Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

Practice & Habit

Personal transformation in AA comes about by the grace of God through a twin process of spiritual awakening and the practice of spiritual principles.

The awakening enables the practice, and the practice furthers the awakening. Both issue from surrender and humility, first forced on us by defeat and humiliation, then freely embraced as the road to freedom.

Continuing and repeated practice turns principle into habit and habit into trait of character. We become honest by telling the truth, grateful by giving thanks, kind by doing kind deeds. 

In doing we become, and in becoming we change. To change is to exchange habit for habit, ceasing to practice anger and greed and fear and practicing instead forgiveness and generosity and faith. We are what we repeatedly do.

[Image: Dr. Bob in his car.]


“I don’t believe we can do anything very well in this world unless we practice it. And I don’t believe we do A.A. very well unless we practice it.” – Dr. Bob

“His [the alcoholic’s] ways of thinking and doing are the habits of years.” – Big Book

“For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic.” – 12&12

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.” – Philippians 4:9
“Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.” – James 1:22


“The soul, like the body, accepts by practice whatever habit one wishes it to contact.” – Socrates

“For have you not perceived that imitations, whether of bodily gestures, tones of voice, or modes of thought, if they be persevered in from an early age, are apt to grow into habits and a second nature?” – Plato

“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way . . . you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.” – Aristotle

“It is no easy thing for a principle to become a man’s own unless each day he maintain it and work it out in his life.” – Epictetus

“Make a habit of two things: to help, or, at least, to do no harm.” – Hippocrates

“Virtue is a habit of the mind, consistent with nature and moderation and reason.” – Cicero

“Character is long-standing habit.” – Plutarch

“Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity.” – Augustine of Hippo


“A nail is driven out by another nail. Habit is overcome by habit.” – Desiderius Erasmus

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances.” – Martha Washington

“Each year one vicious habit rooted out, in time might make the worst man good throughout.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” – Samuel Johnson

“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” – John Dryden

“Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny” – John W. Beckwith

“If we refuse practice, it is not God’s grace that fails when a crisis comes, but our own nature. When the crisis comes, we ask God to help us, but He cannot if we have not made nature our ally. The practicing is ours, not God’s.” – Oswald Chambers

"Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances.” – William James 

“Good habits, once established, are just as hard to break as are bad habits.”
– Robert Puller

“Habit is stronger than reason.” – George Santayana

“Habit is either the best of servants, or the worst of masters.” – Nathaniel Emmons

“All habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.” – Zig Ziglar

“Bad habits are like a comfortable bed, easy to get into, but hard to get out of.”
– Unknown

“Repetition of the same thought or physical action develops into a habit which, repeated frequently enough, becomes an automatic reflex.” – Norman Vincent Peale

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn

“Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you.” – Elbert Hubbard

“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” – Stephen R. Covey


“The knowledge of principles becomes practically insightful only when the principles are embedded in habits formed by reflective experience and deepened by committed practice.” – William C. Spohn

“Concrete habits are the means of knowledge and thought  . . . [they] do all the perceiving, recognizing, imagining, recalling, judging, conceiving and reasoning that is done. ‘Consciousness,’ whether as a stream or as special sensations and images, expresses functions of habits, phenomena of their formation, operation, their interruption and reorganization.” – John Dewey 

“When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will really be feeling friendlier that you were. Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already.” – C.S. Lewis

“Merely changing what we believe is not enough. We must also begin to change our practice.” – James S. Spiegel

“Practice prayer until your faith in God has become strong. And then pray on, because it has become so much a habit that you need it daily . . . I pray that I may form the habit of daily prayer. I pray that I may find the strength I need, as a result of this communion.” Twenty-Four Hours a Day

“If, for instance, I concentrate on being tolerant and kind at all times, with everyone, it will soon become an automatic reaction, no matter how trying the circumstances may be. This new attitude will color whatever I do and make me more acceptable, to myself as well as to others.” – One Day at a Time in Al-Anon 

“Continuing to take a personal inventory means that we form a habit of looking at ourselves, our actions, our attitudes, and our relationships on a regular basis.” – Just for Today: Daily Meditations for Recovering Addicts

We can see character development then as a process of replacing vices with virtues, character defects with character strengths, deeply ingrained bad habits with equally deeply ingrained good habits. – PTP

"It is through the steady assimilation and integration of these transformative spiritual, moral, and emotional habits that a right mental conviction can be translated into a right emotional result, and, by the grace of God, emotional sobriety achieved.” – PTP

For more PTP passages on habit, see “These Principles,” pp. 17-33, and “In All Our
Affairs: Emotional Sobriety,” pp. 43-65. For more BB and 12&12 passages, click on and search habit and its variations. See also “Of Mice & Men:
The Power of Habit and AA,” in “Ray’s Book Reviews”

Additional Resources

  1. “Addiction and Habit,” chapter in Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice, by Kent Dunnington 

  2. “Back to Vice and Sin,” review of Addiction and Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice, in Ray’s Book Reviews

  3. “Of Mice and Men: The Power of Habit and AA,” review of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, in Ray’s Book Reviews