The Importance of Committing to a Strategy

by Mark on April 27, 2010 · 3 comments

I spend a lot of time thinking about effective strategies for accomplishing things. One of the most challenging aspects of testing strategies is deciding what you should do when you aren’t sure that the strategy is actually working. Sometimes strategies take a while before you know if they are effective or not. The effects can be subtle and hard to detect in the short run. In cases like these, you have to decide whether you are going to have faith that it will work if you give it time or just give up the strategy entirely.

My Strategy to Give Up Caffeine

Here is an example. I admit that I’m a caffeine addict. I’ve given it up on many occasions, but unfortunately I have always ended up returning to it. I have tested various strategies of giving up caffeine with varying degrees of success. I made a conscious effort to give up caffeine back in 1996. I remember it vividly. I was feeling tired all the time no matter how much caffeine I consumed. I decided that my body was just too accustomed to having caffeine for it to provide any energy, so I decided to give it up. I knew that I would be pretty useless at work if I had no caffeine whatsoever. I developed a plan. I decided that I wouldn’t consume any caffeine over the weekends. I would just sleep and sleep and sleep. I even took sleeping pills to help me sleep through the withdrawal symptoms. The problem is that I was going cold turkey, and I would gradually develop brutal headaches. By Sunday night, I would be in terrible pain, but I was determined to get the monkey off my back. I just took a bunch of ibuprofen and tried to sleep through it.

From Monday through Friday, I allowed myself to have 2 Diet Mountain Dews per day, which is a total of about 110 milligrams of caffeine. For comparison sake, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 115-175 milligrams of caffeine, so I really wasn’t consuming all that much caffeine. Monday would be okay because I had been sleeping so much over the weekend, but life was pretty difficult with the much lower level of caffeine, especially as the week wore on. I was determined to stick it out. I stuck with no caffeine on weekends and 2 Diet Mountain Dews per day on weekdays for several weeks. I had no guarantees that my strategy would work, but I was committed to giving it time. I figured that it might take time for my body to adapt. Sure enough, it did. Pretty soon my body had adapted to the point that I had much more energy with only 2 Diet Mountain Dews than I did with far higher levels of caffeine in my system. Better yet, my energy levels were far more stable. I didn’t suffer from the constant crashing that I had experienced with high levels of caffeine. I’m not sure precisely how the body adapts to reduced caffeine, but it does.

My New Improved Strategy to Give Up Caffeine, Version 2.0

At some point, I returned to using caffeine excessively. I went through a period where I was unusually tired for whatever reason (maybe I had to work long hours), and I began to drink coffee again. I was hooked again. I truly believe that once you are addict, you are always an addict, just like an alcoholic is always an alcoholic whether he is drinking or not. I wasn’t looking forward to the pain of withdrawal again, so I decided on a new strategy. I would gradually and systematically wean myself off of caffeine. No going cold turkey this time.

I decided that I would start off with 4 Diet Mountain Dews a day for the first week and then very gradually decrease it as the weeks passed (e.g. 3 a day for a week, then 2 a day, then 1 a day, and then none).  Not only that, I specified precisely what time I would be allowed to drink each Mountain Dew. For example, when I was drinking 4 Mountain Dews, I would have one at 6 AM, 8 AM, 10 AM, and 12 PM. I intentionally spread them out. Why did I define the times so precisely? For two reasons: 1) to gain control over my habit, so that I was drinking consciously rather than unconsciously, and 2) to make it easier for me to drink less caffeine. How does it make it easier? If you are a caffeine addict and you tell yourself that you are not going to drink anymore caffeine, your willpower will probably give out, and you will go back to your bad habit. But when you know that you only have to make it 2 more hours, you know that you can do it. You can stand it for just a little longer. Another part of the strategy was to wake up at the same time each day – 6 AM. This helped to condition my sleep cycle.

This strategy didn’t make giving up caffeine easy, but it made it far more bearable. I would still be tired and have cravings for caffeine, but having very specific milestones made it more easily achievable. I have used this strategy on several occasions, and it works. My body gradually adapts and eventually begins to create more energy.

All right already. Get to the point!

The whole point of this post is that you sometimes just need to give a strategy time to be effective. I find this to be true especially where the body is concerned. Our bodies do adapt, but they often adapt fairly slowly. It is also true of any strategy that is dependent on habit. Developing new habits takes time (and repetition). Be sure to test the strategy for an adequate period of time before you give up on it. Try not to give up too soon. It would be a shame if you were on the right track but didn’t have the patience to persist until you saw results.


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