Change your thinking to change your behaviour

With New Year’s resolutions incoming, thousands of us will be wanting to change habits to live a better life.  But there is a reason that most resolutions fail by week 2 - which is that people tend to focus on the wrong things when trying to make a permanent change.  Here are some ways that you can make better habits stick:

If you want to change your behaviour, you need to change your thinking

Do you know how long it takes for your body to reset when you stop drinking?  For most people it's only about a week.  Our bodies are incredibly adaptable and the ‘withdrawal’ from drinking isn’t as long as you might think.  However, sticking to this is not about your body, it’s about your thinking.  To make a new habit stick (especially if you have been drinking heavily for a sustained period of time) you need to retrain your thinking.  This means focusing on the outcome of better habits, not the problem.

Focus on how being 'drink-free' will make your life better

The way to really embed new better behaviours is to focus on the future.  Spend some time really thinking about what a new ’drink-free’ life has in store for you.  Visualise better health and how that will feel, imagine better wealth and what you will do with that money.  Think about how your relationships will flourish and how life will feel more peaceful and positive.  Get really clear on what gets better when you drink less. 

Think about your triggers

Many of us drink in response to triggers.  These can be emotional, situational or other people.  For example, some people use drink as a reward for a hard day at work.  Others use it to manage anxiety or stress, whilst others find that a person or group of people trigger excessive drinking.  Try and work out when you drink too much and why and then think carefully about how you could avoid some of these situations as you progress.

Reward yourself for positive progress

Your brain loves reward so find ways to encourage yourself.  Tell other (non-judgy) people about your success so they can support you. Look for ways to give yourself a pat on the back - a little present, or a positive affirmation. Take opportunities to embrace the new moments a drink free life brings you - people talk emotionally about seeing their first sober sunrise, better sleep patterns, brighter eyes, greater intimacy and trust.  There are so many small moments on the path that you should celebrate and recognise.

Don’t despair if you make a mistake

There is no doubt that your life will be better if you drink less.  But the path is not always easy and if you have a setback, the worst thing you can do is punish yourself.  IF you act like it is the end of the world, it makes it much harder for your thinking to get back on track.  Instead, take the opportunity to learn - why did it happen and how can you avoid it happening again?  Don’t let one mistake knock your progress.  Be kind to yourself. 

Seek help from those who know how it feels to be where you are 

Whilst it's possible to reset your drinking and transform your life by yourself, there are thousands of people following the same path and sometimes, being part of something bigger (on your own terms) can give you extra motivation.  Consider using a book or a programme to support your transformation.  Online programmes enable you to make the change in your own time and in privacy, but with the support of people who have been there and know how it feels.  

If support on your journey sounds appealing, take a look at our Facebook group The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober to.

Start with a few hills before climbing your Everest.

Did you know that over 50,000 people in the UK alone seek help for their drinking from their GPs each year?

The vast majority of these people are juggling families, jobs, caring responsibilities or community commitments. They are making valuable contributions to the world around them, not whiling away days on park benches with cans in paper bags.

This shows that ‘problem drinking’ is deeply personal - if you are drinking more than you would like on a regular basis and don’t seem to be able to reduce it, then for you it’s a problem - whether it’s a glass or a bottle. I’ve worked with thousands of people (mums, boyfriends, CEOs, students, grandfathers, successful execs and small business owners) learning how to stop drinking and even though what they do, what they drink and how much they drink might differ, they all found the way to change their behaviours by looking at their drinking differently. If, like them, you are looking for ways to stop drinking or drink less, here are some important factors to keep in mind.

Willpower alone is rarely enough for a lasting change.

Willpower is about using rational thought to change your behaviour. You know that making the change is a good decision, so you just do it, right?

If this worked we would all be slim, healthy and have loads of savings in the bank! But the human brain doesn’t work this way. 90% of our thinking is non-rational. Addictions and damaging behaviours lie in this subconscious thinking, which is why it is so hard to override. Yes you will need a degree of discipline and as with all good intentions, you may even be able to keep it up for a while, but if you are relying on willpower, you are making life hard for yourself. At some point your willpower will wane and if you haven't dealt with the underlying cause - your feelings - you may stumble.

If you want to stop drinking, don’t focus on stopping.

This might sound counterintuitive but it’s a powerful thought when you get your head around it. The human mind doesn't deal in negatives, it likes positives much more. So instead of thinking about how bad your drinking is (and what a bad weak person you are) reframe your thinking. Put some time aside and make a list of what will improve in your life if you get control of your drinking. Think about your health and wealth, your relationships, your work…. It is amazing how many things get better when you get control of your drinking. Getting really clear on your motivations for changing being about a better future will help you keep moving forward

Examine your personal ‘trip wires’

Once you have got really clear on how much better life will be with less drink in your life, spend some time thinking about what (or who) could get in the way of the better future you have imagined for yourself. Here are some examples:

  1.  I reward myself with wine after a tough day at workSo many of us use alcohol as a reward, which is ironic as it is actually more of a punishment when you think about it.  So think about what you might do instead.  Have a long bath, swap a gin and tonic for a tonic, get an early night.  
  2. I go out on every Friday night with Steve and I can’t not drink.  Social situations are real triggers for excess drinking so think about what you can put in the way, for example drive yourself so you can’t drink, invent a course of antibiotics or a funny tummy so you aren’t under pressure to drink, explain to Steve that you are taking some time out, miss a week, drink alcohol free beer. 
  3. Drinking helps settle me down if I feel anxious.  Anxiety is a major driver of drinking, as it is a depressant and numbs some of the feeling.  Instead consider whether you can swap in meditation or deep breathing, or make a list of positives or gratitudes to offset the anxiety.

Break change down into steps.

Don’t set yourself mammoth goals. This adds pressure when you least need it.

Start with a few hills before climbing your Everest. I always recommend that people start by committing to a week without drink and be quite conscious during that period if how it feels. Keep your positives list close to hand and be aware of your triggers.

While the physical impact of drinking less may start to become apparent in a week or two, reprogramming your thinking takes longer.

Find support that suits you

Many people are ashamed of their drinking, which is incredibly unhelpful as it means that they don't feel publicly confident about seeking help- so their problems continue.  The following options can offer you support as you make your change

  1. Digital programmes like SinS  offer you structured journeys to follow with support at every step.  You can do them in your own time and in the privacy of your own home
  2. Communities.  Many people are massive advocates of AA and cite the fellowship of others as essential to their change.  For others, the meeting approach is less appealing, but digital communities offer support and kindness from people struggling with similar issues.  Consider a group like The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober Facebook group.
  3. Books.  There are many self-help books out there.  Check out Sober In Seven the book here.  
  4. Friends. Consider confiding in friends who you know will support without judgement

Accept that drinking isn’t always a symptom of something else

Whilst there is no doubt that unhappy people, the mentally ill or those who have suffered trauma may exhibit self-destructive behaviours,  addictions are habits and problem drinking isn’t always triggered by a major life drama.  Many people see their drinking escalate over time and suddenly notice it’s a problem.

Seek medical help if you are worried

If you are concerned about how reducing your drinking might affect your health then talk to your GP.  They are best placed to give you advice

Be kind to yourself

As an ex-drinker of Olympic proportions, this is perhaps the single most important thing to do.  Drinkers often follow a well-trodden path of good intention - they start strongly, have a ‘wine wobble’ and then punish themselves - leading to more drinking and a downward spiral.  If you are reading this then you are clearly serious about changing your drinking, so give yourself credit for that.  

Problem drinking can leave you feeling alone and desperate, but with help and support, you can find a way through.  Just focus your effort where it can have the most impact - by thinking about how much better your life will be with less alcohol in it.

Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.

How asking the right questions can change your life

Thousands of us worry that we drink too much, but struggle to make a permanent change. I fuelled my own huge drink problem for decades before finding the answer that worked for me.  At that point, I was able to lay down the foundations for permanent change in just a week.  Now in my role as a ‘sobercoach’ helping thousands of people get their lives back on track, one of the questions I am most often asked by people looking to change their drinking habits is ‘can I cut down or do I have to give up?’

I think the reason people get stuck on this is because ‘ the rest of my life’ feels like a terrifyingly long time to be trying to get your head around.  Plus, even though alcohol is a damaging addiction for many people (and those around them), they still worry that life without drink will be more boring, more colourless (see my article How to stop drinking and still have fun for more on this).  So if you are rethinking your drinking, here are some thoughts to keep in mind:

Only you can decide what works for you in the long term.

As a coach, it is not up to me to tell you what will work for you. I cannot dictate what you should do, as each of us must take individual responsibility for our actions, if we are to own our own meaningful change.  

If you look at the testimonials of people who have graduated from the ‘Sober in Seven’ programme that I run (testimonials page here),then you will see that many of them have chosen to give up completely, whilst others talk confidently about the improved control that they have found over their drinking.  The thing that matters is that for each of them, it is a choice.  My programme is established to enable people to make good decisions, not to help them avoid or hide from poor ones. 

A short break from alcohol is an essential part of resetting your habits 

As part of the programme I run, I do insist that people take a 100 day break from drinking.  This is because if you are to find your own answers, you need to be clear in your own mind and able to do the thinking that makes the difference.  It’s a bit like going to the gym and sitting in the jacuzzi.  Yes, you are in the right building, but you aren’t going to get fitter unless you are prepared to put a bit of work in.  There has to be a bit of clarity and discomfort for positive change to be able to occur.  

Don’t think about a drinkless future as a problem, see it as an opportunity.

Instead of worrying about your life stretching ahead without alcohol, start thinking about the future differently. Start getting really clear on what a brighter future without an alcohol problem looks like.  Visualise what the benefits will be for you personally. Be as specific as you can -think about your health, your wealth, your relationships, your mental health, your self-esteem.  White them down.  Rip inspirational pictures out of magazines. Get really really focused on what gets better with less alcohol.  The brain responds better to positive than negative thoughts, so the more you focus on the good stuff that will come from rebalancing your relationship with the bottle, the more likely you will be able to make it stick. 

A drink problem is not forever.

This is an inflammatory statement for many organisations that support people with drink problems, as they believe that once you have fallen prey to a dependence, you are dependent forever.  I do not subscribe to this, although I respect the amazing work that they do for many people around the world and count many of these people as good friends. 

In the early days of being sober, I thought about drinking a lot, which is natural when you make a major change. However,  the programme helped me to change my thinking permanently and now, I don’t think about it at all.  Drink has lost its hold over me and these days the desire to drink has left me completely.  In fact my thinking has changed so much that when I pour my partner a drink. I find the smell off-putting. The programme I run focuses on turning off your desire to drink, rewiring your thinking by identifying and focusing on the huge, life-enhancing advantages you will benefit from personally when you get your drinking under control.  Then you can leave your alcohol problem behind and move on with your life. 

Don’t rely on willpower

Think of the benefits of not drinking rather than the negatives of drinking

Some people go ‘cold turkey’ and force their way through with willpower.  Those made of steely stuff might be able to do this for a while and it's certainly true that willpower can get you through the physical withdrawal of drinking less (which is done and dusted within a week for most people ).  However, willpower requires your rational mind to be in charge and this is simply not how our brains are wired.  We do most of our thinking subconsciously, so if you want to make a permanent change, you need to get your subconscious mind on board. Our brains find positive rewards much more appealing than negative thoughts, which is why you are much more likely to succeed permanently  if you give your brain reasons to feel good about your choices, not rely on the fear of feeling bad. 

So don’t get stuck on how much or how little, how long or how short.  Get really focused on why changing your drinking will make your life better and start pointing all your energy at that life instead.  This positive reinforcement is how you will change the road you are on. In time only you will decide if that takes you down a drinkless path or a more moderate intake.  These are your choices and yours alone. 

Ask a different question

So if you are staring down a drinking problem and wondering if the only way to deal with it is to stop altogether, why not ask yourself a different question?  Why not answer this instead: How will my life change for the better if I get control of my drinking? Getting clear on these answers are the way to change your thinking - and so your drinking.  

And remember, that any behaviour that has been learned can also be unlearned, so feel positive about your ability to make and then own, a permanent change for the better.  And if you want to learn more, find the SoberinSeven programme HERE

Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.

Don't make the mistake that 95% of people do when trying to get sober!

At Sober in Seven, we have been privileged to see thousands of people learn how to stop drinking alcohol and move on with their lives.

When things finally 'click' for people, and they have the benefit of hindsight after what can be decades of trying unsuccessfully to regain control of their alcohol consumption, many people have fallen into the same trap.

They focused on Stopping Drinking.

So that sounds counterintuitive, but consider this:

If someone asked you to picture yourself drinking, that would be relatively easy.

Now try to imagine yourself not drinking.

What springs to mind? Everyone reading this will have a different take on it, and the picture is quite confusing. The human mind does not deal easily with negatives. In fact, for the majority of people who try to 'stop drinking', they actually picture themselves doing the thing they are trying to move away from. At best, this is pointless, and at worst, it reinforces the notion of you drinking alcohol so it is completely counter productive.

A man set up a call with Andy and was telling of his situation. He was clearly in a very dark place, and his summary was, 'If I don't sort this out, my wife will throw me out'.

We can all agree that is pretty powerful motivation, yes?

Quit drinking for you, not others.

It is incredible motivation for today but having such a negative motivator is unlikely to provide lasting success. Why?

Fast forward six months into the future and the man has quit drinking. he has not been 'thrown out'. Where is the motivation to continue? Over time, resentment creeps in and there is a sense of 'I lost, you won'. this rarely ends well.

Andy asked a follow up question to the man's summary - 'What kind of husband did you always want to be? What kind of Father?'

The man spoke very eloquently about being a loving husband, inspirational Father and being present for his family. When Andy asked, 'So where does alcohol fit in with those goals?' The silence was deafening apart from the sounds of pins dropping.

When you stop drinking, you have to do it for you. This is a positive motivator. Doing this to avoid pain is powerful (and I would also argue necessary) motivation but lasting energy around this hard to find.

When you learn how to stop drinking, everyone else benefits of course, but you have to do it for you primarily. When you are clear on the positive aspects, the journey is easier. It sounds like a small difference but the difference in the long run is huge.

Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.

In the festive season, summer holidays or a short break away, the prospect of relaxation away from daily life without drinking can feel daunting. Parties, family get togethers, raising glasses and toasting the season.  But if you tend to drink too much, then holiday seasons are super- stressful. Andy's drinking problem was an all year affair, but it spiralled in holiday season because there were more drinking opportunities and much greater acceptance of all day drinking. Here are 5 tips to reduce the risk of alcohol ruining your holiday period: 

Focus on the positives of drinking less

You will struggle to get through the holiday period if you are focused on the trouble that will ensue if you drink too much.  Instead try and reframe the issue and get really clear on what will be great about you not drinking too much.  Your brain likes positive messages much more than negative ones, so if you can visualise what a problem-free celebration period would be for you, it will give you motivation to avoid drinking too much.  Think about how much happier you and those around you will be -  you will feel better, brighter, healthier, your relationships will be under less pressure, you will remember more, be able to make the most of your time and give yourself every opportunity to enjoy the time if you aren’t drunk. 

Identify the danger points (and people) and plan around them.

If you know that the Christmas party is a risk, then book a cab to make an early exit.  If Uncle Steve is always topping up your glass, tell him you are on antibiotics;  if cooking lunch makes you feel stressed and anxious, delegate tasks and create space for yourself to get some fresh air or do some deep breathing.  It might sound silly, but creating ‘action plans’ can reduce the chance of you getting caught out and help you feel a bit more in control 

Use mental rehearsal.

Wait, what? Picturing the goal you are looking for can make the difference between achieving it and not.

Do you have a goal of a peaceful, family Christmas where you are present each moment? Do you want to have fewer arguments? More energy? To be able to enjoy a break from work without feeling like you need a holiday to get over this one?

Find a quiet place and simply visualise yourself achieving just that. Picture your success, feel how it feels, and take note of the sights and sounds. Have some real fun with it. Will everything work out exactly how you picture it? maybe, maybe not, but at least when temptation strikes, you will be ready.

Be kind to yourself.

It’s a time of year when we all pretend to be perfect.  But we aren’t and trying to live up to expectations is both exhausting and risks us failing and then the wheels falling off.  IF you know that too much time with loved ones has you reaching for the bottle, then try and create space for yourself. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, just try to be present and enjoy what each day has to offer.  And if it does go wrong, don’t give up on yourself,  Be kind and remember that every day is a new start. 

Seek out support that works for you.

Holiday seasons often bring extra stress, so reach out for help if you need it.  Find a friend who will support without judgement or rely on the wisdom of strangers.  There are online communities like The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober Facebook group which are full of people who are dealing with similar issues and often just hearing their stories can help you stay on track. 

Re-set after the holidays 

Once the holidays are over, consider giving your body a break.  It is the perfect time to spend a bit of time focusing on you and there are lots of programmes available to help you, if you want to reset your relationship with alcohol.  The advantage of digital courses is that you can do them in your own time, in the privacy of your own home. To find out more about how changing your drinking can transform your life, click here. 

Follow these tips and give yourself every chance of enjoying the holiday season.

Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.

Overcoming a drinking problem is possible, it is not a life sentence

In 2016, I was a huge man with a huge drink problem.  One of the reasons I drank for as long as I did was that I believed certain myths about drinking.  Having got myself sober and helped thousands of others get their lives back on track too, I want to debunk these myths, so they don’t stop others from changing their drinking and transforming their lives. 

Myth 1:  If you drink too much you are just weak

I was at a school sports day when I overheard a father berating his son, who had come last in his race.  I heard him bellowing “JUST RUN FASTER”. It struck me that whilst his advice was clear, it was also completely unhelpful. Telling someone with a drink problem to “JUST STOP” or “JUST HAVE ONE” is like shouting into the wind.  If we could, we would! 

This type of ‘advice’ is unhelpful not only because it doesn't work, but also as it makes the receiver feel shame about their behaviour.  Shame is a terrible feeling and us problem drinkers are riddled with it. Shame keeps us stuck and makes us hide problems, because it makes alternatives feel impossible. But the truth is that an addiction isn’t about poor character traits - it is a combination of a physical and emotional dependencies.  You need to address both if you are going to be able to make a lasting change.  Whilst it’s comparatively quite easy to break the physical cycle, reframing how you feel requires more time and careful attention. 

The very fact you are reading this shows huge strength and self awareness. I occasionally get asked, 'How can you bear to work with such broken people all the time?' My answer is always the same - I get to participate in somebody's journey to be a better version of themselves - these are the strongest people you will ever meet, and doing what I do is the best 'job' I have ever had!

Myth 2:  I can use willpower to reduce my drinking

By studying how our brains work, I learned our minds have 2 parts, the conscious and the subconscious.  The conscious mind is the rational one - the one that makes considered choices, weighs up the evidence and acts coolly and with care.  Unfortunately, this type of thinking only accounts for 10% of our processing power.  It is outgunned by our subconscious brain, which works emotionally, rather than rationally and below our level of awareness (hence SUBconscious) so we often don’t even realise it is influencing our choices.  It is almost impossible to overwhelm this subconscious system with willpower - you might be able to do so for a short time but after a while, you may falter and be dragged back to old ways by a subconscious mind that hasn't yet worked out what you are trying to achieve. You might think you can fight this but it’s hard - that’s why we make impulse purchases, eat too much chocolate and don’t do enough exercise.  If it was effortless to make good choices, we would all be wealthy supermodels.

Also, where is the fun in battling yourself all the time? It is much better to start co-operating with yourself!

Myth 3 - Focus on the problem if you want to solve it

Focusing on the 'problem' is helpful in terms of accepting things for what they are, but you need to focus on the solutions and the benefits of that to achieve lasting, sustainable change.  We need to re-frame our thinking and use our brains to our own advantage.  The subconscious mind prefers positive thoughts to negative ones (it's the reason we tend to assume we are cleverer and luckier than we are) .  So whilst you need to acknowledge a problem in order to be able to solve it, obsessing about the problem will only see you staying stuck where you are. 

Instead you need to look down the other end of the telescope.  Think hard about how changing your drinking will change your life for the better.  List all the things that will improve as you reduce your drinking - your health, your wealth, your sleep, your relationships, your shape, your skin, your energy levels,  As you make this list, make your positives personal.  Attach them to specifics in your life. Your subconscious will LOVE THIS. It will get excited about this future life and make it much easier for you to move towards it.  If you want to solve a problem, think about how you are going to move past it, not the problem itself. 

Myth 4 - All problem drinkers use alcohol to cover up massive life issues

Nope. Whilst it’s true that many people who suffer from trauma, grief or abuse often mask their pain with self-destructive behaviours, for most people I work with, drinking is a habit that has evolved into dependence and addiction.  I had counselling, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy to try and find the ‘reason’ for my drinking.  What I learned was that there wasn't a single, big reason.  It wasn’t because I was adopted, or divorced, or stressed at work.  It was because I had become habituated to downing a bottle (or two) of wine every night. There were probably a hundred subtle, individual reasons that led to my drinking.

If your  drinking is out of balance then your life is out of balance, but don’t spend too much time looking backwards.  Instead, if you can look forward and get really clear on the life you want without alcohol, then every part of your life will improve.  Drinking too much is a habit you can get out of, but you need to know how. 

Myth 5 - If you have a problem with drink, it will be a problem forever

I no longer think about drinking.  It’s taken me a while, but I have turned off the desire for it.  I still get stressed, my life is imperfect, things still go wrong, but I have learned that solving my problems is never helped by reaching for a bottle. I’ve now helped thousands of other people better understand their drinking and then put it behind them too and get on with their lives. Some abstinence methods disagree with me.  They feel that to be in control of a problem you need to confront it daily. I never 'bought' this idea and it held me back.  I wanted to address the issue and move on.  And I did.  If you want to too, then you can find the Sober in Seven programme here 

It is true that if you DON’T get serious about solving your problem then it will definitely be around forever.  But if you have read this far then you are probably pretty serious.  Just don’t spend your energy on the wrong things.  It is the power of positive thinking that will change your relationship with alcohol and transform your life.

Join our Facebook support group to get help and advice for others in similar situations.

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