One of the most powerful tools that I use to help clients quit or reduce drinking is the Drink Plan.
You may have said things before like:
I’m going to start drinking less.
I’m not going to drink on weekdays.
That’s not a plan.
A proper working drinking plan has these at a minimum these 3 elements.
- It’s written down.
- It’s made 24 hours prior to any drinking.
- It’s precise – it states the times during which drinking will take place, and the exact quantity to be consumed.
The deluxe version of the Plan includes the following:
- A statement of why you intend to drink.
- A prediction of what you will be feeling before you drink. These could be feelings in general, for example the tired nervous feeling at the end of the workday and commute, as well as feelings you might be having about the impending drink. Examples might be anxious, worried, tired, happy, anticipating.
- A prediction of the feelings you’ll experience while drinking.
- A prediction of how you’ll feel after you’ve finished drinking or the next day.
LESS RELIANCE ON WILLPOWER
Right now your drinking decisions are being made by a primitive part of your brain that is driven by ancient survival imperatives towards pleasure and habit. The Drink Plan moves some of the decision processes into your Pre-frontal Cortex, that higher brain that is capable of thinking about and planning for the future.
When the time comes to drink on plan, you will still have to apply discipline. You may have an urge to drink more than the plan calls for. It will take some discipline to choose to allow the urge instead of reacting to it by having the drink.
However this is a far easier thing to manage than an open ended commitment to just drink less.
Consider an analogy. Maybe you’ve had to cook for yourself. If you haven’t, ask someone who has cooked for a family - they will absolutely confirm what I’m going to say. Deciding what to cook is harder than actually cooking. If you could walk in the kitchen and all the ingredients you needed were laid out on the counter along with a printout of the recipe, cooking would be easy.
The Drink Plan is like having your own sous chef. All you have to do is follow the plan. It takes far less mental energy and willpower to follow a clear written plan than it does to make a decision on the fly and then stick to it.
HONORING YOUR COMMITMENTS
Most of us are good at keeping our commitments to others. But we’re terrible at honoring our commitments to ourselves. All of our broken resolutions around eating, drinking, and exercising are evidence of this.
To build this skill of honoring yourself, you need to start with small steps. In the early stages of implementing the Drink Plan process, the focus is less about reducing the amount you drink and more about building this skill.
So if you’re someone that usually drinks 3-4 drinks a night, for a few days at least do a drink plan calling for 4 drinks. This lets you start to develop the planning habit and the follow-through habit with no drama.
Then you might adjust the plan to 3 drinks a night, and keep it there until you’re consistently following through.
And then finally ratchet down to whatever level you find appropriate.
Maybe you will start doing the Drink Plan and will follow it perfectly from day one and have a smooth transition towards your target drinking goal.
You will be inclined to berate yourself, call yourself a failure, and generally be an ass to yourself.
This will make you feel bad – guilty, shameful, regretful.
Which will make you want to drink and will sap your strength and resolve.
It is vitally important that you approach your ‘mistakes’ with curiosity, not judgement.
OTHER PLANNING TOOLS FOR DRINKING LESS
The Drink Plan is the main tool for managing your drinking on a regular or daily basis. There are other planning tools for special situations, such as:
- Upsetting Events, for example to manage your desire to drink in response to a family crisis or tragedy
- Write It Down and Move On, to learn from those times when you deviate from your plan.
I’ve created a downloadable and printable .pdf with worksheets for the these situations, plus the Drink Plan itself. Click on the picture of the tools to the right get it.
Willpower alone will not allow you to reliably change your habit. The Drink Plan allows you to utilize the power of your prefrontal cortex to make decisions ahead of time, which makes it much easier to follow through on your long term objective to drink less or not at all.
Honoring Commitment To Yourself is a skill that most of us have not developed. It needs to be built up incrementally. This skill will provide you with incredible power that you then use to overcome challenges you may face regarding diet, exercise, time management, and procrastination.
Judgement and self-abuse for those times that you drink off of plan will only keep you stuck. You need to view your mistakes with a neutral attitude and curiosity so that you can learn from them.
Remember, you can get your printable copies of the drink plan worksheets here.