“No matter how much internal resolve you have, you will fail to change your life if you don’t change your environment.” — Benjamin P. Hardy
I turned my face away from the sink, the sharp, sterile scent of vodka overpowering at 7am with a hangover.
I was dumping the bottle down the sink, pangs of regret drumming through me with each pulse of my mounting headache.
The night before I had indulged too much again, waking up with the familiar nausea-shame-dread cocktail that had become synonymous with my hangovers. So in another countless attempt at sobriety, I was dumping bottles of booze again.
It wasn’t that I was necessarily reckless, or had embarrassed myself, or gone unforgivingly overboard. It was just that I knew alcohol wasn’t bringing me closer to the person I wanted to be. And I’m kind of dramatic.
Alcohol makes me complacent, it saps my energy, it makes it easier to justify laziness or poor eating habits and it makes me incredibly unmotivated. Nothing about it brings me closer to the person I’m trying to become.
Mix in my addictive tendencies and my recovery from a decade long eating disorder, and my one drink a week quickly turned into a nightly affair and weekend indulgence.
It was just too easy to numb myself with alcohol when I wasn’t using food to do it.
I’ve been trying to reduce or stop my alcohol intake since 2015. My success has varied, but never stuck. My attempts at sobriety have ranged from dumping bottles to just trying to willpower myself through cocktails with friends over club soda and lime.
But nothing ever worked consistently.
As Benjamin Hardy explains, “According to psychological research, your willpower is like a muscle. It’s a finite resource that depletes with use.”
So no matter how hard I tried to just be sober, my willpower rarely got me through.
Put simply: willpower doesn’t work.
If you are trying to will yourself into changing behavior, but you’re still in an environment or lifestyle that supports the behavior you’re trying to change, you won’t be successful.
Eventually your willpower muscle will give out.
Which was the case with my attempts at sobriety, my lifestyle was setup to support alcohol use.
My husband and I drink, my friends all drink, the things I did for fun or to relax usually involved alcohol, and most of my favorite places to eat also happened to be my favorite places to drink.
Almost every aspect of my life involved alcohol.
So when I moved to Costa Rica for 3 months, and removed myself from my lifestyle and engrained habits, I should have been successful at leaving behind the alcohol too, right?
When Social Media Becomes a Lifestyle
“The environment is more powerful than your internal resolve. As a human-being, you are the product of your environment.” — Benjamin Hardy
I love cocktail culture.
I get Imbibe Magazine. I have a collection of books on wine, I take tasting notes on the bottles I uncork. I can get lost nerding out on alcohol in big liquor stores, dreaming up cocktails.
I also follow a lot of alcohol and cocktail centric Instagram accounts.
They say that you are the 5 people your surround yourself with. I say you’re also the sum of who you follow on social media.
One study published on the American Journal of Health Promotion found that young adults exposed to smoking behavior on social media predicts increased tobacco use, even more so than exposure on TV or movies.
So even if my physical environment changes to support my sobriety, if I don’t change my social media environment, how does it impact my alcohol use?
As I started exploring this, I realized seeing images of cocktails and people imbibing on Instagram normalizes alcohol use.
Seeing it makes it easier for me to justify using alcohol because other people, including my peers and people I look up to professionally, were.
So even though I was taken out of my normal routine and the environment in which I used alcohol, I was still seeing it in my feed throughout the day.
If willpower is a muscle that depletes with use, I’m hypothesizing that repeatedly seeing beautiful images of cocktails and my peers drinking alcohol in my social media feed chips away at my willpower, leaving me more susceptible to drinking.
Change Your Instagram Feed, Change Your Life?
My thumb hesitated over the ‘unfollow’ button on Imbibe Magazine’s Instragam profile. I’m in love with their aesthetic and their moody photos have inspired many of my own.
But I unfollowed them. Then I unfollowed any other profile that displayed alcohol or partying in their photos — of which there were A LOT.
I cleaned out my social media environment of anything that perpetuated alcohol use, much in the same way I dumped that bottle of vodka down the drain.
I took it a step further and followed more profiles that encouraged sobriety, like my favorite: Hip Sobriety.
With 5 days of sobriety under my belt, I can say that removing images of alcohol consumption has definitely helped ease me into staying sober.
Since I’m not seeing my peers and the people I look up to drinking alcohol, I’m not in a constant state of tension between sobriety and justifying drinking.
I’m not fighting with myself, thinking that since the people I follow on Instagram can drink alcohol and lead successful lives (according to what they’re displaying online), certainly I can too.
(I’m going to give up alcohol for 30 days to see if my changed social media environment helps me stay sober. If I’m successful, it will be the longest time I’ve abstained from alcohol since I started drinking in my late teens. Follow along on my Instagram, where I’ll be updating with my progress.)
They say to surround yourself with people that reflect who you want to be. I would modify this to include your social media feed. Follow people that reflect who you want to be, eliminate those who hold you back.
Social media has become a huge influence in our lives, you cannot ignore your digital environment when you’re trying to change your behavior.
If you’ve been stuck trying to change a behavior and haven’t been successful, evaluate your social media environment and think about who you’re following that’s either supporting your lifestyle change or keeping you stuck.
People either give you energy or deplete you, the same goes for those you follow on the Internet.
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