do you change the behaviour first?

I hate it when i learn something about myself. well, i don’t HATE it, but i am like all “holy how did i never see this before” or “holy how come it took me so long to finally try to figure this out…”

i had a crap day last week (and i wrote about it, which of course makes folks either freak out that i’m about to relapse (no) or you’re surprised that i’m a real person and not pedestal-like-after-all-and-never-was).

after my crap day i got some sleep (duh). and i recovered (yeah). all day saturday i was busy with catering. the whole day. but i had an idea for a podcast so i started to record it saturday night at about 9 pm…

to say that i had an idea for a podcast is a little unfair, because i was trying to figure out WHY i can’t consistently get enough sleep, and why do i have to keep relearning this over and over, how boring i’m not even going to link to past posts on the subject of must do less, sleep more, blah blah. And so sometimes when i’m trying to work something out, i record the podcast and by the end of the audio i’ve realized something.

yeah. so that’s what happened.

so here’s the short version (even though it’s really long).

I’m a behaviourist at heart. i don’t even think i know what the word ‘behaviourist’ really means to therapist types, but to me it means: change the behaviour first, then the thinking/feelings change.

For example, you don’t want to exercise, dread it, try to figure out why you dread it, spend a lot of time planning ways to get around it. make plans, fail at plans. make other plans. fail at those.

(And in a perfectionistic way, feel that you MUST have this all sorted BEFORE you begin. You ask your friends “why don’t i exercise more when i know it’s good for me?” as if there’s an answer to that question.)

Then someone comes along and says: doesn’t matter what you weigh, doesn’t matter what you THINK about exercise. Doesn’t matter if you use the words overweight or obese or diet or exercise or not. doesn’t matter if can’t imagine exercising regularly forever. doesn’t matter if you don’t know why you don’t want to exercise. Just do this planned bootcamp thingy for 100 days and THEN then you’ll start to figure out what you feel about exercising.


You’re pretty sure that you want to feel better about over-drinking. you read books, read blogs, dread it, try to figure out why you dread it, spend a lot of time planning ways to get around it (moderation), make plans, fail at plans, make other plans.

(And in a perfectionistic way, feel that you MUST have this all sorted BEFORE you begin. You ask your friends “why don’t i stop drinking for awhile even though i know it’ll be good for me?” as if there’s an answer to that question.)

Then someone comes along and says: doesn’t matter what you THINK about quitting drinking. Doesn’t matter if you use the word alcoholic or not. doesn’t matter if you want to quit forever. doesn’t matter if you don’t know why you drink. Just stop drinking for 100 days and THEN you’ll start to figure out what you think.

It’s like we want to answers before we start. We want to know the difference between drinking alcoholically and being an alcoholic. we want to know why we self-sabotage. we want to know how long it’s going to take, and how quickly we’ll have ALL the answers.

So i recorded the podcast and right near the bloody end, i said:  do the action first, stop trying to figure out why.

then I turned off the recorder. i wanted to edit the audio and upload it. Instead, i took my own advice and did the action first (sleep) and figure out why i resist sleeping later. I left the audio unedited. i went to bed.

the next day, yesterday (holy long story you’ve given up by now)… then yesterday, i relistened to the audio, posted an extract, sent it out to subscribers.

And i realized that it’s probably my perfectionist thinking that keeps me up too late. “Just one more thing. Do one more thing. Finish this thing off. Do this in the right order. Do it this way not that way.”

The same way that perfectionism probably kept me from quitting drinking for such a long while when I knew i was drinking more than i should. The perfectionist in me wanted to FIND A WAY TO KEEP DRINKING – like, not be so all or nothing about it, surely moderation should be POSSIBLE if i just find out HOW TO DO IT RIGHT.

(lots of shouty caps, sorry)

so. go to bed and figure out why you’re not getting enough sleep later. If you know you need more sleep then get some, and wrestle with the thinking later.

so. quit drinking for some medium-longish length of time (100-180 days) and then figure out later if you feel better or worse once you’re sober (duh). do you obsess less, do you sleep better, do you feel better, are you prouder of yourself.

and that you can’t imagine any of these things BEFORE you begin doesn’t mean anything. just begin. the clarity comes later.

says the behaviourist.

there’ll be some therapist out there who’ll come and correct me and say “you need to know the root cause before you can find a solution” and i’ll call bullshit.  Cuz you can’t figure out drinking while you’re drinking. and i don’t think i can figure out why i’m exhausted if i’m exhausted. that stuff has happened in the past is a fact, sure. but it’s what we DO NEXT that changes things. (not what we think next; and as paul likes to remind me, we have a problem with thinking… more thinking is probably not the answer.)

what do you think? lost my mind?



thanks to mr. belle for the sober paintings. exit the booze elevator. here’s your sign.

link here


I want to put this online, to hold myself accountable. I want to document the noise in my head. I'm tired of thinking about drinking. date of last drink: june 30, 2012

  • In the beginning, I was excited to discover it was my “thinking” and not my “drinking.” My plan was to correct my thinking, hence I could one day drink again. Well that didn’t happen! Doesn’t quite work that way.

  • Hit the blooming nail right on the head Belle! I need to think less and do more most definitely – thankyou yet again for the clarity! Ps I went to a wedding alone yesterday and didn’t drink – great to come home with makeup and dignity still intact! Head held a bit higher today! Xxx

  • Yesss! Awesome insight on “stinking thinking”. I agree that once we practice healthier choices & self love (dont consume poison, get some rest, eat a salad, etc) our minds will be clearer & thinking will improve! Thanks for this reminder!

  • The madness of thinking left me stuck in a quagmire of pretence and complications ..preventing me from seeing the simple step I actually needed to take .thanks for explaining away the excuses Belle

  • Are you right, are you not right? Don’t know, don’t care. What I know for sure, it’s working for me💕. In a few days I will hit my 365days sober. Woo hoo!!
    And it has everything to do with the approach you describe and your expert coaching. Reading this today, I am inspired to apply this to exercise. 100 days, and see what happens. Not crazy, just move, everyday, on purpose. After 100days, I can see how I feel, and decide where to go from there. 💕. Big hugs Belle😊💕

  • Hi Belle,
    Thanks for that, it’s exactly what I needed to hear today. I was on day 22, but yesterday I decided to go ahead and drink an entire bottle of wine and today I feel like a piece of shit. I’m not going to waste time beating myself up this time. Instead of trying to quit forever this time, I’m going to set a goal of 180 days and see what I think when I get there.

  • Well I feel like I could go on and on in response to this!
    My own training in cognitive behavioural therapy was pretty brief but it seemed to say that the more you challenge the thoughts you have then the feeling and behaviour will follow. Personally I’ve not met many clients who find this approach at all helpful.
    I do find clients do better once they understand themselves or get more self awareness and are more likely to have self compassion.
    Changing behaviour is a whole other ball game. In my experience (with clients) they have to be self motivated and have support running alongside. They need enough hope to kickstart a change and enough belief ( from self or others) to continue picking themselves up after a relapse.
    I don’t think it’s always possible for people to just do the thing to stop before some level of support.
    I certainly didn’t find it possible to think of giving up 100 days initially and it took until I approached it as a small step at a time with a goal in mind to start to begin. But I know other people here found the 100 day thingy helpful.
    I am more able now to set longer goals.
    I do agree on some level that the thinking can’t be changed with more thinking; but I don’t think it’s as straightforward as “do the behaviour first and then the rest follows “.
    I think we all respond differently to a set of challenges. Most importantly I needed to begin though! But getting to that point involved a whole load of other steps first.
    Maybe I’m not making much sense 😄
    Just from watching clients (as a counsellor) struggling to make changes ; it is completely different for everyone!
    What seems to be at the centre though is a trusting therapeutic relationship/ good relationship with somebody who understands where you are coming from

  • As an over thinker your thoughts are everything I have done over the last 8 years. I’m on day 20 today and totally get what you’ve said. It’s funny how when you are sober even for a very short while, things start to make much more sense than they ever did before.

  • This is so terrific — and so obvious! Why don’t we get it??? I will follow your logic and say that we get it once we start doing it. 🙂

    As for anyone who says, “you need to know the root cause before you can find a solution”: If you were mysteriously bleeding heavily, would you try to find out why first thing, or would you stop the bleeding first? This is such a good thing to be reminded of — thank you!

  • Thanks for sending this to me today Belle. This describes my last five years in a nutshell. One look at my Kindle log would leave you cracking up right now. And I think you are absolutely right. “It’s like we want to answers before we start. We want to know the difference between drinking alcoholically and being an alcoholic. we want to know why we self-sabotage. we want to know how long it’s going to take, and how quickly we’ll have ALL the answers.” I also feel that my doing this was a way to white wash my procrastination. Like somehow I was “virtuously pursuing” the concept of quitting just by researching it when in fact I was delaying the inevitable.

    • i think this is just so true for all of us. over-thinkers. trying to find answers. instead of just beginning and trusting that the answers come later…

  • I loved this post, Belle. I would constantly lament that I couldn’t understand WHY I drank too much because I had a good childhood and if only I could figure out how to stop after one glass. I used to drive myself crazy trying to figure out what is wrong with me. As if finding something/someone to blame would help be a normal drinker. I agree with you and call “bullshit” also.

    • Monthly Podcast Subscription:
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  • Yes, I completely agree. Especially in the case of addiction (or problematic drinking, if you prefer) we absolutely CAN’T figure out why we drink, whether we should stop, all of that, until we do it. Because until we’re sober, we’re not thinking with our real minds and seeing ourselves clearly.

    There’s a repeating pattern on the sober blogs, where we start off by saying we might have a teensy problem, we’ll just stop for a while…and end up saying holy hell, how did we live like that? I had NO IDEA how disordered my drinking was until, maybe, three months sober? I’m sure there’s a lot more revelations to come.

    Amazing post, Belle.

  • Great post and comments! I definitely think a 100 day challenge could be successful for all sorts of things we want to change. Action then clarity. (-:

    • I’m the same – overthinking and drinking excessively must have high correlation. I didnt have to feel good, bad, happy or sad to trigger a drink – just needed to numb my head from thinking too much but once I started though I couldn’t stop. Definitely going to try just doing stuff I instinctively know I want to do without waiting to feel like it – wasted to much time already –
      p.s enjoying your blog 🙂

  • I think you have just touched upon one of the major (accidental?) insights of your “program”:

    1. Take action first, for 100 days, and put the theories and labels aside. Just do.

    2. Within those 100 days, momentum begets momentum, and the poison in your system dissipates.

    3. Then, as 1 and 2 take place over time, you begin to have the mental strength to see why what you are doing makes sense, and is attainable.

    4. Your new mental strength then gives you more “will power” to maintain momentum, etc. and etc.

    Easy? Not necessarily. Attainable? Yes.

    Consistent with common sense? Definitely.

  • “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
    The egg. You probably knew that.

    People develop attitudes based on observing behavior. Implicit attitudes are subconscious ideas and judgments that arise from observation. The only thing observable in this scenario is behavior (because you can’t really see someone’s attitude, well, unless it’s a teenager and then the eye-roll is a sure sign of their attitude – oh wait, eye-roll = behavior).
    So, my answer is “yes” umm or “no”…which question are we supposed to answer?

  • OH no here comes the 12 step comment ….

    We call this … “we can’t think ourselves into right action, we must act ourselves into right thinking” …. it is my favorite motivator of AA cuz I can think til the cows come home … but it is my thinking about my problems, about living, about everything … that keeps me out of solution and into the THOUGHTs … that alcohol is a solution, that figuring it out is the solution, yada yada ….

    Bad days are just bad days … everyone has them!

  • RetiringPartyGirl: Very on point. Not just with drinking, but anything really. We always want the answers right away. But sometimes it takes time to get to the big picture. Act first, keep acting and the answers come later…when I think about this, most everything in life that I have learned that is important has come about this way. Good stuff 🙂

  • okie dokey: What an epiphany!!! It is most definitely the perfectionism wanting to be in control and have all the answers so there is no unknown. This was a perfect post for me this morning.

  • You are so awesome for remembering me! Day 400 feels awesome !! And some times you will never know why. Who cares. Good lesson. I spent all morning looking for a book to help me prevent burnout. Maybe I just need some sleep. Doh!

  • “there’ll be some therapist out there who’ll come and correct me and say “you need to know the root cause before you can find a solution” and i’ll call bullshit.”

    Absolutely true! I have friends who say this regarding therapy – which I go for. To them, unless I am digging into the deepest issues of my childhood, I’m not really “doing the work.” I have anxiety and depression, which have contributed to my alcohol issues. Right now, I am working on the issues that cause me the most anxiety and depression, RIGHT NOW. As I work through these issues, I feel better, and will be more equipped to deal with those that came before them. What has triggered me is NOT my childhood abuse, or bullying…it’s work, or relationships, etc. I also don’t think it’s wrong to leave some things buried. My therapist is of the mind that not all childhood issues need to be dug up and examined. “Like corpses,” she said, “Some things should just stay buried, because they stink mighty bad when you start digging. You live in the here and now. What is the issue, here and now?”

    I do agree with drinking as the issue. There is no way anything is going to be solved with an unclear head. Nothing. Quit drinking first and then tackle what remains as being wrong. Because drinking also convinces us that much more is wrong than actually is.

  • This is absolutely brilliant! It seems so simple, but exactly what I needed to hear and exactly MY truth! I’m on day 36, and I’ve spent WAY too much time thinking about WHY I’m not feeling better all the time, HOW long I will stay not drinking, IF I should still keep going if I still have shitty days…..and I think you are totally right. I simply cannot make any major decisions right now, or choose how long I will go past the 100 days…Right now, as you prescribed, I’m ‘gathering information’…that’s all. Just sit still and gather information. And I’ll be ready to figure out how I feel about it all after 100 days:) Thanks Belle!