“White knuckling” is toxic and relying on willpower can be harmful and counterproductive. Why?
For starters, it’s unreliable. Willpower by definition means saying NO to what you want to do or YES to what you’d rather not do and it is unpredictable and not constant over time. Sometimes it will be available and easy to exert, but other times it gets impossible to summon especially if you’re tired, stressed or are in situations (like a party) that run contrary to your goal. Let’s face it. No one can have superhuman discipline and control 24/7. Willpower is no match for screaming kids, a crappy boss or a 2-hour commute home in a blizzard. What I mean is, depending on willpower alone won’t help you achieve your goal to make alcohol small and insignificant in your life for the long term.
Secondly, willpower will deplete your energy. It requires immense intention and conscious effort, which is the opposite of forming habits that are automatic and happen with little thought. Willpower is simply exhausting and is bound to fail on days when you’re not running on a full tank – it leaves you depleted and discouraged.
Thirdly, it can bring forth damaging thoughts of shame and self-blame. Willpower is perceived to be a strength so when it fails, there is almost instant self-recrimination. Your inner critic starts up: “I’m not good enough. What’s wrong with me.” But shaming and chastising yourself isn’t motivating and can seriously undermine your efforts or derail them completely.
What To Do Instead
- Work on Habit-Building. Identify a certain behaviour like when you always crack open a craft beer after a long day at work. Pair it with a specific cue like I’m going to walk the dog instead. Then, follow up with a positive reward like a relaxing bath, hot tub or fabulous meal. Once a new habit is established it is very hard to dislodge it, which is great news!
- Set realistic goals. It may be that you only want to cut back on your drinking to begin with. Sometimes “micro-commitments” are easier to manage at the beginning. Ensure they are truly doable. And focus on your goal of “doing” rather than “stopping”. For example, building a habit drinking just one at social functions is better than saying I won’t have a drink at any social affairs.
- Make your goal relevant and meaningful to you and what you want to achieve down the road. For example, skipping that beer (or two) after work will help me feel more energetic to walk Fido and get the exercise I need to relieve my stress after a long day at work.
- Get rid of the “all-or-nothing” thinking. Every journey we take towards health and wellness will have setbacks. Life happens and despite our best intentions our plans can get derailed. Be prepared to shake them off and keep moving forward. Focus on the big picture and how much progress you achieve over time. Even a 50% reduction in your drinking is better than nothing! You are not your slip-ups so cut yourself some slack. Give yourself grace.
- Leverage Support Networks! I can’t say this enough. The thisnakedmind.com community is just one of many online social support networks to help support people achieve their drinking goals. Grab a buddy who is trying to cut back or quit, join a class, a Zoom group, volunteer or join in on a community project. Social support has been shown to be key to lasting change.
- Have self-compassion. Striving to reach your alcohol-free goal by making alcohol small and irrelevant in your life will take work. You must care for yourself along the way. Be kind to yourself if you have set backs, be mindful and accept your experiences without judgement and recognize that you’re only human. Not achieving your goal for the first, second or even third time happens to everybody, not just you. Embrace a self-compassionate mind-set and talk to yourself like you would a friend.
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