Overcoming Diminishing Returns and Maintaining Sobriety

Updated: Dec 31, 2019


During a run the other day, I started thinking about the law of diminishing returns. I did not give this principle any thought in the past and was stunned when it suddenly popped into my head, but now it makes sense. I realize I can apply this law to certain areas of my life including exercise, alcohol addiction and sorry to say, even sobriety. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of diminishing returns, Google Dictionary states it is “used to refer to a point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.” Applying this concept to running or exercising in general, past drinking, and sobriety, helps me understand my actions and my lack of action.


Lack of Motivation — Otherwise known as “That Thing”

I started suffering from lack of motivation at the beginning of 2019. I was still drinking at the time and I had just started to recover from the abject misery of having the shingles (and no, apparently it not afflicted only on the elderly). It also was the start of winter, so I assumed the problem arose from both situational (shingles)and seasonal depression. However, the lack of motivation was not consistent like seasonal depression is and didn’t include most of the other symptoms. Additionally, it lasted well into spring, and after months of feeling unmotivated, I began to refer to it as “That Thing.” The underlying cause of “That Thing was a mystery to me. I would tell my husband, I have “That Thing” again, and he would nod his head as if that was enough explanation, because he knew I couldn't explain it. I had tried to no avail. Even though it was happening to me, I didn’t fully understand it. 


“That Thing” affected my running first. Let me just say that I love running. I love physical fitness and being in shape in general. With the worst of the shingles long gone (except for the itching and pain attacks that remain to this day) and summer upon me, I wondered why the perceived effort of going for a simple four mile run seemed to be the equivalent of running a marathon. I would imagine myself running and putting forth effort and I simply didn’t want to do it. Most days I would still go for the run, telling myself that if after the first mile I didn’t want to run anymore, I could turn around and go home. This bargaining resulted in many runs of at least three miles, but also quite a few 4, 5, 8, or 10-mile runs. I went the distance, but “That Thing” still persisted.


How “That Thing” was Diminishing Returns

Now I see that the problem behind “That Thing” was the law of diminishing returns. In March of 2018, I went on a mostly plant based diet, resulting in losing 10 pounds within a few weeks. After I lost the weight that I have been trying so hard to lose for a couple of years, I didn’t have as much motivation to exercise anymore. Add quitting drinking five months ago on top of the mostly plant-based diet, and I haven’t had any struggles with my weight. I stay consistently around the same weight and I frequently put in only 12 to 18 miles per week with a little strength training on the side. The desire to workout hard like I used to in the past is gone. I don’t feel like I get much in return anymore for the effort put forth. I am also not interested in competitive running and although I do work on getting faster and running farther, I don’t really have a reason to. When I recently ran a nine-minute mile the other day, I was proud, but the return on investment didn’t really last.


I’m also happy with the way I look. I may not be perfect but striving for perfection is futile. I don’t know that anybody ever actually achieves perfection. I guess it would depend on your own personal definition. I used to work out very hard, eat healthy and attempt to look perfect because I thought that it would balance out my drinking problem (and hide it). I was putting up a front so that no one would see my big flaw. I’m grateful that I don’t have to try so hard anymore.


The Diminishing Returns Was a Positive Factor in Getting Sober

Diminishing returns also applied to my drinking (and I am sure that the drinking helped to in some ways fuel “That Thing”). In the beginning, I believe that drinking gave me more returns. When I was younger, alcohol made me less shy and more outgoing, less anxious, and gave me confidence (or so I thought). However, as time went on, I needed to invest a lot more time recovering from drinking as one drink was never enough and ten were too many. I grew older and less able to recover like in my younger days. It also became a double-edged sword. I would drink trying to feel better but it would take more drinks to get me to the state I was chasing. The more alcohol I drank the worse I felt, not only because of age but also because I knew I had a drinking problem and I needed to stop. It just wasn’t fun anymore.


Now for sobriety. What can I say about the diminishing returns of sobriety? At first the effort of quitting drinking is met with the rewards of no hangovers, better sleep, weight loss, better skin, better runs, and a whole host of other benefits that warrant a separate magnanimous blog post. The downside, while still putting forth the same effort after a month of sobriety, the returns on those items aren’t quite the same. I believe that is why problem drinkers go back to drinking, time and time again. We start taking the benefits of sobriety for granted and conveniently “forget” the periods of misery. However, as I am writing this, I am certain that other benefits will arise and the effort of staying sober will get easier. It all depends on how you look at it. I look at sobriety with curiosity. Already my attitude has made it so much easier this time around as I finally commit to quitting — F-O-R-E-V-E-R.


My “Plan B” to Conquer “That Thing”

In the meantime, what I have decided to do about the diminishing returns and “That Thing?” I decided to set goals. My exercise goals are now tied to the pursuit of overall good health. When I think about running now, my immediate focus is to remain healthy. running is instrumental is fighting anxiety, depression, heart disease, cancer, obesity, migraines, etc. and I remind myself that I want to go through the rest of my life as a healthy, happy person. So far I have experienced fewer occurrences of “That Thing.”


And my sobriety goals? To stay sober no matter what and learn from both the uncomfortable and surprising places that sobriety takes me. I want to share my experiences and in turn I hope to gain wisdom from others. After all, the true joy in life is not when you get through the hard times alone, it comes from sharing the struggles and conquering life together. If I can help just one person, that alone is enough of a return on my efforts.

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