This week, you may be one of many people trying Dry January for the first time. You may even have your sights set on the longer-term goal of 300/65, which limits drinking days to 65 for the year. Last year, I wrote about my experience trying Dry January for the first time and was surprised at how little I struggled with it. Like a lot of people, being at home social distancing during the pandemic had helped me develop some less than ideal habits, including drinking too frequently. By the time I tried Dry January, I was ready for it and I liked the results so much that I decided to do 300/65 too.
I had an amazingly productive year in 2021 and think that examining my use of alcohol helped to power that progress. If you are thinking about suspending or limiting your use of alcohol in January or for 2022, here are some practical steps that may help support your habit change.
1. Start on the right foot.
One thing that helped me a lot in January, 2021 was that I had a meditation retreat planned for the days around New Years Eve. On most retreats, participants refrain from using any substances, including alcohol, that can impair the mind. While I had planned on doing the retreat well before I decided to commit to Dry January, it was a very happy accident for me. The retreat got me out of my house for a few days and gave me some distance from my habitual patterns. It also kept me focused so that I didn’t even think about alcohol. While we can’t always start the new year with a retreat, you can structure the first few days or week to support your goals. If you get off to a good start, it may make the whole process much easier.
2. Get the booze out of sight (or out of the fridge).
I’m a beer drinker most of the time, so the first thing I did to prepare for Dry January was to take the beer out of the fridge. This was a tactical decision that made it harder for me to cave if a craving hit me. After I got through January and committed to 300/65, I decided to just not keep beer around the house. I also redecorate my formal dining room to accept it’s real use in my family: a craft room for the kids. Just to make space, I decided to move the liquor and wine to the basement, a space I only visit when I have a particular need to do so. The unintended benefit of this decision was that I wasn’t constantly reminded of the presence of alcohol in my house. With these subtle changes, it was a lot easier to not even think about drinking.
3. Be a scientist instead of a judge.
I am not the most disciplined person in the world. I’m actually a bit skeptical of discipline since I have tended to be too rigid with myself in the past, which inevitably ended up making myself rebel against all restrictions. But, I am naturally curious. Late in 2020, I started to wonder about my drinking and realized that only life experience could answer the questions I had about it. So, I treated Dry January, not as a referendum on my willpower or quality as a human, but instead as an experiment. Instead of a gold star, each day was another data point. I evaluated that data like a scientist and at the end of the month decided I needed to experiment further with 300/65. When I started drinking again, I made a point log the day as one on which I drank and note how the alcohol affected me. Sometimes it enhanced the experience, like when I shared a drink with a friend or had a nice wine with a favorite meal. Sometimes it just made me feel sluggish or not sleep well or gave me a headache. These data points helped me better appreciate that costs and benefits of using alcohol and to factor that in when I was deciding whether to drink or not.
4. Encourage accountability.
If you are trying to change a habit, one thing is clear: you can’t rely on willpower alone. Willpower is like a muscle; it gets tired. If you have to rely on self-control for your other daily activities (and most lawyers do), it can make you even more susceptible to cravings. Accountability can help this by forcing you to keep the consequences of your choices at the front of your mind. Using Try Dry or another app or tracking your dry and drinking days on a calendar or journal can help you keep yourself honest. If you need external accountability, set up a plan to check in regularly with a friend who can support your goals.
5. Plan for cravings.
Even if you take all the steps above, it is likely that cravings will still arise for you. Therefore, it may be best to have a plan of attack for responding when that happens. I did this by going shopping for tasty alcohol-free beverages before Dry January started. I intentionally looked for new things to try, so the fun of trying something new could remind me that disrupting habits had a good side. I also made a point of being kind to myself and avoiding self-judgment when a craving arose. One of the most common craving times for me happened when I cooked, since I loved to have a glass of wine while preparing meals. Looking for an enhancement that was neither food or beverage, I started listening to music or audiobooks while I cooked. It was just as, if not more, relaxing and it kept my mind off the drink I wasn’t having.
6. Be prepared for feelings.
While most people who try Dry January or 300/65 are likely to first notice physical changes, it is possible that you may notice emotional differences too. Because alcohol is a depressant and is often used for the purpose of relaxing, it is possible that you may notice an increase in emotions when you limit it or stop using it. I noticed this myself during 2021 and simply relied on my other stress management strategies, including meditation, yoga, warm baths, hot tea, and talking to friends and family. On tough days, I did a combination of these things. Though it’s always difficult to deal with stress, the experience of caring for my emotions with healthy strategies cultivated personal confidence, strength, and helped me get to know myself even better.
Changing habits is a tough thing to do. As I have written about before, changing habits relating to alcohol can be especially tricky, since shame and self-judgment can always arise. If you give yourself appropriate supports and a healthy perspective while attempting Dry January or 300/65, it may not just help you find success with your goals but also experience less difficulty while you pursue them.
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available now.
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