Debrief: A Month Without Coffee

So as I’ve gone through this month’s challenge – No Coffee – I’ve learned several important lessons. Some of which have to do with how I should go about these monthly experiences – like setting clear rules and motivations from the beginning. Other lessons are more general, having to do with my life, health, habits, and well being. Here are some of the most important things I’ve learned in May:

1. Any endeavor you set out for yourself, whether its trying monthly challenges or climbing a mountain, should be done with intention. I needed to know why I had decided this challenge, what I expected to get out of it, and how to navigate the hurdles and road blocks that sprung up along the way. For every journey, you need a map. And this experience is no different.

2. Your doctor is SERIOUS when suggesting you should reduce your caffeine intake. To be fair, I didn’t give up caffeine in the month of May. I still allowed myself caffeinated teas and diet cola. But by not drinking coffee, I know that I significantly reduced the amount of caffeine I was consuming regularly and I can feel the difference. I usually experience stress and anxiety through physical symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath, etc) and I felt all of those drastically reduce this month. I even had some weird patches of numbness on my body that are starting to regain some sensation. Cutting caffeine is definitely not the answer to all our health problems, but this month has taught me that reducing my own intake of caffeine has made me feel considerably better.

3. My coffee cravings, just like any of your own cravings, are linked to habits and emotions. It didn’t take me long to realize that my coffee cravings usually sprang up around the same time everyday – between the hours of 2pm and 4pm. It just-so-happens that this time is also the height of my daily craziness. I’m usually running around from place to place, moving from one task to another while constantly thinking about what else needs to get done that day. Not coincidentally, this time of day is when I’m feeling most overwhelmed and scattered. Before this month’s challenge, I would escape into a cup of dessert (“would you like some coffee with your cream and sugar?”). At best, my body wanted a chemical boost of caffeine and sugar. At worst, coffee became a way for me to stick my proverbial head in the sand and avoid life for a moment. Either way – adjustments are in order. I can fuel my body with a healthy snack, a short walk, or some quick meditation. The latter two may also help with the desire to escape the real world.

Going forward, I can’t say for sure what the future looks like, but I know that reduced caffeine and taking stock of my emotions when those afternoon cravings come up will definitely be part of my daily life. When I do decide to have coffee, I’m going to opt for a small decaf and keep the accoutrements within reason. Or maybe I’ll resist the urge for coffee altogether. All I know is that, since this challenge, I’ll definitely have more coffee consciousness.


What’s my motivation?

I had a conundrum the other day. I asked myself: if I have a decaf coffee, does it still count? I found myself in a state of confusion that forced me to look at my motivations for the no coffee challenge. What exactly was I giving up – coffee in general, the regular liquid dessert that punctuated my day, caffeine, or….? Without a clear and specific motivation driving the challenge, it was easy to get lost in the details of rationalization and excuses. I cued a type of inner dialogue:

“Well it doesn’t count because its decaf.”
“But you didn’t say you were giving up caffeine, you said you were giving up coffee.”
“But caffeine is the worst part of coffee, right?”
“But there will still be loads of sugar in that drink even if its decaf”
“But I haven’t given up sugar necessarily, I had a ginger beer last week instead of coffee, WHATS THE DIFFERENCE?”

I ended up breaking down and getting the decaf coffee. But the cognitive dissonance created by the whole experience still made it quite a learning experience. In these monthly challenges, and in life, my motivations and intentions should be clear, since that clarity will only ease and improve the decisions I make in the future.


No Coffee Blues (and slip-ups!)

I’ve given up coffee for the month of May. I decided on this challenge because it seemed like an easy enough way to start off a year of challenges. I don’t drink a lot of coffee, but I do drink it regularly and with A LOT of cream and sugar. I basically turn my coffee into mocha-flavored sugar water. Its a problem. But on May 5, I decided to give it up for the rest of the month.

The first lesson I’ve learned is that I actually DO drink a lot of coffee, mostly because I find myself in coffee shops so often. Some people like bars or clubs, I like working or reading in a coffee shop. Call me lame, I just like it. But since I’m in coffee shops all the time, I have found that I’m also drinking coffee all the time. Since giving up coffee, I’ve had to adjust my orders to be coffee-free, a new but not entirely unwelcome change. For instance: a coconut tea with steamed milk is just as tasty as my usual Chai with espresso.


My non-coffee coffee shop alternatives!

Second lesson: my regular coffee breaks are more about breaks than about coffee. The whole act of stopping what I’m doing, walking to get a coffee, and sitting back with basically a liquid dessert is an immensely satisfying ritual. But I don’t need coffee to do it. Maybe one day, I won’t need any beverage at all. A walk or nice classical song or meditation might do the trick.

Third lesson: failure is part of this blogging experience. I had a busy weekend this weekend. On Friday night I was unable to sleep and got a whopping total of 4 hours of sleep before waking up at 7am. Last night I got about 3.5 hours asleep and woke up at 7am yet again. This morning and yesterday, I broke down and had a cup of coffee just to feel awake. I didn’t beat myself up over it, and tonight I plan on getting a good night’s rest so that I’m back on track tomorrow. The solution to bring tired isn’t coffee, it’s rest!

Until next time,

Why Thirty Days?

For several months, I’ve been looking for a challenge. I wanted to try something new, then blog about my experiences. I wanted to experience some kind of long-term personal growth; I wanted to learn about myself and test the boundaries of my usual behavior.

But I had a difficult time coming up with a challenge. What should the challenge be? How long should it last? I thought about Gamifying my life. I thought about giving up television. I considered doing the “52-Week Money Challenge.” But aside from the 52-Week Money Challenge, how long was I supposed to try these things? What if I burnt out or couldn’t see it through? What if I absolutely hated it but already made the commitment?

My roommate had the idea that, rather than try one challenge for a long time, I should try many challenges for a short time. The challenges should be long enough to keep me on my toes, but not so long that I would end up being miserable. A month seemed like a perfect amount of time. Whatever new habits I acquired that I liked – I could keep. But even if I hated the challenge, it would be over soon enough and I would learn about myself along the way. I loved the idea; at the end of a monthly challenge, I will find that I pushed my own boundaries, made a new habit, found something to appreciate, learned to be grateful, etc.

I pitched the idea to my friends, and they immediately started drumming up ideas for challenges. Some examples include: giving up alcohol, going without make-up, not looking in a mirror, taking public transportation instead of driving, finding answers to my questions the ‘old fashioned way’ rather than Google. All great suggestions!

I’m beginning this month a little late and I’m starting small – I am going to give up coffee for the rest of May. This is a challenge I have been wanting to try for a while. Next month, I will officially kick-off my “Thirty Day Endeavors” with a challenge from my roommate, whose brilliant idea sparked this blog in the first place. Stay tuned!


Want to submit an idea for a challenge? Fill out the form below and give me some ideas! The challenges should be about personal growth and self-discovery, not just random experimentation. Can’t wait to see your ideas!