math matters

I am putting together a post to celebrate my six month moderation anniversary, which means I am adding up six months worth of numbers. Changing my drinking habits has involved learning new things about myself, and one new discovery is that I adore moderation math.

Moderation math is simple, just measuring, counting, and tracking. They rely upon each other: you need to measure accurately to count accurately, and you need to count your daily drinks to track your behavior over time. Put together, this provides us with the essential feedback that we need to make and evaluate a behavior modification plan…sounds pretty sexy, I know.

I doubt most of us get really excited at the thought of counting. I certainly didn’t. In fact, the counting and tracking emphasis in MM was quite off-putting to me at first. It felt artificial, rule-bound, and petty. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that moderation was mainly a question of entering numbers on a spreadsheet.

Now I can see that it isn’t. Tracking is what enables moderation to reach its real goals, which include things like enjoying a drink with friends, or seeing your blood pressure drop significantly. But we need tools to get there, and tracking is one of the most fundamental. Tracking tells us where our behavior is, and lets us set a target for where we want to be, and thus forms the bedrock for any changes we want to make.

Early on, I found myself really struggling with a little voice in my head that urged me to fudge my drink counts. It suggested things like counting three 7% IPAs as three standard drinks, and arguing with that voice took up loads of time (so did the big blowout that started with three 7% beers). It seems to me this is a pretty normal thing. For one thing, it is easier to roughly count glasses/bottles than calculate the total amount of actual alcohol (although there are nifty online tools that do the math for you!), and so there’s some initial resistance to overcome. For another, alcohol dependency just makes honesty difficult. That little voice in my head urges me to fudge things so I can drink more. That’s not a cause for shame, it’s just a normal part of this experience, and honesty is just another skill that gets easier with practice.

All of this gets easier with practice. That’s the other beautiful thing about moderation math: eventually, it takes almost no time or energy. It’s just a habit. But unlike alcohol abuse, tracking is a habit that sets me free. Free to enjoy a beer on a hot summer day; free to get up early for another bike ride; free to think about more interesting things; free to figure out what kind of person I want to be. I still have to check on myself occasionally, but the brief thoughts involved are balanced out with hours and hours of newly-minted freedom. Can’t beat that deal.




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