Stuck in a Rut? Try the Ten Disciplines of Action

There are so many personal development blogs and self-help books out there it’s difficult to keep track. Whether it’s manifestations, visualizations, gratitude lists, or any and all attitude adjustment techniques, a lot of it can make you feel even more overwhelmed.

All of that stuff is great, but sometimes there are simpler things we can do which are closer to home and require less reading! Introducing the Ten Disciplines of Action.

The Ten Disciplines of Action

It’s very simple. Just run down the list and think about which areas you could lean into more. On any given week you might score high on, e.g., the social discipline of action, but there might be more work to be done in your physical disciplines. The aim is to try to keep an eye on each of the ten and make adjustments accordingly. I created this with my business partner Sean McFarland in our sober living community and transformation therapy center, Shell Avenue in Venice Beach, California. It was designed originally to help people struggling with addictions, but as you will see it’s pretty universal.


How’s your emotional diet? It’s important to laugh, cry, be inspired. In short, to feel a range of emotions, or at least some of them with depth. Are you creatively engaged with music, art, comedy, literature? Could you make a playlist of your favorite comedians and get in a couple of laughs per day? Or maybe you could add photos of your favorite artwork to your phone and spend a few minutes enjoying them every now and again? When did you last dance to music, or put on an inspiring video that brings you to tears (American Idol videos of underdogs or people with touching stories is a good bet for this). Keep your emotional blood flowing!


Are you engaged intellectually? Do you try to learn new things, listen to challenging podcasts, entertain different opinions? Maybe next time someone mentions something you hadn’t heard of, spend a few minutes learning about it. Or perhaps, if you feel comfortable doing this with friends, choose a topic and find out how each person feels about it and discuss your varying perspectives.


This is a big one. A lot of our bandwidth can be lost to things we’re keeping to ourselves. It could be a big secret, or it could just as easily be something small like not admitting to your friends of your manager that you’re struggling with something. The longer we sit on these things, the more they bleed into our daily life and the next thing we know we’re only giving 50% of our attention to our lives, loves and friendships. Tell the truth — it’s the easiest thing to remember. You don’t have to tell everyone! A therapist, a close friend or partner will do.


How’s your social life? Are you seeking people out, making plans to grab coffee or see a movie? Are there any people in your social group who bring you down, make you feel crappy about yourself or with whom the only thing you have in common is your shared dislike of another. Common enemy intimacy is not a solid foundation for friendship and gossip endangers your social life as loose lips sink ships. There’s growing consensus on the link between social lives and life expectancy. Having a social life doesn’t mean you need to betray your introverted personality — if you’re an introvert, you might just need fewer hangouts to get your social dopamine fix. But know yourself, your needs, and what your friends’ needs are in terms of how they’d like you to show up for them.

Sean McFarland with genocide survivors in Rwanda


Are you being of service to others and also making sure to get in enough self-care for you? Starting with the first: doing something for other people can really help you get out of your head. Ego and self-centeredness are serenity killers. It’s amazing how often I realize I’m just thinking about me. Even if I’m thinking what I am doing is for the benefit of others, I often later see that I was the primary beneficiary! After an act of service our problems seem a little less overwhelming, and we build our social ties too which helps us score on the social scale. Self-care is a biggie too though. You can burn out doing things for other people and what’s more, it’s possible people-pleasing tendencies are your way of avoiding taking care of yourself. A lot of people grew up in families where they always took care of other people’s needs before their own. So draw a bath, get a massage, get comfy and read a book. Whatever it is, if you ever check yourself talking to or treating yourself in a way you’d never dream of being towards a friend, it’s time to love up on yourself.


Physical fitness is key. This is one of the areas we really prioritize at the sober living I manage. Keeping the body active is essential and losing weight/building muscle are secondary goals here. It’s more about getting into a routine, sending a message to your body and your mind that you’re actively engaged in your life and cherish your health, and changing your physical state to enable your mind and your attitudes to follow. It’s much harder to be angry after a workout, and it’s amazing how quickly my mood changes from early morning fear to go get ’em tiger after a few minutes on the elliptical.


You don’t need to be religious to be spiritual. Spirituality is more about being concerned with more than just immediate, external, material goals. It’s about cherishing the kinship we have with our fellow humans, the world and all the other life that exists there. It’s about noticing the inter-dependent nature of everything and noticing the small things. Meditating, praying, or getting into some kind of flow state where the worries of the world slip away is important. Spirituality usually prompts a reflection on who you are, what your purpose and place in the universe is. These are deep but important questions to confront. If it’s been a long time since you had a sense of awe or a feeling that there’s more to this world than just you, it could be worth smelling the roses, listening to the birds and closing your eyes for a few minutes. At the very least it’ll slow your heartbeat down and relax you!


One of my pet peeves is people cancelling last minute. I haven’t always been a person of my word, but now I’m trying to be I can see how irritating it was when I used to break my promises. In sobriety people are told to show up no matter what. Go to recovery meetings, do their 12-step work, etc. It’s important to follow through because by doing so you bind intention to action. Relationships improve when you can be counted on, and your self-respect grows too. If I had a dollar for every time I hear my anxiety tell me to break plans I’d be rich. However, I’d have much less for the number of times I disregard that fear and follow through despite myself.


Are you stimulating all your senses? In the TikTok age we can all almost certainly say we’re feeding our eyes, but we have some other senses too which are getting left behind. Eating a varied diet, trying new things, taking walks and getting incense or air diffusers are all great ways to give your taste buds and olfactory senses a treat. Smell is the number one memory making sense. Every time I smell an onion I’m transported back to my mum’s kitchen. Senses are magical and oftentimes we’re neglecting 60% of them. Close your eyes and run your fingers over your clothes, an orange peel or a tree’s bark. Take the time to take in the taste of an orange, or slowly and mindfully drink a glass of water one sip at a time. It’s actually kind of an incredible experience realizing how quickly and mindlessly we consume everything!


When did you last take a bike ride or a vacation? Do you take the same route to work every day? What can you do to mix up your environment and go new places, see new things, take in new surroundings? Have you ever shopped in a different part of town just to see how different life looks for people in their neighborhood. Variety is the spice of life and when life gets stressful and becomes about paychecks and bills, one of the first things to go are the little doses of difference as we put our noses to the grindstone and plug away at our obligations.

In Conclusion

Joy can be found in keeping an eye on the Ten Disciplines of Action and working to ensure we’re always looking after our various soul-diets. I hope this article helps people uncover some ways they can bring a little joy to their lives!




Poetry of the ordinary, mental health, sexuality, gender and identity, authenticity, provocative honesty, spirituality and sobriety.

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