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7 Ways Quitting Booze Makes Me a Better Leader

It has been 365 days since I quit drinking alcohol, and I’m noticing some incredible benefits that have helped me at work. I quit because I signed up for a half-marathon, and just as an experiment, I wanted to see how my body would perform without booze. I committed to a 12-week running program and ditched alcohol as part of my training.

I injured myself early in the training program and didn’t run the race, but I stayed on the NA train anyway. After three months alcohol-free, the benefits of not drinking were greater than taking it up again, and I decided to end my relationship with booze indefinitely.

Now I’m one year AF, and the advantages continue to abound throughout my life, including how I show up at work. I am still relatively new to leadership and have considerably more to learn. In reflection, I recognize these seven ways teetotaling has helped me grow as a leader.

1. Flexing my willpower by turning down alcohol improves my overall ability to exercise self-control under pressure. 

There are often challenging circumstances that come up at work, and when I’m tired and feeling stressed, reacting with poise and control has not been my default. Sometimes, I react too quickly. Since quitting alcohol, I’ve found myself in better control of my reactions, and I take that extra few-second pause before responding to problems. I am much happier with how I’m showing up with my team.

2. I manage stress with significantly less anxiety and no longer get stuck in cycles of rumination. 

This is the number one benefit of my quitting journey, for sure. Before quitting, I was not drinking every night, but when I did, I regularly would exceed four or more drinks at least once per week in the evening. I would occasionally have a drink during the day on weekends, too. I never felt that I had a “problem” with drinking.

But when I cut alcohol out, I recognized how much of my daytime anxiety was actually being driven by my drinking habits. As I reflected on how this decision to take a booze break was going a few months in, I realized I was no longer having bouts of a racing heart during hard conversations, and my mind was moving at a less frenetic pace. I stopped ruminating on the problems of the week, the emails I wrote, or how I responded to a client two days ago.

I still feel stressed sometimes, but the unwanted physical reactions to stress and the endless mental loops are few and far between now. As leaders, we set the tone for the team, and it’s important to me to stay level and demonstrate healthy stress management. My brain, in the absence of alcohol, is finally on my side (mostly!), and I feel more confident in the face of challenges.

3. My productivity has increased because I prioritize sleep and don’t wake up with hangovers. 

This is probably the obvious one for most people – not feeling like trash in the morning tends to result in getting more accomplished! I also started tracking my sleep and monitoring my circadian rhythm using RiseApp. (Get 30 days free with my referral link here.) This commitment to tracking has allowed me to rock my sleep goals consistently and time block my tasks around natural boosts and dips in my energy level. When I am feeling good and focused, I can sometimes surprise myself with what I get done! In addition to healthy sleep habits, I’m now on a consistent workout routine that has also improved my mood and energy. (Yes, I track that, too!)

4. I have lowered my overall risks, cultivated better health, and improved my self-image. 

The livelihoods of my team depend on my health and wellness to keep the business going. Because of this, I view it with an even greater level of responsibility to take care of myself.

Some benefits of choosing an alcohol-free lifestyle have helped me reduce brain fog, improve my memory, and lower my cancer risks. I’ve also lost excess body fat and have felt better about myself as a result. One new habit led me to another, so I’m also eating better.

And, since I’m not under the influence, I’m less at risk of doing or saying something that would embarrass me or lead to regrets.

5. Cutting booze helped me to improve my relationship with my partner. 

As excerpted from this CNN article on CEOs and marriage, ”Marriages and businesses fail for similar reasons.”

Dr. Peter Pearson, a co-founder of The Couples Institute in Silicon Valley, cites three of those reasons for failure:

”You don’t learn from past experience. You don’t adapt to changing conditions today. And you ignore warning signs and therefore fail to prevent future problems.”

I don’t know about you, but drinking and bickering always seem to go hand in hand for Emily (my wife) and me. Now that I’m sober, I recognize that I could be quite annoying when I was drinking!

Going alcohol-free for me has included some inner work and learning about alcohol and the brain. This self-work has helped me learn from past experiences and adapt within my relationship and my business. I’ve changed my perspective and discovered tools and tactics to better care for my own mental health and the emotional well-being of my partner, too.

I firmly believe I am a better leader because of my relationship with Emily. When I quit drinking, she was very supportive. She also cut back, and we’ve had fun trying various non-alcoholic beers and cocktails together. Removing alcohol from my equation has given me the space to work on myself and grow. I’m fortunate that Emily is always committed to keep growing, too. (She has been my inspiration in this area since the first day we met.)

6. I am more often present and fully in tune with the moment. 

Since quitting alcohol, I have gained a greater awareness of myself and how others respond to my words and behaviors. It’s in our human nature to think about things other than what we are currently doing and to think about our next response rather than truly listening. Through my quitting journey, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how much we can enrich our lives and the lives of others by being mentally and emotionally present in the moment.

I’ve found myself having more patience and curiosity with others who think differently from me, and my empathy for others has also increased.

7. Going alcohol-free reinforces positive habitual routines and goal-tracking. 

When I first started this journey, I began by choosing to become a conscientious drinker – meaning, I didn’t expect to quit, just to become more aware of when, how much, and why I chose to drink. I downloaded the ReframeApp, a drink tracker with learnings based in neuroscience, to bring awareness to my consumption and to learn about how alcohol affects my brain.

I started tracking my drinks, workouts, and sleep, and then I built myself a habit tracker using Notion to understand better how my daily habits and activities affect my overall well-being. I track life goals, work goals, travel goals, and more. My team is also using Align software to track goals and tasks each quarter. Tracking has become a very big part of my life, and as I’ve continued to track various goals and activities, I have learned that this level of discipline has improved all aspects of my life.

If you are a sober-curious leader and have questions as you consider a cutback or quitting journey, check out the ReframeApp (here’s a referral link for a free one-month trial) and feel free to contact me. I will gladly share my experience with you.

Oh, and if you are in Austin and know where I can find the best non-alcoholic cocktails, I accept recommendations! 🙂 (My fave is the Pineapple Mockerita at High Noon on E. Cesar Chavez.)

Amber Gray

Amber Gray is the founder and CEO of Trusty Oak, an Austin-based virtual assistant company providing administrative and marketing support to small business leaders, authors, and creative teams. A people-first approach to hiring, along with a scalable growth model have positioned Trusty Oak as a flexible, dependable, and affordable alternative to hiring administrative and marketing employees. In 2021 and 2022, Trusty Oak was named Freelancer Hiring Platform of the Year, and in 2021 Amber was recognized as Austin Business Woman of the Year.

Before founding Trusty Oak, Amber spent five years at a rapidly growing digital agency based in Austin, TX. Four of those years, she was responsible for hiring and leading both local and virtual teams while working closely with clients ranging from CEOs to bestselling authors to build their brand online. As VP of Operations, Amber helped lead the company’s growth to #15 on Austin Business Journal’s Fast50 List in 2014.

As a female founder and leader of a company that has quickly established a recognizably special culture within a non-traditional workforce, Amber has energized and empowered women from diverse professional and personal backgrounds to go against the grain of historically standard female roles in business, technology, and leadership. Trusty Oak provides an opportunity for experienced admin and marketing professionals to work independently as freelancers, but with a supportive internal network consisting of other ambitious and resourceful remote workers.

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