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How One Year No Beer Unlocked My Performance in Business And Life
Over the last 18 months, I have helped more than 10,000 people in the OneYearNoBeer (OYNB) community transform their relationship with alcohol. Through my own experience and those of so many others, I have become an expert in creating lasting positive habit change. But only a few years ago, things were vastly different.
Three years ago, I set myself the ultimate social challenge: one year without alcohol. Most people thought this impossible and even more thought it would be terrible for my broker business. But rather than destroy work relationships, as I, too, had feared, going alcohol-free transformed my business and my life.
Before the challenge
I would have slotted into the stereotypical finance-guy category — I trade oil futures for a living.
I was “that” social guy — first in and last out of the bar. On reflection, my world, like that of so many professionals, was awash in alcohol. Alcohol was how I celebrated, commiserated, relaxed, made friends, socialized, entertained clients, had fun. In summary, I had built a reputation as someone who was fun to be around, and being around me always involved alcohol.
But something was missing. At the time, I rated myself a 5 out of 10 in terms of happiness. That rating was jarringly low as compared to my external trappings of success: big career, money, beautiful family. There was this growing voice of discontent inside me. I had bigger dreams and goals that were slipping through my fingers. My job had plateaued. I was overweight, unfit, lethargic. My life felt as though it was work, family, stress, repeat.
The elephant in the room: alcohol
My 5 out of 10 rating of happiness kept bugging me. I wanted to be at an 8 or a 9. So for the first time in my life, I started to evaluate everything.
I looked at my diet and fitness regime and started to dabble in meditation. But this half-hearted effort got me nowhere. I could not find the time or motivation to build a decent run of exercising, I was too stressed to meditate, and my healthy diet vanished amid big client lunches and late-night kebabs.
Frustrated, I kept searching, and then one day it dawned on me. I had to address the rather large elephant in the room — Alcohol.
But the thought of taking a break from booze scared the pants off me.
Not a rock bottom story
As soon as you talk about alcohol, people make an assumption, “Oh he must have a problem.”
So to be clear — this is not a story where my problem was hitting rock bottom. I simply felt that alcohol was holding me back and I was right — it was. My motivation to take a break was to be a better dad, a better husband, fitter, faster, healthier, better in business and life.
I make this point because I was guilty of believing there was no need for me to question my relationship with alcohol because I did not think of myself as having a problem the way people think about alcoholics having a problem.
But this is my message: Why wait? Because what I discovered is really powerful — there is nothing to give up and everything to gain by transforming your relationship with alcohol today.
Overwhelming social pressure to drink
Taking a break from alcohol in the city is really tough. Try being a broker and telling your clients or mates that you don’t want to drink and see their reaction.
Let’s face it: alcohol is the only drug in the world that people, very often, will do their best to stop you from giving up. It’s sad but true. I have to be honest — I was one of those people. I did not like to be around anyone who was not drinking because, deep down, it caused me to question my own habits.
3 weeks alcohol-free
After a few slip-ups and departures from the wagon, I eventually managed three weeks alcohol-free. This was my longest break from booze since my teens. Finally, I could feel the benefits flooding back into my mind and body. There was a real sense that I was onto something.
Headed to the boring corner
But the social pressure was mounting and the stories were building up. If you can’t entertain (drink alcohol), then you’re finished — you will not be able to compete. Go to the boring corner and come out when you’ve decided to drink again.
I would love to say that I had the courage to fight this pressure, but, in truth, I decided that if my business suffered I would abandon my alcohol-free adventure.
I shudder to think that I almost missed out on the best decision of my life because of the ridiculous pressure that surrounds alcohol. It is for this reason that I write this post — I vowed to try to help as many people as possible overcome this fear, because what happened next completely changed my life.
The alcohol-free advantage
I kept going — three weeks became four weeks, two months, and then a whole three months without alcohol, and this is when things got exciting.
Very quickly, I started to get fit. Exercise routines were no longer interrupted by hangovers. Those cringe-worthy calls to the personal trainer regarding a “mystery bug” that I picked up the night before dried up. With all that extra energy, I was exercising on a regular basis. I also discovered that certain foods made me lethargic and tired. Without the fog of hangovers it was possible to notice how my body was feeling: what nourished me with energy and what activities depleted this source. This combination of quality nutrition and exercise helped me lose weight — a lot of it. Eventually, over the year I lost 3 stone (42 pounds) with my body fat dropping from 30 percent to below 10 percent, where it is today.
As my alcohol-free adventure continued, I went back to university to study part-time, completing a degree, which led to a master’s program in positive psychology and coaching psychology, which I finish next year. I qualified as a master practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming and became a mindfulness awareness coach. I also managed to cocreate Mindfit, a 30-day well-being challenge to help tackle the growing mental health issues we face in the city, with three leading doctors of positive psychology while cofounding OneYearNoBeer.com, a 28-, 90-, and 365-day stigma-free, alcohol-free fun challenge. In short, my productivity was through the roof. I had achieved more in one year than I had in the last ten.
Most importantly, my relationships flourished both at home and in the boardroom. My brokering business was booming, motivation was sky high, and I felt great — really great.
To be clear, I am not saying this to brag. I am saying this because I wholeheartedly believe that none of these life-changing events would have happened had I still been drinking alcohol. To think how richer my world is for making this one simple(ish) change is massive.
Taking a break from alcohol is the key to peak performance
When I first took on this challenge, I had no real expectations apart from avoiding those debilitating hangovers. But I discovered the taking a break from alcohol is the key to peak performance in both business and life. It was the culmination of so many often-hidden benefits, which created massive performance gains.
Time for a life outside of work
Drinking takes time and hangovers take more. Once free from alcohol, I got so much time and energy back to reignite old hobbies and interests. This gave me a life outside of work. I was living again, not just existing, and the well-being boost motivated me to excel in the workplace.
Once the booze was gone, my personal and business relationships began to flourish. Clients appreciate talking to someone on a Friday morning who is on the ball and not hungover. Colleagues also noticed a difference, tempers were less frayed and a relaxed calm took over. Also, my children adored having a dad who was full of energy and happy to play, while my wife loved the new happy, healthy me.
Real, lasting confidence
Business, just like sports, is a confidence game. The fake confidence alcohol offers destroys real-world confidence. The anxiety and nerves induced by hangovers are enough to break the best. Over time I discovered that there is something powerful about dealing with all life throws at you without the crutch of alcohol. This builds a strong, lasting inner confidence that puts liquid courage to shame.
Increase in mental strength
Another stigma that I would love to break is the subject of mental health (perhaps my next mission). Let’s not beat around the bush — alcohol and hangovers are terrible for your mental well-being. I suffered awful anxiety when hungover; at times it felt as though I had fallen into a hole. The bigger the session, the deeper this hole. It would take me days to claw my way out. But since I stopped drinking, I have not experienced these feelings again. For me, this was a revelation.
Enhanced physical health
At this point, we all know how bad alcohol is for our health. Yet we still smooth over the domino effects that really do the damage. Hangovers destroy one’s motivation to exercise and produce a craving for junk food. This produces a triple whammy of poor diet, zero exercise, and anxiety. It is important to point out that I managed to drop from 30 percent body fat to 10 percent and lose 42 pounds, and not just because of the reduction in alcohol-related calories. Mainly, the junk food was replaced with a healthy diet and I had the energy to exercise.
People are bored of the overdone drinks night
Dropping alcohol forces you to get creative with entertainment, and in doing so helps build stronger relationships. Clients enjoy and appreciate the originality of events such as yoga, boot camps, go-karting, biking… Come to think of it, nobody ever sent me an email to say thank you for a wonderful night’s drinking!
Better quality of sleep
Sleep is another underrated contributor to peak performance. Even small amounts of alcohol ruin sleep. Fair enough, alcohol knocks you out, but the quality of sleep is so poor that your body never recovers. When combined with not enough physical hours of sleep, performance takes a hammering. When the alcohol was removed, the newfound quality of sleep created a vitality that led to a cascade of business and life improvements.
Achieve your dreams — productivity goes through the roof
If you want to get stuff done, take a break from alcohol. It’s that simple. The energy and motivation that I unearthed propelled me toward dreams that were almost lost in the fog of hangovers and regret.
As you can tell from the points above, taking a break from alcohol offers so many performance wins. It is these often-unconsidered advantages that add up to unlock peak performance in business and life.
OK, I get it — I just make a rational choice to take a break and reach my peak?
This is where things get interesting. Trying to quit alcohol is really tough unless you know how. Many of us make it harder by assuming we are willpower superheroes and can simply switch it on and off. If only life worked like this — there would be no need for New Year’s resolutions to break only hours later.
Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power Of Habit,” suggests that those who rate their willpower the highest are often the quickest to fail because they put themselves back into temptation without any planning or awareness of their habits. It is this approach that leads to many failures, which creates a belief that we are broken. We have zero willpower. We must have faulty genes. We wind up embarrassed, and the best way to cover up our total lack of follow-through is to hide in the crowd and do what everyone else does — keep drinking. This is so sad because a life-changing opportunity is missed and a future problem begins.
You don’t have to quit for good
Let’s be truthful here. Many of us have had some great times when drinking. But when we lose control and operate on autopilot, we miss out on the amazing performance advantages listed above. The key here is to transform your relationship with alcohol. The aim of the game is to regain total control, and the only way this is going to happen is by taking a break. This could mean 28, 90, or even 365 days. But in my experience of helping thousands of people make this change, full and total control will not be possible until you have demonstrated that your social and business life can thrive without alcohol.
Total control is a beautiful thing. Just imagine being able to take it or leave it without your heart skipping a beat. At this point you can decide whether you have one every now and then or, like me, stay on your alcohol-free adventure.
Let’s get practical
OK, maybe you’re thinking this is a good idea. If you want to get started right away, here are my top tips for changing your relationship with alcohol, and many of them are not what you might expect:
1. Book a physical challenge
This might seem like a strange place to start, but it’s key to any alcohol-free period. Book a physical challenge beyond your current abilities. If you can just manage a jog around the block, perhaps start with a 5K. Or if 10K is your current limit, then maybe go for a marathon. Book a goal just past the end of your current alcohol-free challenge. A physical target such as this will provide:
- Focus: To drive your exercise routines
- Exercise: To make your body and mind strong
- Confidence: That you are capable of more than you ever imagined
- Activity: That will fill some of the time you get back from not drinking
2. If you slip up, don’t stress — learn and come back stronger
Personally, I have found that the quickest way to lasting habit change is through compassion and not the stick of guilt. Forgiveness leads to personal accountability, whereas guilt leaves us looking for excuses.
There is a common misconception that a slipup means failure, which opens the floodgates to overindulgence. This creates a downward spiral of overeating/drinking and feeling bad about oneself.
So if you slip up — so what, who cares, dust yourself off, learn from your mistake, and come back stronger. Let us remind ourselves that no one is perfect and Superman without kryptonite would be boring.
3. Bad habits need replacing
Alcohol plays a massive role in many people’s lives; therefore, trying to suddenly switch these habits off is tricky. So the best way to break bad habits is to dress them up as new ones.
Here are a few quick steps to help you break the alcohol habit:
- Find your trigger: What time, place, emotion, preceding action, or person is your trigger?
- Discover what’s driving the habit, what it is you crave: stress relief, companionship…
- Change your routine and hack the habit: Once you know what triggers the habit, along with the real driver, all you have to do is replace the routine with a healthy one. The trigger and driving force remain the same.
If it’s companionship that drives you toward those after-work drinks, then perhaps book a spin class with some mates. You get the idea — make some effort to replace those routines that are holding you back.
4. Use your excuse
Most of us need a decent reason not to drink — it’s sad but true. So one of the main reasons we created the OYNB alcohol-free challenges was to provide an excuse not to drink that can withstand any social pressure. Unless you’re pregnant or sick, most excuses are destroyed by well-meaning friends, family, and colleagues who want their drinking buddies back.
But we discovered that most people love a challenge, and going alcohol-free is just another one to add to your list alongside mud races, triathlons, marathons …
So when the time comes and someone asks, “Want a drink?” say it loud and proud: “No thanks, I have so much stuff I want to get done this year that I decided to take a 28/90/365-day alcohol-free challenge.”
5. Go Public
Tell the world about your challenge. Post your intentions on the social media of your choice, or do it for charity. The decision is yours. The more people are aware of the new alcohol-free you, the smoother your journey.
Here are two of the top reasons to go public:
- It breaks your friends in gently. If they hear about your proposed break from the booze, via social media or other people, it saves you explaining yourself over and over again.
- We instinctively want to please the tribe, which provides extra motivation to achieve your goals.
6. Note down all the reasons you want to take a break
Some amazing research from the University of Texas has shown that writing down your thoughts is great for changing habits and general wellness.
So aim to list all those reasons you want to take a break from or quit alcohol. Ask yourself why you are looking for inspiration for a booze-free life. What has led you to this point?
Use paper, an iPad, or a laptop — whatever suits you best — and note all your reasons down. For extra motivation, put your list where you can see it as a daily reminder of why you are on this adventure.
7. Plan, plan, and plan some more
It sounds over-the-top, but we know that when it comes to going alcohol-free winging it simply does not work. You have to plan like an athlete for your adventures and always expect the unexpected.
There will always be a long-lost friend who arrives on your doorstep looking to catch up over a few drinks. Be ready for these moments, and when they arrive — and they will — give a wry smile because you knew this would happen, then make the choice that fits your goals. If you need some quick motivation, refer back to tip number 6 and remind yourself of all those amazing reasons you decided to take a break.
Here are few more ideas to help with your planning:
- Know what you are going to drink. Phone the venue, if you must, and find out if they stock your alcohol-free alternative. Always have a backup soft drink on the off-chance you reach the bar and they’re out of stock of your top choice.
- Rehearse in your mind. Use visualization to imagine a confident you ordering your alcohol-free drink, having a great time, and telling those you are with that you love being alcohol-free. Just like an athlete, use this technique to prepare.
- Take out the ringleaders. Before you meet that “friend” in the bar — the one who holds court who can also make your life a misery with their witty repertoire — tell them all the reasons (tip 6) you are on this adventure. This is not a time to text — meet this person face to face if possible and get the ringleader onboard; once you have their backing, watch the rest follow.
The healthy takeaway
Taking a break from alcohol will improve both your mental and physical health. It might also improve your business and life. Remember, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.
On a final personal note, my alcohol-free adventure is the best business and life choice I have ever made, and I hope this article help inspires you to do the same.