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10 Replacement Activities During Dry January

Welcome to the 2nd day of January, 2024! (or, whichever day you might be reading this). For some of you, this might be day 2 of 31 that you have decided to abstain from consuming alcohol. For others, this may be day 1, day 973, or day 0. Either way, if you're even reading about replacement activities to try to support lowering your consumption of alcohol--you're on a great path.

For me, and I believe this is a personal decision for each of us, I have found that if I focus on "days" or a "streak" regards to drinking or not drinking, I create a rather unhealthy dynamic in my mind around my choices. If I think, "Well, you'd really like a drink in this moment, but that would break your streak..." my next feelings are immediately ones of deprivation and fear.

I know many people who derive a sense of fulfillment and acceptance from counting their days, weeks, months, and years. I know many people who I greatly love and respect for their dedication to their health--in whichever ways necessary for them--regarding their relationship with alcohol.

So, what I would ask you to consider if you are partaking in non-partaking is what strategy works for you? Would you feel more secure or less secure keeping track? Would you feel more motivated or more stressed?

One thing to consider when you're trying to break an old habit and create a new one is what emotions you tie to the habits themselves. If counting your alcohol-free days creates stress and anxiety, then you may associate stress and anxiety with not-drinking (and that's the opposite of what you're going for here). Give yourself some space to consider your feelings--and decide for yourself if tracking works for you. This is really a personal decision (in my opinion) and there isn't a universal strategy that works.

Creating replacement activities, on the other hand, is a universal strategy that works. What do I mean by replacement activities? Consider typical times that you completed the old habit (in this case, drinking alcohol) and proactively plan a replacement activity for yourself in that upcoming moment.

Here's a personal example from my life:

Yesterday, I celebrated my 40th birthday (woohoo!) I am New Year's Baby, and so for most of my adult life, I have rung in the new year with friends, family, and various beverages at NYE parties. Since I no longer want alcohol to center my activities, I asked that we have friends and family over in the afternoon on New Year's Eve for games and Thai food (my favorite). Rather than plan drinks, we planned games. Rather than stay up drinking, I went to bed at 10:45 (much to the anguish of my 12 year old). Rather than drink a beer, I had an NA IPA.

Since our refrigerator is now full of leftover Tom Yum soup and Pad Thai, we didn't need to go out to dinner on my actual birthday. That meant no wondering if I would have a drink to celebrate my 40th. I no longer equate a drink with celebration, and so honestly, having a drink would feel like the opposite of how I'd like to start my 40th year. Instead, Will (my eight year old) and I went on a community luminary walk in one of our town's parks. We spent our evening outside, in community, breathing in fresh January air. I found it delightful...because hiking at night is apparently something I love.

Replacement activities or behaviors can be anything that you do in place of the former habit. We use replacement activities and behaviors all the time with all sorts of habits. For me, my replacement activities tend to happen all throughout my day now--filling my emotional and spiritual buckets. Some of my favorite activities include: sleeping, journaling, reading, watching funny TV shows w/ my daughter, catching up with my friends on Marco Polo, writing, meditating, walking, and working out. When I complete these activities regularly (almost every day) I feel tremendous peace.

When I feel peace, I no longer think of alcohol as a reward or celebration. I have the reward I want: I have peace.

There are many, many different motivators and cues that prompt our habits, and if you're curious about what may prompt your habits around drinking, I recommend listening to Rachel Hart's podcast, Take a Break. She's sharing a series now about 8 common drinking archetypes, and it is fantastic!

In the mean time, here are a few other suggestions on replacement behaviors that you might find helpful on your journey:

I'm a big fan of doing more of what works, and less of what doesn't. For some of us, that means planning more activities that truly fuel us, and less activities that actually deplete us.

What are your favorite replacement activities when trying to stop or pause an existing habit? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Send me a note to let me know!

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