Lighter Side: Is coffee secretly sabotaging your success?

Can’t function without caffeine? – Research suggests performance would actually improve if people ditched their daily double-double.

For anyone looking to improve their performance – and potentially save money at the same time – emotional intelligence expert Travis Bradberry says he’s found one. The only catch is; you’ll have to say goodbye to your daily Tim Hortons.

“Most people start drinking caffeine because it makes them feel more alert and improves their mood,” says Bradberry – but once you’re hooked, it actually has a negative impact on your performance.

The myth

In the past, several studies have suggested that caffeine actually improves cognitive task performance in the short term but Bradberry insists this is only because these studies fail to consider the participant’s caffeine habits.

New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are actually the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal. 

By controlling caffeine use in participants, researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is non-existent without caffeine withdrawal.

“In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood,” explains Bradberry. “The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it's taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.”


Managing your emotions

TalentSmart recently surveyed more than a million people and found that 90 per cent of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. These individuals are skilled at managing their emotions and remain in control, even in times of high stress.

“The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance,” says Bradberry – but caffeine actually makes it harder for a person to control their emotions by triggering the release of adrenaline and ultimately our “fight-or-flight” response.

“The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favour of a faster response,” says Bradberry. “This is great when a bear is chasing you but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email.”

The vicious cycle of losing sleep

Self-control, focus, memory, and information-processing speed are all reduced when you don't get enough, or the right kind, of sleep and having even a small amount of caffeine in your system makes catching enough shut-eye much harder. Not only that, but the sleep you do get, isn’t as effective. 

“When caffeine disrupts your sleep, you wake up the next day with an emotional handicap,” says Bradberry. “You're naturally going to be inclined to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink to try to make yourself feel better.”


Coffee-lovers are then left feeling tired in the afternoon and too-often reach for their next fix. This leaves greater amounts in your bloodstream at bed time.

“Caffeine very quickly creates a vicious cycle,” asserts Bradberry.

Make an improvement

Giving up caffeine for good – or at least cutting down – has the potential to improve your performance and make you a much better manager, insists Bradberry, but it won’t be easy.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that caffeine withdrawal impairs concentration, causes headache, fatigue and sleepiness. Some people even reported flu-like symptoms, depression and anxiety after reducing their daily intake by just one cup.

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