Recovery is about doing – not learning

Many people pursue recovery as a quest for knowledge. They judge the value of a seminar, book, or meeting based on how much new information they picked up. If they don’t “hear anything new,” they tend to feel let down, as though it wasn’t worth their time.

The implicit assumption is that learning leads to progress: the accumulation of new knowledge brings you further along the path. Being exposed to a new concepts is often seen as learning something … if we can understand and grasp these new ideas, we feel like we’re moving forward.

Not necessarily.

What really matters is the process of translating that concept into tangible action. The “learning” of recovery involves not just storing more facts in our heads … it means acquiring new knowledge that changes who we are (including how we live).

As is often stated in recovery meetings, “this is a program of action.” The problem we must overcome in recovery is not new knowledge acquisition … it is execution. Our problem is not that we don’t know enough … the problem is that we don’t act on what we know.

This is manifest in the tendency we have to learn new things about recovery, start to apply them, and then shortly thereafter, move on to some other new insights, some other new approach, and start acting on those ideas. Meanwhile, we stop doing the things we had started to do at first, because we’ve jumped to a new set of priorities and actions.

When people get “slippery” in their behaviors and/or have slips, it pretty much always come down to this: they have stopped doing the fundamentals. They drift away from key practices that they identified as key positive steps to help them in their recovery (going to meetings, making calls, engaging in open conversations with their spouse, engaging in spiritual practices, etc). Alongside of this, they have likely started compromising some of the “middle circle” behaviors — things that are not necessarily breaking sobriety, but are unhealthy and feed our addictive tendencies (surfing around on the computer, isolating, harboring resentment, engaging in ‘harmless’ flirting, etc.).

Put very simply the issue is this: our problems in recovery usually don’t stem from things we don’t know … our problems stem from things we already know, but aren’t putting into action. Therefore the solution is probably not learning more stuff (going to workshops, seminars, counselors, and reading books and blogs … looking for new and novel ideas about recovery). The solution is putting our knowledge – however limited – into action. So we do the things mentioned above (the workshops, books, etc) with the hope that they will motivate and inspire us to act on what we already know.

5 thoughts on “Recovery is about doing – not learning

  1. raman

    Ha, so right if I may opine.

    Your fab post actually brings together two cornerstone slogans of recovery and when joined they sound like this
    “Listen to learn and learn to listen,, but action is the magic word !!!”

    Thanks for the insights.

  2. amyeden

    Exactly true. Important to remember (and often difficult to remember!) Educating ourselves about how to recover from addiction (or an addictive family environment) is just a first step. The reading and learning part has great value, it really does. But it’s the the cure in and of itself. And, right, we already KNOW what we need to do (go for a run, or a brisk walk, talk to people, do our isolation-prevention activities). We. Just. Have. To. Do. It.
    Do you feel that the time lapse between knowing that and putting it into action grows shorter over time? That is, rather than a week of sugar-bingeing before hoisting myself out of it, I will be able to pull myself out of that after one day of bingeing? (Ideally there would be no sugar relapse, of course.) What I’ve noticed, regarding sugar, is that the less of it I eat, the less I want. And the key is to not fall into its clutches, to prevent that fall, even if that fall is only going to be a week.
    Thanks – I found your site on the AllTop Recovery page.

  3. Mark Post author

    Great comments Amy — and I couldn’t agree more. Just do it! In response to what you’re saying the second paragraph, I have found that the time lapse between knowing and doing has maybe gotten somewhat shorter, because over time I’m seeing more and more that knowing is not enough. Of course there are always those moments when do know what to do, but aren’t willing to! But that gets better too. Thanks again for your comments.

    – Mark

  4. eva

    absolutely true…i like the the phrase” move on to some other new insights, some other new approach, and start acting on those ideas.” that’s really true we cannot do anything if we just sit there and wait… we need action to fulfill our goal…nice post again!


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