Alcoholics Anonymous is a New Habit Forming Machine

In many ways Alcoholics Anonymous is a new habit generating machine – it almost demands that you leave behind old habits and form new ones to stay sober.  The first step in AA asks me to look at my life and my drinking and accept the fact that I cannot drink with safety.  It also suggests that I accept that my life is unmanageable – both of these were fairly easy for me in the first few months of sobriety – though they became more difficult later when I wasn’t in need to so much help.

I last had a drink of alcohol in 2002 and have been open to change in various degrees since then.  Though during the last two years my openness to change has been blinded.  I moved country, some major expectations were disasters, then we had a baby which threw our lives into turmoil – at the same time I have not had all the AA friends around me and my usual AA meeting.  At some point I stopped seeing where I needed to continue changing my habits and thinking.  I really did become blind to myself.

If you keep doing the same thing you will get the same results

I have heard that saying over and over in Alcoholics Anonymous.  It is often phrased also as – insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.  I have ended being the hamster on the wheel expecting different results, blaming others for my misfortune, and expecting my life to be better than it is.

Reading Helps Me Break Out

Reading, and writing, helps me break out of the above cycle.  Through reading I can learn new insights and talk to others about these and how they can be implemented in my life.  Writing a journal lets me see the same patterns over time.  During the early part of being a new Dad, once again, I was so tired that I only read pulp.  The time when I sat down to read something informative I fell asleep.  Maybe this is just the way it is during the first year of a baby’s life.

Three book I have just read have have had quite an impact on my openness to see where I am going wrong.  These books are part of a reading list by Scott Adams, better know for the Dilbert cartons.  I listened to him on Tim Ferriss’s podcast a while back.  After that I started reading his blog, then just as I was wondering what influenced his thinking he published a read list on persuasion.

Learning from Others

I accepted a long time ago that I don’t know or have the answers to everything – I learned to say I don’t know.  So following how someone else has learned to be happy and have a successful life is not a bad plan especially when I have little else to work with. I love listening to Tim Ferriss I find his show motivates me to push myself beyond where I am.  So listening to this podcast I have someone I admire, admire someone else.

One of the purposes of this reading list is to break down my mental barriers to thinking I am making informed, intelligent, rational choices all the time.

That has happened.

The three book that have had the largest effect to date are:

I have read some other books on the list, though they did not touch me in the same way as the three above. Jonathan Livingston Seagull reinforced my recent thoughts on practice – and why practice is almost the answer to everything.  But there were other thoughts from the book: being an outcast, following your own path, believing that there is more, being open to risk.  The book left me thinking – why don’t I take one thing that I am unhappy with and bear with practicing over and over?  Answering that question is a good place to start on change.


Influence let me see automatic responses.  How these are often good and how they can be used against me, how some people and some companies use these methods to influence me and my buying decisions. I have been aware of some of this, though unpacking automatic responses has helped my understanding.

An example would help: you go into the student library and need to use the photocopier.  There is a large queue, you only need 5 pages copied.  Asking at the front of the queue “can I use the copier I only have 5 pages” produced an acceptance rate of 60%.  However, by giving a reason, “I have only five pages, can I use the copier because I am in a rush” produced a compliance rate of 94%.  Taking this one step further using asking without really giving a reason, but the impression of a reason like the following “I have only five pages, can I use the copier because I only have five pages?” produced the same compliance rate of 94%.

In the past I disliked giving anyone reasons for almost anything – the why for this behaviour has been lost in the past somewhere.  However, this shows me that often giving reasons makes my life and the lives of others easier.

The Power of Habit

I have just finished The Power of Habit.  I think that this book has had the most effect on me.  That said I bought this book when it was first published a few years ago and had read most of it without any change in my life or feeling like the book spoke deeply to me in any way.  Because of that I believe that there is a cumulative effect of these books breaking down my resistance to change.

The Power of Habit has explained to me how, as habits change so does the brain.  How my life is run almost on habits – therefore autopilot.  For an alcoholic recovering from years of addictive behaviour in AA this is incredibly interesting.  I still have habits that I am unaware of running my life.

Following the program of Alcoholics Anonymous brings light to many of these habits and the effects of them on my daily living and relationships with people.  Early in the book, location 116, keystone habits are explained.  Focusing on one keystone habit can reprogram other routines in my life.  If I take drinking as a keystone habit and replace it with AA meetings, talking with people in AA, and following the 12 Steps of AA, then I am dealing with a keystone habit that did reprogram many other areas in my life.

Thought Habits

Over the years of sobriety my actions have changed.  They had to.  However, some core thinking habits have persisted through the AA program, (and a couple of years of therapy).  I have looked for answers to why I do not feel good enough, why I don’t feel successful, why I believe my writing is not entertaining or lacks – while at the same time the world gives me messages and information that contradicts my thinking.

Towards the end of the book there is a section that discusses William James.  He believed he was not good at anything, wasn’t certain that he could get better; he appears to have considered suicide.

Two months after considering suicide he decided to conduct a 12 month experiment.

He would spend twelve months believing that he had control over himself and his destiny, that he could become better, that he had the free will to change.

Over the next year he practiced every day.

Later, he would famously write that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change.


So What Next for Me

Because that is what it is all about, me.  I want to think differently about myself and the reality that I exist in.

William James decided to believe in something that he did not feel – something that was the opposite of his feelings.

Starting to today I will start believing in myself, my success, and my ability to change.


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