Sunday, December 7, 2008

How I quit Coffee

With a Starbucks on every corner nowadays, it is no wonder that many of us have caffeine addictions. “But I only have one or two cups a day” is a very common excuse for caffeine-a-holics, and one I myself used for a long time.

While I think some people are probably fine with a cup of coffee a day, I knew that I was not one of them. I could feel my heart palpitating after coffee, and could not drink a cup after 3, or else I would never sleep.

I tried to quit a few times over the years, usually by cutting back on the amount per day, until I was down to a couple of sips, but for some reason I could just never completely drop it.

Then I realized that I was trying to stop a bad habit without acknowledging the intentions associated with the habit. What I mean by this what I was getting out of the ritual. I was trying to give it up because I didn’t think caffeine was good for me, but it is amazing how little regard we really give to something not so good for us if it is fulfilling another purpose.

What was caffeine’s purpose for me? The reason I still had my coffee every morning was because it gave me an excuse to sit back and relax for a couple of minutes before starting my busy day.

So, what I really wanted by drinking coffee was a few minutes to relax before making lunches and getting my boy off to daycare. My next step, therefore, was to think of some ways I could accomplish this other than coffee. The interesting thing about this is that I couldn’t just sit in the same chair and watch the news without my coffee, as that was also part of the habit, and so the craving was too strong. So I decided that, rather than go out to the living room and sit in my rocker, I would sit for a moment in the bedroom. We moved a chair into the bedroom, and I sit for a few minutes when I wake up, taking a couple of nice deep breathes with my eyes closed. I am then able to go about my morning with no real thought of coffee at all.

I was told a long time ago that it takes 21 days to break a habit, so with the intentions behind my habit figured out, I marked 21 days off on the calendar, and quit cold turkey. I had a headache the first afternoon, and again the next day, but that was it! Day three was definitely the worst, not for headaches, but for cravings. I really wanted a coffee. I reminded myself of why I was doing this. I was pretty scared by the heart palpitations, and a good night sleep is pretty important to me. (There is also mixed research on the affects of caffeine on the body, especially on cortisol levels (stress hormone), which could lead to many long term side effects, from heart disease to diabetes, but that is a topic for another day!)

Then I did what most people do when trying to break a habit like this, I ate to take my mind off it. OK, so I am not proud of that fact, and no I didn’t eat carrot sticks, I had some yummy creamy yogurt and a couple of cookies. It was really good, and it helped my get through day 3. This is when you have to be careful not to trade one habit for another one! There are many ex alcoholics who are now obsessive marathon runners. They simply traded one addiction for another. It is especially easy to go back to an old habit (like over eating for me), so be mindful of this during the first few weeks.

So to recap, if you want to break a bad habit, you first need to be sure of why you want to give it up. This process will take some will power and focus, so if you are wishy-washy on why you want to quit a habit, you will have a much harder time quitting.

Next, figure out what you are getting from your bad habit – what need is it meeting. You must then find some other ways to achieve this need, and make it easy to do the new activities.

Then just go for it. Even if you slip up and revert back to the old habit once or twice, just move forward from there with the new activity, until all of a sudden it becomes habit for you, thereby replacing the bad habit.

Sounds so easy, doesn’t it! It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!