Scott, I’ve had several slip-ups lately concerning my personal goals. The most recent slip up occurred when I was attending a baby shower. I knew they were going to have alcohol, but I had decided to not drink as I usually have my “splurge day” on a Friday or Saturday evening and the shower was on a Thursday evening. As soon as I got there, everyone had a beer or wine glass in their hand, so I went ahead and got one too. I really like beer and wine, so I just couldn’t resist…and as a result, I had too many that night.
The two most challenging times I find myself falling off the wagon are social events and when I get really uptight and stressed with life. THAT’S when I drink too much. The next day, along with feeling the pains of over-imbibing, I hate myself: I feel remorseful and beat myself up tremendously. I’m sick of it!
I’ve also had a few too many splurge days with grain carbs, but I figure there are just times when you have to give in and feel ok about it. However, I don’t want to think like that too often during the week EVERY week, or I may just find myself back into the old, bad habits. How can I recover when I slip up and how can I keep from slipping up in the first place?
Peggy, thank you for your question. Believe it or not, you’re actually on track, even in spite of the slip-up. Why? Because you’re thinking about it. When you slip up and get bummed out the next day, then resort to, “I’ll do better next time” without giving any thought to why you slipped up to begin with, you’re going to repeat your same behavior for sure.
So here’s where to start:
1) Acknowledge that you slipped up because you chose to. (You’ve already done this.)
2) Stop beating yourself up over it.
3) Put on your objectivity hat and analyze the conditions and behaviors that were in place that supported and even encouraged a slip-up.
4) Come up with a plan for how you’ll handle a situation like this when it comes up again.
The good news is, you’re already doing most of the above steps. Now you just need to be more deliberate about it. Grab some paper (or open a document file) and write what your plan is for handling similar situations. When you know you’re going to find yourself in this situation again, read your plan and execute it flawlessly. If you go to another social gathering and your plan didn’t prevent you from drinking (or eating too much of the wrong things, whichever the case may be), go back to step 3 and try to figure out what conditions or circumstances again contributed to “falling off the wagon” and make adjustments by tweaking your plan (step 4).
This is it in a nutshell, but I want to share some additional thoughts about each of the steps I’ve listed.
Step 1: Face It
Any addiction or bad habit is always tough to kick–no way around it. But before it’s possible, I guarantee that the first step is to recognize it, look at it, and be more present before, during, and after the moments where temptation rears its ugly head. When you face your addiction, be it as extreme as alcohol, drugs, food, etc., or something maybe lower on the scale, but still disruptive, such as spending too much time watching TV or surfing the internet, you are taking control over your circumstances and your life.
There’s a lot that goes hand-in-hand with the topic of addiction–psychology, neurology, brain and body chemistry, enabling behaviors, social disorders and influences. However, these things are best left to professionals who are specifically trained in these specialties. But from the behavioral perspective, our frequently repeated actions create grooves in our behaviors. We tend to follow the same grooves, which are difficult to break out of, but not impossible. The first step is always to become conscious of it. Admit that you’ve stumbled but don’t get stuck there. Keep learning from your challenges and keep moving forward, and strive for progress.
Step 2: Adjust Your Attitude
Be careful not to get caught in a trap of self-pity. While there is an appropriate time for soothing your soul and allowing yourself to feel bad about a habit you want to change, it’s important to not stay there too long. Once you’ve faced and accepted a bad habit and started down the road of changing your behaviors so you can eliminate it, then it’s then time to empower yourself by adopting the best frame of mind so that you can start making real progress.
Accept the fact that changing or eliminating a bad habit is hard work, and that it will be accompanied by many “failures” or slip-ups. You will fall off the wagon, and you will get back up. Accept that as a fact, as a part of the process of change. When you accept that, you can go easy on yourself.
Step 3: Put On Your Thinking Cap
Never make excuses, make observations. If you can be objective, which is like standing back and observing yourself without judging your choices or behavior, it will be easier to identify your obstacles. If you can begin to see what conditions enable your alcohol consumption, or what triggers you to become weak and go against your plan, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s keeping you locked into the behavior. Be curious, like you’re solving a mystery. Notice the clues and use that knowledge in your favor.
You’ve chosen to drink less. You’ve chosen to eat healthier. Unless you begin to understand what encourages the urge to drink (or to drink too much), or what tempts you to eat the foods you think you’ll regret later, you won’t be able to change your behavior.
Strategies to Manage Your Drinking:
- If you get to a party and everybody is already drinking alcohol, wait 15 minutes before you decide whether you want to drink or not (and review your plan).
- If you drink, wait 30 minutes before you have a second one; wait 45 minutes before a third, etc.
- Before you enter a house where alcohol might be served, mentally review your plan of how you’ll avoid drinking and revolve to stick to the plan.
- Enter the house with a bottle of water or soft drink of choice. When asked if you’d like a drink, say, “Not right now.” and hold up your water bottle to show you already have a drink.
- Email or call the host before you arrive and tell her you would prefer if she not offer you alcohol. If you need an excuse, tell her you’re trying a new diet so you’re not drinking alcohol for the next week.
- Walk in like you’re already drunk, stepping on the cat and knocking over a table lamp. You won’t be asked if you’d like a drink. You may also not be asked to come to the next party, but that might be okay, too. Okay, maybe best to try the other strategies first.
- Skip the party with apologies.
Strategies to Manage Your Eating:
- Eat 20 minutes before arriving at the party (it takes about 20 minutes for the not-hungry signal to trigger after eating) so you can arrive and not be hungry.
- Find out what snacks will be served ahead of time. Offer to bring a snack that you know you won’t feel guilty eating.
- When possible, sit next to someone who is as fit as you would like to be.
- Sit next to someone who is not eating.
- If possible, sit in another room while everyone else is eating/snacking, then return after they’re finished.
- Take a friend who can encourage you (hold you accountable) while you’re at the party.
- Skip the party with apologies.
Step 4: Make a Plan
When you know a social event is coming up at which you may be challenged, decide ahead of time how you’ll respond to the likely temptations. Use the strategies listed above and know your plan before you get there. You can write it down or memorize it. I suggest you write down a phrase that will represent your intentions and before you make a decision you’ll regret, pull out your phrase and recite it. Think about what it represents and decide what’s more important to you. Do you want to feel awesome because you were strong or feel depressed and disappointed in yourself because you were weak?
If you make a poor choice, think about your plan and try to determine what was missing from it. If a situation unfolded that caught you by surprise (i.e. you didn’t have a plan for it), then use that data and make your plan better by including what you’ll do if a similar situation comes up again.
Your plan will evolve over time. You’ll continue to improve it every time it doesn’t work for you. Eventually, your plan will start working more often than not. Every time it doesn’t work, you’ll again improve it until, eventually, you’ve changed your behavior and broken your bad habit.
Managing Stress (Which Triggers Slip-ups)
The best plans in the world must account for moments when you feel stressed. This is a really big issue, as I’m sure you’re aware. Stress tends to be a primary culprit behind many bad habits: drinking, cigarette-smoking, binge-eating, out-of-control shopping, etc. Most people are so ill-equipped to handle stress, that they follow the path of least resistance and lean on bad habits for brief moments of relief only to crash even harder later on.
For now, I’m going to make one recommendation. But I want you to know that I’m working on a more comprehensive Special Report about Stress so watch for it. The special report will be available free to all email subscribers of Behavior and Motivation.
My recommendation is that you participate regularly in activities that induce relaxation, such as taking walks when you feel anxious, spending time with a pet, or even deep breathing for a minute or two throughout the day. You’d be surprised how easy it can be to find a minute or two just to sit, and breathe deeply to relax.
Although, I believe that one of the absolute best ways to manage stress and help to reduce triggers is meditation. However, some people try it and feel like they can’t quite get it right. They feel like they’re too distracted. If this is you, then you may benefit from a gadget (that I use and love) called the EmWave Personal Stress Reliever. It’s basically a type of biofeedback device. You can actually see how your meditation is going by watching the light patterns and/or sounds that are displayed on the EmWave. I fell in love with this device (which is small enough to carry in your purse or pocket and use any time you have a free minute or two).
No matter what forms of relaxation you practice, doing this daily and consistently will definitely aid you while managing your cravings.
Have Conviction and Never Stop Trying
Peggy, it all comes down to awareness and making choices consciously. Are you strong enough to make up your mind before you go to a social event that you are going to avoid alcohol and carbs? Can you promise yourself, with conviction, what behavior you will demonstrate? Keep in mind that you’re doing this for yourself. Think of how incredibly awesome you’ll feel if you can come home after avoiding all the things you want to avoid. On the flip side, think of how bummed-out and disappointed you’ll feel if you come home after “slipping up”.
Walking away from the things you’re trying to avoid doesn’t mean you’ll never have them again. But slipping up is not a reason to stop trying to reach your goal. Never give up and you’re guaranteed to change your behavior. You have to make a choice about what’s more important to you and about who you are. You have a vision of who you want to be and that’s only a choice away…one moment at a time.
I hope you’ll find something here that helps, Peggy. If you feel that your needs are more “urgent”, please consider seeing a specialist who can guide you appropriately. You may also want to read The Unofficial Guide to Motivation. If you need some clarification or want to ask any follow-up questions, please do so in the comments. I wish you well on breaking your habits.
Note to the Readers: You can also leave a comment or ask questions about this topic, or tell me what you think. Feel free to share your ideas or suggestions for Peggy. I know she’ll appreciate it.