When my two boys were in diapers, Friday evenings could not come soon enough. I was working full time, judging myself for not being home more with the kids, and exhausted by the perpetual processing of everything on my never-ending to-do list.
Fridays meant margaritas. Once we were both done working, my husband Randy and I’d take the kids to Chipotle. In an exhausted state, we would order the same food and drinks we had the week before, find a table, and then slowly savor a long first sip.
The margarita was my tool to numb out from all the stressors of life.
Until I decided it wasn’t.
I woke up one morning and realized I was done tuning out. Although I had a VP title, it had been a while since I had felt mentally fulfilled on the job. It dawned on me that alcohol was a distraction and nothing would change if I didn’t change. That if I wanted a different output, I was going to need to change some of my inputs. So I decided I was done drinking. I didn’t know how long I would be done, but at that moment, I decided to believe that my life was complete if I never had another sip.
It’s now years later and I haven’t regretted that decision once.
Why take on such atypical behavior? Even my own mom asked me the other day why I had stopped drinking (this is the same mom who used to worry that I drank too much in college!). As someone who wasn’t an alcoholic, why had I stopped doing something that by society’s definition is completely normal?
My answer isn’t exciting.
I decided that I wanted to see what life would be like without it. Deep down I may have had a hope that this change would trigger some clarity, which would then create the courage to drive actions that would lead to greater fulfillment. Plus, the joy of not drinking outweighed any positives for me personally. Late-night comfort-food cravings, gaining weight, and heartburn are all aspects I don’t miss.
I also don’t miss the regret of drinking too much or the embarrassment of putting my foot in my mouth.
So today, it’s an easy decision for me. Alcohol isn’t something that I do and therefore, there are no negative consequences.
This one decision has had a huge impact on my life. It’s created clarity on the things that matter most to me. I left that company and created my dream job.
Not drinking is one of the ways I choose to live by design, and not default.
I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. The following 5 tips go beyond alcohol and apply to any change you might be trying in the hopes of creating a lighter life.
- Choose your “hard.” In the beginning, change feels hard. Deciding not to drink feels hard. Losing weight feels hard. Decluttering feels hard. But what I think is even harder? Staying stuck in inaction and spending decades wishing life were different. The heaviest mind clutter I see is resistance to reality without a well-thought-out plan to change it. Take a moment now and choose your “hard,” and then decide that it won’t be as hard as you think. Then create a flexible plan you love and start experimenting. Once my clients start getting closer to their goals they all tell me that it was so much easier than they thought it would be.
- Drop the distractions. The two biggest distractions I see? Blaming others for why you’re not making progress and selling yourself on perceived self-limitations, such as setting a goal and then telling yourself that you’re a ‘rebel’ so you’re not going to follow the plan. This is a hard truth, but rebelling against the very thing you want will never pay off. So stop making the other person, the dream, or your process of achieving it the “parent” in the relationship. Start thinking differently. Consider becoming a rebel for good.
- Get curious about your daily rhythms. How are you moving through your days? Are you doing things that support your wellness and greatest desires? Are you focusing on the things that matter most or are you swamped responding to the needs of others and tuning out once the demands become too heavy? As Greg McKeown writes in his book Essentialism, learn to say ‘no’ to the many good opportunities so that you have space to say ‘yes’ to the (very few) great opportunities, and then weave those into your day.
- Go light. We have thousands of thoughts a day, most are a repeat of yesterday’s thoughts, and the majority of them are negative. The good news? Our thoughts are all optional. Sure, it’s part of our biology to be on the lookout for bad, but we can overcome this programming. In the moments you become aware of your ruminating, can you intentionally decide to go light? This doesn’t mean making light of the atrocities happening around us, it means putting more of an emphasis on how you can put some good into the world. And on a more personal level, anytime you feel victimized because of someone’s tone of voice, or because of their actions, reactions, or lack of action, challenge yourself to come up with another interpretation of the event, one where you’re able to take your power back.
- Go after your dreams without apology. You have one life. I want you to go all in. No apologies. Decide to have no regrets by making the decision to be on team YOU.
I’m not anti-alcohol, it just no longer works for me.
What about you? When you look at your life are there certain aspects where you feel you’re operating on autopilot? What would life look like if you broke free from default, and started living by design?
About the Author: Heather Aardema is an optimistic build-er-upper, momma of two boys, mountain biker, and fan of homemade and not-perfect. She’s the founder of School of Living Lighter—where she helps women tackle their clutter, un-complicate their lives, and lose weight for good—read more of her essays at SchoolofLivingLighter.com.