My hope here is to share the wisdom of the 12 steps outside of a recovery setting and to make the guidance contained in those steps accessible to some people who might not otherwise be exposed to them.
The twelve steps for addiction recovery have brought personal, interpersonal, and spiritual well-being to countless individuals. Though the steps are part of an overtly spiritual program directed towards addiction recovery, many of the instructions can be translated into practical and applicable guidance for individuals who are not struggling with an addiction and for teaching in secular institutions like schools.
Helpful Practices from the 12 Steps
Practice #1: Understand the ways in which we are responsible for our minds and bodies, but are not always in control of them. This can be taught in several different ways.
- Students can reflect on the times when their emotions get the best of them, leading them to do or say things that they would typically not do or say, and which they regret afterward.
- Students can reflect on the habits which they would like to stop, but keep doing anyways (e.g. playing video games, gossiping, eating junk food).
- Students can examine through mindfulness and biological science all the ways in which the body and mind operate completely outside of our conscious control: the heart beats; the lungs breathe; the eyes dilate; the glands secrete sweat, saliva, and hormones; and the mind generates thoughts – whether we want it to or not.
Practice #2: Develop a growth mindset to understand that we do not yet have all of the tools to avoid unhealthy behaviors and engage in healthy ones at will, but that with steady practice we can retrain our minds and bodies, and incline them towards ways of living that are better for us and the people in our lives.
- Teachers and students can reflect on and share with each other certain unhealthy habits or behaviors that they have grown out of, and certain healthy habits and behaviors that they have trained themselves to do.
- Students can examine the ways in which their minds have been trained for certain skills like math and language arts through teachings and steady practice, and make the connection that learning is not limited to traditional school subjects.
Practice #3: Develop, as best we can, a sense of right and wrong, and commit towards living a life aimed at cultivating behaviors that we consider “right” or “healthy” or “kind” or “harmonious.”
Practice #4: Make a list of all of the things that are bothering us. (This guidance is by far the most complex and time-consuming. I have broken it down into smaller pieces that can be done in parts as needed.)
- Start with people and institutions at which we are angry or resentful. Make a list of each one. Next, for each one write beside it why we are angry or resentful. Then next to that write down what is threatened by this person or institution. Does it threaten our sense of safety? Our money? Our relationships with other people? Our goals and ambitions? Our self-esteem? Finally, write down how our actions may have contributed to the situation. In what ways have we caused this person or institution harm, or not been entirely truthful, or put our needs ahead of theirs?
- Next, we write down the things that we are afraid of. Next to each fear, we write down what we can do about it. For example, if we are afraid of failure in school; we can set aside time each day to study. We also acknowledge that some aspects are out of our control. Using the previous example: we might acknowledge that some subjects are difficult for us and that despite our best efforts we may not ace every test.
- The last step, once we have dealt with our resentments and fears, is to write down any secrets that we have been holding onto, which feel like they weigh us down.
Practice #5: Identify a trustworthy sharing partner in your life (e.g. a friend, a mentor, a teacher, therapist, a person affiliated with a religious or spiritual organization). It should be someone who we think is kind, wise and can keep our confidence. We take some time to share with them all the things that we wrote down in Guidance #4.
Practice #6: Think about the areas in our life in which we would like to grow and develop.
Practice #7: Make a list of outside resources that can help us grow and develop in those areas, and make a plan to use them.
Practice #8: Make a list of all the people we have been unkind to with our words or actions.
Practice #9: Apologize to the people we have been unkind to, fix anything that can be fixed, and commit to living differently in the future. For example, if we have taken something from someone, we return or replace it. If we have spoken unkindly to someone, we apologize and commit to being more careful with our speech.
Practice #10: Journal regularly about the things that are bothering us or weighing on us (resentments, fears, and secrets) and when we feel stuck or weighed down, we share our fears/resentments/secrets with a trusted friend. If we see that we have hurt someone else with our words or actions, apologize and do our best to set things right.
Practice #11: We practice mindfulness meditation and kindness meditation (or other types of meditation) on a regular basis.
Practice #12: If we have done 1-9 and practice 10 and 11 on a regular basis, we offer to help others when we see they are having a tough time.