Sunday, 11 November 2012

How to increase your will-power!

In this fantastic presentation on will-power, Kelly MacGonigal gives some great insights into how we can manage change and manage will-power.  I feel that four of the five recommendations can help people immediately, and the first one she recommends will be the result of taking more control over your drinking.

Brief introduction

The Devil and the Angel.

Classic description of temptation, with the devil telling you to ‘go on, order that next drink’ and the angel replying ‘hang on, it’s already nine o’clock, you’ve got work tomorrow etc’.  And in a way this is a useful metaphor for how the brain works. 

The Devil Brain (Seth Goth calls it the lizard brain - related to why we don't do great work)

The old part of the brain wants immediate gratification.  It lives in the moment and its primal instinct is survival. When we lived on the grasslands of Africa, we took whatever food came our way and enjoyed sex when it was available.  This kind of thinking increased the chances of the survival of your genes then.  Traditionally, people thought of this brain process as hedonistic but Kelly puts a new spin on this.  She puts it this way, people are not getting pleasure from doing drugs, drinking too much, eating non-stop, they’re getting relief from ‘want’. 
It was an asset in the grasslands of Africa but now-a-days with cheap food, cheap booze, TV, internet etc, immediate gratification has become a liability.

The Angel Brain

This is a newer part of the brain.  It’s more long term thinking and can control impulses to do things, for the long term good.  It allows us to drink socialably but helps us stop before we will ruin tomorrow.  It helps us say no.  It helps us do the right thing.  It’s the brain we need for the modern world but often it loses out to the devil brain.

The Five Willpower enhancers;

1.      Sleep, exercise, eat well and meditate.

2.      Forgive yourself

3.      Make friends with your future self

4.      Write about how you will fail

5.      Surf the urge (it’s not pleasure, it’s want)

Sleep, exercise, eat good food and meditate
For me, this one is difficult to do when you’re drinking too much.  Yes, drinkers exercise, they can eat well and some meditate but in general, drinking goes against these things.  It disrupts your sleep, makes you feel tired and sometimes even rotten.  Certainly for me, drinking was a drain on ‘doing the right thing’, especially the day after.

I feel that the other four practices will have more of a positive benefit to cutting down and this one, is what you get for reducing your drinking.

Forgive yourself. 
If you’re quitting or cutting back, you’re are likely to suffer from a relapse.  Studies, find people who are easy on themselves after a relapse did much better at their habit change then people who turned in on themselves.
I found this to be true.  When I went to Taiwan in January (2012) I got drunk like the old days.  There was a slight difference, I was more aware of what I was doing but I didn’t do much to reduce my drinking.  I realise that this wasn’t what I wanted but I didn’t seem able to do anything in Taiwan, so I decided to write it off.  I allowed myself to drink in Taiwan but afterwards I would address what went wrong and take action.  It worked.  It turned out to be just a two week blip.

Make friends with your future self. 
Studies have found that people who connect most closely with their future self(s) were much more likely to succeed in changing a bad habit than people who felt their future self(s) were different people.

Exercises used to help people connect more closely with their future self, included;

·        Writing a letter from your future self, thanking you for the action you had taken to develop a better habit.  You can write how your life is so much better for the action you took.

·        Imagine your future self doing some routine tasks.

Write about how you’re going to fail at your habit change.  
In studies they found that very positive images of you succeeding worked a little bit better than doing nothing.  But writing about how you’re going to fail made a bigger difference.

Why does this help?  I believe that this helps you understand how your bad habit works.  What triggers it?  When your failure is like to happen? Who are you with? Etc.  You predict what’s going to go wrong and then you notice how accurate your prediction is.  You refine it and get to know the ins and outs of your habit.  It helps your self-awareness and ultimately, it’s this self-awareness that helps you change.

Surfing the urge.
Take a smoker for example;  he’s dying for a fag but instead of giving into the urge, he;

  • Focuses his attention on the carving.  What does it feel like?  Where is the feeling?
  • He knows that the carving is like a wave and will go away.  He knows he can surf this urge.  He can take deep breathes.  The urge will eventually go.
I loved the presentation Kelly gave in this Authors@Google series.  I hope you find it helpful too, especially with the Xmas party session coming up.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Upcoming Will-power series

We are already in October and Christmas is fast approaching. 

Christmas is a time for cheer or so they sell it. More like drunken nights and rotten hangovers, if my memory serves me right.

Many of us increase our drinking over the Christmas period, because there are many more opportunities to do so.  There are work parties, friends and family get togethers, and in general we have a little more time (less to do at work and some holidays). 

We also increase our drinking because it’s expected of us, this is especially so for people with a reputation for drinking.  If you don’t live up to your reputation for drinking, people tend to think something is wrong.  (John, what’s wrong, why don’t you have a drink?  ORANGE JUICE!  You don't have to drive tonight, do you?  Come on John, get lively, here's a drink for you.  Etc).

So to help you get prepared for the Christmas period and to avoid an increase in your drinking and possibly a decrease, there will be a short series on will-power.

Will-power series

1st – review of a Google Talk by Kelly McGonigal.  In this talk she highlights five things that we can do to improve our will-power/self control.  I’ll provide a short review of the highlights from her talk and how drinkers might use these.

2nd – Environment >Will-power.  The focus will be on how we can change our environment so that it supports a more moderate approach to drinking.  This is very applicable to the home.  We also look at ways of automating decisions instead of using will-power, which can be used for social occasions where you have little control over the environment.

3rd – Summary

I’ve learned some things about will-power which I wasn’t aware of before.  There’s a lot of talk of will-power as a limited resource.  In layman’s terms, every day we have X amount of will-power and making decisions, communications and ‘self-control’ uses up your will-power.  So that by the end of the day, many people have used up their ‘will-power’ resource and are unable to resist temptation.  It’s a bit more complicated than this and for a fuller review read here.
Change of view on Will-power?

I’ve used the BJ Fogg model of habit change, which emphasis behaviour change and use of triggers over will-power.  I’ve written about will-power before.
Will-power is overrated!
Why drinkers drink.  A look at motivation.

But I think Kelly McGonigal ideas will support anyone trying to moderate or abstain from drinking (or to change any habit) and are worth knowing and experimenting with.

More on will-power soon.
Other articles to help you become a moderate drinker

October Challenge

I consider my drinking still to be moderate and I’m happy that my drinking habit is quite stable.  When I’m at home, I tend to drink one or two glasses of wine at a time.  In September, I think I was drinking more often though and to address this, I’ve decided to cut out alcohol for October.  It’s also partially because when I cut out alcohol in March, I felt really good (but I had also started exercising at that time too) and I’m curious to see whether this will happen again.

It also feels different this time, as it doesn’t feel so much like a challenge.  In January, I drunk like my old self and March was only a short time after that, so it felt like something I must do.  This time, it feels quite easy not to drink.  Well, it’s only been four days so far.

I have one exception for drinking in October and that is, if my friend from Taiwan comes over, I’ll have a beer with him.  This exception is in place because the last time he came over was in March and I think he was a little disappointed that I didn’t share a beer with him.

Monday, 3 September 2012

A year ago today

Officially, the Moderate Drinker has been on the Moderate Drinking road for a year.

On the 3rd September 2011 I made the effort to cut down to two glasses of wine and then on the 4th Sept 2011 I came up with 'Just one glass per night'.  That was the start.  Moderating at home was surprisingly easy but at parties and pubs it took some more effort.

I got sadly drunk for two weeks in January when I went back to Taiwan for a visit.  I used to work out there. But since then I've been moderate again both at home and in the pub. 

Cutting down has had some great benefits;

  • Feeling good on both Saturday and Sunday
  • No hangovers (except in January)
  • Generally feel happier when I'm not drinking
  • Don't feel the complusion to drink more and more
  • More motivated to make other changes in my life.
  • When you're sober, you realise drunks aren't so funny
Things are far from perfect but really cutting down on drink has made my life better.

Related articles

Why don't more heavy drinkers moderate?

How to be a moderate drinker?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Who’s the expert on alcohol?

Doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, addiction workers, alcohol specialists?

Perhaps it’s you!  You probably know more about hangovers, how drink affects you, the ‘drag effect’ it has the day after, how being extremely drunk feels than most of the experts mentioned above.  You know this because you have experienced it directly.  Yes, some of the experts have been drunk, but have they been drunk as many times as you?  Do they know more about the effects of alcohol on you than you?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, the Outliers, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule.  This rule states that you need to practice for 10,000 hours to become a master at something.  This is not to become an expert but a MASTER!

So let’s be conservative.  Let’s have a baseline of ‘a bottle of wine’ (or 4-5 pints of beer) for being ‘drunk/under the influence'.  Perhaps this takes four hours to drink.  Including some disruption to sleep and the day after effects of alcohol, perhaps we can add another four hours.

This is the baseline.  There have probably been times when you drank for much longer and in larger amounts.  Obviously the day after effects of these sessions also last longer, but we’ll keep the drunk baseline at 8 hours.

Times the number of times in your life you’ve been drunk with 8 hours.  Are you a master yet?

I drank a lot for a long time.  My calculate come out as roughly 3,900 times I’ve been drunk in my life (perhaps it’s a bit lower than that? It seems obscenely high) but that gives me 31,200 hours of experience of getting and being drunk.  That is Zen mastery.

Even if you’re not a master yet, you are still an expert.  You know how alcohol effects you.  You know more than most doctors how you feel when you’re drunk.  You know a hell of a lot about the day after effects of alcohol.  Use this knowledge.  Is it what you want in your life?

Answer the following questions;

When you are drunk, how does alcohol affect you?

In a good way?

In a bad way?

What do you do when you feel bad whilst drinking?

How does alcohol affect you the day after?

Getting up?



How often are you affected by alcohol the day after?

You know a lot about alcohol.  Use this knowledge to motivate you to drink less.  It’s not normal to wake up with a hangover.  It’s not normal to feel shitty for a morning or a day after drinking.  It’s only normal to you because you’ve made it normal.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Cut down and be a moderate drinker.

Change Your Life - Bonus Reasons

Monday, 25 June 2012

Imagine How Your Life Could Be as a Moderate Drinker

A New Start

You wake up with a smile on your face and you immediately hug your lover.  You feel the warmth of your lover.  You feel love and you feel wanted.  You start the day with a smile and with love.

When you getup, you stand tall and thank god or your lucky stars or whatever, that its Saturday and that it's your day. 

You go to the window and look out.  You see a beautiful day awaiting you.  You feel excited and look forward to your day.  You just can't help but smile because it's your day! 

Reclaim your mornings!  Reclaim your weekends!  Reclaim your life!

Be a moderate drinker.  And stop living under the influence.

Articles to help you change;