Celebrate the small victories

Dear Annie: My biggest accomplishment in life is my recovery. I’m currently seven years sober, and I have worked very hard to clear my history of self-destruction and rebuild my life into what it is today. I continue to attend recovery meetings and guide other women through the recovery process. But I am in a maddening loop thinking of what to do with my life.

I came to this area to attend rehab and had no intention to stay, yet here I am eight years later. I have reached and sustained stability in my life, but my heart longs for more. I am afraid I will never take the leap to make a change and, ultimately, get lost in regret of what could have been.

I’ve consulted therapists, my sponsor, my family, my friends, my co-workers, and I believe they are sick of hearing about it. Before I got sober, I was a risk taker in good and bad ways. I was bold and brave and moved on my own multiple times. It’s as though I have lost the ability to create my own future. I continue to live a mediocre-feeling life, and I fear I will never change. I just don’t know what to do, and I was compelled to ask you. How do I change? — Stuck in a Loop

Dear Stuck in a Loop: There is nothing mediocre about a life lived seven years sober. That is something to be celebrated. And helping other women get sober while staying sober yourself is heroic. While a therapist and friends are an essential part of recovery, the person you need to consult is yourself. Cut yourself some slack, and be kind to yourself. Be grateful for all the wonderful things that have been made possible by your sobriety. Turn off that critical voice in your head that is telling you they don’t count, or they don’t mean much, or if you were really strong, you would move to a strange environment. Nonsense.

Wherever you go, there you are. Thus, it doesn’t matter if you move to another town or wait for this great big moment when life will not be mediocre anymore. It’s about finding joy and pleasure in the small victories of each day.

If there are things you want to try but are afraid to, try them anyway. Fear is “false evidence appearing real.”

Dear Annie: “Out of Shape” was wondering how to start a successful exercise program after many years of disappointment. As an executive coach who works with professionals on everything from time management to wellness, I have found the biggest challenge to making life changes is that people start out with plans that are too big.

Begin with a simple step: Get more active. It might be taking a 10-minute walk after lunch, doing three minutes of calisthenics before getting in the shower or doing squats for two minutes while you brush your teeth. The key is to tie it to something you already do every day.

After one month, this routine becomes a habit that you can celebrate and build upon. You might feel it is a small improvement, but you are already more active than you were a month ago! The next month, add something simple to your new routine, or create a second one for another time during the day.

Also, look for ways to make simple tasks more physically challenging. Let’s say you are picking up stray items around the living room. Pick them up one at a time, and sprint to put them away. By year’s end, you will find that you are leading a much more active life without putting in an overwhelming amount of effort. Your increase in energy and confidence will help spur you to a more active life naturally. — Keeping It Simple

Dear Keeping It Simple: I always love hearing from professionals who offer wise perspectives. Your advice reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: Life is a cinch by the inch and a trial by the mile.