Killing My Zombies – The First Battle in a War on Mindless Habits

For the past few years I’ve been working toward living a more deliberate life. I want to do things on purpose. I want to identify the behaviors that I’ve put on automatic pilot and question them. This process lead to an unexpected change in direction that I thought I’d share.

I followed a very strict diet for all of October 2015. One of the things it didn’t allow was alcohol.  Others who’d followed the same diet told me that the first thing they did at the end of the thirty days was crack open a cold beer. When I got to the end of my thirty days I noticed something. I didn’t miss drinking.

That sparked a question: Why was alcohol even a part of my life? Surely I had a good answer.

The first justification that came to mind was that I drank to relax. We all do that right? You have a hard day and you just want to have a drink and unwind. But that made no sense. I’m a pretty relaxed guy. A lot of days I came home and really wasn’t all that stressed, but I still cracked open a hard cider as soon as I hit the door.

Next I tried to tell myself that it eased my tension in social situations. I clearly remember a time that I told Pam Slim how it had been necessary to have a few drinks at the closing party of World Domination Summit so I could dance without feeling self-conscious. Looking back that said a lot more about my insecurity than about my need for alcohol. Shouldn’t I just work on my confidence? Shouldn’t dancing be something I enjoy? Something free and spontaneous and fun?

The more I thought about the question the less I could justify the last 20 years of expense and risk and occasional bad choices.

Did I enjoy craft beers because I liked the taste? Or was it because they’re cool and it’s nice to be an expert in something so complex and specialized?

Did I enjoy having drinks with friends and coworkers because of the relaxed good times? Or was it because we just happened to see drinking as an integral component of getting together?

Does wine really have health benefits? Or is that just a very well placed study that  justifies having a glass or two with dinner on a regular basis?

Dissatisfied with all of those answers, I looked into my past to understand when the habit of drinking entered my life.

When I was younger, drinking was a novelty. In those days everything was better when you were a little buzzed. Bowling, pool, fishing, float trips, the beach, camping, the movies, golf, concerts, ball games, pretty much anything.

Had alcohol really made those things better? It seemed more likely that it was a fiction built in the days when alcohol was a forbidden fruit. I’ve since enjoyed many of them sober and have had as much, or more, fun.

As the years passed it seemed that drinking was a habit that my mind paired with certain situations. Stuck in an airport? Have a beer to pass the time. Meeting friends for dinner? Buy a round for the table. If I went to a work function or a training course and there was an open bar, it felt like I was almost required to have a drink or three.

I began to remember times when I really didn’t like the choices offered at events, but I still took something. I remember resolving to just drink water and then succumbing to the widened eyes, or the good natured ribbing of friends.

I even had a text conversation with someone about the awkwardness of being the one not drinking in a typical drinking situation. We ended updeciding that the strategy of pleading that I was training for some event ( I usually am) was a good means to dispel the tension.

After thinking through all of that I made a decision. I no longer enjoyed drinking and I couldn’t find any good reasons to continue, therefore I should stop. No more excuses, no more trying to fit in.

It’s been a year now and I have a few things to report.

First, I ended up having four beers and three ciders in the course of the year. I have to admit that three of the beers were a function of me not wanting to just throw away something we’d paid good money for (I bought them for Crystal). Two of the ciders I drank on New Year’s Eve to celebrate making it through the year with minimal drinking (Ironic I know).

There were a few things I learned along the way as well.

  1. I am spending less money.

    Even at the low end of the scale, a six pack a week, the total comes out to $32 a month. That is more than the cost of a gym membership, more than basic cable TV. Nearly as much as we pay for our high speed internet service. And there were certainly weeks in my past that went far beyond six drinks. When we eat out, the bill is 20%-30% less than before, since I’m not ordering from the bar. This was a totally unlooked for benefit.

  2. I never have to worry about anything when driving home.

    Whether I’m headed home from dinner with the family or making the long trek  back from a football game, that nagging worry in the back of my mind that I might be impaired, even though I believe that I am fine, is simply gone. I also never have to cringe when I see the silhouette of a spotlight on the driver’s side of a Dodge Charger after I’ve had a couple of beers.

  3. The morning after is never a problem.

    Though I’m far removed from the days of trying to reconstruct details of the night before, I still had days when my mornings were significantly affected by overindulgence. Now that’s a thing of the past.

  4. Our recycling burden is significantly reduced.

    Before this change, there were many weeks when the bottles overflowed the sides of the bin where we store them before dropping them off. Now most of what we have is plastic and paper.

You may be asking “Yeah, but what about the downside?”

There’s been some suffering through knowing smiles of those expecting me to regress when I told them I wasn’t drinking anymore. And I have to say that the closing party at World Domination Summit was not nearly as enjoyable this year. Apparently I am still not comfortable dancing unless I have had a little liquid courage. Nothing else.

I still don’t miss it and strangely I don’t think I will. It’s hard to believe that for two decades I seem to have been engaging in a behavior that conferred no benefits and resulted in significants risks and costs.

My next adventure is breaking the habit of free food. I have a feeling this one is going to be far more difficult, which probably means it is much more necessary.

How about you? Are there things that you do out of habit that have no real logical foundation on which to stand. Are you thinking about cutting them out of your life? If so and you want an accountability partner, send me an email. I’m happy to help and I’d love to hear from you.

 

Thad
I am addicted to learning about why. From nutrition to neuroscience and philosophy to behavioral economics I am always seeking to understand. When I am not completely immersed in the latest book to catch my eye or practicing Brazilian jujitsu, I am usually cooking for my wonderful wife, playing with my two beautiful kids or out running with one of our dogs.

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