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There is a good psychological reason why people at alcoholics anonymous meetings always start with “I’m so and so and I’m an alcoholic” even when they’ve been sober for many years, and it’s that when you think you have a problem licked it’s most likely to sneak up on you. This holds true not just for conquering addictions but for all major lifestyle changes.

Whether you’re trying to add something beneficial to your life or subtract something harmful from it, you’ve got to keep your awareness up of how easy it is to slide back into old habits if you want to give yourself the best chance of success. This is why in the motivational interviewing paradigm there is another stage after action, which is the stage called maintenance. What maintenance really means is that you don’t take the process for granted. Just like the alcoholic you remember how things were before, which helps you stay on top of not reverting back.

You will almost certainly experience setbacks and to expect otherwise is setting yourself up for a lot of unnecessary anguish. What you’ve got to do is take the long view and see these setbacks as just that, as blips on the radar, and then rededicate yourself to whatever it is you’re trying to change. Like we said, the most important factor is to realize that maintenance is itself a stage. Otherwise the likelihood is that you’ll revert back to how things were before.