Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit

That's the title of a TED talk by Judson Brewer. You can see why I was interested....

(Here's the link to the talk).

Judson talks about quitting smoking and stress eating, but his techniques are just as useful for quitting booze.

Here's my take on what he has to say:

It's all about mindfulness.

Brewer (he really should be a drinker with that name, don't you think?) talks about how bad habits arise.

We're programmed, at a deep subconscious level, to repeat behaviour that gives our brains a reward. It's how we learn to find food, water, reproduce etc. Trigger. Behaviour. Reward. Repeat.

The problem is that, in the modern age, some of the things that reward our brains - like alcohol - are not at all good for us.

Our conscious brains know this, but our subconscious brains are too simple, too hard wired, to get it.

(The problem is exacerbated when we're stressed, as stress causes the logical bit of our brain to short circuit, leaving us to rely on our more primal instincts. The ones that have been engrained with the habit.)

When we try to quit drinking, our conscious minds try really, really hard to not think about drinking. But the harder you try to not think about something, the more you do.

Your subconscious basically throws a big hissy fit and bombards you with instructions revolving around drinking more booze.

Brewer says the key to dealing with these cravings, these brain tantrums (my words, not his!) is curiosity.

Don't fight those thoughts. Definitely don't give into them. Don't try to make them go away. Study them, like a scientist. Be mindful about what they're saying and how your body is reacting.

Oh, here we go again. Primal brain throwing big strop. Jaw clenching, shoulders tightening up, starting to feel like a kettle reaching the boil. I wonder how long this one's going to last before it gets back in its box.

Once you start attacking cravings with curiosity they lose all their power. And you realise that they are separate from you, and that each of the small effects of that craving are manageable, and temporary.

And gradually, over time, like trying to train a really stupid dog (and, as the owner of a really stupid dog, I say that with love), the subconscious gets the message and stops seeing booze as the solution to every issue.

Try it. It works.

Love SM x


  1. Yes, as an anxiety suffer (as well as an alcoholic) I can definitely relate to that. So many people try to fight anxiety but the latest info suggest just sitting with it, accepting it is there but not allowing yourself to run with it. It isn't easy, takes a lot of practice but it has been the most helpful thing for me. Same with cravings for wine, accept it but don't run with it......practice practice oractise!

    1. Very same for me! Anxiety and Alcohol go hand in for me, it was (and most likely always would be) my medication of choice. Makes the constant anxiety noise go away....!
      Lately I have started to become more mindful of anxiety and how it manifests itself for me. Yesterday I wrote a list of the ways - first time ever. Quite a weighty and complex list!
      Anyway I feel equipped now and ready to observe it, definitely feel like this is a more positive strategy than fighting it/looking for that Eureka moment.
      Then hoping this all helps with the alcohol self medicating! xx

  2. YES. Very helpful technique and the one I read about in "Brain over binge" by K. Hansen. It's about how she overcame her eating disorder, but I applied her techniques to alcohol cravings :) Using your "higher brain" to observe (and eventually ignore) your "animal brain".

  3. I have read various versions of this theory but this is the clearest explanation yet. It really explains the way so many of us had excellent intentions every morning ( or during the night wakefulness horror ) but our resolve disappeared by 6 pm. Almost looking forward to a craving so I can bash it with curiousity

  4. Thank you; loved it. Appreciate your words.

  5. For me, this and meditation (I use the headspace app) have been invaluable. Being able to observe my own "weirdness" and illogical thought patterns has been a big help to me. I realise we all have our own ways of viewing things which make no rational sense to either ourselves or anyone else. Just enjoy and laugh at it!

  6. Tonight I had a planning meeting with a group of mummies for an up coming mummy weekend away. We are hiking 23km through the mountains, then staying in luxury accommodation kid free. Bliss. After discussions about food, who will drive, cook etc the meeting turned to how much wine. What type, red or white, what other drinks (It was decided at least 12 bottles for 6 mummies and they did make note that I was being really good these days).

    But, I am really worried about how I'll cope.

    My first super dupa strong thoughts were - just have a night off from the not drinking thing. Arghhh! This trip was my idea, the perfect reason to step away from wine. Its about health and challenge. Now Im dreading it for fear of failure.

    Think I'll put this tool into action while we are away. I'm going to need all the help I can get.

    1. I would be worried about that too! But you really shouldn't. It's fine to say you're off the booze! Whatever, just don't drink. Think about how you'll feel in the morning if you do. I was tempted at a girls lunch last Saturday - but so glad I resisted come Sunday morning! Have a great weekend!

    2. Thanks WalkingonSunshine. I'm going to focus on how good it will feel to be hungover free on Sunday.