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Alcohol Moderation Made Easy—the Hidden Power of Emotions

Sustainable change involves moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation.

Key points

  • Intrinsic motivation leads to long-term behavior change and enhances psychological well-being.
  • Behavioral goals alone often miss emotional factors, while emotional goals drive sustainable moderation.
  • Setting emotional goals fosters empowerment and autonomy, reducing feelings of deprivation.
  • Emotional goals align your actions with your desires, making alcohol moderation more satisfying.

The bar was buzzing with music and laughter as I walked up to order my drink. “Sparkling water with a hint of mint syrup and a lime twist,” I said with a smile.

Years ago, going to a bar and ordering an alcohol-free drink would have been an unthinkable task—feelings of deprivation, awkwardness, and the fear of missing out would have been torturous. But today, surrounded by the cheer and chatter of the bar, I can sip on my signature drink with ease and genuinely feel good about my choice.

No longer driven by the pressure to “have to quit” or “should not drink,” I now look forward to the joy of waking up the next day feeling refreshed, the smell of the crisp morning air, and the ability to be fully present for the things and people that I love. As I sipped my drink, I felt a surge of peace—the tranquility that comes when your actions align with your desires.

This is the power of being intrinsically motivated.

Understanding Motivation: Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic

When it comes to motivation, there are two types of motivators: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from external pressures or rewards, like social expectations or a desire to avoid negative consequences. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is driven by internal desires, such as personal growth, enjoyment, or a sense of purpose.

Many people, myself included, tend to be first pressured into rethinking our alcohol consumption by extrinsic motivators. In my case, it was the desire to avoid the empty calories, to skip the endless hangovers, and to dodge the hundreds of dollars each month spent on my drinking habit. While these extrinsic motivators were able to keep me away from alcohol for periods, they often left me feeling deprived and miserable. Deep down, my desires misaligned with my actions, and each choice of not drinking felt forced—that’s the downside of relying solely on extrinsic motivation.

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation

It took me a long time to learn that leaning into intrinsic motivation is the key to making moderation easier.

When I can tap into my intrinsic motivation, my action becomes an extension of my desire instead of a conflicting force against it. This makes sticking to my goal much easier. Moreover, when motivated by intrinsic motivators, I experience more ownership of my choices. It leads to a sense of empowerment and autonomy instead of deprivation and restriction, which makes sustaining changes more effortless.

The question, then, is: How can we switch from external motivation to intrinsic motivation? One simple way is to set the right kind of goal.

Two Types of Goal: Behavioral vs. Emotional

Similar to motivation, there are two types of goals: behavioral goals and emotional goals.

A behavioral goal, as its name implies, targets behavior. Often, when we set a goal, we set this type of goal. It may sound like, “I will not drink tonight.” These goals are straightforward, measurable, and outcome-focused. They often align well with extrinsic motivators like saving money, avoiding conflict, or preventing health outcomes. While they can be effective in creating short-term behavior change, they tend to leave emotional factors unaddressed.

An emotional goal, on the other hand, targets how you want to feel and tends to resonate deeply with intrinsic motivations. An emotional goal may sound like, “I want to feel energized and clear-headed tomorrow morning.” With the focus being on positive feelings and internal rewards, the behavior “to not drink tonight” becomes simply a means to an end. This approach might seem indirect at first, but it often leads to a sense of satisfaction and contentment that is self-sustaining. When an action is aligned with how we want to feel, it comes from the heart, making the choice feel good and true to ourselves.

Unlock Your Emotional Goal

Each of us has a unique set of emotional goals that stem from our values, desires, and longings. Uncovering your unique emotional goals can be the key to making changing your alcohol consumption easier. My favorite exercise is Your Ideal Day, which I share in my free Monthly Sober Curious Toolkit. It will guide you to unlock the emotional goal that is unique to you and take the first step to realign your action with your desire.

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