Experiment Wrap-up: Water-only April

For all three of you keeping score at home, my April experiment was to drink nothing* but water — with a couple of cheat allowances built in.

Was it a success? Hells yes.

Does that mean I didn’t sneak in a couple of extra cheats over the course of the month? Actually yes I did — but that doesn’t make the experiment a failure… in fact in this case those cheats were essential to the learning I hoped to gain from this experiment.

To recap, I wanted to find out:

  • Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
  • How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
  • Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
  • Any effect on my waistline?

So What Did We Learn?

Was it hard: easier than I expected.

It’s so much better to try on a change for a month than it is to attempt to alter your life FOREVER with a new year’s resolution… c’mon, you can do anything for a few weeks, right?

In addition, I employed the mind hack of removing choice by going with “water only” rather than specifically saying “no caffeine or alcohol”. Even though in my life these two mean the same thing, it put liquids into the category of “don’t have to think about it for even a second”. If instead I let myself debate several times a day whether to have water, juice, caffeine-free soda OH MAN I REALLY WANT A DIET DEW — see how that happens? When you put it into the don’t-think-about-it category instead, it’s way easier to stick to a new habit. I’ll write more about that trick soon because it’s a powerful way to hack your life.

Energy: bit less afternoon lag, but not a world of difference. On one of my cheat days, though, I had a large soda at lunch time. I’ve read that caffeine leaves your body almost entirely within 8 hours, but that night was NOT a good one for sleeping. YMMV, of course; but through careful observation this month I’ve realized that I’m way more sensitive to caffeine than I had thought. If I had to guess, your sleep may be more affected by it than you think. Worth experimenting, I’d say.

Productivity: not much change, actually. I am a bit surprised by this; thought I would be able to squeeze in a couple extra hours of creative work this way, but it turns out that — currently — external forces are much more of a limit than my own energy levels. I only manage to get about 2 productive hours in a day right now, which is truly disheartening.

Waistline: yes, I think. I did just hit 161 lbs which is a total loss of just over 10% from my recent high of 180. But there are a lot of factors at play there; so I credit not-drinking (and the accompanying reduction in late night snacking) with perhaps 50% of the credit.

Now What?

As I said above, the experiment was a smashing success. I learned great stuff about myself, and more importantly I changed my internal default. Defaults are a huge thing. Perhaps the single most important life hack there is… which reminds me that I really must write about defaults at length soon.

Before, my default was to indulge in caffeine and alcohol more or less at random. If the mood struck and I didn’t feel too bad about it (wow; 2pm I really can’t risk another soda… or wow that’s been several days in a row maybe not today) I would fill and empty my glass with abandon.

Now my default is to just reach for water. There are definitely times where I go for something stronger in either direction — but it will be a conscious choice and thus easier to indulge with balance.

Your Homework

If you’ve read this far, thanks! What I would love for you to do, though, is to give this a try… pick something that you want to drop or add, and give yourself a month to try it on for size. Decide up front what cheats you will allow (I’d recommend giving yourself one day off per week, say on Saturdays, as a mental edge.) and really commit to it.

Don’t tell yourself “I can’t do this thing I want to do”… just smile and say “I’m not doing that this month” and see how much easier it is to demote that habit from a controlling force to a minor nag. After the month is up, if you decide to stick with it wholesale, fantastic! If you choose, thoughtfully, to go back to your prior habits, fine. But like me you may end up going for something in the middle; turning it back into an occasional treat rather than a salve… and no better way than to put it out in the cold for a month then welcome it back in on your own terms.

Now where’s that rum?


* Up front, I decided that if I was at a social event with drinking I’d have one. That happened a couple of times, and I found it very easy to stick with just one. I also specified that I might have soda water if desperate for something fizzy; that didn’t happen, but I did have a couple of sodas this month in times of “need some bubbles” which lead to increased learning — so not a bad thing, from an experimental point of view. On the “bad” side, I have had a few nightcaps in the past two weeks in moments of stress. While not what I was originally shooting for, it was still useful to see how going from almost-every-night to nothing to on-occasion worked in practice; would I slide down the proverbial slippery slope back to almost-every-night? Happily, the answer is no.