Get help today 888-319-2606 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

The Ultimate Guide to Behavioral Filters

It’s not uncommon, “in the rooms,” to hear people say, “I never got the instruction manual for how to live life.”  For many in recovery, and probably a good chunk of those not in recovery, their behavior tends to be either reactive and/or momentum-driven, rather than conscious and purpose-driven.  Too often, our behavior “just happens,” and is not mindfully chosen.

The consequences of allowing our behavior to “just happen,” can be that our lives and our relationships are inconsistent, at best, and a train wreck – at least at times – at worst.

So, here are a few behavioral filters we can use to avoid those train wrecks, and to serve as a condensed instruction manual for our lives.

The “What Isn’t” Filter

I may not always know what “is,” but there is value in knowing what “isn’t.”  Allow me to provide seven behavioral filters:

  1. I don’t always know what the right thing to do is, but I almost always know what the wrong thing is, and that I shouldn’t do it.
  2. I don’t always know what the right thing to say is, but I almost always know what the wrong thing is, and that I shouldn’t say it.
  3. I don’t always know what makes me attractive to others or even to God, but I almost always know what makes me unattractive, and that I shouldn’t be it.
  4. I don’t always know what the truth is, but I almost always know what the untruth is, and that I shouldn’t tell it.
  5. I don’t always know what the helpful and supportive thing is, but I almost always know what the sabotaging and destructive thing is, and that I shouldn’t do it.
  6. I don’t always know what the recovery-based behavior is, but I almost always know what the relapse-based behavior is, and that I shouldn’t do it.
  7. I don’t always know what the spiritual choice is, but I almost always know what the unspiritual choice is, and that I shouldn’t choose it.

Simply starting to incorporate these seven tools into a consideration of our behavior will make a huge difference.  It may be overwhelming to work with all seven at once, so one approach would be to work on #1 for one week.  Then add #2, and work on #1 and #2 guiding your behavior for that week. Then, continue to add one more each week until at the end of seven weeks, your behavior is being filtered through and guided by all seven filters.

The “Would You X If Your Y Was Watching?” Filter

This is my favorite filter.  For me, it’s also the simplest and most powerful of all the filters.  It asks whether you’d engage in a behavior (act or word) you’re considering, or possibly already doing or saying, if your [insert name of significant entity] were watching.  For example:

  • Would you drive like that if your daughter were watching?
  • Would you dress like that if your grandmother were watching?
  • Would you speak like that if your God were watching?
  • Would you behave like that if your dog were watching? I don’t know about you, but I strive to be half the man my dog thinks I am.
  • Would you do that if your sponsor were watching?

Of course, you can insert whatever person – your spouse, boss, parole officer, sponsee – makes you reach to be a better person.  This filter helps us set an internal expectation for good behavior that the identified “person” would set if they were here.  It empowers us to take, and stay on, the high road.

The “Closer or Further” Filter

This filter can be invaluable to the newcomer, and urges us to ask, “Is this behavior moving me closer to a drink or drug, or further from the drink or drug?”  The brain can be so good at manipulating, complicating, and rationalizing, but this filter helps us view a considered behavior through a very simple lens, and move us towards the sobriety-preserving behavior.

THINK Filter

This filter applies more to our spoken behavior, and it suggests that before I speak, I ask if what I’m about to say is:

  • (T) – Truthful
  • (H) – Helpful
  • (I) – In integrity
  • (N) – Necessary, in general, and necessary right now, specifically
  • (K) – Kind

I was amazed at how much less I had to say when I commenced to run what I was planning to say through this simple filter, and I am so grateful for it.

Other Filters

A friend asked how to know when to let go of a dream, idea, partner, career, or anything.  I was able to create the following ten filters.  They are wonderful for deciding when to let go, but in reading them, it became clear that they were not just about when to let go of something or someone, but great filters for choosing our behaviors.  The filters are:

Does this [considered] behavior:

  • close your heart more than it opens it?
  • limit you more than it grows you?
  • bring less value to your life than more value?
  • drain your passion more than it ignites your passion? 
  • block being of service more than it facilitates being of service?
  • move you toward the darkness rather than the light? 
  • separate you more than it connects you to God, self & others? 
  • call you to act with honor less often rather than more often?
  • generate harshness more often than tenderness?
  • block you from or cause you to be kinder than necessary?  

Tradition 7 Filter

So many come into the rooms deeply wounded, and accustomed to hurting self and others with those wounds.  For many, not all, the damage done to self is deeper and more consistent than the damage done to others.

The way we speak to ourselves, about ourselves, the ways in which we offer ourselves, the situations in which we place ourselves, and the self-sabotage in which we engage, all conspire to undermine recovery, freedom, and happiness.

So, this basic one-question filter – based on AA’s 7th Tradition of being self-supporting – asks, “Is the [considered] behavior self-sabotaging or is it self-supporting?”

Black and white, clear and simple, and so helpful to those in early sobriety who are unaccustomed to looking at their behavior until it’s already unfolded.

Images Courtesy of iStock

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.