Changing your drinking is not a race you are training for, or a significant ’day’ that you have been planning for ages. It is a process.
It is a change process that can take different lengths of time, depending in who you are, your circumstances, or even on the physical you.
It is a process because drinking too much is a habit, a behaviour that you repeat on a regular basis, often without thinking about it. To change it you need to repeat not doing it, time and time again in a conscious way.
An additional complication is the fact that alcohol seeps into every bit of who we are – our body and brain and our interactions with others:
- the social us
- the emotional us
- the coping us
- the physical us
- the work us.
We are constantly bombarded by canny advertisers, product placement and social norms that make drinking easy and desirable to many people. These can all play into our guilt, our shame and our insecurities.
So changing your drinking habits is not a one-off event, it is a long-term process. A process full of events that you need to plan for. What does that mean in practice?
The process of changing your habits
In cutting down or quitting alcohol, you are contemplating a life without being controlled regularly by a mind altering substance.
You are signing up to many possible pitfalls, such as:
- feeling your emotions more strongly
- facing covert and overt messages opposing your personal goals
- having to prioritise a long term goal against short term quick fixes
- rediscovering who you really are.
There are several stages and experiences you may have to go through:
- Repairing or recovery – whatever you want to call it, your body and brain need to deal with the shock of being without alcohol, either temporarily or permanently. Physically you need to nurture yourself, and accept that this can take time. From drinking more water, to repairing your metabolism. You may find some things in your life disrupted; your sleeping patterns often change for example.
- Experience – the psychological addiction is real, and not doing something when you have been used to doing it can be hard and uncomfortable. You may find not touching the wine at 6 pm easy, but then certain friends, surroundings or emotions more difficult to manage. It is not all negative either: there can be a honeymoon period where you are so very chuffed with how great you feel.
- Rewire – your brain has to undo all of those emotional and socials habits that have been built up over the many years you have been using alcohol. It can take a long time for alcohol not to be the first thing at the front of your mind when an unexpected event occurs. Life still happens. It is not the fault of taking alcohol out – but it can feel that way! You need to decide what new coping mechanisms you will pull on instead of drinking.
- What next? That honeymoon feeling will eventually fade away, and you may want to keep feeling happy for longer. Or you may get bored of the hard work changing your habits takes. It is important to make sure that ambivalence does not creep in, or any new bad habits do not come up.
To make sure you succeed in meeting your goals, you have to plan for the process, and all events ahead.
Setting your long term goal with a WOOP plan
A WOOP – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan – helps you develop commitment and confidence in your intention to change, and really helps you focus on the outcomes of success. Come up with your personal WOOP by thinking about the four parts.
What is your wish?
What is your timescale for this wish? Is it long enough to make a difference?
What is your moderation goal? Is it specific?
What is the best possible outcome for you of achieving this wish?
What is the process of change your are embarking on, and what are you hoping to achieve by doing it? You were motivated enough to seek Club Soda out – so really put some work into listing all the reasons.
This is really important whatever your goal. But if you are looking to moderate your drinking, your outcome has to be more specific than just ‘drinking less’. What is it you want to stop happening by moderating? What are the important thing for you that you are trying to keep? Exactly how much and when will you drink in future?
From other experiences of trying to change your habits, what do you think are the weaknesses you need to overcome?
How does the thought of a ‘process’ rather than an ‘event’ make you feel?
What other aligned issues may you need to look at?
What will you do when you go off plan? How can you make sure you pick up the plan again quickly?
What personal strengths do you have that will help you succeed?
What would you be willing to try?
When else in your life have you made significant changes like this? How did you do it?
How often will you review your plan?