How Sunnyside Can Help You Achieve Your Healthy Drinking Goals
By Nick Allen
Posted: April 22, 2020
With any self-improvement project, it’s easy (and logical) to start by focusing on the outcomes we wish to achieve. When we start new diets, we focus on the pounds we’d like to shed. If the goal is to learn a new language, we picture ourselves conversing naturally in a new tongue. And when we set out to drink a little less alcohol, we imagine a life free of hangovers and the other negative effects of drinking on our bodies and minds.
Why your system is more important than your goal
As a starting point, setting outcome-based goals — like losing 10 pounds, being able to hold a conversation in Spanish, or keeping yourself to a specific drink target — is a reasonable way to kickstart the process of transformation. But goals alone aren’t sufficient to make a lasting change.
Instead, it’s the system you develop to achieve your goals that makes all the difference.
In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear notes “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
Goals are temporary, and once achieved — or deemed out of reach — leave us with an unclear path forward and a tendency to revert back to our established norms. On the other hand, by focusing on the system rather than the goal, we set ourselves up for long-term success by focusing on the journey, rather than fixating on the destination.
It’s with this lesson in mind that I set out to build a better system for achieving healthier drinking habits that last. Here’s an overview:
Our system for building healthier drinking habits that last
Our system applies proven behavioral psychology strategies from habit-formation experts like Nir Eyal and James Clear to the goal of reducing alcohol consumption to levels deemed healthy by the National Institutes of Health. The program is built around 3 keystone habits:
- Weekly pre-commitments and timeboxing
- Daily tracking and progress visualization
- Reprogramming the subconscious
Keystone habit #1: Weekly pre-commitments and timeboxing
Every Sunday, Sunnyside members are prompted to create a plan for their week ahead. We start by suggesting personalized targets for total drinks and dry days based on members’ progress in the program so far and stated drinking goals.
Next, we give the power to our members to create an implementation intention for the week.
Starting with Monday, members step through each day of the week, allocating their total drink target across days and defining their dry day plan. With this simple exercise, members make a promise to themselves for the week ahead, defining not only what they intend to do, but when they intend to do it.
With these promises in place, the next step is to make sure they’re kept.
Keystone habit #2: Daily tracking and progress visualization
The next critical habit is daily drink tracking.
Each day, we check in with our members via text message to remind them about the drinking plan they’ve made for the day.
On days when drinking is on the agenda, the only job of our members is to send us a simple text message each time they start a new drink. We respond to each message in real-time with a reminder about where members are for the day relative to their plans, with words of encouragement to keep them on track.
The subtle act of tracking is one of the most important components of the program.
- Pausing to track each drink before moving on to the next creates conscious interference to short circuit the automatic tendency to jump right into the next drink
- Real-time feedback allows members to know exactly where they stand relative to their commitment, improving adherence with the promises they’ve made to themselves
- Words of encouragement between each drink create small dopamine hits to reward members for their moderation, providing an alternative to the expected reward of the next drink.
And finally, tracking allows us to provide members with a satisfying picture of their progress relative to their plans each day. Members seek out the green check next to each day, and work to avoid the red, providing another reward mechanism to encourage moderation.
But planning and tracking alone aren’t enough. We also need to build mindfulness about why we drink, in order to hijack existing habit loops and replace them with healthier ones.
Keystone habit #3 Reprogramming the subconscious
The final component of our system consists of interactive thought exercises to help members recognize the triggers that lead them to over-drink, then override these automatic behaviors.
We do this through weekly reflections and refinement, helping members hone in on where they went astray in the previous week, then applying their learnings to their plans for the week ahead. We deepen the experience with daily words of encouragement and strategies for hacking back on subconscious loops, focusing both on helping members avoid drinking entirely on dry days, and avoid overdoing it on drinking days.
Your guide on the path to healthier drinking
You don’t need to feel that you have a drinking problem to benefit from building mindfulness about your alcohol intake. With the strategies outlined above, you can do so in less than 5 minutes a day. If you’re looking to incorporate alcohol into your overall health and wellness routine, we’d love to help. Get started here.
Nick Allen is co-founder & CEO of Sunnyside. He’s a student of habit change and behavioral psychology, and an avid self improvement enthusiast. He founded Sunnyside after finding few options to help with more mindful drinking, vs an all or nothing approach. Sunnyside is the system he designed for himself, and is now sharing with you!