by Niall Doherty

I’m a big fan of experimentation. I’ve quit many things over the years to see if my life would be better without them. Below I list nine things I’ve personally quit, and which you may want to consider quitting yourself.

To be clear though, I’m not suggesting everyone should quit all these things indefinitely. I’m simply saying that, at least in my experience, they’re all worthy of experimentation. As you’ll see below, there are some things on the list that I haven’t quit completely myself.

Alcohol

I gave up alcohol for a year (2011) to see what my life would be like without it. I haven’t gone back drinking since. I was using alcohol as something of a crutch in social situations, but by cutting it out completely I forced myself to develop real social skills. As a bonus, I also save a good chunk of money I never have to worry about hangovers.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts however, I don’t consider alcohol to be a bad in itself. The only thing that can be good or bad is your relationship to it. I have plenty of friends who have a healthy relationship with alcohol. It enriches their lives. For many others though, that’s not the case, and they’d be better off quitting alcohol completely, at least for a few months so they can see if their quality of life improves.

Meat

I was vegetarian for four years, and vegan for two and a half. Earlier this year I started eating meat again, and for the past several weeks I’ve been trying out the Paleo diet (heavy on the meat). So why am I encouraging you to quit eating animal flesh? Partly because it makes you think more deeply about the food industry and where your dinner comes from. And partly because I believe plant-based diets may work better than omnivorous diets for some people, and you might be one such person.

So try cutting back on the meat for a bit and pay attention to how your body responds. It can also be worthwhile to read up on some non-preachy vegan literature and take a peek at the world through the vegan lens. Just be wary of anyone who tells you that there’s one perfect way to eat. Experiment and see for yourself.

Piracy

I am of course referring to the illegal downloading of books, music, movies, software and the likes. Unlike with most other things on this list, I’m pretty black and white about this one. I believe piracy is a shitty practice, pure and simple. If you value something, pay for it and reward the creators.

(I wrote more about piracy a few months back, with mention of a couple of rare scenarios where piracy isn’t such a shitty thing to do.)

Pornography

It’s been about five years since I quit pornography. Seriously one of the best things I’ve ever given up. I started out with a 40-day trial and just never went back to it. I feel much better about myself and no longer lose countless hours looking for that perfect, climax-worthy video clip.

Three key reasons why you shouldn’t settle for pornography:

  • Porn doesn’t push you out of your comfort zone. It’s too easy to stay home and get your porn fix instead of going out and interacting with real people. Rather than settling for images on a screen or in a glossy magazine, why not go out and find someone who can help make your fantasy a reality?
  • Pornography desensitizes you. Before you know it you’ve developed some kind of South American scraped knee fetish and can no longer get turned on by the knees of regular people. Or you start to believe that real sex involves faceless men and interchangeable women.
  • Most importantly: Pornography kills your imagination. There’s so much of it out there, catering for every possible desire, that you no longer have to conjure up sexy images in your head. And that’s a pity, because what your mind can imagine is far more powerful than what your eyes can see.

Religion

M. Scott Peck once wrote that there are four stages to spiritual growth:

  1. Recklessness. You pretty much do whatever you want regardless of the consequences.
  2. Institutional. You see God as a big cop in the sky. You behave yourself for fear of punishment.
  3. Healthy skepticism. You think things through for yourself and apply logic and reasoning to help determine your beliefs.
  4. Mysticism. A feeling of oneness with the universe. You are God, pretty much, but a loving, peaceful and egoless kind.

Most religious people, especially the preachy ones, appear to be stuck at Stage II. Moving on to Stage III is, in effect, a quitting of religion. Definitely worth trying.

Shampoo

Going without shampoo doesn’t seem to work well for everyone, as revealed by some of the comments on a previous post. I’ve been showering only with water for two years now though, and it’s still working well for me. Granted, I keep my hair really short these days, but even when my hair was regular length nobody could tell that I didn’t use shampoo.

Ask yourself: At what point did we decide that we needed to smear a bunch of chemicals on our bodies to keep them clean? Is it a conscious choice or have many of us succumbed to the clever marketing of shampoo companies?

Television

As with alcohol, television isn’t all bad. There are genuinely interesting, educational and thought-provoking TV shows out there. I don’t have an issue with selective and thoughtful TV viewing. The problem occurs when you find yourself plopping down on the couch and uttering the words, “I wonder if there’s anything good on.” Turning to television when you’re bored is just a really bad idea. You sit there and absorb whatever trash lights up the screen.

The average person frees up quite a bit of time when they quit watching television, often several hours a day, time that can be put to much better use.

At the very least, I recommend TV-junkies quit watching the news. Think about it: When you watch the news, you’re basically learning about all the worst things that happened that day. It’s a really unbalanced, unhealthy view of reality. I haven’t watched television or the news for several years now and I’m getting along just fine.

Video Games

Again, not all bad. I actually hammered away at God of War for a couple of days there last month. It was fun, but only for the first hour or so. After that I felt like an addict, promising myself I’d call it quits after one more hit (read: checkpoint).

What bugs me most about things like video games and television is the opportunity cost. Back in college I was a big fan of the Grand Theft Auto games, and spent countless hours trying to achieve 100% completion. And for what? What did I have to show for it afterwards? Absolutely nothing. I could have put those hours to better use learning a musical instrument, or a foreign language, or how to jack a car for reals (kidding).

Your Job

Yes, there are many people out there who consciously choose regular employment and are happy with the trade-offs. That’s all good. Unfortunately, there are also many people who work regular jobs because they don’t see a realistic alternative. Self-employment is considered risky, but I encourage folks to give it a try, if only on the side, and see what lessons and opportunities arise. It’s definitely not easy, but in the long run the rewards can be massive.

Quitting my job in 2010 opened up a whole new world to me. In the time since I’ve traveled to twenty countries and I’m now earning a comfortable income online while having more time than ever to pursue my hobbies and interests.

That’s my list. Anything you’d add? Let me know via the comments.

Let me finish up with a few things I realize I should quit in the future (lest anyone think I’m perfect):

  • Biting my nails. Been doing this since I was a kid.
  • Consuming so much plastic. I still occasionally buy bottled water and use plastic bags for my groceries.
  • Trying to reason with unreasonable people. Like those at Stage II 😉