Overriding wants, or, “What Detroit’s got to do with it”

americano from caffe umbria in seattle

Every morning, after ramping up with a mug of weak tea, I have one giant cup of incredibly strong coffee.

Almost immediately, I am filled with focused energy, high spirits, and love for my fellow man. Which, even though it’s happened every single day for the past 30 years (give or take the occasional streak of repentance), still manages to surprise me each time.

It feels so surprisingly good, in fact, that as soon as I finish my giant cup of coffee, I want another one. Just today. Just this once. Because that first cup really put me in the right mood, only I didn’t quite get everything done that I wanted to while I was riding the black wave. And I have a lot to do. And, hey, it’s Thursday (or Monday, or Saturday) and sunny (or hazy, or sometimes, even raining), and no one is the goddamn boss of me—why the hell not, right?

The part of me that’s self-actualized, well-shrunk, and sober enough to remember the vapor trails of coffees past knows why, of course. It recalls that while one is good, two is more likely jitters, or a disruption in sleep cycle, or even (you’ll pardon the indelicacy) significant gastric distress. And it further recalls, with no small quantity of shame, that two often leads to three, which inevitably opens the gateway to a flare.

But that un-evolved bundle of impulses that’s jacked to the tits on Shortcut Joy Juice? It couldn’t care less; it just wants more, please.


* * * * *

I’m not a Desire Noob. I grok the whole Buddhist “attachment is suffering” thing—intellectually, anyway. I’m aware that quite often, in the same way that thirst or sleepiness can masquerade as hunger, objects of desire stand in for other, less-easily identified or fulfilled (or acceptable) needs. I definitely understand that when I’m going after something outside of myself, it’s usually because I’m feeling unfed somewhere inside of myself.

Where and what are a little harder to suss out.

The Universe, for its part, seems to love nothing better than a good self-improvement project, so it’s been throwing resources my way.

One book I’ve stumbled on describes extramarital affairs—a veritable hotbed of attachment and suffering—as a duck-and-run for something each party involved would prefer to avoid addressing in himself. Which on the one hand is kind of a gigantic “no duh” and on the other, is a little unsettling: all infidelities? For all parties—transgressors and aggrieved?

So for fun (because this book sure isn’t), I leaf through the back catalog of my own sordid past—the wrongs I’ve done, the WAY worse wrongs that have been done to me. And I reluctantly admit to myself that indeed, in every case, we were a trio of self-deluded, sometimes self-righteous jackholes who were, in one way or another, refusing to live in our truth of truths.

Another book helpfully provides a definitive list of things that spur us on to do other things. Things like wanting sex & love or fame/money/power are, no surprise, at the top, followed fairly logically by things like “master mind group” and shared survivor experiences. (Also, surprisingly—but awesomely—music!)

At the bottom, the author lists two negative change agents: fear and drugs/alcohol. Which at first seemed nutso, until I really thought about them as part of a hierarchy of intentions. After which I had to admit, they made a lot more sense: the same rotten conditions that can foster a peaceful revolution can, when you add fear, create an angry mob and insalubrious changes. And chemically-altering substances can foster all kinds of actions, but erratically and unreliably.

By this logic, it appeared that if it was my desire to feel energized, focused, joyous, and loving that drove me to drink coffee, it would take some equally strong—if not stronger—desire to counter it.

* * * * *

Speaking of sex and love, back when I was in the process of quitting smoking—which basically involves stopping all at once, then keeping yourself from starting over and over (and over) again—I remember thinking how great it would be if, every time I wanted a cigarette, in lieu of lighting up I could grab someone and make out with them. I hadn’t worked out the why of it, exactly; I think I likened it to that thing where you distract yourself from an aching tooth by pinching your arm really hard. Only this would be a craving that could cancel out another craving.

Now I wonder if that wasn’t what smoking was for me all along—a way to distract myself from a powerful but terrifying craving to create and/or connect with the All-That-Is.

Perhaps it wasn’t ever the nicotine I really wanted, but feeling at one with all life.

* * * * *

I’m officially on the road now. San Diego and Boston last week, Minneapolis this one, a U.S. City Near You coming soon. In just over two months, I’ll have traveled more than I did in the first nine months of the year combined.

This is not a complaint; I’m out there doing what I love and getting paid for it, which is something I’ve worked toward for a long time. It’s just a reality that constant travel is far harder on my current body than the one I had when I first envisioned this as a viable lifestyle. (And that’s not even getting into how travel itself has declined since my previous traveling heyday, aka the ’80s.)

However, the travel is good for my body in one way. Because my desire to do this work is so strong, whatever helps me do it serves as a powerful motivator for not doing something else—in this case, drinking that second cup of coffee. When the urge to re-caffeinate comes on, I now ask myself: “Do you want that cup of coffee, or do you want to go to Detroit?”

I get that “Detroit” might not work for everyone. Right now, however, it works for me.

* * * * *

One final thought on using will (or greater, future-you wants) to override current wants: some compassion is necessary. Because change is a process, not a switch. Some days, I have the best intentions of sticking to one cup…then wash them down with a second. Other days I slip up (or back, or sideways) in other ways: I’ll eat something that’s not on the SCD, or I’ll stay up too late and clip my sleep on the other end, or I won’t go for my walk, or I overindulge on wine or (legal) sweets.

Not that any of these things are terrific, but what’s worse is beating myself up over it. Note, correct, and move on. If there’s time in there, I do some sussing for triggers. If not, don’t beat myself up over that, either.

Because beating myself up doesn’t get me closer to anything. Even Detroit.



  1. I really love this post, most especially your whole-hearted honesty about something we ALL go through.
    Speaking of going through, I live near Detroit and would truly LOVE to see whatever presentation you’re doing.
    In fact, I’ll be heading down to Grand Circus park, the headquarters for OccupyDetroit this week. It would be amazing to see you and share the humanity of everyone trying to get their needs met, because that is exactly what the Occupy movement is really all about.
    Safe travels, xoxo

    1. Thanks, Pam.

      The talk I’m giving is about marketing; while it’s very useful in its way (and, I am told, fairly entertaining), whether you would really love it depends on how much the topic interests you. (In other words, it’s a lot less like my blog posts and a lot more like my newsletters.)

      You’re welcome to come, if you really want to. You can read more about the talk and buy a ticket via the ASMP page devoted to it.

  2. Wonderful! Have you read Annie Dillard’s essay on writing in which she discusses getting just the right amount of coffee? Stay happy and strong on the road.

  3. Great to see your post, best on your travels. Wow, I’m with you on so many levels with this one(starting with fighting the desire for the 2nd cup that my stomach won’t tolerate). And trying to support my future-you wants. And trying to remember to be kind and compassionate with myself, as I take a breath and begin again. And again. And again. Love this! “beating myself up doesn’t get me closer to anything” Hey, any pix of the current hair/baldness? :) All the best to you.

  4. This one really spoke to me, also, Colleen. I can totally relate on many levels. I would love to share a really strong cup of coffee with you one day! I have challenging will power when it comes to coffee- almost like the”well it’s my one vice” that I hear at my favorite cafe all the time. For a guy who has released 70 lbs this year, will power an discipline have been close friends of late. All the best in Detroit.

  5. Was so happy to see your post in my inbox this morning! As usual, LOVE it! So right on about our desires and what shows up instead of the real thing, and I’m grabbing (with credit) “change is a process, not a switch.” And speaking of books…I wouldn’t hesitate to read one of yours.

    1. Thanks, Mary Ellen. And I’ll remind you of that when I finally have some of these thoughts bound into book form.

  6. Thanks for this one Colleen. This bell you just rung is another wake up call to action. For me it’s all about change and not exchanging one thing for another (i.e. making out instead of smoking). I beat myself up way too much for being unmotivated. It’s about doing and this boy doesn’t need coffee to see that.

  7. Colleen–So glad to see you back. You’ve so inspired me that I now have a young mentee at Washington Elementary. What fun!

    I really relate to the coffee and everything you said in your post, and the coffee/Detroit line is going to be posted on my work wall.

    Coming anywhere near Kansas City, are you? Have you posted a schedule and I’ve missed it?

    Thank heavens for you!

    1. WONDERFUL to hear of your new mentoring relationship! Thanks for your service, and for letting me know.

      As of now, I have no plans for KC, although I keep adding stops to the ASMP tour, so you never know. I’m not the best about posting that stuff here, so keep an eye out there, if you’re interested. (And yes, I should get better about letting people know things. I should get better about a LOT of things!)

  8. i was happy to read the recent study on coffee’s beneficial effect on depression. also, happy to have stumbled upon your great blog. i will send our readers your way.

  9. What a treat to see your post this am. Choosing the right thing feels so sucky sometimes, but the benefits are worth it. Why is that soooo hard to latch onto?

    Happy traveling, and if you get anywhere near Philly let me know!


    1. We just added Philly in February! It’s a short stop, so I’m not sure what free time I’ll have; hopefully, we can make it happen.

  10. And I, too, had been missing your posts. The small bar of chocolate in your photo looks yummy. Glad to have your post to read twice before I start my day. Keep on going, Colleen.

  11. Well, look at you. There you are. Saying all that needs to be said. About anything.

    “Now I wonder if that wasn’t what smoking was for me all along—a way to distract myself from a powerful but terrifying craving to create and/or connect with the All-That-Is.”


    “Do you want that cup of coffee, or do you want to go to Detroit?”

    I guess my head will just be perpetually black-and-blue from the relentless face-punching I come by here. Thanks a bunch.

    I don’t know you, lady, but I’m charmed and moved by you on a regular basis. The web truly is a weird and wonderful thing.

    I wish you ALL ALL ALL the best out there, fighting the good fight. Love! For Everyone!
    xxxoo back atcha.

  12. LOVED your post this morning, Colleen. Two things especially…

    I now have an image of a person grabbing a random stranger and making out with them in order to stave off a nicotine-induced craving. Maybe this is what’s really going on in the streets of Paris when we see a couple going at it so enthusiastically in public. :)

    And then there’s this…”when I’m going after something outside of myself, it’s usually because I’m feeling unfed somewhere inside of myself.” This is a home run for me. Thanks for a most excellent pitch.

    Travel well!

    1. Maybe this is what’s really going on in the streets of Paris when we see a couple going at it so enthusiastically in public.

      Well, they *were* awfully big on smoking for a while.

  13. “… one giant cup of incredibly strong coffee.

    “Almost immediately, I am filled with focused energy, high spirits, and love for my fellow man. ”

    Gosh, Colleen, when I read this I could almost feel that same feeling. I could definitely imagine it. I think I’ll try re-reading whenever (in the afternoon, for example) I’m tempted to have a second cup.

    Safe and happy travels to you!

  14. “un-evolved bundle of impulses that’s jacked to the tits on Shortcut Joy Juice”

    Ah, poetry!

    An insightful, inspiring and instructive post, as usual.

    Enjoy your travels, and thanks for sharing them with us.

    This is speaking to me right where I am. Thank you.

  15. Self-knowledge is a beautiful thing, and you express your inner struggles and journey so endearingly and entertainingly! Thanks for making me smile at 4:15 am when I haven’t yet been able to sleep. Could it be too much caffeine? Nah. ;-)

  16. Read this today, right after my cup of chamomile tea and separate cup of dark dark dark unsweetened hot chocolate (non dairy), a morning routine designed to keep me from making and drinking four shots of espresso. At first, I felt that tug that comes when recovering addicts talk about drugs instead of doing them. By the end, though, I was back on solid ground cheering for you, Detroit and grateful for the reminder to be aware of what our cravings are really all about. Loved this.

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