For some of us, drinking too much becomes a habit – we do it without thinking. The idea of drinking more mindfully is that you replace that negative habit with more positive ones.
Waking up from her 30th birthday, journalist Rosamund Dean realised that alcohol was impacting her life and career. She wanted to do something about it and the resulting helpful book – Mindful Drinking - is about finding the ‘middle ground’ between devil-may-care indulgence and total abstinence. As she puts it:
“While we don’t want to give up drinking altogether, we do want to wake up clearheaded because we were able to resist that third glass of wine the night before.”
While the book talks more about women and glasses of wine than men and pints of beer, anyone who wants to moderate rather than stop drinking should find something useful in it. Here we share a few key thoughts and suggestions from the book - thank you to Rosamund for giving us her support.
Rosamund’s book is about moderation, not becoming tee-total.
“The way I see it is this: I know that sugar is bad for me, and cake offers no health benefits whatsoever, but if it’s your birthday and you present me with a slice of Lemon Chiffon Cake, damn right I’m eating it. The pleasure I get from eating that slice of cake, for me, negates the adverse health effects.
“I just make sure that I enjoy every bite, and I don’t eat cake every day. That is how it ought to be with alcohol too. I know that, in a perfect world, I wouldn’t drink at all. But we don’t live in a perfect world and I’m a big fan of the power of ‘good enough’.”
“It’s important for you to understand your own personal reasons why you drink too much, because you can’t fix something if you don’t know why it’s broken.”
Think of it as evolving rather than just changing. We all evolve as we get older, so try to think of drinking less as a positive reinvention of yourself. But you need to be clear about your incentives or motivations. Here are a few good things that reducing your drinking and staying in control of it can mean:
- more energy
- better memory
- being a more reliable friend
- more disposable income
- better skin
- deeper sleep
- feeling better about yourself
- losing excess weight
- a stronger immune system
- lower risk of some cancers
Being mindful doesn’t mean becoming a yoga expert or meditating for hours on end. Mindfulness is about bringing awareness to what you are doing, and this is what can help you to hold on to your intention to drink less. There are simple ways you can bring mindfulness to your daily life, and lots of websites, books and apps to help you do so. You can find some in our Tools to help.
Linked to this is the power of gratitude, which can help to tackle the perceived gaps in our lives which can lead to drinking too much. It’s one way of helping to focus on the present moment.
“The simple act of writing down things for which you are grateful, ideally every day, is one of the most popular and successful ways to retrain your brain out of negative thought patterns. It stops you taking things for granted. Not only the big things like friends and family, but the little things too.”
Because drinking lowers inhibitions, consuming alcohol can ironically make us want to drink more. However, according to Gretchen Rubin in her book The Four Tendencies:
“People think that if they deny themselves the cravings will build. In my experience cravings diminish the longer you go without it.”
Because, for many people, drinking becomes habitual having a clean break is a good idea. It reshapes your tolerance to alcohol and changes your habits. There are many different opinions on how long this should be. Rosamund Dean suggests 28 days – not too easy, not too difficult. You can also plan to stop for Dry January or Stoptober, when there will be extra support and other people doing the same – but only do so if the month works for you.
A break takes planning and readiness:
- Don’t start your break when you have a special birthday, it’s the cup final or there’s a wedding to go to!
- Try out non-alcoholic drinks so you are ready with your choice when you’re in the pub or at a party.
- Offer to be the designated driver for a month – this could also make you very popular!
Once you’ve managed your 28 days, sticking to alcohol free days as part of your plan for the future will be easier. After all, if you’ve managed 28 days, 3 or 4 in a week shouldn’t be a problem!
Make your own rules, eg:
- 3 or 4 drink free days a week
- no more than 3 drinks in one evening
- only drink at the weekend
- whatever feels right to you as long as it’s less than you used to drink.
Keep less beer or wine in the house, and buy more expensive bottles so that they feel like a treat and you can enjoy them more mindfully.
It can also make a surprising difference to how much you drink if you use smaller glasses and only pour half a glass at a time. And when you’re out drinking, ask for a small glass of wine, single spirits or half pints, regardless of the price differential. It’s worth a few pence to be more in control.
Try not to get stuck into thinking about what you’re losing or missing out on, but stay focused on how much more you’re gaining - more money, better health, better skin, more control etc.
Forming healthy habits is the key to breaking out of bad ones, and repetition is absolutely key, so keep reminding yourself of your motivations.
And finally, don’t worry if you ‘relapse’ or have a bad few days where your rules go out of the window. See it as a positive opportunity to clarify the feelings, situations or people that might make you drink too much. Moderation might take you several attempts, but just keep reminding yourself of your motivations and incentives and remember that you are in control.
If you think Rosamund’s book could help you, it’s readily available through your local bookshop or on Amazon