Take a Break
Questions That Keep You Drinking
After a night of drinking, it’s common to ask yourself questions like: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just say no? Why can’t I drink like everybody else?
But those dead-end questions aren’t helpful and they definitely won’t help you change your drinking habit.
In this episode, I revisit why the questions we ask ourselves about our drinking matter and how you can intentionally choose to ask yourself more powerful ones.
What You’ll Discover
How to use questions on purpose to change your drinking habit.
Why it’s important to notice your dead-end questions about your drinking.
Some examples of powerful questions that will help you change your habit.
Featured on the show
You are listening to the Take A Break podcast with Rachel Hart, episode 267.
Whether you want to drink less or stop drinking, this podcast will help you change the habit from the inside out. We’re challenging conventional wisdom about why people drink and why it can be hard to resist temptation. No labels, no judgment, just practical tools to take control of your desire and stop worrying about your drinking. Now, here’s your host Rachel Hart.
Alright, everyone, so today, what I want to do is revisit the concept that I introduced way back in the beginning of this podcast, way back in 2017. It’s all about how questions work in the brain and the reason why I wanted to revisit this was because I see this come up again, and again, and again for people who I’m working with who are really committed to changing their drinking and their relationship with alcohol and they get stuck on this piece.
They get stuck in this place of asking themselves questions that actually keep them stuck, keep the habit in place, and it’s so important to really figure out how to start to move forward differently. So, you hear me say all the time that willpower and discipline it’s not the solution to permanent habit change, and you know what you know this already. You know that willpower and discipline can last for a little bit.
But then what happens? You give in. You backslide. You go back to how things were before because habits aren’t changed through grit, force, and exertion. Habits are changed by repeatedly practicing and teaching your brain a new way of thinking, a new way of responding. That does not happen through grit and force. When I talk about new ways of thinking and new ways of responding, it’s not just in that moment when you feel the desire to drink. You made the commitment when you woke up today that you weren’t going to have anything or the moment when you feel the desire to pour another glass, and you promised yourself; I’d only have a couple.
Yes, you need to learn a new way to think and respond in those moments, but even more importantly, you need to learn a new way to think and respond when you drink too much or don’t follow through on your commitment. When you wake up and think God, what the hell did I do last night? Part of teaching your brain how to think and respond differently happens in the types of questions you ask yourself when you didn’t show up the way you wanted to.
Are you asking yourself helpful questions, powerful questions? Questions that help you understand the habit and your desire and your urges in a new light and point you in the direction of what you can be doing differently. Or are you asking yourself dead-end questions? Questions that prime you to see what isn’t working and what you’re doing wrong, and how you’re never going to figure it out? And it’s the difference between doing what I did for many years, which was waking up after a night of drinking too much and thinking, oh, God, why was I so stupid?
I should know better. What’s it going to take for me to learn my lesson? I’m too old to be doing this. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I drink like everyone else? Those were the questions that were on repeat in my brain, over and over again. And what I didn’t realize is that those questions only led me to a dead-end because when I asked myself those questions, my brain went on a hunt to find the answer. I felt angry, embarrassed, isolated, confused, and hopeless—none of the feelings that actually lead to change and useful action steps.
When I felt that way, I just wanted to crawl back under the covers and hide. Now, powerful questions, on the other hand, they’re totally different. They don’t start with this negative premise. They really ask you to start to think differently. They’re open-minded. They open up new lines of inquiry and curiosities to start understanding your drinking and your desire in a different way. And that’s one of the most powerful things that you can do is to take everything that you think you know about the habit and everything that you think that you know about yourself and put it aside for a moment.
Consider, what if I’m wrong? So, asking yourself questions like, okay, so how was I feeling yesterday before I started drinking? When did I first notice my desire? What was I telling myself? What excuses and justifications did I use in the moment? Why were they so believable? Why didn’t I want to say no? What did I think would happen if I said no to a drink or no to another round? Really starting to understand that that’s how you change the habit.
Powerful questions give you insight that you can actually implement to create change. So, I want you to have a relisten to this episode. It is an oldie, but it is a goodie. It is something that I find that I send people back to quite a bit when they start doing the work inside Take A Break because really starting to understand how questions work in your brain and the types of questions that you’re asking yourself that is so transformative. If you have listened to this episode before, don’t worry.
Every time you listen again, you will hear something new that is going to help you on your journey. Alright, everyone, enjoy.
Hey guys, we are going to talk about questions today. Now, you may be thinking, how do questions connect—How do questions matter when it comes to changing habits? But I want to tell you this. They are such a powerful piece that I will tell you is often overlooked. The fact of the matter is that you and me and everyone, all of us we, are asking ourselves questions all day long. Questions like, what should I wear? What do I want to eat? What time do we have to be there? When can I leave? How much longer is this line going to take? Why is traffic so backed up? How will I ever finish this project? What are they going to think of this presentation? Why is she acting this way? Who left this mess in the kitchen? Right?
Questions are a part of our mental chatter. We have tens of thousands of thoughts running through our minds every day, and a large portion of those thoughts start with questions, and it makes sense, right? Because we’re always trying to understand the world around us. We’re always trying to understand our environment and who we are. Humans are inquisitive. We are inquisitive by nature. We have a drive to understand the world around us.
We have a drive to understand why things work the way they do, and asking a question—When you think about it, it’s the very first step in a scientific method. Questions are the starting point for millions of inventions and discoveries and innovations. I like to think about it this way, right? Some early human beings, 5,000 years ago, in the middle of the bronze age that they didn’t know was the bronze age, right? They thought to themselves, how can I transport stuff more easily?
There has to be a better way, right? They ask themselves this question, and low and behold, 5,000 years ago, the wheel was invented, and it revolutionized the way early humans traveled and transported goods from one place to another. All of it started with just one question. How can I transport things more easily? So, questions are an incredibly important tool. Not just for inventors and scientists, though. Questions are really important tools for every single one of us, and even better, It’s a tool that everyone has access to. It’s free.
It doesn’t cost any money. The problem is this, no one ever teaches us how to use questions effectively, and many of you are actually using questions in a really destructive way. The way that you are using questions is actually preventing you from changing. It’s keeping you stuck, and it’s making it so that it is difficult to make headway on your habits. It’s difficult to change your drinking.
So, that’s what I’m going to be talking about today. I’m going to be talking about what happens when you pose a question to yourself, what happens in your brain, how questions work in the think, feel, and act cycle because they do work in a very specific way. The means by which certain questions keep you stuck and how to use questions on purpose to jumpstart change, and frankly just to feel better more often.
All right. So, let’s start with this; let’s just start with understanding what a question is. Now, remember I talk about this in previous episodes; a thought is just a sentence in your mind. I think that is the easiest, simplest way to think of what a thought is. It’s a sentence in your mind, and the reason you want to pay attention to all of these sentences in your mind, the reason why you want to pay attention to your thoughts is because what you’re thinking creates how you’re feeling, and then, how you are acting.
So, a question is slightly different. A question that you ask yourself it’s also a sentence in your mind. It’s also a thought, but it is expressed in a way to get you to elicit additional information, right? So, in short, a question prompts your brain to start looking for answers, and those answers that your brain starts looking for are, of course, more thoughts. So, two things happen when you pose a question to yourself.
One, you send your brain on a mission to answer that question, and two, you come up with thoughts to answer the question at hand. You’re sending your brain on a mission, and then you’re coming up with thoughts that answer that question. When you ask your brain a question, it really wants to find an answer. Our brains do not like not knowing things, right? Just think of all the times you’re out and talking with your friends or your family, and the group can’t remember the year that something happened, or the name of an actor, or who wrote a song. And what do you do?
You whip out your phone, and you look it up. You go to Wikipedia, or you Google it. Our brains are designed to seek out answers, and we’re seeking them out all of the time. But there are some questions, questions about yourself, questions about your world that aren’t easily Googled. Yet, your brain is still searching for an answer, and the answers that your brain comes up with, the thoughts that you think in response to the question, those thoughts become part of the think, feel, and act cycle.
So, I’m going to give you an example so that you can really understand this. Let’s take, for instance, the question, why hasn’t my friend responded to my email? Okay, I can tell you I have had this question. I know all of you have thought this before. Why hasn’t my friend gotten back to me and responded to my email? Now, you can’t type that into Google. Right?
You can’t go on Wikipedia and find the answer, but your brain still wants to know. Your brain is still unsure why this is happening. Now, here’s the thing, the question itself, why hasn’t my friend responded to my email? It doesn’t make you feel anything until you answer that question with a thought. I want you to think about that. The question itself doesn’t make you feel anything until you’ve answered it with a thought.
There are so many available thoughts that you could think of to this question, but I am just going to select two. You could think, I bet she’s really busy with everything going on at work. That’s one potential answer to that question. Why she hasn’t gotten back to you, or you could think maybe she’s annoyed at me, and that’s why she hasn’t responded. All right.
So, both answers are in response to the same question, but you’ll see one is positive or neutral really, and the other is negative. You can see how depending on the answer that your brain comes up with to the question. You’re going to have two very different think, feel, and act cycles. In one cycle where your brain decided, oh, she must be really busy at work. In that one, when you think that thought, oh, she must be really busy at work, you’re likely to feel care or passion, right?
You are likely to have kind of positive emotions, but in the other example where your brain decided she must be annoyed at you, when you think that thought in the think, feel, and act cycle, what that is going to create is anxiety or worry. So, the question is the same. The question was, why hasn’t my friend responded to this email? But depending on the answers, you come up with. It will make a dramatic difference in how you feel.
Now, here’s the thing, for most of us, before we start noticing and paying attention to our thoughts, they’re often barely in our awareness, and the same is true for all the questions that we’re asking ourselves all day long. Lots of times, we just don’t even have the awareness that we’re even asking these questions, and so without that awareness, we’re also not really aware of the answers that we’re coming up with. We’re unconscious too much of this process.
Now, the good news is that, of course, you can work to change that. You can work to pay attention to your thinking. Pay attention to the questions you are asking yourself and the answers you are coming up with. So, if you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while now, you may have already spotted a potential problem with how questions work in our brain. Now, I talk a lot about how the brain evolved to spot danger in our environment.
Thousands of years ago, looking at a bush and wondering if there was a tiger in there, that was a good thing. That kept humans safe because we were living in environments that were very dangerous, right? Each day brought on new challenges to our survival, so it was a huge benefit for the human brain to spot the negative and be on alert all the time for danger, but now here’s the problem. Thousands of years later, here we are in the modern-day, and most of us live in a day-to-day life where our survival is not constantly on the line.
Yet, our brain is still programmed to tilt toward the negative. It’s still spotting all of that danger, and our brain thinks it’s being helpful. It thinks it’s trying to keep us safe when in reality, and once you understand how the think, feel, and act cycle works, you see that all of those negative thoughts in response to questions are creating negative emotions.
So, when it comes to the questions you ask yourself, you can start to see how the deck is stacked against you if you’re not supervising your own mind. If you’re not paying attention to what you’re thinking about, you can answer any question really and come up with a neutral, positive, or negative answer, but because our brain evolved to prioritize the negative.
Once you start paying attention to how you answer the questions that run through your mind all throughout the day, you’re going to start to notice that more often than not, your answers are skewing negatively, and that has a big effect on how you feel. You know, I like to think of it like the magic eight ball. I don’t know if you guys remember playing with this growing up. My friend Sarah had one of these. I didn’t have one, but every time I went to her house, I wanted to play with the magic eight ball, right?
So, we would ask the magic eight ball a question, and we would shake it up, and then we would turn it over, and we would wait for the response to appear. And we’d do this question after question, right, waiting for more responses. The magic eight ball actually has 20 possible responses that you can get. So, you can get responses anywhere from hazy, ask again, or outlook good; all signs point to yes, or very doubtful, right?
There are all these different responses that you can get to your question, and I was researching the magic eight ball online. Of course, because I wanted to know the answer, right? I was researching it online for this episode, and I discovered that of those 20 possible responses that you can get when you play with the magic eight balls, ten are positive, five are non-committal, and five are negative. So, when you’re playing with the magic eight ball, and you’re asking the magic eight ball a question, you actually have pretty decent odds of getting a positive response. Here’s the thing when it comes to your brain, it’s like every time we ask a question, we’re working with a kind of defective magic eight ball. Right?
A magic eight ball where the odds are stacked against us because once we start paying attention, we just notice it all of our responses tilt toward the negative. We are unconsciously asking ourselves questions all day long, sending our brain on a mission to find the answers to these questions and then coming up with answers that our outlook doesn’t look good, don’t count on it, all signs point toward no.
So, the first thing you really have to remember is that your brain likes to answer the questions that you pose it negatively. It thinks it’s being helpful, but it’s not. So, if you’re not supervising your brain, if you’re not paying attention to how you are automatically ask yourselves, you are setting yourself up for a lot of think, feel, and act cycles that are producing negative emotions for you and negative outcomes. Okay?
But, here’s the other thing to really pay attention to, some of the questions that we ask ourselves actually can’t be answered in a positive way. This is a really, really important piece for you to understand. Some of the questions that we ask ourselves, the very premise of the question is so negative that even if you are supervising your brain, even if you are aware that your brain likes to, you know, spot the negative, right? Even if you’re aware that automatic, negative response is likely to come up, you’re going to be very hard-pressed for some of these questions to come up with a positive or even a neutral answer.
That’s why I call them dead-end questions, and you must pay attention to these types of questions. I’ll give you a couple of examples. What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a screw-up? How come I never stick to my plans? Why do I always get into bad relationships? And then, this, of course, is the question that plagued me for so long, why can’t I drink like everyone else? I want you to notice these questions, right. All of these questions, these dead-end questions are starting out with a negative premise.
When you ask yourself what’s wrong with you or why you’re such a screw-up, your brain is not going to search for answers for what’s right with you. Your brain will only be looking for answers that support the original premise of the question that something is wrong with you or that you’re a screw-up. And when you ask yourself, how come I never stick to my plans, or why do I always get into bad relationships? Your brain, again, it’s still on a mission to find an answer, but it’s working with such a negative premise.
So, it’s unlikely that you’re going to answer that question by finding evidence that actually sometimes you do stick to your plans, or that some of your relationships have been healthy, right, because those sorts of answers don’t fit with the original premise of each of those questions. The thing to really pay attention to there is that kind of all-or-nothing language, right? The use of never or always, right?
Why do I never stick with my plans? Why do I always get into bad relationships? That all-or-nothing language ensures that your brain is only going to find negative answers. And I know a lot of you are asking dead-end questions when it comes to your drinking. I did this for such a long time. I mean, I really, I did it with that question, why can’t I drink like everyone else over and over again. So, in addition to that one, you know that I asked myself for more than a decade, there were questions I was asking like, why can’t I control myself, why can’t I handle my liquor, why is this my struggle, and just simply, why men?
The answers to all of those questions created negative emotions for me. Emotions like shame and embarrassment, frustration, isolation, hopelessness, powerlessness, and guess what? You know how the think, feel, and act cycle works. How you think creates how you feel and how you feel drives how you act. So, if you’re feeling ashamed, embarrassed, frustrated, isolated, or you don’t have any more hope, right, you don’t feel like you have any power. You’re not going to take action in a way that’s going to bring about change. In fact, you’re going to stay stuck.
So, now you know a couple of things, right? You know, number one that when you ask your brain a question, it goes on a mission to find the answer. Number two that the answer that your brain comes up with your thoughts, right? That’s what your answers are. They’re thoughts that generate an emotion as part of the think, feel, and act cycle. So, you have to pay attention to what those answers are. Three, your brain is hardwired to preference the negative, right?
It thinks it’s being helpful. It thinks it’s spotting danger for you. So, what you’re going to discover once you start paying attention is how often you are just automatically answering even neutral questions, not just the dead-end questions, even neutral questions. Like, why didn’t she respond to my email? You’re coming up with negative answers. And four, many times, we’re actually asking ourselves dead-end questions, right?
We’re asking our brain questions where the very premise is so negative that it is almost impossible for us to come up with a positive or even a neutral answer. So, you have to pay attention to those dead-end questions because I will tell you they are killers when you want to make a change. Understanding how questions work in the think, feel, and act cycle might lead you to believe that questions are a setup for a failure, but remember what I said at the beginning, questions are one of your brains’ most powerful tools.
Questions are the start of inquiry, discovery, and invention, and when it comes to personal development, questions are the beginning of transformation. So, what you need to do is this, you need to understand what questions do to your brain. You need to understand the preference to answer questions negatively, and you need to understand, and you need to understand what a dead-end question looks like. A question that you cannot possibly answer in a positive way. Then, with all that information, you need to flip and start using powerful questions.
Powerful questions don’t just start from a positive place. They are also open-minded, thought-provoking, compassionate often, but most importantly, they force you to think differently. They open up space in your mind while your brain is hunting for an answer. They open up space for inquiry and insight, and appreciation, right? And that is why they’re so powerful.
So, let me give you some examples of powerful questions. How can I practice more love right now? How can I find gratitude in this situation? What would curiosity do in this moment? How can I create more connection? What can I give? What is perfect about this situation? How can I make this more fun? How can I create what I want? Right? Those I will tell you are probably not very common questions, right?
I know a lot of you out there can really relate to asking yourself dead-end questions. What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a screw-up? Why am I a failure? How come I can never figure this out? You are familiar with dead-end questions. But what I want you to do is start to shift to powerful questions because I tell you that is going to change everything for you. And here’s the thing often, it only takes a subtle shift to turn a dead-end question into a powerful one.
So, you can go from asking yourself, how am I ever going to figure this out, right? Or your brain is probably automatically coming up with answers like, I’m not going to figure it out. I can’t figure it out, and you can shift it to how can I find a solution, right? How many times have you asked yourself that? How can I find a solution? You can take a question like, why is she always such a jerk to me, and slightly shift it to I wonder what she might be thinking right now to act this way? Right?
I mean, that puts your brain on such a different path of inquiry when you go from why is she always such a jerk to me, right? To what could she be thinking? How could her think, feel, and act cycle be working right now to explain why she’s acting the way she is. That question makes you curious, right? You don’t get a lot of curiosity from why is she always such a jerk to me.
A question like, why am I so fat becomes, what can I do to take care of my body today? Right? It’s a small shift, but it gets you thinking in such a different direction. I mean, think about where your brain goes when you ask the question, why am I so fat? Does it go anywhere good? I don’t think so, but when you ask yourself what can I do to take care of my body today, all of a sudden, it gets your brain thinking in a different way because we’re not used to using these kinds of powerful questions.
And here’s the thing this work, of course, applies when it comes to changing your drinking. So, why can’t I control myself can become? What am I in control of? Why can’t I handle my liquor can become? How can I handle this moment differently, or how can I handle this moment without taking the edge off? Why is this my struggle becomes what am I learning from this? And why me, right? I used to ask myself that question all of the time, why me, why me? Why’s it so hard for me can become why not me?
So, there’s such subtle ways that you can really shift a dead-end question to a powerful question, and it will make all of the difference because no matter what, if you’re asking a question, your brain is going on a hunt to find an answer and it matters what answers you come up with. And the answers that you come up with many times are shaped by the premise of the original question.
So, here’s your homework, this is what I want you to pay attention to. One, start bringing awareness to the questions that are running through your mind, and if there are any of those dead-end questions that I mentioned today, if any of those seem like they come up a lot for you, just bring awareness to the questions that you ask yourself. I want you to also notice if your brain is coming up with negative answers. Now, here’s the thing nothing has gone wrong. If that’s the case, you understand why that is, but you have to become first aware of it and then start to supervise it.
Start to see if maybe I can come up with a neutral answer. Maybe I can come up with a slightly positive answer? Identify those dead-end questions, right, questions that have baked into them a negative premise because those questions I promise are going to keep you stuck. Then, what I really like to do is to find a powerful question that you want to consciously practice.
Remember, all of this work is developing a skill. It is one thing to listen to me talk about this for 30 minutes in a podcast episode. It is another thing to start to practice this work, and so, finding a powerful question that you want to consciously practice. Maybe you want to write it down in the morning. Maybe you want to have it as the background to your phone. Maybe you want to write it on a sticky and put it somewhere you’ll see it. Something to start to build it into your mind, build it into a new neuro pathway.
So, I will tell you the one that I love so much is what is this situation teaching me? I think that is such a great powerful question because, especially those moments when you’re in the line in the grocery store right, and you’re just tapping your foot and hands on your hips and ready to get out of there, you ask yourself what is this situation teaching me? I will tell you your brain is going to want to try to find an answer. It’s not going to be the kind of automatic response that you would get from why is this taking so long.
And it’s also really powerful when you start to use it in the work that you’re doing to change your drinking, right? To examine the things that you are using to numb or to examine what you’re feeling at the end of the day, right? Why you’re struggling to not pour yourself a drink. You can ask yourself, what is this situation teaching me? What am I learning here? Because there’s always something to learn. So, that’s it for today, pay attention to your questions.
This, I will tell you, is so often a reason why so many of my clients come to me, and they’re stuck because they’re asking themselves these dead-end questions, or they just don’t even recognize they’re not even aware how negative their answers are to even neutral questions. So, if you have any questions about this, you can always email me at email@example.com. Otherwise, I will talk to you next week. Bye-bye.
Okay, listen up, changing your drinking is so much easier than you think. Whether you want to drink less or not at all, you don’t need more rules or willpower. You need a logical framework that helps you understand and, more importantly, change the habit from the inside out. It starts with my 30-day challenge. Besides the obvious health benefits taking a break from drinking is the fastest way to figure out what’s really behind your desire. This radically different approach helps you succeed by dropping the perfectionism and judgment that blocks change. Decide what works best for you when it comes to drinking. Discover how to trust yourself and feel truly empowered to take it or leave it. Head on over to rachelhart.com/join and start your transformation today.