Several times each month, I release detailed blog posts I call “Action Experiments”.
For a set number of days, I commit to an experiment that I believe will contribute to me achieving my 2016 Goals. You can view all of the archived Achievement Experiments HERE. Achievement Experiments are meant to be an informative and enjoyable way for you to discover habits or actions that might help you achieve your goals, too.
If there is a particular experiment that you would like to see me run, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Experiment Suggestion” in the heading.
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The habit of daily coffee consumption started for me at 13 years old. I remember drinking anything from the remnants of the pot of Don Fransisco my dad would leave in the carafe, to drinking teabag instant coffee while I ate my 2 bowls of cereal before I walked to the bus stop.
Like most, I got hooked on coffee really quickly. Caffeine became my drug of choice at a young age- and it’s only gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and spent more time working.
Suffice to say, if I were Linus, a hot cup of coffee has been my blanket for years.
Over time, my caffeine consumption has gotten a little excessive- as recently as January of 2016, I was consuming 6 or more cups a day- not exactly the healthiest habit.
That’s why, when I sat down to brainstorm my first Action Experiment, it felt right that this was a good place to start.
Another noteworthy mention is that I’ve “quit” drinking coffee several times in the past- never have I made it more than 7-10 days without having a cup. So for me, this was kind of a big deal.
Action Experiment #1: 30 Days With No Caffeine
Goal: Go 30 days without consuming caffeine in any form.
Duration: February 23, 2016-March 23, 2016
- Take a break from drinking coffee so that I could drink less in the future.
- Cross off the first of 3 habit experiments I’ll run from my Goal P8 of my 2016 Goals.
- Reset my tolerance to caffeine.
- Experience the physical and mental differences for 30 days without caffeine.
- Discover strategies to increase productivity without caffeine consumption.
- Measure energy levels and mood patterns without caffeine.
I went 24 days without caffeine, breaking when I got a gnarly cold that had me struggling to function. The remaining 6 days I had coffee during 3 of the days. I attribute a lacking state of resourcefulness (being sick) to not seeing my commitment through until the end, because until that point, I was experiencing great results.
This experiment was incredibly profound, in that it taught me I don’t need caffeine in any form to be productive. Though the first 10-14 days were a really difficult adjustment physically, I was still able to focus once I actually sat down to work. In fact, my work output improved significantly for 3 reasons:
- My energy levels stayed consistent throughout the day.
- I got a higher quality level of sleep, and towards the end, was able to get out of bed easier to start working.
- I spent less of my free time making coffee or waiting in line to buy one- a bad habit of mine.
As a result of this experiment, I don’t intend to be a daily coffee drinker anymore. I plan to use it as a “performance enhancer” a few times a week, either before I work out or prior to a long work session. My body and mind felt a lot better without caffeine in my system, and the better quality of sleep made cutting coffee out entirely worth it.
The Full Experiment
Independent Variable: Remove caffeine from my body for 30 days.
Dependent Variable: My ability to be productive and maintain energy throughout the day.
I had 2 initial concerns. These had derailed my efforts to quit in the past, and so I tried to take them into account.
- My afternoon coffee cravings. One of my favorite parts of my day is my afternoon work excursion to grab a coffee. I look forward to this one in particular because it breaks up my day nicely. I made it a goal to interrupt this pattern and have something specific to do during this time that would take my mind off of it.
- Being productive when it matters. When I plan to get work done, and it doesn’t get done, I get stressed out. Sometimes, an isolated instance like this leads to a “snowball” effect of me being indifferent toward work. This is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember. I was concerned that the lack of caffeine would stunt my productivity and stress me out to the point that my work output would decline.
- Physical discomfort in the form of headaches and body-aches
- Mental “fog” for several days
- The “triggers” during the day that had me pining for a cup
- The mental drag of a potential decrease in performance at the gym
What Helped/What Didn’t
Things That Helped:
- Carrying (and refilling constantly) a 32oz Nalgene water bottle at all times to help with dehydration- a minimum of 160oz of water/day.
- Pattern interrupts during the aforementioned afternoon window
- Going to bed earlier- between 8-8:30pm
- Scheduled naps
- Decaffeinated iced tea in the afternoon
- Cutting out caffeine cold turkey
Things That Didn’t Help:
- Sleeping in (more below)
- Drinking decaffeinated teas in the morning
The 30 Days
To my surprise, these were not the most difficult days for me. The headaches were unbearable from day 2-4, but the physical pain itself was not the hardest part of the experiment.
Dehydration was very real during the first 5 days. Though I was drinking close to my body weight in ounces of water, I consistently felt like I needed to drink more. I woke up 2 nights in a row solely from what felt like the discomfort of being dehydrated. On the point of sleep, I also woke up in the morning sweating rather profusely twice…. Do you think I had a bit of a caffeine addiction?
After day 4, my sleep started to feel really awesome. Waking up refreshed was something I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
The headaches disappeared after day 6, to be replaced only by intense brain fog. This was, by far, the worst part about the entire experiment. There were times when I was simply unable to come up with the thoughts I was looking for.
Going into this experiment, I was slightly concerned that the lack of caffeine before I worked out would decrease my performance in the gym. I found that it wasn’t much of a concern, but mentally challenged me from start to finish. I’ve consumed caffeine before workouts for 4-5 years, but I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference other than being really dehydrated afterwards.
Overall, this was the most difficult phase of the experiment. Initially, I thought that the physical discomfort of headaches during the first few days would be the worst, but that was not the case.
This is around when the “fog” cleared, literally. I started to feel insane amounts of energy that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Something in particular that stood out was my ability to “turn off” the switch when it was time to go to bed. Usually it’s not hard for me to fall asleep, but there have been times where a long day of drinking coffee and working make it difficult.
These days gave me the results I was looking for- increased and normalized levels of energy, and no “need” to get a cup of coffee every few hours.
On day 23, I picked up a cold that entirely wiped me out. I’m not sure how I got sick exactly, but working in a school doesn’t make it a huge surprise. I ended up taking a sick day to rest up.
The following day was even worse, and I was exhausted. All I wanted was a cup of coffee, and the grips of instant gratification pulled me in. I ended up drinking a small coffee, which was an interesting experience simply because I experienced the caffeine buzz like it’s meant to be felt- shaky hands, and the like.
The final 6 days I wasn’t 100%. I had small cups of coffee on 3 of the final days.
Result Of Action Experiment #1:
UPDATE 8/2/2016: Yeah… I’m back on the dark, black horse. I’ve been putting back a few cups again every morning. I recommend you do the experiment yourself still!
I don’t identify as a daily coffee drinker anymore. The benefits of increased sleep and normalized levels of energy entirely outweigh the quick fix buzz I get from my morning cup of coffee.
This experiment was partially inspired by a quote that I read that went something like this:
“I’ve never touched coffee, because when you stop drinking it, you feel like crap for a week. That tells me all I need to know about how “healthy” the stuff is.”
I’m with it. I’d rather use it as a performance enhancer periodically than rely on it entirely. That said, this was a great first experiment, because it produced a great result that I wasn’t expecting (seeing a reason to give up coffee), yet I also “failed” to go the entire 30 days.