Reflections on Dry January: Three benefits to temporarily stopping a behavior

Dry January? Why would you do that?  This is my third year participating in the Dry January challenge (which is no alcohol for the first month of the year) and every year, people ask me this question - WHY?  

To break a current pattern of responding - to see what happens - to assess.  

Over the course of the pandemic, research shows the recreational alcohol use has increased significantly.  That "glass of wine with dinner" might turn into a bottle.  Or once or twice a week becomes more like most nights.   Reaching for the alcohol (or doomscroling on social media) becomes a habit - just like anything else. 

And even if that habit isn't causing any major consequences, it might be keeping you from some of your greatest breakthroughs.  (Side note: if alcohol is an addiction, or if you have difficulty controlling your drinking or other side effects from a detox like this, you may have a more serious problem and should consult your physician or a mental health professional to get help with a program).    

For the rest of us, the habit of ending the day with a drink or starting the day by scrolling through social media is just that - a habit.  And you can benefit from examining these habits and challenging yourself to do something differently.  Even if it's only temporarily.  In the journaling book, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, there is a seven day media detox (no READING: no books blogs, social media, etc) as a jumpstart to creativity blocks. Now that one was a challenge with a capital C!

The beauty of a challenge like Dry January is it has a container - a beginning and an end.  30 days without alcohol or a seven day social media detox.  This is enough time to be create a space between what you usually do and what you might do instead. 

Here are 3 benefits of temporarily stopping a behavior:  

3 Pay-offs to a Temporary Detox

1: You can assess the intensity of a habit

If you are a light or very occasional drinker, Dry January is a breeze.  Stopping for a month will be easy for you.  The habit of reaching for your social media feed first thing in the morning might be the tough one.  Whatever it is, the first benefit is just as an assessment tool.  How much reliance on this habit is there already? What comes up for you when you don't have it as an available option? How does your response to that reaction make you feel/think about yourself? 

Just assess from a neutral point of view.  No shame needed.  

You might write down a few responses to this prompt, "As I try not to engage in this behavior, 

I notice...

I notice...

I notice...

2:  Your imagination gets a chance to work

The brain is a pattern-seeking device.  And like  a well-worn path, it tries to help make our lives easier by making it simpler to do "what we have always done."  On autopilot, you might take the usual route to work and not even notice getting there.  But, when you intentionally change the pattern, you are required to use your imagination.  How would I get to work if I didn't take the highway? You have to THINK about that more closely.

The same is true for any habit.  What do I drink with dinner instead of wine? What do I do in the morning instead of scrolling social media? That question, what might I do instead allows your brain to start thinking of alternatives - and it's okay to ponder on any and all alternatives.

I could ride my bike to work. I could take the bus. I could get up and run instead of playing on my phone. I could drink water.

Take a second and think about all the things you MIGHT do instead of that current habit.  Explore the land of possibility.  Note: this is not what you should do.  What you could do -There's a big difference. 

Write down what you might do (or in my fading Southern accent, what you might could do?)

Instead of doing x, I could do....

Instead of doing x, I could do....

Instead of doing x, I could do...

3:  You experience surprises

A final benefit of testing a detox period is that you experience surprises.  Unexpected things happen that are fun and interesting.   Surprise in an element of Joy.  There's a whole wonderful chapter about it in another great book, Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee (see how hard media detox is for me! a week without reading is tough!!)

And yet, there are surprises.   Surprise! Instead of having a couple of drinks and zoning out to the TV, we were able to plan out all of summer camp.  Surprise! Instead of taking the usual route to work, I went a different way and saw a deer family crossing the street! Surprise! Instead of  reading a book during my daughter's ballet class, I created this blog post!

Make notes about the surprises and keep a little log of them throughout the week/month

Because I stopped doing x, I was surprised to find that...

When I wasn't doing x, I now notice that....

Surprise! ____________ (this thing) happened instead of something else.

By restoring a sense of whimsy and unpredictability to our surroundings, small bursts of surprise change our relationship to the world as a whole. By snapping us out of our habitual thought patterns, a small surprise can reset our joy meters and allow us to see with new eyes." -  

INGRID FETELL LEE, author of JOYFUL

Photo by Josh Mills on Unsplash

Is there a behavior that you are considering a trial-run detox? Let me know what it is and how it goes for you.  What surprises did you find along the way? 

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About the Author Jen Taylor

Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at info@jentaylorplaytherapy.com

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