An Insider’s Guide to Lifestyle Design in Recovery from Addiction

An Insider’s Guide to Lifestyle Design in Recovery from Addiction


Yesterday we looked at some dos and don’ts for early recovery. Today we want to look at the idea of how “lifestyle design” can work through the recovery process.

What exactly is “lifestyle design” and how does it apply to recovery from addiction?

Lifestyle design is simply a label, a buzzword that refers to the idea of making more conscious decisions about how you are going to live. Most people use the term to refer to their career but obviously the label can be used to describe any other part of your life as well.

You might prefer to the term “conscious living” instead.

Believe it or not, what most people do in this life is not very conscious at all. Instead of designing their own life, what they do is they simply accept the default path that other people (and society) push on them. They let other people make choices for them by default. They never really decide what they want and therefore they never really actively pursue anything.

This “non-conscious living” can happen to people both in and out of recovery. Based on what I have observed in my own life, it happens to quite a few people. Most people refuse to “wake up” and start really making their own choices.

- Approved Treatment Center -


Certainly in recovery there are a few traps that are quite common when it comes to the expected path of recovery. For example, many people believe that they have to go to 12 step meetings every day and talk about how they are feeling if they are going to recover and stay sober. They do not believe that there is any other way to produce long term sobriety. Why do they believe this? Because they are simply following what they were told, what they were taught. They have been led by example. The majority of folks find a certain path in recovery (daily AA meetings as therapy) and this then becomes the accepted norm and the expected path from any newcomer. Anything less would be seen as weird and possibly risky in terms of relapse.

But recovery demands something more from us–we are not meant to live out the rest of our days in recovery as mere robots. So someone tells you to show up to a meeting every day for the rest of your life–are you going to follow through with that? The choice is yours but what you should realize is that you have other options. And these other options are not often spoke of in AA and NA meetings. I know this to be true because I attended several hundred meetings during my first year of recovery and never really heard people talk about “conscious living” or “lifestyle design” as an alternative to the 12 step program. Why would they talk about it? They are there for 12 step recovery and that is what they must focus on. But there are other paths, and anyone can find them if they are seeking alternatives to 12 step recovery.

How to learn in recovery and discover new avenues of growth

The goal in recovery is to learn and to grow as a person. Period. If you are not learning new things about yourself then you run the risk of relapse at some point. When we stop learning anything new is the most dangerous part of our recovery in terms of potential relapse. Staying open to new learning opportunities is an important part of creating your new life in recovery.

We might call this idea of “conscious living in recovery” or “lifestyle design” or “creative recovery.” But it all boils down to the same thing: you need to wake up a bit, don’t just accept the default path that was set out for you, and really figure out what you want in life. Perhaps you want to get really involved in AA meetings and do lots of sponsorship and really make that a huge part of your life in recovery. I know a few people right now like that and I admire and respect them. They have made a conscious choice and they really do a lot of good work within the program.

But if you look at the thousands of people who enter into recovery, most of them never embrace this level of awareness, this “conscious living.” They stay sort of zombie-like in their pursuit of recovery and they never really break free to “creative recovery.” These are the sort of folks who will tend to complain when life happens to them. They are victims of their own making because they are not taking enough action, they are not consciously creating a new life for themselves, and so they are unhappy with the results that they are getting.

If you are not happy in you recovery then you need to make a simple choice to start creating more happiness in your life by taking serious action. This is a decision that you can make and in doing so you can start rejecting things that are not working for you. In that same vein, you can also start figuring out what you want in life and moving towards that as well–but honestly the problem is more immediate than that if you are seriously unhappy at this point. Most people who are living unconsciously need to start by decluttering and eliminating things from their lives before they chase their dreams.

Your first goal in recovery is to establish a baseline of happiness and contentment. Your life is probably a bit chaotic from your addiction and so your goal is to get it back to a baseline of “normalcy.” You do this by making conscious choices.

How many people continue to smoke cigarettes in early recovery? A whole bunch of them, including myself. But then look at how many people who quit smoking after they have been clean and sober for a few years? You see this happen quite a bit and this is because people are finally making that conscious choice to stop smoking. They did not do it when they first got clean and sober because they were not exactly “living consciously” just yet. It took some time for them to wake up, to figure out that they did not want this thing in their life, and so therefore they had to take action to eliminate it.

Now here is a huge hint that anyone can use to accelerate this process in early recovery. It is so good that it is almost like cheating. I have to admit that I was lucky enough to benefit from this tip myself, really it was just dumb luck that I stumbled on this method and used it myself. Here it is:

Ask for advice from people that you trust, and then take action and follow through with it.

That’s it. That is the big secret, and it works incredibly well in early recovery.

“But wait a minute!” you say. “How is that lifestyle design? Aren’t you just letting someone else make choices for you, instead of making them yourself? How is that conscious living?”

Ah, but it still works. Try it out and see. Go find someone that you trust in this world, and ask them for advice on what you should be doing in order to try to grow as a person. Ask them what your next step in life and in recovery should be. Do this with several people if you have to. Listen carefully to their advice.

Now, realize that you are still living consciously. You are still in control. And if you take any of their suggestions–any at all–and actually implement them in your life, then you are making deliberate choices in order to achieve more growth. Even though you took someone else’s advice and ideas, you are more conscious than 90 percent of the folks in AA who just show up to meetings, sit there like zombies, and never really take action.

In other words, if you seek feedback and advice from others, you can accelerate your growth in recovery while still being the conscious creator of your life. Just because you take on other people’s advice and ideas does not invalidate your own path or your independence. Indeed, this method is one of the best ways to get stronger in recovery. It is like applying extra experience and wisdom to your life in recovery.

Describe your ideal life and then start moving towards it

Sponsorship is based on the ideas outlined above. Of course you do not have to be in a program in order to find someone you look up to and ask them for advice, but you may certainly go that route if you chose to do so.

The important thing is that you do so consciously. Actually chose. Look at your alternatives and see what you really want out of life.

If you go to AA in your early recovery then you will notice that most people are not really active, they are just living passively, just sort of existing and hanging on to their sobriety through daily meeting attendance. On the other hand you should notice a select few in the meetings who seem to be full of action, they are actually walking the walk and you can tell this to be the case, and they are all about taking real action. They don’t just talk about recovery, they actually live it outside of the meetings every single day. These are the people that you want to get advice and help from.

If someone has the sort of life that you would like to be living, then that is the person to ask for advice and feedback from. If they tell you to do something, you should strongly consider doing it. They have what you want in life. Follow their example. This is the essence of “how to choose a sponsor.”

How to clear a path to success first through eliminating bad habits

Before you can create the perfect life for yourself, you have to create a blank slate from which you can be happy and content in recovery.

Believe it or not, about 90 percent of your happiness in life will come from simply eliminating all of the chaos and negativity. Eliminating the garbage does more for bringing about happiness than anything else you could possibly do.

Before you can be happy and move towards creating the life that you really want, you have to start by eliminating the junk.

This makes sense anyway if you do a bit of visualization and really get honest with yourself. If you sit back and picture your perfect life in recovery, and really visualize all of the details, then you will notice that none of the negative stuff is present, none of the bad stuff is there to drag you down. You are not smoking cigarettes or out of shape or eating unhealthy. You are not suffering from addictions or gambling problems or sex addiction. You are not caught up in toxic relationships with people who stress you out. You are not working in a job you hate that creates stress in your life. And so on.

All of this negative stuff has to be eliminated as your first order of business in recovery. Priority number one is always to stay clean and sober, but priority number two is to consciously eliminate all of this negativity.

Let’s say you have a goal in your life, something positive like working with other addicts and alcoholics as a professional counselor. You need to go get some education in order to do this. Now this is a perfectly good goal to have in recovery and there is nothing wrong with doing so. This is conscious lifestyle design, if you want to label it that way. You are making a conscious choice as to what you want to do in the future.

But you will notice that if you start to pursue this goal in early recovery, there are going to be challenges and setbacks. These setbacks will be much more frequent and much more devastating to you if you have not already done the work of eliminating all of that negative stuff in early recovery. If you have not created that blank slate yet in your life then it will be much harder to achieve your creative goal.

The reasons for this are complex. One reason has to do with discipline. If you want to have the discipline to go through school and earn the needed degree, then you can learn that discipline by successfully purging all of that negativity from your life first in early recovery. It is very hard to create something positive when you still have the negative stuff in your life. By learning how to eliminate the negative things, you will learn the discipline to successfully conquer your “creative life goals” as well (as in wanting to create a new job where you are a substance abuse counselor).

Clear your path to success first. Fix the bad parts of your life before you try to create and achieve your positive goals. If you try to do this out of order, the negative things will only cause a huge amount of drag for you.

How do you know what needs fixing in your life? I would recommend that you talk with others and seek advice from them. Other people can easily see the flaws in us that we tend to cover up for ourselves.

Moving towards what you really want in life

I got really excited after I had cleared away most of the garbage of my addiction. After I got into shape and quit smoking cigarettes, I had this amazing amount of energy and a new found discipline in my life. I suddenly realized that I had enough energy to create just about anything that I wanted in life, so long as I committed to it.

So I forced myself to think consciously about what I really wanted in life. It turned out that I was not done with my elimination phase yet at this point. I was still stuck in a day job that was adding a huge amount of stress to my life. So I developed a long term plan to solve this particular problem by creating my own business.

If you research the term “lifestyle design” then this is what you are going to find information about–how to break free from your career and find a way to earn a living on your own. That is not necessarily the point here though, as everything that you do in terms of addiction recovery can be thought of as “lifestyle design.” It’s about conscious living and it’s about creating the life that you really want for yourself. These conscious choices can happen on many different levels–not just with career but also with things such as your health, your relationships, your recovery program that you may follow, and so on. If you do not like an aspect of your life, then you are free to change it. You just have to apply the time, energy, and commitment in order to do so.

At some point you will be done with clearing up the wreckage of your addiction and you will be faced with a blank slate. Suddenly you will realize that you can create whatever the heck you want in life. It is all up to you and you will realize (based on your success up to this point) that you can learn pretty much anything you want and create just about any reality that you want for yourself. You will also realize how much work such choices will involve and what the true cost of those choices will be.

One thing that I have learned in my own recovery is that most goals have a much higher cost than what I initially realized. But most goals also have a lot more upside to them than what I previously believed as well. Both of these phenomenon are probably because each goal is so tightly coupled with other parts of our lives, and so we do not realize how much other parts of our lives will be affected. For example, quitting smoking was much more difficult than I ever projected it to be and it was probably the greatest struggle in my first ten years of recovery. But the benefits from quitting were also far more powerful than I could have ever predicted. This is because my cigarette smoking was affecting so many other areas of my life that I did not even realize at the time.

Building on success in recovery and the power of momentum

“Conscious living” can build on itself. You can gain momentum in life just by racking up a few small wins in your recovery. And this is exactly what you should do as you start to create the life that you really want to live.

For me this really took off after I managed to finally quit smoking. Part of my quit smoking effort was also to exercise on a daily basis. So I had both of these things working in my favor and causing me to realize that I could achieve other things if I really set my mind to it. It was all about commitment and figuring out what I really wanted, then applying that lever. Conscious living was easy so long as you narrowed your focus and pursued each goal with massive action.

As such, I like the method of single-tasking each new goal and conscious choice in your life. Don’t try to change everything at once.

Instead, find the one single goal that would have the biggest impact on you in your life right now, today, and then tackle that goal.

This is my preferred method of conscious growth in recovery–taking on only one goal at a time, but always making sure it is your highest impact goal.

Thus you are always moving towards creating the life that you really want for yourself, and every change that you make has the greatest possible impact. This is how I have created the life that I really want in my own recovery.


- Approved Treatment Center -call-to-learn-about