Changing Habitual Behavior with The 3 Circles


From one perspective, addiction is nothing more than a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior?a habit. Of course, it's not just one behavior, it's a host of behaviors. So, in trying to find sobriety I think it's important to look at how all those little habitual patterns lead one to indulge or act out.

One useful way of thinking about this that I picked up from SAA is to think about those behaviors in terms of The 3 Circles. The Inner Circle (sometimes called your bottom line) are all those behaviors that you want to stop. For me it's looking at or masturbating to porn. The Middle Circle is anything that leads to your Inner Circle. This could include a thought, feeling or action. Since we can't control all the thoughts and feelings that arise in our minds we focus on our actions but it's good to be aware of the thoughts and feelings! The Outer Circle comprises all of the healthy, rewarding, non-addictive, life affirming activities that you could participate in instead of what you do in your Inner and Middle circles.

In looking at my own circles I've found it useful to draw 2 concentric circles and draw it out. I did this on the computer for legibility (and because I enjoy doing this kind of thing?another outer circle behavior!). I've seen this done with 3 concentric circles. The reason I like to use two is to show symbolically that the "outer circle" is not conscribed like the inner and middle circles. Where those two circles usually have limited choices, they are also limiting! The outer circle, by comparison, is unlimited!


Although it's nice to have a visual representation, sometimes it's nice, or more convenient, to list them out as well. Here are my circles listed out:

Inner Circle
  • Intentionally viewing pornography of any kind
  • Masturbating to porn

Middle Circle
  • Surfing randomly on the Net (especially late at night)
  • Surfing the web when I'm HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
  • Surfing the web when I'm horny
  • Using provocative terms in search engines
  • Looking at nude photography
  • Looking at books on sexuality (when I don't have a sexual partner)
  • Reading erotic stories
  • Viewing provocative movies or TV
  • Provocative sites
  • Ogling women
  • Masturbation with any visual aid

My Outer Circle
  • Connecting with friends
  • Reaching out to accountability partner
  • Recovery exercises (ie. challenging addictive thinking)
  • Spending time with friends
  • Making new friends
  • Going to meetings
  • Being in nature
  • Walking outside
  • Exercising
  • Meditation
  • Playing the guitar or the piano
  • Doing the work of finding a career
  • Mountain-biking
  • Hiking
  • Reading
  • Singing
  • Organizing or cleaning
  • Playing games
  • Healthy dating
  • Healthy expressions of sex

After having done this you have a very good idea of the behaviors you need to avoid and a reminder of the behaviors to go towards. I've heard it said that one can never get sober by solely focusing and what you want to get away from; you have to constantly focus on what you want to go towards!

Although this post, as well as some of my other posts, may come across as didactic, the truth is that what I have to say is as much for me as it is for you! I need to remember this and put it into practice!