Episode 73: The Proactive Twelve Steps for Mindful Recovery

In this episode of AA Beyond Belief the Podcast, we meet Serge Prengel, author of The Proactive Twelve Steps for Mindful Recovery. Serge is a therapist and life coach with a practice in New York City who became interested in the 12 Steps as a process for change and personal growth.

His website proactive12steps.com features a new beta version of the 4th edition of the Proactive 12 Steps, a free pdf download of the 3rd edition, and an online workbook with videos and commentary. Serge encourages visitors to the site to share their comments on each of the specific 12 Steps. The videos are particularly well-done and help to further one’s understanding of the Proactive 12 Steps. 

The Proactive Twelve Steps for Mindful Recovery provides a completely secular and practical interpretation of the 12 Steps, using clear language devoid of the spiritual terminology that is usually found in recovery literature.

As a person who is familiar with the 12 Steps through my experience in AA, I found this presentation of the process to be refreshing, interesting and inspiring. Anyone would benefit from this book regardless of their religious or spiritual beliefs or lack of belief. 

Serge isn’t part of the recovery community, but he believes the 12 Steps are an effective process for effecting change in human beings. He wrote the book to help anyone interested in making a change in their life whether they are recovering from an addiction or not. 

What are the Proactive 12 Steps?

Serge urges readers to “see the Proactive 12 Steps as a process of self-exploration, and to use these steps to develop the ability to bring a mindful quality to one’s life.” Serge believes that mindfulness isn’t mystical and doesn’t require a great deal of effort. Mindfulness is simply the opposite of mindlessness.

In this book, Serge does an incredible job of simplifying and demystifying the process, which I think would be helpful for someone who is approaching the 12 Steps for the first time. The presentation is so compelling that even someone with years of familiarity with the 12 Steps will also benefit from reading this book. 

As an atheist, I’ve learned to adapt the original 12 Steps by focusing on the action of the steps while deemphasizing the importance of belief, but The Proactive 12 Steps for Mindful Recovery helped me think about the process of the 12 Steps in an entirely new way. 

Instead of purchasing the book, Serge suggests you download the free pdf version,which looks great on a tablet. I ordered the paperback version and after reading it, I realized that this is a terrific resource. I will order several more copies as an option for my home group to read from for Step discussion meetings.

The Proactive 12 Steps (4th edition beta): 

  1. There is a big split between who I want to be, and what I do. I am stuck in what I do.
  2. To heal the split, I need to step out of the vicious cycle I am in, and get into a “virtuous cycle”.
  3. I resolve to be more mindful of how I relate to people and situations. Pausing is how I do this, moment by moment.
  4. I look at my life systematically to see patterns in how I have been relating to people and situations.
  5. I dig deeper into these patterns. I take the time to understand the emotional logic that is behind them.
  6. I see how these patterns have been ways of dealing with my fears. I see the possibility of facing my fears more effectively.
  7. Moment by moment, I notice how vulnerable it feels to be mindful in difficult situations, and learn to accept the vulnerability.
  8. I stop blaming and feeling blamed, with a willingness to heal the wounds.
  9. I swallow my pride, and sincerely apologize to people I have hurt, except when this would be counterproductive.
  10. I live mindfully, paying attention to the motives and effects of my actions.
  11. I stay in touch with a broader sense of who I really am, and a deeper sense of what I really want.
  12. A growing sense of wholeness and contentment motivates me to keep at it, and to share this process with others who are feeling stuck.

Additional Information: 

The Proactive 12 Steps Website

The Proactive 12 Steps for Mindful Recovery pdf download

Subscribe to the Proactive 12 Steps Newsletter

Proactive Mindfulness YouTube Channel. 

Serge’s Author Page on Amazon

The Proactive 12 Steps, AA Agnostica, October 20, 2013

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  1. Willow February 5, 2018 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this great podcast, John – I find this perspective really refreshing and thought provoking.

    Also, what he said about your interviewing is spot on. Your contributions to the conversations bring a relatability that adds a lot to the experience for me.

  2. Gerald November 16, 2017 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the interview. In the 12-step world, Serge would be the kind of “old timer” I listen to: emphasis on being gentle with oneself, emphasis on finding oneself. These steps sound closer to the spirit of ACA’s (Adult Child) step work than AA’s. AA takes the sin & redemption too far (i.e. Prodigal Son) for long term recovery. Initially, a lot of AA members actually do need the tough love precisely because they were real jerks; you know, A.A. can stand for “A–holes Anonymous.” And Bill W. had been a real jerk in his drinking days, but years & years down the road, the Prodigal Son treatment or the Prayer of St. Francis, for example, AA culture takes it too far. Too many people beat themselves up, too much and for too long.

    And you know, ACA’s big red book was written by members with thirty years of experience in contrast to our big blue book, which has been pointed out here in the comments, by people with three years – or much less – experience. They know that AA really whiffed on the subjects of shame & self-care. They even call us out in their big red book and say AA really dropped the ball there.

    I love the intellectual approach in this interview and at this site, AA Beyond Belief, generally. I’ve been an atheist this whole time (d.o.s. August ’93), but it’s the anti- intellectualism in the meetings (USA), not the God talk that I get frustrated with.



    • John S November 18, 2017 at 8:50 pm Reply

      Thank you, Gerald for the kind comments. I always enjoy hearing from you.

  3. Pat N. November 15, 2017 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I’ll give his writings more study, but my first impression is that they’re pretty abstract-no more abstract than a god or a higher power, but I don’t use those either.


    Is he in recovery from an addiction? I like to think that a “coach” has played the game.

    • John S November 15, 2017 at 11:11 pm Reply

      Hi Pat, no Serge is not in recovery from an addiction. He is a therapist who is interested in how people effect change in their lives and he was drawn to the  12 Steps. His interpretation is not necessarily geared towards alcoholics or addicts, but can be used by anyone interested in effecting change in their lives.

      When you read the Steps by themselves, they do seem very different from what we are accustomed to in AA, but when I read the detail about the process in his book, I found it very helpful. Of course what might be great to me, is not so great to others.

  4. Jerry F. November 15, 2017 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    So, it kinda depends. I haven’t read his book but I read this article and listened to the podcast. If these steps are being suggested to replace the original, we would need to give them serious scrutiny. If we did subject these steps to critical thinking, the use in those steps of amorphous terms such as “emotional logic” and “virtuous cycle” would be unhelpful.

    If these steps are to be used in conjunction with the original steps, they might be useful. These steps stress the importance of our coming to an understanding of the patterns that shape our lives. One of the most remarkable provisions in these suggested steps comes in step 9. We “sincerely apologize” to those we have harmed. We don’t make amends, restitution. We don’t pay it back.

    I believe that the podcast reveals more fuzzy, unsubstantial thinking. No, not you, John.

    • life-j November 15, 2017 at 8:09 pm Reply

      Jerry, one thing a reading like this does for me is to confirm that there is nothing sacred about the steps – unless one happens to be an AA religionist. If so, bill wrote the steps with direct inspiration from god, and they are of course perfect. If not then – well, I have anyway – come to a place where I think the steps were just the best a 3 years sober drunk could do, who didn’t know as much as he thought he knew.

      It doesn’t matter whether we have 12 steps or 16 or 7. What matters is that we try to distill what it is that worked to set each of us on a path of for the most part ever better lives, and better relationships with those around us. If that is “the” 12 steps for some that is fine, but I’m not a New England white 1930s formerly wealthy former stockbroker. those steps are not for me. but there are a hundred other kinds of steps, or ways, or methods, and we need every one of them, and more.

    • John S November 15, 2017 at 1:37 pm Reply

      I’m just happy to see the podcast generating comments. 😀

      I also noticed that he used the word apologize instead of amend and I know to us in AA there is a bid difference. However the average person on the street probably doesn’t make the distinction.

      I like the book quite a bit. I read from it at our meeting last night. I read a few paragraphs from Step One and then had a discussion. It was a good meeting.

      One guy in the meeting just hates the 12 Steps I think because if the oppressive religiosity in the original version. A lot of us in secular AA will have nothing to do with Steps of any kind, no matter how they are worded, and I understand that.



  5. life-j November 15, 2017 at 10:23 am - Reply

    This is good. I haven’t listened to the podcast, but read this, and the article he wrote on aaagnostica. He makes the steps make sense better than anyone else has so far, and it is interesting to see how his expression of them has changed even within a few years.

    Thanks, I’ll have to look into this some more

  6. RonB November 15, 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

    So what is ‘mind’? Body is but a combination of atoms formed from nature, renewing atoms of decay until the vessel is defunct and returns to begin another purpose. Maybe there is nothing more, the atheist may believe that, but what point would there be in living? Hence there is the choice of believing in an essence, soul or any name of choice. What then of mind, electrical energy with connective ability, capable of reason but struggles to control emotion. What of the individual who seeks power over the minds of individuals, manipulating against the forces of nature and in direct competition with it. Natural purpose given an extra hurdle. Where is the gain other than ego and its sister altruism? How can it help with other than material effect?

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