How Small Wins Turn Into Big Successes.
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Denis Waitley
When I was younger, I used to think that ultimate commitment was the only way to truly succeed at something. Whenever there was some goal that I wanted to accomplish or obstacle I felt I needed to overcome, the only way I thought I could ensure that I would do so would be to tell myself that NOTHING was going to stop me.
Over time, there were instances in which this ultimate commitment did yield the desired results, but there were more times than not that this resulted in my disappointment, as I faltered again and again.
Many times, due to this failure, I would decide that the goal just wasn’t for me or the obstacle was too difficult to overcome, and I would then move on to my next item of focus.
This ultimately led to me achieving some goals, while still failing at others. As I look back on it now, however, I realize that perhaps it was this very commitment that caused me to eventually fail at these goals.
And if you use this same approach when trying to give up alcohol, there are three distinct reasons that this could hinder your chances of success as well.
YOU DON’T ALLOW YOURSELF TO LEARN/GROW FROM FAILING
The problem with the above scenario was I believed my commitment was the ultimate determining factor if I would succeed or not. I didn’t consider any outside factors other than my willpower and determination.
What this meant was if something didn’t work out after I made my ultimate commitment, then I figured I just didn’t have what it took. I figured that I was lacking whatever “it” was, and if after swearing to myself that I would achieve something, then it was God’s way of telling me “that thing” wasn’t for me.
The other issue with this was that I would often just try ONE way to do something, and if it didn’t work out, then I would just give up completely. I didn’t think about approaching it another way or consider that anything that you try for the first time is going to be immensely hard, and failure is part of the equation.
I didn’t realize that often it is only by failing that you learn the iron-forging lessons you need to figure out what it takes to be successful. You learn what works for you and what doesn’t work. You can then adjust your approach and get a little stronger at your next attempt.
A great analogy to this is when a baby is learning to walk. As babies crawl around the floor and slowly lift themselves to be on their hind legs like they see these two giants walking around them each day, they fall over and over again.
It is through these falls and then them using their newly created muscles to lift themselves back up, that they slowly, over time, build up their leg and arm muscles to be able to walk on their own without any assistance.
The cycle of each fall and their subsequent picking themselves up and trying again is the process they must take to ultimately achieve their goal.
What would their lives be like if they had just given up and figured walking just wasn’t “for them”?
This mindset could lead to the second reason that focusing on ULTIMATE commitment can cause problems.
YOU ARE NOT FORGIVING ENOUGH TO YOURSELF
Often when people attempt to use the “never drink again” method to quit it is because something bad happened the night before, e.g., DUI, a big fight with a loved one, waking up next to a stranger. They then look themselves in the mirror and declare that last night was the last time, and nothing’s going to stop them.
However, when something happens that causes them to backslide and they find themselves with that empty bottle of Amstel Light in their hands, they feel disgusted and cannot understand how or why they couldn’t stop this from happening.
Many times, this leads to the individual emulating me as a kid and ultimately deciding that they just can’t give up drinking and that they should just throw caution to the wind and enjoy their life because stressing about something they can’t control isn’t helping either.
This turns that one Amstel Light into a 12 pack, which then leads to a night out on the town that they can’t remember. Why not right? They already drank one beer, so that whole concept of NEVER is thrown out the door. They might as well make the most out of breaking the promise to themselves if they can.
This slip up usually leads to them being extremely upset at themselves the next day because not only did they break their promise, but they shattered it most profoundly. They will then most likely beat themselves up at their lack of willpower and discipline.
This is known as the Abstinence Violation Effect and is one of the reasons that saying NEVER can hurt your attempt to quit. This effect basically is about someone’s response to relapsing on their commitment. It is when someone is so disgusted with their inability to keep their commitment, that it negatively affects their ability to try again.
This feeling of disappointment and helplessness usually turns into them fearing what will happen if they try again. It is through this psychological defeat that many drinkers eventually give up and stop trying.
This feeling of hopelessness and despair is related to the last reason saying NEVER hurts your ability to quit.
YOU GIVE ALCOHOL MORE POWER THAN YOU SHOULD
We’ve already decided that alcohol has too strong of a grip on us, and we desire to give it up completely. For many, there is no actual physical dependence on alcohol yet, as the percentage of people who fall into that category is very small.
There is, however, probably a strong psychological connection to alcohol created over time due to the dopamine rush our brain has connected to so many different things in our lives, e.g. watching sports, vacations, Saturday night out with friends.
When we then make the declarative statement that we will NEVER drink again and stake our claim in the ground that nothing will move it, we can increase this psychological stronghold rather than lessen it.
The mind is a powerful thing, and when we commit to NEVER do something again, we subconsciously turn on a switch that makes us place more emphasis on this than we otherwise would.
It is very similar to when someone asks you think NOT think about a pink elephant. Because you are trying to not think about it, your brain is bringing it to the forefront all the time. This is known as the ironic process theory and means that you will think about that which you have made the decision (commitment) to not think about.
As it relates to alcohol, when you tell yourself that you will NEVER drink again, it puts a tremendous focus on it. Your mind will begin to do the math on how long you’ll live and what that will mean for you to never drink again….FOREVER.
Your mind begins to go through all the fun memories you had with drinking and says you will probably not experience anything similar in the future. You will begin to mourn alcohol almost as if they are a loved one that you will never speak to or enjoy again.
Instead, however, when you tell yourself that you are just giving up alcohol for now and that you can drink at another time if you want, it takes the pressure off deciding if you will ever drink again. You haven’t officially made that decision if you are going to drink ever again. You just decided that you aren’t going to drink TODAY.
By focusing on only one day at a time, as opposed to only seeing forever as your time of accomplishment, you are tapping into a workplace concept known as the progress principle.
This is a business theory of how groups can accomplish a large, momentous goal by breaking down the goal into a series of small, incremental tasks and wins that build upon each other.
Therefore, by keeping your commitment to not drink daily, weekly, and monthly, you can celebrate with each threshold you cross and gain more and more confidence in your ability to be as successful as you desire.
If you made NEVER your goal of when you would consider yourself successful, the ONLY WAY you would know if you ever succeeded would be to DIE.
And you surely wouldn’t be able to celebrate then.
Instead, give yourself small, short goals by committing to not drinking for the day/week/month and that’s it. This way, alcohol will not dominate your thoughts for that period, and you’ll get stronger with each successive win.
It will then only become an afterthought of something that you could do if you wanted, but you just said you weren’t going to do it TODAY.
You can then let tomorrow take care of itself…