Day 15 of The Alcohol Experiment: brain power, the three C’s, and reframing stress.
Phew! A lot of content here!
Realizing that the brain is powerful, flexible and resilient is critical in this and any journey where you seek to change an ingrained pattern of behavior. Annie Grace breaks this down for us clearly in this lesson, with what I’m calling the three C’s: conditioning, cognitive dissonance, and confirmation bias. She explains each of these concepts in the context of our relationship with alcohol, and promises us that “When you start to question your beliefs, you create space in your mind for new beliefs to be installed.”
How does this happen?
Conditioning means “teaching our brains what to expect in any circumstance.” If you expect ditching booze to suck, it will suck. If you expect it to be a positive and enjoyable journey, that’s what you’ll get. We are conditioned by ourselves, our communities, and our surroundings. When I first committed to Dry January, I expected to be miserable. And I was at first. But I started posting on Connect, and the positive feedback I received changed my mindset. I started to believe that it was possible to not only survive Dry January, but to thrive living alcohol-free. And guess what – I did! I had an incredibly positive, productive, energized, and happy month. I am eternally grateful to Connect for helping me change my mindset and helping me recondition my brain. It felt like a miracle, truly.
2. Cognitive dissonance
This is the fancy term for the discord that many of us have experienced in our brains. “I love drinking, but I hate how it makes me feel.” Those of us who are doing The Alcohol Experiment and pondering cutting down on or cutting out booze have all experienced this sort of inner conflict with regard to alcohol. And this can be really painful! As much as I loved my cold glass(es) of Sauvignon Blanc every night, I absolutely hated how I felt in the morning. I felt trapped in that love/hate cycle, yet I didn’t break myself out of it because I believed that a life without alcohol would be terrible.
3. Confirmation bias
One way to deal with cognitive dissonance is via confirmation bias, or seeking out the answer to what you are conditioned to believe in order to cement this belief as truth in your mind. I have a little wooden sign that says, “It’s ok to wine a little.” I used to think it was cute and funny and I will freely admit that a mere glance at that sign enabled me to drink, quashing my willpower because, see? It’s ok to have a little wine, everybody drinks, it’s fun, and it helps you feel better! And the love/hate cycle continued.
Annie Grace recommends visualization as a tool for breaking down and reconstructing our beliefs. I also think that just doing The Alcohol Experiment, and reading Annie’s book and other material, can all help in the process of rewiring our brains to break the booze cycle.
Does anyone use visualization? I would love to hear about it!
I’m going to try this today because I am in an unexpected situation and I know that if it were 2017 I would probably be drinking by now. After our Easter celebration this morning, we were gearing up to head up to MA when my husband discovered a hole in one of my car’s tires. Long story short, he took the kids to see my in-laws and I am home, with my dogs. Alone, in my house! THIS NEVER HAPPENS. And – sorry honey if you’re reading this – I am loving it, y’all.
The 2017 me would use this as an excuse to start drinking early, which would stifle my productivity, make me sleep like crap and feel awful tomorrow morning. (Yet I am still tempted to drink – THAT is how ingrained my alcohol habits are! After all of this, everything I know now, there is STILL an instinctual part of me that feels tempted to open a bottle of wine. I won’t, but ugh!)
Instead, I am going to practice visualization today. I am going to think about my afternoon and all the things I want to do, and how I WILL get them done and feel great about that! I will think about my night tonight, making kimchi cauliflower fried rice with grilled shrimp, eating a pint of Enlightened ice cream, watching “Rise” and snuggling with my dogs, getting a solid night of sleep, being able to sleep in (!!!), and waking up tomorrow feeling fresh and accomplished. Now THAT, to me, is truly taking advantage of this miraculous day to myself.
A quick note on this lesson’s video because WOW, it’s a good one. Stress relief is one of the most popular reasons people drink. But guess what! Stress is NOT a bad thing! Whoa, what?! Trust. If you can learn to embrace stress and see it as an opportunity for learning and growth, you can enhance your productivity. Instead of “stress relief” think about “stress resilience.” If you can see stress as a natural part of life that is intended to make you stronger instead of defeating you, you will be more compassionate, happier, and better equipped to deal with future stressors.
This blew my mind and I am so thrilled to turn my understanding of stress on its head. Because how is it helpful to view stress as toxic? It’s just not!
The most stressful time in my life was when my stepdad lost his battle with colon cancer. It was an absolutely horrible time. But it shaped me, and re-shaped how I view my life. And I know that I appreciate life and all its gifts more than I would if I hadn’t gone through something so traumatic.
So, thank you Annie Grace, for another tool to add to my ever-growing kit.
[The Alcohol Experiment is a free, interactive 30-day program designed by Annie Grace, author of This Naked Mind. For more information: www.alcoholexperiment.com.]