Five Ways to Get Back on Track With Your Dry January

12/01/2016 12:52 GMT | Updated 12/01/2017 10:12 GMT

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Have you screwed up? Did some wine accidentally fall in your mouth? Never fear. This does not have to mean the end of your dry January. We encourage you to be persistent, and use these top tips to carry on where you left off.

1. Challenge your inner critic

There is an internal saboteur in your mind and it is very stubborn - it is the wee beasty that says 'you will never do it', 'it's too hard so why bother', or 'you have failed now so you might as well give up'. It is a cunning voice, and it has been waiting for this moment to trip you up. So rather than give in to that inner critic, you need to challenge it. Recognise what it is trying to do, and beat it back with logic. Ask it for the evidence. Here are some questions to ask it (and yourself):

  • So you had one slip-up, but you managed 5 sober days in a row before that - more than ever before - is that not a good thing?
  • Where is the evidence that picking up where you left off would not be a good idea - you will probably feel better if you complete the month rather than abandoning your challenge now?
  • Will starting drinking again help you feel happier?
  • How would you feel about your relationship with alcohol if you abandoned your month off booze now?
  • Will you learn anything about how changing your drinking feels if you don't carry on?

2. Reward your success so far

This may seem counterintuitive, but punishing yourself for failure plays into the internal saboteur in your mind. So instead of promising things that are a quasi-punishment, like doing double gym tomorrow and only eating the most healthy foods, practice a bit of self-care instead. "Tomorrow I will let myself slouch in PJs, read books and watch films", or "I will treat myself with a massage/walk with my mates/a kick-about with the kids".

By recognising that tripping up demands you to be nice to yourself, rather than beating yourself up, you will find it easier to get back on track with your goals and give yourself the TLC you need. After all, changing habits is hard for everyone.

3. Kick out the perfectionism

If you believe that anything less than 100% perfection is a failure, you are more likely to feel bad about your slip-up. So you are more likely to want to undertake punishment activity (setting yourself up to fail again) or give up and have another drink or abandon your dry January entirely. Because why bother if it's not 100% perfect, right? Wrong!

Pursuing perfectionism is dangerous because perfection is impossible. It also plays into the hands of your internal saboteur. So aim for something healthier. Instead of fearing failure, see a slip-up as a learning experience, getting you closer to your final goal. This way, your internal saboteur will never be able to tempt you to give up, and you will have turned a negative experience into a positive one.

A Club Soda member once said about their not-quite-completed dry January: "Well, I was sober on 27 days, which is much better than having no sober days at all. Now I can try for a longer streak of success". Such a healthy attitude is, well, healthier.

4. Reflect on what your slip-up taught you

If you slipped, then you have learnt something about your drinking - you will know what triggered the slip (a persistent mate, an emotional state of mind, a hard day at work). You can begin to think about how you can avoid or control these situations in the future. You may also be able to isolate the battle that went on in your head when it happened, work out what your internal saboteur said that was so persuasive, and plan a counterattack for the next time it happens. Write it all down, ponder, and plan.

5. Build a new battle plan

Armed with your new knowledge, you can work out how to avoid and control people, places, and things that may weaken your resolve. Here is a little daily routine:

  • Commit to having one alcohol-free day today. Visualise one thing that will be especially good about not drinking today - getting a task finished at work, going to bed earlier, making it to the gym, or just knowing you have achieved your goal and feeling proud.
  • Review the day ahead for times of possible pitfalls or when you might be thinking about alcohol. The first twinge of cravings or thoughts about having a drink often happen several hours before the act of buying or downing a drink. So work out when that might be, and know what you want to drink, think or do instead.
  • Replace by making a plan to do something different if that pitfall or craving arises. Commit to the plan and imagine yourself doing it. There are so many possible ways you can avoid, control or escape situations that might interfere with your alcohol-free commitment.

It may seem like everyone else is doing so terribly well. Especially on Facebook. But that comparison is not helpful, because inside everyone's head some battle is probably raging (if not about alcohol then about diet, being better organised or any other new year's resolution), even in the seemingly perfect people like, well, Gwyneth Paltrow. I guarantee it!