Going Caffeine-free


– To plan and implement a series of actions to move myself from caffeine dependence to freedom from caffeine. 
– to wean myself off caffeine over a period of days to get to a day where I only have rooibos, chicory and herb tea.
– To find myself feeling energised by the natural balance within my body, feeling open, connected.


DATE: 20 OCTOBER 2023 – 13 January 2024


STATUS: Ongoing





TOOLS: Wordmaps/Design Web Anchor Points, Holistic Decision Making, 8 Forms of Wealth, Input/Output, Cultural Emergence Core Routines, Reflective Journal, Four Questions

RESOURCES/SUPPORT: Carla’s Design Forum, ‘Sand Talk’ by Tyson Yunkaporta, Doughald Hine’s ‘Regrowing Living Cultures’ course, Cultural Emergence book, Canva, Google doc


I have been dependent on caffeine since I don’t know when. I have had a brief moment in my life of being caffeine free, around 2018 to 2020.

 I feel the effects of caffeine in my body and mind mask my true feelings and my ability to sense and perceive. I’d like to be caffeine-free so I can really feel, and reduce the nervous energy I feel as a result of drinking it. 

Even beginning to achieve my intentions means unlocking layers and layers of established behaviours and deeply embedded ways of thinking, doing and being.


Holistic Context

I used Dan Palmer’s holistic decision making process to deepen into my vision. In pursuit of clarity around going caffeine free, I distilled and discerned:

Sources of caffeine: I get my caffeine hit from black tea. I’ll occasionally have a decaf cappuccino or decaf flat white when we are out.

My consumption: I enjoy tea at

5am – 1 caffeine teabag, 1 decaf teabag

8.30am – 2 decaf teabags

10am – 2 decaf teabags

2pm – 2 decaf teabags

All in a large cup!

That’s 1 caffeine teabag and up to 7 decaf teabags a day. 

There is from 4mg up to 70mg of caffeine in 1 caffeinated tea bag (depending on how long you let it steep).

There is around 5mg of caffeine in 1 decaf teabag.

So, I have approximately 100mg of caffeine a day. And for me, that is too much, because of the way it makes me feel, full of nervous energy.  


8 Forms of Wealth



I took into consideration what I would need to put in to the process in order to achieve my intention, and imagined what I might get out of the process, identifying the future possible; how I could feel when I do achieve my aim. 


Old Story, New Story

Pollarded Branching

As part of the ritual to set my intention (in Ideas phase) on December 1st, I took a walk to The Kymin. My goal was to find a pattern. The pattern I found was ‘branching’.

What’s significant about it is the feeling that what I am aiming to do is ‘pollard’ my unhelpful behaviours, in order that new behaviours can regrow. I was particularly interested in the point at which the tree branches. Something stimulates growth in a new direction.

I learnt more here. This made me think I ought to do something about balancing my hormones, as my perimenopausal state surely has an impact, so I signed up for a DailyOm course on good food for menopause. 


Intention Setting Ritual

I set out on a walk, as part of my ritual to set my intention. I found kindling for a fire. When I got home I set my intentions on pieces of paper, some to let go, some to welcome in. And I set a fire. I collected some herbs and enjoyed a ritual tea. I was surprised at the herbs still available for me in the garden in November. 

Fire. Beautiful fire, source of energy and light. Consuming and creating at the same time. Photo credit: Sally Hughes

Herbs gathered from the garden (in December!) for tea. Red clover, calendula, dandelion, fennel, yarrow. Photo credit: Sally Hughes

Taking Care. Photo credit: Sally Hughes

One small step at a time

Making a Life Pattern

As a way to welcome in new behaviours, and create space in my life for doing the things I enjoy (an intention identified in the Pause phase), I created a new Life Pattern. I’ve put this on the wall next to my computer. Setting this kind of intention in the dead of winter feels hard. I’m hoping it will set more so as the light comes back.


I chose to use Looby’s Cultural Emergence Principles, as initially I felt like they fitted with the design web, and are suitable for this people-focused context. I wrote in response to each principle, which I chose by feeling which seemed to resonate most in the moment.

I also reflected more deeply on Principle 0 and made other reflections on principles in the thought piece here: 


(1) This statement, ‘addiction is the opposite of connection’ comes from Charles Eisenstein in his book The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.  In the book he talks about how addiction is a way we withhold from fully participating in life. And that it is about behaviour that alleviates pain. He says that our addictive behaviours are on some level about our striving to regain our interbeingness, our connection to ourselves, each other and the web of life. He also talks more about it here.

(2 The idea that addiction is tied to trauma is an idea expressed by  Gabor Mate here


I approached the integration phase by pulling out the needs I identified in the other anchor points. Going caffeine-free is the first step on a long journey of recovery, as I begin to manifest my vision. 

My need to change – The ideas and actions I have undertaken in the design have been the ways I have tried to meet my need for change by trying new things, setting myself up for different conditions to emerge. They are the ways I have tried to meet my needs.

I want to change because I want to be able to feel, to sense, but I feel my sensing is occluded by the force of caffeine in my body. I also want to live free from the excess nervous energy caffeine creates. I explored a range of different options for meeting my needs in the activities/actions I did in the course of the design process, moving the tools, writing, drawing, ritual etc. As it turns out, none of it was enough to actually create the shift I was looking for.

I have articulated my needs in a variety of places in the design, in the vision, in the tools, and journal.

Essentially, I am aiming to:

  • Decrease caffeine intake
  • Increase calm mind, wellbeing and energy
  • Moving from one state of being to a more healthful state (boundary crossing) by taking a series of actions to move myself from where I am to where I want to be
  • What I need now is to let it go

It has become clear here that the core purpose of the design is to create a space to explore the design web and cultural emergence. Going caffeine-free was a subsystem, a medium for exploration.

I have identified what ‘taking care’ means for me. I am now in a place to carry this learning into future designing, I find myself at a place from which to regrow. 

The design is really about the relationship between the conditions in my body/inner world and the conditions of the outer. Changing myself and my relationship to my body is a systems and complexity approach to changing the world. What I have learnt from Nora Bateson, and her work on Warm Data Labs, is that you can’t change a system by working on one isolated part of it. To move more deeply into the change I seek, I must now take a wider perspective, and look at all the other systems around me that are having an effect on my Zone 00.

The image I created below, in the process of using the HDM tool, is a representation of the design that enables me to hold the intentions for the design as I go forth, in a symbolic way.

This idea of ‘branching’ has become a metaphor for how change happens for me. As has the input/output model that I made. See ‘Branching’ in Reflection.

Becoming Whole. Symbolic representation of HDM process outcomes. Sally Hughes, October 2023.


I have come to settle on asking myself three questions when I attend to the ethics, which have brought up the following responses:

‘Is what I am doing ethical?’

I am aiming reduce the harm that caffeine does to my body. 

‘How am I making sure I am caring for the earth, caring for people, caring about how I use resources and considering equity in the design and through the decisions I make?’

I feel have attended to this briefly in the anchor point mindmap, and through my discussion on Principle 0 in the Principles Thought Piece. 

‘How am I holding back to ensure I am not taking more than my fair share?’

This brings up an interesting reflection for me. I actually feel that I am lacking my fair share here. Surely feeling well is is a given, but I don’t feel the cultural conditions I find myself in offer what I need in order to thrive and live with vitality. The design is about addressing the deeply embedded cultural conditioning I experience. To reclaim my right to health in a deeply unhealthy system. 

I also note that my habit of making a big tea in a large cup using two teabags might be taking more than my fair share, maybe one teabag per cup is enough!



Becoming… Image to represent the design. Watercolour paint, soil from the garden, white and black poster paint. Sally Hughes, October 2023


I made a timeline to plot the route to caffeine-free. Noting the actions to reduce my intake of caffeine I would make along the way. I celebrated the progress I made in my reflective journal writing. The aim was to wean myself off caffeine over a period of days to get to a day where I only have rooibos, chicory and herb tea.

After 9 days caffeine-free, I fell off the wagon, because I felt the pressure of completing work for my diploma, and felt like I needed the energy tea offers to do that. So, I made another timeline.

UPDATE – 22nd December: I am still waiting for the moment when I feel like I have the space to try again. I will make a new timeline when I have submitted design 10 for assessment. I feel like I can’t rest until then. 

UPDATE – 2nd January: On 23rd December, I managed to stop having a caffeine teabag in the morning, doing well with only decaf so far.

Core Routines

I have been looking for ways to invoke the concentration I need to do my work on the computer. Instead of using caffeine, I can use this inspiration from Looby’s Core Routines. They are new tools to play with when I set about concentrating on work. 


Reflective Journal

My reflective journal writing has been a huge support for keeping momentum. I has illuminated my thoughts and feelings and made where I am more clear, as well as being a space for celebrating the small successes I made as I progressed.

A page from my reflective journal. Photo credit: Sally Hughes




How I see myself branching in different ways, in the context of wellbeing and addiction. 

I notice that my thoughts about my addiction to caffeine are changing as I come out of the design. I reflect on my context as a city-dweller. The pace of life, and what it takes to get through a day in this environment, the pressures and strains of family, projects, commitments etc. I wonder if the condition I find myself in is more a product of my social and cultural environment than I have given credit for in the design. 

Is it all about me? My failings, my inability to have enough willpower to hold up against my addictions. Or is it about our socio-cultural conditions?

Letting go of some of the responsibility for creating this way of being in my body, and seeing it as an effect of my environment helps to foster more care and tenderness to how I approach the change I feel I need. 

Maybe this is how I survive (using caffeine for energy and concentration) in response to my external conditions. I feel like if I found myself having the tree change I referred to in design 9, and got out of the city and the way it imposes itself on me, I might have a different experience of being in my body. 

This won’t happen, so I find myself in a place where I have to learn to live with the conditions I find myself in, with all the external forces and pressures, and make the best of it. (Limits imposed by sectors?) 

Branching by fixing up to have new experiences that shift my perceptions, so the new internship, the co-counselling I’ll start soon, writing my Substack, they will all have an impact on my way of being, which may help shift my internal culture, as I shift the external culture I find myself in. 

So in that way, it is all about the quality of connection. And it is about response-ability. I feel like I have got to a point of ‘analysis paralysis’ with this design, I can’t respond anymore. I have spent too much time focussing so tightly on trying to change myself. I need to re-branch now by letting it go, setting it free into the winds. Literally by stopping and putting my mind onto something else!

I have been dwelling in the boundary conditions (the black dashed line in my input/output) for too long. I need to retreat back to the safe space of being how I am right now (input), recoup my energy, then re-approach the boundary condition from a different angle, with a new perspective, in the hope of making progress at crossing into the unknown (output). That’s a very interesting reflection on how change happens for me!


Were your project aims met through the design solution created?

My aims and intentions for the design were:


The actions I have undertaken include:

  • Using the tools to glean insights and learnings to support my endeavour
  • Using herb tea as a help/support
  • Creating and enjoying a ritual fire to set my intention
  • Creating a timeline, then making another one 
  • Making a Life Pattern, like the timetable we used to have in school, a way to frame my days to make space for all the things I’d like to do
  • Writing in my reflective journal


I managed 9 days caffeine-free. And the pressure to work on my diploma tipped my back to caffeine dependence. The weaning worked, although I had a headache for most of the time. Next time, I am going to ty going cold turkey, to get the headache over sooner. 


In my reflective journal, during my caffeine-free time I noted that my sense of smell had become heightened.

I also managed to complete a project proposal during that time, working well on the computer without caffeine as a stimulant. I had my mind on setting an intention for the work, which I identified as a strategy in the core routines. Working with a collaborator helped with motivation to do the work too.

I also notice that I’m finding more thoughts in my mind around how grateful I am for things, and I note I am finding ways to express that with people more. 

Did the design work? How do you know that it worked?

I am not finding myself caffeine-free at the point at which I am submitting it for assessment. However, I have experienced glimpses of the future possible through my endeavours. 

At the end of the design I find myself with deeper awareness of the barriers that stop me from overcoming my addiction to caffeine. The need to do all the work of my diploma being one of them. The landscape will be different once I have finished. 

I’ve drunk a lot of hawthorn and chamomile tea, rooibos and chicory, which have become favourites. This brings forth my propensity to get hooked on things, my addictive character. I have a long way to go to heal.

What went well? With meeting the aims and intentions….

What I learnt from the theory on addiction: That addiction is the opposite of connection, so to seek ways to be fully connected is a good strategy. That addiction is often linked with trauma and that ‘you don’t get a day off recovery’. I have set myself up with a co-counselling process as a way to start deepening into my healing. Hopefully this will move me closer to my aim.

Writing this, I see there are 12 phases in the design web, which calls to mind the 12 steps of AA. I see that this design has been a moral inventory of myself, and I am beginning to have an experience of awakening, mainly in my thinking. 

What was challenging? With meeting the aims and intentions….

Falling off the wagon, resisting feelings of failure: This is a hard process, it will take time. I must be tender with myself. There were days when it was very dark emotionally for me in the process of reducing my caffeine intake.

Old, ingrained patterns are super hard to shift. I find I am ingrained with patterns of behaviour that have shaped my life for many years, and my entire diploma. I fall down, reset my intention, and carry on.

Healing from addiction is a thing that needs more than a short design process which I’m holding in the run up to Christmas. However, what I have done here has highlighted some supportive practices and intentions for change.  I must go tenderly with myself.

And it’s going to take a lot of writing/righting. I have, alongside the work here, set myself an intention to begin writing a Substack on becoming indigenous, and I’ve found myself a writing partner.

To really begin the work of healing, I feel like it needs to be private, and not published for all to see on the interweb! I feel like I won’t really be free to attend to any of this properly until my diploma is done.


Framework – Using the design web as a framework has been extremely generative, too much in fact. I produced so much in response in the original wordmaps, distilling it down into the information I present in each anchor point here has been a massive challenge.  I’d likely start with smaller pieces of paper if I did it again. 

I prefer using the design web as a tool, like I did in design 7.

The fact that there is no place specifically in the design web framework for ethics feels like a bit of a flaw in the framework for me, because it has made choosing the right place for the ethics in the write-up hard. If I was doing it again, I’d attend to the ethics first in the write-up, as they shape the design in a holistic way – I’d be interested to find ways to reflect this better in the documentation. A web page like this is a linear representation! The process was not linear.

I felt satisfied when the idea to attend to the evaluation and reflection within the Reflection anchor point came to mind, rather than add them in addition at the end, which was my first instinct.

I enjoyed the non-linear nature of it, flitting from one phase to the next, like a butterfly. I fear this makes write-up a little incoherent, as the times at which things happened are not in the right order. I note that this has come up for me before. I do like to be able to document things in the order they happened in the cycle, because one thing grows from another in an iterative, unfolding process.


At the end of design 9, I made a list of all the tools that I still wanted to experiment with. These were the ones that I chose.

Wordmaps/Design Web Anchor Points – Redesigning the way I presented the wordmaps/anchor points using Canva enabled me to hone in on what was really relevant. The original hand-drawn wordmaps I made offered a deep exploration. I’ll carry much of the learning into the future with me.

Holistic Decision Making/Holistic Context – Whilst I don’t think I used this tool to it’s full potential, it was hugely generative for clarifying my vision. The symbolic representation of the outcomes I made fills my heart with joy, I felt so engaged in the process of creating it. Although, I chose not to present that image, or the other statements here in the final write-up, choosing instead to distill it into the spiral mindmap you see here. 

8 Forms of Wealth – Used in the helps phase to identify all the resources and support I have available to me. It is a good tool, many of the things I gleaned using it I carried with me though the rest of the design. Fruitful arisings indeed. I put it in the helps phase because its about what I need in order to achieve my aims.

Input/Output – This was a small gestural use of the input/output tool. I noted what I would need to put in: time, energy, self-care etc, in order to cross the boundary into what I hope I will get out of the process, or where I hope I will find myself when I am caffeine-free: calm mind, healthful thoughts etc. The feeling I get within me when I imagine being the person I could be feels hopeful. I look forward to this day. It helped clarify my vision. 

Cultural Emergence Core Routines – I identified the core routines as a useful set of strategies I could use to support me to work on the computer without caffeine. 

Reflective Journal – I value the benefit of a daily journaling process as a self reflection tool to grow my own thinking capacity. Writing in this way enabled me to see how my feelings and thoughts were coming up as the process went along. I gained clarity from this process.

Intermezzo – At the Christmas Tree Festival when we were putting up our tree, I found this bit of joyful information hanging on one of the other trees. I have been angsting over tools for a long time. This find brought some freedom to my thinking, and closes a loop as I come to the end of my diploma, wonderful.

Principles – I loved writing the   Principles Thought Piece . The writing feels so nourishing, and has a reflective quality to it. So I’ll just say briefly here, I find the cultural emergence principles don’t satisfy my hunger for learning about the way the other-than-human world lives. I enjoy using metaphor to make alignments between my own human experience of living and the living that happens for other beings. 

Ethics – I found it hard to attend to the ethics with any significant depth in this design. Maybe that’s because they don’t have a specific place to be held in the process.

So I turned to Looby’s Cultural Emergence book, and learnt that the ethics are so entwined in the cultural emergence process that they don’t get a mention specifically, except where she talks about writing the book about the people-ethic, and where she describes each ethic in one sentence early on.

Four Questions:

What’s going well? With the design process….

I enjoyed making the wordmaps, and images that have come forth through the process. I’ve enjoyed the whole design, it’s been very creative.

What I learnt was that I don’t have a problem, I have a predicament. And predicaments can’t be solved, they require deep processes, varied perspectives, and small interventions overtime that change the energy of the system. This has been such an intervention. I’ll only know in time what the effects will be. 

Using the tools: I really enjoyed the HDM and 8 Forms of Wealth. Finding the branching pattern and the idea of pollarding my unwanted behaviours, in order that new behaviours can regrow, was very satisfying.

What’s been challenging? With the design process….

Distillation: It took me three goes to write-up the design. In the final distillation I went about separating it out into two distinct designs, one about giving up caffeine, one about becoming indigenous. This process of distilling feels akin to the long process of overcoming addiction, where you have to dig deep to find the essence of what’s keeping you addicted. I have achieved finding the essence of this design, maybe that sets me up…

Creating a small design: Being who I am, I’m not sure that small designs are possible. This is as small as I can go, and in the context of my other designs, it is smallish! The framework didn’t help, see reflection. 

What’s the long-term vision?

This potentially leads into a bigger ‘Life Reset for Recovery/Finding Sobriety 2024’ design.

I want to grow:

  • My body to be more flexible
  • More creative expression to understand emotions
  • Learning about plants, connecting with the living world
  • Lose weight
  • Eat well, good organic home cooked food
  • Clean and tidy clutter free home
  • Bright mind
  • My writing
  • Body of work – sharing on social media
  • Contribute to household economy, save money for yoga retreats!
  • Relationships 
  • Community 
  • Peace, stress reduction, balance energy
  • Work – edges – collaboration, influence

What are your next steps?

  • Revisit the timeline once I have submitted everything and have some space after Christmas.
  • I’ll do the Ceremony of Appreciation on the day I do finally get to a caffeine-free place, ie 14 days after my last cup.  
  • Read the book Fiona recommended in the Forum, ‘ Call of the Wild‘.
  • Enjoy being involved in the Co-counselling process, first meeting early January.
  • Finish writing up ‘Becoming…’ design, this feels like it supports my intention to write on Substack, so was hugely useful! I do laugh at myself though, given the challenge to make a small design, what I actually did was make two!
  • I’m interested to pick up where I left off with the Principles, and have a new thought emerging about working into the idea of ‘Regenerative Design’.
  • Corrections
  • Finish writing my final presentation, set the date, invite people, then enjoy the celebration!
  • Get Certified Educator status. Enjoy delivering an intro session at Global Gardens in the spring and at CoedFest in the summer. 


I paused often on my journey, taking time for my mind to wander on other things, walking, listening to podcasts, sea dipping, sauna on the beach, the PA job interview, paid work and preparing for Christmas.