The mindful process of change in Steps 4 through 10

There is a significant difference between the Proactive Twelve Steps and the original Twelve Steps in describing the central process of behavior change of Steps 4 through 10. It is a focus on behavior patterns instead of defects of character.

The original Twelve Steps reflect the moral and religious outlook of their authors. Behavior is described in moral terms: “moral inventory,” “defects of character,” your “wrongs.” The “return to sanity” feels similar to redemption through the grace of God.

In contrast, the Proactive Twelve Steps do not use the language of sin and redemption any more than they see healing as happening through the grace of God. Instead of talking about wrongs and character defects, they focus on behavior patterns. That is, what you do as opposed to your being flawed as a person.

The scope of the Proactive Twelve Steps is different as well. We are not just talking about what is traditionally considered addictive behavior, things like drinking or gambling.

The scope includes any behavior that you do as a knee-jerk reaction. For instance, looking at your cell phone compulsively or being impatient with people. Things you find yourself doing time and again as if you didn’t have the power of choice.

The focus is internal

We are not talking in moral terms, i.e., good and evil, as defined from an outside perspective. We are talking about doing yourself a disservice by repeatedly not doing what would be right for you.

The approach of the Proactive Twelve Steps is to help you find the power of choice, moment by moment. Yes, this result happens to coincide with what some people would call a moral improvement. But your focus as you work on the Proactive Twelve Steps is not on moral improvement. It is on being present, moment by moment, so that you can see alternatives to your knee-jerk reactions.

The context of the Proactive Twelve Steps is not judgmental because criticism is not effective in changing coping mechanisms resulting from fear, pressure, stress, and trauma. Instead, the focus is on understanding the emotional logic that leads you to do what you do.

Traumatic stress

Here is a classic example of why it is essential to put behaviors in the context of what created them. Take a veteran back to civilian life, who hears a noise, feels attacked, and wants to fire back at enemies. We now know enough not to condemn the traumatized soldier for being traumatized. We understand that the trauma needs to be healed.

Trauma is not a character defect. It is a normal consequence of dealing with a level of pressure that is so overwhelming that a person does not have the resources to handle it when it happens. Adding additional pressure in the form of moral judgment does not solve the trauma. Far from it, it makes it worse. It adds insult to injury. It compounds the problem.

Admittedly, the language of sin and redemption may be motivating to some people. But it can be very harmful to many people, as it adds more pressure to what is already a high-pressure situation. What can ensue then is a vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and more stress.

You feel ashamed of yourself. You try to force yourself to act differently through willpower. You succeed for a while. And then the pressure is such that you break down. You get temporary relief as you break down. But then, the shame comes back, and you use a lot of willpower to try and ward off what you are trying to ward off. And the vicious cycle goes on and on.

The vicious cycle can only end when you recognize that adding more pressure will not solve the situation. It only makes things worse. Of course, this does not mean giving up on making changes. It just means making them in a way that is more realistic and, actually, more effective.