My favorite maxim around the subject of habits comes from a widely successful television executive.
He’s been sober his entire life, and when asked what prompted that decision, here’s what he told the interviewer:
You never want to start something other people are trying to quit.
This might be the most lucid, logical and elegant life philosophy ever stated. And yet, most people don’t think that way when it comes to their own choices. Here’s proof.
Hundreds of people recently participated in a month long sobriety study. Over half of them reported that not drinking for thirty days led to saving more money, losing weight, sleeping better, improved skin complexion, greater concentration and feeling more accomplished overall.
Pretty impressive results.
However, despite these profound effects on people’s overall health and wellness, people’s behavior rarely changed long term. Even if overall alcohol consumption did curb for several months, most revert back to their old habits and make the same resolution next year.
This trend has always been baffling to me. Why would anyone start something other people are trying to quit? Why can’t people just stick with their changes?
Turns out, the answer is has nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with anthropology.
See, drinking is the great centerpiece of social interaction. It’s firmly woven into the fabric of society, binding people together, breaking down barriers and generally greasing the social wheels. People can use alcohol to celebrate, commiserate, flirt, act generously, avoid their feelings and rebel. What’s not to like? Alcohol is amazing.
Homer said it best:
Cheers to alcohol, the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.
And so, the reason people don’t permanently change their habits is deeply tribal. It’s because the risk of living outside the confines of that social construction outweighs the benefits of not drinking.
You see this in the corporate world all the time. For people who abstain from alcohol, it can seem harder to get ahead because they’re not willing to throw one back.
This sad reality has affected every job I have ever had. When you tell new coworkers that you don’t drink, you have to deal with the suspicion that you can’t play the game. And it will make you angry, resentful and likely to doubt your own values.
Hell, it’s a political polling truism in that voters choose the candidate they’d rather have a beer with. That’s how essential alcohol has become in building social capital.
Without drinking, you lower the amount of economic potential to be harnessed from your capacity to fit in.
The point here is not to bash alcohol and those who partake in it. Nor to shame anyone’s habits and choices.
It’s just interesting to me how our fundamental human need to belong, fear of missing out, and aversion to upsetting the status quo of the tribe, is more powerful than taking positive action to improve our own health.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
Are you starting something other people are trying to quit?