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Is drinking becoming an issue in your professional life?

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Drinking too much can be a dangerous game. Done on a regular basis, it can be unhealthy in many different ways. It can harm relationships, our health and our careers. It can get ugly. It’s all fun and games till someone gets hurt.

The yachting industry is well acquainted with drinking. In fact, it goes back in history in maritime tales. We are kind of connected to it. From the grog of the early ocean voyages to the drinks at the local yacht club, drinking revolves around the sailing life.

I don’t write this as some sort of saint or teetotaler. I’ve had my share of indulgence and debauchery, but thankfully it never went over the line to messing things up in my career. It can be a fine line and something to be careful with. I imagine there may be a few captains or crew out there who wander close to the danger zone. It may be someone you work with or know well and care about. So let’s look at some things the drinker and the persons who are concerned about the drinker can do.

One major factor to understand is that changing ingrained habits is a process. There are stages to the process of attempting permanent change. This can be a bit of work, especially when dealing with addictive substances (alcohol, nicotine, and certain foods).

As a coach, I work with change and transition a lot. I constantly read and research this topic, and believe me, there’s plenty out there. One book I came across recently is called “Changing for Good” by Drs. Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente. In it, they explain these stages of change, backed up by studies of hundreds of people.

The six stages that self-changers go through are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and termination. You may notice that before any action is taken, there is some contemplating going on. We think about changing a bit before we are really ready to. This is where the saying that nobody changes till they are ready to comes in. We can’t just bark at somebody with a deep-seated habit to change or else, or question their willpower.

We can be of assistance if we understand what stage they are at. It works like this: the precontemplator is not ready to change. They may be defensive and not want to talk about the subject at all. They just can’t look at it. They just aren’t there yet. In this stage, the person concerned can only put out statements of some concern such as, “You may want to take a look at how much you’re drinking mate”. Plant the seed and step back.

In contemplation and preparation, the changer will talk about what’s going on. There is some forward motion here. As a friend, it’s just time to offer support and be a non-judgmental sounding board. Let this changer know you’re in their corner. This holds for the next stages as well. A person trying to change a tough habit really benefits by support.

In the action stage, let them know you’re proud of their effort and applaud them for doing their best. It’s not over yet, though. This process doesn’t head in a straight line; it tends to be more like a spiral. It can swing around and go backwards for a while. It’s OK. Hang in there, and the maintenance stage is just up the road.

So the key thing here for the changer and those who want to support them is understanding what stage the changer is in. Don’t expect or demand someone not ready for action to take action. There’s a good chance they will fail. The changer first has to raise their awareness around their harmful habit. They have to do an honest self-assessment and see the effects and potential damage that can be done. An emotional connection has to be made with the habit. Only then can there be action.

So captains and crews, take care out there. Look out for one another, and if you think you may have a problem, take a good look at it. When you’re ready, find some support and sail on through the changes. Enjoy the voyage.

Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach. Contact him through www.yachtcrewcoach.com.

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