Giving up on giving up on caffeine

Yesterday I paid Grayson Morris £75 for the privilege of getting to have caffeine again (when I set up the pre-commitment in May I foolishly specified it would be $90 rather than the equivalent number of pounds, which back then would have been £62. Thanks Brexit).

The context is that I set up a community policing policy for my caffeinefree beeminder goal in which I precommitted to keep it going until May next year and that I would pay this penalty if I didn’t. Yesterday I decided that I wasn’t going to do that and was instead going to pay the penalty, and Grayson was the one to claim it.

This is a post-mortem for that goal, and a discussion of what’s going to happen now.

Why did I decide to archive the goal?

The core reason I decided to archive the goal is that I concluded that I was almost certain to want to archive the goal between now and the deadline, the cost would remain constant, and I didn’t feel I would derive significant benefit from an additional period of the goal being active. Additionally, given my currency is not doing very well and is likely to do worse before it gets better again, the cost of archiving it was only going to go up.

In particular I decided that I would get more than £75 worth of benefit from being able to drink caffeine again regularly. I’ve spent about 5 months without a caffeine addiction, during which the longest period without any caffeine at all was nearly two months. At this point I feel like I have an adequate grasp of what life without a caffeine addiction is like and I don’t enjoy it very much.

What’s wrong with life without caffeine?

A couple of things. First, I can reasonably conclusively say now that caffeine is not the culprit for my bad sleep. I still sleep terribly without caffeine. This isn’t something wrong with life without caffeine per se, but it means that life without caffeine doesn’t have to just be not bad it has be actually good.

And I’ve not really found that to be the case. The only concrete benefit I can point to being without caffeine is that I’m a somewhat calmer person.

Set against that, there are some major downsides to life without a caffeine addiction for me:

  1. I don’t actually like being a calmer person very much, because it tends to just result in me being a more depressed person.
  2. I still have bad days where I haven’t slept properly or am just exhausted for some other reason and there’s nothing I can do about it. This is especially bad as I have been doing a lot of longish distance driving recently, so there’s a real possibility that a lack of caffeine could actually kill me, but even without that this sucks.
  3. Occasional caffeine use is much worse for me than regular caffeine use. It turns out that when I haven’t built up my tolerance I’m just really sensitive to caffeine and then even fairly small quantities do significantly disrupt my sleep.

What went well with this goal?

I’m mostly pretty happy with how this went. It’s been by far my longest period in my adult life without a caffeine addiction, and this goal definitely helped me achieve that. I thought this goal structure was great and I might well use it again in future for other things.

I also found the community policing thread really helpful and will probably use it again for other hard to commit to goals.

What would I do differently in retrospect?

I think I committed to this goal for too long and for too much money. If I were to try something similar in future I would:

  1. Not commit to it for more than 6 months
  2. Commit to it for maybe half the original amount of penalty
  3. Commit in my local currency. But in my defence I didn’t really expect a popular vote and an unelected borderline fascist government to decide to tank said currency.

What are the expected consequences of being back on caffeine?

I expect my energy levels to be higher and more regular.

I also expect to be an angrier person.

I’m not making this up. The two things I forget or underestimate every time are that caffeine withdrawal makes me intensely depressed and going back on caffeine makes me angry. I always get to the end of the day and go “Why am I so depressed/furious? OH RIGHT CAFFEINE”.

I think a large part of this is not caffeine itself but my temperament and how I respond to having insufficient / too much energy (I’m basically always somewhat depressed and always somewhat angry, but how much I am of each depends on how much energy I have to express them), but these are also just physiological consequences of how a body responds to caffeine.

This effect will be more pronounced in the near future as my body acclimatises to caffeine and I adjust to having more energy. I apologise if I am unnecessarily short with you as a result and you should feel to call me on it.

I’m going to be trying to offset this effect by supplementing my caffeine intake with theanine. Anecdotally it seems to be somewhat helpful for this but doesn’t make the effect go away.

Closing remarks

Thanks to everyone who participated in the community policing thread, and thanks to Beeminder for enabling this. Although I’m terminating the experiment early and the result is more negative than I was hoping for, I still consider the experiment to be a success and am glad I did it.

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