First Ride of the Season, Uncaffeinated – Quitting Coffee: Day 23

Stopping Prohibited at All Times...Unless you really want to.

Stopping Prohibited at All Times…Unless you really want to.

This morning before work, I went on my first ride of the season – biking, that is. Last year, I didn’t bike very much, but last year was a hard year in a lot of ways. In retrospect, maybe I should’ve biked more.

Anyway, it’s a crunch week at work – crazy, really – so when I woke up this morning and felt a warm day, and saw little breeze, it seemed like a no brainer to go sweat for a bit.  So I did.

All things being equal, it wasn’t a bad first ride; apparently, my devotion to Kettleworx is paying off. But in years past, when I rode in the mornings, it used to always be with a cup or two of coffee in the system as fuel.

Today was the first ride without.  And I figured it would be tough.

Funny thing was, it wasn’t.  I told myself as I started off that I’d take it easy – no world records today.  And, actually, I kept that approach throughout the 18-mile loop.  I’ve been ‘taking time to smell the roses’ a bit more lately, and today was no different.  I felt that I was keeping up a good pace, but I was certainly noticing all kinds of details.

The smell of flowers, and of cut grass and soil by the vineyards.  The way the light threw shadows across the road.  The flat stillness of old asphalt when there were no cars around, and the sun hit it just right. Heck, I even rescued my first box turtle of the season.

I wasn’t slacking – far from it – but I was enjoying things that, in the past, I’d sped by.  The little, and important things.  Was it just due to coffee in my bloodstream?  Not wholly, no.  But it was due to the lifestyle that required that type of fuel, and blurred perspective.

It was actually pretty productive – copywriters work everywhere, and I’m no different.  Came home with 4 new concepts for 2 different clients.  Plus an idea for a short story (the writer never sleeps, either).

When I was speeding through life, this rarely happened.  Always push push push.

Funny thing was,as I arced into my driveway, popped off the saddle and  checked my time, I was right there with some of my best.  Ever.

Go figure.

Why My Daughter’s Smart – Quitting Coffee: Day 22

Just a few minuted ago, I caught my 9-year old daughter awake in bed – and still reading – at 10:15 at night. Yes, we have bedtimes, but she’s a little like me – night owl, late reader.

Must be genetic.

Last night, same thing, though she’d come into the living room around 9:30 to ask about ‘sleep strategies’, as she puts it.  Ways to fall asleep.  And I suggested that instead of reading an exciting book, she try a boring one. In fact, there was one she’d tried the prior night that she said was boring.


So off she went. I heard the flashlight wind.  I saw lights under the covers. And then, a bit later…

More lights.

Which eventually went out.  But tonight, she told me something worth remembering:

“Daddy,” she said, snug in the covers and with a little light in her eye, “Y’know, I think I learned something.”

“What’s that?” I said.

“I found out there’s some books that you have to get through the slow boring stuff, but then it gets really good in the middle – and the ending’s always really great.”

I got a little misty.  And a little hopeful.

“Y’know,” I said, “I always find that the books that start out really fast, and that I fly through, they’re the ones that I can never remember a little bit after I’m done.  But the other ones, they’re the ones that I remember best.  The ones that mean something.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment.  Then, “Yeah, I think you’re right.  Goodnight Daddy.  Love you.”

“Love you too, kiddo.  Proud of you”


And if you missed the lesson, just read it again.

Dopamine, or Fauxpamine? Quitting Coffee: Day 21

Dopamine.  It's the Real Thing...

Dopamine. It’s the Real Thing…

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  The other day, while getting up to speed on agencies I’d be meeting with, I watched Gabe Zichermann’s intro video.  Gabe’s the CEO of Gamification and its creative arm, Dopamine; they’re creative shops based, in part of behavioral marketing from a gaming standpoint.  I met Gabe and we had a nice chat – he’s a nice guy  and they seem to have a good thing going, but what stayed with me more was what he’d said in his video.

To paraphrase, he said that the ‘dopamine response’ – or pleasurable feeling as a reward for action, to put it very laymanly (look, I’ve birthed an adjective!) – takes place maybe once a day, or more likely once a week – or even year – in our working lives.

But video gamers experience this dopamine response hundreds of times an hour!  

That’s, in large part, what makes games so immersive, and even addictive.  And also leads to a different kind of fluid intelligence over time that allows one to adapt more quickly in certain, high intensity/short learning curve situations than those who have a more traditional intellectual background.

What stayed with me more, however, was the concept of the dopamine response  -which I’ve learned is very similar to the caffeine response, as interpreted by the body (there’s more to that, but I’m a writer, not a scientist, damnit!).

Anyway, in my new perception based on a severe lack of caffeine, I’ve noticed that my behavior has, indeed changed.  There are some things that I’m doing far less, now, and other things that I’m doing more of.  Truly, my behavioral patterns have shifted in response to whether or not I associated that activity with a cup of coffee in the past.

Which, taken another step, makes me wonder if I actually ever really enjoyed those activities at all?

In other words, was I experiencing a true dopamine pleasure response from the activity, or did the caffeine simply magnify a more minor response, tricking me into thinking that I enjoyed whatever activity it was more than I really did?

The ramifications of this, of course, are huge if you think about it.  And I do, because I have more energy and far more focus now than I did 3-weeks ago when I was still taking in a pot or more a day.

So, thinking about it, it sort of makes you question everything.  As I mentioned in one of the first posts, my primary fear was that I wouldn’t be able to write well and, even more importantly, that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.  Serious stuff for me.

Fortunately, I still do enjoy the writing just as much, and I think that the words (most of the time – not in this blog necessarily ;) are better, because the thinking behind them is.

But larger issues exist if you unwind that intellectual thread.  What other things that I used coffee for to not just enjoy, but maybe even just get through are now affected?  For me, that’s the trick of it; distinguishing what parts of my life were true dopamine responses, and which were simply false, caffeinated burst of speed masquerading as real enjoyment – the fauxpamine response.

It’s a good question with no easy, or immediate answers.  But the good part, now, is that as I ask the questions, I know the conclusions I reach will be true.  And clear.

Confession and Lesson – Quitting Coffee: Day 20

Revisions make the final product stronger...

Revisions make the final product stronger…

As some of you know, quitting coffee wasn’t the only part of the challenge I’d chosen to undertake some 20 days ago.

Actually there’s quite a bit more to it. In fact, it includes everything from eating better (I’m now about 80% Vegetarian in terms of total intake), getting 8.5 hours of sleep a night (not so much, but I have moved from six to about 7.5), and a host of other things, all of which are designed to give me more energy, and more focus as I discipline my self to both set – and achieve – some pretty lofty goals.

The other thing was no alcohol.

Now, I’m not much of a drinker – wine with dinner a couple of nights a week was pretty much the extent of my drinking. And, to be honest, coffee, for me, was far harder than any of the other challenges.  In fact, I stopped drinking when I quit coffee – same day.  Not forever, mind you – the challenge is only supposed to run for 30 days. That said,  I don’t see myself going back to the up/down seesaw of living wired on caffeine anytime soon, so don’t worry.

And, quite frankly, I didn’t miss alcohol one bit.  Not a problem.

But here’s the thing – and the confessional part of this post:

Yesterday, after our meetings in NYC and before catching the bus home, my colleague Dan said, “Hey, you wanna grab a beer?”

And, quite frankly, it sounded good – even fun.

“Yeah, sure.” I said.

Yeah. Sure.

Two simple words.

And  so we did – actually have a couple and, to be honest, a pretty good time (I won’t mention the 17-block sprint up Third Avenue to catch the bus here…we were, uh, late…)

But here’s the thing: today, my wife’s relatives showed up from out of town and wanted to meet at one of the wineries here. She wanted to go, I’d mowed the lawn, and when we got there, wine was poured.  I had a glass.

Here’s the important thing: It is far easier to wholly commit to something than it is to partially commit to something.

And, in keeping with that, the minute you break your commitment – even in a seemingly small and innocent way – it makes the next opportunity to break it that much easier.  It’s the slippery slope.

And. before you know it, you’re back where you started.

Which is decidedly not where I want to be.

I think that there is tremendous power in full commitment to a decision. A particular path, or course of action.

Something about fully committing seems to summon up unexpected and additional resolve, and magnifies the rewards almost immediately.

And this doesn’t just apply to one’s lifestyle, I think.  Instead, I think that it applies to whatever it is you truly want to do.

Total commitment, I’ve realized, is the only way to get what you want, and where you want to be.

And concessions are never minor.

So what happened?

I got home, had a salad for dinner and recommitted.

And, I’ll wager, that the life  lesson I learned far outweighs my slip up.


Life-Sized Startups: Perspective from A Bus – Quitting Coffee:Day 19

I’m blogging this update from my phone – and from The Jitney at 10:20 pm – suffice to say, I’ll be brief ;)
Anyway, spent the day at the agency Walkabout in NYC and, honestly, had a great time – met some good people in the creative world and learned, oddly enough, that what is often perceived to be big and daunting from a distance – in this case,a lot of tech and creative startups – is actually much smaller and more accessible than you think.

The Walkabout is sort of an agency open house – creative groups, media companies and the like open their doors and give a brief presentation – along with plenty of hospitality, networking and swag – once a year in NY. This year was my first year – and if you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know the backstory.

Anyway, what amazed me most, I think, was that – having done a little homework on the companies on my itinerary beforehand – in my case, this meant Animoto, Gamefication, Squarespace and Contently – my perception was that these were probably big ‘companies’ – in the way that one might expect established, successful businesses to be.

Don’t get me wrong – they were all terrific, their products were good, and they couldn’t have been more engaging or nicer.  In fact, I made some good new contacts and came away with some great ideas that we can apply to our own business, but…

When it came right down to it, most of these were startups – and I mean that in the sense that they were just some people like you or me in a room somewhere with an idea that they kept working out.  Not at all a conventional ‘business’, as one might expect them to be from their well-polished web presentations.

And I don’t mean to in any way lessen what they do, but for me, the takeaway was one of – once again – a change in my perception.

There’s been a lot of that since I undertook my little 30-day challenge, and decided to quit coffee to boot.

Quite frankly,the experience of seeing these places as not what I perceived them to be, but instead as just a few people in a modest walkup space was akin to talking to a movie star for the first time; you suddenly realize that they’re real, and human, and in most ways just like you and me.

And that’s not a bad thing, because in today’s case, as the veils of preconception fell, I came away feeling not disillusioned, but instead empowered.

If these otherwise ordinary people could be so successful just by pursuing an idea, buying some desks at IKEA, and working hard at what they love, well, I could too.  In fact, anyone could.

Sure the outward perception of their companies and products is bigger than life, but once you shake hand and talk to them – even laugh with them, well , they suddenly become life-sized, once again.

And that’s a size that is accessible to all of us.

Just a lesson in perspective vs reality, I guess.

My stop’s coming up – gotta run….


If You Had a Rocket, What Would You Do? – Quitting Coffee: Day 18

Brilliant Simplicity: Gab's Rocket

Brilliant Simplicity: Gab’s Rocket

“If you had a Rocket, what would you do?”

It’s a big question, isn’t it?  A Rocket.  Wow.  Where would I put it?  How big is it?  Is it OK for me to have a Rocket?   Could I sell it?  What’s it worth?  What will the neighbors think? I can’t very well hide in the backyard!  Who’s giving me a Rocket, anyway?  Can this wait ’til After Work?  Is it Safe?

If any of the above – or anything like them – are your gut responses, your reactions to the awesome question of “If you had a Rocket, what would you do??, well… then

You are Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong, Wrongity Wrong!

And so was I, and for a very long time.

The picture next to this post was made by my youngest daughter, Gabriella.  Her correct answer is in the picture.

And it is perfectly right in its simplicity.

Because, as children – or non-stressed adults (a rarity) – the correct way to hear that question is not as a ‘would’, but as a could.

That’s the way we ALL thought at one point in our lives, and how we all should think now – at least a little, and at least every day of our lives.

Gab’s thought ‘rocket’ and thought ‘fun!’ Instantly – no hesitation whatsoever.  Go to the Moon, of course, and then just bounce around in a spacesuit.  What else would you do?

I wager that even if we thought, ‘well, I’ll go to the Moon’, we’d still have the idea of, say, how will we breathe?  Which would lead to another question, and then another.

The barriers we put up, automatically, because we’ve trained ourselves, and society has reinforced the idea of stop.  Think.  Consider.  What if?

Basically, we’re self-trained to say No to most of the things we should just, for the heck of it – and because ultimately it’s not really that important – say YES to.

This isn’t about coffee, not really.  But is does reflect my new mindset having said yes to a simple 30-day challenge by a pretty smart guy named Oli Hille (look him up – he’s easy to find).

And his challenge is more than about just coffee – you can read about it in the first post of this series.

But my point is that I caught myself;  I’d been saying No as a knee-jerk reaction to the simplest things – really anything that would cause a change in my rather predictable routine – for far too long.

Saying yes to just one thing has paid off in ways far greater than I’d anticipated.  It’s helped with my creative, it’s helped with my outlook.  It’s improved my life.

Yes.  Something that simple.

Now, I don’t think everyone should give up coffee – or anything else for that matter.  But I do think that everyone should say yes as a first response more often.

For instance, Dan, who works with me, suggested that we go to the WalkaboutNYC – a great opportunity where creatives go to a series of agency and media shop open houses in NYC, just to see what’s going on.

Last year at this time, I would have said, “well, we really have a lot to do and we should stay here and get some things done blah blah blah. Blah.”

Tomorrow we’re heading in to meet and greet with places and people like Animoto, Gamification, Outbrain, Squarespace and Contently.

It’ll be fun.  Work will likely be there when we get back – and we’ll hopefully bring back whole new perspective and enthusiasm to the job – which ultimately will benefit our clients anyway. And ourselves, too.

Because I said yes.  Without thinking.

And Yes, you should, too.

What’s Your Tipping Point? Quitting Coffee: Day 17

Find it now, or it will find you later...

Find it now, or it will find you later… (from Yoyo, circa 1965 – Highly Recommended)

One of my clients is a Chrysler dealership. They sell a lot of Jeeps which is, in part, my fault and, not coincidentally, why I happen to drive a Jeep. I’m big on loyalty.

Anyway, they’ve been a client for almost ten years now, which is a long time – especially in the world of advertising. One of the good things about having a long-term client, is that, after awhile, you start to pick up on trends in their industry.  And one of the trends I find to be most interesting is the rationale people use when deciding what to buy.

This is True: If the price of gas is $3.99 or less, people will by  SUV’s like hotcakes (though having bought hotcakes myself, that’s probably not the right simile…).  If the price of gas is $4.01 of greater, SUV sales stagnate, then fall – and quickly.  People don’t necessarily leave the dealer, but they do try and buy cars with high – usually very high – MPG values.

And it makes sense – unless you think about it.

We’re talking about a .o2 cent difference which, for a vehicle that can hold twenty gallons is a difference of 40¢ per fill up on maybe $80.00 or so.

Arguably incidental, but from the standpoint of perception, a true tipping point in terms of decision and behavior.


Now what’s this have to do with quitting coffee?  Well, I’ve reached a point in my caffeine-less life that I now look back and wonder why I quit.  It was a big decision that has affected my life in a whole lot of ways, but why did I do it?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember things clearly after the fact – time tends to blur recollection, but in my case I so remember why: I’d simply reached my tipping point.

And, like the 2¢ difference in gas price, my rationale was seemingly incidental. Really, just the proverbial camel-back breaking straw.   You see, for a long while now, I’ve been feeling restless.  I’m very good at what I do and, most days enjoy it.

But for the past few years when I’m, say, on vacation, I tend to fill a Moleskine (or Evernote – equally handy) with ideas that I want to pursue.  That excite me.  That would be fun and in some cases, perhaps, even incredibly lucrative. And that are risky – a departure from my current, safe and proven means of keeping my kids fed and my dog happy.

That’s the vacation buzz for me – new environment, new interactions.  Meeting people who don’t already know my story (or think they do).

A World of Possibilities!

Which, sadly, dries up or gets lost in the day-to-day business of routine a few weeks after my return.

And in my case, that reintegration into the blur of the routine was aided and abetted by too much coffee.  At least, that was my supposition.

And it’s proving to be true.

So while I haven’t as yet addressed all of the neat and nifty things I want to get to, I’m starting because I’d reached a tipping point, and made a small change.

But even the smallest changes affect things in way you couldn’t have imagined, or foreseen, prior to making the change.  Prior to taking Action.

So what’s your tipping point?  What’s that one thing that will push you to try something new, or different.  Take a slightly different approach?

The thing is, sometimes we have to get there to find out.  And sometimes we already know, just have to take that one step and, as Goethe so famously said, “…begin it.”

We live in a world where many of us are just holding on by our fingertips.  Treading water for years on end.  And yet, I’ll argue that all of us know what we should be doing, yet wait for the right moment.  The tipping point, where you pull the ‘someday’ back from the horizon you so that you can move toward it, and even touch it.

I say don’t wait for your tipping point – go find it.  And act on it.

Just my two cents.



Did I Fall Off The Wagon??? Quitting Coffee: Day 16

This morning, I got a nice – and welcome surprise. I didn’t post yesterday, really for two reasons: one, I had a trustees meeting  (I’m on the board) run VERY late into the night, and, two, I’ve been knocking around the idea of posting a little less frequently, but with maybe some more insightful stuff.

Not that I’m new to blogging, but like most bloggers – or people who do anything, I suppose – I’d started blogging in the past with the best of intentions, but then, inevitably, fell away from it. In my case, I think I was looking for too much perfection – which isn’t, really, the spirit of blogging in the first place. I’ve got tons of ideas, and an equal amount of nearly-done drafts in the back-end of the WordPress dashboard, but I just never got around to giving them the final polish I thought they needed.

Giving up coffee, and deciding to blog about it daily – as much for personal accountability as for entertainment – has made it easier for me to blog more frequently, because, I thought, I was pretty much blogging for myself and maybe a friend or two who might be reading it.

Turns out, I as wrong.

When I didn’t blog yesterday, I figured no one would notice.

But this morning I got a nice email from someone who asked if, indeed, I’d fallen off the wagon, and if that’s why I hadn’t blogged yesterday.

I assured her that I hadn’t, and thanked her for reading.

Will do my best to keep up daily, even if it’s a quick update, and will also be exploring some other stuff that I think might be of interest.

And I thank you all, as well.


Why You Should Take a Break: Quitting Coffee: Day 15

Hello All! Just a quick post tonight – Having had my daughter’s First Communion on Saturday and Mother’s Day today, to be honest, I’m bushed.

Today’s Takeaway: Taking a break is a good thing – with writing, and with Life.

There’s an old adage that says that the only way to be a writer is to write; put your butt in the chair every day and have at it. No exceptions – work at it daily, and you’ll get it done. And, honestly, that’s more than good advice – it works.

But there’s also something to be said, I think for – every once in awhile – turning your head off. Walking away, both physically and mentally, from the project at hand. Forgetting about it completely.

Professionally, as a copywriter and creative, I learned that lesson a long time ago. It’s impossible to explain to a client that putting 10 hours in on an idea is sometimes less effective than putting in maybe an hour, and then making a point of actively and intentionally forgetting about it for awhile – maybe moving on to another project, or going for a long drive or a short run – whatever.  When you come back, that seed you planted has had enough time to germinate into more than you could have created by force or effort.

It’s like magic.

But as I’m trying to put a new book to bed, I’ve been at it relentlessly – until the above-mentioned First Communion and Mother’s Day preparations, as well as some business travel, got in the way for the past few days.

So this morning I got back to it – just for maybe 45 minutes or so (it is Mother’s Day…) and that ‘space’ I’d carved out, the time completely away from the project, somehow bore fruit.

I nailed the section I was on, and even roughed out the direction for the final section.

So what’s this have to do with giving up coffee?  Well, if you read yesterday’s post, it was all about finding space in your life (mine was a result of slowing down without the constant caffeinated buzz), and figuring out what to do with it.

Today I realized that ‘space’ – measures of silence or just time focused on something outside of your usual routine – has its own intrinsic value.

Maybe it’s not always necessary to immediately use time you’ve gained through a change in habit (for me coffee)  like it’s some sort of sudden windfall that needs to be spent. Maybe sometimes it’s better to just appreciate those beats of silence, and trust them to work on their own, so that when the notes sound again, they’ll be all the clearer.

Just a thought -

Happy Mother’s Day from the Mannino House

This is What Happens when you live with Creatives...

What Happens when you live with creatives…

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