right? What’s their secret to achieving BIG goals?
This Fall, Dr. Barbara Srur achieved her BIG goal of climbing Kilimanjaro, and she stopped by Recovery Guidance to tell us how she did it.
1. Set A Big Goal
The first secret of achieving big goals is to set a goal – any goal. Dr. Srur says, “Without goals, you are like a leaf in the wind.” Also, it’s important to remember that big is relative. What’s big for you is very small to someone else. Don’t compare your goals to others. Compare your current goal to your past goals. That’s how you actually measure progress.
2. Pole. Pole. (Slowly. Slowly.)
While trekking up Kilimanjaro, Dr. Srur’s guides reminded each of the climbers, “Pole. Pole.” It’s Swahili for “Slowly. Slowly.” More than half of the people who set out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro don’t make it to the top because they go too fast and get sick. Kilimanjaro is the tallest lone standing mountain in the world. It’s peak, Uhuru is 19,341 feet above sea level.
The trek took Dr. Srur 8 days to go up and 1 1/2 days to come back down. She chose to take a longer, more gradual path. Although that added days to her climb, it was also one of her secrets to achieving the big goal. Dr. Srur says,
“Once you set the goal, you can’t look at how big the achievement is. You look at, ‘What do I need to do today?'”
3. Feelings Can’t Run The Show
Many, many days before her climb, Dr. Srur didn’t FEEL like training, but she did anyway. Dr. Srur says, “Feelings cannot run the show.” Whether you are trying to lose weight, complete a college course, or just trying to get through that first day sober, the third secret to achieving big goals is the same:
- Feelings cannot run the show.
- What action can I take to get there?
- Will this work for me in the function of the goal?
- What can I do today to get there?
As a mental health care provider, Dr. Srur has helped many patients improve their mental health and manage their addictions. Feelings are what keep people using. Most people who are stuck in substance abuse are stuck in the feelings.
Dr. Srur explains, “You have the feeling I’m tired. I don’t feel like (fill in the blank) today. In the moment, the feelings can detour you and get you off the road. If you set the goal too big, it becomes discouraging.”
It’s a matter of have to vs. I choose to. I choose just for this moment to not drink. I’m not gonna drink today. I choose for this moment to run for one minute or to walk for 20. Today, I choose to study for my exam. I choose to NOT eat another piece of pie.
Dr. Srur also says, “You can’t do it for somebody else. Do it for yourself.”
4. You Will Fall Down. You Must Get Back Up
Dr. Srur was the oldest member of her Kilimanjaro trek, and she was one of the first women to get her medial license. In achieving big goals, Dr. Srur faced many hurdles as a woman in an emerging field. When she set out to become a doctor, only 6% of medical school classes were women. She wasn’t accepted into American universities because of her gender, so she went to Peace Corp. From there, she learned she could get her medical license in France. To achieve her goal, she chose to move to a foreign country and complete a difficult field of study in a SECOND language.
“Mistakes and failures are our best teachers.” says Dr. Srur. She says, “I have always considered set backs. What am I supposed to be learning here? No one can tell me what it is. I need to figure it out.” On her slow, winding trek, this fourth secret came alive for Dr. Srur:
You can’t give up just because you fell down. No body’s road is a straight line. It’s not about getting there – perfection. It’s about how far you’ve come. Falilng down is an opportunity to learn from the mistake and getting back up.
5. Set Another Goal
The last secret to achieving big goals is to set another one. Dr. Srur says, “Whenever you achieve a goal, you need to set a new goal. This (climbing Kilimanjaro) was quite a stretch for me. Initially, I picked that goal because I needed a reason to get in shape and stay in shape.”
So, getting back to Jack, can he get to 5 years or even 5 weeks of sobriety? A resounding yes! The problem isn’t with Jack. Everyone has the ability to achieve a goal. The first step is to set one. The five secrets Dr. Srur used to achieve her goal will work for Jack (and you) too.
Dr. Barbara Srur, M.D., is the Medical Mental Health Advisor on Recovery Guidance’s Advisory Board. Dr. Srur is also a Psychopharmocologist, skilled in the treatment of depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety disorders, OCD, and eating disorders. She believes in using an integrative approach to treatment and, when indicated, the lowest effective dose of medications.