30 day challenge – Caffeine you fiend

KitchenCraft-Italian-Six-Cup-Espresso-Coffee-Maker--with-Clear-LidTowards the end of 2013, ‘30 day challenges’ were getting a lot of publicity and it became the thing to do to push yourself regularly. For those of you who aren’t aware, a 30 day challenge is setting yourself a new challenge each month, be that doing something new or giving up something you rely upon. The idea being that you constantly develop new skills and push yourself, whilst keeping the challenges fresh and exciting given the relatively short time period.

So, January came along, and I was racking my brains to think of something to do. My friends were very helpful and gave me some great ideas for coming months. In the end, January became caffeine free month.

I should probably put this into a little bit of perspective. Since living in Italy last year, I picked up the coffee culture and became a little obsessed with coffee, particularly espresso. It wouldn’t be uncommon for me to drink 5 or 6 a day. Although in small quantities coffee is good for your heart, this was maybe a little extreme. To quantify what I mean when I say that I gave up caffeine, I’m referring to high caffeine products, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks. Interestingly, when I researched into caffeine, several other products contain a surprising amount of caffeine, such as ice cream, painkillers, sunflower seeds and soft vitamin water drinks. I also discovered that in America, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have set no requirement for manufacturers to disclose the amount of caffeine contained in a product on the nutritional guidelines!

Unsurprisingly, the first 5 or 6 days of the challenge, I was shattered most of the time. This lasted for the first 10 days. I also occasionally found myself with a banging headache, which I deduced must be related somehow.

Culturally I also found not having caffeine a little odd. When you turn up to a meeting, the first question you tend to be asked is whether you’d like a tea or coffee. When I said no, I often got a look as though to say that there must be something wrong with me. It did prove a conversation starter however. Upon telling people about the reason why I wasn’t having tea or coffee, people would always have a reaction, mostly along the lines of “ooh, I couldn’t do that”.

I think much of the effects of not drinking caffeine had on me were psychological. I tried drinking decaffeinated coffee, but although that made me feel more awake mentally, I very quickly realised that I didn’t like the taste, so I gave up on that idea.

However, by the time that the month was half old, all the headaches and tiredness had disappeared. In fact, I realised that I didn’t miss it at all. When it came to February, I sat down in a coffee shop to read the paper, and upon taking my first sip of my first coffee for a month, was immediately hit with the strength, and I struggled to finish it.

So, was the challenge a success? It certainly challenged me and although I have now started drinking tea and coffee again, it is definitely not to the same extent as it was before. I can happily go a few days without coffee and feel fine.

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New year, new resolutions?

Historically a New Year creates a new opportunity for people to reinvent themselves through resolutions, be that losing a few pounds, trying something new or focusing on a certain aspect of life more.

I’ve always been slightly reserved about the idea of creating a raft of resolutions; why wait for the excuse of a new year to make changes? In Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup, there is a big focus on ‘pivoting’ if something doesn’t work. Granted, this theory applies to business, i.e. your business model doesn’t allow for you to significantly scale, so you pivot in an attempt to alter this with the hope that this will be achieved in a new iteration of your model. But why can’t this be replicated in all aspects of life?

I recently read an article in Entrepreneur.com on 10 Resolutions from Young Entrepreneurs. They focused on better delegation, celebrate achievements and find a better work-life balance, all of which are good goals to set yourself, however, there is no requirement to wait for an occasion as big as a New Year to make these changes. There has been a lot of press around ’30 day challenges’ of late, and I have indeed jumped on the band wagon. These are challenges which you set yourself for a month, for which you do (or don’t do) a certain activity for a month. These can be giving up certain things, physically pushing yourself, or taking up something new. With the challenges I have set myself in the past, this has created self-improvement, diversity and goal setting.

I’ve often thought that one of the most difficult aspects about working for yourself is the motivation to actually do it. Waking up at 7am to go into the office, finishing very late or working weekends when no one is around to tell or motivate you to do so can be daunting. I’ve actually found that the complete opposite is the case. When you have ownership over something, you are intrinsically more passionate about it, hence you spend more time to develop it. When this is linked to finances and whether you can afford to pay rent or feed yourself for a month, there is an obvious additional incentive. But if you are passionate enough about something as to look forward to each day of work, each new challenge and you surround yourself with the right support, then more often than not, financial benefits follow.

So my message is clear, don’t wait for a significant life or time event to set yourself new challenges, that’s certainly something I’ve found when dealing with start-ups and the quest for personal development.

This blog is also available on the Kindle Store and you can follow me on Twitter (@benpfsmith) to find out more or get in touch.