The Alcohol Experiment: A 30-day, Alcohol-Free Challenge to Interrupt Your Habits and Help You Take Control
Book PrefaceThe Alcohol Experiment: A 30-day, Alcohol-Free Challenge to Interrupt Your Habits and Help You Take Control
It’s YOUR body . . .
It’s YOUR mind . . .
It’s YOUR choice . . .
During the Alcohol Experiment, you’ll make a choice to go 30 days without alcohol. Just to see how you feel. You’ll become a detached reporter, researching the facts, writing down your observations, and possibly drawing new conclusions. This is an exciting experiment, not a punishment. You’re not weak-willed for questioning your drinking. There’s no judgment or labeling here. You have a unique opportunity to remember how to enjoy life without alcohol. And with this book’s unconventional approach, I’m willing to bet you’ll enjoy the process!
WHO IS THIS FOR?
This experiment is for you if you’re curious about your relationship with alcohol, and you’re thinking about drinking less often or not at all.
It is also for you if
•You are of two minds about alcohol—you want to drink less but you also feel deprived or upset when you abstain.
•You drink out of habit or boredom—only to regret it later.
•You are starting to wonder if alcohol is taking more than it is giving.
•You are curious about a life without booze but do not feel you are an alcoholic.
•You want to drink less, but life is just too stressful.
•You have a love-hate relationship with alcohol—and find yourself setting limits and then breaking them when happy hour rolls around.
•You have tried to cut back or stop drinking (possibly many times) using willpower alone and found it ineffective.
•You fell into drinking more than you ever wanted—without making a conscious decision to do so.
•You can stop drinking for a few days but find yourself feeling deprived.
•You are ready to regain control—of your drinking, your life, your health, and your happiness.
•You are looking forward to feeling great on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
•You are ready to be your best self, get in shape, regain your self-esteem, and change your life.
It’s NOT for you if you have a strong physical addiction to alcohol—if you are physically dependent and suffer from serious withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens or hallucinations, when you attempt to stop or cut back. This book may help with your emotional and psychological addiction by changing your perspective and erasing your desire to drink. However, I am not a doctor, and alcohol withdrawal can be extremely dangerous. You should seek professional medical assistance so your detoxification is medically supervised.
Is life better without alcohol? That’s up to you to decide. My own experience with this experiment proved that, for me, life was absolutely better when I chose not to drink. However, your experience might be different. It’s your body. It’s your mind. It’s your choice. I’m simply inviting you to open your mind to the possibility of making a different choice and then encouraging you to see how it changes things in your daily life.
It’s 30 days, not forever . . . Many people ask me if they will have to give up drinking forever if they try the experiment. My answer is it’s up to them. My only goal is to offer you a shift in your perspective and to show you some of the neuroscience behind why you might be drinking more than you’d like to.
You might go back to your regular drinking habits after the 30 days, you might drink a bit more mindfully (and less often), or you might decide to give it another 30 days just for the heck of it. You might also decide you feel so good you never want to go back.
Whatever you decide, I’d love to hear your experience with the experiment. If you’d like to share your story, email me at [email protected]
WHY WE DRINK MORE THAN WE WANT TO
Since you’re reading this right now, you’re probably questioning how much you drink. Maybe you know you drink too much and want to quit. Or maybe you’re just curious about what life is like with a bit less alcohol. Maybe you’re questioning whether you might be overdoing it a bit. No matter where you are on the spectrum, you’re not alone. I’ve been there. And tens of thousands of people inside the Alcohol Experiment community have been there, too. You’re probably wondering why in the world you keep drinking even though you’ve made a conscious decision to cut back or stop altogether. Why do we do things we no longer want to do?
I wondered the same thing. When I first started drinking, it seemed to be a natural, normal thing to do. I saw nothing wrong with it. I didn’t know all the negative ways alcohol could affect my health. I was a drinker, and I was proud of it. I tried hard to develop a tolerance so I could keep up with my colleagues. It was fun. It was relaxing. I had better sex when I was drunk.
. . . Or so I thought.
Eventually, I came to a point in my life when I started to question my drinking. I didn’t like waking up with a hangover. I didn’t like having to piece together conversations and wondering if I said or did anything embarrassing. I wasn’t even enjoying myself anymore. I could drink two bottles of wine and not even feel it because I had such a high tolerance. So I made a conscious decision to stop drinking. And I thought that would be it. I just wouldn’t drink. Easy-peasy.
If you’ve tried to give up or moderate your alcohol consumption in the past and failed, I want you to know it’s not your fault. There’s something going on you’re probably not aware of. And once you understand it, your eyes will be opened and you’ll be able to undergo this experiment in a meaningful way. It won’t be just another failure of willpower.
To understand what’s going on, we need to explore a concept called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive means “the way you think.” And dissonance means “disagreement.” So, cognitive dissonance is when there’s a disagreement in your thinking. Well, how can that be? You’ve got one brain, right? Actually, your brain has many parts, and they can come into conflict with one another. But what we’re really talking about here is your conscious mind and your subconscious mind. Your conscious mind is everything you’re aware of. You’re tired of waking up with a headache. You don’t like spending your money on alcohol. Maybe your relationship is suffering, or your kids don’t even know you anymore. Because you’re aware of those things, you make a conscious decision to stop drinking.
Ahh, but there’s another powerful part of your mind: your subconscious. That’s where you’ve stored a lifetime of subconscious conditioning and beliefs that, by definition, you’re unaware of. Our subconscious mind controls our emotions and desires. And society’s attitudes about alcohol are programmed and fixed in our subconscious minds by the media, our parents, our friends, and our role models. We don’t consciously adopt these beliefs. They are imprinted on us. Take, for example, the belief that drinking helps you relax. That’s a belief you formed a long time ago after careful observation and experience. You weren’t born with this knowledge. But you watched your parents drink after a long day. You’ve seen movies and TV shows where characters drink to relax. And you’ve experienced it yourself and found it to be true. So you formed a strong belief that alcohol helps you relax.
Here’s the thing about subconscious beliefs—they’re not always true. We form our belief systems when we’re very young, and sometimes we’ll carry those beliefs our whole lives without ever questioning them. Most of the time, this is fine. The sky is blue. Ice is cold. If I fall down, it’s going to hurt. Cognitive dissonance happens when one of our subconscious beliefs disagrees with a conscious desire or decision. If I believe alcohol helps me relax, but I’ve decided not to drink after work anymore, that’s a problem! Part of me desperately wants a drink to unwind after a long day, and another part of me doesn’t want to overdo it and wake up with a hangover. There are two conflicting desires. Cognitive dissonance. To drink or not to drink, that is the question.
This is one of the reasons we continue to drink more than we want to even after we’ve decided to cut back. This is why willpower doesn’t work in the long term. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines willpower as “energetic determination.” That means it takes energy, conscious thought, and effort. This is especially true when you are trying to stop doing something that you believe provides a benefit. We don’t have to exert conscious effort and energy not to drink something we believe is bad for us if we see no benefit in it. For example, there is no effort involved in turning down a glass of motor oil.
If you believe, even subconsciously, that alcohol provides a benefit, you will be exercising willpower to cut back or avoid drinking. The problem with willpower is that since it is energy, willpower runs out. And if you use your willpower on one thing—like being patient with your kids or paying attention during a boring work event—you will have less willpower to use when you try to turn down that next drink. That is why I say we need to get out of the willpower game altogether. Until we resolve the inner conflict, we cannot hope to succeed.
Let’s pretend we’re trying to avoid sweets because we’re trying to lose weight. Yet someone at the office brings in a big plate of freshly baked cookies and we mindlessly grab one and eat it. (Okay, who are we kidding . . . we eat like three cookies.) Bam! Dissonance. Your brain doesn’t want to eat cookies, because you’re on a diet. But you did. There’s an internal conflict. Our brains immediately try to restore internal harmony in a few ways:
1.We can change our behavior. Make a vow not to eat another cookie no matter how good they look.
2.We can justify our behavior and say, “Oh, it’s okay to cheat every once in a while. We all need a little sugar now and then. I deserve it.”
3.We can add another behavior to counteract the first one. “Well, I ate the cookies, but that’s okay. I’ll go for a long run after work to burn off the extra calories.”
4.We can delude ourselves by denying or ignoring the conflicting information. “Those cookies are probably not all that bad for my diet. They seemed pretty small anyway.”
We delude ourselves all the time when it comes to alcohol or any addictive substance. We ignore the fact that alcohol isn’t doing us any favors and it’s actually harming us. We do it as a defense mechanism because we’re trying to solve this internal disagreement. Conflict hurts. Humans are hardwired to avoid it whenever possible. When you’re divided—when you’re not whole—it’s incredibly painful. And what do we drinkers do to numb pain? We drink! And then we drink more. And sometimes we drink until we black out to avoid something painful, even temporarily.
The more we drink, the worse we feel (mentally and physically) and the more we don’t want to drink.
The more we don’t want to drink, the more internal conflict we create.
The more conflict, the more pain.
The more pain, the more we drink.
It’s a cycle that spirals out of control. It’s not intentional. We may not even know we’re doing it until something terrible happens. At some point, we wake up to the reality and try to change. But unless we address the dissonance, change continually eludes us. I tried to drink less, to set limits on my drinking. I could do it for a little while, but eventually my willpower would give out, and I’d be right back to waking up wondering how many glasses I’d had the night before. I felt helpless. I felt weak. And I felt alone. I’m smart and capable. Why did this have such a hold on me? I would intend to drink a single glass of wine, or maybe two, but would wake up the next morning being unable to count how many I’d had. And that would make me want to drink more because then I wouldn’t have to think about the fact that I’d broken a commitment to myself—again. Drinking erased the conflict, even for a little while.
What I didn’t know was that there was something much bigger at work. The subconscious mind is where our desires originate. So part of me was so much stronger than my conscious desire to get my act together. The deck was stacked against me, and I didn’t even realize it.
The good news is that I discovered a way to truly resolve my cognitive dissonance around drinking. And it works for anything, by the way. If you’re eating sugar when you don’t want to, or you’re gambling when you don’t want to, or you’re watching too much television—whatever. This method works to resolve the conflict and get your conscious and subconscious minds on the same page. When that happens, you get what you want with no effort. You can go to a party with all your friends and have a great time without even thinking about alcohol. You can ring in the New Year with ginger ale. You can save your relationships. You can change your life.
Want to know the secret?
It’s all about awareness. If you’re struggling because you’re unaware of your subconscious beliefs, then the solution is to become aware of them. Shine a light deep into the nooks and crannies of your mind and figure out what beliefs are holding you back. What beliefs are in conflict with your desire to drink less or stop drinking?
I’ve developed a proven, scientifically based process to do exactly that. The process is based on a technique called Liminal Thinking, created by the bestselling author Dave Gray, and The Work, by author Byron Katie. The liminal space is the area between your conscious and your subconscious, or subliminal, mind. The technique I’ve developed is called ACT: Awareness, Clarity, and Turnaround. You’re going to become aware of your belief by naming and putting language to it. Next, you clarify the belief, where it came from and how it feels inside you. Finally, you will turn around the belief coming up with a few reasons why the opposite of your long-held belief may be truer or as true as the original belief. As with many of the most profound tools for change, it is a simple process of deconstructing your beliefs by asking yourself questions like these:
What do I believe?
Is it true?
How does it make me feel?
Is it helpful?
Remember when I said sometimes our beliefs just aren’t true? Well, that’s how you untangle this mess—by discovering the truth. Does alcohol truly relax you? Or do you just think it does? Do you really enjoy sex more when you’re drunk? Or does it become a sloppy, embarrassing mess you can barely remember?
I’m not going to suggest the answer is one or the other. I can’t make you believe something you don’t want to believe. Your subconscious beliefs remain deeply entrenched until you become aware of them and decide to change them by questioning their validity. Every few days during this 30-day experiment, you’ll see bonus ACT chapters. You can read them as they come up, or you can read them first if you like. These special chapters present you with some facts regarding certain common beliefs about alcohol. All I ask is for you to keep an open mind and carefully consider what you’re reading. It might take a few days or weeks of mulling it over before you decide one way or another. You might need to test out some theories. That’s okay. Take as much time as you need. This is your experiment. Here’s a preview of how the ACT technique works:
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