Sunday 23 August 2015

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

Dorothy was right when she said "there's no place like home." We are back after 3 weeks of wild, wonderful, feral living at the beach.

I'm on the third load of washing already, and the children have latched onto their various technical devices and linked up to our fast speed broadband like (yikes!) junkies finding a fix.

In between the surfing and rock pooling, I've been thinking about neuro-linguistic programming (as one does).

When we quit drinking we create a war between our conscious mind and our subconscious mind.

Our subconscious is incredibly powerful. It quietly deals with pretty crucial stuff like breathing, keeping our hear beating, and so on. It learns from our day to day experiences and applies those lessons to keep us safe and happy.

So, for example, if we burn ourselves on something hot, it tells us to move our hand away quickly (before our conscious mind has even had a chance to catch up), and then reminds us to avoid the hot thing in the future.

It's like a really clever computer.

We have taught our subconscious, over decades, to associate any stress, any fun, any boredom - pretty much any emotion at all - with having a drink.

Alcohol advertising and marketing is, basically, extremely sophisticated NLP. I know - I used to make it. Every image used, every word and piece of music is debated and researched at length. It speaks directly to our subconscious, telling it that alcohol is sophisticated, desirable and delicious.

The language we use is crucial, too. Every time we tell someone "I could really do with a drink" or "can't wait till wine o'clock" our subconscious learns and plays it back to us.

When we try to stop drinking, however much our conscious mind says "I am not going to drink. Drinking is bad. I am going to stay sober," our subconscious mind is going loopy. It starts getting louder and louder the more we try to ignore it. It says "FOR GOD'S SAKE LISTEN TO ME! I KNOW HOW TO SOLVE THIS ANGSTY FEELING! HAVE A GODDAMN DRINK!"

We have a name for this. We call it the wine witch.

(For more on this wily, evil crone see: The Wine Witch)

According to NLP, we can't just beat our subconscious into submission. Like a really clever computer we have to re-programme it.

We can do this by storing up new imagery and language to counter all those stored images of happy, sexy, relaxed people quaffing vino.

So, next time you get a craving, picture yourself as a strong, healthy, happy sober person.

Whenever you see the image in your mind of a glass of wine promising you stress relief, wipe it out and replace it with the image of a hot bubble bath, or a walk in the woods, or a yoga class.

The more you do this, the faster your subconscious will catch up. (See my post on visualisation: I am Khaleesi)

You can use negative visualisation too. When you look at a glass of wine, strip away all the fancy branding and see it as the poison it really is. Whenever you think about having 'just one glass' then play it forward. Force yourself to remember where one glass leads.

Apparently this is why blogging helps too. Every time I write 'SoberMummy' my subconscious picks it up. Every time I type I DO NOT DRINK, it remembers.

Which is why you have to be careful when you fib to people. Because whenever I tell my friends "Oh no, of course it's not forever. Just a temporary detox," I'm undoing all my good work.

NLP theory explains why moderation is so hard, if not impossible. You work really, really hard to retrain your subconscious. You get to a point where it sees alcohol as a negative, a poison. It's started seeing 'sober' as a positive thing and not a state of endless misery....

.....and what do you do? You have one drink. You fire up all the dopamine receptors in your brain. Your subconscious says "that wasn't so bad was it? We're not poisoned. I remember how effective this can be as a stress reliever, a way to relax. Hell, it's fun!" All the learned responses you've spent months trying to get rid of come flooding back.

Your conscious mind says "Don't even think about it! We're not having another one of those for at least a week."

Your subconscious replies "MORE! NOW!"

So don't try and fight your subconscious. Just think about it as a stroppy toddler that needs a bit of re-training. Work with it, and it can be your friend.

Love SM x


  1. Really enjoyed your post, I had to do a bit of NLP training for my job, and it makes a lot of sense. If you haven't read it already I think you might be interested in Jack Trimpey's book Rational Recovery. He characterises these ideas in terms of the Beast (your subconscious, primitive part of your brain that wants to drink) and defeating it by using what he calls Addictive Voice (aka Wine Witch etc) Recognition Technique (AVRT). X

  2. So interesting SM! Especially the part about marketing and advertising. Not just the "in your face" commercials, but the more subtle imagery that we don't really notice, but completely 'normalizes" drinking at any time of the day, making us feel like "part off the crowd" every time we pour a glass. I wonder if one day we'll look back and view the alcohol industry in the same light as the tobacco industry.