October is the perfect month to launch into a health and wellness challenge like Sober October – the darker nights are setting in, your motivation for healthy habits naturally wanes a little, and you can see the excesses of the holiday season on the horizon.
Those are some of the reasons I committed to a Sober October challenge this year.
Frankly, I was doing okay with my fitness but had fallen into some bad habits. Like many, I’ve spent a lot of 2020 pretty much at home, and the nightly ritual of a can of beer or glass of whisky was deeply embedded in my routine.
One of the great things about Sober October is that, other than that one rule – no booze for 31 days – you can pretty much tack on any other healthy habit or goal you can think of.
Here, I’m going to walk you through how to do a Sober October challenge, the Sober October rules you should define, tips for ensuring you follow through, and some ideas for the healthy habits you might want to think about cultivating.
I’ll also share my experiences as well as those of a few other Sober October Practitioners along the way.
Let’s jump in!
What Is Sober October?
Sober October is a 31-day challenge during which participants abstain from alcohol, and often add on other fitness or wellness-based goals – which they often track using journals or activity tracking devices. It often includes a fundraising element, but some people just do it as a personal challenge.
You can apply the same principles to a Dry January month too!
The idea of having a dry October challenge originated in Australia about a decade ago, with the charity Life Education launched Ocsober. More recently, the Macmillan Cancer Support charity in the UK has raised a lot of money through their Go Sober For October (now re-named Sober October) challenges.
Sober October has become more mainstream in the last couple of years, thanks largely to public figures like Joe Rogan holding challenges with his friends and encouraging his followers to partake (search Youtube for Sober October JRE for a few videos recapping their challenge).
The Sober October Rules Explained
One thing I love about a Sober October Challenge is that there’s no corporation or public body telling you what your Sober October should look like – you get to decide the rules.
The only rule that you need to follow, of course, is to not drink alcohol for the 31 days of October.
If you want to then add on further challenges, it’s up to you – but I thoroughly recommend it.
Some people simply stick with the 31-day sobriety challenge.
Sober October is not just an excuse to give your body a break from booze for a month, it’s an opportunity to commit to 31 days of getting better – be it at exercise, mindfulness, disconnecting from your device . . . later I’ll share some ideas for your own Sober October Challenge.
Why Do a Sober October?
For many, a Sober October Challenge is just a great time to ‘reset‘ on their own terms.
There are a whole bunch of health benefits from cutting out booze for a month, including possibly:
- Better energy levels
- Better sleep
- Stronger immune system
- Better, more balanced mood
- Clarity of thought
- Reduction in anxiety
- Less likely to get drunk at the office party and be the subject of some hilarious / embarrassing photos
- People will think you’re the boss when you tell them you’re exercising some self-control for a month and cutting out booze.
I did my Sober October purely for selfish reasons – I wanted to cut the cord on my nightly boozing habit, and have a reason to commit to a short fitness challenge.
Others do Sober October to raise money for their chosen charity.
Jenell Reiser of the True North Collective, sums up her reasons:
“I wanted to stop numbing out, distracting myself, and using “shortcuts” to alter my emotional state.
I also was sick of waking up and being mad at myself for feeling hungover or not fully recovered or for eating all the carbs in my drunken state. I found that I wasn’t drinking alcohol for myself but because it was the default choice, it made it easier to socialize, because everyone else does and I didn’t want to feel left out.
I wanted to manage my emotional state without an external “shortcut” or bandaid. I wanted to wake up feeling good and hydrated. I wanted to start making choices for me regardless of what everyone else was doing. I wanted to stop being on autopilot and live a more intentional life.”
Challenge Yourself This Sober October: Ideas for Challenges
There are a bunch of different challenges you can add on to a Sober October month – the most common ones typically fall into three categories;
- 1. Fitness Challenges
- 2. Healthy Eating and Diet Challenges
- 3. Mental Wellbeing and Productivity Challenges
Here are some suggestions for 31-day challenges you can complete:
#1: Exercise Every Day
This is a great catch-all fitness challenge that is bound to get you results, and it’s fairly easy to stick to.
For my Sober October, I committed to 30 minutes of hard exercise (running, gym work) each day. I would do a David Goggins-style Nickel and Dime workout for 15 minutes, followed by gym work or a run.
I often found that I’d do way more than 30 minutes – in fact, my average exercise time during October was 55 minutes a day. Just telling myself I had to do only 30 minutes made everything easier – it’s an easily-attainable goal.
#2: Walk 15,000 Steps Every Day
15,000 steps will take you around two hours to complete at a comfortable pace.
That sounds like a lot, but if you begin to look for ways to factor walking into your routine, you’ll soon find it adds up. Go for groceries, take your kids for a walk, use the time to catch up with family and friends over the phone . . . once you cultivate a walking habit, you’ll soon find you’re racking up the steps.
And the benefits of walking a lot are ridiculous. Loads of famous thinkers and artists also attribute their best ideas to tking long walks.
If 15,000 steps seem like a lot, aim for 8 – 10,000 – the idea is to set a daily goal that you’re likely to surpass rather than struggle to hit.
#3: Develop a Running Habit
Running is one of the simplest and most effective forms of exercise you can do.
It’s a form of cardiovascular exercise that gets the blood flowing, it takes minimal gear, and you can do it almost anywhere.
And October is usually a great month to get outdoors and get a sweat on!
Healthy Eating Challenges
Another great way to exploit your Sober October Challenge is to adopt a healthy eating or diet challenge.
You’re already cutting out booze, so it’s actually not that much more work to cut out some other crap!
Whether you want to go without sugar, or eat more whole foods, Sober October is a good way to do it.
After all, you can commit to anything for 31 days. It’s not that long.
This past October, as well a staying sober I adopted the keto diet (see my recap: Adventures in Distance Running and Ketosis). It wasn’t always easy, but committing to a self-experiment with being in ketosis and measuring its effects on my distance running abilities gave my challenge some purpose, which made it easier to stick to.
Mindfulness and Mental Wellbeing Challenges
Another awesome use of Sober October is to commit to a 31-day mindfulness or mental wellbeing challenge.
Here are a few ideas:
#1: Meditate Every Day
The benefits of meditation are well-documented, and are known to bleed into every other aspect of your life.
So use your October to commit to 31 days of meditation. How?
A daily meditation need only be 10 minutes long.
#2: Ditch The Devices
Why not commit to a 31-day challenge to use your devices less?
Here’s some ideas:
- Set limits on your daily screentime allowance
- Don’t take your phone to bed with you – if it makes it to the bedroom, it needs to be in aeroplane mode
- Delete social media apps from your smartphone – just commit to checking those channels once or twice per day, from your computer.
#3: Start a Productivity Habit
I’m a big fan of the book Deep Work, and believe that our ability to block out distractions and get down to meaningful work has a huge impact on our productivity, and general wellbeing.
Start to measure how much time you spend on uninterrupted work.
Keep a journal.
Set goals and track your progress.
With booze out of the way, you’ll find yourself surprisingly clear-minded during October – and might be able to achieve more than you expected.
How To Track Your Habits
To make sure you follow through and stick with your Sober October Challenge, it’s important that you have some way of recording your progress and daily habits.
Method 1 – Use a Journal
For some people, a simple journal or notebook is all they need. They can mark off every day as they complete it, and this forms a habit chain they won’t want to break.
Method 2 – Accountability via Social Media or Reddit groups
I found that sharing my Sober October workouts on my Instagram page (@marathonhandbook) was good motivation – I knew people were checking out my progress, and if I missed a day some of my friends would likely notice and call me out.
Method 3 – Activity Tracker
For activity-based habits like workouts, running, and walking, an activity tracker is an awesome tool that is hard to beat.
Joe Rogan and cohorts famously all wore Whoop straps for Sober October 2019, tracking their Strain, Recovery, and Sleep and measuring their progress across the month.
Whoop straps (who I’m not affiliated with) seem to be a pretty awesome way of tracking your overall wellbeing. One feature I like is that they don’t need to be charged – instead, you change the battery. This means the strap can track you 24/7.
I use my Apple Watch to track my activities – it’s a good catch-all that can track my running, workouts, walking, and rest.
My Sober October Experience
My most recent Sober October experience went pretty well.
The first few days were a bit shaky without booze – in the evenings, when I’d usually reach for a beer I instead just had some water. Initially it felt like something was missing, but that soon passed.
The excitement of the challenge, however, kept me motivated to stick to my workouts, and even when I was going through keto adaptation I found a 30 minute activity was achievable.
As the month went on, I was surprised by how the challenge actually gave me energy – I was more motivated at work, with household chores, and with my workouts.
When the 1st of November finally rolled around, I’d set up a date with my girlfriend at a decent restaurant to celebrate the end of the challenge. I had a couple of beers and mountains of bread and pasta . . . and felt kinda dissatisfied by the end of the meal. I had been looking forward to my return to booze and carbs, but frankly, I realized that the 31-day challenge had effectively staved me off them.
Now, as I write this, I’m 3 weeks past the end of the challenge, and my habit of having a beer every evening hasn’t quite returned. I’m back to having a couple a week when the mood strikes, but the Sober October challenge seems to have worked as a ‘hard reset’ on my reliance to drinking booze!
Tips For Nailing Your Sober October
Tip #1: Be Accountable
The number one thing you need to do during Sober October is stick to it – if you slip up one day, your challenge is over.
So some system of accountability can help with this – as I’ve mentioned above, you might want to journal or share your progress on social media so your buddies know you’re doing it.
Or have a calendar on the wall and mark off each day at the end of the day – small things like this form habit loops, and mean you’re more likely to follow through.
Tip #2: Do It With Friends
Probably the best way to ensure you stick with Sober October is to do your challenge with a few friends … as long as they’re not flakey. When friends are sharing progress – or better, competing – you’ll be more incentivized to follow through on your challenge, and it brings a social element to the challenge too where it gives you something to think about.
Tip#3: Find Alternatives To Your Usual Habits
Jenell from the True North Collective says “I drink Kombucha, club soda, and other non-alcoholic drinks in the same glass I’d drink my alcohol in. It seems to trick the mind and mirror the appearance of drinking to prevent social pressure from friends or family. It also allows me to feel like I am participating in the activity of drinking.”
Tip #4: Get Your Household Onboard
Whether you’re just abstaining from alcohol for a month, or committing to some zany diet that will fill your fridge with nothing but broccoli, the Sober October Challenge is easier when other members of your household are supporting you.
Take the time to explain to them that this challenge is about making you healthier, ask for them to support you, and explain any of the weirder behaviour they might witness over the month (whether it’s 5am meditations or kale smoothies).
If you’re adopting a weird diet for the month, offer to cook for them at least a couple of times per week – or buy their dinner – so they don’t suffer too much from sharing the house with a crazy person.
It all makes your month smoother, so you’re more likely to stick to it.
Tip #5: Make Note of Your Progress
As your Sober October Challenge progresses, you’ll very likely notice some positive side effects of your new habits.
You’ll probably feel better, sleep better, be happier, less stressed, and enjoying life more. You might even look better when you check yourself out in the mirror!
Take a moment to acknowledge these benefits – write them down somewhere, as they’re easy to forget over time. Once you’ve solidified the results of your efforts, it’s easier to keep going with them.
Tip #6: Plan Your Escape!
The whole point of Sober October is that it lasts only 31 days, which means that from day one you can start looking forward to that meal on the 1st November when you booze, smoke, or eat whatever you want!
By half-way through my Sober October, I already knew exactly which restaurant I was headed to on the 1st November and had picked out what I was going to eat. I spent over 2 weeks visualizing it!
Share Your Experience!
If you’ve got Sober October advice, share it below! I’d love to hear it!!