January is a great time to take a break from the booze. For many of us, dry January is something undertaken as a penance for overindulging during the holidays. We batten down the hatches, clear our social calendars, and pray for February to come swiftly.
But I see things differently. After we both experienced the drastically positive impact going alcohol-free had on our lives, my friend Ruari Fairbairns and I started OneYearNoBeer. Having helped many thousands of people take breaks from booze through 30-, 90- and 365-day programs, we've discovered that you actually have nothing to give up and everything to gain.
What we've learned is that giving up alcohol is a keystone habit. A keystone habit is one that unlocks your full well-being potential. Just a few of the benefits of going alcohol-free, such as extra energy, motivation, vitality, productivity, money, and time, will begin to pave the way to the life you always dreamed of.
Relationships blossom, tempers are less frayed, and business often booms when alcohol is no longer impeding you. Morning-after anxiety disappears and is replaced by consistent inner calm. Exercise routines become more productive—and even enjoyable—which leads to healthy, lean bodies. It is this upward spiral of alcohol-free thriving that provides the leverage you need to go after your dreams and achieve your goals.
Below are our top 10 tips for surviving and thriving during your first (or second or third) alcohol-free month. Most of the benefits mentioned above happen somewhere between 40 and 90 days. So, if you want to get the most out of your efforts, stick with 'em!
1. Get off your butt.
This might seem like a strange place to start, but it is key to any alcohol-free period. So go ahead, sign up for a physical challenge just beyond your current abilities. If you can manage a jog around the block, perhaps start with a 5K. If 10K is your current limit, go for a marathon. Commit to a goal that comes to fruition just after the end of your alcohol-free period.
A physical target such as this provides:
Exercise to strengthen your body and mind, focus to drive your exercise routines, confidence that you're capable of more than you imagined, and activity to fill up some of the time you used to spend drinking.
2. Give yourself a break.
There's a common misconception that one slip-up opens the floodgates to overindulgence and creates a downward spiral. But studies have shown time and time again that self-forgiveness leads to personal accountability, whereas guilt leaves us looking for excuses.
So if you slip up, just dust yourself off, learn from your mistake, and come back stronger. Let us remind ourselves that no one is perfect. How boring would Superman be if he hadn't had Kryptonite?
3. Don't just ditch a habit; replace it.
Alcohol plays a massive role in many people's lives, so trying to suddenly just give it up cold turkey is a recipe for disappointment. The best way to break bad habits is to dress them up as new ones.
Try this process to find healthier habits:
1. Find your trigger.
What time, place, emotion, preceding action, or person triggers you to engage in the bad habit?
2. Uncover what's driving the habit.
What is it you truly crave—stress relief? Companionship?
3. Change your routine to hack the habit.
Once you know what triggers the habit and what the real driver is, all you have to do is replace the unhealthy habit with a healthy one.
The trigger and driving force remain the same. For example, if companionship drives you toward those after-work drinks, then perhaps book a spin class with some mates. If you need stress relief, try a yoga class or take your dog for a walk. You get the idea! Make an effort to replace the routines that have been holding you back, and you'll see lasting change.
4. Use your excuse.
It's a sad fact, but most of us need a ready excuse for not drinking. Alcohol is the only drug in the world that people berate you for giving up! Unless you're pregnant or sick, most excuses are ignored by well-meaning friends, family, and colleagues who want their drinking buddies back. One of the main reasons we created the OneYearNoBeer challenge was to provide an excuse not to drink that would hold up to social pressure.
Everyone loves a challenge. Going alcohol-free is just another one to add to your list—alongside mud races, triathlons, marathons, etc.
So, next time someone asks if you want a drink, say loudly and proudly, "No thanks! I have so much stuff I want to get done this year that I decided to take a 30-/90-/365-day alcohol-free challenge." Job done!
5. Go public.
Tell the world about your challenge. Post your intentions on social media, or do it for charity. The more people who are aware of your alcohol-free challenge, the more your pride will propel you to stick with it.
6. Write down all the reasons you're doing it.
Amazing research has shown that writing down your thoughts is great for changing habits and general wellness. List all the reasons you want to take a break from or quit alcohol. What has led you to this point? For extra motivation, put the list where you can see it as a daily reminder.
7. Plan, plan, and plan some more.
It might sound over the top, but we know from experience that when it comes to going alcohol-free, winging it doesn't work. You have to plan for your adventures and always expect the unexpected.
There will always be a long-lost friend who arrives on your doorstep looking to catch up over a few drinks. Be ready for these moments, and when they arrive, give a wry smile because you knew this would happen, then make the choice that fits your goals. If you need some quick motivation, refer back to No. 3 in this article and remind yourself of all the great reasons you have NOT to drink.
8. Know what you're going to drink (and have a backup choice).
When you're going out, check with the venue in advance to find out if they stock your favorite alcohol-free alternative. Always have a backup drink you can order in case you reach the bar and they are out of stock.
9. Visualize like a world-class athlete.
Just as an athlete uses visualization to prepare for a competition, you should rehearse your successful, alcohol-free evening in your mind ahead of time. Imagine a confident you ordering your nonalcoholic beverage, having a great time, and telling the people you're with how happy you are without the booze (and meaning it).
10. Take out the ringleaders.
Before you meet that "friend" in the bar—you know, the one who holds court and who can make your life a misery with their witty repartee—tell them the reasons you're on this journey, referring to No. 6 of this article if need be. This is not a conversation to have via text. Meet this person face-to-face if possible and get them on board. Once you have their backing, the rest of the group will fall in line.