Bitter is better

Remember that anything really worth doing is probably hard work, and will absolutely require you to do things you don’t currently do, which will feel uncomfortable for a while. This is a “hard truth” we must all face. If it was easy, everyone would already be doing it.

~ Farnam Street from, https://fs.blog/2016/10/eat-the-broccoli/

Somewhere along the way, I learned to like vegetables. I mean, really like vegetables. I know you think I said, “give me a lot of vegetables,” but what I actually said was, “give me all the vegetables.” Brussel Sprouts? Do you remember when they used to be bitter? …because, yes, they really did breed them differently in recent decades to be less bitter. Artichoke—not just the hearts, but the whole thing… yes, I know how to make them, and keep your hands out of the way when I eat them. But a good one is hard to find these days as they’ve been bred to be more “palatable.” Peppers, yes of all sorts. Tomatos, I ate them all. Beans, kale, spinach, turnips, cucumbers… steamed, raw, tossed as summer salad (aka, with EVO and red wine vinegar)… nom nom nom nom.

A little over a year ago, I settled on my personal mission: Creating better conversations to spread understanding and compassion. To make progress on that, I need to eat my vegetables. And—as discussed—I love me some vegetables. I’m currently, slowly working on adjusting my life to be focused on two things: Recording kewl conversations with people, and writing; writing about those kewl conversations. It’s not that I currently have responsibilities to eschew, but rather there are still too many off-focus things I do which I’m working to eliminate.

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Where the world is

As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be—it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.

~ Saul Alinsky

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How to save the world

As we leave childhood, we unwittingly dial down our imagination and our ambition, because an ancient and out-of-touch part of our minds tells us they are dangerous. Creativity suffers, and so do our prospects for personal greatness and happiness. […] The purpose of this book is to illustrate this great discrepancy — between what is normal and what is possible — and give you some stepping stones to begin crossing the rift.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/on-becoming-an-individual-or-how-to-save-the-world/

Ignore me. Click the link.

…you’re still here, why? Seriously the entire point of this post is simply so I can link to Cain’s post, and the sublime 46 page PDF attached to it.

Go. Go now!

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§13 – Time for reflection

(Part 13 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

My title refers both to my doing of such, and is a suggestion that you should as well. It’s been a long time since I added a post to this beloved series, Changes and Results. But, today just happens to be—meaning I’ve been waiting for many months for this date :) —exactly nine years from my first daily journal entry.

What would you wish to be doing, then, when death finds you? For my part, I would wish it to be something that befits a human being, some beneficient, public-spririted, noble action. But if I cannot be found doing such great things as these I should like at least to be doing that which cannot be impeded and is given me to do, namely, correcting myself, improving the faculty that deals with impressions, toiling to achieve tranquillity, and rendering to the several relationships of life their due; and, if I am so fortunate, advancing to the third area of study, that which deals with the attainment of secure judgements.

~ Epictetus, 4.10.12-3

Each morning I spend significant time in reflection. Without going too deeply into specifics, I don’t get up at precisely the same time, and I do take the occasional day off from my morning reflection. But beginning my day by reflecting—not on my yesterday, nor recent events per se, but generally reflecting on my self—is second in importance to me only to getting a good night’s sleep.

My process is, well, mine. I use software synced across multiple computers and mobile devices and so on… I also have physical books, and journals, and paper and pen… I’ve some 3×5 cards, physical boxes, etc.… The specific “how” is unimportant. You’ll find your own methods. But, simply to give you some ideas, here’s an outline of my morning reflection as of late 2020:

  • Reading previous journal entries — I have marks in my journals making it simple for me to open historical entries; Each morning I read my entry (if any) from 9, 6, 3 and 1 year ago.
  • Today’s Daily Stoic entry — Stoic with a capital-S, which is not closely related to the English word “stoic.”
  • An item prompting specific self-reflection — From a series of self-reflection prompts I’ve accumulated over the years.
  • An item of inspiration — These come from a second series of prompts which I’ve developed, and are meant to get me to keep my shit in order. The quote at the top of this post from Epictetus is one of these prompts. They’re not sunny platitudes, but rather they are I’m-not-kidding-around-here-serious prompts to get me focused in what I’ve assessed to be the right direction.
  • Reading — I have a stack of books which are specifically Philosophical. Not simply non-fiction, but works by Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Stoicism and Philosophy in general. Some mornings I’ll study just one page from one of these books. Some mornings I’ll spend over an hour in this reading.
  • Journalling — After thus limbering up my brain and exposing it to that carefully curated collection of ideas, I pick up my pen and open my journal.

Exactly how much time does that take? It varies, but usually hours. This morning, I stopped short to do this writing. I was about 2 hours into this morning’s reflection when I switched to working on this post. Unusually, this morning I have a hard stop for something that has a specific time. (I’ve cleared from my entire life anyone’s ability to interrupt me, summon me, demand my attention, etc..) If you are aghast at this arrangement of my life… If you are thinking, “I could never do that,” I can only say:

How can you afford not to?

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§12 – Final Thoughts

(Part 12 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Wow.

It took me years longer than I had originally hoped to finish this series of posts. I’ve recently decided to push these posts out the door so that they could possibly be of some use to others. Having them laying around as drafts-in-progress isn’t helpful.

As this series was being written, I took a terrific detour working with two friends who were experimenting with starting their own personal training company. They used me as a guinea pig for testing their coaching and training systems for nutrition, psychology of eating and physical training. During this time working with them I succeeded at some huge improvements in psychology (related to eating) and achieved the best physical condition I’ve been in in recorded history. If you want to do a deep dive, check out, Training for the New Alpinism.

…and a few other disjointed thoughts:

This: From Nerd Fitness, 5 Steps After Failing.

What do I want? I simply want to be able to move and play. I’m constrained by physical limitations (age, body type, etc.), but mostly just by my total weight. So although I always want to increase my general fitness, the current first order problem—and I’ve linked directly into the Wikipedia article to the section that could be a profound, new way for you to consider when solving problems—for me is simply weight. For me, that is almost entirely driven by psychology—psychosis?—as it applies to food.

What am I tracking? I’ve often heard, “that which you measure gets improved.” Tracking and measuring does focus your attention, but it only gets you data. You have to be motivated to analyze that data and make adjustments to your routine. Am I making progress? Is the rate of progress what I expected when I planned? Is the progress too slow or too fast? What can I change that would affect the progress? What happens if I cycle periods of tracking a lot, and tracking nothing? You have to look at your assumptions, analyze, research, and experiment to figure out what’s true. “Science, bitch!” ~ Jesse.

So long, and thanks for reading!

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§11 – Intermittent Fasting

(Part 11 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Intermittent Fasting (IF)

With any form of IF, you can get the same physiological benefits. The key is to find a form/style of fasting that works for you and which yields the results you want. No matter what you do, it requires [what may be] a whole new level of paying attention to your body; how you feel, how much you weigh, how strong you feel, how sharp your mind seems, etc. IF is putting your food consumption and internal eating-related systems on manual. That can be great, or it can be a car crash.

I’ve come to realize that the style of fasting I do is not actually me “doing something”, but rather me living in tune with my body. The way I ate previously was automated and not healthy. I started IF as a project, and now it’s simply more normal and healthy than they way I used to eat.

Misinformation

“Starvation mode” is not something you have to worry about with any of these short-term fasts. You’re not going to lose muscle (especially if you continue training or weight lifting). You certainly can exercise in the fasted state; I do just that all the time. I don’t eat until Noon and I’ve done all sort of ranges of activity in the fasted state.

Oversimplified

Cells prefer to run on glucose. Things like muscles store some glucose internally and use that initially because it’s readily available. Some cells (notably, your brain cells) don’t store glucose and must have glucose from the blood. The liver stores glucose and releases it into the blood when glucose levels drop. When the liver runs low on stored glucose, it creates glucose from fat. In that process, the liver also create ketones (small, simple, alcohol-like molecules) which get dumped into the blood and will be removed by the kidneys or expelled in the breath.

Counterintuitively, some processes in your body (e.g., your heart muscle) operate more efficiently in the fasted state. When the liver adds ketones to the blood, your brain and heart prefer ketones as an energy source, which reduces your need for glucose to be produced by the liver. (If you do the deep dive on the biochemistry, it turns out that per joule stored in glucose versus in ketones, the heart can do more work per joule when using the ketones.) There is also a pronounced mental “feeling” of thinking sharper when your brain is using ketones. “ketone hacking” is an entire universe of people, information, podcasts…

What to Eat

Fasting is all about WHEN or HOW MUCH to eat. What to eat is a whole additional discussion. Some of the things you’ll read talk about what to eat, but I recommend initially focusing only on the when and how-much of eating. Then on subsequent reading and study, you could look at what you are eating and adjust that within the framework you’re settling on.

Types of IF

Aside from the various religious fasting prescriptions, there are two main variations: “eat, stop, eat” (ESE) and “16/8”. ESE is where you fast for a 24 hour period, once or twice per week. With “16/8” you fast 16 hours every day and have an 8 hour eating window.

I prefer the 16/8 because I like the regular schedule and I can always have lunch/dinner with people. (Most people don’t even notice I’m actually fasting in the morning.)

Ready?

So that’s my overly-simplified introduction to the actual introductions to IF. I suggest starting here:

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/01/25/intermittent-fasting/

https://constantine.name/tag/intermittent-fasting/

http://www.hilbertslibrary.com/topic/intermittent-fasting/

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§10 – Walking to Mordor

(Part 10 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Many moons ago I had frequent back problems. There were many things which provided me temporary relief, but this is not an article about temporary relief. This is an article about one of the things which actually fixed my back: Walking.

(Losing weight and fixing my feet are the other two things.)

I recall Ido Portal saying in a podcast with Daniel Vitalis, something to the effect of: Your spine is for orienting yourself in your environment. Your spine’s myriad of joints should be flexible and powerful. At that point in my journey, I wasn’t even really thinking of my spine as joints; It was simply something with an upper and lower portion, both of which were frequently in significant pain. That was the exact moment when I became convinced my spine was weak.

…and then I read _Walking Found to Provide Significant Relief from Back Pain. At the time, I was preparing for a parkour trip to Québec for an event they where having with the Yamakasi. So I was already focused on finding my weaknesses—my back!—and trying to fill them in.

…and then I read Walking, an article by Steve Kamb about walking to Mordor. Yes, that Mordor. It’s a challenge to walk 1,779 miles (but see below.) I took my exercise tracker out on a few of the common walks I like, and noted the mileage. I’ve been keeping track of the total ever since.

It’s 1,779 miles to get from Hobbiton to Mt. Doom. Then riding the eagles back to Minas Tirith cuts the return walk to Bag End down to 1625 miles. Plus 467 more miles, roundtrip to Grey Havens. Brings my total goal to 3,871 miles. This is roughly the entire length of the Nile river, or the distance from the surface to the center of the Earth. (Mid 2019 I’m a few hundred miles from Mt. Doom.)

There’s so much that can be said about walking. But rather than read more about walking, why not go for a walk?

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§9 – Twenty Minutes a Day

(Part 9 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

One of my favorite ideas from Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, is the idea of a keystone habit. Keystone habits create a chain reaction; Changing and rearranging your other habits as you integrate the habit into your life. According to Duhigg, “keystone habits influence how we work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate”, and they “start a process that, over time, transforms everything.”

After self-awareness and self-assessment, my 20 minutes of stretching and recovery work every morning is by far the single most important thing I’ve changed in my journey. (“Every morning” is the goal, not always the reality.) Initially, it was the one critical first little piece of success from which I launched a pile of awesome changes. It continues to be my reliable fallback position when things go off the rails.

Every time I get stuck, fail at sticking to a good habit, or make a mistake with diet, I repeat to myself: Start again tomorrow. Start again tomorrow with one small bit of success first thing in the morning, (and a cup of coffee.)

How my “20 minutes” works:

Declare 20 minutes of “me-time” first thing in the morning. Literally explain to others that you are creating space for yourself to start your day. It’s not leave-me-alone time. If there are others in your household, they are welcome to visit you and interact. You may find they occasionally join you.

Go straight there, as soon as you can. Ok, yes, make a bathroom stop and obtain your beverage of choice on your way to your morning session. But you do not need to arrive at your space awake and ready to exercise. You only need to get there. The stretching and moving will gradually wake you up. It will also wake up your mind; You’re going to have twenty minutes every morning to peacefully review your yesterday, plan your today, or even practice some mindfulness meditation. But only if you want! Your initial goal is to simply get to your space ASAP each morning.

Create (or designate) a space. This is really critical. It cannot be a place that you have to setup; It has to be a place that always exists, that you can simply stumble into first thing in the morning. Find a few square feet and make it your own. A light, a little clock, maybe some music setup ready to go, maybe a yoga mat. Having a physical space (as simple or as complex as you choose to make it) will help your mind shift automatically. “I do this sort of stuff in this space,” becomes automatic.

Music? For a long time, I was really into electronica-esque music for this. (Sometimes I still use the music.) I fanatically groomed a Pandora station with electronic music that has absolutely no vocals—but obviously use whatever works for your, including no music if you prefer. When I use music, I want it to help me zone in on what I’m doing and forget the world.

Props, mats, weights, etc. Start simple. As you go along, you’ll discover things—an article on the Internet, a yoga class, a friend’s ideas—and you’ll take in new moves, stretches and exercises as your own. I started without yoga blocks, then one day found a new stretch I wanted to be able to use when I felt I needed it, and bought two simple yoga blocks for the purpose. This way everything you have in your space, has a purpose rather than being something that nags you, “oh, I should be using that.”

Simply stretching and moving is your first activity. What does your body want to do first? Just learning to be able to answer that question honestly each morning is a great lesson. Then what does it need next? Move when you feel like it. Engage muscles when you feel like it. Engage your brain when you feel like it. Twenty minutes goes by in a blink.

Other tips, tricks and resources

Take some yoga classes. Find a Yin yoga class and spend a few months learning.

No. Right. Now. Oliver Emberton has a great article, How to Debug Your Brain. It’s funny and really exactly what’s wrong with our brains. Emberton’s idea of hijacking a “transition” led me to aim for “first thing in the morning.” I hijack the, “I just got out of bed” transition as many mornings as I can. My rationale is: I was literally just ignoring everything when I was unconscious, so I can continue ignoring everything for a little longer while I put me first.

Focus on what you can control. Iterate. Steve Kamb wrote an article talking about each Avenger’s super power, and Tony Stark’s power specifically, What’s Your Avengers Superpower. Stark is not actually a superhero. Stark simply knows the rule: you can’t edit a blank page, and you can’t improve a machine that hasn’t been built yet. Iterate.

When Life Sucks

Exercise Obstacle

How to Create Habits That Stick

How Lego and Minecraft Will Help You Get in Shape

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§8 – Changing My Feet

(Part 8 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

The “minimalist shoes” journey is probably the most drastic change I’ve made in recent decades. If you want to just spin off to the references, here are four to get you started:

The journey began the day before my very first parkour class. Class was on a Sunday afternoon, and Saturday I went shoe shopping. Clueless, I bought a pair of low-cut Keen shoes like these. These are effectively like sticking your feet into solid rubber blocks. During that first class, I realized that I might want my feet to be involved—that I might want to use some of the joints or senses in my feet, and these shoes remove any chance of that.

Back home, I grabbed my pair of Feiyue. These are crepe-soled shoes that I was using for tai-chi practice. At the time, I felt these were like being barefoot. I’d only ever worn them indoors, on padded matting at a martial arts school. I bought a couple pair of the low-cut variety and started into parkour classes. Today, I cannot stand these shoes. They have far too much padding in them. But back then, I couldn’t do anything without feeling I was destroying my feet. I started to run in these shoes… woa, I had to re-learn how to run.

…and then I read, Born to Run by C. McDougall and things started to click.

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§7 – Exercise

(Part 7 of 13 in series, Changes and Results)

Exercise is not about weight loss.

Exercise builds physical ability and mental health.

For me, it began when I fell in love– with a bicycle.

The story of a boy and his bicycle

Long after college, way down in my downward death spiral, I bought a cheap mountain bicycle. Today, I don’t recall what possessed me to even want to buy a bike. I guess it just reminded me of the freedom I’d discovered when as a kid I first set out on a bicycle.

At the time, we were living in an apartment a short ride from a long park that followed a meandering creek. The park has long trails—some asphalt, some packed gravel—that follow the creek, and it has a few, short, side trails that almost resemble mountain biking.

I fell in love.

I fell in lust is probably more accurate.

I pedaled and pedaled. …and then I pedaled some more. …and then a lot more. I literally wore out that cheap, beautiful bike in the first summer.

During that summer we bought a mountain bike for my dad. He bought an hybrid bike for my mom. Then for a Christmas present, my parents and Tracy bought me a nicer bike. Whereas I was previously crazy about riding, with a new, better, lighter bike, I took things up several notches to addiction, and began riding the daylights out of everything.

I bought a “Mountain Biking Pennsylvania” book and started just heading out to ride trails from the book. Tracy bought a Cannondale when she changed jobs, and then things got out of hand—like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas out of hand. In the end, I was directly responsible for 27 people going to a particular bike shop and buying bikes because I kept trying to find someone who had the bicycling bug as bad as me.

I pedaled on into the seasons. I commuted the short 2 miles to and from my office in rain and snow. I had studded snow tires for the winter. I replaced bike parts as they wore out, and modified the bike more and more until the bike shop owner, (at this point, a good friend,) finally said, “You know, there are other bikes.” It had never occurred to me that I could own more than one bike. he looked at me like the simpleton I was, “Craig, some people have so many bikes, they hide the newest ones from their wives.”

Re-learning to move

The story continues of course. (The new bike is named Beelzebub, and is the first bike I’ve ever named.) But this article is about “exercise”, not about my affairs with bikes.

In the midst of it all, I understood that it was all partly the runner’s high aspect. But also knew that I simply felt better the more I rode those bikes. Sure my wrists got sore, and I became a menace in the local park zooming around and around like it somehow mattered in the grand scheme. But in the process, my body was changing.

Much later I learned that what I had done was change my identity; changed the way I saw myself. I became the sort of person who would get up early on weekends to drive an hour to ride a bike all over some trail because it was “Trail number #87” in a book. I became the sort of person who learns about bikes, then learns about exercise, and then learns about glycogen storage in muscles.

At the very beginning of the bicycling epoch, I was building a lot of muscle. Well, a “lot” compared to the gelatinous blob of fat I had converted myself into after college. Muscle requires energy to build it and then some energy to maintain it. So in the beginning I got a small win on weight loss, just by adding muscle. As my daily caloric needs went way up, it halted the creeping weight gain.

Years later I learned that exercise is simply, generally healthy.

That sounds like a platitude, but it’s not: Even small amounts of exercise have out-sized benefits in your health and your daily mood. If I exercise just a little, (for example, 20 minutes of moderate walking,) then I sleep better that night, and every time I exercise I get a small psychological benefit.

The key point was the change in my mental health: Exercise made me feel better, and the better I felt, the more I wanted to exercise. Exercise didn’t make me lose weight: It improved my health, and I became the sort of person who weighs less. That sounds subtle, but it’s tremendously easier than trying to lose weight directly.

Compensatory adaptation

I changed my behavior (I added biking) and my body responded by adapting. (Compensatory adaptation from Ned Kock is a great, deep-dive.)

I added some muscle, changed some hormone levels and interactions, cleaned up some mitochondrial function, and other things improved. But soon (it was probably about a year) my body had adapted to where its new state worked well enough for the activities I was doing regularly. This is the famous plateau effect.

As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t realize this is what was happening (the plateau). I just bike bike bike bike biked all over everything. Meanwhile I was tracking things in my health journal, tweaking things here and there (sleep, moving dinner-time earlier, food choices, etc..)

How would you implement this intentionally? If you are even farther out of shape than I was at the start, I don’t suggest starting with biking. Walking is probably better, or maybe even swimming. Exactly what you do isn’t the point. It’s that you begin to exercise. Don’t to do in the sense that, “I have to go exercise now.” (This is why gym memberships generally don’t work as a New Year’s resolution.) Rather, you want to exercise just as something you do, and that will transform yourself into the type of person who exercises.

I am the type of person who…

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