Three months ago in October of 2018, while I was prepping for interviews, I broke my nose.

I wanted to maximize my sleep in order to recover faster. Because I didn’t have any obligations at the time, I stopped consuming caffeine.

For several years up to that point, I would have one 5 Hour Energy every morning.

I’ve noticed several changes: (most predictably) a reduction in anxiety, a first-order effect. Then, two second-order effects: retaining more information when learning, and an overall greater appreciation for complexity in life.

Anxiety Reduction

This is so obvious and written about so often that it’s almost not worth mentioning. Stimulants often cause anxiety.

You may be in denial about your anxiety like I was. I exhibited (and still exhibit) physical manifestations of anxiety like acne, picking at nails, etc.

Cutting out caffeine helped reduce those.

Learning Better

This is my most interesting and unexpected change!

My nose break and caffeine elimination happened right in the middle of my technical interview prep. In hindsight, I can see my rate of learning before and after.

At a high-level, technical interviews focus on solving academic problems like (I presume) you would receive in computer science classes in college. Prepping for these interviews is similar to studying for a class.

My rate of learning greatly increased with no caffeine! I think this happened for two reasons.

First, on caffeine, I’m more anxious, so I get distracted easier. There are always thoughts in the back of my brain, so my studying time is less focused. I’m also more likely to let one of those background thoughts take over and distract me, convincing me to check Slack or something else unimportant.

The second reason is that I sleep less, resulting in lower brain plasticity.

One might expect that without caffeine, I have less “focused” time, so I would learn less. To me, it seems that learning happens during a true focus, where 100% of your thoughts are on the task at hand. It’s very hard for me to achieve that for long periods of time on caffeine.

This was my most unexpected and interesting second-order effect.

Complexity and Importance in Life

Caffeine creates a sort of tunnel-vision in you. Caffeine does not know what is and isn’t important. It tunnels you into your most urgent task.

All of this focus on my most urgent tasks created self-grandiosity in me. Because I was so immediately focused on my next task, it was hard to think about the outside world.

Without caffeine, I have a much more outward, egalitarian and familial focus.

This third effect is the hardest to put into words. It’s also a very emotional change, so I could be in the mood for a huge range of reasons. It may revert.

Ultimately, it is the most profound change in myself, but also the weakest link to the caffeine reduction.