*Disclaimer – this does not constitute professional advice for behaviour that is compulsive or constitutes an addiction.
I’m not usually one for New Year Resolution hype or the “New Year New Me!” rhetoric. And whilst I think that personal/professional development and a growth mindset are positive things, the constant quest for self-improvement can be exhausting and have some unintended negative consequences on all aspects of our health.
That said, 2020 posed me with some unique problems as it did for all of us. The closure of my business in the early part of the year made a serious dent into my savings pot and whilst I was fortunate to be able to reopen eventually, COVID restrictions plus costs of PPE and enhanced cleaning have had an impact financially due to significantly reduced capacity and increased costs.
I also found as the year progressed that my alcohol consumption gradually went up. Now, I don’t drink to excess, I normally like a G&T or 2 at the weekend or a glass of wine whilst cooking but with the constant changes, uncertainty and nowhere much to go, the “F*** it why not, it’s a Wednesday!” philosophy started to creep in and a midweek glass of something became more normal.
And then came Christmas. I love Christmas. I mean, I hate all the nonsense that surrounds it but for me, it is an important cultural festival of feasting and indulgence and spoiling those I love. So by the end of the year, the ease of clicking a button to order gifts or something yummy had become all too familiar and ultimately, mindless. It’s a bit too easy these days.
In Physics there is a definition called the Observer Effect – whereby, the act of observing something, changes it. For example, when checking the air pressure in a tyre you cannot do this effectively without letting out some of the air. The same can often be said for human behaviour, when we observe our breathing pattern, it often slows for example. One of the major benefits I have found from practising Yoga and meditation is a greater sense of self-awareness and greater trust in my intuition/interoception/whatever my body is trying to tell me (or whatever you want to describe it as). By taking the time to notice how I am really feeling and what is going on, gives me a greater ability to choose my response.
And, after the festive period, I had a sensation that I needed to rein things back again. I had developed some acid reflux earlier in the year, which the GP was happy to prescribe some medication for but I felt I should take responsibility for my own health and make lifestyle changes first before going down this route if those changes were not successful. Our rampant consumerism is terrible for the planet as well as the bank balance and the throwaway culture does not align with my values at all. It all felt a bit much and was sitting uncomfortably with me.
So I began by paying attention. Looking at what I had spent money on and when I fancied a drink. I then set myself the goal of having a “no spend” month in January and also having a “dry” January. A month seemed a nice manageable, defined period of time to start with.
"I didn’t sign up to a challenge, or broadcast it, as it simply felt like that was what I needed to do for my own benefit."
I tracked my regular expenses, thought about what I enjoy spending my money on and what habits I had fallen into such as takeaways of Fridays. I am fortunate that I actually enjoy living frugally, I don’t enjoy clothes shopping or have extensive beauty treatment requirements. I hate waste generally and have a “make do and mend” philosophy. Simple pleasures bring me great joy which is probably why the increased consumption made me uncomfortable.
I also discussed my plan with my partner who was fully on board with it too. We have some pretty exciting long term life goals which are our “why” when it comes to being more sensible with our spending. We both wanted to improve our health too so having a break from the booze was a no brainer!
Then came the planning.
I reviewed all my regular expenses, switched bank so I could manage money much more easily, I changed energy suppliers and cancelled unused memberships and subscriptions.
It's been a tough year financially for many businesses and I'd done my best to support as many folks as I could but it needed to be more sustainable.
I then sat with myself for a bit and came up with my “rules” for no spend and thought about how I would manage when temptation arose…
My rules were;
Spending on bills, food and essential items only (more about that in a minute)
No books – I have about a squillion I haven't read yet.
No houseplants (yeah I know, I LOVE houseplants)
No outdoor gear – absolutely 100% my downfall
30 days review for potential purchases – if I think I want/need something, wait 30 days and see if it is still the case.
Now “essential” varies from person to person of course. And for me it included Birthday presents for those in my immediate close circle of family or friends, and essential dog bills such as the vet and that was about it! I also knew my best mates baby was due so budgeted in some spending there.
I deleted Amazon from my phone, unsubscribed from sales emails from outdoor companies and started meal planning like a boss!!
I already planned our evening meals and we are committed Aldi shoppers as this combo saves us a fortune on food and we hardly have any food waste. We have meat from the butchers but already chose to eat really high quality, British meat, less often. But now I went next level, planning lunches to avoid the quick nip to the shop for a sarnie/meal deal etc. I am now the queen of rice and pasta salads and home-made scones for snacks lol.
I tracked everything I spent and recorded "no spend days", I channelled my inner 5-year-old and marked off no spend days with felt tip pen which was bizarrely satisfying. My new bank tells me how much I've spent each day and on what with a notification on my phone, which makes it really handy to keep a record.
When I was tempted by something, such as a book that had been recommended or looked interesting, firstly I sat with it for a minute. Do I need it? No. Do I want it? Yes. Will it be interesting/useful etc? Yes. Have you got time to read it now? No. So I’d park it on a wish list for later, or a Birthday etc. Other times I’d be just scrolling and something would pop up as opportunistic marketing and on reflection, I didn’t need it, someone was just telling me I did, or I was bored etc.
Finally, I switched my thinking about what things are "worth". Now obviously with spending, there is a financial value on things already. I work really, really hard to earn my money. So instead of purely the cost of something, I thought instead of how many hours of my life it had taken to earn that money, and was the item worth it? No, was the answer in most cases.
After a month, I can honestly say, I have really enjoyed the process. I have not missed alcohol one bit, my acid reflux has gone and I have lost weight. There has been the odd evening whilst we cook together with the tunes on that a glass of something would be nice but that feeling has been fleeting, to be honest. I really don’t miss the reflux!
I have also loved reining in the spending, batch cooking from scratch and being more organised around food prep has not only saved a fortune but also meant we are eating even more healthily than before. I am busy with work but being organised and doing big cook ups twice per week means there is always something to hand, and we do “fakeaways” on a Friday to still get that treat feel after we have both worked hard all week. I am fortunate that the things we actively enjoy like being outside and walking the dogs are free and wasting less and repairing things is better for the environment too which I care deeply about.
I had very few expenses outside of bills and food this month, apart from a couple of birthdays and a gift for the birth of my best friend’s baby, but I knew they were coming and had planned accordingly! The only non-essential spend was some paint to decorate the lounge which has needed painting for several years. We had decided the colour we wanted a while ago and when a weekend was free to finally get it done, we agreed it was important enough for us to justify the purchase.
I find I am much more mindful and considered about my behaviours and, with a little planning and organisation, I am working towards something pretty cool in later life, without feeling like I can’t enjoy life right now. By actually thinking about my behaviour I have saved money, improved our health and benefitted the environment. So, for now, the no booze and the no spend are here to stay for the foreseeable…… I absolutely will enjoy the odd glass of something at some point again in the future but for now, I'm sticking to other liquid refreshments.
So why am I telling you all of this is? Well, it’s not to convince you to go tea total or never spend a penny ever again, but more to highlight the process of changing behaviour and to perhaps encourage you to be more aware and mindful in your actions. This can be applied to any behaviour you might want to work on, health-related or otherwise.
Observe your own behaviour
Work out your triggers and patterns – be honest with yourself
Work out your “Why?” for change
Get an accountability buddy
Think about how to minimise slip-ups
Put a value on the behaviour or its consequence
Reflect with self-awareness – it won’t always go to plan but having an honest reflection can help to move forward
And, as I mentioned at the beginning, if your behaviour is an addiction or compulsive, please seek professional help.