Twelve-step wisdom has taught for years that if one practices “acting as if” one’s actions will become reality. This is a powerful lesson and a powerful tool. A more modern application of this principle is the popular psychological practice referred to as “affirmations.” The use of affirmations is based on the premise that if one says or thinks something over and over again for a long enough period of time, one will believe what is repeated and its truth will be incorporated into one’s behavioral repertoire and self-concept. In contrast, it is commonly believed that if one repeats negative self-talk over and over it will result in a negative effect on one’s self-concept and related behaviors.

Anyone remember the child’s story of the “Little Engine that Could?” That story implanted the wisdom of “acting as if” in many a young mind. Simply put, if you believe you can, you will keep trying at whatever your belief is focused upon until you achieve it.

My mind has always had a powerful effect on my reality. When I was seven years old I attended a country school that had four rows of desks with each row corresponding to one grade, grades 1-4. Once a year the school nurse would come and give vaccinations. I learned if one had a temperature when it was your turn to get a shot you would not have to have the shot. I focused my thinking on this, and by the time the nurse got to me I did have a high temperature and did not have to have a shot.

Later, I was able to “act as if” I could have a happy life without drinking alcohol. That reality has been true now for over thirty-two years. Similarly, I once weighed over 300 pounds and was on medication for diabetes. People told me I could lose weight and be healthy if I stopped eating anything with flour and sugar in them and ate regular sized portions. I wanted to believe them, but I had to be desperate (hit bottom) before I believed them enough to start acting as if it were true. I started weighing and measuring all my foods; I ate only foods that did not contain wheat flour or any type of sugar. I told myself over and over again, others have done this and with God’s help I can do it too. Within a month I had lost enough weight that my blood sugars were normal and my doctor took me off of my diabetic medication.  Over about one and half year’s time of acting on the reality initiated by “acting as if” I was able to release many, many pounds to my Higher Power. I was able to shrink approximately eighteen dress sizes.

How does this apply to recovery and spiritual growth? Living life one day at a time, abstaining from self-harming behaviors and subsequently growing spiritually is strongly connected with this principle. We can only be clean and/or sober and make positive changes within ourselves if we truly believe we can. Going to meetings; listening to others’ experience, strength and hope; and listening to one’s sponsor makes it possible for us to start believing we can.  Acting as if can indeed change our reality for the better if we are willing to give it a try.

Please comment and share your ideas on this topic; I look forward to reading your ideas.