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How to Defend Your Coffee Habit

How to Defend Your Coffee Habit
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    I don’t think I’ve read a productivity blog yet that didn’t suggest kicking the coffee habit. I’ve kicked many bad habits in the last few years, something that seemed impossibly hard at first—such as dumping dairy—but coffee is one thing that I never succeeded with. That’s probably because I never really wanted to.

    While it truly is best that you cut caffeine out of your diet or curtail your consumption, for many of us it’s the one thing we’ll hold onto even when making other drastic changes in our lives. Never fear—there are still many benefits to drinking coffee, and I’ll show you how to defend your manic addiction to the world when confronted by an overzealous stampede of crusading lifehackistas!

    A Reduced Risk of Disease

    Have you seen all those tea advertisements that claim it’s the best source of antioxidants? Apparently, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. Tea comes second. Of course, that’s a statistic measured on the level of consumption rather than the quality of the source.

    Antioxidants prevent and slow disease and oxidative damage. When the body uses oxygen, the process creates harmful by-products that antioxidants destroy. This reduces the risk of disease and promotes optimal health.

    This is one of the few benefits of coffee not derived from its caffeine content, so if you want to avoid high blood pressure or a heart attack, you can drink decaf without losing any health points—if you have a stomach strong enough to keep it down.

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    Counter-defense: fruits and vegetables are an even denser source of antioxidants.

    Increased Mental Performance

    This is why we start drinking coffee in the first place, right? I started binge drinking coffee in order to stay up all night working on various projects, though it didn’t take long for coffee consumption to become a hobby in its own right.

    Drinking coffee improves your concentration, alertness and staves off a tired mind. For me, work comes to a halt when I’m missing any of the above, especially concentration or alertness. Ten or twenty minutes after a cup of coffee, I can be back to work for a few more hours.

    Apparently coffee improves your short term memory, which indicates that I’m not drinking nearly enough of it. Did I mention that coffee improves your short term memory?

    Counter-defense: eating a diet low in meat and dairy and high in vegetables and fruit will provide increased mental performance and higher energy on a more consistent basis.

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    Make Shift Work Slightly More Tolerable

    Shift work forces the body into strange sleeping patterns, or more accurately, a lack of a sleeping pattern. Your body relies on patterns to tune and operate the whole circadian process which tells you when you’re in need of sleep or when it’s time to be awake. Lacking a solid pattern means you’ll be pumping melatonin or adrenaline through your body at very strange times.

    I know someone who took their car through a street sign (and escaped without getting caught) because of the way shift work destroys your sleeping patterns, so for these workers caffeine is not as much of a luxury – it becomes a necessary part of safely performing the work and getting there and back. Drink 200mg (two espressos) to keep yourself attentive on the job for a period of five or six hours. If you’ve got a killer twelve hour shift, throw back a few more halfway through.

    Drinking 400mg of caffeine in one night isn’t the healthiest thing you could be doing, but neither is shift work.

    Counter-defense: become a freelancer!

    Improve Endurance and Stamina in Physical Activities

    It is well known that coffee improves endurance and stamina in physical activities, especially sports. The last time I played any team sport, I could count my age on two hands. Nevertheless, a cup of coffee before the morning run makes it go that much faster and easier.

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    If you’re starting an exercise routine (or returning to one) and having trouble with the adaption, drinking a cup of coffee before starting may make it easy enough to get over the hump and make it a habit. If all you need is an adaptation tool you can stop drinking it once you can get through each session on your own.

    Counter-defense: with stamina and endurance training, you don’t need a cup of coffee to enable your body – you can apply these traits at any time.

    Improve Your Ability to Socialize

    A few cups of coffee can really help the introvert or cynic to come out of the shell and enjoy social situations. Coffee houses first formed in the Middle East hundreds of years ago and became popular as social locations, a tradition that has continued to this day. It’s got to do with not only the great atmosphere, aroma and architecture of most coffee houses, but of course, the effects of caffeine kicking your mind into gear and boosting your mood.

    There is evidence to show that coffee doesn’t boost your mood so much as reduce stress by eliminating the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for the frazzled, distressed feeling brought on by day-to-day stress.

    This one works well for me—especially for making visits to the wife’s family much more bearable!

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    Counter-defense: get a life, make some friends!

    Truly, there is no substitute for replacing a caffeine dependency with the optimal diet for your body and lifestyle. Drinking too much coffee can wreak havoc on your system, especially your sleep patterns and blood pressure.

    The latest research shows that drinking 200mg of caffeine or more a day can double the risk of miscarriage in pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, watch your intake, or better yet, just stop consuming caffeine altogether.

    That aside, coffee drinking has a far worse reputation than it deserves; the benefits are real, and in moderation, it’s actually a good idea to get some coffee in your system. Go ahead. Have a cup—you know you want to!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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