Test your knowledge of fascinating facts and curious details about alcohol and us, as explored in the groundbreaking book Alcohol Companion.
“Losers”, an eight part series on Netflix, offers welcome and uplifting insight into the rich rewards of failing.
There are hardly any winners among us so it is extraordinary the extent to which they hog our attention.
The exceptional is curious and curiosity attracts audiences, but making an exception a media staple makes for an exceptionally warped outlook.
Comparing our running to Usain Bolt’s, our business to Warren Buffett’s or writing to Mark Twain’s is a recipe for feeling pretty ordinary.
There are necessarily 99.999%, or more, losers in most rankings, most of which we never even get a chance to join.
It is inaccurate and harmful to believe we operate in a meritocracy. Luck plays the largest part in any success we have.
Redressing the balance
“Losers” helps by telling the story of sportspeople who were near the top of their field, but were lucky enough to miss the number one spot.
It offers joyful tales of the suboptimal from boxers, ice skaters, dog sledders, curlers, ultra runners, footballers, golfers and basketball players.
Being denied the pinnacle in one narrow area, we learn, is often a helpful reminder its pursuit comes at the expense of other things.
French ice skater Surya Bonaly (right) found it impossible to secure Olympic gold, I knew. The fact she prospered afterwards, I did not.
So the heroic failures in this series led to new types of goal and new forms of success, typically better than being breifly number one.
Dominant winners will typically only get this chance when they get over the hill. Losers get this chance handed to us early.
Our dedications are praised, while our addictions are often scorned, but they can be seen as two sides of the same coin.
Dedication to something, just like an addiction, can obscure the negative effects it can have. Losing is a lucky chance to take stock.
“Losers” offers a range of inspiring and engaging stories about how our misfortunes can turn into new kinds of winning.
Point-scoring helps keep us entertained and motivated, but is an extremely unreliable measure of success. ■
This episode: We should not be surprised alcohol harms poorer people so much more; Toasting brewing giants’ alcohol-free successes. And the unique challenges of alcohol’s popularity. And the unlikely comforts of cold showers.
– Book and resources
– Poorer Scots 13 times more likely to be treated for alcohol-related psychiatric disorders
– The unique challenge posed by alcohol’s popularity
– Finding joy in cold showers
“If you are trying to change your approach alcohol and feel a bit out of place in the world, little wonder. It isn’t just you. This is alcohol’s unique challenge, which is not matched by other drugs, which do not stir such near-universal affection.”
What I thought were eccentricities born of writing a book on alcohol turn out to be a “thing”—a thing called the Wim Hof Method.
It is surprisingly easy to slip into a daily routine that, on first impression, might not seem out of place in a Victorian lunatic asylum.
I had learned regular deep, diaphragm breathing and breath-holding exercises can calm our nervous systems. So I did them.
And an intrepid friend lured me into distinctly nippy sea swimming off Brighton, having a clear mood-boosting and soothing effect.
It tallied with some research suggesting cold water exposure might also help downshift our nervous systems.
Sea-less, I improvised with cold showers, applying the key pro tip of starting slowly and, above all, relaxing.
The connection to my book is that these methods may help tackle two common drivers of alcohol consumption, anxiety and low mood.
A bid to overcome these two are among the most common reasons we choose to drink alcohol. Fine, except it makes them worse.
Knowing this gives a strong motive to look for new ways to soothe our woes, one or two might actually work.
Like for Tigger, it is our ability to bounce which seems to make us feel sustained happiness, not simply accumulating highs.
More than any one thing, for me this has meant making a habit of saying Yes to things which might add some boing.
Less than outlandish
After outlining my penchant for heavy breathing and cold showers over coffee the other day, I expected at least a raised eyebrow.
But, no, far from being taken aback, my companion just said, “Oh, you mean the Wim Hof Method?” I was a little crestfallen.
It turns I had concocted a homespun version of a routine popularised by Dutch daredevil Wim Hof, who has ascended Everest in just shorts.
The official routine involves more vigorous breathing and a super-long breath hold. Mine was over three minutes this morning.
And the cold exposure is longer than mine was too, as one might expect from a record-breaking “
Gearing up my homespun routine using the new method has lead to some noticeable improvements.
On a scale of one to ten, where ten is running around, arms in the air, my anxiety/gloom level was about four. Now it’s about three.
One thing missing from any self-made regime is the support and community. It is good to be part of an actual thing now.
As an outrider to Wim Hofers worldwide I will take heart from
It is great to know similar ideas and inspiration land and grow in separate places, and can come together and reinforce one another.
Cold water and breathing exercises, Hof or otherwise, are by no means a unique way to boost our bounce.
But what is perhaps special is their
The science which grows up around this type of practice will surely help explain and increase their effectiveness.
My guess is the mood boost comes from pain relievers our bodies release to counteract the cold, rather as they do in strenuous exercise.
We might also be cheered by notch up an achievements. And the calming effect may come from learning to suppress our alarm response.
The long breath hold and the water may also help trigger our innate water diving responses which could low our nervous responess.
It may not actually stop us getting ill, as some claim it does, but they may well help us endure the symptoms. That would be good enough.
We should also be alert to potential downsides too. Being more resilient is great, but not everything. Sensitivity has a place too.
After trying it for a full 31 day I can see enough upsides to continue to invest the 20 minutes it requires most days, if not every day.
My goal is not to explore extremes or test my limits, but I am more than happy to defy my initial wariness to harness the positives. ■
What next after Dry January?; Welcome news of the possible return of guideline labelling in the UK; And why alcohol is an important subject. Links mentioned
– Alcohol Companion book and resources
– Why it’s worth considering carrying on after Dry January
– Guideline labelling’s welcome return in the UK
– Support independent alcohol journalism
This would be, arguably, a very good time to ensure we have a way to show compassion at our fingertips, but there is currently no emoji for it.
We have all had a friend text us and say they had some bad news. This is the time to show sympathy and compassion, right?
A comforting hug is one way to show it. But, as it is, the only hug on offer in the emoji lexicon is grinning (right).
It does not fit the scenario. Someone in distress is not going to appreciate a hug from someone smiling from ear to ear.
The answer is a new “compassionate hug” emoji, like the mock-up in the main picture (top), combining a hug with a concerned face.
Perhaps it is just me? But, if there is wider demand for this new hieroglyph, it could be proposed to the emoji committee.
This is, arguably, a very good time to ensure an ability to show compassion and sympathy is at
Visit my new Patreon page to support my ongoing work on transforming our relationship with alcohol. ■
After a Dry
If we normally drink regularly the last few weeks of not drinking (or nearly) are likely to have brought significant positive changes.
We will typically notice improved overall mood, lower anxiety, clearer thinking, better recall, and improved sleep, on top of sizable cash savings.
These are significant benefits worth retaining. They are also things which often improve more if we stick to a low-risk drinking pattern long-term.
They often improve for months, up to a year or more. And the first few weeks of low-risk drinking are often the hardest. So why waste them?
Carrying on can also help stabilise our mood and resilience, and help
Sticking to under 14 UK units (140ml) of alcohol a week is typically enough to have this effect, but only if we do so consistently.
Many of us find consistent low-risk drinking is more easily achieved if we do not drink at all, part of what makes Dry January a sound investment.
Why change a winning strategy, particularly one which gets easier over time? An arid February and parched March will cement our gains.
If we do try an alcoholic drink, this is also a chance to see it from a new perspective. Just one drink can spark a fitful night’s sleep in some.
For many of us, Dry January offers a unique chance to make a clear, positive choice around alcohol and gain personal insight.
Banking the hard-won gains of taking this opportunity and enjoying the positives for the long term is at least worth considering. ■
So it is welcome news that the government is pressing for the official guidelines to return in September (see video), albeit two years after they were quietly dropped.
It seems extraordinary that robust, scientific information about the safe consumption of a product could ever
If official health guidelines do reappear on labels in September, as the government hopes, some can be forgiven for looking back and wondering whether self-regulation is an effective way to safeguard consumers?
The responsibility for such concerns about the current system of regulation lies with the alcohol industry. ■