Day 109: Keepin’ On

It’s a feel-good day. A keepin’ on day. A sore leg after yesterday’s run seems to have resolved itself, my back is definitely adjusting to the rower. My volunteer responsibilities are still high, but manageable. Final exam for the course I’m taking tomorrow, and I’m not confident, but I don’t know if I could be much more prepared than I am.

So it’s a maintenance day.

A good day to really dig into the check-in and the check-out. Eating is still the big challenge. The mega-runs are great, but they are also giving Evening Me a license to snack. And food logging is going well, but really being ardent with the logging is showing me the consequences of the snacking.

Which is the point of the logging. So, good.

Keepin’ on means looking at the spiral

I’d like to try something graphical at some point for progress. I don’t know how I’d “score” this, when there are binary goals (like sobriety) and very granular goals (like exercise). Maybe I’m already achieving this with the weight spreadsheet and I just need to expand that concept at little. But on keepin’ on days like this, I like to think about how I can improve positive reinforcements.

The check-outs are still tough, largely because… hm. I guess I can sequence my morning in a different way than I can sequence my evening. I have to be out the door at eight(ish). I get up at five(ish). There are no other demands on my time. So mornings are easy to plug this into. Evenings are… weird. Social events, meeting friends, doing homework, playing games. Whether it’s fun stuff or volunteer stuff or work stuff, evenings happen instead of being planned, a lot of the time. Which makes the check-outs into intrusions as opposed to scheduled events.

Maybe I really do need a nightly checklist. It’ll make me feel like I’m senile,  but it might be really helpful.

Day 107: Checking Out is Rough

Going all the way back to Day Three — checking out is rough. It’s still a very difficult thing to be mindful about. I’ve got the alarm set, and it goes off at 8:10, but it’s becoming rote.

Rote is the anti-mindful. More often than not, I’ll just turn the alarm off and think, “yes, I need to do that before bed.” I’m not taking the signal seriously. So it’s probably worth reviewing my initial intention for checking out:

Reminders for when checking out is rough:

  • Setting a specific time every night.
  • Tying checking out to a particular regular part of my routine: brushing teeth or getting changed for bed.
  • Having a timer or other way of knowing this is a finite task with a (short) end point.
  • Having a ‘cheat sheet’ of questions I can ask myself and answer while checking out:
    • What was the easiest part of keeping promises to myself today?
    • What was the hardest?
    • Can I foresee anything that will cause problems tomorrow — things like office lunches, after-work meetings, social engagements?
    • Do I have a strategy to manage those potential hazards?
  • Take it easy on myself: it’s not about having a perfect day, but knowing what went well and what went badly.

Thanks, Past Me! Those seem like pretty good ideas for a check-out.

Part of the issue is that when checking out is rough, it’s because checking out has become rote. See above. It also feels like self-policing in a “naggy” way rather than a positive way.

There’s some framing work to do there — to make checking out more of a mindfulness thing, even a celebratory thing. Avoiding the YAGO trap of it being a mental slog through the day.

Maybe I need to take the checklist thing to another level…

_ Didn’t drink
_ Exercised
_ Logged food
_ Didn’t snack
_ Planned tomorrow

…and actually turn it into a real checklist instead of a mental inventory. I’ll pick this up tomorrow.

Day 101: The Improvement Spiral

With Day 100 yesterday, my question to myself is “…so why aren’t I finished?” It seems like 100 days is plenty of time to get something done. Drop weight, get an exercise routine down, figure out a good eating plan. When you frame it like that, it seems like 100 days is a load of time. And I start feeling kind of bleak. But I think this whole thing works like kind of an improvement spiral, not an improvement… line? ramp? Whatever.

I’m doing better, on the whole. No question. Alcohol intake is down across the board, exercise is more regular. I hit a new distance milestone in running today, at 12k. Diet is… well, that’s a work in progress. Sleep is a new area of focus. But I have to accept that it’s an ups and downs process.

I talk about the “trend line” a lot, and it’s a good model to follow… rather than freaking myself out with daily weight, I check general progress over time. On the whole, though, the ‘improvement spiral’ is how I mentally frame this whole deal.

The improvement spiral improves incrementally and inconsistently.

There’s a thing in game design called “variable rewards,” which is when you don’t always get the same reward for completing an action or task. It is meant to be kind of addictive and encouraging, not frustrating. And I find this is similar in some ways. I’m two steps forward, and one or two steps back, especially with the food stuff. Progress is being made, but it’s loopy, erratic, wobbly progress. And in my head, it’s a spiral that spins outward from bad behaviour to good behaviour, but in a non-linear way… the overall motion is outward, but it’s in all sorts of directions.

There’s also a certain amount of blind faith to this: I have to keep doing it because I’m doing it and trust that it will work. And that means I have to do it, not half-ass it like I’ve been doing with the food logging. If I don’t engage with the terms of the experiment, the experiment is pointless.

So: food logging ho! Time to start day 101.

 

Day 100: 100 days!

So this is what 100 days feels like. A good time to take stock of what’s gone on so far, and take a beat to think about what’s working well, and what’s not working well.

100 days of sobriety:

Working well This was what I thought would be hardest, and 100 days in, turns out to be easiest. Maybe because it was the thing I was mentally girding myself for.

Key lessons:

  • Don’t drink. That’s a probable truism. But that simple decision, made daily in an affirmation, was pretty damn useful.
  • Don’t freak yourself out. Overthinking it, burning your brain out on never again? isn’t helpful. “One day at a time” really is a powerful tool.
  • Tell people. Don’t get preachy about it, don’t declare things. If you need to be socially diplomatic, “I’m trying a thing where I don’t drink for a while” is a good out that doesn’t unnerve people and makes them feel okay about their choices.

Future:

Keep on keepin’ on.

100 days of exercise:

I’m doing something every day, sometimes just stretching, sometimes not working as hard as I could. I think there’s a factor here, a fourth pillar, that I need to get into starting on day 101.

Key lessons:

  • The metaphor of running 10k by running 5k in one direction is a good one. Set myself up for exercise in ways that are hard to get out of. Make appointments with friends to run.
  • Try to figure out my fine line between “take it easy and don’t hurt yourself,” and “go hard and work for it.” I don’t know how to navigate that yet.
  • As much as I hate it, I need to have stretching and strength as part of the routines, not just running/rowing.

Future:

Give myself a few more ease-into-rowing sessions, then set myself up with RowPro or a rowing app so I  have rowing appointments that will be hard to break.

100 days of eating sensibly:

Ugh. This is the boondoggle. The beast. I thought this  one would be easiest, and it’s hardest — maybe the most insidious of the areas. I’m still not great about diet, snacking, etc.

Key lessons:

  • I can’t keep snacks in the house. Period. It sounds childish, but having my wife hide the jellybeans and mete them out every evening was the best move I’ve made, foodwise, in 100 days.
  • I clearly have undeniable stress eating issues.
  • Keeping bad food out of the house is key, and avoiding food when out of the house is also key.

Future:

Food logging is going to be key. I have to tackle why I’m not doing it head-on, and aggressively attack any thing that’s preventing it from happening. This will be a major endeavour — it’s going to involve meal planning, more time in the morning, and a solid partnership with my wife.

100 days of sleeping poorly:

I don’t think of this as taking on more, I think I’ve been trying to build a stool when I should have been building a table. The fourth leg is sleep. I’ve always thought of sleep as a value-add: it’s great to have, but I can do without. I’m starting to realize I’ve been wrong, wrong, wrong about sleep. Sleep’s a foundation.

Key points:

  • I need to be less churlish about sleep aids, especially ones that are supposed to prevent middle-of-the-night wakefulness. Not get hooked on ’em or anything, but be open to them as a tool.
  • My bedtime wrap-up needs to be something I take more seriously, rather than just being on devices up to the minute I hit the hay. Less electronics, more books and writing.

Future:

Better sleep.

100 days in summary:

The above is kind of necessarily self-critical, but I feel good. Right now, but also in general. I feel better than I have in a while. An older version of me would be despondent at not having reached all my goals by now; current me is learning, slowly, to look at the trend lines. The trend lines are good.

I’ve got a table instead of a stool now, and some solid objectives in every area.

Bonus challenge:

No Netflix except for stuff I watch with my wife until the next milestone. I’m burning too much time on shit TV.

250 days is the next milestone.

Let’s do this thing.

Day Fifty: Shh! I’m in a hotel.

Another quiet polite episode; even quieter than yesterday. We have to go catch the bus home in a bit, so we’re up early in a hotel.

I was listening to the inestimable Paul F Tompkins the other day and he mentioned that one of his great inescapable fears in life is being yelled at. I’m similar, but I don’t even need the yelling-at. Just the thought that somebody is thinking poorly of me is enough to give me the hives. I have prolonged friendships far past their exploitative and horrible past-due dates because of this. I have put myself through all sorts of weird discomfort over this. I’m sure 90% of it was unnecessary.

And yet I persist. I’m still reasonably convinced that the world would be a better place if we were all overconsiderate rather than underconsiderate.

So it’s a quiet podcast today.

We spent to much on our weekend away, thanks to a couple of cool things we ran into (my wife is now the proud owner of a pillow that is made specifically to have a hot water bottle inside of it, which we think will get a lot of use over the rest of the winter). But the food plan was adhered to, drinking on her end was measured and on my end was entirely absent. It was a good weekend.

We’re considerate with each other, which helps — honestly considerate, not over or under. Again, it’s a better way to live than not being considerate at all. I know there’s a certain vogue right now on the right wing toward negating and hating people who have feelings, but it’s a losing game, down the line.

Being considerate is ultimately about maximizing other people’s ability to feel comfortable. And that maximizes their ability to contribute. And a society where everyone can contribute to the best of their ability, because they’re not distracted or preoccupied by, well, assholes, is a good and productive society.

I’m not sure why that’s so difficult for people to figure out.

Anyway, I’m talking quietly. Because it’s early, and I’m in a hotel.

Day Forty-Five: Repetition (it’s food, stupid)

Here’s what I’m worried about: monotony. Not in terms of this blog and podcast; I’ve got tricks I can try. But in this endeavour. I feel like, a month and a half in, I’m already starting to get into the semi-improvement cycle where I keep falling into the same trap. And whining about it. Which gets boring.

One of the things I seem to forget is that change isn’t hard. It’s tiring. I’ve been kind of exhausted for the last few days, partly due to a cold, but party due to feeling like I’m in a rut.

And the damning thing about a rut is that it saps your energy to climb out of it.

So I’m trying to keep myself on track; keep three solid legs on the stool. But I’m feeling drained, and when you’re feeling drained, you tend to fall back on the bad habits. So keeping on is tough.

Repetition is a bad food loop.

Repetition, for me, is bad food based. It’s about losing the force of will to keep food on track. And once that goes, I start feeling bloated and logey, and then exercise goes because I phone it in when I’m bloated and logey.

So as I write this (I knew doing this would be good for something; I’m basically conducting talk therapy with myself!), I realize that I need to focus on food for the next few days. I’ve been happy with the strong stool leg, but I need to shift attention to the weak one.

Again, it’s been a lifetime to date of taking runs at this with varying success. I should be smart enough to recognize my failure modes and deal with them. And I’m seeing a failure mode right now.

It’s food, stupid

I mean, not “food to the exclusion of exercise and sobriety,” but I really do need to think hard and push my mental energy toward it.  I am the master of my fate. Food can’t beat me, for Pete’s sake. It’s just food.

 

Day Thirty-One: Maintaining Bad Habits

Bad habits are important. Important to manage, yes, but also in a way important to have.

I need to feel like I’ve got some sort of unvirtuous outlet. It’s just how I’m wired. Not like getting in bar fights or whatever, but I’m configured to look for ways to rebel in small senses. Even against myself.

Trying to live a better life doesn’t mean killing yourself to live a perfect life — I’ve cut out booze, a lot of bad food, and I’m exercising every weekday. That’s pretty damn good. I’m already mostly vegan, with occasional lapses. That’s pretty good too.

But I also need things that are not-good in the mix.

Bad habits I’m maintaining

  • Coffee. Probably not that bad for me, but not great either. I drink too much of it. Definitely a dependency.
  • Video games. And not, like, deep-thinking “I’m learning things” video games. Straight up time-wasters.
  • Netflix binging. Not great documentaries, or whatever — British crime shows, American melodrama, Japanese anime from time to time.
  • Comic books. I still read ’em. Sometimes high-minded stuff, yes, but often just garbage from the ’80s I get in anthologies from the library.

All of these things fall into a mild category of “being not great”; I know there are better things to be doing with my life, and my time, and my consumption. But I like to have some outlets where I feel like I haven’t become the world’s grimmest ascetic.

There’s been mention, and probably a whole bunch of future podcasts, about my ongoing inability to identify “fun” activities versus different types of work. I’m sure this isn’t just a problem I have. I need to unpack that a bit.

For now, I need to have some sort of substantive narrative, even if it’s just in my own head, about ‘badness’. It’s psychologically important to me to position myself as somebody with a rebellious streak. Even if it’s a pretty pathetic kind of rebellion, by most standards, I still need to have it in there.

To be continued, I guess…

Day Twenty: Keep on keepin’ on today

Nothing profound going on today; in fact, I’m just generally pleased with how it’s going. Keepin’ on is a fine thing when you’re still in your first month of some pretty big stuff.

Some people like to make life a little tougher than it is.

That’s a line from a Cake song — Pressure Chief came out in 2004, well after the major college rock success of “The Distance,” but I loved them before and love them still. Cake is a good band. At the moment, they seem to have converted their Facebook page to actively protesting the Trump presidency, and I suspect somebody has DDOSed their website as a result. This just makes them cooler.

Anyway.

I’m trying not to make life tougher than it is right now — if I accept not drinking, eating better and exercise as the new normal. But as discussed previously, actively resisting the impulse to heap more on because of a Protestant work ethic, or just general idiocy.

My dad has this hanging in his office for my entire life; it now hangs in mine:

Keepin' on by avoiding the unnecessary
Pretty much all the advice I need on a daily basis.

Sometimes people notice it and laugh; I notice it about once a week. I will on occasion lean back in my chair and seek it out.

It’s good… well, it’s not advice, really, but a good admonishment. It’s worth frequent consideration.

I take on too much; I’m not even sure if I’m ‘relaxing’ or not a lot of the time.

It’s good to have keepin’ on days.

I’m going to go do a radio show with my wife with a clear head and hangover-free, looking forward to a long walk, getting some things done for the local canoe club, and having a generally kind of chill yet productive day.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Day Sixteen: Maintaining Good Habits

Two weeks in, maintaining is becoming a focus. Checking out is slipping — as mentioned early on, I think it’s important, but it’s a hard thing for me to make stick. I’ve tried associating it with brushing my teeth, and using a timer to time it out, but brushing my teeth often winds up with me wandering around the house while I’m doing it, and then I get distracted, think about checking out later, and pop goes the weasel.

Maintaining is success.

It’s my exercise trap: I get into a good rhythm, I’m exercising five or six days a week, and then I get ambitious. Can I push myself harder? Can I do more? The answer is probably yes. There’s always a lurking dread that I’m not doing enough, and that I’ll regret not doing more. But the other end of the cycle is minor injury, having to take time off, then being worse off than I was when I started. Or at least significantly set back.

I have to get into the mindset that a few core things are all I need to stick to: logging food, exercising a reasonable amount regularly, not drinking, checking in and out. That’s already a lot. I don’t need to dial that up.

It’s hard for me not to pile more on. I have a lethal combination of ambition and shabby planning skills, which moves me into a regular cycle of taking on too much, then having to drop things. Remembering that it’s okay to not be doing everything at 100% is tough.

Oh! The irritability thing? Seems to have passed. I might be nursing a cold, and as always my brain is a conflicted jumble of stuff. But at least I’m not on edge all the time. That’s good news. Still not sure what was behind that, but I’m going to keep keeping an eye on it.

Day Six: Finding synergy, relieving stress

You may be wondering, as I am about a week into this, if trying the big three – booze, exercise and diet – all at once is too much. The answer, I hope, is synergy. The thing is, there’s a synergy to doing all three that I couldn’t get away from when I was thinking about starting this.

A synergy of exercise, diet and boozelessness

  1. I don’t especially like exercise. I don’t hate it all the time, but I never love-love-love it.
  2. So if I exercise, it means something to me. When I invest that energy and time in something I don’t love, I don’t want to blow it. Exercise makes food mean more to me.
  3. Which means that exercising makes the diet part easier. I don’t want to blow all the exercise by just eating something stupid.
  4. And I know that booze makes me stupid about the diet as well, and I don’t want to drink and blow the diet part.

In summary: the synergy is exercise encourages me to eat right, and eating right encourages me to not drink, because I know when I drink I don’t eat right.

It kind of makes a pyramid; exercise is the base, and everything else is on top of it. It all stacks. Synergy!

Speaking of which, I didn’t exercise first thing this morning, which is a recipe for failure… I’m going to go on a mega-walk today, which is the exercise for the day, but I need to be mindful not to let that creep into a bad diet habit.

Anyway, thinking this through, I feel better about taking on what I’m doing right now. Take a step back, look for synergy and see how all the different avenues of improvement ladder into a greater whole. It may relieve some of the mental burden you could be grappling with.