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The grounding effects of coffee

Updated: Jan 8, 2022

I love coffee. Coffee culture is big business these days and cafés pepper the high street. Coffee has featured in my life since I was much too young to drink it. At home, ‘coffee time’ meant elevensies most days. Gold Blend or Mellow Birds smiley faces of the 70’s and 80’s or an individual plastic pot filtering over a cup and saucer in a department store cafeteria. Now the pinnacle is a simple smooth Colombian roast in a coffee press or the best flat white ever from an independent coffee cart at St Pancras station.

Coffee punctuates the day – to get into the zone for work, to step away from the screen or to catch up with a colleague. Socially, having a coffee is a big part of Mum-life, after the school run, or when catching up with a friend at the shops. At weekends, it’s a moment to pause and write to-do lists, or to get a late breakfast off to a relaxed start. After supper with friends we might even break out the Matchmakers (pure class).

I’m not sure it’s even about the actual coffee anymore, and it’s not the caffeine as I’ve given that up in favour of a better night’s sleep.

I've realised coffee works for me like an ‘anchor’ – an NLP* term for an association with a feeling or state of mind, which can have both a psychological and physiological effect – in my case it is grounding, if you’ll pardon the pun. We all have anchors that have been created naturally and subconsciously and they can carry positive or negative associations. Pavlov’s dogs had a physical reflex (yes, drool) at the sight of white coats before they were fed. Film music elicits suspense or emotion. Mundane connections such as alarm clocks or the sound of the washing machine, the smell of clean laundry, if repeatedly associated with a feeling will take you back there.

Anyone can create an anchor deliberately to help build confidence, overcome exam nerves or manage a phobia. It can be performed like a ritual when you need to change your state of mind. It needs a bit of practice on your own once you’ve been shown how to do it, especially if you’re self-conscious. It's well documented that professional athletes can be ‘superstitious’ about what they wear or the order they do things when preparing to compete and these are their anchors. They are combined with the visualisation of crossing the finish line and feelings of exhilaration as they win.

For me, coffee is a positive moment to pause and relax, perhaps before a meeting, or switching projects and I can make this association before I’m anywhere near a kettle. Breathing out as I imagine slowly pressing the plunger down into the pot, feeling the resistance of the grounds against the filter. Seeing the coffee mingle with the froth of the milk. The first satisfying sip from my favourite mug. My heart rate slows and my head clears.

I don’t think it would be the same with instant coffee and I deliberately don’t imagine dunking a biscuit in the mug or we’d be in all sorts of trouble!

What acts as a positive anchor for you and how might you use it to improve your day?

*NLP or Neuro-linguistic Programming was developed by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, who believed it is possible to identify patterns in the thoughts and behaviours of successful people and to teach them to others.

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