Day 103: Get Out on the Water

I feel great! Get out on the water, people. It’s worth it.

I guess there’s a broader thing at work here: it’s a holiday today, and so I skipped regular exercise to head down to the boathouse. I store my canoe with the Cataraqui Canoe Club in Kingston, which is for my money absolutely the best entertainment dollar in town. The first paddle of the season, on a morning so insanely misty my visibility was about 15 feet. Plus the rowing club was out, so the peaceful bliss of the morning was slightly marred by the fear that a bunch of teenagers would scream out of the fog at any moment and T-bone me.

But they didn’t! It was a gorgeous morning. I literally feel better than I have in weeks.

Cataraqui River Paddle April 14 2017

Get out on the water
Morning paddle — solo outing and the first of the season. What’s your “get out on the water” activity?

Get out on the water if you can. If not, find your water.

Now, not everyone has ready access to watercraft. And not everyone likes canoeing, kayaking, and so on. But what’s your deal? Where do you go to completely switch off and do something different?

It’s easy for me to forget — somehow — how much I enjoy canoeing. I think it’s because I’m a convenience junkie. I’d rather do what’s right in front of me than divert into a new path for something I’d rather do.

From time to time, I really need to shake myself out of habit and re-evaluate what I’m doing. Re-focus on what I really like instead of what I’m currently doing.

Now, this was a holiday, which makes it easy to find the time to get out on the water. But it only took me 20 minutes pillar to post from leaving the house to being on the water.  I know what my “get out on the water is,” and maybe you have something like that too that we can all make a little more time for.

Day 102: Sleep with Intention

How do you sleep with intention? I ran 12 k yesterday, which is the longest I’ve done since 2012. So last night, I was pretty wiped out. When my alarm went off at 5 a.m., I turned it off, felt exhausted, and asked myself if I could get another hour.

But it wasn’t just rolling over and going back to sleep. It was doing a mental calculus of “sleep with intention” — if I get up at six, how will I get exercise in, will I have time to make lunch, etc. It was a quick bout of planning so I could sleep with intention — really dig in to an extra hour of sleep instead of semi-dozing in a state of semi-anxiety.

Then the cat decided it was time for me to get up, and I got up around 5:20. So it goes.

Sleep with intention instead of “just sleep”

I’m trying to make sleep one of the four things I’m being very mindful of for the second phase of this. Days 101 – 250. Sleep is an active part of the agenda. And part of that is going to be really getting ready for bed instead of just going upstairs at a certain arbitrary point. Devices off at 8:30 p.m., reading for half an hour, flossing, all that stuff.

The ideal situation is to be going to bed with sleep as a goal, instead of just going to bed because it’s time to do that. I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone else, but it does to me. Sleep’s often gotten short shrift with me, and I’d like to improve on it.

Part of that is really being mindful. There’s still the thing where you’re supposed to get up at the same time every day. But I like my long-distance running (when the season allows). So I’m not sure how to approach that. I need to get up at 5 to get a 10k in. I don’t think I should be sleeping later when I’m not running. But running is tiring.

Something to think about.

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 Ninety-Nine: Ebbs and Flows

It’s a bit rough to start day ninety-nine as a continuation of ninety-eight and what my wife and I describe as “floompy.” In a life with ebbs and flows, I’m definitely feeling ebbed at this point.

It was a weekend of pretty low spirits and eating too much; not drinking, but I definitely had that “what’s the point of this?” call toward booze yesterday. Which may be a reaction to nearing a goal… the self-destructive impulse to toss it when I’ve almost made it. 100 days is nothing to sneeze at. It’s almost a cliche.

So I’m trying to find a good reboot as I start the week — lots going on at work, and lots potentially to be jazzed about. I think I made the wrong call yesterday in staying up. My main urge right now is to try to get a couple more hours sleep, which isn’t on the menu. Ebbs and flows… when you’re stuck in an ebb, how do you get out of it?

Ebbs and flows and shaking yourself up

So thing one for today is going to be trying to reset some easy intention. I’ve eaten too much over the weekend, so a fast day will both shock my system a bit and help me burn through some of the excess. Other than coffee and water, I’m going to do today foodless. That usually gets my head into a different space.

The other thing is an aggressive to-do list and day plan once I get into work. When I’m feeling like this, giving myself agency is a bad move. I need to dive into micro-tasks and plot them out. By lunchtime, I should be both hungry and feel like I’ve accomplished something. That will translate, hopefully, into hungry-energy and some sort of purpose. Ebbs and flows require me to aggressively kick myself out of the ebb and back into the flow. We’ll see if it works.

Day Ninety-Eight: Remotivating

I could stand some remotivating right now.

Partly it’s just being a bit “candle at both ends” for the last while; partly I think it’s just some lack of sleep. Caffeine is definitely on the upswing for the past few weeks, which is something to keep an eye on.

So right now I’m walking the line between “get more sleep and maybe I’ll be energized when I get up,” and “just get going and see if it kicks in.” It’s a weird line, because either one could not work, and then I’ll feel bad. So of the two, “stay up and try to kick it into gear” is the one that doesn’t mean lost time. Maybe a few minutes of exercise, even though it’s Sunday?

Remotivating on a Sunday morning

Sunday morning is particularly funny, because it’s supposed to be a sort of relax day anyway. But at the same time, I gots stuff to get done, yo. So at 8 a.m. I’m coming out of a kind of a got-up-early miasma.

Clearly I’ve talked myself into “get going,” so it’s time to sit down, make a list, plot the day.

  • Study for the class I’m taking
  • Tune up the bikes for spring
  • Do some recording to fulfil some obligations
  • Plan the kitchen island I intend to build
  • Plan the couch/day bed my wife and I want to build
  • Set some alerts for sanded plywood
  • Meal planning & grocery shop for the week

…clearly, there’s stuff that needs doing!

Let’s go, Sunday!

 

Day Ninety-Seven: Barfing Cat

So on the blog end of things, I’m running an SEO optimization plugin called Yoast. It’s actually been interesting in terms of critiquing my writing style. And it asks you to come up with a “focus keyword” every day. I’d imagine so it can help you make sure you have the keyword enough that people searching for something will find your site. So let’s see what it can do with “barfing cat.”

Long story short: the cat yarked on the bed last night. Like an epic barfing cat session, while we were asleep, more or less right on me. So it’s been a night of, once again, less sleep than usual. Plus the kind of marital bonding experience you get when you and your wife are up at 1:30 a.m. stripping the bed to put sheets in the laundry and strategizing how to get back to sleep. Bonus round: visitors in the guest room, where all the bedding is.

Here’s the thing about a barfing cat:

We never really blamed the cat. She got flea-treated yesterday, which she hates, so she got treats after that. And I gave her some soft food before bed in the hopes that she wouldn’t wake me up in the night because she’s hungry. Well, it worked. She didn’t wake us up in the night because she was hungry. She woke us up in the night to unleash a half-litre of vomit on the bed.

But even though we were mad, blaming the cat was never really on the menu. She didn’t mean to get sick, and didn’t mean to barf on us. And I guess in my sleep-addled mind, I’m driving towards a “aren’t we all a barfing cat, in our own way?” kind of thing here.

It’s important to forgive ourselves when we’re put in situations that make us barf. Sometimes life hands you a situation where barfing, really or metaphorically, is all you can do.

But it’s up to us, as mature human non-cats, to try not to do it on the metaphorical bed, or on the people we love. Metaphorically speaking.

 

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.