I recently partook in Tim Ferriss’s NOBNOM challenge for the month of August – no booze or masturbation allowed. The challenge intrigued me because these are two activities done reflexively without thinking, yet can become powerful negative addictions if indulged wantonly. Just like true alcoholics, everyone says “I can stop whenever, but I don’t want to.” Thus NOBNOM was a perfect chance for me to test exactly that over the course of a month.
And so I signed up to track my progress with Lift, a habit tracking app. I quickly found that while I could successfully avoid both proclivities every day, I was not as good as logging that fact with Lift every day, despite it’s incessant (and annoying) push remainders to do so. (Indeed the whole challenge was a clever onboarding hack for Lift, which Tim advises. See the Tim Ferriss effect.)
Even though checking in was one big easy button, and even though you’d get ‘Props’ from other users on your accomplishments – I just couldn’t fit the act into my daily routine. I didn’t care what strangers thought about my achievement, I just wanted to do it for myself. This need to unobtrusively track offline activities is the problem all lifelogging apps face – since not all of us are meticulous personal historians like Nicholas Feltron.
Anyway, Lift aside, I found that the simple knowledge of the challenge was enough to quell most urges. Normally I have no reason not to indulge, and thus do so without much thought, but for this month there was a secondary ‘No, you can’t, it’s NOBNOM’. And that was that. The simple presence of the challenge and my public participation in it was enough to hold me off, even though nobody would know if I snuck in one or two breaches. Here’s some thoughts on each aspect:
There were a few close calls here, mostly within that half hour before bed when you can’t fall asleep and have nothing to distract yourself with. Usually I would try to channel it to nonfiction reading for personal growth and to make me more tired. But it was very tempting to give up in order to get short term payoff (fleeting pleasure and sleep) at the cost of long term betterment (self discipline and time).
I won’t detail the effects on my libido here since this is a professional blog, (the web claims there’s all sort of health benefits like higher testosterone, higher ambition, and so forth) but I did feel like there were upwards effects in stamina and confidence. It could have been the placebo effect, though.
The drinking aspect was surprisingly easy. I had been thinking about quitting alcohol after reading stories like that of James Swanwick and Sam Parr, who cite many positive changes, but again, there was no external reason for me to do so. Now there was NOBNOM, and the presence of a scapegoat I could blame as an excuse to my friends proved to be enough. I only drink socially anyway, and so the whole month boiled down to only a few social moments in bars with friends where I’d have to stand strong again the social pressure. My friends respected it, I was still out with them, and it really wasn’t as big of a deal as past me had made it out to be. As long as you have a drink in your hand, you can fit in with the buds – and a nonalcoholic drink is almost preferable, what with the positive effects on the wallet, your mindset, and the morning after.
In the weeks since August ended I’ve only drank twice; with two beers to fit in with friends each time. And it felt horrible the next morning. It was incredible how low my tolerance had become after the abstinent month – and I find that now the results don’t justify the means. I’ve never truly enjoyed the taste of alcohol to be honest; I just binge drank in college to get drunk.
So from now on I’m going to try avoiding unnecessary beers whenever possible, barring sips from new flavors here and there. The confidence is all in your head, and NOBNOM taught me that if you can stick to your promise, the real confidence is much preferable to the liquid kind. You just have to excommunicate the option of drinking entirely.
So why was NOBNOM a legitimate reason? I hazard that is was my conviction to stay true to something larger than myself. This may be the same conviction that grips nationalists and religious fanatics, who place the needs of a ‘greater power’ above their own needs for life or personal liberty (or a cold beer). Add in fellow adherents for group strength and repercussions for failure and you’ve got yourself the same recipe. Though in this case the only repercussion was letting yourself down – Tim’s money prize wasn’t even enough to keep my checking in on Lift. What do you think are the minimum requirements towards getting someone to stick to something?
The lack of NOBNOM going forward means I’ll have to find another greater power to keep me going – assuming I decide to continue. I don’t regard masturbation or social drinking in moderation as truly harmful, but they are insidious distractions from other, better uses of my time. And it is another great way to build self discipline (which is strengthened like a muscle), which is important to me.
So we’ll see how it goes in the future. But at least this NOBNOM has taught me that yes, I really can stop if I want to. That fact alone, and the accompanying self respect upon success, has made it worthwhile for me. I encourage all to try cutting out something you think is needed from your life and see what happens (although you don’t need to be as serious as Leo Babuta, who experiments with going without big things like sitting, computers, or cell phones.)