As 'Go Sober for October' begins, Bupa UK has teamed up Macmillan to help all those who are going booze-free. Juliet Hodges, Bupa UK's behaviour change advisor shares her top ten hacks to get you through the next four weeks.
1. Believe in yourself
You might be feeling apprehensive about a whole month without alcohol and wondering if you have the willpower to last a full 31 days. Research shows that yes, you do - as long as you believe you do. People who believe that willpower is unlimited tend to be better at dealing with tasks that require self-control, and also tend to be happier. Tell yourself that you can do it, and it's more likely that you will!
2. Get your friends on board
Our friends and family are vital to our success with this kind of thing - they can either be your biggest supporters, or biggest liability if they're determined to get you to drink. Making sure your friends are on side is really important, and better yet see if some can take on the challenge with you. If nothing else, let them know you're giving up alcohol will make you less likely to quit, just to avoid the embarrassment of doing so!
3. Try urge-surfing
One thing you can try is urge surfing, a mindfulness technique which has been used to help people with addictions . When you feel the urge to drink, you're encouraged to pay attention to it without trying to change it or get rid of it. We know that when you try not to think about something, it often makes the compulsion to think about it much stronger. So instead of trying to push away the urge, really think about it: what the sensations are that come with it, what you're thinking about, and why. The point is that urges pass, whether you give into them or not. If you can confront the uncomfortable sensation, accept it and handle it, you're much more likely to be able to get through it without giving in.
4. Change your environment
Studies have shown that people who have the most willpower actually use it the least. In other words, the way they shape their surroundings means they're less likely to come into contact with temptation. When you're trying to give up alcohol, going to a bar or pub with your friends is a recipe for disaster. This month is a good opportunity to 'soberlise' and try activities that don't involve alcohol.
5. Have a plan for alternatives
Most of us have a favourite tipple that we'll automatically choose when we find ourselves at a bar, whether that's a pint of Guinness or a gin and tonic. Have you thought about what your non-alcoholic drink will be for the month? Having a plan in place for what you'll order if you find yourself at the bar will help you to avoid falling into old habits.
6. Break up the month into smaller chunks
Small goals feel easier and more achievable, so break up your big overarching goal of 31 days in your mind. Think about individual days or specific events that you need to get through, and reward yourself for doing it. Did you make it through a party without having a drink? Brilliant, that deserves a massage or a shopping trip. Thinking about the challenge in terms of a few days or a week at a time will make it feel much easier, as will celebrating those small wins (without alcohol of course!).
7. Have self-compassion
If you're used to drinking a lot of alcohol and your social life is geared towards it, this challenge will be really difficult. It's important to remember that you're only human, and to treat yourself with kindness even when you're struggling. Don't be afraid to let yourself have other treats instead of alcohol, like an extra helping of dessert, or reward yourself with other activities you enjoy so you don't feel too deprived.
8. Beware the 'what the hell' effect
One thing that has been well-documented is the 'what the hell' effect, where people slip up once and think, "What the hell!" and break their resolution. For example, someone on a diet might have some birthday cake in the office - then order a takeaway when they get home, as their diet is already 'broken'. If you do slip up and have a drink, it's not an excuse to go mad - get back on the wagon as soon as you can, and don't be too hard on yourself.
9. Focus on what you've already achieved
Some studies have found that people trying to achieve a goal feel more motivated when they think about the smallest area of progress. In other words, when you've only just started, you'll be more motivated by thinking about the few days you've gone without a drink than the few weeks left to go. However, when people are nearly at the end, to maintain your motivation, focus on the small number of days you have left.
10. Remember why you're doing it
Whatever your reasons for going sober, they'll be a powerful motivator when things get tough. Whether you're doing it to lose weight, if you are supporting a friend who is going through a difficult time, or you're just doing it to help a good cause, remembering why you signed up in the first place will help you stay on track.
If you need more support or are looking to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink for a longer period of time, book in for a Bupa Health Assessment in one of Bupa's health centres across the country. A health assessment looks at a variety of factors including heart health, fitness, weight, musculoskeletal, blood sugar, liver function and more. The team will support you with any goals you'd like to reach, beyond your appointment. Prices start at £180 - less than 50p a day spread across the year.