Two weeks ago, I gave up Diet Coke—cold turkey. The day before I made the decision to quit, I had a conversation with a friend about my health. We laughed about my addiction to the artificially sweetened beverage, of which I have consumed way more than ‘trace amounts.’ With seriousness, however, she emphasized how being healthy is vital to my overall purpose in life. Then she suggested something that still bugs me, but that has been incredibly effective. She said that any time I drank a Diet Coke to just tell myself that I am “off purpose.”
I haven’t opened a single can since this conversation because all I can hear is this persistent voice reminding me, “Diet Coke is off purpose. Diet Coke is off purpose.” I have no doubt that I would have cheated had this annoying but powerful message not been running constantly in the back of my mind.
I expected the first week to be awful while withdrawing from my continuous supply of caffeine. But to my great surprise, I quickly stopped awakening with headaches every morning. While I had suspected that Diet Coke wasn’t great for my health, I never expected I would feel better not drinking it.
Adjusting the first week wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. This week second week, however, has been a different story. It’s not the caffeine that I am missing, but the habit. Twenty plus years of drinking Diet Coke every day generated some deep, deep grooves. I find myself wanting one when I need a break, when I get anxious, and mostly, when I’m bored. My Diet Coke breaks gave me an unconscious excuse to break up monotony and to clear my head.
If drinking Diet Coke is now “off purpose,” I realize that it had never actually been “on purpose.” This realization has two powerful implications, the first being that my habit never served my health, nor did it relieve any stress whatsoever. The second implication is that I never drank it on purpose, meaning consciously and deliberately. It had become an unconscious, habitual response, and one for which I made dozens of justifications and excuses.
After two Diet Coke-free weeks, I am beginning to wonder how else to apply this On Purpose/Off Purpose test. I’m not even sure I fully know what my purpose is, but the choices and behaviors that support it—and those that don’t—are becoming very clear. For example, my habit of worrying is certainly “off purpose.” While obvious, I have never looked at my unconscious behaviors, thoughts, and choices in quite this way. And with my new insight, I am beginning to see that consciousness has less to do with effort and more to do with choosing and acting on purpose—and staying on purpose.