There are two distinct aspects of caffeine addiction that need to be addressed in order to break the addiction and overcome the withdrawal stage. Most people, however, only ever target one of the problem areas and are thus likely to fail. I will show you how to target both aspects and demonstrate the steps I took to go from drinking 3 coffees a day to being coffee-free in less than 2 weeks. The obvious problem that people target is the physiological addiction and related symptoms. This is where your body has adapted its natural functioning based on an expected regular caffeine intake. When you suddenly stop this, then the body reacts. Badly. This is what is called withdrawal. Symptoms vary for each person but for me, withdrawal consisted of strong headaches, grumpiness, and nearly falling asleep at my computer around 3pm. The good news for caffeine is that its withdrawal period is only around 2-3 weeks.
The second problem with caffeine addiction is the one that people overlook the most - habit. Habits are, by their very nature, hard to break. A habit is an acquired behavioural pattern that is performed subconsciously, and the more often it is performed, the more automatic the behaviour becomes. Professor of Social Psychology at Yale, John Bargh had this to say on forming habits:
"Features of an automatic behavior are all or some of: efficiency, lack of awareness, unintentionality, uncontrollability".
These are what we have to beat in order to break the habit.
If you are serious about controlling your caffeine intake then you need to address both the addiction and the habit to succeed. This is exactly what I did when I went from 3 coffees a day to none:
Step 1: Go "cold turkey" for as long as you can at the start
This is by far the hardest step but you need to push through the pain as long as you can to establish your baseline for the rest of the steps. You will experience the biggest withdrawal symptoms but I promise that the extra effort here will pay off later on. When you feel like you cannot go any more, reward yourself with some caffeine. I lasted 3 days. And then I had the biggest coffee I could find.
Step 2: Halve it!
Halve the time you lasted in Step 1 and wait this long until you have another drink. The reasoning for this is three-fold. Firstly we are mixing up the regularity of the caffeine intake, secondly we are reducing the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, and thirdly we are starting to break the habit.
Step 3: Introducing your new best friend: Decaf
Wait the same time again (half your cold turkey achievement from Step 1) before your next drink but this time make it a decaf. Set aside 10-15 minutes for this one and make sure you are mentally in the moment when drinking it. I really enjoy the taste of coffee so I found myself a very tasty decaf and sipped it slowly, savouring the flavour. Doing this is a reminder that we are consciously choosing the drink for enjoyment and not whatever pseudo-physiological reasons we have assigned to the drink (e.g. "I need a coffee to wake me up"). Do this step twice.
Step 4: Get back on the horse
Add an extra day to the wait time from Step 2 before rewarding yourself with a full-bloodied caffeine drink. Remember to focus on savouring the flavour and drink for enjoyment. Congratulations - you have now gone without caffeine nearly twice as long as your cold turkey achievement! Did you notice? I barely did - I had a slight headache towards the end but nowhere near as strong as Step 1.
Step 5: Push yourself again
Go caffeine free for double your time from Step 1. If you find yourself wavering before that time go back to Step 3.
That's it - begone devilish addiction! I went another 10 days before my next coffee and I had no withdrawal symptoms or habitual urges. If you find you are still struggling to maintain it just keep cycling between steps 3 and 5 adding more wait days between each time through.
Please consider your own situation before committing to using this method and if in doubt, contact your doctor first. Also, use some common sense - I nearly fell asleep sitting up during Step 1 so if you do something that could be even remotely dangerous when suffering sudden caffeine withdrawals (e.g. forklift driver, brain surgeon, game tester) then use your brain and plan your withdrawals to occur at a different time, like the weekend. Please do not endanger yourself or others. Otherwise be happy, be strong, and enjoy breaking your addiction!