Quite a few people who work with me ask for my help to rid themselves
of drinking coffee in general, or to reduce quantities.
My first response to such a request is that the first thing that a person should rid herself of is the expectation that habit that is kicked out the door will not re-enter through the window. Most of our eating habits are there for a reason, and they have tendency to hold on, and not to let go. So forcefully detaching them from us will only result in their return, with renewed vigour. This is because we’re actually kicking something that is important to us and that serves us well, even if we can’t identify precisely what ‘it’ is.
Even the efforts to replace coffee with other, ‘healthier’, drinks, will suffer a similar fate, for the same reason: in doing so, we’re ignoring the need that created the habit or, alternatively, ignoring the fact that, over the years, the habit attached itself to a strong need, which is satisfied through coffee. So if coffee for you is not attached to a deep-set need, you should be able to bid it farewell with relative ease, notwithstanding the unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms. Many manage to do it.
For others, the physical addiction is more challenging, and yet still manageable without the need to engage in a deep, internal inquiry.
This post is not about these situations, but rather about those cups of coffee that are not attributed to a physical addiction, and that you feel strongly that are superfluous.
Let’s start by asking: when is food or drink strongly attached to need?
A few examples may be helpful here: A domestic scenario, familiar to many parents, relates to their need for a few moments of peace and quiet. They easily explain to other members of the household (not only children – partners as well) that when they sit down with a cup of coffee, they should not be approached. Some people time their special coffee time to the early morning hours, and clarify that they are not available for conversation ‘before my coffee’. Since the act of consuming a cup of coffee does not take long, in and of itself the signal to the family is a reasonable one: I’ll be with you shortly. Just please give me a few moments to myself.
A social example, which may be based in conferences or office gatherings, where people feel that preparing a cup of coffee and holding it in their hand offer a way out of social exclusion. In other words, coffee here is an activity that has a role at times of social challenges, allowing us to remove ourselves from the core of the challenge and to engage in casual conversation that revolves around the preparation of coffee. Even the fact that sipping from a hot cup is slower that drinking a glass of water is, for some, important as it offers a small, but necessary, pause in the conversation.
A private example, which relates solely to one’s interaction with himself. Have you noticed how many times you get up and go to prepare a cup of coffee for yourself, in the middle of a work day? This is often the case when you feel that you’ve been sitting down for too long, and need to move, or to socialise. Sometimes you hit a wall in the creative process, or you’re bored and need a break from work – you need to create some distance. Many will find it hard to simply stop and … do nothing. Even more difficult is to create movement or communication with others without an excuse. Coffee allows both.
But if you’d like coffee to go – what can you do?
The first step is to identify the need on which the desire for coffee is based. Identifying the need includes understanding what is really addressed when you have this coffee, and naming the need. This could be ‘time with myself’, ‘a sense of security’, ‘a break’, ‘connection’, ‘communication’, or something else. Once you clearly identified the need, check to see what bars you from satisfying it, as it arises, in a manner that is exact.
Are your children accustomed to receiving attention from you even when there is no urgency? If so, you really should address that, and change family practices so that a clear request for some time apart will be viewed as legitimate, and will be rewarded as such.
Do you feel uncomfortable when, during a professional or social gathering, you feel that you have nothing to say or that your communication skills are inadequate? If so, this should be addressed, and perhaps professional assistance may be sought to enhance your resources and make you feel more comfortable. Coffee, on the other hand, will not solve your predicament, but rather will deepen it.
Do you feel a bit silly to start moving around aimlessly in the workplace when your body is already stiff from sitting down? Look for creative solutions – there are plenty around, in many work environments.
Those familiar with my approach to emotional eating will not be surprised to hear that even when coffee becomes a habit that overshadows a deep need, one can choose coffee and enjoy it. We are allowed to avoid dealing with our needs, and to prefer not to engage with profound or creative solutions. In my experience, the very fact that we turn our attention to a deep need, and that we give it a name and recognition, leads to an enhanced feeling of choice. The next time you prepare yourself a cup of coffee, you will not be consumed with guilt or with the feeling that ‘I really shouldn’t’. You will realise and recognise that you are consciously choosing to address your need in this way at this moment, and that’s that. You are allowed to do so.
That said, over time, even if you choose to go for coffee again and again (but, choosing consciously and with full awareness of the real need that underlies it), you will find that you crave it less and less. Your system will send signals, in growing intensity, that this coffee doesn’t really address the need, and you’ll feel the urge to treat it differently, and more effectively.
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