How Do I Work Step Ten Throughout My Day?

Brief in-the-moment practices

It took most of us months, or even years, to complete Steps One through Nine for the first time. Beginning with Step Ten, however, our recovery is no longer a series of thresholds we cross and actions we complete. The final three Steps are ongoing and timeless. We are to practice them every day of our lives.

There are an array of practices and activities that can help as you work Step Ten day by day and moment after moment. A handful are my own invention, but I learned most of them from other folks in recovery, and from my participation in Twelve Step groups, workshops, and other gatherings. I'm deeply grateful for all of them.

I think of these activities as recovery aerobics, because they strengthen our emotional and spiritual muscles, and because their regular practice tends to bring continued, positive results. Most of them require no planning or preparation, and are practiced in the moment, as events unfold. Some take only a second or two. You can think of these brief, in-the-moment practices as prayers, or mantras, or simple reminders.

Each activity is a variation on one or more of these themes:

  • being fully present, with your internal receptors alert
  • stepping back from self-centeredness
  • serving other human beings
  • asking for spiritual help or guidance
  • allowing the universe to reveal to you a much better solution that you could ever have created on your own

Some activities will naturally resonate with you more than others. Use the ones that are helpful to you; adapt or let go of the ones that don't.

Spot Check

These will help you better handle the things that pop up suddenly during the day—impulses, emotions, conflicts, misunderstandings, and so on.
  • Observe your own actions. If you realize you've just done something unwise, stop yourself immediately. If necessary, work Step Ten on the spot—apologize; make amends; retrace your steps; begin again.
  • Observe your thoughts. If you have a potentially harmful thought, catch it before it turns into a decision to act. If a thought is about the future, ask yourself if it's practical and helpful. If a thought is about the past, ask yourself if it's compassionate. As the old-timers say, "If you've got one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you're pissing all over today."
  • Observe your impulses. Recognize that they're not internal mandates that need to be followed. They're just momentary urges that may involve money, sex, food, or safety—or, in some cases, power, praise, status, or acceptance. Evaluate each impulse carefully. Then consciously choose how—and whether—to act on it.
  • Observe your emotions. Often these will be generated by your thoughts, actions, or impulses. In particular, watch for resentment, fear, anger, and shame.
  • Observe any hopes for the future as they arise. Is the hope associated with sustainable thoughts, feelings, or actions? If so, feel free to make the hope a goal. If not, consider amending it or letting go of it.
  • Watch for shoulds and shouldn'ts. Any time you tell yourself I should _______ or I must not ________ or I have to _________, examine that thought carefully. Most should and shouldn'ts create shame, disappointment, and failure rather than better results. Try reframing them as likes, preferences, goals, or more positive outcomes. For example, I shouldn't procrastinate can become I'll be happier and more productive if (or it would be better if) I didn't put things off.
  • Notice your discomfort. Your discomfort is a sign that something significant is happening—or about to happen. Don't reflexively try to end the discomfort ASAP. Instead, investigate its source. Then ask yourself what you can learn from that discomfort. Is there something you need to do differently? If so, do it. Or would it be best to simply accept the discomfort for now, and let yourself feel it fully and relax into it?
  • Notice if you're too comfortable. Let yourself briefly enjoy the good feelings that come with compliments and accolades. Then let go of those feelings. If you cling to them, they can lead to arrogance or laziness—or otherwise get you into trouble.
  • Notice any spiritual lapses. These lapses are normal and can take many forms. Essentially, they're periods when you have lost your connection with your design for living, either by what you're doing (such as acting out of self-will) or not doing (such as neglecting practice of Steps Ten through Twelve). If you're honest with yourself, when a lapse occurs—or threatens to occur—you'll quickly notice it and catch yourself. You can then return your focus to the Steps, and to the here and now.
  • Give your full attention to what you're doing. Are you unfocused or scattered? Are you holding something back for no good reason? Bring all of yourself back to this moment.

Excerpted from Drop the Rock. . . The Ripple Effect: Using Step 10 to Work 6 and 7 Every Day by Fred H.


Fred H. has been in recovery for more than 40 years and is the director of the retreat center for a leading addiction treatment program. He is a popular international speaker on the Big Book and the principles of the Twelve Steps.

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