AA Step 3: The Ridiculous Power Of A Decision

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” 
– AA Step 3

There it is. We’ve tried to avoid it but now it’s in our face. 

In the previous steps we pontificated concepts and ideas, but now, we are asked to tailor our life to these concepts.

That seems like an insane request particularly right out of the gate!

The Inescapable Conclusion

Recall in Step Two you “allowed” the “idea” into your consciousness. 

Any idea that is allowed to enter into the consciousness is bound to do a number on the will. 

If it fails to do this it’s because it was never allowed in the first place. 

The Will

Definition: the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action; a deliberate or fixed desire or intention.

The will is that thing up in your head that makes you do things – the command center. 

It’s the mental apparatus that precipitates all action. 

Obviously your life is all that follows. Its the sum total of all that action. 

aa step 3

Redirecting the will to this extent really is a tall order, no doubt about it (its easier to think of turning it over as less surrender and more redirection, I explain it here further). The Big Book doesn’t pull its punches though, it’s very clear:

“To get over drinking will require a transformation of thought and attitude. We all had to place recovery above everything, for without recovery we would have lost both home and business.” (p. 143)

Just as rose colored glasses will color your life red, these new God-shaped lenses will radically influence every facet of your character. 

Fortunately, the 3rd Step doesn’t call for you to put on these shades just yet. 

It actually calls for you to take off your current prescription.

It calls for a decision

The Decision

Definition: a conclusion or resolution reached after consideration.

As noted earlier, Step Three is the logical outcome of the careful consideration of Steps One and Two.

Step Three doesn’t even require action yet, it’s the final segment of the mental triathlon. 

To illustrate:

There were once three frogs on a log and one of them made a decision to jump in. How many were left?

The answer is three.

A decision is a final conclusion. But that frog had not yet taken the leap!

Steps 1, 2, and 3 are the conceptual cage match that demands the action steps of 4 – 9, without the action following it just becomes an intention. 

The authors of A Program For You put it this way:

“Let’s look at Step Three more closely, beginning with the word ‘decision.’ This is one of the keywords in all the Twelve Steps and all of the Big Book because it represents the link between understanding and action. To find a solution to any problem, you find have to understand what the problem is – but understanding alone isn’t enough. You also have to act on that understanding. And to act you first have to decide to act. It’s impossible to take any kind of action without first somehow, in so many words, saying to yourself, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’

A decision without an action that follows it is essentially worthless. If your hungry and you decide to eat, but you don’t actually eat anytjing., You’re not going to get any nourishment, and you’re still going to be hungry. Your decision to eat was meaningless because you didn’t follow it up with any action. The result is the same as if you hadn’t made the decision at all. In fact, it’s the same as if you had decided to do the opposite and go hungry.”

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.”
–Tony Robbins

Turning It Over

I recall early in my recovery telling my sponsor that I did it.

He queried just what in fact I did. 

I noted that I turned it over. 

He asked me what “it” was, and to be frank, I had no damn idea. 

The good ole nebulous “it“, what’s up with sponsors and their silly questions. 

Step Three is the decision to discover what “it” is and rearrange it to reflect God’s Will.

*We will discuss God’s Will in Step 4, however, it’s not as scary or religious as it sounds – for a deep dive click here or read my book which you can enjoy for free with kindle unlimited*

aa step three

Step One

The powerlessness of Step One means that every time you start drinking you ultimately lose control and disaster follows. Yet, once you get sober you commit the most insane act of your life from a state of mind called “sobriety” by picking up the drink again. 

You can’t drink because of your body, that is, for some unknown reason, it craves more and more and more. 


You can’t quit because of your mind since against all odds, you convince yourself to drink again!”

This “can’t drink, can’t quit” pattern is an utter lack of power. 

==> for a deeper dive into Step One click here, here, and here.

Step Two

The power of Step Two is found in the opening of your consciousness to an idea. 

I have referred to it this way: 

Let’s say I am a football coach and my team, well, hasn’t been performing so hot. Each year, game in and game out, is to put it lightly, totally disastrous. 

The games are not even close. They’re colossal failures. 

Nonetheless, usually, there is one game during the season that my team absolutely kills it. 

And that’s basically all I focus on…

“Sure, we may have lost 13 games straight but did you see game 14? That was one hell of a game.” 

You’d think I was crazy. But just wait, it gets worse. 

Now, let’s say, Vince Lombardi, football coach legend, comes to me and says, “Hey bud, I see your playbook isn’t paying off. Here, take mine. These plays with a little bit of grit and hard work will guarantee victory.”  

And I respond, “listen here Vince, I’m not sure if you witnessed game 14 but the boys and I are on to something huge, thanks but no thanks, our time will come.”

Any onlooker would likely vomit in disbelief. Why? Because that’s freaking insanity!.

If I’m even slightly a result oriented person, then the results are in: my playbook needs to be retired.

It’s time I pick up one that is freely available and is tried, tested, and proven to produce results.

Does that make sense?

Step One is the understanding that the current playbook is doomed to fail. 

Step Two is mentally, emotionally, and volitionally opening up to the idea of using a new playbook. 

But not just any playbook, one that has been used by millions and has repeatedly resulted in victory. 

Seems like a no brainer, right?”

==> For a deeper dive into Step Two click here and here.

Step Three

Step Three is the decision to turn over the old playbook.

Steps 4-7 provide the format and insight necessary to discover precisely how to get rid of the old and apply the new.

The Prison Cell

Permit one more analogy to really drive the point home. 

Imagine being locked up in a prison. You cannot see past the four walls of the cell. You’ve tried every conceivable way, but there seems to be no way out. 

Nonetheless, you’ll endure. So, you endlessly try, only wounding yourself in the process. Each time the wounds just get greater. Eventually, comes the horror of total demoralization – it’s over, you’re never getting out. 

Then, as if from the hand of God himself, a walkie-talkie appears. A voice on the other end explains to you that he was once stuck in the very same cell and knows precisely how to get out. The only requirement is to follow the very specific directions that can be provided over the radio. 

Oddly enough, it seems as if most people choose to dismiss the voice over the walkie. Either due to disbelief or fear, but they persist in attempting using their own method and getting the same result. 

At some point, the decision must be made to follow the directions over the radio. Steps 1-3 is the wrecking ball that demolishes every alternative opposite of that voice over the walkie-talkie. In the directions he provides are Steps 4-9.

aa step three

The Dreaded “God, As We Understood Him.”

This can go one or two ways:

1: Jettison the program entirely and saunter over to Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery, or maybe even Rational Recovery turf.

2. Jettison the preconceived concept, that loaded theological gun you have holstered, and begin to interact with and explore a new concept of God (Higher Power). 

Steps Three and Eleven contain the phrase, “God, as we understood Him.” for the newbie, this can be difficult, heck it may even be enraging. 

One member captured it better than I possibly can, so I’ll hand over the mic momentarily:

When I was new, I found this insert both challenging and confusing; consequently, I soon found myself delving into books on theology, theosophy, Philosophy, and other mystical readings—but to no avail. I soon realized that I was no further along understanding God than when I started. Months of studying left me without any satisfying logical or scientific definition—what to do? After all, am I not supposed to “understand God?” If not, perhaps my sobriety would be in jeopardy! Confusing times!

But then, I came across a watershed idea from Bill W’s Oxford mentor, Reverend Sam Shoemaker who wrote: “Step Two is not theological; it is evidential!” Of course, I could plainly see the evidence of God’s work by simply observing numerous members around AA tables with many years sobriety; they all claimed that contact with God, or a “Higher Power,” was keeping them sober. It was evidential!

I had been barking up the wrong tree! I no longer need search for a logical definition of God, but I still needed to improve my conscious contact with God. Step Eleven convinced me that I could begin to know God through prayer and meditation—then there would be no need of a logical or scientific understanding of Him.”

(Cited from the Cleveland Alcoholics Anonymous District Office – one of the oldest in the world!)

For this member, the proof was in the pudding. It worked for others so he sought to have the same experience they did by following the 12-Steps as outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s equivalent to observing someone who never exercised before start exercising in the gym. Within a few month’s time, they start to appear lean and toned, which provides you with the faith that this can happen to you, the only requirement being to do precisely what that individual did.

The Third Step Prayer

Most members start off with this simple prayer:

3rd step aa

As members move forward seeking to embody this prayer, they naturally precede to the Fourth Step and begin the process of uncovering, discovering, and discarding anything that tarnishing “Thy Way Of Life.”

Additionally, the Big Book offers promises attached to each step to instill a vision to create the provision which follows. Perhaps one of the most powerful is that of the Third Step. 

The Third Step Promises

aa promises

Are you ready to make the decision? You may now proceed to Step Four.