I make non-alcoholic drinks for a living, but a bear inspired me to opt out of Dry January. Here's why.
By Jason LaValla | December 30, 2021
I saw a bear in the woods the other day, up ahead on the path I was walking. Both of us were hiking through the mid-December cold, but the bear looked relaxed, making careful preparations to hibernate for the winter.
I felt anything but relaxed, still deep within the anxious flurry of the holiday season, and only weeks away from New Year's Resolutions and the sudden shifts we're supposed to make for health challenges like Dry January.
Dry January is a big time of year for us, and for everyone making better non-alcoholic drinks. But still that bear made me wonder if there isn't a better way to think about moderating and abstaining from alcohol.
What is Dry January and Why Doesn't It Work for Me?
The Fall Transition vs. New Year’s Resolutions and Dry January
Bears go through an activity and hibernation cycle every year that looks a bit like our own annual cycle, with one major difference.
The bear starts its year with a period of low activity called denning or hibernation. But in between normal activity and hibernation, there are two phases. First comes a season of increased heart rates, high stress, and overeating called hyperphagia. It’s a way to fatten up before a long winter, but it sounds a lot like the holiday season to me.
While I was in the midst of our human version of hyperphagia, middling through the excess and overindulgence of the holidays, the bear I saw was past its version of the holidays. It was clear from how slowly and intentionally the bear moved that it had already shifted into the next phase, a slower phase. Not quite hibernation, but an in-between phase called the “fall transition.” For the bear, that mostly means eating less and drinking a lot of water as it prepares for the hard reset of hibernation.
But for us humans, there is no slow, thoughtful "fall transition" into our next phase. We cap off the high stress of the holiday season by gathering in sequins and non-stretch waistbands, watching Ryan Seacrest on network television (RIP Dick Clark), and resolving to be better people in the New Year. Then the next day, we expect to make a hard reset with aspirational New Year’s Resolutions, crash diets, unused gym memberships, and a cold turkey approach to not drinking.
Rather than jumping directly from the excess of hyperphagia to hard reset of hibernation, I wonder if we could learn something from the bear and adopt its fall transition for ourselves.
“Hard Resets” Don’t Always Work
By now you probably know that most people don’t stick to their New Year’s resolutions. This is despite the fact that setting goals based on “temporal landmarks” like the beginning of a new year make it a lot easier to get started. It allows people to imagine themselves as a new person – separate from their old, imperfect self.
But when we wake up on New Year’s Day, we’re often faced with the same person we’ve always been, laden with the same frailties and imperfections that make us human in the first place.
Dry January Is Great for Some
In some ways, the Dry January challenge helps solve this problem and for many people it works great. With a finite, shared goal that thousands of people can each work toward at once – “let’s all go one month without drinking” – no one has to become a new person to achieve it, and everyone can rely on each other for support.
For some it can be a great shared experience of rebalancing the scales, and “resetting” your drinking, not to mention cutting calories and spending. And if you’re considering cutting out alcohol completely, Dry January can be a great first step at a time when you’re likely to get fewer questions about why you’re not drinking.
But like any crash diet, Dry January can set up some for failure, where one “cheat” drink turns into an excuse to abandon the goal entirely.
The Leisurely Transition: A more holistic, transitional approach
We appreciate the bear’s “fall transition” into hibernation, and think it’s the perfect model for humans like us who see changing habits as a slower, more intentional process.
The New Year has always been about letting one season fall away, and entering the next one with a bit more clarity. But we rarely give ourselves the time and space to do it right. You don’t have to decide on December 31st – after a frenzy of holiday activity – what kind of person you want to be for the next year, let alone the next month. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with taking the entire month of January to decide. I call it my leisurely transition.
Setting Sustainable Goals for the New Year
If taking time off drinking feels right on January 1st, then do it. But pay attention to how you feel on January 2nd, and every day after. If you slip up and have a drink on January 8th, that doesn’t mean you failed. Making change is hard, and never linear. If you’re having more difficulty than you expected, tell a friend or loved one, or use one of the resources we listed above – whether it feels like a crisis or not. The lines are open 24/7 for a reason.
Most importantly, you can reassess your priorities as you go, noticing what makes you feel good and bad. You can give yourself the whole month to decide what it is you need to change to be the person you want to be in the year to come. When one-size-fits-all doesn’t quite fit, you can make something new that does.
Plus if January 31st rolls around and you decide you want to take a month off drinking, we’ll still be here for you in February.
Jason LaValla is the founder of Casamara Club, making fun, refreshing non-alcoholic drinks for whenever you want to feel special... in January and all year long.