Coffee is killing your creativity. Here’s why.It's no secret that the creative world runs on coffee, but caffeinated productivity might stopping you from creating your best work. Here's why, and what to do about it.
Coffee has been the quintessential creativity fuel for as long as most of us can remember. From that first snappy morning cup of java, to the romanticized image of the weary yet dedicated artist up past 3am working alongside a strong cup of joe, the caffeinated creative is a long-standing part of our culture (not to mention the coffee industry!)
But despite the strong relationship that many creatives have with their coffee, shows that caffeine can actually limit your creative ability.
Why do we drink coffee?
For many people, drinking coffee is a habit, plain and simple. Some of us use coffee to wake up in the morning, to dispel the fog of sleep so we can start our day with a clear head. Many even claim that they can’t start their day without their morning triple shot or extra strong drip. Others use coffee to get into flow, a psychological state where they feel motivated, energized, and inspired.
Now let’s get one thing clear: I love coffee. I love how it clears my head and energizes me to get into the right space for my creative work. But I’m also aware that once the magic wears off, all I want and need is another cup to keep me going. And another. Down the rabbit hole we go.
What caffeine actually does to your body
The psychological effects of caffeine actually kick in long before taking your first sip. You have that energizing anticipation of coffee, the morning ritual of its preparation, awakening your senses with its essence and aroma. Then as the caffeine hits your brain with those first few sips, it simultaneously blocks the brain from sensing fatigue, while stimulating the adrenals and spurring the brain to produce dopamine – the “happy” chemical. No wonder we come to associate caffeine with feeling so good!
While its immediate effects can feel buzzing and intoxicating, the fact is that caffeine prevents your body from feeling its normal levels of fatigue and alters your biological state, creating an addictive state of caffeinated creativity based entirely on consumption of this completely acceptable drug.
While you may ride the high for a few hours, the caffeine will inevitably wear off, dropping you back into a fatigue state and necessitating your next double espresso shot.
The dangers of state-based creativity
So what does it mean when we rely on caffeine to “get us going” in the morning? First off, realize that caffeine doesn’t increase energy or “get you going” at all; it blocks chemicals to the brain that signal us to relax and slow down, creating an artificially-induced state of energy.
This perceived energy and buzz creates a cycle of “state-based creativity” – making you dependent on this heightened state in order to produce your best work. Without the drug, you feel “lower” – less creative, energized, and “in the zone”.
Somehow we’ve romanticized this coffee addition to justify it perfectly in society – it’s nearly abnormal for a hard-working creative not to be seen with a java in hand! But what if we replaced this word “coffee” with a harder drug that we used to get ‘in the flow”? Suddenly not so cute anymore, is it?
When we look at the real reasons behind why we drink coffee or other altering substances, it’s clear that what we’re really craving is a change in our mental or emotional state. As peak performance coach Tony Robbins puts it, “What we’re really looking for is a state change,” and we often get that through indulging in substances like coffee or other drugs.
The problem with relying on coffee (or any other drug) to reach our peak state of performance is that it trains a feedback loop which makes it more and more difficult to function without the trigger drug.
Taking back your creative power
I won’t lie – coffee is and will continue to be a part of my creative life. The difference is, I now enjoy its delightful essence without being dependent on its effects to fuel my creative process. I drink it from a conscious choice to enjoy the flavor and experience – not from a need for it to fuel my peak state of being.
Being a fully empowered creative means breaking the cycle of state-based creativity, so you can produce your best work when you decide to do it – not when you’ve consumed an adequate amount of some chemical.
Here are some tips for breaking the habit:
- Get some sleep! It seems pretty obvious, but a major reason people drink coffee is to perk themselves up after not getting enough sleep. Unfortunately, putting a Band-Aid on the problem isn’t a sustainable solution. In a , caffeine was shown to prolong falling asleep and reduce sleep quality for participants. Sleep actually – and getting enough of it reduces the need to compensate with caffeine.
- Get physical. Movement and exercise are nature’s natural energizer, so when you’re craving a buzz, hit the gym or pavement instead of your local Starbucks. And in a powerful , she explores how body language shapes who we are and how we feel on a daily basis. So even if you can’t make it to the gym, practicing your “power poses” in your room will amp up your energy, confidence, and vitality far more than the short-term effects of a double-shot espresso.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of whole fruits and veggies. A lack of energy could easily be attributed to a lack of proper nutrition, so eat a proper breakfast before you pour your first cup of coffee.
- Drink lots of water, especially in the morning. Your body is normally on the dehydrated side after the night of sleep, so rehydrating will increase alertness and provide that natural perk-up that you normally seek from coffee. Dehydration also affects so nip this in the bud by carrying a large water bottle and consciously filling up throughout the day.
- Explore other ways to ignite your creativity, such as meditation, reading, or listening to music. Try new things outside of your normal routine, have regular dinners with interesting and inspiring friends, and keep your workspace filled with out-of-the-ordinary objects to help inspire new ideas.
- Broaden your knowledge. Take a new class like psychology or horticulture, read journals in various fields you aren’t familiar with, and strike up conversations with people you might not normally talk to. Getting out of your normal zone of comfort expands your knowledge and increases your ability to think creatively outside the box. Likewise, when you actively seek out challenging situations and problems to solve, you trigger the creative part of your brain and train it to generate new ideas and make new connections.
It really might feel overwhelming to even think about parting with your beloved daily java – I get it. But consider this: separating your creativity from a chemical substance, no matter how delicious, will free your energy and empower you to fulfill the potential you need to produce your best work, consistently.
Oh, and all that cash you save on your daily double shot macchiato lattes? Use it to fund your next (caffeine-free) creative venture.