Balancing Less with Doing More

To start 2016, I decided to try Sober January with a number of my friends in San Francisco. This might not seem like the most difficult task to many of you. However, I really really enjoy a good party. Since turning 21 *cough*, I say unapologetically that I’ve had more fun than all of my previous years combined. I expected Sober January would provide some perspective, help me get in better shape, and give me more time for work.

My sobriety was easily preserved until the first Friday night, when my 500 Startups batch-mates started cracking open beers. It was a strange sensation to not be alongside them, and for that matter, leading the charge as I am well to do. Truth be told, I had to ask myself a very unfamiliar question: “If I can’t drink, what can I do?” You might be thinking — “Will, you hilarious handsome devil, you didn’t think about this earlier?” And the answer is no, because that’s not what I normally do. Who makes plans that far in advance anyway? The first answer that popped into my head was: “Well, if I can’t drink, I can still go out to the bars/clubs/whatever, and be sober, and still have almost as much of a good time.” Same behaviors, absent the liquid courage. Foolproof plan right?

Wrong. Allow me to drop some knowledge bombs on you. Being at a bar, with a water in your hand, isn’t much fun. Alcohol, when consumed orally, also makes it easier to talk to girls, especially ones you don’t know. Lastly, your friends act silly and do dumb things when they drink. Stuff that would make you cringe if you were sober. Which I was. Woo.

So okay, bars aren’t as fun, but what about a more casual environment? A friend of mine informed me they were hosting a birthday party at their apartment in SF. Being 25 years old means 90% of people would be drinking there, but with 4–5 compatriots I thought I wouldn’t really miss it. HA! Literally — watching everyone do shots, chug drinks and enjoy delicious ice cold beers was torture. I think it was actually worse than a bar because everything was free(ish), so I couldn’t comfort myself with the thought of saving money. Plus, I usually end up meeting people at pregames and I’m sure the 1–2 girls I met at this party got the impression I am a total square, when in fact, I am a hilarious & fun circle.

So I got to thinking — well what next? The answer required me to look back at my 18yr old self and figure out, what did I used to do? Duh, activities. It was honestly a crazy thought experiment to realize that if I took alcohol out of the equation, I couldn’t generate a lot of desirable options.

Me, Friend, Dish

I started throwing things against the wall, to see what worked. I hiked the dish, which is a pretty iconic Stanford hike. I shit you not, I saw Mark Zuckerberg, his wife, and his young daughter walking along the path. No, I didn’t say hello or give him a high five. Believe me, I was tempted.

Spending more time in the office

I spent a lot more time in the office, which was both good and bad … I didn’t necessarily get more work done, but I felt better about myself. One thing I did not expect at all, was that it was much much harder to eat healthy. I figured, absent of drinking and the late night meals, I would be able to make super healthy choices and watch my body really tighten up.

In fact, I started really missing the pleasure center occupied by alcohol. Drinking is one of these low effort activators: it takes no willpower to pick up a Coors Light and get a buzz. In the absence of that — I tried to replace it with high effort activators: exercise and healthy eating. It didn’t go well! I ended up eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, chicken nuggets and fast food more than normal to compensate. Now, I’m not saying I’m normal, but it takes time to tune the taste buds. I used to lean on the saying “I’d be so lean if I drank less …” and I think I was lying to myself a little bit. Good learning experience.

This leads me to my point. I think setting out to “Not Drink” is only half the battle. It’s very easy to point at the bad things that we do and try to cut down on them. But we, or I, realized that I need to spend more time on the other side of the equation: what will I use that time for instead? What are the healthy, productive activities that will set me up for success each day? How will I use my newfound energy Sat/Sun mornings to try something different? Here are a few things that ended up working for me:

  1. Early morning weekend workouts (are the BEST). It made the whole day longer, and I feel better throughout. If this means skipping going out a few nights, I’m happy to do that.
  2. Hiking early on the weekends, sunrise-ish time. You just have to bring someone with you! It can be fun, and shockingly, a good date. As someone who has always been passionate about health & fitness, I was extremely happy to combine both being social and working out.
  3. Just taking a night off — to clean, read, do laundry etc… I might call this a mini version of a staycation. I was so used to being hungover, that those first few sober mornings were a fantastic change of pace. Seriously, try it!
  4. Writing — you’re seeing the fruits of these labors now. All of my role models began as or became writers: Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, James Altucher, Pat Flynn and the list goes on…I never really had cause to do it, until I had nothing else better to do.
  5. Brainstorming businesses! As a budding/growing entrepreneur in 500 Startups, it wasn’t all that hard to pull some buddies together and just talk shop. I love discussing new ventures and we didn’t need beer to keep the conversation spirited.
  6. Hosting a dinner party, more appropriately named ‘Hang out with friends and try to cook food’. A networking staple endorsed by Silicon Valley’s best.
  7. Going to a giant trampoline park with friends. We did this for a birthday party as well. They had dodgeball, free jump, and tons of hilarious little kids with very strong throwing arms.

Those are just things for me, that are aligned with my goals. I want to be in excellent physical shape, co-found amazing businesses, and cultivate a giant personal network. It might be different for all of you. It may be obvious to you that if you take things in your life away, you need to add things in. It wasn’t for me. I’ve learned to more carefully consider both sides of the equation. I now ask myself: If I try to do less of something, what will I try to do more of?

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