I am currently 11 months into a one-year challenge I set myself to go alcohol-free.
I had considered giving up after the birth of our second child. The broken sleep and the early starts were getting the better of me! I was also getting irritated by my procrastination at work and wanted to nip it in the bud.
I considered giving up booze for ‘a while’ until my life felt in order, but after discovering the blog OneYearNoBeer and reading all the great success stories, I set myself the challenge of the full twelve months.
It has been a fascinating year and here are the lessons I have learnt.
Black and white is SO much easier than grey
When the answer is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it takes up much less mental energy than ‘maybe’ or ‘a little bit’.
I am in a time of my life where I don’t want to get drunk. Kids and business make me really regret having written off a day with a hangover, so the mental gymnastics I would have to go through when considering a night out was TIRING!
Trying to stick to my two-beer rule (we all know how that ends) was so hard. I even turned down nights out with friends because it didn’t cross my mind that I could go out and not drink. I missed out on my friends because I was put off by the grey zone.
Knowing that for a whole year I have been able to say ‘no’ has been easy on my mind and has actually meant that I have said ‘yes’ to more events, knowing that I can still be productive the next day. I have just as much fun, just none of the downside.
Social anxiety is 100% in my own head
This one took me a while to learn. When I would go to a pub or to a party, I would spend many anxious moments frantically trying to come up with a story in my head about why I was alcohol-free.
These thought-storms in my mind were driven by embarrassment, anxiety for what my friends would say and even guilt for not ‘joining in’.
It took me a couple of months to realise NO ONE CARES!!!
It’s liberating! Everyone else has their own stuff going on in their own heads, the stuff going on in your head is entirely fabricated.
Other than a few interested questions about why I’m doing it and how difficult it is, they didn’t care. They got back to enjoying their drink and I enjoyed my AF one. Simple.
Booze makes you fat
I went into this year with a perfect ‘dad-bod’ – skinny arms and a nice little paunch on my tummy. I wasn’t overweight, but I wasn’t lean.
This year I have become super lean. With no effort.
Not having those weekly ales has kicked the dad-bod to touch.
There were many times I wanted to have a drink, but there wasn’t once I wished I had a drink
If I think back through the last year, there were many times I can remember wanting to have a drink.
Times like my birthday, toasting the purchase of our first family home, walking into a nice country pub on holiday, or even just getting home on a Friday night after a long week – they all got my juices going and it was hard to resist a beer or glass of wine, but I was committed to the challenge and I never gave in.
Later in the evening, going to bed and certainly the next day, there was never a time where I looked back and wished I had had the drink. There was never a time where I felt like I had missed out.
Curious isn’t it, the way our mind works in the present compared to reflecting on the past?
Procrastination is largely driven by anxiety, and booze makes you anxious
Now, don’t get me wrong, when it comes to productivity I am no Elon Musk (possibly the most productive man on the planet), but I am happy with the amount I get done.
My productivity ebbs and flows, it has highs and lows and I am always striving to improve it, but I would say that my baseline is pretty good.
It wasn’t always like this though and one of the main reasons for me to choose to quit booze for a year was that I noticed I procrastinated more on a Monday and Tuesday.
Procrastination is a funny thing, we never procrastinate over the easy stuff, do we? Just the hard stuff, the stuff that really matters.
Often, the stuff that really matters involves putting yourself out there, putting your reputation on the line, having hard conversations and putting in the work. In order to do this, you need to be confident.
When I observed my tendency to procrastinate at the beginning of the week, I noticed it was because I was more anxious. It didn’t take me long to realise it was the alcohol from the weekend that was the cause of this.
Now being alcohol-free, my Mondays are just as productive as the rest of the week and I sleep well knowing my tasks are getting done.
There is a difference between pleasure and happiness
I have had many joyful moments with a drink in hand, but as I have been researching happiness and noticed the change in myself in the last few years, I have become very aware that there is a difference between pleasure and happiness.
Pleasure, (depending on how we get it) is a good thing and it is part of what makes us human, but it mustn’t be confused with true happiness.
I have found that true happiness comes from overcoming hardship, getting done the things that are important to you, having integrity and congruency through your life. These are the things that fill you with a happiness deep from within and help you sleep easy.
There is absolutely a place in life for pleasure, but I now know that I won’t find happiness in the perfectly balanced malts and hops of my favourite amber ale or a softly spiced Rioja! That’s pleasure.
Happiness comes from living one’s purpose, and quitting the booze has helped me with that this year.
There are many hidden benefits to ‘voluntary hardship’
I read recently that 80% of people who try Dry-January fail. Eighty percent! For one month! I don’t get it.
Human existence has never been easier, so from time to time it’s fun to test yourself with some voluntary hardship.
Deliberately taking comforts out of your life or adding difficulty means you become less stressed by negative things happening that are out of your control.
You’re already practised in the skill of dealing with hardship.
This year has been that for me. It’s nice to have a drink from time to time, but by taking it away I have proven to myself that I could cope with other comforts being taken away if they had to be.
Don’t drink alcohol-free red wine, it’s terrible!
There are many good alcohol-free alternatives. There are some good lagers and craft ales, (my favourite beer is Brewdog’s Nanny State) and the best drink I’ve found overall is the gin alternative, Seedlip.
Seedlip is a genuinely nice drink, intensely flavoursome, dry, spicy and ‘adult’. A lot of alcohol-free drinks are sugary and sickly, but Seedlip’s two AF spirits are beautiful drinks.
Often, a drink is just about ‘breaking state’
In the personal development world, they talk about ‘breaking state’, which is where a trigger like a particular movement or action breaks the mental state that you’re in and prepares you for the next part of your day.
Well, I’ve noticed that that is often what a drink does. Getting in from work and ‘cracking open a cold one’ is a fast-track to breaking the tensions of the day.
The beautiful thing is, it’s just as effective with an AF beer as an alcoholic one. Some of the AF beers are really quite refreshing and they create the same experience as an alcoholic one when it comes to relaxing after a hard day.
I never felt I needed the actual alcohol to get the mindset shift at the end of the day. The ritual of cracking open the bottle and having a refreshing drink was enough.
It’s nice to prove you are not a slave
In the last year or so I have become fascinated by the topic of minimalism. This is the process of asking what you value in your life and then not spending any time, energy or money on anything else.
One of the by-products of this process is the realisation that we are slaves to the things around us. How long could you cope without your smartphone for example?
Even though I didn’t drink that much before this year, I was still a slave to it. I relied on it to add to the good times and ease the bad times.
Having the year out has helped show that I don’t need it. The good times are just as good and I don’t need it for the bad.
Despite the great year, I will go back to booze
Despite everything I’ve said and what a great year it has been, there is definitely a place in my life for a good pint of real ale or a nice glass of wine.
Life is here to be lived and I do find pleasure in these things.
I have learnt a lot this year and I feel like my relationship with alcohol has changed. I imagine most of the time I will continue to drink alcohol-free alternatives (I love the #smug feeling the next day where I can still exercise and be productive), but there is certainly a time and a place for a good couple of ales with a friend or a glass of wine with my wife.
I’m looking forward to it!