Do the Next Right Thing
This coronavirus crisis and the constantly changing “new normal” for all of us is a whole new experience in powerlessness on a global scale that we could not have imagined, but thankfully the program has taught me to recognize and accept my powerlessness, surrender to the reality of the situation and then focus on the next right thing to do. When every aspect of our normal routine is disrupted, I have a choice whether to resist and wallow in fear or focus on the few things I do have control over: my attitude and my actions. Like many lawyers, my upbringing and my training taught me I was supposed figure it all out and solve the whole problem preferably without asking for help. That mindset produces a lonely, fearful state of mind that I cannot afford if I want to stay sober and sane. Instead I have been taught to focus on the next right thing that I can do – which is sometimes just NOT doing what I know is the wrong thing.
Lately, some days feel ominous. I mean, what are we supposed to do every day? And this is going to last for how long? On those days I have to remember that all I can do is the next right thing. When I wake up, what comes first? Make breakfast. What next? Clean the kitchen. After that? Get some work done or play a game with my kids. It’s not about what you’re going to do tomorrow or next week, just right here and now, what’s in front of you? The key for me is to slow down long enough to think: “What should I do next?” and keep the day/week/month from feeling like too much.
When work or life seems overwhelming, it is easy to become paralyzed by indecision or fear. In these moments, a phrase I learned early in recovery comes to mind: “Do the next right thing.” This phrase is a tool that helps me stay in the moment; it directs my attention to the task at hand and away from the uncertainty of the future. I am able to discern what the “next right thing” is by talking to others, praying, and listening to my Higher Power. Early on, the meaning of this phrase was as simple as “don’t drink and go to a meeting.” Even after the obsession of addiction has been lifted, the “next right thing” remains remarkably simple: treat others and approach each situation with a spirit of patience, love, and tolerance.
I recently learned that there is actually a second part to this phrase: “Do the next right thing…and do the next thing right.” This gives me direction for how to handle any task, whether it is reviewing a file, sending an email, or working with someone new to recovery. It teaches me that any task or person before me deserves my full attention and best effort. When I apply this saying, I am able to break down each day into attainable, goal-oriented segments and to live life without fear.
Another lawyer writes:
How do you do the next right thing during the COVID-19 pandemic when there is nothing to do? I’m 48 years old, and I find myself sounding like a ten year old saying, “I’m bored.” And as I say that, I can hear my mother saying, “there’s plenty of things to do. You can clean your room, read a book, or write a letter.”
I did none of those things, and those activities still have little interest to me. To avoid cleaning, reading and writing, I pretended to be Luke Skywalker, played air guitar in Styx, and threw the winning touchdown pass in my basement that won the Rose Bowl for the Michigan State Spartans.
Right now, “do the next right thing” means avoiding the self-destructive vices like drinking and smoking that came later in my life and embracing the imagination of my youth. For a little while, I can enjoy a Star Wars marathon, create my fantasy football teams, and rock out like Tommy Shaw of Styx in my living room. And in some strange way, I will be saving the world in the process. I should also call my mother.