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Why confidence is key to changing drinking habits

We explore some of the core behaviour change principles from the ‘Good Help’ report as applied to drinking habits. It draws on insights from Club Soda, a mindful drinking movement, whose aim is to create a world where nobody has to feel out of place if they are not drinking. Club Soda helps people change their drinking habits by providing online support, face to face events, peer support and role models.

If we want to change habits, such as reducing our drinking, we need to have confidence in ourselves that we can change things. Confidence is crucial to counteracting temptation. For example, we know that people who are less confident in their ability to refuse a drink will find it harder to change their drinking habits. Often this is because the short-term gain (avoiding social rejection and managing difficult emotions) is more compelling than the long-term gain (achieving the reduction we want). Building enough confidence to change habits isn’t easy and requires ongoing effort.

How can I build my confidence to change my drinking habits?

1. Use encouraging language. People often assume that an effective form of self-motivation is to give yourself a stern talking to. But being critical to yourself can be demotivating. For example, saying ‘stop letting people down, you are a failure when you drink’ may make your mood worse and in turn increase the temptation to drink as a form of coping. So, is there another way to encourage yourself that is less critical?

You could remind yourself of what you hope to gain from making a change. Think about the things that matter to you - for example, ‘I want to work hard to change things so that I can be there for the people I love’ or ‘I want to be able to get more out of my weekends’. This subtle shift in language can be important, especially if you have been derailed and want to encourage yourself to get back on track. Being kind to ourselves doesn't always come naturally, so if you notice that you are being harsh with yourself, practice shifting your language to words that are more encouraging and compassionate.

2. Make small goals. It is tempting to set ourselves big ambitious goals, especially when we are desperate for things to change. But if the goal is too big, we are less likely to reach it. Not reaching our goals can feed back into feelings of failure and knock our confidence. So how can we set goals that feel worthwhile and achievable?

Start by thinking about your ultimate goal and then break it down into smaller pieces. For example, if your ultimate goal was ‘be a better role model to my children’ then rather than trying to completely change your approach to parenting overnight, you could think about steps towards this, e.g. plan a family activity once a week, read to my children twice a week, attend a support group for parents. When it comes to changing drinking habits you will have more time on our hands (hangovers can last three days, but now those days are all yours!). Use this time meaningfully by having smaller sub-goals that are aligned to the outcome you are hoping for. For example, you may be quitting drinking to feel more energetic, so make the most of that new found energy by scheduling in activities and ensure boredom does not nudge you back towards the bottle. These achievable actions will contribute to your ultimate goal and help you see and feel change, building confidence along the way.

3. Have role models. We know from research that the more we identify with other people, the more influence they can have on us. So finding opportunities to meet people like yourself who are successfully reaching their drinking goals, or who are at a similar place in their journey as you, can increase your own confidence: ’If they can do it so can I’.

As alcohol is used a lot to oil the wheels of social interaction, practicing your new behaviour in a social situation and in a boozy venue, like a pub, really does help. Socialising sober is like the superfood for changing your drinking. It is why Club Soda holds socials in pubs and restaurants. You will learn that you can meet new people sober, sit in a bar and not need to drink, and most importantly learn from others who have been there and done that.

4. Remember past achievements. Confidence can be built by remembering that we have overcome setbacks before and that a bad day doesn’t mean we are back to square one. When we experience a setback, such as drinking when we had not planned to drink, it is normal to say to ourselves ‘well that’s it, I have wasted all that time and effort I put it, what’s the point?’. This can zap our confidence further and make it harder to maintain the good habits we have built up.

In such situations, you could try bringing to mind examples of when you have overcome setbacks before. What did you do that helped you to move forward? What personal strengths did you draw on? What motivated you to keep going? Can you use any of those strengths and skills now? If you find this difficult to do, consider asking a trusted friend to help you draw out your strengths and past achievements.

Summary

One of the key ingredients that we have discovered through Club Soda’s experience and from the Good Help programme is confidence. The more confident you are in changing your drinking habits, the more likely you are to avoid temptation and succeed. You can build your confidence by trying out some of the strategies outlined above and seeing what works for you. Some will not work, some will stick, some may need a lot of practice.

Remember, reframing your goals and experiences as positive steps on the bigger journey is vital. Meeting others trying to do the same thing as you is powerful, and treating yourself with kindness is essential. If you want support to change your drinking habits do sign up to the Club Soda movement.

References

Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanism in human agency. American psychologist, 37(2), 122.

Engels, R. C., Wiers, R., Lemmers, L. E. X., & Overbeek, G. (2005). Drinking motives, alcohol expectancies, self-efficacy, and drinking patterns. Journal of drug education, 35(2), 147-166.

Gilles, D. M., Turk, C. L., & Fresco, D. M. (2006). Social anxiety, alcohol expectancies, and self-efficacy as predictors of heavy drinking in college students. Addictive behaviors, 31(3), 388-398.

Prochaska, J. O. (2013). Transtheoretical model of behavior change. In Encyclopedia of behavioral medicine (pp. 1997-2000). Springer New York.

Author

Esther Flanagan

Esther Flanagan

Esther Flanagan

Senior Programme Manager

Esther joined the Health Lab in January 2017 and is working in the social health team on a range of projects.

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Laura Willoughby

Laura Willoughby MBE is the co-founder of Club Soda, the Mindful Drinking Movement. Their aim is to create a world where nobody feels out of place for not drinking. Club Soda has ind...