Changing Things Up: Breaking Out of Life’s Habits

For the second-straight year, I’m making February my month to shake things up a bit. In this case, that mostly means focusing on things to avoid, but that avoidance makes space for other things, such as reading, shrinking my to-do list, and sneaking in second workouts. The month’s about changing things up and questioning norms and resetting my baseline going forward… at least for a while.

Disclaimers: I’ll be honest in that this month has no basis in my relationship to running and, frankly, my running has sucked this month, but I’m fairly confident that has nothing to do my altered habits. Yes, I’m doing this in February, the shortest month, but not by design. It simply came about leading into last February and, as this February approached, I thought I’d repeat it again after a really positive experience last year.

Here’s what I eliminated this month:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Caffeine
  3. Sleep aids (melatonin, diphenhydramine, eye mask)
  4. Discretionary spending

Let’s go through these one at a time.

No Alcohol

Generally, I have a drink or two a day. Usually, beer or wine. Most often, in the evening “to unwind.” I’m generally fine with this as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of my life. However, I don’t like when it becomes ubiquitous or a seemingly necessary habit before trying to sleep. Nor, do I like when wine pours increase in volume over time or a third beer in a routine day becomes more common. Of course, less alcohol is simply healthier in the long term and will improve sleep in the short term. This month without drinking is simply a baseline reset. No, that new baseline won’t last until February 2022, but it will alter my drinking in the months to come. And, in writing this, it makes me think of taking another month off four, five, or six months out. And, yes, I could attempt to simply moderate my drinking, but, for me, I find the full stop to have longer-lasting behavior modification than a just-drink-less approach. It’s mentally easier for me with less wiggle room.

No Caffeine

I’ve got no big beef with caffeine. I drink less of it now than in years and decades past. I could go without it for a few days at any time and not deal with withdrawal effects than many folks face. However, just as with alcohol being a precursor to sleep, I don’t like the seemingly necessary step of starting my day with caffeinated coffee. I also wasn’t psyched with starting my day with “six cups” of coffee in the form of two big mugs. On the upside, I very rarely drink caffeine in the afternoon, but when I did it was for an energy boost and I didn’t like the feeling of that. As with eliminating alcohol, this can only serve to help me sleep better.

On a few days earlier this month, I did start the day with one mug of decaf coffee, as a nice start to my day, particularly when it’s really cold in the house in the morning. I have had two or three cups of decaf earl grey tea, as well, but as flavored warm beverages along with some herbal infusions.

No Sleep Aids

I generally take one 10 milligrams of melatonin shortly before bed. On nights where I suspect I’ll have difficulty sleeping, I’ll also take one diphenhydramine (Benadryl) capsule. With an all-too-bright (even with blackout shades) streetlight in the alley behind the house, I also sleep with an eye mask on. With regard to the melatonin and sometimes, diphenhydramine, I strongly dislike the feeling that I need some chemical to go about my day. The mask is a little less unsettling in this regard, but I’d prefer not to need it, and, more important, I do enjoy daylight as a cue to wake in the morning.

No Discretionary Spending

This one’s seemingly unconnected to the rest, but it is in the fact that it’s questioning my habits, needs, and wants. Admittedly, I’m pretty darn frugal and non-consumerist, however, a month of trying to spend as little as possible, especially on the discretionary-spending front is a nice challenge and one that shakes up my status quo. I have few needs or wants, so grabbing consumables like some takeout or a six pack of decent craft beer contributes significantly in this category. So far I’ve limited discretionary spending to dish soap and sliced bread at the local grocery (out of dish soap and had sandwich fixings) as well as a few packs of garden seeds.

Various Benefits This Month

  • I think I’ve only slept until my alarm once this month. (With no insomnia-induced stupid-early wake ups… just nice, timely, pre-alarm mornings.)
  • Multiple nights I’ve had the lowest sleeping average heart rate (47 beats per minute) as reported from my Coros Vertix that I’ve seen while up at 9,300 feet in Silverton, Colorado in quite some time… if ever.
  • I’m easily falling asleep most nights and my sleep quality seems great.
  • I’m reading more… no, I’m reading at all! I doubt I’ve read a full book since last March, but I finished my second of February yesterday.
  • Although this is influenced by having completed some big personal and professional projects in January, I’ve ticked off seemingly countless small to-do items this month. That feels great, as it’s so much less hanging over me.
  • My personal spending is way down.

Digital Reduction

While I didn’t reread my Digital Reduction article from March 2019 until now, I did implement a no-phone-in-the-bedroom rule, and reverted to an analog alarm clock. Having now re-read that article, I’ve just deleted Facebook on my phone again… which was already tucked away on the fourth screen in the App Library. I’ll also try to tuck my phone away out of sight more often.

Call for Comments

Do you ever take breaks from some of your most routine habits? If so, what, when, why, and how?!

Animas - Cunningham - Feb 2021

There are 4 comments

  1. Buzz

    Good job Bryon! Thank you for sharing your progressive thoughts, which are an excellent example for me, and probably us all. (And living in Silverton, one might guess you are unique in those first two :-)

    As for me, while you’ve gone impressively big, I’m only working on smaller upgrades: One drink/night (I became too good at mixing cocktails); one Bhakti Chai in morning sometimes followed by one after lunch. Mainly, I’m liking my ‘old-guy’ winter training program: Walk :30 immediately upon waking (best way to wake up plus can see the morning stars); Ride/Run/Hike mid-morning (when it’s warmer outside); Strength and Stretch routine at home before dinner (these are the two functions we lose the most with age).

    Onward!

  2. Justin

    Bryan, I’d suggest contacting your city public works department and asking them to put a shade on that light. My city does this all the time. Dark skies are much better for all of us anyway.

  3. Doug K

    I’m quite sure that soap and bread are necessities, not discretionary ;-)
    One day when my kids are out of college I hope to have discretionary income again.

    Had to give up alcohol, caffeine and strenuous exercise after a minor heart problem (afib) – all my drugs gone in one..
    Turns out decaf coffee is fine and I sleep better when not drinking, but the strenuous exercise is the real problem.
    Previously I used to quit alcohol for Lent, forty days or so, each year. This never made any difference at all to sleep, weight or RPE. After a couple hundred days I do notice better sleep. However chocolate has become my consolation and that doesn’t help the weight at all.. maybe have to give that up instead for forty days and see.

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