Day Seventeen: Get Right To It, No Delays

“No delays” needs to be the mantra for my morning.

Here’s the thing — I’m a nerd. I’m a big ol’ Web 2.whatever, online, connected, social, email, dork. My natural instinct during any lull in my life is to check my phone. I am one of those people.

This is the worst possible thing to be when your exercise strategy hinges on starting to exercise before you’re fully awake.

No delays between waking and exercising.

I’ve tried gyms and memberships and various types of out-of-the-house schemes. The simple truth is that I’ve never done better than when I exercise at home. First thing in the morning. No delays.

I need to roll out of bed, get some exercise clothes on, and hit it: running, a DVD-based workout, or pushups/situps/planking before I do literally anythign else.

If I pick up my phone, if I look at my iPad, especially if I turn on my computer, it’s game over. I’m looking at emails and checking Facebook statuses and seeing what’s new on MetaFilter. OH HEY CATS WEARING HATS SIGN ME UP and then I come out of a Buzzfeed-induced haze 30 minutes later.

No delays -- stay off cool websites!
A good friend during the day and evening. First thing in the morning: MY BITTEREST FOE.


So the linear path really has to be:

  1. wake up
  2. push cat off me
  3. get up
  4. get some exercise clothes on
  5. go downstairs
  6. exercise

Any divergence between 1-6 leads to disaster, because my brain suddenly kicks into gear with all kinds of things I’d rather do than exercise.

The greatest trick my brain ever pulled was convincing the world it didn’t exist. No, wait, that’s wrong. The greatest trick my brain pulls is finding things  I don’t want to do but still want to do more than exercise.

So my brain is telling me that cleaning the gunk out of the oven needs doing, and I’m still virtuous for doing it. It’s like a virtue short-circuit. I don’t want to go through all of my folders of random iPhone photo dumps and sort them, but I should, and that’s virtuous.

My brain is the worst.

So: no delays. I need to get to exercise before my nefarious brain has a chance to turn on me once again.

Everybody’s different, and everybody has their own deal with exercise. Mine is “start before you’re awake.”


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 Fifteen: Adjusting for Illness

Well, I’ve had better mornings. Partly because I’ve had better nights. Illness is an ever-present threat here in these chilly Canadian climes.

There’s definitely something coming down in the Jerk household; I woke up in the wee hours with a stuffy nose and a sore throat, my wife was similarly up and down with sneezing and nose-blowing. That, compounded with a cat that gets fed at 5:15 but decides that 4:15 is an appropriate time to press her luck, makes for a kind of grody night all ’round.

Illness means adjusting expectations.

But it doesn’t mean giving up. I used to ascribe to “feed a cold, starve a fever,” so I’d use a cold as an excuse to lean into feeling lousy and “treat” myself in ways that would make me feel more lousy down the line. Somehow, when I got a fever, I would recall the line as “feed a fever, starve a cold.”

I’d stop exercising, usually stop drinking, actually, but generally speaking would sink into an illness-induced fug.

What I need to try now, though, is a stronger approach to feeling a cold coming on:

  • Dial back the exercise but maintain it. I slept in to the princely hour of 6 a.m. this morning, leaving less time for exercise, but I still got some in.
  • Drink water. I hate drinking water! It’s boring. I find water excruciatingly dull. But I need to challenge myself to drink at least two litres a day, keep my system flushed, and keep chugging the stuff.
  • While taking care of myself because I’m sick, also kind of forget I’m sick. Like, don’t do things that will make it worse, but don’t just sink into it and let “sick” be my go-to reason to indulge in bad habits.

With illness, I think there’s a fine line between “powering through it” and not letting it rule you, and being a massive dick and making things worse by trying to macho it into submission.

So I’m going to try my best to both take care of myself and not let this throw me off track. Wish me luck!



Day Fourteen: Sunday, Sober Sunday

Man, it’s nice not to have a hangover on a Sunday morning. Not that I routinely did prior to this, but my wife and I would enjoy a few more drinks than strictly necessary on Saturday nights.  Once every four or five weeks, we’d feel crappy about wasting 25% of our weekend feeling rotten the next day.

Sunday is a good relaxing day, when you feel good enough to relax.

I doubt I’m alone in finding it kind of hard to figure out what “relaxing” is. I take on a lot of stuff in life outside my job. Things like the radio show, some community organizations, and other hobbies are fun. But they also take routine work, and I’m not always sure if doing that work is supposed to be leisure. Because it’s work!

Still, it’s good to have all my options open; it’s not yet 10 a.m. and we’ve had breakfast, I’ve had good coffee, read a book, and now I’m doing this. I’ve been bad about food for the last couple of days — Friday was definitely my “cheat day,” and I haven’t logged yesterday yet — but I’m feeling pretty good about the coming week.

Kind of a short one today! I need to catching up on yesterday in terms of food logging, and some project work I’ve been hanging onto. Both my wife and I love cooking: Sunday is a food project day for us. I’ve also got some studying to catch up on. Is it really relaxing, is it YAGO, or is it just another form of distraction? Hard to tell sometimes, but it’s good to have a clear head doing it.



Day Thirteen: What One Man Can Do… (Don’t Kill Bears)

This is kind of a spinoff of yesterday’s podcast, and the notion that I’m hitting the wall for the first time since this project got started.

There’s a pretty middling movie called The Edge from back whenever, with Anthony Hopkins and Thin Alec Baldwin, written by David Mamet, who is kind of inherently problematic but what can y’do.

There’s a key moment in the movie that — oh hell, let’s just watch it:

Admittedly, this clip is missing some glorious profanity from Sir Hopkins at the end, and I am super not down with people killing bears, but “what one man can do, another can do!” is something that’s stuck with me.

(I repeat: do not kill bears. That’s a different podcast entirely.)

What one man can do, another can do!

Sexist, yeah. I did mention that Mamet was problematic, no? But the core idea is one that does help me out from time to time, when I’m hitting a roadblock: if other people have walked this path, it is evidently doable, and if they can do it, so can I.


That’s one of the reasons I’m fond of the Stop Drinking subReddit; it’s just a cavalcade of reg’lar folks who have, well, stopped drinking. Some in more dramatic circumstances than me, plenty who have just decided, like me, to knock it off because they’re not comfortable with it.

And I’m not a stand-in-line-to-take-a-picture kind of guy, but if I ever met somebody who champions sobriety in the public eye — Craig Ferguson is a bit of a hero of mine — I’d express gratitude.

What one person* can do, another can do!

Don’t kill a bear.


Day Twelve: Irritable!

Wow, am I irritable. Cranky. Grouchy. You name it.

It’s hard to pin down what this is about; since I’m aiming for the no-drink daily-exercise better-diet trifecta, it might be any of those three things.

I’m also taking a class online, which is surprisingly demanding in terms of the amount of reading I need to do, and that’s freaking me out a little as well.

This, combined with yesterday’s burst of general can’t-get-out-of-bed malaise, leads me to think I’m hitting the wall, as runners say; this is probably the first big obstacle on the road to a better-constructed me.

Is it okay to be irritable?

I became acutely aware of my own irritability last night; one of those things where you’re on the Irritable Train and you know it, but you can’t just hop off and have to ride it all the way to the station, or in my case bed.

This morning, I went for a run and started asking myself what being irritable meant, and if it was okay to let myself have emotions while taking on difficult stuff. Old-school me would be not showing any cracks and working double-time to be outwardly unflappable. But old-school me is also somebody with bad relationships with stress-eating and overindulging in booze.

So maybe that guy isn’t the best source of advice on what to do when I’m irritable.

I’m going to try something different: I’m going to be irritable.

I’m going to lean into it.

But I’m also going to try to communicate clearly that I am irritable, in ways that make sense given my context (home, work, friends, volunteers), and work to manage it so that I’m not dumping my garbage on other people.

In other words, I want to shut down the “feeling irritable is wrong and bad” self-recrimination, and give myself permission to be irritated, at least for a while, as long as that doesn’t translate into treating other people poorly.

I’m also going to add  “irritability” to my daily check-out… see what got me cranky during the day, and if it affected me. If I’m still this on edge in a week, I’ll have to start thinking of something different.


Day Eleven: This Is Hard (Part 1)

Welcome to the first of what may well turn out to be one billion “This Is Hard” entries over time.

I cruised through my first weekend more or less without incident, but today. Oy, today. Today was the first time in eleven days that I was just not having it at 5 a.m. with the get-up-and-exercise thing.

Here’s the routine, as it stands:

5 a.m. up, exercise

5:45-6:15 exercise done, kitchen time (make lunch, have breakfast, tidy up)

6:15-7:00 this blog/podcast/some other email crap

7:00-8:00 shower, dressed, other minor project stuff until it’s time for work

The thing about me and exercise, is I really only do it if I do it as soon as I get up, because I’ve discovered the trick is to get started before I am awake enough to invent reasons not to. If I wander around the house for half an hour before getting started, I’ll find something to occupy me. Afternoon/evening workouts? Fuggedaboutit. There’ll always be something that’s “more pressing” than exercise.

This Is Hard: One Day At A Time vs. Just Today

“One Day At A Time” is a great way to power through sticky points — it’s helpful with not drinking, among other things — but it’s got a dark and evil cousin, which is “just today”.

I’ll just take today off, and get back on it tomorrow. 

That was the crescendo in my head this morning, timpani and 1812 Overture cannons and all that. I can just skip today, because I’m exhausted and I haven’t slept well and the cat’s been stomping on me since 3 a.m. and it’s pouring rain outside and this is hard.

And this is hard. It is a giant pain in the tuchus.

So what got me out of bed was partly knowing I had to do this, and having to talk into a microphone and say “well, I didn’t bother with the exercise bit today, because I didn’t feel like it” is just weak sauce.

Another bigger part was that some other voice in my head said “if this is hard, that’s because it’s working.” Go team That Voice, because it managed to drag my lethargic ass downstairs and get me doing pushups before I really knew what was going on. And afterwards, there was coffee.

Answering "This Is Hard", but only after a morning workout.
The sweet post-exercise reward, and another reason to get up and get at it.

If it’s hard, it’s because it’s working. That’s not a bad one to keep in my pocket to use for This Is Hard (Part 2), which is inevitable. But hopefully not soon.


Day Ten: I Am Not A Jerk (Kinda)

When I tell people about this podcast, one quick reaction is usually “…but you’re not a jerk.” Which is flattering, and I kind of agree — while in my dark and secret heart I fear I am actually a well-disguised jerk and a barely cloaked jerkitude lurks within.

As in “who’s this jerk?”

I am, however, wholly unqualified to be doing this. I have no track record of success with lifestyle change. I am not a therapist or a life coach or whatnot. I have not taken any courses and do not have any relevant degrees.

I’m just some guy.

My cat, who is actually kind of a jerk.
If you hear jingling in the background, it’s this cat, who likes to pull herself up the back of my chair and perch on my shoulder. She is a jerk.

So I feel like one reaction to this project might be “what’s this clown doing talking about these things? What a jerk.” Which is a pretty justified reaction, honestly. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

This whole thing is about me working to figure out what I’m talking about.

So I am by my own accounting eligible for the j-word; I’m putting stuff out into the world without any substantial authority or knowledge. Framing it as “one idiot stumbles forward” is a way of trying to manage expectations, but I still feel a bit like a fraud.

There’s a real thing that exists called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which has haunted me my entire life: I have little arcs that start with me thinking I know a lot about something. Then I find out more about that something and realize I don’t know that much about it.

But then I learn even more and realize that I will never know enough about the subject and am damned to be an idiot forever. So I bound from the Dunning-Kruger effect to its  corollary and then often that whole thing winds up YAGO.

So! I don’t really think I’m a jerk. But I think it’s okay if you think I’m one.

Day Nine: when routine tasks go YAGO

I have a criminally short attention span. I like to think it’s a byproduct of some of my more positive qualities — the shadow of creativity and curiosity — but the fact remains that I have the stick-to-it-iveness of a gnat raised on video games. So one thing about this project is I need to avoid YAGO.

YAGO is something I made up last night.

I was trying to come up with a description of what happens to me when I start something I enjoy, but that takes small commitments over time. Like most learning or skills acquisition projects. After a while, I have a brutal tendency to start to resent the time and effort when I plateau or get stuck.

So I was looking for an appropriate phrase to describe the frankly overdramatic way my brain rebels against these things. I don’t go through a phase of winnowing away my enthusiasm, I seem to flip into a kind of fug of despair and malaise and frustration.

YAGO is Yet Another Goddamn Ordeal.

Over time, any task that takes routine commitment risks, for me, becoming YAGO. And once it’s hit that point, it’s hard to bring back. Once something’s embedded itself in your mind as “great, this shit again” it’s very difficult to reframe it as a positive part of your day.

It’s not impossible. Banjo practice (we’ll be talking about my stupid theme song at some point; short version: it’s me, I hate it, and it motivates me to practice) was YAGO for a while. But I’m pulling it back from the brink.

My banjo, YAGO, and motivation
Banjo practice has slipped into YAGO status, but I’m fighting to bring it back.

Do you have a tendency to turn things you should enjoy and learn from into YAGO? How can it be avoided or redirected? I desperately don’t want this podcast to become YAGO, so I’m going to have to start thinking about how to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Day Eight: Cheat Days Kind of Suck

A discovery after my first full weekend trying the trifecta: I’m not fond of cheat days. I thought I would be!

Cheat days stress me out.

What I thought would be a nice opportunity to just not worry about calories and food for a day became, thanks to my unending talent for overthinking it, a kind of stressful mental dialogue about how much cheating is too much cheating, logging food versus not logging food, pleasure versus guilt, and eventually getting really stressed about how stressed I was getting, and overthinking my overthinking.

I watched The City of Lost Children last night with my wife, and — 20+ year old spoiler alert — there’s a scene at the end where the mad genius clone Krank is locked into a perpetual dream loop. He is stealing the dream of a child using a helmet thing, but the dream turns him into a child, so he becomes the child whose dream he is stealing. And he’s stealing that child’s dream but it turns him into a child. So on and so on until his brain shuts down.

Cheat Days turn me into this guy.
Cheat Days turn me into this guy.

That’s kind of where I landed with the whole Cheat Day experience.

My options are don’t cheat… or cheat better.

The sobriety piece is absolute, by the way. “Cheat” is a food thing, not walking back on alcohol. Which should be obvious, but I’m putting it out there just in case.

And I think it’s good to have an exercise-free day every week. My wife and I went for a long walk, so it wasn’t like Fart Around On The Couch Day, but it’s nice to have a recuperation day to start the week.

I’m setting a calendar reminder for myself for next Saturday — seriously, I just opened GCal in another tab — to give Cheat Day some thought on Saturday evening so I can go into Sunday framing Cheat Days as an experiment rather than AGTIHTD*. We’ll see how that works.

*Another Goddamned Thing I Have To Do, which is a concept that’s growing in my brain that I’ll loop back around on at some point.