There are a number of different spreadsheets and worksheets out there for working this step. In our experience, this is one of the areas where there is a lot of “wiggle room”; in fact, it was designed to offer a lot of wiggle room. In the original instructions for the steps, in AA’s “big book”, it starts out, “We were usually at least as definite as this example”. That “usually” and “at least as” give us some pretty wide margins!
In our experience, the specific details of how you write it all out do not matter as much as being honest and thorough does.
One warning: it is easy to prolong the fourth step indefinitely, and many, many people do. In fact, there’s a name for that. The “1-2-3 Waltz” is what it’s called when you do the first three steps, contemplate or take a stab at the fourth, but never finish it and end up starting over… over and over again! Often, our perfectionism keeps us holding on to our inventories, unwilling to stop because we might be able to think of some more things.
Instead, we recommend setting yourself a deadline. For many people, a month or several months works well. Some people write on it for just five minutes a day. Write down all the fears and resentments, relationships and harms that you can, add more if you think of them while you are working on it… and then stop! Don’t worry, everyone has more that come up in our day to day lives. We will be learning how to inventory those as soon as this step is over, so that we can clean up as we go along.
One last thing: Many people talk about doing an inventory of your assets as well. The argument generally is that as COSAs, we don’t pay enough attention to our assets, instead marinating in our shame and self-judgment. This is true! (And this is a good time to repeat that the inventory is not about shaming or judging ourselves; we are only writing down what we have done or thought that does not work for us. Including that shame and judgment!)
In our experience, our assets emerge when we turn over all of these “character defects”. We don’t have to do anything in order to identify them or create them. They emerge, shining, from the muck that we are digging up and discarding through this inventory process.
A list of your assets is a fine thing to make, just like a gratitude list or any other separate tool. We simply don’t suggest including it in the inventory process because you should be free to use it at any time (in fact, it might make more sense during later steps), as well as free to complete your inventory and move on as soon as possible to being rid of all of this pain. It’s too ironic to hold on to your pain longer while you make a list of your good qualities!