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Understanding Your WHY for Cutting Back on Drinking

By Nick Allen
Posted: April 05, 2020

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Reflecting on countless stops and starts in trying to improve my drinking habits over the years, I came to recognize a consistent pattern in my past less-than-successful attempts to get my drinking under control. 

My recurring cycle would look something like this:

  1. I’d be triggered by a particularly bad night (or streak of nights), after which I’d wake up feeling groggy, low energy, and occasionally embarrassed or regretful about poor decisions I’d made while under the influence.
  2. I’d decide to make an effort to limit my drinking, focusing on hard rules like “no more hard alcohol”, “no drinking on weekdays”, or “no more than X drinks in a night,” to name a few.
  3. My willpower would hold up and I’d be able to hold to my rules for days, weeks, and occasionally even a month or more.
  4. But over time, my adherence to my rule would become less and less strict, until I’d find myself back to where I started.

My rules and measurable goals would help me reach my desired outcome of healthier drinking in the short term, but without a strong system or broader context for the change I was trying to make, the progress I made didn’t last. 

How a diet and exercise app changed my path to healthier drinking

As I set out to do things differently this time around, I was inspired by a process I’d encountered early in my experience with Noom, a fantastic app focused on helping members get fit and lose weight for good. In the Noom onboarding experience — before introducing the daily routines at the core of the system — Noom prompts members to “Design their big picture” in order to find their “Ultimate why.”

Noom explains,

“We find motivation by really, truly understanding WHY we want to reach our goals. That deep, meaningful “Ultimate why” — that driving force that pushed you to finally take that plunge, and what excites and inspires you to work towards your goals every day.”

To get to the Ultimate Why, Noom takes their members through a “5 Whys” exercise, starting with your measurable desired outcome (e.g. lose 10 pounds), and asking members to think about their deeper motivation by answering one simple question — Why? — 5 times.

This time, when I started the journey to healthier drinking that’s culminated in the launch of Sunnyside (previously called Cutback Coach), I took a page out of Noom’s book. Rather than jumping straight into the HOW of cutting back, I used the 5 Whys methodology to uncover my deeper motivation for improving my drinking habits. Here’s what it looked like for me.

Using the ‘5 Whys’ method to find deeper motivation to drink less

Like I had every time before, I started with my immediate goal:

I want to cut back on my drinking...

But instead of stopping here and jumping to solutions as I had time and again in the past, this time I asked myself WHY.

Why do you want to cut back on drinking? → 

My answer: I hate waking up with hangovers.

This wasn’t the epiphany I was looking for, so I asked again.

Why do you hate waking up with hangovers? → 

My answer: When I do, I feel lethargic and tend to make bad health decisions like eating fast food and not exercising.

And again.

Why do you want to avoid these unhealthy decisions? → 

My answer: I tend to be more focused and productive in both my professional and personal life when I’m living an active, healthy lifestyle.

And again.

Why does focus and productivity matter? → 

My answer: When I’m making progress towards my personal and professional goals, I feel that my actions are aligned with the person (husband, son, friend, professional) that I want to be.

Now I felt I was breaking into new territory. I found that with each ask, the answer required deeper thought to uncover, and felt a lot more meaningful when I found it. I felt I was close, but not quite there yet. So I asked again.

Why is it important for my actions to be aligned with the person I want to be? → 

My answer: When my actions are aligned with the person I want to be, I feel like I’m building a life (relationships, career, self) I’ll look back on with pride and satisfaction when it’s all said and done.

This felt like an “Ultimate Why”, one that immediately energized me and refined my focus on the task at hand. Pulling it all together, I realized the deeper meaning for my desire to cut back:

I want to cut back on my drinking to build a life I’ll look back on with pride and satisfaction.

And with that, my journey began again. But this time, it felt different. I had a different mindset, and was ready to break the cycle.

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Nick Allen

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!

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