By Stephanie Marshall, Toronto based Master Alignment Coach

How I made quitting a 30 year Diet Coke Addiction habit no big deal:

If I’m going to be dramatic about something I want it to be interesting, and quitting a Diet Coke addiction is not interesting.

I’ve tried quitting before and I’ve made it a big production full of longing and torture, but let’s get real here, it’s not like I’m giving up heroin or something. At no point was I convulsing on the floor in agony. 

I keep catching myself thinking that this is huge because I’ve been guzzling the chemically deliciousness for 30 years, but it’s a choice to think that. It’s only a big deal if I choose to make it a big deal. But if I make it a big deal, it feels like it should be harder and more dramatic than it is. 

I’m delightfully surprised to report that it’s been this easy, but that’s not by accident. I am not relying on willpower and motivation, which is standard operating behaviour for anyone trying to quit a bad habit. Instead, I’ve been using the Alignment Coaching Framework that I use when I coach my clients to guide me through this process. It’s rooted in Neuroscience. And it works.*

The Steps to Break my Diet Coke Habit:

1. I Figured Out my Motivation (the real reason, not the “should”)

The truth is that I’m not quitting for health reasons even though everyone says I need to quit because of Aspartame. I think there are worse things. And this is why when I tried to quit in the past it didn’t take. I was only doing it because I felt that I should.

This is why I want to quit:

  • To change my relationship with sugar and cravings.
  • The environmental impact of cans and bottles.
  • I don’t want to give my money to Coca Cola
  • It feels a bit dated and uncool, kind of like cigarettes.

2. Specificity 

I made the firm decision to quit Diet Coke a few months ago. I didn’t decide to try to quit, I decided to quit**.

I set December 1st as the quit date in order to be two weeks past it on my birthday. This gave me time for the next steps.

3. Brainwashing 

I joke that the biggest difference between coaching and a cult is that a cult brainwashes you, while coaching teaches you to brainwash yourself***. 

I imagined what it would be like to be the person on the other side of this addiction. Me far enough past it that I don’t even miss it. What would that person think about Diet Coke? How would she start her day? How would the new habits fit with the other things I want to build in the future? I started practicing these thoughts and reviewing them daily as I bumbled through the next phase. It was a bit tricky because this imaginary “future-me” wouldn’t even think about Diet Coke because it’s not something that is relevant to her life.

Some of my go-to thoughts included:

  • “Why am I wasting brainpower and feelings on a drink?”
  • “I love my morning coffee so much.”
  • “It would be so much fun to be physically transformed by the time everyone has vaccines! This is step one, and then sugar and fitness!”

4. Habits and Actions

I set things up so that I had new habits to try out. I wasn’t a coffee drinker a few months ago but I liked the idea of loving my morning coffee. It didn’t take immediately because I was drinking a Diet Coke as I made my morning coffee, much to the chagrin of those watching me on video calls (Hi Mel, Renay, and Nadine).

The game changers were: 

  • The new programmable coffee maker that has my coffee ready.
  • The keep-warm coffee mug because I only like burning hot coffee.
  • Flavoured coffee (Vanilla nut creme found at Winners is my current favourite).
  • Bubly (lime or cherry) because the crispness of the bubbles is strong enough (thanks Joanne).

5. Catch & Redirect (Don’t try to negotiate with yourself or find loopholes)

I secretly did exactly what I tell my clients not to do. I decided that it would be fun to quit Diet Coke while concurrently upping my fitness and diet habits because moderation is boring and I love a good perfectionist fantasy. 

It never works. I had a small injury and went right back to the same old patterns in everything. Note to self: You can’t change everything at once. If you successfully change one thing at a time, one thing after another, you will always come out ahead in the long run. I chose to prioritize quitting Diet Coke.

Catching my auto-pilot thoughts was harder than catching my auto-pilot Diet Coke drinking. If I caught myself thinking that I wanted a Diet Coke or looking for loopholes in the quitting plan, I reached for thoughts from step #3. It takes a little time and effort to reprogram yourself after a 30-year habit, but it got easier.

Pro-Tip: Progress is never linear, when something goes off track examine what happened and consider it a data point. What didn’t work? What could you do differently?

6. GOAL DAY… whatever

Yesterday was my last mini-can. I made a live video on Instagram and I even made my first TikTok video, but it was so weird because I didn’t even really want it. I was already over it. I felt no inclination to enjoy every drop, I was more focused on figuring out Tiktok actually. I was more excited about my coffee this morning. 

As a coach, I knew intellectually that I could feel this way today if I did the work beforehand, but a piece of me was refusing to believe it. I had to do the work in order to get over the resistance to the belief.  I can’t pinpoint when things flipped and I was suddenly operating from complete certainty. (What’s extra cool is that now I can explain how this maps out from a neuroscience perspective, get in touch if you want to geek out with me about that!)

I’m still working on the imagination and brainwashing to deal with future situations where I could easily default back to old habits (cottage I’m looking at you), but I’m already there. Actually, I’m already thinking about what’s next… sugar.

Do you need some help with making or breaking a habit? Get in touch, I have the tools to help you make a change much more easily than purely relying on motivation and willpower.


* Phew
** Yoda was right about “Try”
*** Stay tuned for a mega-post about that once I finish the NXIVM cult docs

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