Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues: Week One, Q1

Temperanceeat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”

Wow. This week knocked my socks off. I couldn’t believe it. As stated in the Week 1 email, the goal was simple: purge alcohol, caffeine and junk food.

In the past I’ve focused on one item. If I gave up drinking for a week, the impact wasn’t as noticeable. The other 2 vices kept me happy (or should I say “stable?”). Take away all 3 and it was a punch to the stomach.

Almost immediately, I began to notice that in times of stress my gut reaction was to reach for one of the prohibited items. Kids are insane in the morning – “God, I need some coffee.” Kids insane at dinner – “I need a glass of red.” Bored during the day – “Give me the fattest, greasiest sandwich you have.” These thoughts, these mental obstacles, eventually gave way to physical hurdles.

I like a large coffee in the morning and maybe a small coffee mid-afternoon. I do not consider myself addicted. Within 2 to 3 days both my wife and I started experiencing headaches late afternoon. To the point we both needed aspirin.

At around 730-800pm each night we were both exhausted. I mean falling asleep on the couch with the kids climbing from the ceiling exhausted. It was like we were slipped Ambien.

Irritability shot up in the beginning. Little things were extremely annoying (I did not mentally prepare for this). Plus, I began experiencing significant body aches that revealed themselves during Jiu Jitsu. It felt as if I had injured my back through my rib cage.

A quick Google search reveals these are common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. I found it shocking that I would be suffering withdrawal symptoms from a small coffee habit.

Now for the upsides:

  • My sleep vastly improved. Despite having an evening routine that normally results in a solid night sleep, the lack of caffeine (and/or alcohol) caused us to be unconscious at night. In bed by 9/930. Morning alarm goes off 2 minutes later.
  • After the initial upshot in irritability, it went down significantly. Periods that normally caused increased irritation (mornings/witching hour) were calmer. Emotional highs and lows were smoothed out. My wife commented on how nice it was when she came home late from work. Everyone was calm.

We all know the science behind cutting alcohol, fats and caffeine but I was still so surprised by the physical response. Guess you have to feel it to believe it.

In the end, I’m not going to completely drop any of these vices – that would be a lie. Some of my happiest memories have been over a glass of wine and a fatty steak. But this experiment has hammered home the importance of Temperance. I’ll continue to substitute more tea for coffee and limit the intake of alcohol. It also reminded me to be mindful of my habits. If you’d like to learn more about habits, I’d recommend “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” as the place to start. My wife and I used this book to help change sleep patterns, daily routines and more.