How to Disrupt The Habit Loop
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear outlines four steps to help break a bad habit through the habit loop:
Make it Invisible
When we make it invisible, we reduce our exposure to the habit. We remove the cues for our habit, and we avoid the triggers where we can. This is a helpful strategy especially in the early days of alcohol-free living—removing all alcohol from your house, avoiding boozy outings, identifying the events that lead to drinking and minimizing them as much as possible. Throwing away any alcohol paraphernalia (like your favorite wine glass), trashing that sign in our kitchen that says “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere.”
Yesterday we used an example of someone who always opened a bottle of wine when they began cooking dinner; if this is you, maybe get takeout for a week or two while you break the habit of cracking open a bottle of wine when you turn the stove on. After all, early alcohol-free life is a time of extreme self-care, so it’s worth going a little overboard with the carryout pizza if it means disrupting the habit loop.
Make it Unattractive
This strategy is all about mindset. How can we reinforce all of the negative aspects of drinking for ourselves? How can we remind ourselves of all of the benefits of not drinking? Consider affirmation or mantra work during this time, and bust out the journal. Chronicle your worst hangover ever, make a list of all of the reasons you don’t want to drink, do some research about the effects of alcohol on the body. (Or start at the beginning of the Reframe program for a refresher.) When our brains begin to see alcohol negatively, this is helpful in disrupting the habit loop.
Make it Difficult
Increase the number of steps between you and the habit or reward. If you’ve got a chocolate chip cooking problem, quit keeping break-and-bake dough in the fridge. Force yourself to make them from scratch if you really want them. For our example friend, they could throw away their wine opener, glasses, and Corksicle in addition to removing alcohol from their home. They could only use cash to pay for groceries, or let a spouse do the grocery shopping. If you Netflix, wine, and chill, maybe throw away your TV and burn your couch. (Too far? Maybe. But you get the point.)
Make it Unsatisfying
Bring someone else into the mix; get an accountability partner. Place a crazy bet if you return to your habit, like sending a donation to a politician you loathe. Share your habit journey on social media so others can watch you stay accountable. Hop on an alcohol-free challenge online. Of course this can be difficult with alcohol—many of us have painful memories of the way others have reacted to our drinking in the past, so if this doesn’t feel like a good fit for you, feel free to skip it. But if it feels like a good, aligned challenge, it can be a powerful tool.
What can you do to make your habitual use of alcohol a little less appealing or accessible? Where can you begin to disrupt the habit loop and break the cycle of alcohol use?
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Avery Publishing.