by Niall Doherty

As you know, I quite like me some life experiments. I’ve tried out and written about experiments such as veganism, polyphasic sleep, showering without shampoo, quitting pornography, and so on. I like trying different things and seeing what improves the quality of my life. I keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.

Today marks the end of one of the bigger experiments I’ve ever undertaken: One year without alcohol. For the previous eleven years, I hadn’t been sober for more than a couple of months at a time, and I was quite fond of the occasional tipple.

Last December I wrote about my primary motivation for giving it up:

I’ve long felt that I’ve used alcohol as a crutch. I wouldn’t go talk to that girl or take to the dance floor until I had a few drinks. Alcohol was my liquid courage, and I was often dependent on it to be at my best socially.

That was fine for a while, but I’m not okay with such an arrangement anymore. I realize that a few drinks can’t bring anything out of me that isn’t already there when I’m sober. The only difference is that I’m less self-conscious when I’m drunk, more likely to take risks and be myself. That’s the gift alcohol gives me.

The curse that comes with it is feeling less able to take risks and be myself when I’m sober. And that’s a cop out. That’s giving up control to something external, letting myself off the hook. I’d like to dig deeper and find that courage within myself, not in a pint glass.

So, how did it go?

I’m not surprised I made it a whole year without drinking, since I’m pretty stubborn once I put my mind to something. What I am surprised about is that, even though the experiment has ended, I have absolutely no desire to go back drinking again.

It’s not that I now consider alcohol to be a bad thing. Nothing is really good or bad in an absolute sense. What matters is whether something empowers you or weakens you.

I realize now that alcohol was weakening me. It hindered me from developing real confidence. It dulled my senses. It cost me time and money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

Sure, there have been several occasions throughout the past year when I felt it would have been easier to socialize if I had a few drinks in me, but I always stopped short of wishing I was drunk. My why was strong. I knew it was good for me to push through those socially awkward moments without the aid of alcohol and become more comfortable in my own skin.

All in all, I’ve felt like a stronger, more empowered person since I gave it up.

Real confidence

One of the biggest benefits of my year-long experiment has been developing real confidence with women.

I used to depend on alcohol to provide me with the courage (or at least the lack of self-consciousness) I needed to go talk to a pretty girl. Nowadays, that’s no longer an issue.

I’ve probably been out more nights this year than any previous, and I’ve found that alcohol had been holding me back all along. When getting drunk isn’t an option, your lizard brain has a hard time convincing you to hold off from approaching that girl. Because that moment is as drunk as you’re going to get. If you don’t go then, you won’t go ever.

Plus, there’s the added benefit of having all your sober wits about you and not coming across as just another slobbering drunk with a one-track mind.

Qualifier

You could say though that I’ve missed out on connecting with quite a few people since I quit drinking. Some folks are just really uncomfortable being around a guy who refuses alcohol, no matter how politely.

I don’t really see this as missing out though. I think of it as a handy filter. I can tell pretty fast how cool and open-minded someone is based on their reaction to my non-drinking ways. That guy who loudly questions my manhood when I pass up a free shot? Yeah, I’m not going to waste my time getting to know him better. Let me go talk to the girl across the way who doesn’t project her own insecurities onto others.

It’s the same deal with my veganism. Interesting to see who flinches when I throw that one out there.

Resistance to social pressure

I believe it’s good to become comfortable with people thinking you’re weird. Because if you try to do anything remarkable in this world, people are inevitably going to label you as such. Learn to live by your values and stick to your guns even if there’s huge pressure for you to pack it all in and rejoin the masses, to go back doing what everyone else is doing.

Not drinking this year has given me lots of practice dealing with social pressure. Especially while living in Spain this past summer, where I didn’t quite have the words to explain why I was passing up the local vino. Many a Spaniard seemed to take offense and turn their back on me. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but I built a thicker skin because of it.

My buddy Benjamin Jenks has gotten a similar benefit from hitchhiking 14,000 miles across the USA:

Hitchhiking is a great way to build up your inner strength. You are going to be taking a lot of shit. Look at it as a challenge when someone flips you the bird (about one in 500 cars will… more in Texas) or chucks a milkshake your way. The more you take it and let it go, the more it won’t bother you in the future. This is a priceless skill that helps in your career and your relationships.

Will I ever go back drinking again?

I won’t rule it out. A future version of myself might develop a totally different perspective on all of this.

If you had told me three years ago that in December of 2011 I’d be a teetotalling, self-employed, minimalist vegan vagabond, I would never have believed you. So I can’t rule out the possibility that three years from now I might be the proud owner of my own micro-brewery, sat happily on a porch somewhere guzzling my own creation.

So I’ll refrain from making any predictions about future me. I’ll just keep heading in whatever direction feels right, keep experimenting as I see fit, and be willing to accept whoever the journey leads me to become.

Living experimentally

As mentioned, I like to experiment quite regularly, to try different ways of doing and thinking to see what I can learn about myself and the world. In fact, I tend to view my whole life as one big experiment, and I believe this mindset has served me well.

It’s so easy to just stick to the same old thing, to carry on doing something the way it’s always been done in your family or culture. But if you had been born into a different family or culture, would you think and act the same way? Would you have the same beliefs and values?

Probably not. So who’s to say that your current way of living is really the best for you? Perhaps your default programming isn’t serving you very well. Or maybe it is. But you never know for sure until you hack away at it.

I encourage folks to question what they do, what they think, what they believe. Rebel a little and experiment with different ways of seeing and being in the world.

  • What would happen if you adopted an alternative diet for a while?
  • What if you stopped watching the news?
  • What if you really believed you have what it takes to live your dream?

If you’re new to this kind of experimentation, start small. Just commit for thirty days. What could you give up, or start doing, for the the next thirty days that might improve your life? Even if it’s something that you don’t think would make much difference, just try it out of curiosity. See what happens. You may be surprised.

For me, experimenting with vegetarianism proved to be life changing. In fact, if I had to go back and pick one thing that really got me devoted to this whole path of personal growth, it would be that simple decision I made back in late-2008 to go thirty days without eating meat or seafood.

Now I’m not saying a veg diet is right for everyone (I have only one person’s perspective), but that whole experience really opened my eyes to the value of life experiments. The realization came like this: Wait, so I’ve been eating a certain way all my life, and it turns out there was a better way for me to eat all along? What else have I been missing?!

From there I started questioning 9-to-5, I started questioning consumerism, I started questioning my approach to relationships… and on and on. I started peeking behind more and more curtains, and the walls have been falling frequently ever since.

Sometimes of course, such experiments don’t turn out so good. Like this past summer, I experimented with sleeping on the floor for three weeks. I’d read some reports that sleeping that way can be better for your back. That unfortunately didn’t prove to be the case for me, so I quit.

And that’s fine. Not every experiment will result in a positive change in your life, but at the very least you’ll get to know yourself a bit better.

Why do you live like that?

Ask yourself why you do what you do, why you think what you think, why you believe what you believe. Pick a specific habit and put it under the microscope. Does it really add value to your life, or might it be holding you back? What’s the trade off you’re making? Is it worth it?

And hey, maybe it is! To return to the example of alcohol, like I said: Drinking in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But you should be the master of your drinking habits, not a slave to them.

Try a few life experiments for yourself. Keep doing whatever you discover works well for you, and ditch what doesn’t.

Thinking of giving up the drink for a while?

Between DrinksThen check out David Downie’s book Between Drinks. David was perhaps the most famous beer guzzler in Australia at one point, founded the nation’s premier beer website, and has written and been featured in best-selling books about booze. As of this writing it’s been three years since he’s had a drop of alcohol. Between Drinks is the story of his transformation, and solid advice for anyone else who’s eager to experiment with the sober lifestyle. One of my favorite quotes from the book:

Drinking isn’t bad remember. Drinking is awesome. But some people (some smart people) take a step back once in a while and see for themselves if they are now at a stage in their lives where not drinking is even more awesome.