Brown breaks down the method to using tempo drinking to moderate your alcohol intake this summer.
In the summertime, there’s a tendency to go overboard with our alcohol consumption.
Drinks get lighter, brighter and sweeter: palomas, margaritas, daiquiris, Aperol spritzes, mojitos, gimlets and gin rickeys proliferate bar menus. The warm weather ushers in more congregating, levity and lowered inhibitions.
This is where the challenge of moderation comes into play. How do we indulge in social drinking without giving in to exorbitance or the inertia of fun?
We had the opportunity to sit down with Derek Brown, D.C.-based author, wellness coach and low-alcohol expert to discuss. Brown is also founder of Positive Damage, Inc., cofounder of the Mindful Drinking Fest and previous owner of the now-shuttered and beloved D.C. cocktail joint Columbia Room.
During our conversation, we focused on one key alcohol moderation strategy: tempo drinking.
What Is Tempo Drinking?
Tempo drinking asserts there’s a correlation between our dissatisfaction with how we feel and the cadence of our drinking.
“When we go out, there’s a certain way we want to feel,” Brown says. “When we feel like shit the next day because we drank too much, it’s often because we’ve gotten out of tempo and lost our way.”
He describes the concept as sitting in a space of clear intention: wanting to enjoy yourself without surrendering to excess. For examples, starting with a nonalcoholic drink, shifting to a low-ABV option before sipping on something with a higher proof, while moderating the number of alcoholic drinks you have.
“It really is mindful drinking,” Brown says. “What we’re talking about is not abstinence or moderation or chugging tequila; it’s about finding a pace that works for you and understanding more about alcohol in relation to how it affects you and your goals.”
It’s clear from the onset of our conversation that moderation in isolation isn’t enough without an honest assessment of one’s relationship with alcohol.
In Brown’s own words, nothing he ever offers — as someone who’s made a choice to abstain — on the subject is meant to be prescriptive or judgmental. His guidance is unique to each person’s lived experience and intentions.
“My goal is to help people understand the implications [of their choices] and some of the strategies they can employ to drink in a way that works for them.”
Reclaiming Our Power
Brown’s work doesn’t touch on more serious underlying factors, such as alcohol use disorders that often contribute to alcohol abuse, which can require therapy or medical invention. Instead, this discussion and his wellness coaching centers on individuals whose drinking is influenced by prolonged routine, their environment or life changes.
“I’m talking about people who’ve grown into certain habits,” Brown says. “It’s a matter of peer pressure, or sometimes it’s related to stress.”
Brown acknowledges drinking is, understandably, a ubiquitous component of many social rituals. Yet, gaining that understanding unlocks our ability to redefine how we interact with it.
“[People drink for] conviviality: spending time with friends or celebrating. Then there are those who really enjoy different types of wines and liquors.”
The overarching takeaway is we’re not powerless to avoid alcohol or find better balance through tempo drinking by disrupting our thinking and associations.
“A lot of the positive emotions we associate with alcohol are actually about being with friends, connecting with each other and trying interesting drinks,” Brown says. “Alcohol doesn’t do that for us. We do that for us.”
So how do we rewire our brains?
Getting Started: 4 Tempo Drinking Tips
Write about it. Brown encourages, through journaling, examining how your current tempo of drinking impacts your life – and if that’s working for you and if you want to evolve that relationship.
“[Journaling] can be a great way to create a private space to focus on thinking through it,” Brown says. “What has my drinking looked like? What do I want it to look like? Contrasting what has happened and what you would like to happen.”
Set an intention. To apply tempo drinking to the normal course of life, Brown suggests setting an intention. Then, finding ways to stay true to that intention. For example, if you’re going to a summer wedding, you might inquire about the availability of nonalcoholic drinks and offer to supply your own.
Seek out and learn low-ABV options. As a general rule, remember that overdoing it with high-proof drinks as opposed to limiting your intake to two glasses of wine yields completely different results. A beer might be 6% alcohol and a vodka shot is 40% alcohol.
It can also help to learn simple mocktail recipes like the ones in Brown’s award-winning book “Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails with 60 Recipes.” Tweaks to classic cocktails that remove the booze while preserving balance and deliciousness can be stored in your mental bank.
Find alternative activities to drinking. Brown calls it “addition, not subtraction.” Look for other positive ways to spend your time, like rediscovering skateboarding as Brown has in his 40s.
“Choosing to do another activity that you really like is not a sacrifice.”
Cultivating Growth and Happiness
Ultimately, tempo drinking begins with making conscious choices and knowing the benefits or consequences of those choices on our longterm health.
“If we think about our lives as a song, then the tempo is our whole life long,” Brown says. “I think it’s important to recognize there will be times it’s more intense and there’s more going on, and times we have to lay off and be careful.”
He adds that the rise in nonalcoholic spirits and wines is opening up a whole new world for people, which is exciting new territory. And trying one in place of an alcoholic drink isn’t giving up alcohol; it’s just trying something different. That’s a tempo that might lead to more happiness.
Perfection is never the goal, only consistent growth.
“There are parts [of life] where we f— up and drink too much, and when we’ve done something we’re not happy with, that’s okay,” Brown says. “We just have to accept it, move forward and try to make better decisions.”
For those interested in getting real-time guidance, Brown is launching a series with Atlas Obscura called Session Cocktails, which runs for three weeks, beginning June 22.
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