How I gave up drinking by tweaking my habit loop

I gave up drinking about half way through 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst others were hitting the bottle in one of many lockdowns in Melbourne I decided I’d had enough of the booze.

Here’s some background

I was a bit of a late starter to drinking alcohol. In later years of high school I would tell people “I’m silly enough” without alcohol. And so it wasn’t until I was about 21 that I started drinking alcohol regularly.

My intake increased over the years to a normal weekend of six mid strength beers (six standard drinks) on a Friday and Saturday night. In the holidays this may stretch on for quite a number of days.

This amount of drinking may or may not sound a lot to you… and those around me would probably not say my driking was a problem. But it stopped me from doing things I wanted to do and my thoughts were often on 5pm Friday when I could have a drink

More recently I’ve tried to cut back because I knew it is unhealthy and was often teamed up with eating chips or cheese and biscuits (not good for the waistline).

The habit loop was key

Giving up wasn’t really intentional. It seemed to just happen as I listened to the audio version of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg to learn more about habits and routines.

Duhigg explains the habit loop.

the habit loop

The above picture explains to keep the same Cue (Friday afternoon) and the same reward (feeling relaxed) but change the habit. Once I understood the process I started to tweak my own habit loop.

The reward I was looking for at the end of the week was to turn off my brain and to relax. Over the years I’d use alcohol to do this. To relax was difficult for me and I would feel like I needed permission or a queue to give me that reward.

However, the alcohol was never the correct reward. It would make me feel anxious, agitated and I couldn’t wait to get the first drink down. I would reach for another beer still looking for that reward, that feeling of relaxation, and I’d almost be willing myself to be sober again.

Since pondering on this habit loop the I’ve realised that I don’t need alcohol to give me that reward. At 5 o’clock on a Friday I’m allowed to walk away from my desk and relax in a different way eg: listen to a podcast or a book or a YouTube video or to just go and prepare dinner and enjoy that as part of my reward.

Here’s what I’ve gained from being sober

Being sober has had so many rewards that extend so far past Friday night.

A daily insatiable hunger at 10.30am has disappeared (and the anxiety of feeling hungry has vanished along with it).

Activities on a Friday and Saturday night are so much more enjoyable with my full attention. I feel more present, relaxed, content and satisfied. Melbourne Storm’s Grand Final win this year was more enjoyable without the feeling that I needed to reach for a drink to deal with my anxiety and excitement of the big event (especially the last 10 minutes of the game where I think I stopped breathing because the score line was so close… that would have been much worse if I’d been drinking).

I’m more energetic, moods are very stable and much of the overwhelm and anxiety I have had in my life has gone.

The upsides to not drinking is indescribable and the best bit is I DON’T MISS IT A BIT.

What’s next?

Who knows how not drinking may go over the holiday season, but I am already way ahead…. I estimate I have consumed 300 less drinks this year than last (and the year is not over).

What do your numbers look like? Would you like to drink less? Perhaps tweaking your own habit loop may help.

Who is Julie Cliff, Professional Organiseer

I’d love to help you tweak your weekly routine so that you consume less alcohol, or change other habits. Creating systems around goals is one of my favourite things to do. Reach out to me at info@spaceandtime.com.au if you’d like to chat.

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