Why I failed with my 30 days without coffee challenge
I remember when going with my dad to his office at the age of ten. The water was brown and tasted dirt, so I wouldn't drink it. Instead i mixed it out with instant coffee. There was a yellow plastic sugar can at the table and I filled the cup up with as much sugar as possible. It tasted awful, but somehow I liked it. Looking back, I think drinking coffee made me connect with the adults. I have always liked spending time with older people. I also remember, in the years to come, when there were public events at school and other places. There was always coffee served for adults, and I would always take some for fun - or was it just for fun? I can now see that drinking coffee gave med a lot of significance. I was someone, a coffee drinker. I felt cool among my friends - and I got a reaction from them. I was seen by people. Was coffee turning into an addiction for me? I think so. And when I started working in my dads company on weekends and holidays, at the age of 15, the coffee drinking increased. When I started upper high school at 16, the coffee drinking turned into a daily habit and has been since.
Some words have been repeated above. Coffee, habit, needs, significance, being seen, addiction. Coffee was turning into an addiction for me, no doubt about it, but why? What is an addiction?
Everything we do, we do for a reason. And there is a positive intention with every human behavior. Since the coffee drinking habit is huge worldwide there must be a giant need being fulfilled.
The first thing that happens when we drink coffee is that it changes the way we feel. The caffeine releases chortisol in our body and blocks the process of melatonin making us sleepy. We can say that this makes us more alert and going, but what it really does is changing the way we FEEL, this is very important. The coffee changes the way we feel in a powerful way, but that is not what's creating the addiction. The addiction is created from linking emotions to this new feeling. For me there were two major needs being fulfilled - my need for connection with people and my need for feeling significant. What needs are coffee filling in your life? "I just like coffee" you might say - NO! You have linked the feeling from drinking coffee to something positive. It's the same with every addiction. Coffee is often something social, where we meet around a table and have a swedish ”fika”. We are addicted to fikas. We are addicted to coffee breaks since it takes the focus away from something boring – most often our jobs.
I’m gonna give you an example here. What if you give a cup of coffee to a guy who has never tasted coffee before? He will look at the color, smell it, taste it and feel what it does to his body. It will probably increase his heart rate and create other physical sensations in his body as well. His brain will then start to evaluate whether these sensations coming from what he sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels is something good or bad – if it fills any of his needs to feel god (and in the long turn having a greater probability of surviving). That’s what our brain is all about – to help us survive. If he links these sensations to something positive he will start to create an addiction. If he links them to something negative he will not be as willing to try coffee again next time.
What happened when I started drinking coffee? I started to connect coffee drinking to something good. I was feeling lika an adult, I felt connection with the adults, I was seen as a kid drinking coffee who weren’t suppose to do so. This gave me attention, which was a need for me then being fulfilled. These things over time build up an addiction – and when I grew older and coffee was fully available to me, I turned into a full time coffee addict.
For two years now I have tried to decrease my coffee intake – I know it’s not good for me. I first gave up drinking coffee after lunch, since I heard that it could mess up sleeping cycles (I can now confirm that it does). The next step was decreasing cup sizes to the smallest size. After that I started experimenting with not drinking coffee at all, which resulted in massive headache. By this point I realized that I really was addicted and wanted to do something about it, so I started to drink even less coffee (maximum of 1-2 cups a day). I then noticed that I could make the headache disappear if I drank just a few sips of coffee instead of a full cup. Then I started going on detox diets which excluded coffee, but I replaced it with green tea which has the same alerting effect. I then started drinking decaf coffee more regularly (which helps a lot since the brain is also addicted to the taste and smell of coffee, even though it does not change the feeling due to lack of caffeine).
As you can see, I took small steps forward and slightly decreased my intake. I then went for a ten day retreat where they served no coffee, so I only drank rooibos tea (caffeine free). When I returned from the retreat and had my first cup of coffee I had an insight. When I drank the coffee I felt something happen within my body, but I was able to not react to the new feeling. It’s like when you eat something you don’t like and swallows it without tasting it, do you now the feeling? It was the same with this cup of coffee. I drank it, but didn’t react to it and therefore – it wasn’t as good as I remember.
Since this period I have decreased my coffee intake to maybe two or three cups a week. That’s nothing, you might say. How can you still be addicted? I still am, but to much lower quantities.
So what lead me to this 30 day coffee challenge? I wanted to challenge myself and in the long run give up coffee since I don’t find it healthy (no addiction does us any good).
The first one and a half day started out quite easy. This is about the time it takes for me for a small cup of coffee (or the caffeine) to get out of the body. Then the struggle starts. Day two and three often consists of low energy, lack of willpower and (at least for me) a feeling that can be described as a mild depression. Then day four and five you start getting your power back, and you tap into a sort of natural energy which boosts you in a very special way. You sleep better, you wake up refreshed, you start your day with instant energy. Many of my friends and family members who have tried to give up coffee for a while have noticed just this effect – you wake up feeling refreshed. The real struggle for me came in day eight and nine. Here my heart rate increased, I slept worse, I felt very frustrated and started to have a small breakdown. What happened here? I guess my body was telling me that I was going through a change and that it didn’t like that change. I have hade the same feeling and experience from other retreats, detoxing and intermittent fasting – and I know that it’s just a process one need to go through in order to grow. When we are expanding our comfort zone it will be difficult and painful.
Day ten I took the decision that I wanted to drink a half cup of coffee. I had a long argument with myself, which I finally lost. I started to experience difficulties in excercising, being focused and working as many hours as I wanted to. This made me think about what was most important in my life right now. Was it to stop drinking coffee or to proceed in my work to build my brand, my business and starting to earn money. The answer was not in favor for the coffee.
What did I learn from this? I always want to do everything at once, which means that I’m expanding my comfort zone in work, in health, in learning and in working out. This results in great progress overtime but can in periods be very overwhelming. I often feel like I’m taking two steps forward and one step backward – and that’s a process I want to change since going backwards results in negative emotions.
My struggle on coffee goes on. To be continued.