Nudging your drinking

Changing drinking habits

If you are used to drinking alcohol regularly, it may seem like a daunting prospect to start staying sober, especially in social situations like nights out with friends or parties. We know that habits like these, formed over the years, can be hard to change. So you may need some simple tips and tricks to get you through the days and evenings. The ideas discussed in this post are based on a type of behaviour change science called “nudging”. At Club Soda we think that your drinking is a personal choice, and your goal does not always have to be about quitting alcohol completely – you may also want to cut down, stop for a bit, or stick. These tips – alcohol nudges – will work regardless of your goal.

Alcohol nudges

Some of these ideas may sound a bit daft, but they have all been shown to work. Of course, none of them will magically change your life overnight, but the more of them you are able to use, the more likely it is that you will reach your goals. Our top four alcohol nudges are:

  1. Priming – this means using subtle hints to draw your mind towards something, and they work at a subliminal level. For instance, spending time in nature, or even looking at pictures or trees of flowers will lead you to healthier choices in your life: your mind gets “primed” to thinking “natural”, and you end up behaving in more wholesome ways. Another quick trick is to make your computer passwords into reminders or encouragements: for example, change your password to something like “1willNotDrinkThi$week!” and you’ll have to keep that phrase in your mind. Just that simple thought will enforce your resolution not to drink.

  2. Defaults – these are a powerful, often almost invisible, influence on our lives. What happens if you just go with the default option, without actively changing things? You may end up with insurance you never wanted, only because you didn’t untick that little box on the online shopping page. Marketing people are well aware of this trick of course. But you can also make it work in your favour, by putting only healthy drinks in your fridge, and hiding all the alcoholic drinks somewhere where they are hard to get to. When you open the fridge door for something to drink, you’ll most likely just grab the juice that is there, rather than climb up to the loft for that bottle of wine. And you can even combine a default with priming, by setting your internet home page to a website that will inspire you, or remind you of all the good things you’ll achieve by not drinking.

  3. Social norms – basically, it is easier to do things together. If you are struggling, your friends can give you a boost to keep going. If you have a question or worry, someone will be able to offer advice. So it would be great to change your drinking with others. But even if nobody in your life is doing the same, you can always join an online community like Club Soda, and share the trials and tribulations with new virtual friends.

  4. Commitments – you can achieve more by telling people around you about your decision, or tweeting and sharing it on Facebook. It will be harder to give up your resolution if you know that you’ll have to admit it to your friends. Once again, online interaction is maybe not as good the real thing, but it still works. In one fascinating study, researchers found that tweeting about your diet led to significantly more weight loss. You can make this type of commitment even stronger by giving someone you trust some money, and asking that they only give it back to you if you achieve your drinking goal (to stay sober for a month for example); otherwise they are to give it to a charity of their choice.

This is an edited version of an original blog post at Movement for Modern Life. Thanks to Kat for letting us post it here as well!

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