Tools for Living

Self Discipline and the 10th Step

Step 10:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” ~Aristotle


Once we have completed the thorough spiritual housecleaning process of Steps 4 through 9, and have freed ourselves from the painful legacy of guilt and shame, we cannot rest on our laurels. Continuing the process through the 10th Step is essential.  It’s the key to sustaining and increasing our hard-won peace of mind.  Consistent practice of this Step not only guards against taking on a new burden of guilt, but also frees us from the severe handicap of self-judgmental perfectionism.

The 10th Step implicitly promises that we are going to make mistakes in life.  There’s no way to avoid it.  No one is perfect and we’re all bound to act thoughtlessly at times, or to make errors based on misjudgment or due to inaccurate or incomplete information.  Once we fully understand and accept this, we no longer regard mistakes as dreadful things to be avoided at all costs.  And if we pay attention to our mistakes instead of trying to sweep them under the rug or to deny responsibility for them, they may even prove to be blessings and teach us the most important lessons we will ever learn.

But we can’t learn from mistakes that we don’t know we’re making.  Unless we continue the self-examination process learned in the foregoing steps, it’s all too easy to deceive ourselves and to neglect prompt attention to small matters.  If not dealt with right away, issues that would have been trivial can build up until they poison our relationships, destroy our serenity, and threaten our sobriety.  Therefore, systematic daily review of our conduct and its consequences, as suggested in AA’s Big Book, is essential—not only for the sake of continuing our personal inventory but also so we can make amends promptly.

As we become more experienced in living by spiritual principles, we will learn to recognize most of our errors almost immediately, in “real time” as they’re happening.  We may catch ourselves shading the truth to manipulate someone, for instance, and correct it on the spot.  But if we don’t catch the mistake right away, and don’t give ourselves an opportunity to catch it by doing a daily 10th Step inventory, then we will lose the chance for prompt amends.

And promptness matters, for it can prevent a small, easily correctable error from turning into an irreparable disaster.  Prompt correction can even turn a mistake into a blessing, for fessing up to our own mistakes and setting them right quickly shows that we are responsibly trustworthy and mature—and that helps lay a solid foundation for successful relationships, both personal and professional.

Merely having an intellectual understanding of the 10th Step’s virtue, however, won’t enable us to enjoy its benefits.  Persistent practice is necessary, and that means discipline.  We  must train ourselves to apply it persistently by making spot-check inventories throughout the day and written inventories each night.  Eventually regular examination of our motives and actions will becomes second nature and seem almost natural and habitual as breathing.

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Questions to ask yourself about Step 10:

Have I started the day with prayer and other spiritual disciplines (such as meditation and reading) to put me in a sound frame of mind for the day ahead?

How am I feeling in general?  Am I well rested and adequately fed?  Am I harboring any resentments or fears that may influence my attitudes and behavior?

Am I right with God, putting my trust and faith in Him and seeking to serve His will in whatever arises during the day?

Am I being honest with myself and others?  Or am I being deceitful and manipulative or otherwise controlling?

Am I being unselfish and helpful?  Or am I trying to use other people to serve my purposes?

Am I being kind and forgiving?  Or am I being ungracious, demanding, and resentful?

Am I being compassionate and trying to see things from others’ point of view?  Or am I trying to force them to see things my way?

Have I owned up to my mistakes and corrected them?  Do I owe anyone an apology?

Are there things that didn’t go as well today as I wished?  What could I have done better?  What can I do right now to improve the situation? What can I do tomorrow?

Did any of my character defects create problems today?  Am I staying aware of my defects? And what am I doing to compensate for them or to improve them?  Am I making progress?

Is there anything going on that I need to discuss with my sponsor or someone else?  Have I prayed and written about whatever’s disturbing me?

Am I grateful for my blessings?  Am I ready to go to sleep with a clear conscience?

Links to more information about Self-Discipline and the 10th Step:

The Sponsor’s Aide: Questions for a 10th Step Inventory

“Taking Step 10” from the Big Book Bunch on Step 10

12 Step Guide on “How to work steps 10, 11, & 12”

NA Online Recovery on Step Ten:’s take on Step 10

“Barefoot Bill” on “Working Steps 10 & 11”

“Milkman’s Circle for Recovery” on Step 10

And’s guide to Step 10



Recommended Books:

Terence Gorski, Understanding the Twelve Steps: An Interpretation and Guide for Recovering People         A practical, straightforward guide to understanding and practicing the 12 Steps, written by an alcohol and drug abuse counselor with many years of experience in the field.

Phillip Z.,  A Skeptic’s Guide to the 12 Steps        Phillip Z.’s guide to applying the 12 Steps without embracing traditional Judeo-Christian concepts of God and spirituality.

Darren Littlejohn, The 12-Step Buddhist: Enhance Recovery from Any Addiction
Littlejohn offers a Buddhist perspective on practicing the 12 Steps.

The Twelve Steps, A Spiritual Journey: A Working Guide for Healing Damaged Emotions
A guide and workbook to all 12 Steps, based on Biblical teachings and written especially for Christians seeking to understand the principles of the Steps in relation to their religious beliefs and practices.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions      The official Alcoholics Anonymous supplement to the “Big Book” explaining each of the Steps—and the Traditions—in greater detail.