GUEST BLOG: Luck vs Confidence in the battle for habit change
Published 20 Sep 2018
We never say “good luck” in Club Soda. 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 drinking.
But the word “luck” makes it sound like you just need to click your heels, believe enough, and you will be magically transported to a Wizard-of-Oz style land where you will no longer drinking 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 askes what tactics work to keep you on track to your goals. You get to know your triggers and responses a little a bit better, and as a result you build confidence in your ability to change. Even when things don’t go to plan, knowing what course of action you were hoping for and why it did not work helps you avoid that pitfall again in future. 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 to have 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 will have to navigate. Being too critical about yourself is demotivating. It makes your mood worse and increases the temptation to drink as a form of coping. Remind yourself instead of what you hope to gain from making a change. Think about 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 that you are being too harsh with yourself, practice shifting your language to words that are more encouraging and compassionate.
2. Set small goals. It is tempting to set ourselves 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 have got your drinking under control, 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 as well. When it comes to cutting down on 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 that are aligned to the final outcome you are aiming for. For example, you may be quitting drinking to feel more energetic, so make the most of that new found energy by scheduling in activities, and ensure 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 along the way.
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 really 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 to how far you have come. You have learnt and managed a lot of triggers already. That is success. So remember that learning, and pick up where you left off.
It is also worth thinking back to setbacks in other areas of your life. What did you do that helped you to move forward then? 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 to do, you could ask a friend to help you draw out your strengths and past achievements.
You have the strength to do this
All of this is why we think “good luck” is a totally 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 that 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 again where you left off.
We believe that you can reach all your goals. You may need to plan and get support, advice and encouragement from others. But none of that is down to luck.
Written by Laura Willoughby MBE is co-founder of Club Soda is the UK’s Mindful Drinking Movement.
They support you to change your drinking habits whether that is 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