At times in recovery you may feel a bit overwhelmed. You are actively building a support network by meeting new people, learning how to process emotions with newfound coping techniques, and doing this all while avoiding your addictive substance or behaviour! One tool which can be helpful to manage your life in recovery is the Three Circles Exercise.


Picture three circles, one inside the other like a bullseye. Imagine these circles as a map guiding you through your behaviours and choices. They’re not just circles, they are a part of your plan to avoid slipping back into old habits. Let’s delve into the Three Circles, a vital tool for your recovery tool kit.

The inner circle

In the very middle of your three circles you will find your inner circle. The innermost circle is for things you want to completely stop because they are directly tied to your addiction. In other words, this circle lists the behaviours and actions you need to stop to be sober. This circle contains anything that you consider a relapse. Actions and behaviours in your inner circle are harmful to your physical, mental, or emotional health and engaging in them results in you entering active addiction.

The Middle Circle

Next there’s the middle circle, the in-between zone. The middle circle includes things that could lead you back to your inner circle behaviours. These items can be thought of as boundary behaviours, which are actions or activities that act as warning signs and could nudge you closer to the dangerous territory of your inner circle. Identifying and understanding these boundary behaviours is crucial to avoiding relapse. They act as a safety net and help you recognize when you are getting too close to risky situations. These middle circle items can include visiting certain places, people, or taking actions that can trigger cravings or negative emotions.

The Outer Circle

The Outer Circle represents behaviours that are constructive and support your recovery. It is all about the healthy, positive things you can do to improve your life and wellbeing. Hobbies, exercise, hanging out with supportive friends, and practicing self-care activities are all examples of outer circle behaviours. These are things that make you feel good and keep you away from the inner circles and reinforce your commitment to your recovery.

As you go through your recovery, things change. Your thoughts and what you do can be different as you learn new things. The Three Circles Exercise is a helpful guide that can change with you. It helps you understand yourself better and handle different situations. It shows what things can trigger you, helps you set rules, and teaches you good habits. As time goes on, we suggest you update your Three Circles when things in your life change.