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;

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Fantastic BJ Fogg – Habit Change Made Easy

The focus of this article is on how I changed my drinking habit but this model can be used with any habit.  Whether it’s one you want to decrease or one you want to increase i.e. exercise, meditation, healthy eating etc.

I used BJ Fogg’s habit change model to change the way I drink.  I used to be a heavy drinker but with the model I’m now a moderate drinker.  The change for the most part was easy.

I was the kind of drinker that couldn’t stop once I had started.  Once I had one drink, I would continue for at least another four or five.  Sometimes I woke up and couldn’t remember what had happened the night before. More often I would lose my weekends through feeling rotten and unmotivated. I did this for 25 years.


Sometimes I don’t have a drink for a week or so.  Not through avoidance, I just simply don’t have the urge.  When I do drink, most times I have just one or two glasses. When I’m out in a pub or a restaurant, quite often I start with a non-alcoholic beer.  If I’m there for a while, I’ll have water while I have an alcoholic drink.  I say ‘No’ most times when I don’t want to drink anymore.

Note place on my wine bottles
Gain more quality time
Drink soft drinks with alcohol
Celebrate ‘stopping’ after one glass
Get healthier
Say no to alcohol, when I don’t want it.

Understand my motivation to drink.  Can they be changed?

Always drink a soft drink with an alcoholic one, when I’m in a pub.

How BJ Fogg’s Habit Change Model helped me

The model helped me ask a better question. 

The model moved the focus on to ‘abilities’ (what action to take) from motivation.

  • Sometimes you can go backwards with habit change.  I did, in January I was on holiday for two weeks and I drank like my old self.  If I was relying on my motivation I would’ve probably thrown in the towel.  But luckily, I revisited my ‘abilities’ list and worked on ‘Saying No to a drink’ and ‘always having a soft drink with an alcoholic one’.  I didn’t blame myself.  I focused on building change instead.

‘Abilities’ really helped me take action, because it made action specific.

  • Stop after one glass’ was an easy action to implement at home.  It was clear, there was no wiggle room and it allowed me to use a trigger that worked every time.  I knew when I had achieved this and this allowed me to ‘celebrate’ the new habit too.

Clear ‘abilities’ make it easier to use triggers.

Triggers allow you to be consistent.  Consistency changes habits.

  • What’s a trigger?  Classic ones; When you sit on your sofa (this triggers), you then turn on the TV.  When you see a red light, you start to slow down and then stop.  And from the world of drinking, when your glass is empty, you fill it up.
  • Stop after one glass’ – I placed a notice on my wine bottle ‘only one glass’.  I saw it every time I started drinking and it got me to think, WHY?  Why, just one glass (no hangovers, feel great tomorrow and won’t be drunk tonight)?  This got me to do the new habit.  It got to think at the right time and it send my motivation sky-high, also at the right time. 
  • This trigger made it so easy, that it felt like I was cheating.  Remember, I hadn't been able to do this for 25 years.


If you want to change a habit; stop, start or modify one, this model makes it easier.  It's action focused and it helps make those actions clearer.  It moves the focus away from motivation (a very inconsistent quality and one that can lead to self-blame) to action.  It also promotes the use of triggers, which gets you to do new actions consistency.  Use the model.  It works.

Other links;

Do you drink too much;  answer this question - how many times have you been drunk in your life?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Learn at Home – The Art of 'Stopping' after one glass

Why doesn’t good advice work more often?  What’s the human trait that gets in the way of habit change?  And what’s a simple way of addressing this trait?

The home is the ideal testing ground for changing habits because you have control over the environment.   When you change the environment, behaviour changes can become much easier.

A few years ago

I’d wanted to moderate my drinking for a long time but I didn’t find a way of doing it. I came across a key bit of advice for people who want to moderate their drinking;

“Think before you drink.  Decide how you’re going to drink before you start and when you’ll stop.” 

Whilst this is good advice, it does overlook the ‘how’ and a condition many of us suffer from.   The classic image of someone trying to change a habit (someone on a diet, stopping smoking or cutting down on the drink) is someone struggling with ‘carvings’.  They fight against themselves, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.  I hardly ever got to this stage because I simply forgot to ‘think before I drink’.

Forgetting was my main problem with changing this habit.  But why did I forget? 

Well, I think, it’s partly because we have a rush of thoughts that are pro-drinking before we start drinking.  If we’re going to meet friends, we’re probably thinking many things like; how are my friends? What stories can I tell them about me? What news do I know that they don’t?  How can I make this night fun? etc.  (Many of these thoughts might be pro-drinking, if we have beliefs such as ‘I’m more social when I drink’, ‘drink makes things more fun’, ‘I talk more when I drink’ etc.)

We also lead busy lives.  Our lives are full of information, which complete for our attention and keep us preoccupied.  There could be issues at work, with the family, we might be busy with our social networks and the environment is getting filled with information too (ads especially).   With all this information going on, it’s not surprising that we can’t remember to ‘think before we drink’.

Accept that we all ‘forget’ because it can be addressed.  This is especially easy in the home.

A trigger gets you to automatically do something.  In drinking, a classic trigger is when we finish a glass of beer/wine/whiskey.  What do we do?  We fill it up again.  And if we don’t fill it up, people will ask you ‘Do you want a drink?’ or ‘Is everything ok?’   People are incredibly uncomfortable with empty glasses.

To address ‘forgetfulness’, the easiest way I found was to put a reminder by my wine bottle.  This put the message ‘think before you drink’ in the right place.  I also saw it at the right time. 


When I saw this,  my thoughts went like this.  I’m going to drink just one drink.  Why?  Because I won’t get a hangover tomorrow, I’ll feel fine and energetic, and I won’t be a drunken idiot tonight.  Drinking one is healthy.   It’s easy to do.

And it was.  Once I thought about ‘what’ and ‘why’ before I started drinking, the change was easy.  The trigger also meant I did it every time.  Consistency is what changes habits and triggers make you consistent.

I stopped using the triggers after about two months because I automatically ‘think before I drink’ now.

Friday, 18 May 2012

You drink at home – GREAT!

Whilst the health authorities, the government and experts lament about the number of people drinking ‘behind close doors’, if you’re a heavy drinker and want to modify your habit, there some great news!

It’s easier to modify at home than in a social environment!


Like the old saying, your home is your castle, you’re the one who wears the trousers there.  You are the King or the Queen, the President, the Dictator (or however you’d like to call yourself) of the environment there.  You control everything and that’s great news for modifying your drinking.

In Your Castle.  You control Policy!

·         You control what you buy. 

·         You control what and how much alcohol to store.

·         You can control the labelling on your alcohol.

·         You can have messages in your house.  Like in Animal Farm “Two legs bad, Four legs good”.  For example “one drink is good, any more is bad” or “More than two, Alcohol makes you feel like poo” (Anything that helps you remember how too much alcohol makes you feel).  “Alcohol steals my time”.  You already know in what you don’t like about ‘drinking’, use that knowledge!!!

·         You control how alcohol is displayed.  Perhaps, it could be locked up, so it’ll give you a couple of extra seconds to think about drinking.

·         If there’s a soft drink you like (doesn’t have to be sugary), make sure you have a supply of it.

So take control.  Modify your drinking.  It’s easier in the home.  You’re the Boss!

Next time – How I learned the skill of ‘stopping after one drink in my home’.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Why do we drink? Part 2

Last time we watch 10 adverts for alcohol and tried to work out how they were selling alcohol to us. 

Knowing why we drink can help us questions those reasons.  Are they valid reasons?  Are we deluding ourselves?

Allen Carr is famous for helping people quit smoking and drinking.  His approach to quitting smoking focuses on debunking myths surrounding smoking – it’s physically addictive, it’s beneficial (i.e. helps against boredom, helps concentration, relaxes me etc). 

Here’s a video of him explaining his method for smokers to quit.
Alcohol Relaxes Me (My interpretation of Allen Carr)
Alcohol relaxes me. It’s true that when you start drinking, alcohol changes the way you feel.  That’s probably why after a hard day of work, people like this change in state that alcohol provides.   But if you carry on drinking, up to the time you go to bed, then alcohol disrupts your sleep.  You might fall asleep faster but alcohol disrupts the second half of your sleep, leaving you tired in the morning.  Not only that, alcohol’s a depressant, which basically means it slows down your brain activity.  That’s why after a heavy night, most people feel ‘washed out’ the next day. 
Alcohol and alternatives for relaxation.

Short term

Medium term

Long term
Changes how you feel
Changes how you feel
Changes how you feel
Cold Shower
Changes how you feel
Don’t know
Don’t know
Allen Carr's Fourth Point from the video
I've found this to be true.  I was surprised at first but when you see someone getting more and more drunk, it's really isn't a pretty sight.
Back to the adverts

Advert 1
It makes things different.  Something unexpected might happen.  You’ll be living but with a different tune – fun because it’s different.
This is held to be true by many drinkers because many drunken nights led to unexpected things happening.    But I also think a bit of alcohol blindness is happening here as well.  Too many people think of ‘drinking’ as the ‘night out’ but the effect of alcohol last much longer.  Unexpected things might happen on a night out but nothing much tends to happen the day after a night out.  The day can be lost because you’re recovering from the night.  So you lose the chance to do different and exciting things in the day because you’re too wasted.
This gets to be more true as you get older.  Perhaps, you don't even have the excitement of going out because you drink at home.  If you're in your 30s, 40s or 50s, you've probably done this over a 1,000 times before.  What's going to be different if you get drunk one more time?  The end result is likely to be the same, especially for the day after.  Many heavy drinkers write off the day after, simply because alcohol is determining their routine.  They deny themselves the chance to do something different the next day.
Advert 3
It’s a manly thing to do.  Men and beer relate.  When men and beer get together, you can relax and have a good time.   The pub is place for a man.  If you drink and you’re a man, you’re still a rebel – young at heart
Whilst men like to drink beer together, is it really a manly thing to do? 
·         Beer, especially helps towards man boobs.   Man boobs are the very antipathy of manliness, cause in part by alcohol increase oestrogen, a female hormone.   Alcohol in general is seen by many as empty calories, which can lead to putting on weight. 
·         Alcohol lowers the sexual performance of males.
·         A sports field, a garage and a kitchen are also places for men. 

Advert 4
Beer is better than a beautiful woman.  It taste really good too.
Both might seem like good ideas but ultimately they both lead to trouble.
Advert 7
Beer makes you dance and brings out your hidden talents.
Arguably for some people, they only dance then they’ve drunk some alcohol.    From my personal experience and of seeing friends the day after, alcohol is usually disastrous for developing ‘hidden talents’.   It’s a huge time killer.  After big nights, it usually leaves you useless the next day.  This can be from tiredness and also from the ‘downer’ affect alcohol has on your nervous system, leaving you unmotivated and feel disengaged.  

What can we learn from Allen Carr?
·         Understanding and questioning why we drink will help us change our view of 'drinking'.
·         Many of the reasons why we drink are based on false beliefs. This is good in a way because we can question and address those beliefs.
·         It's easier to change your habit, if you believe it's easy.
·         Like smokers who need to smoke to relax, drinkers who need to drink to relax ( or socialize, or feel comfortable, or address boredomness) are putting themselves in a vicious circle.  It's a form of complusive behaviour.  If you put a heavy drinker next to a non-drinker/moderate drinker, who do you think is more relaxed?  And if you take away the drink - would their behaviour change?
·         And I'm sure a lot more.
Allen Carr also has a book that helps you quit drinking, even though its called 'Allen Carr's Easy Way to Control Alcohol'.  From the reviews on Amazon, it seems very anti-drinking and a lot of reviewers who had read the book, ended up quitting alcohol.
Remember, you can change your drinking habit.  You can quit if you want or you can modify it. It's your choice.