My friends, who of course know that I am in the motivational speaking business will sometimes call me up and say ‘Give me some motivation. Ha ha!’
I say, ‘Sure. Drink some coffee’.
I’m only half joking. Coffee has been shown to improve energy levels, make you smarter, improve physical performance and make you less depressed. It even helps you burn fat.
A good coffee buzz is a wonderful thing. Your tasks melt away. You are a giant on a steam roller crushing your work like a monster truck on ping pong balls. Great ideas fly at you in order and click into place, like the parts of the Iron Man suit rocketing towards Tony Stark. You become briefly invincible.
When I’m working, particularly on something creative, I drink coffee. For example I calculated that nearly a thousand double shot flat whites died in the making ‘Escape to the Pole’. There’s probably somebody somewhere that drinks coffee because they like the taste. Most of drink it because it has an effective drug in it.
So why don’t we drink it daily by the gallon? Why don’t we fill our swimming pools with it and dive in? I’ll tell you why. because coffee is a slow acting, subtly mind controlling narcotic and it needs to be taken carefully or else you will see its dark side.
Too much coffee and you feel like a dozen crazed monkeys have taken over your consciousness and are flinging themselves about inside your brain. Too much coffee makes you impatient and angry, and weirdly righteous and indignant. The difference between being energised and productive and a frothing twitching grumpy, lunatic is only a shot or two apart.
From the time of the Raj there comes the story of an Indian prince who squandered all of his fortune and health. On his early deathbed he was reported to have sighed and said, ‘All of my mistakes were due to coffee.’ There are times after I’ve put the phone down when I think he might have had a point.
Here’s how not to drink coffee. I was with a friend in a café recently and heard him actually say to the server, ‘That was a great flat white, I’ll have another’.
He was startled when I slapped the cup out of his hand. But friends don’t let friends do back to back coffees.
Let’s get your coffee drinking back into shape. Let’s get coffee working for you, not the other way round. All it needs is a couple of basic understandings and some simple rules.
Firstly, you think coffee is a slightly bitter warm liquid that you tip into your mouth where it is digested by your kidneys etc. I respect your charmingly naïve view for its accuracy, but it is entirely unhelpful.
Coffee is a virus. Coffee is a parasite. Coffee has an agenda. Coffee turns you into a caffeine hunting missile. It sends you stumbling toward the kitchen mumbling ‘Must have more coffee.’ The point of coffee is to get you to drink more coffee.
If you are drinking a coffee and you REALLY WANT another coffee, then the coffee is working. well done, you’ve hit upon a coffee that is doing its job. This is the best you can hope for.
If you’re drinking coffee and you feel it’s not working then give it a chance. You’re fluid and tubes, not wires and electricity. It takes a while for the drug to physically percolate through.
Rule 1: Never do back to back coffees
Never chase the high. This is a fundamental mistake that only ends in tears. It’s the first rule of coffee drinking, and possibly for any stimulant. There should be 2 hours from when you start your first coffee and start the next coffee. Oh sure, you can break this rule, but you will pay. And sooner than you think.
Here’s why - the active ingredient in coffee is NOT a neurotransmitter. Coffee doesn’t work by giving you more brain food. There is nothing in coffee that the brain needs. Coffee works by tricking the brain to squirt some more of its own good stuff into your synapses. Which works until that sponge has been wrung dry, then the system needs to recover. For the coffee to work you have to get very good and facing down the zombie and having gaps between the coffee.
Rule 2: Only single shots.
You think one shot good two shots better! Dopamine maths doesn’t work like that. And you don’t want it to be like that do you? Otherwise take four shots and feel even better. Take 8 shots and you can live inside a lamp and grant wishes.
Rule 3: Count the shots and cap them per day
I have 3.
Rule 4: No coffees after 4pm (or 2pm or 12pm)
Caffeine lingers in your system until your kidneys slowly filter it out. The alertness that is your friend at 2pm is not your friend at 11pm. You should experiment to find out what your deadline is for your last coffee and always stick to it. Make it a bright line.
What’s that? Your coffee isn’t working. Oh hell yes it’s working. That caffeine has to go somewhere. You think it’s not working now? Believe me it will be working when you wake up at 4am. If you have a lot of coffee it’s hard to go to sleep, if you have slightly less than that you can go to sleep ok but it is a rubbish sleep and easily broken.
Rule 5: Have days with no coffee.
I know. It seems inconceivable, but just try it. Much of my own coffee drinking just comes from the ritual of starting each work hour with a hot drink by my hand to comfort and distract. If it doesn’t have coffee in it then it’s still half full by the end of the hour. I would say having a decaf coffee or a rooibos tea gets me about 70% of the benefit.
Rule 6: Drink ‘standard’ coffees.
Plunger coffee is not the same as capsule coffee is not the same as café coffee is not the same as the other café’s coffee. What’s really important is sticking only to what you know. I like drinking tube coffees because I can more easily control the dosage.
Rule 7: Don’t put sugar in your coffee
Sugar makes coffee taste nice, ergo you drink it faster. Have a bitter coffee and it will pleasantly last you half an hour.
Besides many commercial coffees are half a teaspoon away from treacle. If you are lucky there will just be 6 teaspoons of sugar in a mochachino. Some Starbuck permutations have up to 25.
Finally, you don’t actually want another coffee. Unless you are particularly dehydrated you wouldn’t naturally reach for a bitter, tooth staining beverage. What you want is the feeling that you get from having coffee. There are other ways to get that feeling, like making progress on that tough work project you’re putting off.
Despite how it feels remember that coffee doesn’t change the size of your problems, it just changes your attitude and you don’t need a drug to do that.
Do these rules seem severe? Remember you currently limit the amount of coffee you have. In the war with coffee you’ve probably found a truce. I’m just suggesting you move the DMZ a little closer to the enemy.
Don’t be like this guy:
“First I needed coffee to stay alert, then I needed it to stay awake, and now I need it to stay alive.“
The best coffee is not made from roast beans that have been passed through the intestine or a duck.
So now for the medical bit. When you drink coffee the caffeine goes into your brain, and messes with your neurons until your kidneys break them down. People have different sensitivity to coffee, but on average, 12 hours later you still have about ¼ of the caffeine still in your body. It just doesn’t flush out that fast.
To say you ‘overdose’ on coffee makes it sound like things are all good until they are not. In practice it feels like
You don’t want the coffee. You want the feeling you sometimes get from having a coffee. That empowered energised high when anything is possible, when you rise up above your tasks and everything seems easy.
Ultimately taking coffee is like going for a hot air balloon ride. You get to see the landscape from
It’s the coming back down that’s tricky as hell, gently into a meadow or tangled in powerlines.