Exercise & Diet 12-step Analogies

We often think of the 12 steps as having to do only with addiction recovery. But these principles are applicable to all aspects of our lives. Because people often fail to be consistent with their programs of recovery, and their programs of exercise and diet, I’ve included a few examples of how my clients have applied 12-step wisdom to motivate fitness and nutrition goals. Please feel free to send me your ideas, and I will add them to the website – with credit to you, of course!


Analogies in Practice

Counselors and fitness trainers should be able to relate sports/activity terms to recovery and 12-Step principles. This is a key skill in effectively motivating clients.

The gym was closed for President’s Day holiday and the weather outdoors was abysmal. We had no choice but to conduct “fitness group” indoors. I decided to have a discussion group in which one client would choose a recovery or 12-step principle – like “more will be revealed.” That client was then required to explain what she thought this statement meant in regard to her recovery. I would then ask for a volunteer to describe what the term meant to her in terms of exercise.

Mindy said that “more will be revealed” meant that she should not worry why “all these bad things keep happening to me in recovery.” Maybe there was some reason or purpose that she might understand later.

Trish, whose fitness goal was to regain her figure, said that “more will be revealed” means to be patient about exercise results. Even though she didn’t see any results yet in the mirror, hopefully “less” would be revealed (client laughter) if she kept to her workout and diet routine! In other words, she felt the saying was a reminder that results don’t unfold immediately, or on her desired schedule.

To thine own self be true.

  • Who is the only person who truly knows whether you’re honestly committing effort to your exercise program? Or sticking to your nutritional objectives? You!
  • Do we want to continue our old using behaviors like lying, or do we choose to be honest, even when no one is watching or cares?
  • Healthy living, like recovery, like life, are best experienced through the lens of self-honesty and awareness.

One day at a time.

  • Focus on this workout. Don’t re-hash yesterday’s performance. Don’t catastrophize about tomorrow’s.
  • Pay attention to, and give yourself to the task in which you’re currently engaged. One workout at a time; one day at a time.
  • Allow yourself to enjoy the “here and now”. If you’re having a tough workout or day, it need not be that way tomorrow.

More will be revealed.

  • Exercise results don’t occur overnight. Generally speaking, it takes approximately six weeks to see visible results in body-shaping. Weight loss might take two to three weeks before the scale registers a difference. But just because you can’t necessarily see or measure the results today, does not mean the process of change is not happening.
  • If you diligently work your program, you will eventually see and experience positive results.

Time takes time.

  • Whether you’re 15 minutes into a 20 minute run, or healing from a sports injury / medical procedure, there is nothing you can do to make the rate at which time passes, change. Running faster, failing to follow doctor’s orders or whining and complaining cannot change the rate at which time passes on Earth.
  • Understanding this concept is a psychological coping strategy to counteract our impulsiveness and old behaviors related to taking short-cuts.

Life on life’s terms.

  • Accept our fitness or capability levels as they are. If you have bad knees, maybe you just can’t run any more. Find a new cardio / aerobic activity!
  • You might love golf, but will never be a great golfer, no matter how much you practice.
  • If your doctor diagnoses you with heart disease or diabetes, denial is not going to change the biochemical reality of consuming too many fats or sugars!
  • In other words, we don’t always get our first or second choices; much less our dream team. Play the game with the skills you have or the teammates who show up. Do the best you can with what you’ve got!
  • To imagine one can or should have control of outcomes is to subject oneself to a lifetime of frustration, disappointment, resentments and most likely, relapse.
  • The world is as it is. You need to adjust to the world; not the other way around.

Sobriety is a journey, not a destination.

  • We don’t stop exercising when we meet a time or distance goal; nor do we cease healthy eating habits when we have attained a weight-loss or cholesterol-level goal.
  • Abstinence, like fitness and diet, become the foundations of our new way of living. We seek to achieve milestones; but we do not limit our growth and development with artificial end-points.

Easy does it.

Bring the body and the mind will follow.

Recovery delivers everything drugs/alcohol promised.