Science told me the idea alone of coffee is energizing, so I looked at a photo of it for a week


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Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

What if simply looking at a cup of coffee could give you Gilmoresque abilities to perk up and talk 80 miles per minute? Well, maybe the concept isn’t so crazy: A recent study published in Consciousness and Cognition suggests cues of coffee alone can promote a sense of alertness (sans the jitters over-caffeination can promote). And, my God, if anyone was meant to test this out, it was me, the awful human equivalent of a “But First, Coffee” mug.

The study authors came to their buzzy (had to!) conclusion after analyzing four separate experiments of 871 total participants, that tested responses to both coffee and tea. Ultimately, those exposed to coffee-related cues (but not real cups of the energy juice that they could actually drink) perceived time as shorter and had clearer, more precise thoughts after the experiment. Let me repeat: They were more alert and they hadn’t even caffeinated. It’s a mind-blowing result for anyone who got through college on the sugary jet fuel of four caramel macchiatos a day. (Just me? Bueller?)

Dubious but intrigued, I decided to see for myself whether the mere image of a morning cup of joe could be the best part of waking up.

Day 1: I’m so excited

I open my MacBook to catch up on emails, and see my new desktop-screen photo of twin coffee cups cradled in pink saucers. My desktop is cluttered beyond any sort of joy-sparking repair, yet these two coffee teases burst through and do their best to perk me up. Since I feel inspired hit up the gym before noon and spend 40 minutes on the treadmill (a big deal for me!), I’ll call it an energized and coffee-free win. And I am very excited about it—like the opposite of Jessie Spano’s caffeine-pill problem.

Day 2: We’re gonna need a bigger coffee picture

Like true masochists, my S.O. and I go to bed at 2 a.m. the night before his great-aunt’s memorial service, so when I finally open my laptop post-luncheon, exhausted, and see my new desktop background of coffee, it jolts me in two regards. First is the seemingly psychosomatic jolt of, “I’m okay, I’m awake!” (so I guess this experiment really is working in a sense), and second is the reminder I’m trying to revitalize myself with coffee imagery alone, and I unfortunately am not supposed to go get myself a cup of the good stuff.

So, I decide to up the ante by swapping my psychedelic Lisa Simpson iPhone lock screen for something a bit more…caffeinated. After all, the first thing I do in the morning is look at my phone, because I have many addictions. Some careful Pinteresting leads me to the image of a very basic brew: black coffee in a pink coffee cup and saucer, pink roses, and some notebooks set against a white fur(?) backdrop. The slightly steaming java draws me into the confusing aesthetic. And it turns out to be a sound move.

Day 3: Uh-oh, I think I have a coffee problem

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m ready to rock. I wake up to my black-and-pink coffee lock-screen photo, fully prepared to have a nice weekend adventure with my mom and medium prepared to actually have a conversation with her. We hit up a new consignment shop and go to a tavern for salads and beer (#balance). I top off lunch with an uncharacteristic cup of post-meal coffee, because hmmm, I suddenly have a craving.

Day 4: It’s, like, kind of still working

I once again get an, “Oh, coffee!” jolt first thing in the morning, and it fuels me through some early-morning research. If nothing else, the coffee imagery on my phone serves as a prompt that it’s time to start the day, and maybe to put on a pot. Whether or not I actually brew and then drink said pot seems to having no bearing on the association I have between coffee and getting up and at ’em. However, I’m learning the imagery alone isn’t enough to propel me through my whole day without feeling like the exhausted millennial I’m learning I very much am.

That said, it’s not nothing that a mere photo has been getting me out of bed each day. Kudos to you, Pinterest photo.

Day 5: Okay, where’s my single-origin drip already?

Suddenly open my eyes before the sound of my alarm. It’s…7:40 a.m., and I feel strangely rested enough to wake up. And that’s what I do—without clutching the coffee I needed oh-so-much to do the very same thing less than a week ago.

Waking up to the sight of coffee did make me feel a bit peppier and even more focused; however, it still came with a Pavlovian “Time for coffee!” reaction. In that sense, I don’t think I could ever substitute caffeine with simply the idea of caffeine as a placebo. Still, waking up to the image of coffee did prove to be a nice way to psych myself up for the day—but I do think I need to actually drink the stuff to reap all the alertness benefits.

Have you heard about this buzzy new beanless coffee? What about this mushroom coffee, which, rest-assured, won’t mess with your gut?

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