Is there one lifestyle habit you have that you want to change? You keep trying to change – maybe every January 1 – and you quickly fall back to normal within a few weeks (days? hours?). What if you tried again but cut the habit in half? Could you do it for months and years? How about a quarter of that habit?
Too much booze and not enough sleep are my two biggest challenges in terms of healthy habits. I’m leaving sleep for another time as I am not confident that I will stick to any change I try to institute, but a few months ago I tried to tackle booze. It was partly because I had started to have an odd reaction to alcohol: Often when I drank wine or beer in winter, my face turned red. Even after one beer or glass of wine. It started last winter, thankfully went away over the summer, and then came back when winter returned. I have had a “winter allergy” to scented moisturizers for years, so this didn’t wholly surprise me, but it did bother me. The idea of giving up red wine and beer was NOT appealing. Buuuut, as I thought about this, I also started to think about how much red wine and beer I drink. It was more than I should.
The after work relaxation glass of wine or beer had become a daily thing, and some days it was two. I didn’t love that it was a daily thing, but if it had just been that, I would not worry about it too much. I also like to go out on the weekend, and when I do, I have more than one or two drinks. When you add those together, my total alcohol consumption was beyond moderation.
So last fall – once the winter symptoms had started again – I decided to address two issues together: I stopped drinking alcohol for four weeks. I had no interest in quitting drinking forever, but I figured a month would let me see if getting rid of alcohol would get rid of the red faced symptom. And I figured that period away from booze would be a good idea based on how much I drink.
So I picked my start date, and jumped in to this trial with enthusiasm. I even posted on Facebook about it, figuring if I put it out there, I had to stick to it. The post got lots of likes and positive comments, which was nice.
A week and a half in, I got the red face symptoms after having a glass of ginger ale. And so I (happily) drew the conclusion that the problem was not alcohol. As I thought about it, I realized the red face didn’t happen with booze all the time in winter – it was only with booze in the evening after a long day. I now suspect that cold plus tired plus sugar or alcohol equals red face for me.
That left me in a strange position: I was ten days into a committed four weeks of no alcohol, but I no longer thought I had an alcohol allergy. I did still think that I drank too much, and I wasn’t thrilled about that, so I decided to stick to the trial. As the weekend approached, I found myself thinking I would just stay in instead of socializing with my friends, because I knew that would make me want a drink. It’s amazing how much our social circles and situations are tied in to food and drink!
As the weekend got closer, I thought about how ridiculous it was to hide from my life as a means to not drink, especially when I had no intention or interest in stopping drinking forever. At that moment, I decided to stop my four week booze-free trial, and replace it with my cut-the-booze-in-half lifelong change.
It’s been almost three months since I switched from that four week habit change that was really hard for me to follow to a permanent habit change that I knew I could do. And it’s been almost three months that I’ve stuck to the permanent habit change. From a math perspective, 12 weeks of 50% alcohol is equivalent to 6 weeks of 0 alcohol, meaning I am 50% ahead of where I would be if I had stuck with the booze free trial without making any follow on change. Even better, is that I feel good about myself that I’m sticking with it, and I’m happy to continue doing so forever.
I recognize that posting this may welcome comments that I am too weak to stick to something; and that I couldn’t possibly be a good trainer if I can’t even follow a healthy lifestyle challenge. I also have a feeling that being honest and sharing that I’ve failed will resonate with some people and may even help you to re-evaluate how you approach healthier living. That’s an easy I’ll take the bad for the good situation in my mind.
Now back to you: Is there a habit you’ve tried unsuccessfully to kick where you could succeed if you did it at 50%? What about 25%?
Elsbeth Vaino is a personal trainer in Ottawa Canada who would rather help you be the best version of you that works for your life than help you get six-pack abs.