Sitting in a mastermind session a couple years back, the comment was made that at a certain production level there no time left for fucking around, to which I added that one does not get to said level unless they stop fucking around.
And so, with some hesitation I insert this rather personal chapter; it’s not getting up on a soapbox here, this is just a slice of my own story. This is a book of new habits, new systems, and new viewpoints, of ourselves and of others. So take from these next words what you can apply as you see fit, however you can in order to remove an old habit no longer serving you and create the space for a newer, more beneficial habit.
Some of my more challenging habits to break over the years have been over-consumption of potato chips, then french fries, and more recently jujubes. Having just typed this last sentence my mouth is now watering and I want to take a spin down to the food fair or corner store. How easy it is to fall back into our old ways. Instead, I will take a spin to the gym.
On to the meat of this chapter, and feel free to substitute the word “alcohol” for something else in your life that you might do well to remove. Don’t throw out the main point of the message over the details.
My main point? That 30-day challenges are for chumps. Thirty days is in fact a cakewalk for most of us. So step it up and turn it into a 365-day challenge.
Four years later, still not drinking, my one-year challenge may have turned into the rest of my life—as I’ve learned something truly valuable. I’ve learned exactly what sort of drinker I am, but that discovery took about 333 days.
What I learned about myself is something it is unlikely anyone partaking in a Sober October will learn about themselves (but kudos to the Sober October crowd—you have to start somewhere).
A confluence of circumstances one October brought me to a point where I decided that one full year away from alcohol was an experiment worth embarking upon.
From a (late) decision to lead our then-teenage daughter by example, to solidarity with our teenage son who had made the decision not to drink as part of his personal training and competitive regimen, to a blog post about one year off booze (worth reading) by one James Swanwick, the bottom line was that on Sunday, October 5th, 2014, I pulled the pin.
When I quit, I really, really quit. I tend to hold myself to high standards in (nearly) all that I do, no more so than when public declarations are made.
Frankly, time flew, although not at first. At first it was actually a little bit disturbing. I’d gone six weeks without a drink many times over the years due to circumstance or choice. In fact, I’d gone six months at least twice. I rarely had even a single drink on a weekday, and yet the first six days of this challenge, five of them weekdays, were spent with way too much of my mental real estate occupied by second-guessing this whole quitting thing. The fact was, I could feel the weight of the specific tumbler in my right hand, swirling my right wrist to mix the two ingredients, Kahlua and vodka, known as a Black Russian. I could feel the cool texture of the beverage running across my palate, hear the clink of the cubes, revel in the manly burn of the vodka, the delicate and sweet aftertaste of the Kahlua.
I wanted a drink.
Get over it!
Time accelerated, six weeks later it was no longer a daily thought. A few months later it was not even a weekly thought.
Then in a flash, 333 days later, or thereabouts, I was talking with my (then) wife and mentioned that it was only four weeks from the one-year mark and suggested we have a party, one at which I would light it back up again.
The response was surprising and profound; in an evenly measured tone she stated, “You shouldn’t.”
I asked for more than two words, and received five more that would set the tone for my continuing on this path:
“You’re just better without it.”
Well, what do you do with that? As mentioned, what I’ve chosen is to continue with this challenge as a key piece of the pursuit of my best self.
In hindsight, I was essentially a competitive drinker from my very first drink as a teen. I can still recall counting each one diligently as it went down. I never stopped counting drinks, even when I “grew up.” As life progressed, so did the numbers, as if I was “winning” at some unspoken contest nobody knew they were in.
In 27 years of drinking, I was physically sick just twice, with a 23-year gap in between. Hangovers were rare and when they arrived were of little consequence. I seemed built with a high tolerance and serious stamina, and every few months would inadvertently find myself pursuing a new high score I would then retreat into semi-retirement and focus on other tasks for the weeks or months in between these one-night binges.
Which brings me back to the critical point: 30 days is not a challenge! Thirty days is a cinch if you are competitive.
In the excellent book Relentless by Tim S. Grover, a reference is made to one of the elite peak performers Mr. Grover trained, and Mr. Grover’s concern about whether this individual had control over his drinking or the drinking was controlling his client. The individual, when challenged, responded that he would quit for 30 days, and just like that he did, and in Mr. Grover’s eyes this proved the “control” was with the individual. With no disrespect to Mr. Grover, I would disagree with that statement, knowing what I now know. And I think his client might admit, in hindsight, he was fooling himself and his trainer.
What I realize is this: any one of us can quit anything for 30 days. This is our nature. It’s easy for us to simply immerse ourselves for the 30 days in other activities. We will hyper focus on something else, all the while knowing in the back of my mind that a mere 30 days later freedom of choice awaits us once again. Thirty days is nothing for a truly goal-oriented individual.
And no doubt the athletes that Mr. Grover trained have far greater ability to focus on their goals than most of us. Focus matters.
Thirty days for a peak performer is a cakewalk. It is a short-term goal, easily achieved with little time for introspection.
The next time you set a goal, or a challenge is thrown down, don’t just do the minimum required. To use Mr. Grover’s terminology, the minimum is what a “Cooler” does. Hitting targets hard and breaking through them elevates you to “Closer” status, but to take a challenge and 12X it—that is something a “Cleaner” would do.
A Cleaner brings an atom bomb (himself) to a knife fight, not simply a gun.
So, will I take up my own challenge and 12X my original one year goal?
I am already a Closer in some areas, why not push harder and be a “Cleaner” in this one?