I Work At A Cool Place

As it is for many US employees, it’s annual enrollment season for health insurance.  As part of that, my company puts on a big show, letting us go meet representatives from the different vendors, ask them questions, and pick up swag. This year it was over at one of the other buildings on campus, so I decided to take the hiking trail. Nice walk, about a third of a mile one way in the lovely early Autumn afternoon. And then, on the way back, I notice this:

I’ve seen it before, but never really looked at it. And as I look, I see that little purple line marked Overlook Loop. Well, I didn’t know we had one of these. And I’ve got 35 minutes before I have to be back. So, I follow it. 

This is what I see:

 That was a third of a mile of hiking a beautiful nature trail I didn’t know existed. How cool is that?

There’s No Magic Formula For Success

I listen to a couple of entrepreneurial podcasts as part of my playlist, and the subject of goals comes up in them quite frequently. They have a lot of good advice, much of which has helped inform my efforts to lose weight – set definable goals. Break those goals down into daily actions that you can measure. Probably the only bit of advice I haven’t incorporated is “set a deadline”, because I don’t see my efforts to lose weight and get in shape as something with a deadline. It’s an ongoing process, a series of habits I’ll need to build and maintain and continue to do throughout my life. Because if I don’t, I’ll be back to four hundred pounds within a year of reaching my goals.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not denigrating deadlines. They’re good for a whole lot of things. Not just this. But, I digress.

One of the bits of advice these various discussions about goals has is to “find your why”. Figure out why you want the goal, and then make it as real as you can. Visualize it as if its already real, incorporating all of your senses, and then work backwards to the actions that led you to that stage. And yes, that’s great. You should certainly do this thing, because it makes it real and concrete in your head. But you know what? I’ve never heard anyone talk about “finding your how“.

Now, I don’t mean this in the context of “how do I achieve this goal”. You’ll find that everywhere. What I mean is “how do I use this why to motivate myself?”, which may not be the clearest of statements. So, let me illustrate: I had a why. I’ve had several whys, actually. I love spelunking, although I haven’t done it since I was a Boy Scout. I’ve got a wife I love, and who I want to spend a long life with. I’ve got high blood pressure, and I hate taking pills for it. I’ve got a four-year-old son, and I want to be able to keep up with him now and I want to be there for him. I love riding bikes, even though I haven’t owned one since my mid-twenties.

Any of these is a single good “why”. But, none of them motivated me. I always found an excuse: “I’m tired.”  “I don’t want to do this today.”  “I’m not that out of shape.”  And so on and so forth. All of these whys were visualized in great detail. I could see myself as an old man, retired and spending time with my wife. I could see myself as a proud father, watching my son graduate from college. I could see myself as a prouder grandfather, spoiling my first grandchild rotten. I could see myself crawling through a cave, or riding a bike, or hiking a mountain. But I never did anything about it.


Because I had no real idea how to connect those goals – daydreams, really – to reality. I wanted them, but I didn’t believe them. I didn’t think it was possible, and it took my terror of going blind from diabetes to kick me into action. In this case, the answer to “how do I connect these goals to reality” was “fear”. And then it became “determination to succeed”.

How do you get motivated to start on your dreams? Find something that makes you believe in your ability to succeed.  God.  Your inherent self worth.  Your desire to get promoted.  It doesn’t matter what it is, really, as long as it works.  And you don’t even have to believe you’ll succeed. You just have to find a way to make yourself believe you can succeed, to believe that it’s possible. Because once you believe your goals are possible, even if you’re not so certain you’ll succeed, you can get started.

Then, once you get started, you can have a little success.  That little success will reinforce the idea that you can succeed. And then, if you have enough consecutive little successes, you can start to believe that not only can you succeed, you will succeed.

There’s no magic formula to success, after all. “Success” is just the accumulation of day upon day of little behaviors that contribute to your goal.  It’s daily sweating and aching and complaining about the effort, until you look up and realize that you’re sixty pounds lighter.  Or that you just ran that half-marathon.  Or that you’re wearing those jeans.  Or any one of a hundred things that, not too long ago, seemed impossible.

Whatever it is, you can do it.  Just let yourself believe you can.  And then work your butt off.

Isn’t It Almost October?

I followed my normal routine today, which is to say that I parked at the back corner of the top of my office’s parking garage and walked in. Usually, at 4:50 am, it’s pretty nice. Even a few weeks ago when we were having 90 degree weather, it wasn’t hot.

Today, it was like walking through a steam bath. Seriously. In the half mile I walked getting into the office, I was soaked with sweat. And not because I was walking particularly fast. I mean, I didn’t dawdle, but I didn’t push myself either. It was just muggy and unpleasant out. Part of it was the rain – two days of being overcast decided to break last night, and break by raining hard – but… it’s almost October. I would have expected cool and damp, not hot and sweaty and icky and damp.

I guess this underscores the importance of having alternate routes for walking. I really don’t want to go outside and walk today, and if I hadn’t set up my alternate (indoor) route I would be strongly tempted to skip walking as a result. Fortunatly, I have no such excuse.

But still. It shouldn’t be muggy and hot at five in the morning at the end of September. That’s just not right.

Rested, Refreshed, and Ready To Go

Sleep is something I think about a lot these days. Not because I’m tired, but because I have severed obstructive sleep apnea. If you’re not familiar with this particular disorder, and you don’t feel like clicking that link, here’s a brief summary: my esophagus hates my brain, and tries to strangle it in my sleep. Because the esophagus, not being the brain, is stupid and doesn’t understand that if the brain dies then it dies too.

All right, all right, it’s slightly more complex than that. Quite serioiusly, it means that I don’t breathe properly when I sleep. In fact, I’ll actually stop breathing – which then wakes me up because I can’t breathe. This happens dozens of times an hour, meaning that without my B-PAP machine I can sleep for 24 hours straight and get no rest. Because I’m not actually, you know, sleeping.

I also snore like a chainsaw trying to cut concrete without the B-PAP. So my wife doesn’t get any rest either.

So that’s great and all, right? But what does it have to do with this whole weight loss thing? And that’s a fair question, deserving of a fair answer. And that answer is, if you aren’t getting enough sleep than you are going to gain weight. And you’re going to have a whole host of other health problems. According to a quick little article from the Mayo clinic, insomnia can result in:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Obesity
  • Irritability
  • Increased risk and severity of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease,and diabetes.

Just from my own anecdotal evidence, I can vouch for most of those. I mean, I was exhausted. I consumed caffeinated sodas by the two liter on a daily basis (because I’ve never developed a taste for coffee) and generally overate in an effort to stay conscious. I was cranky as hell. And all of that led to high blood pressure and diabetes.

So, are you trying to exercise and lose weight? The number one thing you can do is get some sleep. Seriously. Most people need eight to nine hours a day, and don’t get it. So they wake up tired, consume a whole lot of caffeine, don’t exercise (because they’re tired), and then the whole cycle starts over again.

If you’re in that cycle, get off the caffeine – slowly, over the course of a week, to avoid blinding headaches for a couple of days. Then get yourself to bed and turn out the light and go to sleep at least eight hours before you are scheduled to wake up. You will feel better, you will have more energy, and you will be able to go and do that exercise you have been neglecting.

And if you don’t (or if your long-suffering spouse complains for years that you snore like to wake the dead, and she’s not sleeping because of it – not that I’m familiar with that scenario at all…)? Go see your doctor. Don’t screw around with over the counter sleeping pills or the like. See your doctor, and take her advice. You’ll be glad you did.

Ridiculous Things You Do

I very nearly missed my walking goal last night. Here’s how it played out: on Thursdays, my wife goes to choir practice and I stay home with our son. So I take him through the usual bedtime routine – get a bath, take his vitamins, brush his teeth, read a story, and go to bed. All very pleasant, I assure you. So I close his door, and then it hits me.

I’m at 4.79 miles for the day. I need to get in a third of a mile to hit my walking goal, and I can’t just go for a walk because my son is four and I’m not just leaving him alone while he sleeps. But I can’t wait and go when my wife gets home, because that’ll be around nine and I’ve got to get up at 3:30.

I very nearly gave up at that point. I mean, who could blame me? But… I’ve already missed my stair-climbing goal, and I don’t want to miss this one as well. As a result, I’m just about resigned to going walking when my wife gets home. But then it occurs to me.

I can walk around my condo.

This is, of course, patently ridiculous. My condo isn’t particularly big, after all. But I need to get the walking in. And so, I start walking. From the bedroom into the master bath, then out into and around the combined living and dining room, and back. Four, maybe five times. By the time I hit goal, I’m slightly dizzy from walking in circles. And I feel faintly ridiculous, because I’ve just hit my goal by pacing around my house.

But, hey. The calories got burnt, and the distance got walked. I guess it doesn’t matter where you exercise, as long as you do exercise.

Also, 55 pounds down! Based on my current weight loss rate, I could be at my next benchmark (60 pounds) next week! I’m not *counting* on it, mind – two more weeks seems more reasonable. But still, it’s close!

App Review: MyPlate

MyPlate is a calorie-tracking app available for both IOS and Android. It’s also the first calorie tracking app I used, and if I hadn’t purchased a FitBit I’d still be using it now. Bear in mind that I was using the free version, so I can’t speak to the advanced features available if you pay for a LiveStrong memebership.

The app is nicely straight forward. When you enter it, the app displays your daily calorie goal at the top, with a progress bar underneath that show the calories you have remaining for the day. Then there are six display fields – one each for the calories consumed for breakfast, lunch and dinner, one for the calories you consume with snacks, one showing calories burned from exercise, and one tracking water consumed. All of these fields, except for exercise, serve as buttons. Tap one, and you are prompted to enter what you’ve consumed.

Entering your food is a simple process. You can scan the bar code on the package (assuming you have a package with a bar code) and let it download the information automatically. Or you can search the app’s database for the food, or enter it manually. There’s probably nothing surprising about any of that, but I will note that in two months I never once ate something that wasn’t either in the database or able to be found by scanning the bar code (something that isn’t always true with the FitBit).

The app is designed, on IOS at least, to talk to other apps. I know it talked to the IOS Health app and to MapMyWalk, automatically updating information about weight and calories consumed. I assume that it does something similar in the Android version.

One aspect of the app that I didn’t care for was the way exercise was handled. Calories burned through exercise are recorded as negative calores, which makes sense. The app adds those negative calories to the “remaining today” bar, which can create a the feeling that if you’ve exercised enough, you’ve earned that Twinkie. And I guess you have, in a sense. But I found that it let me justify going “over budget” on my calories, which is not an optimal thing when you’re trying to lose weight.

On the other hand, I still lost weight while using it. So I guess it didn’t handicap me all that much.

Overall, I really liked the app. Enough that it was hard to delete it after I got my FitBit. To tell the truth, I only deleted it because it wouldn’t interface with the FitBit and because I really didn’t want to be tracking calories in two different places. The interface was clean and easy to read and the nutritional database was robust. I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a good calorie tracker.