Instant Workaholism Is No Substitute for Happy Hour.
From April 10th to May 10th I stopped drinking entirely. I wrote the bulk of this article the day I could start drinking, but in the interest of experimentation I decided to wait to publish it.
You know, just in case something went terribly wrong and I ruined my life by going back to beer. Turns out, I’m still here.
The day I could start drinking again was an interesting one. Because I enjoy a nice, cold craft beer so much I would’ve thought that I’d be giddy with excitement, like a toddler waking up on Christmas day.
Alas, I felt more indifferent about it than I thought I would.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Why I Decided to Quit Drinking
The biggest reason I decided to do my 30-day challenge was a simple one:
I wanted to know if I could do it.
As someone who regularly has a beer at lunch, likes to celebrate a workday with a couple of drinks at the bar and parties on the weekends I wanted to know just how strong of a hold alcohol had on my life.
It turns out, my “alcoholism” has nothing on my willpower.
I wouldn’t classify the challenge as “easy, ” but it was far from difficult. There was never a time I was so desperate to finish the challenge that I banished alcohol from the house or didn’t meet people at happy hour because it was at a bar.
To demonstrate, this was the cooler sitting in my shed the entire duration of this challenge.
Curiosity was the biggest reason for trying the challenge. I wanted to see what, if anything, would happen if I completely gave up alcohol for a month.
30 days later, I’ve had my most productive and financially successful month of my career.
However, I can’t say the two things are 100% positively correlated, but it does have an interesting twist to it.
One tends to substitute addictions instead of getting rid of them. In my case, workaholism took over. Since I wasn’t socializing and having a beer to calm me down and zone me out, there was no reason NOT to work from 5–10 PM.
An extra 3–5 hours of work every day wasn’t bad per say, but it wasn’t positive either. As All-Father Óðinn (yes, I’m Icelandic. Yes, I’m quoting Norse Gods) says, and I’m paraphrasing,
“Everything is great in moderation.”
Moderation and balance are the keys to being a successful, well-rounded person. Therefore, isolated workaholism isn’t the solution for filling the time you used to use for happy hour.
Even though I was more productive, it didn’t necessarily contribute to my overall well-being. I was just being productive for productivity’s sake instead of using that time for personal development in other ways. My financial success that month had more to do with a product creation that happened before my challenge started than my sobriety. However, the launch of that product happened during my 30-day challenge so I can’t rule out a certain level of clear-headedness that might have added to its success.
Here are some further thoughts I had during and after my experiment.
You Have Way More Energy
Unsurprisingly, hangovers zap your energy like Anna “Rogue” Marie zaps your mutant powers. If you drink too much (especially after you turn 30), you’re grumpy and unproductive for most of the day after. The morning benefits of sobriety are great. Your sleep quality is better, you wake up clear-headed, and your workday is more exciting.
Of course, I work for myself and get to decide what I do every day, so I’m pretty lucky in that regard. If you hate your job, maybe it’s better to just do it in a zombie state. However, if happy hour is the only thing you look forward to during your workday maybe the problem isn’t your drinking, but rather your career choice?
Without a hangover, my morning routine is way more enjoyable. You can read all about it here, but needless to say, it’s easier to get a good head-start on the morning when you want to get out of bed.
I felt calmer and in touch with my emotions when I was completely sober. Also, because I was never hungover, it was easier to stick to my meditation routine.
Meditation teaches you to respond instead of react to external issues. As I was completely sober and meditating more than usual, I was calmer and more aware of every situation that needed my response. Instead of knee-jerk reactions of annoyance, I would be more methodical in my answers.
Bars are Boring
If you don’t drink, you don’t want to hang out at bars, but you still don’t want to change your entire routine and alienate all your friends.
This was a difficult one because bars lose their appeal when you don’t want 99% of what they have on the menu. They also get old fast once the crowd starts getting drunk and loud.
However, your friends are the reason you’re at the bar in the first place, not the alcohol. That said, you still feel awkward because of the unwritten social contract of having a drink in front of you.
Order a non-alcoholic cocktail. Some bartenders in Tucson took their non-alcoholic cocktail making skills seriously, and I thank them for it.
Cameron over at Congress even told me,
“Just tell everybody it’s a Tom Collins if you’re asked.”
People tend to act weird if you say you’re not drinking but they won’t question you if you tell them a name of an alcoholic drink.
The main point here is that you shouldn’t stop your routine just because you don’t drink. You will feel self-conscious and weird about not having a drink in your hands. It’s a psychological thing so make sure you have something to do with your hands.
During this challenge, I realized that I also just drink too fast in general, regardless of the drink’s alcohol content. I thought I drank quickly because I wanted to get drunk faster but turns out I drink a glass of soda water just as fast.
I attribute this to my hyperactive, Type-A disorder of wanting to fill every pause in the conversation with a sip of what I’m drinking, instead of some underlying, alcoholic speed demon.
You’re Very Alert
It’s a funny feeling to be sober when everybody else around you is trashed. People stop paying attention to their surroundings as they get drunker. They block off the world except for what’s going on around their 3-feet radius. This makes people watching hilarious because everybody seems oblivious to the fact that they are in a room filled with a bunch of other people.
So unless you stare intently at somebody and get their attention, it’s easy to turn your boring night out into an anthropological observation.
People Seem Into the “Idea,” not the “Execution.”
When I mentioned my challenge to people, they seemed supportive and interested. They said things like “it’s good to do that” or “I should try that sometime” but what I heard was,
“That’s cool and all, but there’s no way I’m doing that.”
There was always that underlying tone in their voice that suggested that yes, maybe in a perfect world that would be interesting, but there’s no way they’re making that a priority. I don’t blame them. After doing the challenge, I learned that I’m not interested in being 100% sober all the time either.
Nobody Notices You’re Not Drinking
People are self-absorbed most of the time, especially when they’ve been drinking. I don’t mean that in a mean way. It’s simply a very honest observation. Everybody’s looking out for themselves and they should. It’s a natural extension of their survival instinct.
Because of this, people don’t notice you’re not drinking unless you tell them.
My friends are used to me drinking all the time. They don’t even have a reason to question what I have in my cup, so they get very surprised when I tell them I haven’t been drinking at all. Not then, nor at the party yesterday where we hung out together too.
You save SO much money.
I probably go out about 4–5 times per week.
That includes happy hour, weekend outings and brunch. If you also count buying alcohol from the grocery store, it starts to build up.
Let’s assume I go to dinner two times per week and I have two drinks at dinner. That’s about $12–15 on average each time (only counting drinks). I would go to happy hour about three times on average, usually drinking about three beers over the course of the night. That would end up being ~$20 each time with tax and tip.
For brunch, we’re pretty good at finding good bottomless mimosas or cheap drinks. However, that’s still about $10–15 each Sunday.
Then, if I buy one nice 12 pack of beer at the grocery store, I’d be spending around $20 on that.
This is an estimate, and it’s probably conservative, to be honest. But it comes out to $125 per week or $6,500 per year. That’s a pretty good chunk of money and well past 10% of the average household income. Realizing you’re spending that much on alcohol hurts in more ways than one.
Just like it’s easier to be productive when you’re not hungover, it’s easier to persuade yourself to work out. Although I don’t need much persuasion to exercise in general, whether I’m drinking or not, I went to the gym more often.
Instead of 2–3 times per week I would now be going 3–5 times instead. 30 days might not be enough time to gauge any measurable body results, but I feel fitter and healthier. And without the additional carb load from 3–6 beers every day I don’t feel as fat. I can’t say that I’ve lost any weight, but I do feel stronger. I can probably thank my strength training for transforming my fat to muscle in that case.
In addition to working out more, I also cook better dinners. Instead of having a couple of drinks at happy hour and then being too lazy to cook I spend more time in the kitchen and eat healthier food.
Results and Thoughts
Overall, it was an interesting challenge. Now I know I can easily do it and can stop worrying about whether I’m slowly succumbing to some demon disease I don’t have.
The hardest parts of the challenge were the happy hour times between 5 and 7 pm. There’s just something so rewarding about a job-well-done drink that it was hard to give that up.
Weirdly enough, the desire for a drink dissipated fairly quickly after dinnertime because at that point I had no desire to drink because of the possibility of being hungover in the morning. That’s why the 5–7 pm time frame is such a sweet spot. You can relax and enjoy a cold drink without any huge professional consequences.
The biggest change was my increased workaholism. I realized that I work too much. The challenge made me more productive, but it didn’t necessarily make my life any better.
Although I did have one of my best months as an entrepreneur, was it ALL the consequence of not drinking? No, but being clear headed every morning and working most weekends helped.
Overall, I learned a lot about willpower, productivity and substituting habits. I don’t think I’m cut out for sobriety because I like my happy hour too much. But it made me realize that waking up early and being productive makes me happy as well.
In my case, balancing the two, in moderation, seems like a good barometer for success.
Or as Óðinn would say,
“Drink your mead, but in moderation,
Talk sense or be silent:
No man is called discourteous who goes
To bed at an early hour”