Being Stimulant-Free

I like being 100% stimulant free – no coffee, caffeinated tea, chocolate, caffeinated soda, etc.

This means no decaf either since decaf still contains some caffeine.

I base this on lots of personal experimentation. I’ve gone some years of my life with no stimulants, and I’ve also gone for long stretches consuming coffee daily. The two modes of living are notably different.

Caffeine tends to make me obsess more over trivialities and lose focus on big picture goals. I see this pattern in other coffee drinkers often – lots of busywork type of thinking on low criticality items. It seems to make some people have a harder time focusing on long-term projects and avoiding short-term distractions.

When I consume coffee daily, I’ll check email more often. I’ll spend more time on social media. I’ll web surf more. I’ll invest in minor tasks that don’t need to be done. I’ll spend more time organizing and reorganizing instead of moving the needle forward on big projects. I’ll open more loops than I close. I’ll feel extra busy but have less to show for it.

Stimulants always drain me eventually, especially after months of daily use. That’s true even for a single espresso shot or a single cup of green tea per day. It always leads to adrenal exhaustion, and then I need to take at least several weeks off. I know I’m at this point when I can’t seem to make good progress on bigger projects, and I can tell that my mind is becoming too chaotic. I might spend 8 hours at my desk and get 90 minutes of important work done.

I love the taste of coffee, and it’s delightful to drink a cup of it, but I’ve learned that I can’t really have an occasional relationship with it if I want to function at my best. It’s way too addictive for me. If I have even a small amount, I risk slipping into the pattern of having it daily for months.

I’ve learned that it’s best to avoid chocolate too (including cacao) because chocolate is a gateway drug back to coffee. Same goes for green tea. So while I have enjoyed those in the past, I feel safer steering clear of them. I like how my brain works better when not under the influence of stimulants.

I’ve also learned not to trust my addicted brain. It has many tricks for luring me back in.

It’s just one piece of chocolate.

What if you just had a decaf or a half-caf?

You could just have a small amount?

You’re traveling, so why not indulge a little?

Hey, it’s free!

Coffee is so nice for socializing.

It’s Costa Rican coffee!

It’s 100% Kona!

The addicted brain can be downright evil sometimes.

When my mind is stimulant-free, it feels more chill. The volume of mental chatter is much quieter. I don’t feel like a rodent in a maze sniffing for the cheese constantly. It’s way easier to relax into bigger projects and stick with them with good discipline. I become much better at closing loops, and I become more discerning and careful about opening new ones.

My stimulant-free brain is more disciplined. It’s easier to get up before dawn. It’s easier to maintain good habits like exercise. And I feel fewer cravings for processed foods that go so well with coffee.

The most reliable brain booster is cardio exercise. I love the effects of that way better than coffee. Exercise rebalances my thinking while coffee tends to unbalance me. This morning I went for a 90-minute hill run, starting at 4:45am. That was a stimulating challenge, but it doesn’t create the crashing like coffee does. I feel a sense of accomplishment from running that I don’t get from finishing a cup of bean juice.

Whenever I detox from coffee, it takes about a week. It’s not too difficult to quit, but it’s way easier to slip back into addiction. I usually have mild headaches and extra fatigue on days 2-4, and then on days 5 and 6, I typically have to deal with feelings of dread and paranoia. The emotional detox is worse than the physical detox. Those feelings always pass though, and then around day 7, I start remembering how nice it feels to be caffeine-free. I remark at how calm and relaxed my mind feels.

If I want something hot to drink, I go with herbal tea. Lately I’ve been enjoying mint tea a lot.

Stimulants can too easily mask a lack of natural stimulation in our work and goals. Coffee can cover up underwhelming goals by making them seem more stimulating than they are. If you drop coffee, you may need to face that your goals and life path are duller than you’d like. Coffee hides that emotional truth from you.

Coffee can also do this in a relationship. If your relationship is underwhelming, you can drink more coffee to avoid dealing with that emotional truth. Having another cup is easier than facing the truth about your feelings.

When I drink coffee, my awareness narrows. Without coffee I feel like a much broader spectrum of my awareness comes back online again. I feel more connected to more parts of the world. I notice nature more. I hear the birds tweeting as the sun rises. And I notice the sunrise itself. Here’s a pic I took while running this morning:

Sunrise run

When I’m caffeine-free, I become more aware of just how boring and circular social media is. I see it as more distraction than stimulation, so I spend less time on it. I become more attuned to bigger creative projects and interesting challenges. I seek stimulation through goals and challenges that appeal to me. I get more excited about the path I’m on.

I like having a stimulating life, but I’d rather get it from stimulating goals and projects instead of taking drugs. I like the emotional honesty of that. If my life is under-stimulating, I want to be able to feel that, so I can take corrective action. I don’t want to drown those feelings under espresso shots. I want to feel and experience the true reality of life.

Receive Steve's new articles by email.

Read Being Stimulant-Free by Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

You may also like...