Sean O’Connor: The things I gained when I gave up the things I thought I needed in life

Change, sometimes, mean getting rid of the chains that are holding us back, whether they are age-old habits and rituals, or emotional attachments that keep us in our zone of comfort. Going cold turkey isn’t easy, but it can be good for you too.

Sean O'Connor, life, change, old habits

By Sean O’Connor

Will a decision to end certain behaviours change my life, and bring me closer to my family? The answer, to me, is not obvious.

Famous for starting things but not finishing them, I know that a simple act of will might not be enough. After all, it has taken me a lifetime to develop my habits, and it will take a long time to unpick and replace them.

Dismayed by the creeping familiarity of familial disconnect with my teenage children, I treat any epiphany or flash of inspiration about who I want us to be with disdain.

My hopeful insights soon disappear under waves of reality and wifi connections, the banality of modern life. I acknowledge that I’m hardwired, doomed to the same old same old. My kids seem set on their path.

I realise I’m putting myself under a lot of pressure, and ask myself – what if I don’t have to follow through? Just start something? If, listening to Bob Marley’s words, I manage to close one door for long enough, what others might open?

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So I did an experiment. Tempted by the glut of sport on TV, I realised that too many hours were spent in front of the box watching mindless iterations of the same game, over and over. This was my own fix, like my children’s screentime.

Seven match one-day cricket series, entire tennis tournaments, several weekend doses of rugby, I tracked teams I didn’t much enough about, but which somehow held me in their thrall. I was far down the rabbit hole.

Tracking league tables, each game impacted not just on overall standings but my own sense of self-worth, foresight and acumen. I was pouring my eyeballs and brain into a fuzzy bowl of statistics and saggy armchair analysis. In this hyper-abundance, each game gradually mattered less and less. Still, I couldn’t pull away. I had to pull the cord, and say – enough!

I went cold turkey and got rid of the TV. With this enforced, sudden change, a vast terrain of opportunity opened up. Instead of being glued to the sofa, I sought out my kids, and negotiated time with them. We went out, in the brief aperture a new opening door provided, and started to enjoy the many things my neighbourhood and city had to offer.

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I thought I was giving up televised sport. Instead, I was finding my kids. I started writing more, and enjoyed gardening on Saturday afternoons. And I’ve never looked back. Did the Springboks win? I really have no idea.

I’m free of the self-imposed tyranny of caring. I can tune in when I want to. I’m bemused by traffic on match days and give a supercilious internal shrug when my dear brother-in-law is pulled away from his family to watch a game. I guess it’s what he needs to do. I’ve got my weekends back. To each their own.

Buying things I thought I needed has also ended up on the pile of discarded habits. I decided never to go to shopping malls, unless absolutely necessary. As with TV sports, I realised that with my wardrobe, enough was enough.

I forwent buying any clothing for a year, content with my few T-shirts, two jerseys, jacket, three pairs of trousers and favourite shoes. I needed some undies, so bought those. That habit has remained. My cupboard today remains pretty bare. But for me, it’s full.

I no longer wonder what l should wear. I know. The seconds and micro-seconds I’ve saved add up into hours and days.

Giving up drinking alcohol was harder, and something I needed help with. I attend AA meetings regularly, have a sponsor and am benefitting from the gifts of sobriety. Like many other things in life, after a glorious run, I decided that I’d had enough. Simple.

Many people are turning to sobriety without the need for rehab treatment or the AA. It can be done. For me, who often ingested more than was reasonable or sensible, an abrupt change worked. No weaning off, no. Gradual change would not work here, the slope is too slippery. Sobriety has opened a gallery of doors that were locked shut for years.

Intimate relationships are another thing I’ve given up on chasing. If I’m not looking for a partner, I am unburdened by the distraction of romantic attachments. Loneliness changes to aloneness, and the benefits of that state.

I now have ample time to get to know myself better, to be alive to who I really am, without losing myself in a game of smoke and mirrors. This simple decision, to be happy with my single status, means that I rely upon myself and not others, and can always be pleasantly surprised.

This is a far safer and less fraught existence. I have become unyoked from societal expectations, and don’t subject myself to what I think I ought to be. I can at last just be myself. The relief is liberating.

So here’s to going cold turkey, to switching off, to fasting and going without. It makes all sorts of new things happen.

  • This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes. The opinions expressed in this piece are the writer’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BrightRock.