#DryEighteen: Looking back and forward 

Rob O'Donohue | January 2019 | 10 minutes

For 2018, Rob and a friend decided to ditch alcohol - for a whole year. Check out his blog giving the background to his dry year here, and his first 100 days here.

I’m fighting off a very strong temptation to begin this final piece of my Dry 2018 series with an inspirational quote (from someone way more inspirational than me) with the key word ‘impossible.’ A part of me wants to go with the famous Mandela quote, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Another part of me prefers the one from Audrey Hepburn: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, ‘I’m possible.’”

Why ‘impossible’? Well, 12 months ago giving up drink for a full year did seem a little like that. Not just to me. Many around me thought it too.

Even if I had become a much more occasional drinker in the last few of years, giving up that glass of red on a Friday night after a busy work week, or asking for Diet Coke instead of a beer when out for a meal or at a work gathering was not going to be easy.

Thankfully, as the first few months flew by, I realized this task was far from insurmountable. Like any Big Goal, if you chop it up into smaller pieces it becomes very doable. In fact, it even became simple. Through fully committing to this choice of mine, something that had originally felt restrictive became freeing. Life itself became simpler too.

So how about a different motivational quote?

“Simplicity and freedom come when you commit to the choice.” – O’Donohue

Ok, it’s not in the Mandela or Hepburn league, but it’s one I’ve gone back to a number of times this year.

Wise enough for you? I’ve learned some other stuff too…

Reconditioning 

Are you familiar with Pavlov’s dog? Pavlov studied the behaviour of dogs and developed a theory of conditioning. It explains how through repetition people (and dogs) come to associate two stimuli in their minds and react to one of them as though it were the other. Pavlov rang a bell every time he gave his dogs food – and after a while every time they heard a bell the dogs would drool, even with no food in sight.

Before my dry year when something exciting or worth celebrating happened, that event was associated in my mind with a few beers or a night out. Something to celebrate? Time to get the beers in. It didn’t matter if I wanted to; it wasn’t even a choice.

This year I’ve been reconditioning myself to associate excitement with a different response – a nice meal, or a trip to the cinema. It’s been an eye opener. Breaking habits can be tough, yet reconditioning is possible. And thankfully no dogs were harmed in this year-long experiment.

Making the most of the day

At the very end of 2017, I wrote a piece called 2018 goal-setting with the heart and mind in which I focused on setting goals that weren’t just SMART – they also had a real sense of emotion woven in. Instead of, “No alcohol for the full year of 2018” (a negative goal), I went for, “Make each day count and wake-up fresh in 2018, free of alcohol and hangovers!” For me, the second option has much more feeling in it. I can really buy into making the days count more, and getting up with a clear head is always a good way to start the day.

And my year has lived up to the goal. Having zero hangovers during the year has been amazing. It allowed me to stick to my routines and get more done. It also allowed me to do absolutely nothing more often, too.

Changing my mind 

But, surprisingly, the real benefits that have come from my dry year have been emotional and mental.

While alcohol has been a catalyst for many great nights in my life, I’d confidently say that 99% of the times where I’ve felt very low have come very soon after alcohol. Combine that with a pre-disposition to overthinking, giving myself a hard time and anxiety and you have a dangerous mix.

Over the course of 2018, and especially in the last eight weeks, I’ve had to face tough times. It was difficult to look for positives, be optimistic, and try to reign in that very disruptive and overactive critic in my mind. Difficult but manageable. I have no doubt that, had I ever added a hangover to the mix, I would have been in a different, and darker, place.

My mood, emotional agility and levels of grit have improved this year thanks to less time on the rollercoaster that accompanies booze. My Inner Critic, that voice that’s always been there to give me a hard time, especially after a night out, has had a very quiet year.

Other hidden benefits 

I love to set goals. For the most part the goals I have set myself have been very much focused on the outcome. I’ve never really understood people saying, “It’s about the journey, not just the destination,” before this year.

As I’ve journaled my alcohol-free adventure, these unexpected benefits kept coming up. Increased self-awareness and self-confidence, a great level of focus, less fear and anxiety, or maybe it’s that I’m just much more able to deal with it without the withdrawals from booze. Keeping the inner gremlin quiet(er) has been a huge win.

When I took a step back from other goals I’ve been following, the same has been true. The unexpected fringe benefits from podcasting, learning to swim, writing more frequently, creating video content, and others, have all been arguably more significant and pleasing than completing whatever goal I had signed up to.

Dry 19?  

In March, I interviewed Jim Breen for my podcast. During this conversation, which I would say is one of my favourites from the year, the topic of mindset came up. Jim shared something that has stuck with me to this day.

Using the example of getting yourself to go out for a jog, he suggested to listen to your language. Do you tend to say, “I HAVE to go for a jog”? What if you changed this to, “I GET to go for a jog”? That simple change brings on a whole different feeling. It’s a privilege to go, not a chore. This idea comes up for me as I apply it to drinking. It’s more of a ‘get to’ than a ‘have to’.

2018 has been a huge year in my life. I got engaged, became a dad for the first time, developed greater self-belief, improved my decisiveness, and have been able to deal with anxiety and stress better than ever before. Can I attribute all of these great experiences, events and learning to Dry18? Probably not all, but a lot! There is no doubt it’s made life better. And that was the best outcome I could have hoped for.

Right now, I’m not sure I even WANT to drink. I’m happier than ever without it. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll start with Dry January and go from there.

Just in case you are looking for a handy goal setting and tracking calendar for 2019, I’ve added a simple one to the website you can download and use to track progress. You can even add a new tab for lessons learned or benefits you didn’t expect. Tweak it however you feel necessary. It’s been useful for me over the last year so go for it.

Rob is a qualified Executive Coach. In 2017, Rob launched the Rob of the Green Platform which hosts the 1% Better Podcast. Rob also publishes articles on productivity, goal setting, meditation, and other topics. Rob is currently a director of strategy and business operations in Cork, Ireland.

Connect with Rob via, email, twitter, Facebook or his website.