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Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Exclusive interview with Laura Willoughby MBE, Founder of Club Soda

Alcohol consumption is a common theme that is discussed among people coming for coaching. On one hand people talk about really wanting to cut down but on the other hand find it difficult to start never mind sticking to a less alcohol-infused life. One client loves meeting her friends after work but also dreads it because she knows it’ll inevitably end up with them drinking a bottle of wine each.

In my late 20’s and early 30’s whilst working in a recruitment role in the City, I’d often go out drinking in the week after work. There’d always be an excuse; end of commission drinks, team drinks, birthday drinks etc. It was a sales culture where drinking was encouraged. After these drinks, I’d often end up waking up at the end of the train line having fallen asleep and missing my stop. Then having to pay for a taxi to get me home, then realising I’d left my jacket on the train and having to go and buy a new suit.

It became very expensive and I started to feel ashamed of my behaviour. Not to mention the hangovers!

Since retraining to be a coach seven years ago, I’ve cut down on my drinking a lot. To start with I made a rule that if I had a coaching client the next day, then I wouldn’t drink the night before. I had found a career I enjoyed and was proud of, and with it came a new found respect for myself and for others, which meant cutting down on the booze.

Last year I came across Laura Willoughby (MBE) who is the founder of Club Soda. Club Soda provides on-line support and workshops to help people make behavioural changes to support them to change their drinking habits.

Read my interview with her, below.

What made you start up Club Soda?

I gave up drinking 3 years ago. My drinking got heavier in my 30’s when I was in a job I wasn’t enjoying. It was easy to leave early and meet friends for a drink. I realised that I had to knock it on the head. In my experience it is common for women not to have an off switch, they don’t drink everyday but when they do there is no cut off. So quitting was best option for me.

I found that there was help out there but for people whose lives were chaotic and who weren’t working and could attend drop in services run by charities. But there was nothing out there focusing on behavioural change and making a positive life style change.

At Club Soda, we’re tongue in cheek and we try out different things to reduce the stigma about alcoholism and help people to cut down, quit or be on more control of their drinking. It’s a different set of circumstances to drinking a bottle of gin in the morning because you’ve got the shakes.

I’ve found that women generally want to quit and men want to cut down due to them having more social pressures. People come from different circumstances, some have alcoholic parents. I had an alcoholic father. People want support and not to necessarily go through a 12 step programme. Club Soda is about people achieving their own goals.

Why not go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

AA has been around for 70 years and offers some important things especially the coming together of people to share their experiences and to support one another. That’s why we do Club Soda workshops and events.

What are the main reasons people join?

People come to set their goals. Mainly their goals centre around feeling healthier and fitter or to save money. If you’ve got any goal in your life and you’re drinking too much you won’t achieve those goals. Alcohol affects memory amongst many other things. Health and fitness goals can change your drinking. Alcohol can knock you off all sorts of goals and drinking can become a self -destruct mechanism.

In terms of work, some people see how far they can function the next day. You may need to deal with your job before you deal with your drinking or deal with your drinking then with your job. All the things in your life that you need to sort out, the order is yours.

Why is it such a stigma not to drink?

It’s changing. One quarter of under 25-year-olds don’t drink any more. They’re more health conscious and money conscious. However everything in our culture revolves around drinking, if you go to in media and tech companies, it’s always "come for a beer". We’re not very creative when it comes to our social engagements, for example when you go to a party and the hosts say; we didn’t get any non- alcoholic drinks because we didn’t have the budget. But really what they could have done was buy two less bottles of wine. It’s in our language. It’s culturally embedded. In order to justify our own behaviour we compare ourselves to others, so when you go to the pub and tell people that you’re not drinking it shines a light on their own drinking habits. It’s a complicated substance, socially and politically. If a friend was giving up smoking, you wouldn’t say, “Go on have a cigarette”, but we don’t think twice about saying “Go on have a drink”.

People can get defensive about drinking, you’ll hear people say, “I should give up” or “I want to give up”. It’s like having that cream cake; we all know how it makes us feel the next day. So it's a cost/benefit/risk analysis. We all know people with drink problem and how they justify their drinking.

What about couples?

The battles people have are very similar. A woman who came to our last workshop told us that her and her husband had a lovely routine, enjoying having a glass of wine together in the evening. She justified her drinking as something that brought them together. My advice was to ask her husband how he could support her to achieve her goal. Maybe it was something he wanted to achieve too. People often layer up the excuses on to another person.

It can be difficult for couples if your partner drinks a lot. It’s about communication and learning how to support each other. There are lots of barriers but you don’t have to give up your social life; you could just go home a little earlier. It’s funny that you remember the lovely times when we were a little bit pissed but you don’t tend to remember the hangovers. So you think the good times won’t come again but it’s up to you to make it happen.

I’ve just come across Sober Raving. Do you see attitudes changing towards drinking?

Attitudes are changing. People are becoming more interested in having an experience rather a night in a pub. For example going to Secret Cinema or Morning Gloryville, you can share those experiences on social media. Taking picture of yourself in pub with beer is not so interesting. People are making different decisions on what to spend their money on. Your drinking can change depending what stage of your life you’re at. I drank less in my 20’s and built up in my 30’s. When children come along a glass of wine is the treat. Either way, there is always an excuse to drink. For example people say, I don’t drink and drive, so I drink at home.

What are 3 pieces of advice would you give to those who want to cut down on their drinking?

Don’t be afraid to go into a bar and make the bar staff work hard for your drink choice. Get them to make you a delicious mocktail. Be a demanding consumer. I take my own drinks into pubs; I love my elderflower cordial and fizzy water and chilled tea. If you have a local, ask them to get your favourite drink in for you. It’s easy to drink something you don’t like if it’s alcoholic but not so easy when it doesn’t contain alcohol.

Write down all the things that make you feel happy, so it reduces the time when you crave a drink. Buy posh chocolates, beautiful bath essence and all the things you love, get these supplies in before you start cutting down or quitting. Do yoga or anything to reduce the time between having the thought of wanting a drink and doing something else instead. Stock up on nice cordials. Plan it! We’ve launched our “Month off the Booze” programme for a dry October. MOB is purposely for 40 days giving you time to helping plan and prepare, with structure and support to make your alcohol-free month a success.

Use the adage of HALT. When you think you fancy a drink it may be that you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Begin to notice the times when you want a drink, is it because you’re bored, lonely, angry, hungry? Alcohol comes with every emotion.

How does life compare now to before when you used to drink?

I feel like I’m 20 years younger, I now have energy to talk to people, I enjoy the small interactions on the tube or at the till in the shop. My interactions are so much richer and I have so much more energy. When you take alcohol out of the equation you start to see how much of your life was planned around alcohol.

I recently did a talk on "Why Sober Women run the world (and how you can be one of them)", if you look at the most powerful women in the world, they tend to keep off the booze. I don’t think I would have done even a quarter of the things I’ve done since giving up drinking and my ambitions have changed.

Thanks to Laura for her interesting and inclusive approach to cutting down/quitting drinking.

Coaching can help support you to achieve your goals whilst changing those ingrained habits that keep you from moving forward. Contact me for a conversation about coaching.

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Updated: Mar 31, 2023

So what is meaning in your career? Some ideas include: something that makes your heart sing, being part of something bigger, feel-say-do, in sync, feeling motivated, knowing your purpose, using your unique gifts, doing something because you want to do it, free from your own expectations, free from other people’s expectations, using your strengths.

A good place to start is to remind ourselves why we do the work we do. In our society, we often get bogged down with the details of what we do and focus less on how and why we do it. Simon Sinek’s thought-provoking, inspiring Ted Talk “Start With Why” explains how great leaders inspire action by focusing on Why they do things, rather than What they do.

I recently coached a teacher who wants to embed coaching skills into his school (the What), his Why is to make the school a better place. There’s also the famous story of the NASA janitor who when asked what he does, replied, “I help send people to the moon”.

When I worked in recruitment, I could easily get bogged down in billing fees (the What), fortunately, I had a manager who coached me on my Why, which was to change people’s lives by helping them into new roles. It helped me make meaning of the work I was doing.

In addition, when we start thinking of our Why, other options that we hadn’t thought of before begin to open up. One of the participants at the workshop who currently works in banking got back in touch with Why he first went into his role, which was to develop himself and others. He had gotten lost in his What’s of report writing etc. One action he went away with was to speak to his boss about a team development initiative that had been mentioned and to find out how he could get more involved.

What about if you haven’t discovered your Why yet?

Our Why is much broader than our career, so if we try to understand what our purpose is at a higher level, then we can align our careers with it. I like an article by Daniela Naido “A Simple Yet Difficult Exercise” to find the "why" to our existence. In it she talks about how she found her meaning by asking herself the following questions:

  • At what times in your life have you been the happiest?

  • What were you doing during those times that made you feel so happy?

  • What events, people, or activities get you the most excited, or give you the most satisfaction?

  • What topics are you always able to discuss with genuine enthusiasm, without ever getting bored?

  • What are you doing when you feel the most useful? The most needed? The most appreciated?

  • When do you feel the best about yourself and your contributions?

She says “answering all these questions may not be easy. It took me a lot of honest, in-depth analysis as well as a lot of time to find my answers. But once I was able to find the answers, my ‘why’ became clear to me. As a result, not only did it become much easier for me to set personal goals, but more importantly I was able to start following through and achieving them as well.”

One-to-one coaching can help you find your Why. So get in contact for a free complimentary session.

Updated: Mar 31, 2023

Have you ever found yourself in a vicious circle?

I’m sure many of you have been in one or two in your lives so far. A few years ago I found myself in a Vicious Circle, which started when a big coaching contract came to an end and I was finding it difficult to bring in new work. My negative self-talk got louder and louder saying things like “you’re no good”, “you’ll never make it as a coach”, “you can’t support yourself” etc. And guess what; with those thoughts and beliefs, it did become harder and harder to generate new work. A Vicious Circle had begun.

As explained in the book The Art of Coaching “People often use the term "vicious circle" to describe a process that incrementally drains their energy and negates their positive intentions. They rarely talk about "Virtuous Spirals"!

Both are processes where once we are caught up, there is an ongoing impetus leading us further in the same direction, maybe without our noticing initially what is happening.”

Have you ever found yourself in a Virtuous Spiral?

About a year later in 2012, I found myself in a Virtuous Spiral. I was volunteering as a Games Maker for the London Olympics, I had started dating a wonderful man, was hosting friends from Mexico and had gained some lucrative new work through a friend. It was summer and things were good. My self-talk was positive, I felt great and I was enjoying my life. A Virtuous Spiral!

So how do we get in and out of these Vicious Circles and Virtuous Spirals? Are they just part of life or can we consciously change the direction once we’re caught up in them?

If I retrace my steps between 2011 and 2012 there were things I changed in my life, which I believe changed the direction of the cycle.

  • I started to attend regular meditation mornings at my local yoga centre and met some supportive people there who I went for coffee with afterwards and built some new friendships.

  • I also joined a support group for self-employed people that taught me new ways of managing my money

  • I reached out to my friends and family much more during this time.

So I would say getting support was the key, as I couldn’t do it on my own. When I look back at that magical summer of 2012, I notice that I was living many of my core values.

Community is one of those values, which I felt a great sense of by volunteering as a Games Maker, Plugged In is another value, which again I was living by being involved in the Olympic Games. Connection is another, which I felt by having my Mexican friends to stay.

I think that being aware of and choosing to live my values boosted my confidence and created the impetus to move up the Virtuous Spiral.

Where are you in relation to either spiral and what would be different if the spiral was going the other way? Consider these questions:

  • Where do you see yourself at the moment?

  • What’s the energy driving this movement?

  • What would you like to be different?

  • How could you start to turn the process around?

  • What values are you not honouring?

If you do find yourself in a Vicious Circle, we offer various forms of support to help you change the direction to start the Virtuous Spiral.

Contact me for a free clarity session. Don’t struggle on your own.

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