Friday, August 9, 2013

Cuttin' Out Coffee: Making Change Easy when Change is Hard

Josh Trammell

People suck at change. Plain and simple. With New Year’s Resolutions being broken at record paces every year, it’s no wonder that people do the same things, day after day, year after year – they don’t know how to make habits stick. While there are many ‘ways’ to make change, most of them…well, are garbage. Absolutely craptastic. The proof is in the pudding – an ever growing ‘diabesity’ epidemic, smoking and alcohol addiction, a nation of people wasting their glutes away watching ‘Days of Our Lives’, or, dare I say it, Duck Dynasty…

Unfortunately, berating people and informing them of their own inadequacies only makes change harder. More importantly, I suck at change just as much as everyone else does. So, how do you go about change when change is hard?

Coffee – The Struggle

I LOVE coffee. That can be a problem with all the added stress of college  – burning the candle at both ends, studying, stressing about grades, playing intramurals, having a social life… all these little stresses add up over time and put a HUGE workload on the adrenals. Not having coffee is unacceptable during Finals week though. Giving the adrenals a break is a must – but cutting out coffee cold turkey is like asking for 2 weeks of debilitating headaches and brain fog. The following method is what I consider a one-stop shop for cutting out coffee – and making changes in all other arenas of life as well, properly applied.

Identify Your Problem (what you want to change)

My problem was simple; how can I cut out the coffee and give my adrenals a break, without ANY headaches or mental fog?


Otherwise known as…work. Examine your habits and come up with potential solutions. In my case:

1.  Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 36 ounces of coffee, or 3 “cups” for me.
      2. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 24 ounces of coffee, or 2 “cups” for me.

Brainstorming Solutions:

1. Cut down on the amount of grinds used in coffee over a period of a couple of weeks.
2. Gradually phase out caffeinated coffee with decaffeinated coffee over a period of a couple of weeks.
3. Cut down on the amount of coffee drank each day over a period of a couple of weeks.

“Rate” Your Solutions

Take the easiest first step possible. Success builds on success – it’s like the little snowball that starts rolling down the hill; when it gets to the bottom, it sure as heck ain’t little. Everyone knows about the ‘rate’ method – simply put, on a scale going from 1-10, 1 being HARD, and 10 being “I could do that in my sleep”, rate each solution. If the solution doesn’t get a 9 or a 10 on the scale, discard that solution. Make the EASIEST change possible.

Potential Solutions
1. Gets a 6 out of 10. I like my coffee strong – if I can’t catch the aroma and flavor of the grinds, I ain’t drinkin’ it.

2. Gets a 9 out of 10. I’ve used a method very similar to this before – and I only had a minor headache the day I completely cut coffee out.

3. Gets a 7 out of 10. While I’ve used something close to this before, I like routine. Cutting a cup out here and there certainly isn’t impossible, but when that clock hits 1:00 P.M., my body’s gonna be very disappointed and it’ll literally weigh on my mind for the next hour or two.

Flesh it Out

With your solution selected, it’s time to flesh out the details of the plan. Make it specific and make it measurable – there’s no room for vague ambiguity here.

My selected solution: gradually replace caffeinated coffee with decaffeinated coffee over the span of a few weeks.

Fleshed Out:

Week 1 – Make the last cup of each day half-caf – that is, half caffeinated grinds, half decaffeinated grinds.

Week 2 – Make the last cup of each day completely decaf.

Week 3 – Keeping the last cup of each day decaf, make the first cup on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and the 2nd cup on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays half-caf.

Week 4 – Keeping with the changes made in the previous weeks, make the first cup on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and the 2nd cup on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays full decaf.

Week 5 – Keeping with the previously made changes, make the 1st cup on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays half-caf.

Week 6 – Keeping with the previously made changes, make the 1st cup on Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays full decaf.

Again, to reiterate: the changes you make should be so small it would be IMPOSSIBLE not to make them. EASY.

With that being said, I have fast-tracked the above method and gotten down to about 2.5 weeks with no adverse headaches at the end.

What Next?

There’s 2 options, really – maintain the changes you have made, or build another habit. For instance, after week 6, I would probably start slowly cutting down the cups of coffee to save some money. Somehow saving money while in college is a Godsend.

If all else fails, relentlessly apply the following:

Identify the Problem
Brainstorm Solutions
“Rate” Solutions
Flesh It Out
Maintain/Take on a New Problem

Practice it. Experiment with it. Internalize it.

Have you applied/experimented with this yet? Having trouble applying the steps above? Hit me up in the comments section or at and I’ll hook you up with some help.

Big shout out to Precision Nutrition – these guys are geniuses when it comes to change and these concepts are heavily influenced by PN. Check them out here.


  1. Humbly submitting an addition to the "Brainstorming Solutions": Fill the void with another drink (or food). It won't be the beloved coffee, but find something you like that is (ideally) good for you. Have it close by so that when you reach for the cup o' Joe, your new drink will be there. Habits occupy time and effort. It's useful to try to compensate for both while working on weaning yourself off the coffee. Whatcha think?

  2. I like it. Definitely could be something to be thrown in with low(er) compliance people - it might make the transition from caffeine to decaf or even no coffee (if that's their goal) that much easier. Obviously, this is all goal-dependent and should be carefully considered regarding the specific individual and how easily or terribly they adapt to change.

    Thanks for the suggestion!