How To Overcome The 3 Obstacles To Drinking Less

You might be wondering why you don't just stop drinking too much.   It shouldn't be so difficult you think, and there must be some deep profound reason.  

Fortunately you don't have to find and solve and deep reasons.  

Keep it simple, and just have to recognize that stopping, or not stopping, is something you DO, in a very specific moment, when you’re faced with the option to drink.

You may encounter many of these moments of opportunity in a given day.  You might have to stop at 5:00, and then again at 5:15.  Then maybe not again until 9:00.   Each one of them is it’s own little moment of truth, and the problem, and the solution, can be found in each moment.

Here are the three problems and a way to solve them.

1 - ATTENTION

You’re not paying attention.  You’re on autopilot, and when beer:thirty comes, you find yourself drinking without explicitly acknowledging that every time you pour a drink, you are making a decision.   You just let the decisions happen, because that’s what you did yesterday and the day before.

To overcome this obstacle to drinking less, here's a process you need to implement that will enable you to develop  your attention and awareness. 

IMPROVING YOUR ATTENTION

Resolve that before each drinking event - buying the alcohol, or opening the fridge to get a beer, or pouring a drink - you’ll pause for just a second and acknowledge that you have a choice.  

The goal of this effort is not to decide NO to having drink.  It is purely and simply to make a conscious decision.  In fact I want you to plan to decide YES.

Otherwise if you implement this exercise hoping to say No, without having established a foundation, most likely your brain will rebel and you’ll go asleep again.  So stay awake, take that short pause, and with every drink, acknowledge ‘I’m DECIDING to have this drink’.

Once you've developed your attention to the point that you are deciding to drink, you can use the further solution techniques described below.

2 - EMOTIONS

You’re experiencing an emotional state.  You’re unwilling to keep feeling that way, and alcohol is the only way you know to feel different.

It might simply be unfulfilled desire that you’re feeling.   The emotion of ‘wanting’.
Perhaps it’s worry or anxiety that you're feeling.

Sometimes people will say that they need to just turn down their overactive brains. I argue that it’s not the thoughts, it’s the emotions created by them.  If your brain were spinning with thoughts of hot sex or catching a big fish or having two weeks of luxury vacation, you’d probably be happy to let it spin.

But when it’s spinning with judgement (of yourself or others), regret, worry, or self-pity, of course you want to turn it off.   It’s not the thoughts, it’s the emotions created by them.

Your desire to get away from an emotion drives drinking.

The solution to this obstacle is to practice the skill of Allowing the emotion.

ALLOWING THE EMOTION or URGE

This is a matter of engaging with the physical sensations of the emotion in your body - things like tension, shallow breathing, stomach issue, or even just salivation.

Allowing an urge starts with you recognizing and acknowledging that it’s there.  Then do these three steps.

1

Get curious about it. Decide that you’re going to experience it fully, with your full attention. You’re not going to push it away, or label it, or judge yourself for having it.

2

Now pay attention to your body.  Do a scan from feet to head and notice any particular sensations - tension, butterflies, warmth or cold, extra salivation, changes in heart rate or breath.  Are the sensations in your belly, or neck, or back, or arms?  

3

Describe the sensations as clearly as you can.    

A common sensation I have when experience a strong negative emotion is a pronounced weakness and emptiness in my biceps and shoulders.    I also often experience something that feels like an electric disk, about 12" in diameter, pressed up against back of my neck.  

What you’ll find is that when you allow an urge in this way, it eventually dissipates. Your body basically digests it.  That’s not to say a new urge won’t crop up again soon, but with each practice rep, it will become easier and more natural.  

You'll find that, even before the urge dissipates, that an emotional experience need not be that big of a deal.  It's just sensations, and it's not something that needs to be gotten away from or 'solved'. 

This process is key to breaking the cue-desire-reward loop mentioned above, which has the inevitable result that the urges are much reduced.

3 - JUSTIFICATION

When you’re faced with the decision, your brain easily comes up with good reasons to drink.   You have a lot of ideas about why drinking is great.    The taste, the feeling, the social aspects, etc. 

But you haven’t provided it with clear compelling easily understandable justifications to say no.

Look, we humans operate at a pretty basic level most of the time.  Homer Simpson lives inside most of us.

In the moment of the decision, your brain finds the thought ‘mmm, beer tastes good’.  You’re good at thinking this thought because you practice it all the time.

Now if you try real hard not to drink, maybe your brain comes up with something like ‘I’m worried about my liver’.  But then it goes 'what is a liver exactly?  And is it important today?  Hell no!'

And of course, you decide to drink.

JUSTIFYING STOPPING

The solution is to use the awareness and attention that you cultivate in Point 1 to start to catalog your pro-drinking thoughts.   When you find yourself deciding yes, pay attention to the phrase in your head that justifies the decision. 

You can also take 15 minutes to write down your pro-drinking thoughts.  Sit down with some paper and pretend your brainstorming ideas to create a commercial for your favorite beverage.  

Once you have an idea of those thoughts that justify your drinking,  you can prefabricate some alternate arguments that neutralize them.

Also you should formulate a clear statement of what you want and how life will be great when you’ve mastered drinking less.  It's always much more powerful to have awesome things to move towards, than crappy things to move away from.   For example instead of 'I need to lose weight', it's better to think 'I'm going to be fit and strong'.

THE COMPLETE SOLUTION

These three approaches come together when you use my technique of Drink Planning.    Read about that here.   It's a bulletproof system for solving your drinking issue. 

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