Part 1: Drink deep, taste your motivation

caffeine habitsThis is Part 1 in the Cool, calm and caffeinated series. To read the rest of the posts on this topic, visit the series index page.

cup of coffee caffeine habits

A very sexy, comforting, artfully prepared cup of coffee. What’s not to like? Nothing… until your caffeine habits dominate your moods

One, two, three…

Caffeine is not bad, in itself. Nothing is, really … until my Urge to Consume More gets a hold of it. One coffee – great. Then, two. Then three coffees and two teas and – crasshhh!!! That was the sound of my moods, my connection with others, and my shaking hands dropping the crockery.

One reason caffeine is a difficult habit to control is that, like other non-life-threatening habits like nailbiting and spotpicking, it’s a challenge to make your motivation really solid. The stakes aren’t very high. You’re not desperate. (That’s why, in one of the next posts, I’ll be looking at the payoffs, and how to deal with mixed feelings in more detail).

When you slip up, that’s your opportunity

I’m not talking about guilt and self-flagelation, but about seizing this opportunity to feel what it is about overdoing something that you don’t like. To be in touch with the part of you that wants to change, and why. Paint a colourful picture of how it feels. (See my example below). You’ll need it. You need to sure up your defences. If you’re going to change your caffeine habits, you’ll be going against the tide.

You’ll encounter a whole rhetoric every day that promotes coffee as sexy, restorative, grungy, necessary, and good for you. Perhaps a little of it is all these things! Friends – who probably have a deliciously self-controlled caffeine habit and cruise along at optimum level – will scoff at your desires to tone it down, and will extol its virtues. What will you tell them? What will you tell yourself? Will you trot out typical pro’s and con’s that you don’t really believe? “I get stressed”, “I sleep badly”, “It’s too expensive”… These things may be true, but is that what’s really driving you?

Articulate the subtler motives

Our motivations are more profound than we realise. The colour and hue of our desire to change is from a wider emotional palette than we give ourselves credit for. You know when you’re in touch with your true motives because your heart moves in response to the thought. When you find the words that say it exactly for you, treasure them. You’ll find uses for them later (this post on zenhabits.com gives some clues as to how) as mantras, reminders, and defences when the Urge starts carping on at you.

For example, here’s what I wrote last week when I was in the eye of the hypercaffeinated storm:-

Today, I’m caffeinated. And I hate it. I’m writing this to remind myself why I hate it. Because, when I’m tired and think I need coffee, I forget it makes me feel like this.

Like what? 

Like I can’t feel myself, or hear myself. Like my heartbeat is a rockband and my body is a nightclub, and I’m standing in there, trying to hear my emotions, trying to have, you know, a bit of banter with my innermost self, and we can’t hear each other.

This morning I tried to do Steve Pavlina’s exercise about your life purpose (actually it came out like a list of desires for myself – my challenges and hopes for myself – useful stuff for writing 1 and 5-year goals perhaps… more on life purpose on another post one day). Steve Pavlina reckons it’ll take about 20 minutes. You know how long I spent on it? About an hour and a half. And you know how many times I wrote synonyms for ‘slow down’ on my list?

OK, let’s count. 33 times. If you’re lucky, I might list them out for you one day, but for now a few of the things I wrote were … 

to be a gentle cat (I’m always telling my daughter to be this)
to breathe deeply
to sustain my pace
to know relaxation
to learn to listen
to give in and allow it to happen
to go gently on myself
to be vulnerable
to be patient
to be in flow, in sync
to give my uninterrupted attention sincerely
to feel emotions with clarity
to find focus

You get the picture. These things can help me remember how disconnected I become; what a wall of white noise caffeine makes; how scatty and self-injuring caffeine makes me; and how hard it becomes to really breathe. And most of all, perhaps it can remind me, when I’m caffeine free, to savour the gentleness, peace and relaxation that I’m obviously desiring quite deeply.

Get forensic

Does this seem laboriously detailed to you? Well, one thing I’m learning is that forensic analysis is a really useful tool in habit change. And this starts at the beginning, with having a clear Why. The more specific you can be about your motivation, the clearer you can be to yourself, the greater chance you have of finding retorts when the rhetoric of the Urge starts saying “what’s the harm in just one more?”

Go on, then. Be curious. Articulate the problem. Get forensic. Define your motivation. Write it down. Better still, write it in the comments section below. I’ll let you know how I get on. And you?