This post has been updated in November 2017 as I undertake another break from Coffee. I hope you find it useful in motivating a small tweak of your own — PG
The key takeaway from today’s blog is that small changes can sometimes have large, domino effects that we can’t anticipate or foresee. Given enough time, these changes can be meaningful and paradigm-shifting. I am not suggesting you stop drinking coffee, but rather, I am sharing this story of my last month in hopes that you will tinker with small changes in your life to see if something better is possible.
Coffee had become central to my daily routine, many friendships and to my identity as a coffee lover (my twitter profile pic has coffee in it). As May came to an end, the time seemed right to tinker with this apparent touchstone in my daily life and central tenant of my identity. Between two of my biggest coffee-loving friends moving away, the 3-day stomach virus that had me off food/drink for 3 days, and no major events ‘requiring’ caffeine for a month, the time was right to take this out and see what changed. Despite being a coffee lover, I had generally rotated my stimulants and dosages daily (green tea one day, coffee the next, nothing another day). I was able to avoid caffeine and vary dosage with stress (e.g. travel, high training load). I have periodically stopped for days and weeks to ‘come down,’ for convenience or to try for a performance bump. With all that said, these periods without coffee were rarely more than a couple of weeks and seldom without decaf coffee.
Changing habits is tough. Getting started and interrupting the routine is a big part of that. I have had good success changing habits personally by using sickness as the jump-off point. Basically, whenever I get sick, I try to change something (e.g. bedtime, cutting out a certain food etc.). This past month, I turned a stomach virus and 3 days without food/drink into the first 3 days of my coffee abstinence. Like any addict, I insist that coffee doesn’t affect me and that I don’t need it, but if I am honest there was a low-grade energy dip for the first 1-2 weeks followed by the expected, and clichéd, sensations of steady energy, focus and clearing fog (that, or I was recovering from a 7 day stage race and 3 day flu). What I did not expect was how other habits and routines would change with the exclusion of my coffee habit.
I used to think that my coffee habits were part of my routine and that they helped me get my daily work/train/recover routines rolling. I thought that they helped me get out the door and enjoy long drives. I now believe that my coffee prep was actually delaying all these things and taking time from working, training, recovering and fun. I remember when I started drinking coffee, I never prepared it at home. I would have a cup with friends at a coffee shop, on a long ride or at a friend’s house if they had a superb method of preparation and good beans. This slowly transpired into me owning a large percentage of the methods for coffee preparation and making coffee (several times) daily just for myself at home often, when I could have been recovering, relaxing, napping, working, socializing or riding. Somewhere along the line, the original purpose of the coffee, klatching, was lost. Having coffee at home was not accomplishing what I originally started using coffee for.
Interestingly, this past month, without a conscious choice, I fell into a routine of going to bed early (9-10 pm) and waking with the sun (6-6:30 am usually) feeling well-rested and motivated to work. I would do my normal morning routine of HRV testing/meditation, bathroom, maybe start some slow-cooking breakfast and then with a big glass of citrus water with sea salt. I would sit down to my biggest, most daunting task of that day, which I chose the day prior. I would spend 30-75 min on that task (pre-determined time/deadline) and bust it out. Then around 7-7:30 am, I would have a relaxing breakfast before resuming work on the other tasks, which were so much easier. It seemed that coffee was like the first hard-to-move domino that started a chain reaction of positive choices. Being up and getting the big task done, no distraction from emails, coffee prep/cleaning seemed to set the rest of the day into motion. All of the other daily tasks (email, work, train, eat, nap, work, train, eat, house stuff) seemed to fall into place much smoother.
Stopping this month, locking up the coffee-making tools, made me realize that the time spent making/prepping coffee and cleaning a white kitchen could be spent on way more productive things that then domino into bigger and better output and better life experiences. If nothing else, it is simpler, and this lessening of ‘to dos’ is certainly a nice feeling.
As this month away from coffee ends, I celebrated with a glass of decaf espresso while recovering in the Porter Airport Lounge from a somewhat stressful ‘country boy’ journey to the Toronto Island Airport (too many modes of transit/not enough parking on grass). The machine and beans were ok, the price was right, my first ‘business’ flight experience was worth enjoying and I had some good conversation with some ‘fellow’ businessmen, which made the situation a great time to indulge. This was a good afternoon and didn’t dirty my kitchen or take time away from my day/large tasks. While this coffee experience was good, it pales to how good my days have felt after getting a big task done (e.g. this new website), or getting in a ride with a friend, or having time to relax and go for ‘beers on the beach.’ The domino that is coffee just isn’t the life I want. I will still partake when the company, location, beans, and method align, but I don’t see coffee coming back into my life beyond those good times.