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The concept of willingness is something we talk about frequently in recovery. We say if you’re willing, you can make it through just about anything.” But just because you’re willing to do something doesn’t mean you want to do that thing.
I am willing to have the dentist use a drill on my teeth, but I don’t want to do that.
This mindset shift has been enormously helpful to me, especially in my recovery. It’s exceedingly helpful when it comes to changing our behaviors for the better.
I may not want to go to the gym five days a week, but I’m willing. That’s because adults do things they don’t necessarily want to because they want the outcome that behavior will get them. What I do want is a healthy, pain-free, physically fit body. That makes me willing to do the things required to have a healthy, pain-free, physically fit body.
Here’s a story to illustrate the immense power of willingness from someone I heard speaking at a recovery workshop. He’d been struggling in his recovery and relapsing, and during his one minute of willingness the day before he went online, he found out about the workshop and signed up.
At the workshop, he learned that there was a local men’s meeting. He’d never had the opportunity to attend a men’s meeting before, so he was really excited about that. He also got connected to a bunch of folks in the room, and it reignited his recovery because he’d been away from meetings for months. And then he said, “That all came from one minute of willingness yesterday. Can you imagine what I could accomplish if I had an hour of willingness? Or a day??”
Sometimes the only willingness you need is the willingness to type something into Google like the guy in the above example. And then, eventually, maybe it’s the willingness to skip that bad habit just one time. Then another. Then maybe willingness to follow the suggestions of your doctor or therapist, then willingness to go to a support group. Eventually, you will have to become willing to do whatever it takes to get the life you desire if that’s what you truly want. But in the beginning, the tiniest bit of willingness can carry you very far.
If you’re someone who believes in a Higher Power of some sort, and you use that Higher Power to help you with your willingness, it's my experience that that combo can move mountains! If you want to have outcomes you’ve never had before, it’s not going to happen unless you’re willing to try things that you’ve never tried. As they say, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”
If there are role models whose lives you want to emulate, or who have qualities you admire, ask them what they’ve done to get there. Then become willing to take action. Eventually, you’ll have to actually take action, but in the beginning, it can help to just start with the willingness. You don’t have to want to do all the things recommended to you. Just be willing.
Action is a concrete form of willingness. When I started working with my first sponsor, she required me to go to two face-to-face meetings/week in that fellowship. I was already going to 4-5 meetings/week with my other fellowship, so I told her I was too busy.
She said, “Maybe you’ll have to skip one of those other meetings.” That didn’t feel like an option for me. But I looked at my schedule and decided I could make something work. When I later told her this, she said, ‘Barb, that’s called willingness. You told me no, but then you took action. That kind of willingness is what you need to recover.” I didn’t really want to add more meetings to my weekly schedule, but I was willing. And here I am now, years later still abstinent and at goal weight for 5 1/12 years.
So you don’t have to want to do the actions that are suggested to you, but if you’re willing it can be the beginning you need.