Can You Break a Habit in 30 Days - My Experience With Dry January
When it comes to diet and lifestyle choices — I am the biggest advocate for moderation that I know. While everyone around me jumps on fad diet or restriction I stay rooted in what I know to be true. That restriction and extreme diets don’t work. Our current society isn’t set up to allow us to successfully give up on major food groups or indulgences.
But what if you have a habit you know isn’t good for you. There is a difference between having on occasional cookie and eating a sleeve of thin mints every night out of habit. You know it’s not a good choice. You don’t feel great after you do it. But the process of reaching and eating is so automatic it’s over before you even know what happened.
For me this bad habit was alcohol. More specifically wine.
I remember loving wine for as long as I can remember drinking. Other drinks were an acquired taste, and some I just can’t stand. But wine? Wine and I just go together. Through the years I have wavered in my allegiance to certain varieties but I have always been known as a wine lover.
So how does someone
As a working adult I drank somewhat regularly but within moderation. A glass after work here and there. A few drinks on the weekend. When Ralph and I moved to Baltimore 3.5 years ago my drinking saw a significant uptick in volume. Work was stressful [bordering on miserable] and wine helped. It helped at home, happy hours with coworkers, and on weekends. It helped us deal by suppressing emotions. It numbed us and made things fuzzy and soft and easier to deal with.
And without realizing it something that was a once in a while indulgence had become an every day habit. I realized that I was drinking every day.
Why dry January?
I had tried various times all last year to cut back on drinking. Especially after vacations or holidays with lots of drinking we would always say to each other, ‘lets cut back starting this week’. But we would still go out each week and stock up on wine and beer. Monday we would be ‘strong’ but by Wednesday we were off the wagon again.
It was clear though that we needed something more black and white. More serious.
And here’s another truth, Ralph and I DO want to start a family. The amount of alcohol we both consume isn’t great for either one of us if we want to be at our healthiest to do that. If I can’t stop drinking because of that - what is going to work for me? I knew in the back of my mind I was making bad choices. I would be embarrassed when I was at the doctor and they get to the question about how often you drink. A few times a week? Every day, multiple glasses a day sounded so excessive. I would almost always downplay it, vow to cut back and then get right back to bad habits.
So when Ralph came home from work one night in late December saying his co-workers were doing a “dry January” challenge to accompany a fitness competition at his gym I was all in. Finally something solid. Something with a solid, manageable timeline that I could use to help guide me towards getting this nasty habit off my back.
If you’ve been thinking of kicking a habit of making a lifestyle change — keeping reading for my thoughts on the process, how it affected me mentally, if I was successful and my plans beyond the 30 days.
Pick one thing at a time
So we made a pact to not drink for 31 days. In that time that was the only thing that changed. [just kidding I also started drinking decaf coffee - but that’s it] I didn’t restrict anything else in our life or diet and honestly our day to day meals didn’t change much.
It’s hard enough to change one habit - so do yourself a favor and only take one one challenge at a time. Don’t give up wine and bread and sugar and meat and expect it to go well. I’m not saying that to be negative, I’m saying it to be realistic. It’s easier to create life long changes
I quite literally could not have done this without Ralph supporting me and us doing the challenge together. We held each other accountable and cheered each other on. We both agreed to stop buying alcohol so that it wasn’t in the house to tempt us. We both agreed to not order drinks at dinner.
If you are trying to break a habit and don’t have the support of a spouse or significant other — it’s going to be a battle. I encourage you to REALLY talk to them and get them to understand why their support matters. Ask them what thing you could offer your support to as well so it doesn’t seem so one sided. And if you have already done that — really ask yourself why you are with someone who isn’t supporting things that are important to you. No matter if it’s drinking, food, exercise or even financial health.
If you aren’t going to get the support from your partner — find someone else that can be your accountability partner. Maybe a parent, friend, neighbor or co-worker. The key here is find someone who you can count on. Not someone who says yes and then five days later is off the wagon. Someone who wants to be as all in as you. It is SO much easier to endure a challenge when you know you aren’t in it alone.
Share it socially
Ready to make a commitment? Share with people! Not so they can help keep you accountable - that’s why you found your accountability partner. No — this is so that you have an audience to report back to. Knowing I shared this commitment publicly gave me a little extra strength to follow through on my commitment.
If you truly want to break a habit you’re going to have to change more than just your intention. Bad habits aren’t a product of our lack of willpower — they are a result of our environment. If you want to stop doing something set yourself up in an environment where this can happen. What did that mean for us? Stop. Buying. Booze.
While my brain was still adapting to this idea of changing what was my old “normal” it would be silly to set it up in the same scenario and ask it to work harder to say no. We stopped our weekly run to the liquor store. On date night we chose restaurants or activities that wouldn’t tempt us with our favorite beer or wine. We said no to several social events where drinking would be a center focus.
Whatever it is you are trying to change — think about the daily environment you put yourself in. Remove things or remove yourself from situations that are getting in the way of your goal.
Find a replacement healthy habit
Instead of automatically reaching for the vino to calm me down after a stressful day of work — I got more in tune with my mind. We started spending some of the money we were saving on booze on gut healthy kombucha and making trying new flavors our nightly ritual instead. I found that sipping a hot lavender tea was honestly just as relaxing as sipping a glass of chardonnay. It turns out that sipping a beverage, one that isn’t too sweet, had a similar effect on my stress. And since it wasn’t alcohol I was more clear headed for the rest of the night and became more aware of what was at the root of my bad habit.
Or expect another bad habit to fall into it’s place
For me it was candy. Reese’s to be exact. I almost never buy candy and when I do it’s usually Justin’s or something fancy. It’s usually expensive so I don’t buy a lot and I don’t buy it often. But when I decided to cut back on wine at first — Reese’s slid right on in to take it’s place. In a way I can see why. Sugar is sugar. Whether it’s coming from wine or from chocolate it’s that same fix your brain is getting. Once I realized what I was doing I was quick to stop buying candy and get back to that nightly herbal tea instead.
Focus on the benefits
Sure not drinking is great for our health, but it’s been even BETTER on our wallets. Seeing just how much money we were spending each month [at least $250] on drinking alone was staggering. I was sleeping better, my skin felt better, I woke up each day feeling more refreshed, and I wasn’t saturated with guilt that I drank too much the night before.
It may be challenging but list out all the positive things you can attribute to the habit you want to change but it’s worth it. If you’re a visual person write the list and put it somewhere you can see it to remind you WHY you’re making the choices you’re making.
Expect resistance from other people
There were many people who responded to the fact that we were doing dry January with a quick, “Why? That’s dumb.” I cannot make this up. These are not just workplace acquaintances either — these are close friends and family members.
People are not going to get it. Whatever habit you have, is likely so deep a part of you and the community you surround yourself with that it is not going to be easy to change. What’s important to remember is - THAT’S OK. You don’t need one single persons approval or permission to make a change to improve your life. If they understand or agree with you is not the point. Do not ever forget that fact.
Don’t expect your problems to be solved in 30 days.
So now that the challenge is up how do I feel? Afraid that with any kind of guard rails I’m going to fall right back into old habits. 30 days of commitment to something new, or abstaining from something bad is just the beginning. But what is your plan of all the days and months that follow?
As the end of the challenge approached I realized that it was important to maintain some of the good habits I had adopted to help kick the bad ones.
Continue with not stocking up on wine and beer on the regular. A full wine rack and fridge stocked with beer may look great but is only going to create temptation I don’t want
Pick booze free or low quality booze restaurants for weekly date night.
Splurge on a weekly supply of kombucha for a nightly drink with dinner
Don’t feel guilty saying no to work happy hours or drinking centric events if I feel like I won’t be ok turning down a drink or two
Allow ourselves to get a drink at dinner every now and then or enjoy a glass of wine on a weekend.
Is 30 days enough to break a habit?
Yes and no. In 30 days I broke out of the repetitive pattern of reaching for a bottle of wine before even taking off my coat. In 30 days I became so much more mindful of what I was doing and the automatic response I had to reaching for a drink. Automatically flipping to the wine list and ordering a drink before I even considered if I wanted one. Or if the wine was any good at a restaurant. I do belive that 30 days is enough to break the automatic gut reaction make bad choices.
I also belive that past that 30 days you need a plan to how you’re going to manage all the time after. If you don’t have a solid plan or commitment you’re going to go right back to where you started. It may take 30 days to break a habit but it takes much longer and much more repetition before you create a new one to take it’s place. You can’t expect to change 3+ years of automatic response in one month. But you can try to make steps towards change.
Share with me: I’d love to hear your take on quitting or breaking a habit in 30 days. Have you struggled with this or found ways to be successful