Like thousands of others I decided to cut back on alcohol in 2013. I made it my number one New Year’s Resolution. My aim was to get my intake of alcohol below the recommended level of 21 units a week.
And believe it or not I managed to do just that. Not that it was easy for me. It took a lot of work and I slipped up a few times. But in the end I got there.
Now it is a key part of my lifestyle. I feel much better about myself and it now comes naturally to me. And believe it or not I enjoy my drinking a lot more than I did when I drank over the limit.
Step 1: Set a goal to cut back on alcohol
My first step was to set myself a goal to cut back on alcohol. I knew it would have to be a SMART Goal if it was to work for me. A smart goal is 1. specific. 2.measurable. 3. achievable. 4. Realistic. 5. Timely – it has a time limit.
The SMART Goal I set myself was: “To drink no more than 21 units of alcohol each week.”
Step 2: Look at it as if it is a problem you need to solve
The goal gave me a target to aim for. And a standard to measure how well I did against it. Which is great but I needed to do much more than set a goal if I was to get my drinking habit under control.
I needed to decide the steps I should take each day of each week to drink less than I had done every week of the year. This was a well established habit. One that I enjoyed. I didn’t see myself as a heavy drinker and I hadn’t got drunk for ten years or more. So I felt quite comfortable with my drinking habit and knew that changing it would not be easy.
However the idea of drinking a set number of units of alcohol a week made a lot of sense to me. And I was determined to get below the recommended limit. So the first thing I did was to identify how many units of alcohol I was in the habit of drinking. It would identify the size of the task that faced me.
I was shocked to learn that I drank between 30 and 35 units of alcohol each week. It took me a while to accept this as an indisputable fact. I was drinking an average of five units of alcohol a day. I needed to bring this down to three units a day.
Step 3: Find a way to solve the problem
It was not going to be easy to reduce my alcohol intake from 35 to 21 units a week. The big difficulty was that I went out with friends for drinks on two nights each week and drank an average of six units on each of these nights. I had done this for years. It is an important part of my social life that I did not want to give up.
Each week it accounted for 12 of my 21 points. Which left me just 9 points for the other five days. This would be less that one and a half points per day which was a very big ask. One I know I would be unlikely to keep.
Then I thought of having one alcohol free day each week. This would certainly make it more workable. If I could drink just two units of alcohol on each of the other four days I would be comfortably within the 35 point limit.
Step 4: Trouble-shoot your plan to reduce alcohol
The alcohol free day is the corner-stone of the plan. Without it my plan just will not work. As I thought about it I realised that the day I choose to be alcohol free was important. Some days could be more difficult than others. It seemed to me that Monday would be my safest bet. So every Monday it will be as I start the week with a clean sheet.
Four days a week with no more than two units of alcohol will be a big change for me. It will not be easy but the rewards are great. Another plus is that each of day is a stepping stone. A manageable stepping stone to get me to where I want to be. So, I will just take it one day at a time.
If I am going to stumble. And I will. It is most likely to one or more of these “two unit” days. Accepting that I am likely to stumble now and again is important. It will help me to prepare for it and to get right back on track when it happens. It is the long run that counts. And so it proved to be.
Step 5: Decide how to record the progress you make
It helps to keep a daily record of how you do. So I decided to keep a hand-written record of the units of alcohol I drank each day. I did this even when they were above the limit I had set myself.
I reviewed this diary every week. Looking back on how well or otherwise I did motivated me to keep on trying to improve. It seemed to put the setbacks in perspective. I saw them as just little slips on the road to success. I learnt a lot from them. And without this simple tool I doubt if I would have achieved my goal.
How I fared in the long run
I did very well with the no-alcohol day. Making it a Monday was a great idea. To keep a clean-sheet on the first day of the week was a great incentive. As expected from time to time I was sorely tempted to have just one little drink. Just one to ease the longing. The end of January and start of February was the hardest time for me. I had to dig deep to stick it out. So I was pleased when I got to the end of February. For I knew it took two months to form a life-style habit. One I got more comfortable with as time went on. Nowadays I take my last drink on Sunday before 9 pm and my first drink on Tuesday after 9 pm. This gives me 48 hours or two full days alcohol free!
I also did well with the two weekly social occasions. Both sets of people I drink with stick within the limits which helps. It hasn’t been easy to avoid other social drinking occasions but I now cancel one of my regular outings when something else like family celebrations arise.
I found the four days with a limit of two units of alcohol the hardest of all to keep. It was only at the end of the year that I was able to get on top of it. Thankfully it is now part of my lifestyle.