20 seconds of courage

Janey Lee Grace | June 2019 | 8 minutes

In this blog Janey Lee Grace talks about finding the courage you need to challenge the voice in your head and change your drinking, one choice at a time.

Changing a habit is hard. Doing anything you don’t want to do is hard.

I often don’t ‘feel like’ clearing up, decluttering, going shopping or driving my teenagers to their events. There’s a voice in my head that tells me, “Give yourself a break, just chill, someone else can clear up, get the groceries, drive the kids.” But usually if it’s a commitment I have made, a rational thought pops in and tells me… “Just do it and you will feel better.”

Which voice to listen to? How do you motivate yourself to do the ‘right thing’, to do the thing that you know you should do and even want to do deep down but takes effort? We probably won’t ever stop the conflicting voices in our heads but we can get used to them, determine which one is on our side and then try our best to listen to that one.

We probably won’t ever stop the conflicting voices in our heads but we can get used to them, determine which one is on our side and then try our best to listen to that one.

This all comes into play when we’re trying to cut down on our drinking. When it comes to alcohol the voices in our head can become loud. ‘The addictive voice’, sometimes known as ‘the Beast’ or ‘the Wine Witch’ can be very persuasive. When we wake up with yet another hangover we may well think, “I MUST do something about my drinking.” But then the voice pops in. “Start tomorrow. You don’t drink that much, everyone drinks.” And, before you know it, ‘wine o clock’ comes around and there you are again, pouring a glass and telling yourself you’ve had a tough day, you deserve it.

I used to think I was the only person who had this voice in my head. I remember asking therapists, coaches, even a GP why it was so hard for me to reduce my drinking. Most of them said that my drinking didn’t seem too excessive – probably partly because I didn’t tell the truth and partly because they were also drinking too much. No-one I spoke to understood the voice.

I remember asking therapists, coaches, even a GP why it was so hard for me to reduce my drinking. Most of them said that my drinking didn’t seem too excessive – probably partly because I didn’t tell the truth and partly because they were also drinking too much.

Imagine my delight then when I came across a battered old book in a charity shop – Rational Recovery by Jack Trimpey. Many years ago he coined the term AVRT, which stands for addictive voice recognition technique. His Rational Recovery programme teaches people about the brain, and the limbic system which is responsible for our cravings and the ‘voice’ telling us to take drugs or drink alcohol in order to get our short-term reward. In the book he calls it The Beast Brain, and suggests that if we can distinguish this from the frontal lobes – the rational part of the brain – we can make the right decision. For his time Trimpey was quite revolutionary because he eschewed the idea that anyone is powerless over alcohol.

So to go back to those voices in our heads, when we’re cutting down on drinking we need to do exactly the same as we do when battling between either going and doing the shopping or chilling out (and dealing with having to make dinner for the family out of two slices of bread and some mouldy cheese later). We need to work out which voice is really on our side, and do what that voice says.

I love the scene in the movie We Bought a Zoo (an oldie but a goodie), when Matt Damon’s character reveals to his 15-year-old son, who is agonising over whether to tell a girl he likes her, how he met his late wife (the boy’s mum). He relates how he saw her sitting in a coffee shop, caught her eye and really wanted to go and talk to her. A voice in his head said, “Don’t go in, you’ll feel a fool, you’ll embarrass yourself.” But he knew he really wanted to – so he decided to take action. He said to himself, “I just need 20 seconds of courage.” And in he walked.

It all starts with 20 seconds of courage – and can lead to a lifetime of being proud of yourself for taking action.

So challenge your inner voice. It takes 20 seconds to put the wine or beer back on the shelf and pick up some sparkling water, a Kombucha, some chocolate – anything else. Once you’ve taken courage once, it will be just a little easier the next time. And a little easier the time after that.

It all starts with 20 seconds of courage – and can lead to a lifetime of being proud of yourself for taking action.

  • Janey is an Amazon No 1 best-selling author, commentator, and co-presenter on the UK’s biggest radio show, BBC Radio 2’s Steve Wright in the Afternoon.
  • After ditching the booze Janey has launched a podcast, Alcohol Free Life, focusing on sober self-care.
  • Check out her Self Care for the Sober Curious events.