Dry January, Week 4: Gaining Confidence in Your Ability to Not Drink

Last week I wrote about how feeling better physically when you take a break from drinking for a couple of weeks encourages you to drink less overall. This week I’m sharing a fourth benefit: self-confidence.

 

If you’re like me and tried unsuccessfully to stop overdrinking many times over many years, you may feel like nothing will work.

 

Like it just isn’t possible to get your drinking under control.

 

I used to really beat myself up about it.

 

I told myself I was a bad wife and mother because I used alcohol to cope.

 

I felt ashamed for being weak and not having self-control to stop after one or two drinks with friends. The next day I was ashamed I’d driven home when I knew I shouldn’t have because when I drank, I lost the objectivity to realize I was endangering myself and others.

 

I felt unprofessional and like a fraud when I drank too much in front of colleagues.

 

I thought about having a drink even though I didn’t want to think about alcohol.

 

I’d gotten into such a habit of drinking and had told myself so many times that I wouldn’t drink, but then did, that I really didn’t believe it was possible for me not drink.

 

I had completely lost faith in myself. My self-confidence in this one area was horrible.

 

Then the first time I went weeks without drinking at all, it hit me like a revelation. It was actually possible for me to NOT overdrink.

 

(Full disclosure—I do still drink sometimes, just much less and much less often than I used to.)

 

Now when I work with clients on their drinking, I watch the same revelation occur to them when they start to believe they can stop overdrinking. It’s like a lightbulb turns on in their brain.

 

Sometimes we change how we feel by changing our thoughts on purpose—like using affirmations.

 

This can work if the new thought is believable. Instead of teaching clients to say, “I know I can control my drinking,” we start with “I’m learning to control my drinking.”

 

The “learning to” part helps them get to the place where they can believe it. If we started with knowing, clients would never buy it. “Learning to” makes it seem sort of possible.

 

You can use this technique by practicing a thought you want to believe.

 

The other way to change our feelings is to do something different, observe new evidence, and as a result, start to change how we think about ourselves.

 

Here’s what I mean by this.

When you stop overdrinking, even temporarily, your brain takes in information that you were in control of your drinking for a short period of time. Then your brain starts to believe that maybe it’s possible for you to stay in control again in the future.

The more you see yourself not overdrinking, the more you believe in your ability to not overdrink. Repeat this enough and you’ll start to have the idea that it may be possible for you to keep your drinking under control as a longterm habit.

Note, I’m not talking about using willpower. This is important, because willpower can reinforce desire for alcohol.

 

The trick is to notice yourself wanting alcohol and allow the wanting to be there while not drinking.

 

Instead of trying to distract yourself or push the urge to drink away, allow your feelings of desire for alcohol. Notice how it feels in your body. Observe thoughts in your brain about wanting alcohol as if you’re seeing yourself as an actor and what’s going on around you as a scene in a movie.

This detachment employs your higher thinking brain and helps you shift out of your primal brain.

 

The more you observe yourself choosing not to drink, the more evidence accumulates. You begin to see that you can choose to not overdrink. Then the more you start to change your thoughts and believe in yourself.

 

This self-confidence strengthens your ability to choose actions that support your goal of drinking less.

 

For more tips on how to actually not drink during Dry January, visit www.julieernst.com and take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.

Julie Ernst