20 September, 2018

We never say “good luck” in Club Soda (the UK’s Mindful Drinking Movement). It is a conscious decision on our part not to use those two words. We know it may seem odd when you are determined to crack a particularly hard habit to break, like your drinking habits.

But the word “luck” makes it sound like you need to click your heels. Believe it enough. You will be magically transported to a Wizard-of-Oz-style land where you will no longer drink every night.

Planning makes change possible

The reality is different. Successful behaviour change takes some planning. Planning helps you think through the possible pitfalls that lie ahead (the work drinks, the wedding, a stressful day) and asks what tactics work to keep you on track to your goals. You get to know your triggers and responses a little better, and as a result, you build confidence in your ability to change. Even when things don’t go well, knowing what course of action you were hoping for and why it did not work helps you avoid that pitfall again. The more you plan, the more confidence you build. And the more confidence you gain, the more successful you will be.

Why confidence matters

If we want to change our habits, such as reducing the amount we drink, we need confidence in ourselves. We need to know that we can change things in our lives. Confidence helps you resist temptation. Not just because of a niggling self-doubt that your inner critic can exploit but because the short-term gain (avoiding social rejection and managing difficult emotions) is more compelling than the long-term gain (achieving the goal we want). Building enough confidence to bring about a change isn’t easy and requires ongoing effort.

How can I build my confidence to change my drinking habits?

1. Use encouraging language when you think through the triggers you must navigate. Being too critical of yourself is demotivating. It worsens your mood and increases the temptation to drink as a form of coping. Remind yourself instead of what you hope to gain from making a change. Consider the things that matter to you – for example: “I want to work hard to change my drinking as I will feel less tired” or “I want to be the healthiest I can be”. This subtle shift in language can be important, especially if you have been derailed and want to encourage yourself to get back on track. Being kind to ourselves doesn’t always come naturally, so if you notice being too harsh with yourself, practice shifting your language to more encouraging and compassionate words.

2. Set small goals. It is tempting to set big ambitious goals, especially when we are desperate for things to change quickly. People often imagine a change in drinking habits to lead to eating better, exercising more and losing weight too, all at once. But if your goals are too big and complex, you are less likely to reach them. Piling on too many big changes together is likely to lead to the scrapping of every single goal when something goes wrong with one of them. Feelings of failure will knock out your confidence. Once you control your mindful drinking, eating better and getting fitter will be much easier. So take your time.

If you make changing your drinking habits your top goal, break it down into smaller pieces. When it comes to reducing drinking, you will have more time on your hands (hangovers can last three days, but now those days are all yours!). Use this time meaningfully by having smaller sub-goals aligned with the final outcome you aim for. For example, you may be quitting drinking to feel more energetic, so make the most of that newfound energy by scheduling activities and ensuring that boredom does not nudge you back to old habits. These achievable actions will contribute to your ultimate goal and help you see and feel the change, building your confidence.

3. Have role models. We know from research that the more we identify with other people, the more influence they can have on us: “If they can do it, so can I”. Club Soda holds socials in pubs and restaurants so that our members can practice new behaviours in a familiar setting. Meeting other members will inspire you and help you feel accountable. Being social is the superfood of behaviour change. So never miss an opportunity to flex your new socialising muscles.

4. Remember how far you have come. Confidence can also be built by remembering that you have overcome setbacks before. A slip-up doesn’t mean you are back to square one. It is normal to think, “Well, that’s it, I have wasted all that time and effort I put in. I am a complete failure…” This can dent your confidence further and make it harder to maintain the good habits you have already built up. So look instead at how far you have come. You have learnt and managed a lot of triggers already. That is a success. So remember that learning, and pick up where you left off.

It is also worth considering setbacks in other areas of your life. What did you do that helped you to move forward then and what personal strengths did you draw on? What motivated you to keep going? Can you use any of those strengths and skills now? If you find this difficult, you could ask a friend to help you draw out your strengths and past achievements.

You have the strength to do this

This is why we think “good luck” is an inadequate phrase for what you are trying to do. To change your drinking habits you don’t need luck. That leaves far too much to chance, suggesting you are not in charge of what happens to you. You are.

The reality is that changing your drinking is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like an athlete running a long distance, you will need to train every day, learn new skills, ride the discomforts, and resist the temptations society continually puts in your way. Sometimes you may not stick to your plan, but you can pick up where you left off again.

We believe you can reach all your goals and get on board with mindful drinking. You may need to plan and get others’ support, advice and encouragement. But none of that is down to luck.

Written by Laura Willoughby, MBE is co-founder of Club Soda the UK’s Mindful Drinking Movement.

They support changing your drinking habits, whether cutting down, stopping for a bit or going alcohol-free. They have online courses, workshops and social events, and on October 13th, they are holding their alcohol-free drinks event, The Mindful Drinking Festival, in association with Heineken 0.0, in Glasgow.

If you have enjoyed this blog please consider donating.

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