Taking the Crave 21 Challenge: Replacing an addiction

The Crave 21 Challenge:

  1. Choose a craving to give up for 21 days
  2. Nominate your friends to join or donate
  3. Fight the crave and raise support!

Crave 21 raises awareness for youth addiction prevention and education. The C21 Challenge, although originally conceptualized for those under 18 — to encourage self-awareness about the risks of addiction, quickly evolved into a grassroots personal challenge toward self-improvement, universal to and inclusive of anyone.

Trading a sloppy Whopper Jr. with cheese for a lovingly prepared homemade meal, or giving up sucking down a pack of cancer sticks instead for going for 20 quick runs may not be as virally attractive as pouring a bucket of ice water on your head, but I’m going to take a stab at guessing that it’s probably going to be better for you long after the Facebook Like notifications stop.

I’ve accepted to take the Challenge, which is free, and also donated $21 to help fund the corresponding curriculum for schools. Starting today, I’m replacing watching TV with a healthier, more rewarding alternative: creative writing.

If you know me like everyone else I’ve told I’m doing the Challenge, their first question has been, “Why aren’t you giving up beer?” Stay tuned, I’ll explain…

I’m going to document what happens for the next 21 days here in this post, which I’ll attempt to update daily. If this is anything like the time I tried to not complain or swear for 21 days, I may not get it perfect the first time, but was definitely better for trying.

For anyone looking to follow along or do the same, I suggest you download the Coach.me app, which pairs an easily digestible bite of education with each of the 21 days, and can help keep you accountable.

To be continued (keep reading below)…


Day 1 (Wed, Mar. 8): What are you giving up?!

My man Cam, the creator of the Crave 21 Challenge, and brains behind BDC, summed up the Challenge: “It is what you put into it.” What real good does it do to replace that weirdly replied upon a.m. Diet Coke with coffee and a donut? None. It wouldn’t make sense for me to give up TV in exchange for getting my fix on YouTube. Replace your fix with something better for you. The addiction education component to the C21 Challenge breaks down cravings into three categories that help you pick one that is manageable (but not too easy): I LIKE it, I LOVE it, or I NEED it.

Aside from sitting at the bar at Uccello’s in Caledonia yesterday waiting for KBS to be tapped, surrounded by dozens of flat screens with all the sports on, I didn’t watch any TV. I’m not a sports guy, so even sitting in a sports bar wasn’t a distraction. And, it was a little late when I got home, so I wasn’t itching to watch any then either. So… I don’t really deserve a medal for getting through Day 1. But, I will say that I was conscious about avoiding it. My one disappointment, however, was that because I didn’t have much of an opportunity to watch TV, I also didn’t write. I think that’s perhaps where I didn’t take advantage of the Challenge as best as I could’ve.

By the way, the C21 Challenge is not time sensitive—you can start it at anytime. And, what’s good for you will probably be good for someone else (on their own craving terms). So, share it, and encourage others to challenge themselves to shed a crutch habit.

How am I to know what I can achieve if I quit?—Jason Bishop

To be continued into Day 2: Learn how addiction works


Day 2 (Thurs, Mar. 9): Learn how addiction works

Studies show that 9 out of 10 people who currently struggle with addiction started drinking, smoking, or using before the age of 21.

I’ve never said that I’m addicted to alcohol. I don’t think I ever have been, or that I currently am. I’ve never craved it. However, I have had a problem with it, particularly with when to say, “when.”

During my darkest days with alcohol, around the ages of 24–27, elevated during the time I lived by myself in Cleveland, OH, working for Alternative Press, I drank to excess almost every time I drank, but I never needed it or longed for it. It was definitely as escape mechanism to deal with personal unhappiness and a job that I didn’t know how to respect. When I drank, I got lost fast, hard, and into a dark hole of embarrassment, regret, and shame that I had to crawl my way out of the next day.

I would’ve never guessed back then that I’d find myself living a career in the alcohol world. I tell people that I’ve finally found a way to harness its power for good, not evil. So, the reason I didn’t choose to give up alcohol for my first C21 Challenge is because I’m in a much different (and much better!) place with it, and as the guys in my office give me lovable sh!t for—I have to be pretty integrated in the craft culture as part of my role with BDC. It’s not a bad perk to have the opportunity to share a beer with a brewery owner mid-day.

But! Giving up TV is an entirely different animal, which I’ll write more on in the following days. For now, though, I’m 2 days sober without TV.

To be continued into Day 3: Why do we Crave?


Day 3 (Fri, Mar. 10): Why do we crave?

Dopamine is a chemical naturally produced by the brain that causes us to feel pleasure. Dopamine is released in two stages; when we 1) anticipate and then 2) when we actually experience the pleasurable activity. This is why your mouth begins to water when you smell fresh baked cookies, your brain releases a tiny amount of dopamine which drives you to CRAVE the cookie. When we eat the cookie, the brain releases more dopamine, giving you that pleasurable feeling. Overtime, the brain physically wires itself to crave certain things that bring us joy and pleasure, which becomes the engine of habit formation… whether it be good or bad.

I’m sure over the course of my life, my brain has produced well over its fair share of dopamine—released for as many good things as bad.

I justify my craving for TV as that usually short, very temporary time of the day when I want to shut off the priorities and pressures of day-to-day life. See, I just admitted to needing to justify it, defend it. When I’m home, I generally only watch TV when I’m eating. I don’t like to do any other activity while I’m eating. Both my hands are occupied, and I want to enjoy a moment of rest. I fire on all cylinders every day, and have a habit of overbooking myself sun up to sun down, overextending and exhausting myself. So, when it’s time for me to eat, I know that’s a forced pause on everything else, and I just want to relax during that time.

Three days in, I haven’t been at home during any meal times. That’s how busy I choose to allow myself to be, which is another entirely separate, ongoing habit I’m perpetually working on. So, I haven’t really had the craving to plop down on the couch in front of the TV. Today’s different. Today’s Saturday, I’ve caught a cold (from overextending myself), and I’m shutting myself inside all day. I’m going to eat three meals today at home, and the TV is 6' to my left.

We’ll see how it goes…

To be continued into Day 4: Why do we Crave?


Day 4 (Sat, Mar. 11): Learn your habit loop

My routine is to watch TV with every meal I eat at home. It’s my time to unplug my brain by plugging in the TV. My reward is that downtime. Deeper, I do thrive on the creativity of whatever I’m watching. It does inspire. However, I do have the habit of watching longer than I should (because it detracts from other priorities)—a negative byproduct of the craving to watch TV.

Still, I was home ALL day yesterday, and Katherine nor I turned the TV on once. I listened to a ton of music while plugging away on my computer. She did the same next to me. When we at breakfast, lunch, and dinner we talked. Imagine that.

To be continued into Day 5: Identify your triggers


Day 5 (Sun, Mar. 12): Identify your triggers

Triggers/Cues give you that small shot of dopamine that drives your #habitloop. Now that you have learned about the habit loop, what are some powerful triggers/cues you have discovered in your life? How are you handling and avoiding the triggers linked to those bad habit cravings?

This is a tough one for me. I don’t know if I’ve fully been able to identify the triggers associated with my TV watching. Curious if someone out there would like to comment/speculate. Freedom to speak freely…

By the way, I haven’t watched any TV today. Instead, I’ve caught up on yesterday’s and today’s blog posts. Success. See, it’s working already!

To be continued into Day 6: Identify your replacement crave


Day 6 (Mon, Mar. 13): Identify your replacement crave

Instead of just avoiding your triggers, studies show it’s easier to #fightthecrave if you satisfy and replace it with another crave that’s better. Same reward… just different routine. Like swapping candy for an apple, or swapping t.v. for playing basketball. What replacement craves are you using or discovering? Experiment until you find one that works for you! Share with your support group to help others find their replacement crave.

So this whole time—well, the last 6 days—I’ve proclaimed that my replacement crave was going to be creative writing. But, I actually haven’t written anything creative outside out of these daily blog entries. I’ve filled my time mostly with working on BDC initiatives at home. Yeah, I know—bringing work home with me. But! My role kinda demands it, especially now. We have a LOT to accomplish, and time is critical now for what we hope to achieve soon. However, I have actually ended up replacing TV with another more positive replacement crave.

During meals at home, the time when the TV’s typically on, my wife and I have been TALKING. Imagine that—conversations over a meal. C’mon though, let’s be honest. We’re married. We live together. In a very tiny one-bedroom apartment. We share a bathroom. Literally, almost on a daily basis. So, yeah. We talk. A lot. But when we eat, usually in front of the TV, we don’t. For the past 6 days though, we have. And, you’d be surprised at how deep those conversations have gotten. Like really good husband/wife, life goals type of stuff.

So, while I may not have chipped away at the first fiction story I’ve got an idea for, I’ve been developing another with my wife. And while I may miss laughing at SNL, zoning out to repeat disappointment with The Walking Dead, or actually learning something new from a documentary, I’ve been more present at home and with my wife. And that has certainly fed my craving.

To be continued into Day 7: Reflection


Day 7 (Tue, Mar. 14): Reflection

Taking a moment to sit still and reflect on life is important. Find a quite place to be alone, away from distractions, and think about what’s important to you and what kind of life you want to live.

I had probably the most significant, emotional conversation with my wife yesterday in our 9 years together. We talked deep. We cried. We sat in silence (reflecting with serious intensity). We talked more.

We talked about exactly what Day 7 was supposed to be about, but without knowing it beforehand. A few things over the last few weeks finally intersected yesterday, naturally, and we started to talk through them.

After having that very heavy, yet incredibly productive and healthy conversation, watching TV was the last thing I would’ve thought about, or wanted. I thrived on that human interaction, and how my life (our lives!) will continue to evolve if I embrace it (them!) with more attention that fast-forwarding through commercials because I want to disconnect from life.

To be continued into Day 8: Dealing with Setbacks


Day 8 (Wed, Mar. 15): Dealing with setbacks

Here are a few ways to better deal with setbacks:
1. Being Ok with failure: Look, nobody is perfect, including YOU. The best athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, and scientists LEARNED through FAILURES. We need to expect mistakes and failures as an essential component to our progress.
2. Learn from your mistakes: Odds are, you’ll probably make the same mistake more than once… and that’s Ok. But we need to make sure we learn what caused us to fail so we can make the adjustments to overcome them. This can be as simple as sitting down with a pen and paper and writing out a plan.
3. Be honest: Tell your friends or someone close to you that you made a mistake or faced a setback. True friends will do anything and everything to support you in getting back up.

Granted, my challenge to eliminate TV for 21 days isn’t that praise-worthy, nor is it that difficult, realistically. But, what’s important during this self-improvement experiment is reflecting on the subtle triggers and overt consequences of my behaviors—both good and bad.

I’ve been “clean” for 7 days, confidently going on 8, and haven’t had any withdraws. But, I am much more aware of the fact that others who might be struggling to hit pause (or stop) on more dependent negative habits or cravings might need my help. And, the bit of increased clarity I’ve already gained about my own habits and behaviors, I think, has put me in a much better position to give someone else in need the time, attention, and support they might need—no matter the root of their journey to be better.

To be continued into Day 9: Ask a question


Day 9 (Thurs, Mar. 16): Ask a question

“Those without questions receive no answers.” — Anonymous

I asked the following two questions on Crave 21’s Coach.me site:

Who went right back to their craving after a successful 21-day pause, and who maintained it for longer? What was the major determining factor for you?

I KNOW I will watch TV again after my 21 days are up, but I seriously wonder how much I’ll crave it.

To be continued into Day 10: Friendship helps you live longer


Day 10 (Fri, Mar. 17): Friendship helps you live longer

Conducted by the Centre for Aging Studies at Flinders University, a study followed nearly 1,500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%.
Why is this so? The authors suspect that good friends discourage unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and heavy drinking. And the companionship provided by friends may ward off depression, boost self-esteem, and provide support. Also, as people age, they may become more selective in their choice of friends, so they spend more time with people they like.
The key part of this study is finding “good” friends… ones that are a positive influence in your life, rather than a negative influence. With that in mind, we should ask ourselves, what kind of a friend am I?

Writing this the morning after. Yesterday, Mar. 17, was St. Patrick’s Day—a day of significant historical importance to Ireland, and a Hallmark Holiday in the U.S. of obnoxiously exaggerated disregard for that.

I did wear green yesterday—a Founders Brewing shirt and a Greenbush hoodie. But, and although I really don’t have anything personally against it, I didn’t drink any cheap macro green beer. Instead, I enjoyed meaningful conversation, sincere laughter a plate of corned beef nachos—and one mug of Short’s Uncle Steve’s Irish Stout for lunch at Tripelroot.

My company were the guys I share an office with. These guys are my new friends. They lift me up. They’re positive, encouraging, and supportive in everything I’m working toward. These are the types of friends who are having a deep, positive, lasting impact in my life. They are not the “friends” who I “celebrated” St. Patrick’s Day with in 2010.

You wanna read about that train wreck of a day? Toggle over to this blog post. Ugh…

To be continued into Day 11: Genetics


Day 11 (Sat, Mar. 18): Genetics

FACT: Addiction is 50% genetic, and those who have a family history of addiction can be up to 6x more likely than average to develop an addiction as well.

I just Googled my dad’s name, and nothing. My mom divorced him when I was 3. He’s a ghost in my life. And, he’s an alcoholic.

I think I’ve seen him 3 times in my life. I was 20 the last time; it had been 11 years, I think, the time before that. He lives in Longmont, CO with his weird wife, Amy. He picked me up from the airport, and as soon as we got back to his house—even before we got in the house—he offered me a beer.

Aside from his last name, which I’ve come to own in my own right, and a few facial features, I suppose, the only other thing I’ve inherited from his is a greater propensity to also be an alcoholic.

To be continued into Day 12: Random acts of kindness


Day 12 (Sun, Mar. 19): Random acts of kindness

Did you know that you can suppress cravings with random acts of kindness? Doing a good deed releases oxytocin which suppresses dopamine cravings.

I bought beer and craft soda to stock the fridge for the guys at work. They have no idea it’s in there. :)

To be continued into Day 13: Meditation


Day 13 (Mon, Mar. 20): Meditation

Did you know taking time to meditate, or just sitting still to reflect, creates new connections in your brain that make it easier to develop new habits? Meditation also gives you more energy to focus on what is truly important. Learn the basics of meditation here.

Meditation works. When I hit a wall professionally about three years ago, and knew I wanted to change the trajectory of my life and career, but didn’t know how to deal with the frustration, meditation found me.

I now (try to make time to) meditate every day. The results are immediate, and noticeable. It centers me and relaxes me. I used the guided app, Calm. Check it out.

To be continued into Day 14: Dopamine threshold


Day 14 (Tue, Mar. 21): Dopamine threshold

The pleasures of life will always be compared to prior experiences. If we eat a cookie right before eating a salad, the dopamine shock from a sugary cookie raises our dopamine threshold and makes eating a salad less enjoyable (It’s why our mom tells us to not eat candy before dinner because it will ruin our meal—it’s science!).
This is also true in terms of drinking or smoking before 21. These extreme dopamine shocks can consequently make other things that are supposed to be fun in life not as enjoyable. That’s why the use of these addictive substances typically leads to depression when you’re not using them, which drives you to use them again and again to get out of the depressed, boring state of mind. Unfortunately, this becomes a dangerous downward spiral, and can lead to a life enslaved by addiction and depression.

Unless you’re aware of the science behind addiction, I can absolutely understand how the inability to satisfy a craving can translate into depression, especially if it’s one that already feeds a cycle of negative consequences.

Fortunately, the craving I’ve been trading up, for one that’s better for me, is not so significant to make me depressed. Comment below if you’ve recognized depression triggered by not getting your fix.

To be continued into Day 15: Willpower… What is it?


Day 15 (Wed, Mar. 22): Willpower… What is it?

Many people believe they can improve their lives if only they had more of that mysterious thing called willpower. With more self-control we would all eat right, exercise regularly, avoid drugs and alcohol, save for retirement, stop procrastinating, and achieve all sorts of noble goals. People regularly cite lack of willpower as the #1 reason for not following through with such changes.
Willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals. But willpower is limited, and can be exhausted over time. Remember how you felt after you took that 3-hour exam? Studies and experiments have shown how our willpower can be depleted, and why that can be dangerous when confronted with temptations. Learn more about willpower here.

Fortunately, I’ve very comfortable with delayed gratification. For this experiment, not necessarily because I intend to binge watch a bunch of Netflix when my 21 days are up, but because I’m curious as to how I’m going to be better for it. Worst case scenario: I’ve avoided an unnecessary distraction to being productive for 21 days.

To be continued into Day 16: Marshmallow Experiment


Day 16 (Thurs, Mar. 23): Marshmallow Experiment

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ

Would you have resisted the marshmallow?
The marshmallow experiment is a famous study that focuses on delayed gratification (something you are doing right now!). In the experiment, a child is put into a room and given a single marshmallow. The child has the option of eating the marshmallow right away, or wait 15 minutes and be awarded a second marshmallow.
Years after the experiment, a follow up study was performed on the same children. What they found was that those children who were able to resist the crave of eating the marshmallow, achieved better grades, higher test scores, and greater success in life. Why? Because those who are able to resist temptations and control their cravings are better able to focus on important things like school and work.

All day long. This is piece of cake for me (er… marshmallow, rather). I’ll always take 2 tomorrow instead of 1 today.

However… I do struggle with this concept in terms of bigger picture cravings. For example, if someone offered me a two-week vacation to Italy or somewhere tropical today, OR a month-long vacation to either destination if I waited until next year, I’d be packed and at the airport in an hour. Life is short, so you have to be careful (and somewhat strategic) about what truly makes you happy vs. what is just feeding that dopamine rush.

To be continued into Day 17: Just try it once… it’s NOT going to kill you!


Day 17 (Fri, Mar. 24): Just try it once… it’s NOT going to kill you!

Ohhh how we have heard this before…
This is often heard when people (sometimes our friends) try to pressure us into trying addictive substances for the first time. And although they are right—trying a little bit just once probably won’t kill you, but trying it a little more again and again and again just might be enough to trap you into a vicious cycle of addiction. If you do try these things, your body will learn the effects of these addictive substances, and will train your brain to CRAVE them. But if you never try it, you will never crave it. Hence goes the Pringles Chips famous slogan: “Once you pop, you can’t stop.”
*Important to note that your risk for addiction drops by up to 90% if you wait until 21 (watch at wait21.org) because your brain begins to physically mature in your 20s, and makes your brain less susceptible to addiction. The saying “It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks” makes more sense when you can understand how addiction and habits work on a biological level.

I suppose it’s not big deal that I’m not addicted to TV. I haven’t really missed it these past 17 days. However, Pringles is a pretty accurate analogy regarding addiction. When I drink, even though I believe I don’t crave it, I have to be conscious of not eating the whole container, so to speak. This exercise has been incredibly enlightening, particularly about the science of how our bodies operate and thrive.

To be continued into Day 18: Get motivated!


Day 18 (Sat, Mar. 25): Get motivated!

Let’s be honest… who doesn’t like to get motivated? It gives us that extra special something to get over our next obstacle and keep driving forward. We succeed further with motivation than without it. Whether it be a quote, meme, or pat on the back, we all need a little something to keep us going.
Motivation is personal, and it’s important to identify those things that best motivates us. What kind of things motivate you? And what things can you do to help motivate your friends?

I’m motivated by others’ hustle. I try to not compare myself to others, but rather use successful people’s habits as a motivator to kick myself into gear. Watch these people move the needle: Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk, my personal friend Eric Hultgren, and the guy who founded BDC, found me, and helped me find myself, Camden Brieden.

To motivate others, I write—with the hope that my voice shines through about the tangible benefits that come from staying focused about what matters to you, setting goals, and then busting your ass to achieve them.

To be continued into Day 19: Understand procrastination


Day 19 (Sun, Mar. 26): Understand procrastination

Procrastination is normal and common. Everyone has some. The best way to combat procrastination is to make your next step smaller. If you’re interested in learning more about procrastination, try the Don’t Delay blog on Psychology Today (post credit: Tony Stubblebine, CEO of Coach.me).

I just read some excerpts from the above blog. At first, it wasn’t something I wanted to read because I know I can struggle with procrastination at times. And, when I say at “times,” I mean daily—if I’m being honest. So, I didn’t want to read something that made me feel guilty for succumbing to it. However, the series of blog posts provides a gentle approach to understanding why we say “Yes” to procrastination, and “Uh… in a little bit” to our to-do lists.

Oh, by the way—only two days left to conquering my craving!

To be continued into Day 20: Do you have a Growth or Fixed mindset?


Day 20 (Mon, Mar. 27): Do you have a Growth or Fixed mindset?

Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, from decades of research on achievement and success. It’s a simple idea that makes all the difference.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success — without effort. They’re wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
Take this test to learn which mindset you have (and ways to change it).

I took the test (which takes < 5 minutes). My results: “You agreed with 1 of Fixed Mindset statements and 8 of Growth Mindset Statements. You have mostly a Growth Mindset.”

One of the the reasons I’m sitting here, writing this blog post today is because I have a Growth Mindset, although I never knew it had a name. I’m rarely satisfied with whatever skill level I’m currently at. I always want to be better, so I push to learn more. The one downfall, however, that comes with it is that it makes it difficult for me to slow down long enough to enjoy where I’m at because I’m always focused on where I want to go.

Anyone else?

To be continued into Day 21: Last day to fight the crave!

This is it. 20 down, one to go.


Day 21 (Tue, Mar. 28): Last day to fight the crave!

You’re almost to the finish line! Only 1 day left to go! Please help support this program by taking a quick five-question survey. The data we collect will show if we are making an impact in people’s lives, and help us to secure funding and sponsorships to expand this program to youth across the country.

I took the survey. Question #1 was: What was the most valuable thing you learned from the Crave 21 Challenge experience?

I answered: 21 consecutive days of opportunities for science-backed and socially-supported self-reflection to support and reinforce the risks of addiction, yet coupled with the benefits of adopting healthier cravings, and thus habits.

Surprisingly, this was easier than I thought it’d be, but I wonder if I played it safe with TV. So, now I want to do it again against a bigger craving. If anyone else out there has tackled a rather unique craving, I’d love some ideas. Comment below.

At the very least, give this a shot yourself. It was an enlightening experience, and I certainly accomplished more in the last 21 days without the distraction of a disappointing season of The Walking Dead.


CRAVE OVER!

The purpose of this challenge was to raise awareness for Addiction (one of the largest and most preventable diseases in the world), as well as teach you how the power of habits can change your life. We hope you learned some great things during this challenge, and that you will use this knowledge to propel yourself and others forward in a healthier and more positive direction.

Well, that’s a wrap. 21 days without TV. But, of bigger importance, I taught myself more about what makes my cravings (and thus habits) tick. I made a choice to eliminate something that distracted me from my full potential, in exchange for a healthier, more productive three weeks.

I’m not going to wait until next year to do this again. Thanks to anyone out there who followed along with this evolving blog post. If this happens to land in anyone’s lap who found it helpful, please let me know. I’d love to hear about your journey to #FightTheCrave to live healthier. Be well. Cheers!

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”—Socrates
Notice the TV in the background… off.