“OODA Loop it!” – A Simple Guide to Recovery Living

A phrase commonly heard by our patients at Brighton Recovery Center is “I need to OODA it”; a simple concept that is at the core of living a healthy life in recovery. An essential tenant of our Recreation Therapy program, OODA is a guide to effective decision making that we teach our patients to utilize when confronted with difficult situations.

OODA - recovery living

What is OODA?

OODA stands for “Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. Developed by John Boyd as a rapid decision making loop the goal is to break down a persons preconceived beliefs, and begin learning new ways of responding to the world and situations in creative and exciting ways.


All things start with mindfulness. A person must observe themselves and the situation they are in. At this stage it is all about information gathering, not assigning value or meaning. Humans are quick to jump to the meaning or purpose of things, but in that haste important details can go unnoticed. Take for example a phrase often heard with individuals in addiction; “I don’t know what happened, the craving came out of nowhere and hit me like a freight train”. Let’s break it down…What are the signs that a train is coming? There is usually a lot of noise beforehand, maybe smoke on the horizon, the rails will vibrate as the train gets closer, and the fact that the person is standing on the tracks in the first place is a sign that danger is near. So to use the same process…what were the signs that a craving was coming on? What feelings were present? What were the physical surroundings?


Once a person has gathered all the information they need, or if the time to observe has run out, it is time to start applying meaning to these observations. To use the same analogy, what does the noise mean? What does the smoke on the horizon indicate? What do train tracks mean with all these other signals put together? When meaning is applied it becomes easier in the next step to decide the best course of action.


This step is the result of a thorough evaluation of the first two steps and the more detailed those steps are the more options are available. It is this fact that becomes important to recovery. When a person does not take the time to evaluate the reality of a situation the options for action become limited. If more information is needed to make a well informed decision, and if there is time, the individual can go back and gather more information.


While this is probably the easiest step to describe, it is often the hardest step to take. An old story that describes this goes like this; three frogs are sitting on a log in the sun. One of the frogs decides to jump in the water to cool off…how many frogs are left on the log? The answer is still three, because the other frog only DECIDED to jump in the water, but had not ACTED on it yet. Individuals in recovery often make the decision to stop using over and over again…but until they act on it, the outcome is the same.

All of these steps together are aimed at severing the automatic reactions to situations individuals have built over years of experience. When a situation is novel it is easier to go through this process. The danger comes when an individual has practiced a pattern so much that the slightest hint of the situation emerging triggers the automatic response. When one takes the time to develop a deeper understanding of circumstances and an arsenal of maps to follow, they are more likely to make a more productive decision that results in a more positive outcome.

This concept is further applied to recovery by taking it out of just decision making and turns it in to a consciousness loop, encouraging individuals to break the dependence on previous beliefs about themselves and life then introduce a more aware existence. It is a process to break down complex situations, both external and internal, in to three simple questions: What is it? What does it mean? What am I going to do about it? All that is left at that point is to act on the decision in order to change the outcome in to one more desirable.

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