Creating a New Happy Hour

Happy hours are typically thought of as being about connecting with people: networking, unwinding with coworkers, meeting up with friends. But more often than not, the connection is to the food and drink. After a long day — a long week, even — you feel you deserve a drink. You are entitled to some delicious food. You are entitled to fun!

Celebrations of all kinds are wrapped up in food and drink, but the idea that they are required for enjoying oneself is a made-up story. To change our beliefs and associations between food and celebration, we must interrupt the neurological patterns that reinforce them. Only then can we reroute them so that the value we get from happy hour comes from the connection with people, not the food we eat. This process takes mental and emotional work, a physical change in the brain. By repeatedly using the protocol below, you can over time change the neurological pathways in your brain. The new pathways you create will allow you to stay on-plan through events that were once difficult, experiencing them now as spaces of fun and pleasure instead of torturing cravings and lack of control.

The first step towards shifting your neurology is to slow down, take a moment, and choose to change. It is important to acknowledge the habits and beliefs that lead you away from your goals — like the belief that celebrations are about what you eat and drink. Once you acknowledge them, it becomes possible to change them.

Try this practice twice a day for a couple weeks:

  1. Find a quiet space. Close your eyes and take long, deep breaths. Exhale longer than you inhale.

  2. Imagine arriving at the happy hour and being surrounded by the food and drinks you are trying to avoid.

  3. Identify the feelings in your body brought on by the powerful pull of these foods and drinks. Is it frustration, fear, shame? Where do you feel it? Your head? Your chest, your gut? How does your body react? Stay with these feelings for five minutes. As you repeat this practice, you will notice those feelings dissipate over these five minutes.

  4. Release the feelings with long, deep breaths. Exhale longer than you inhale.

  5. Now, shift focus. Pick someone at the event that you are excited to see. Imagine the interaction, the laughter, the fun.

  6. Identify the feelings in your body brought on by this interaction. How does your body react now? Do you feel lighter, more expansive? Continue to imagine the interactions and stay with these feelings for another five minutes.

  7. Release the feelings with another set of long, deep breaths. Exhale longer than you inhale.

  8. This may seem silly, but it is important to congratulate yourself for doing the practice by speaking out loud, “Good job!” Speaking out loud triggers activity in your limbic system (the part of the brain that controls emotions), which is a critical component of changing these specific neurological patterns.

Whenever you have an event you feel concerned about, whether it’s a happy hour or evening at a friend’s house, reconnect with these feelings by repeating this practice just before you head to the event. This can be applied to any event centered around food and drink. Truly identifying and connecting with the way your body and mind feel can have an amazing effect on how you respond to these feelings in the moment.