Day Ninety-Six: Pain Points

Pain points spring to mind because my back hurts from rowing. Stretching helps, but I’m forcing myself to take it short and slow while I re-acclimate to the rower. It’s easy to mess yourself up, and my back muscles are definitely having to re-adjust to the exercise.

But pain points is also a term of art in marketing for the user experience. If you’re trying to make something that sells, you ideally want it to solve a problem. So you look for things that people experience that are, well, pains. Then you present a solution to the problem. The term also swings into use with direct user experience and quality control — if I’m a restaurant, a pain point might be how long it takes people to get seated.

A lot of this work to date has been about pain points. Looking for things in sobriety, diet and exercise that make me say “too much” or “too hard” or “too tricky” and stop. Finding ways to get past those, or work around them.

Pain points are good

And it’s good to have these things, because they point to improvements. If everything were smooth and perfect, everything would also be static. Eventually stagnant. So it’s good that I’m noticing things that need to change, because that means change is going to happen.


Day Ninety-Five: Free Drinks

So it’s some sort of Murphy’s Law that after three months of not drinking, I can’t stop getting free drinks. I’ve got a meeting today in a ‘casual atmosphere’ at the end of a workday. It’ll be the third time in three days that somebody has offered to buy me a drink. Four times in the last seven?

This would have been a great week for “drinking me”. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that money was a major quitting reason. So suddenly having a stream of free liquor flowing my way is kind of hilarious. And also a nice proof of concept.

Free drinks ain’t free

Everything from this point on is pretty obvious. The “free” drink, of course, isn’t free. It would mean surrendering over three months of good (and sometimes hard) work. And, while I don’t have a “killed-the-dog” problem, it would probably lead into a “the occasional drink ain’t so bad” mentality. That leads to fairly regular drinking, and then I’m back to where I started. Not in trouble, but not happy with what I’m up to.

A free drink (or several) ain’t worth messing up my off switch. I know myself, and I know my dimmer switch, and free just isn’t worth the trouble.

Detaching from the social assets of drinking is an important part. Turning down a free drink is a risk; it’s a small schism in the social contract. So it does take a bit of self-confidence and assertion to say no. This isn’t always a strong suit for me — it helps to be with people who aren’t for want of a better word, assholes about it.

I’m fortunate to be in a position where I don’t have a capital-P problem, and environments where people are supportive and friendly. For some people, avoiding places drinks are entirely is the winning strategy. And people should be as cool about turning down that invitation as they are turning down a drink once you’re there. But ultimately, it’s up to us to know where that line is, and have the fortitude to stay on the right side of it.

Day Ninety-Four: Sober Boss

It’s partly about the people, and partly about confidence. A few years ago, I was on the agency side of the marketing equation, and taking clients to dinner was a thing I did. Now, I’m hiring agencies to work for me, and they’re taking me out. Which is, oddly, a different sort of pressure. And it means being sober boss.

While when I was on the agency side, there was a huge incentive to have the client like you. Personally. To make sure you align, understand each other, are easy to work with. This is doubly important with qualitative work. But I’m feeling an almost equal pressure now to have the agency like me. Partly this is because I’m a neurotic Woody-Allenesque mess. But it’s also partly because I know, as an agency, how much harder we worked for the clients we liked. We worked hard for everybody, make no mistake. But some people inspired us to stay later, try harder, dig deeper. So it’s still a present pressure on the opposite side of the table.

So I was nervous about ‘coming out’ as sober. Because drinking is still a thing, culturally — so is being vegetarian/vegan — and these things require some finesse or everyone gets awkward. Sober boss still wants to be cool.

Frame ‘sober boss’ as a trial

One easy trick is to avoid absolutes. Absolutes freak people out. “I don’t drink” is a flat and powerful statement. It’s a great internal statement. But it immediately inspires the question “why?” and “what do you think of me, a person who drinks?”. It’s an awkwardness generator.

“I’m not drinking right now” is something that people can kind of wrap their head around. Maybe you’re on antibiotics. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight. Maybe you’ve had a health scare. Who cares?

If you can pull it off, “I’m trying a thing where I’m not drinking for a while” is gold. Something to feel out with a relationship, though. But it lets people know you’re not drinking, it gives them a why — you’re trying a thing! — and conveys that you’re not Judgey McJudgerson about them drinking. You’re trying a thing. It’s got nothing to do with them.

I think I pull off sober boss well. It’s a quirk, to be sure, and a point of conversation if you want it to be, but it’s not a negative.

Day Ninety-Three: Busy Brain Chronicles

Busy brain. It’s come up before. It’s the thing where I wake up in the night and just can’t get back to sleep. The assumption is it’s stress, but it’s not always stress. Sometimes it’s just… stuff.

Things are going well, but there’s a lot of things to go well. That’s what the busy brain is tossing around: maybe this is a kind of stress, but it’s not like ‘arrrgh’ stress. Just management.

Music soothes the busy brain

My wife likes music when she sleeps — she used to sleep with a TV on in the next room, low. And it’s nice when I can’t sleep to have something to listen to. She favours classical, I like world music and jazz (we trade off). It’s nice to have something to mentally dig into. Break down the different instruments, the different parts.

It’s possible that I’m waving off a warning sign. Waking up with management on my mind, even if there are no red flags or alarm bells. could mean I’m taking on too much. But I also deal better, overall, with a little bit of overload than with boredom. So if busy brain is the price of being kind of optimally busy, I’ll take it.


Day Ninety-Two: Food Tracking

It’s weird, being a relatively smart person. I know what I should do. I know what the benefits are. I know it’s not difficult. And yet… I don’t do it. Food tracking is my elusive bugbear in this whole thing.

It’s… like I said, weird. My wife is great about it. She tracks regularly and methodically. I just… don’t. I’m on the sobriety, I’m good with exercise, I’m not even eating particularly stupidly. I’m just not tracking.

I’ll chalk at least part of it up to being easily distracted. Even now, from the time I started writing this, I had a tab open on my browser to look up “Bugbear”, which led me to the Dungeons and Dragons ‘bugbear’. Which almost had me clicking more tabs and falling deeper down that rabbit hole. Which would have ended with me rushing out the door. So I’m trying to stay on point now, finish this, record the podcast, and then log the goddamn food for today. 

It’s the second time in less than a week that this has been my focus. So obviously it’s on my mind.

Food tracking forces better habits ‘effortlessly’

Because this is what I know.

Food tracking changes my diet without me ‘changing my diet.’ When I do it, honestly and consistently, I don’t have to think about eating right. I eat right. It’s totally self-reinforcing.

When I don’t do it, I snack, go off the rails, etc. In fact, snacking is what drives me from doing it. I can’t face the guilt.

So clearly, tracking is the way to go. It takes very little time, it’s not hard, and it’s very helpful.

I’m a smart guy.

Why do I get stuck on this?


Day Ninety-One: Spending Time (and Iron Fist)

How am I spending time? How am I blowing time?

I recently finished watching Iron Fist on Netflix. Well, kind of second-screening Iron Fist. I knew it would not be good going in. I knew it was not good while watching it. It wasn’t particularly compelling, but I watched it to the end.

I am going to die someday.

Why in God’s name am I watching Iron Fist?

I wish I had a good answer for that question. There’s been a thing rattling around in my head for a decade now, which becomes truer every year. Media consumption used to be defined by access: physical access (is the movie playing here?) and financial access (can I afford a ticket?).

Things have changed.

If you’re in a developed nation, and have a stable Internet connection, your media consumption driver is not access. It’s time management. I used to say there was nothing on TV. Now my wife and I have routine conversations to triage the shows we watch. We divide things up and report back to each other about whether something is good (I’m the canary in that coal mine — she reads a lot, I second-screen a lot).

Spending time when time is your media currency

So it’s hard to feel good about spending time on something you don’t think is worth it. I could have been building something, or climbing a tree, or cleaning my toothbrush collection.

And it’s hard sometimes to distinguish “leisure” from “waste.” I kind of feel okay about video game time. It’s at least engaging and either a way to work on my reflexes and/or puzzle solving skills. But the Netflix thing is just so… inert.

But I need to relax, right? And bad TV is a form of relaxing… right?

It’s hard to know what to feel okay with, and what to feel guilty about, sometimes.

Day Ninety: Why Snack? I know.

Why snack? I’ve been trying the “eat when you’re hungry” thing for a while, and still find myself on hand-to-mouth autopilot. It’s aggravating, frankly… going about your day and then finding yourself eating.

It’s an interesting problem, though. What’s going on with my wiring that I just… snack? A couple of weeks ago, I ran up against this. And assuming that I was going to change that problem just by observing that problem may have been naive.

I’ve tinkered with a couple of anti-snack strategies. I think what would work best is actually planning my food day, every day. It’s a road I’ve been down a few times. And it’s the path that consistently works.

Why snack? Because I don’t know what I’m eating.

Like, what I’m eating in the future, not what I’m eating while I’m snacking. That would be weird. But when I have a food schedule, I stick to it. I’m good at that part.

So what’s keeping me from having a good food schedule?

Well, I get busy. My wife gets busy. It’s good-busy, but more often than we’d like, I get back to the house and it’s time to whip up some food. Or I wind up eating at work. Or… stuff happens.

Maybe it’s time to look at my schedule, or switch food-logging from a phone system to a computer one — doing it while I’m sitting here, right after the podcast is recorded.

Recipes are also a problem. Why snack? Because I don’t want to write stuff down. Why snack? Because I’m already snacking, and not logging it, so what the hell.

I’m not being too hard on myself — I think trying to force absolute change super fast isn’t a great idea, especially when I’ve got a lot going on. But it’s worth thinking about a gradual and consistent change.

Day Eighty-Nine: Sobriety Sleeve-Tugs

I’m being more open about not drinking with people now that I’m about three months into this. It’s usually a version of the “dimmer switch conversation.” But I’m still getting what I think of as “sobriety sleeve-tugs.”

It usually goes well. More often than not, it leads to reciprocal sharing; almost everyone has a similar struggle (most often with food). A couple of people who have told me they think they might have the same alcohol issue as well.

I work in academia, so I think I benefit from an atmosphere that doesn’t prize the kind of rabbit-punch manliness that some drinking cultures are built around. So that’s helpful.

But — almost ninety days in — booze still tugs my sleeve on a regular basis. It’s pretty surprising. At least once a week, I’ll open the fridge and see some of my wife’s beer and think hey. Or have a crap day at work and go home and think wine. Or just generally reminisce about being at the bar and drinking with some colleagues.

Sobriety sleeve-tugs are worse when you don’t have a “problem”.

In a weird way, not having a capital-P “I strangled the family dog” problem is a trap. Rock bottom is super bad and something I never want to hit. But at least burning the house down means you have to rebuild.

When you have a kind of problem, it’s harder to get a clear grasp of consequence. “I must never drink again because I murdered a busload of nuns” is a clear mission statement. “I don’t drink because, meh, sometimes I thought I might be drinking too much” isn’t really a hook.

So I have to find some level of satisfaction in “I’m not drinking because I’m not drinking,” and — weirdly — accept my story internally as gracefully as friends and strangers accept it. When the impulse hits, I don’t believe myself the same way that strangers do. That’s a weird place to be in.

I’m not drinking today; carrying on. It’s just an odd space.

Day Eighty-Eight: Running 10k

Do you know the easiest way to get yourself to run 10k?

Run 5k in a straight line away from your house. Then realize you have to get back.

That sounds like a joke, but that was seriously the approach to my first 10k of 2017: I thought i’d be doing six. Then I just decided to keep going at 3k out, to 4. And then at 4k out, I thought what the hell.

10K Run March 30 2017
Straight up, straight back.

Nowhere near a great time for me, but running 10k in under an hour, and that’s a good baseline for the year.

The cyclical nature of it all is bothersome… training for three seasons, then a forced break, then starting slower than I finished in the fall. But there are no indoor tracks I can access where I live. And treadmill running is fine, but I’m more committed to the rower at home than a gym membership.

Day 88: running 10k and oh, also Nazis

So I’m feeling better than yesterday about confrontation, and since it’s day 88 of this project — look it up, Nazi-watchers! — I definitely feel better about the whole situation. I gots better places to focus my compassion than white guys that should know better dropping giant steaming turds of ignorance in public spaces.

Day Eighty-Seven: Conflict Management

So I got in an Internet Fight with somebody yesterday. A while back, I pledged that I’d stand up to ignorance more. That the Nightmare Clown is happening because weak people with heads full of bad ideas were just being left to rampage around and spread those ideas. Because it’s a pain in the ass to argue with people. But conflict management isn’t an internal strength for me.

So I’ve been arguing with these people. Yesterday was pretty typical: somebody who’s obviously been pulling all their thinking from talk radio. A childlike understanding of the world and the law. Lack of empathy bordering on comical.

Conflict management is not my forte.

This actually kept me up for a huge chunk of the night. Not just being riled up, but a couple of things in addition:

  • First, I actually feel bad for the guy. There’s no moral fiber there, but a deep weakness that leads to accepting easy, angry answers to feel safe in an uncertain world. But this is a weak person lashing out, not a strong person. I could have been more compassionate. But being condescended to by somebody who doesn’t actually have any idea what they’re talking about is literally the button to push to get me pissed.
  • Second, maybe there was an actual teaching moment there, and I blew it by being argumentative instead of explaining. Probably not. Again, when somebody is more interested in being ‘right’ than being human, there’s not much room there. But maybe there could have been some sort of way to punch through that kind of perpetual tantrum and reach a rational mind.

I’ll never know, obviously. Not being good at practicing compassion robbed me of a possible chance to do better. Conflict management, again, is not one of my strengths. Internal conflict management — not letting this stuff keep me up at night — is definitely not a strength.

So I’m glad that I’m at least not letting poison go unchecked. Annoyed with myself for not finding more ways to check the poison.