As much as I love the crisp taste of a Hefewiezen, a few months ago I finally came to terms with the fact that continuing to indulge in alcohol was preventing me from becoming the person I want to be.
I’ve never had a drinking problem….but like a lot of people in their early to mid twenties, I’ve formed a habit of sometimes drinking more than I should, especially when going out.
For the longest time, it didn’t seem to be like a big deal to me. After all it’s what practically every person I hang out with does.
We’re going out? Let’s have a few drinks (to be more fun)!!!
But amidst the crazy next day stories and contrived “we’re having so much fun” moments, deep down I knew that this habit wasn’t a good thing. It wasn’t until my friends Charlie and Ben told me that drinking like this was actually propelling me backwards that it hit me…“holy crap, they’re right.”
I decided it was time to face reality and be brutally honest with myself.
I wasn’t drinking because it was great for my health, finances, spiritual life, productivity or general wellness.
Most of the time I was drinking was to blunt my immediate and passive anxieties. I guess the fact that I love the taste of beer doesn’t hurt either.
On top of stifling my health, finances, and faith, I was stunting my personal growth by avoiding direct confrontation with things that made me uncomfortable. I know that if I continue to do this I’ll never arrive at the place I want to be: an inner-state of complete comfort with myself that’s unshakable by external forces.
So for the past two months, I’ve been trying to give up drinking with a varying degree of success. I thought I’d share what this journey has taught me about goal-achievement, habit, and how the heck a 25 year old single guy in New York can pull this off.
The first thing I did was start a google doc where I tracked whether I had a drink and if so, how many drinks. I also tracked my weight, bodyfat, and % muscle because I was curious about the correlation. I’d be lying if said I’ve never thought “I’d be so much more jacked if I didn’t drink!”
Month 1 – Holy crap. I drink way more than I thought I did. As I started racking up Y’s (yes, I drank), the mere fact that I had to acknowledge this inspired a stronger “don’t do it!”
Month 2 – My goal for month 2 was to drink at least 1 day less than last month. It looks like I’m going to end up drinking 3 less days (with two trips this month!). Overall consumption volume (# of drinks) went down as well.
You may be thinking, “Boy Scott, drink 1 less day? Really shooting for the stars…”
Here’s the thing. I originally tried to go cold turkey on this habit and failed miserably. Apparently breaking a habit you’ve been accustomed to since your junior year in high school is pretty damn hard.
I’m now comfortable with the fact that cutting this out of my life is going to be a slow climb. I’m cool with that. So long as I make progress each month I will eventually get to where I want to be.
Another benefit of the “slow climb” approach is that consistently achieving a positive trend is more conducive to sustainable behavior change than. a fleeting purge (i.e. absolutely no drinking for a month). This is about my life, not checking off a yearly bucket list item.
What this helped me remember:
People always say “you can only manage what you measure” because it’s true. If you’re serious about changing a habit start tracking it. Landing pages aren’t the only place metrics can help you iterate.
Post Cinco de Mayo I went on a 6 day hot streak where I only drank 1 time (2 drinks) despite being in a drinking environment every night. After the failure instanceI abstained one day and then slipped back into old habits that weekend.
I’ll get to the failure point later, but I want to talk about the driving force behind the 6 day streak which I stupidly abandoned for a few days by straying from my morning routine.
In the aftermath of Cinco De Mayo I was frustrated. I decided that I was going to remind myself everyday why I was giving up drinking. So I started writing this affirmation out each day into a notebook. This practice became part of my morning routine.
I couldn’t believe the effects this had on my behavior. My desire to drink was far diminished. I think this is due to the greater salience around why I was fighting the temptation.
“I am not the man I want to be when I drink” would just hover in my brain when I’d be with a friend at a bar…
“I’ll do a club soda…with lime!”
The Failure Point (Dating!)
I think it’d be a whole lot easier to give this vice up if I didn’t live in New York. Whether we’re talking about dating or professional networking, everything is centered around “grabbing drinks.”
Initially this frustrated me…now I’m stoked because I realize that if I can beat this on hard-mode, I’ll be even stronger.
As long as I’ve been in New York, my go-to first date has been drinks. It’s a low commitment way to get to know someone and that provides optionality – If it turns out I’m hitting it off with someone, enter a multi-venue adventure; if our conversation feels like work, you can politely part ways.
When I originally embarked on this stop-drinking journey, I left the first date stronghold in the “exception cabinet.” Just like pigging out when I go to my parents’ house, I gave myself permission to drink on first dates.
Thankfully my friend Steph helped me realize this crutch was total B.S.
Allowing this exception was weakening my discomfort muscle…conveniently, this realization occurred to me after I had just set a first date for drinks. Sick.
I could fall back again on the exception crutch…but I knew that that would just perpetuate the cycle of “just this one time.”
So I shot her a text admitting my slip up and offering a warning / alternative.
When I sent this text I thought she was going to think I was a total weirdo.
“I barely know this guy and he’s telling me he’s ordering a “club soda” before we event hang out. What the hell?”
Instead, she eventually commended me and agreed to meet me for a walk on the highline. Win!!
The next night we met. She looked amazing and we were having a great time on our walk…
Then about 15 minutes in it hit me. It was Thursday night and the highline was less than 2 miles long…either this was going to be the shortest date since MTV’s Next or I needed to come up with a next move.
Fight the urge, fight the urge…..sigh. Whatever.
Instead of just owning my no-drinking agenda, I reverted to an old habit…drinks?! And drink we did.
Despite breaking my streak, we ended up having an awesome time and we’ve been hanging out since despite my club soda proclivities.
I wanted to share this experience because it taught me a few valuable lessons about habits / goals.
- I would have had an easier time resisting temptation if I had taken the time to play out the scenario in my head before and planned accordingly. I’m talking about literally visualizing what I was going to do. This yields a far higher likelihood of successfully performing the desired action than leaving any decision up to my willpower in the moment.
- If you really want to create habits, you need to either eliminate exception scenarios or be completely firm and comfortable with a small number of them. The reality is that a “just this once” rationale is lurking around every corner. When you let this dictate your behavior, it’s much harder to actualize sustainable change.
Before this journey, every time I went to a bar (or restaurant) with family or friends, the first thing I’d do was “get a drink.” God forbid we enter a bar with people we don’t know and actually engage someone without first getting an alcoholic companion!
Cue = Enter / sit down at an establishment
Routine = Get a alcoholic drink
Instead of ordering something alcoholic right off the bat, I’ve been starting with a club soda. Sometimes even Diet Coke if I’m feeling rogue.
New Routine = Order a club soda
The amazing thing is that after the initial soda, my urge to have a “drink-drink” becomes far subdued compared to when I first get there…
I hypothesize that this is because of the realization that despite the fact that I just broke a habit…everything is okay. This causes my craving to subsist and I can go about my business.
Month 3 outlook:
My goal for this month is to drink less than I did last month.
I’m going to Princeton Reunions and then China to see one of my best friends with my roommate so I’m going to be drinking. That’s okay. If I keep doing this I’ll eventually get where I want to be.
Other coolness: last night I did an interview with Jason Shen from the Art of Ass Kicking. He taught me two new things about mastering willpower and how to change your behavior that make total sense. Make sure you subscribe to my weekly updates so that you don’t miss out on these awesome tips