Thursday, December 31, 2015

10 tips to make your Resolutions stick this year

Now for the post you have been waiting for (all twenty of you). I am going to give you ten hints that will help you make and maintain habits. These habits will o help you achieve results. You are going to make resolutions, to create habits, which will lead to your goals.
Not My Belly


1. Know Your Destination
If you don't know where you are going, you can't know how to get there. The first thing we need to do is to create a set of destinations. Start with a high level abstract outline of the results you want to achieve. I want you to think out into the future and think about what type of life you want to lead and what type of person you want to be. Keep it vague. I want to be healthy. I want to be financial secure. I want people to view me as competent.

2. Lay Out Your Path
In tip two we are going to lay out the practical milestones to get us to those destinations. The paths are specific goals along the path not the actual steps to reach those goals. Look at the vague destinations you laid out in tip 1 and make specific milestones that will help you reach those destinations. We are talking very specific goals. I want to be 170 pounds by Jun 1st. I want to be able to run a 5k by May 1st. I want to have zero credit card debt by Jan 1 2017 etc.



3. Pick Your Habits
Now you want to make a list of habits that will help you walk down the paths to your destinations. These habits will become you resolutions over the coming year. A habit is a reoccurring activity that you will make into an ingrained pattern of behavior. I will bring my lunch to work. I will work out five days a week at 7 am. I will wake up at 6:30.. etc.  Don't worry about practicality right now. Just make a long list of all the specific actions you want to take to reach your goals.

4. Limit Number of Changes
Now we are going to start applying the things we learned from the second post in this series. One of the main reasons your New Year Resolutions fail is that you try to make too many changes at once. Also they probably aren't particularly well thought out. You only have a certain amount of will power. You can only resist temptation so many times. The plan is to make changes habits so they no longer require as much energy. Since we can only work so hard on changes we are going to limit them to a couple/few/maybe one at a time.

5. Choose Complimentary not Contradictory Habits
If you are going to try and build more than one habit at a time, it is very important that you choose habits that compliment each other. Two habits that contradict each other will quickly use up your willpower reserve and most likely lead to failure. Don't try and quit smoking and lose weight a the same time. Do try and wake up earlier and go to bed earlier. 

6. Know Yourself
This may take some time to figure out. You need to learn yourself and what can help you build habits. Let me give an example. Two people have decided to make the same habits: wake up early and work out a few days a week. Person A needs a reason to get up early. So they decide to wake up early and then work out. Person B is discouraged by the prospect of having to both put out the effort to wake up early and then put themselves through a workout. Person B plans their workout for later in the day.

7. Be Fine With Failure
You are going to mess up. You are going to eat over your calorie goal or miss a workout for a lamereason. You are going to blow your budget. Don't take it to heart. Come back at the next opportunity and do the resolution. People have a tendency once they blow a goal to completely go off the rails.  If they go over the budget by ten dollars, they then go and blow a couple hundred. Just let it go if you mess up.

8. Establish the Habit
A commonly repeated refrain is that it takes a month to make a habit. This is not completely true. The length of time and effort it takes to build a habit depends on the habit being formed and the individual. Some take as little as a week to become ingrained, others can take months and months. So what I recommend you do is to pick two complimentary habits.  Then spend a month concentrating on building those two habits. After a month move onto working on two more habits. The habits from the previous months should continue without a whole lot of effort.

9. Re-enforce the Habit
As you go on working on new habits some of the old ones might flag.  It can be necessary to go back and work on an old habit. If you find yourself failing at a previous habit I recommend taking a week and concentrating on re-enforcing that habit that you’ve been blowing. For example, I was failing badly at a new habit recently when I realized that I had eaten out for lunch three times in a week breaking one of my old habits.  I shelved the failing new habit and spent a couple of weeks working on my lunch habit.

10. Know that the Hard Things are Hard
Some life changes are extra difficult. Anything that involves an addiction, whether physical or mental, will take more than just effort and habits to change. These things are completely different animals than just wanting to walk 10000 steps a day. If you have an addiction you are going to need much more and perhaps professional help than can be provided on a blog post.


More To Come
Tomorrow New Years Day, I am going to be posting a more personal post looking back at last year and looking forward to what I hope to accomplish in 2016. I’ll link to it here when the post is live. Check it out to see these tips being put into action.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

TWTW: December 21st till 27th 2015 Christmas time and hospitals


As I have mentioned before, my Dad has health issues. On Monday he ended up in the hospital. As of my writing this on the next Monday he is still in the hospital.  We hope and pray that he will be home soon.

The early part of the week went by in a flash that I don't even remember.

On Christmas eve I drove up to my parents.  I saw my Dad in the hospital and then went to have a our traditional Christmas Eve family dinner. The turnout was smaller than usual but the food was good.  And I met I big dog. Then went to visit my Dad again.


Christmas morning we opened presents. We got a new laptop for my mom to replace her really old and horrible one. She loved it. My favorite present was the amazon fire stick though the one I've used the most has been the k-cups. I visited my Dad again and then went to meet and make a new friend.  The new doggie. We hit it off immediately.  I have  new friend.
Doggie sleeping on me she wuvs me

I drove home on Saturday through the rain.  It kept raining. On Sunday it rained a bunch more.. It is still raining.. I read we got 6 inches of rain.   I am beginning to worry about flooding and I live on the second floor.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Science of why your New Year Resolutions Fail

This is a re-written version of an older post and the second my series on habit formation and self improvement. I found the original version a little confusing.


Source

Much of this post is based on a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. It is not a self help book. It is a book by a psychologist and a science writer. They delve into actual scientific studies about willpower, impulse control, etc. The birth of this science was a study often referred to as the Marshmallow Study. You can read the details at the link. The gist is that children where tested if they could resist a treat for greater reward in the future. At a later point, researchers went and tracked down the kids as adults. Almost universally the kids that had been able to resist the temptation had become successful and happy adults. This led to thirty years of studies and debate as to the role of self-esteem*, impulse control, upbringing, etc in success. I highly recommend reading the book. I am going extrapolate a lot from what I read and not go into the specific details covered in the book.

Two Concepts

Understanding two important concepts can really help us on our quest for self improvement. Our brains use up fuel or power to do anything. Habits are ingrained behaviors that take very little effort to continue and can be hard to break once established.

Our Brains Need Fuel


Our bodies take the food and drink we consume and turn them into energy. A bunch of other stuff also happens but that's not important for my point. A  lot of the energy goes to power our brains. About 20% of the energy our body uses, gets sent to the brain. This is way more than any other organ. 

Every time we do anything with our brains we use up some of this energy. Learning a new task at work, resisting the temptation to eat a brownie, trying to win an argument in a meeting, these all take up the amount of available fuel your brain can access. We replenish that fuel through eating. Those snicker commercials aren't far off.  You aren't you when you are hungry. You have a harder time doing things and making decisions.  When and what we eat can help keep our brains stay fueled. Foods that release their energy slowly, such as nuts, can keep us going while sugar will give a quick but short burst of brain power.


This is why losing weight can actually be very difficult. You want your body to use the energy that it has stored as fat. In order to make this happen you need to consume a calorie deficit.  Doing this means your brain might not have the fuel it needs to help resist a doughnut at that early morning meeting. This in no way means weight loss is impossible. It takes some tricks and planning. 

The research points to two interesting caveats. There does seem to be an inherited amount of willpower. Some people are just born with more than others. Most importantly it can be trained like a muscle. They studied people who showed the attributes of having a lot of willpower. These people did things  that "flexed" their willpower.  Stand still for long periods of time hold you hand for as long as possible in a bowl of ice water will all, over time, increase your willpower. It seems that exercising your willpower makes your brain more efficient at using the available fuel 


Willpower can be described as a combination of the amount of fuel our brains have available and the efficiency in which it is used. 



Habits Conserve Brain Fuel



One of the most important things they found about successful, was that they seemed to use as little willpower as possible. They designed their lives around not having to use a lot of energy for the mundane thus saving their power for the important decisions and moments in the day. Many people in leadership positions who are making important decisions throughout the day do not pick out their own clothes in the morning. They either Steve Jobs  it and wear the same thing everyday, or maybe they have someone pick out clothes for them. I've taken to just lining up my work shirts in the closet and just going down the line each morning. Thus I use little to know brain power in the morning. 

Habits are simply behaviors ingrained through repetition over time. To do a habit takes little to almost no energy. In fact it takes a conscious effort to not do a habit you have formed. If you have made the habit of always brushing your teeth in the morning it will actually take more effort to not do it. Obviously, habits can be either beneficial or detrimental. You can have a habit of going over all the things that happened in a day that made you thankful or joyful, or you can have a habit of dwelling on all the things that made you made or resentful.

I am convinced of the need to create  conscious positive habits in order to live a good life.  In the next post in this series I'll tell you about the practical steps I have chosen to take to create good habits.


*The Self Esteem Myth


The early chapters of the willpower book deal with the self esteem myth. There has been a prevalent belief for awhile now that if a person feels good about themselves they will before better and actually be a better person. A series of studies in the late70's/early 80s showed that successful people had high self esteem and the unsuccessful had a low self esteem.  It was surmised that if we elevated everybody's self esteem performance would increase.

The same psychologist (not gonna bother looking up his name) who began the self esteem movement continued to study the issue.  By the 90s he realized he had made a big mistake. To simplify it, the people who were good at things had a high self esteem because they were good at things not the other way around. They found almost no improvement in performance based on increasing self esteem. In fact if people were below average at something and you increased their self esteem, they became worse at those things.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas post 2015

Tree at my Mom's house


It's time for the traditional Christmas music video:


Just kidding. It's Christmas time and that means:


Without further ado:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Desire for Self-Improvement is Not Enough

This is a rewritten version of an older post from my series on habits. I hope to have the two posts I have already done rewritten and the third post up before the new year.

I once had a life coach. He quit life coaching after our time finished.  True story.


As a young student, my teachers would often write on my report card "has potential but doesn't apply self". I have described my life philosophy in many ways. I am an anti-perfectionist.  Why waste all the extra energy to get something perfect when you can do just good enough. I zenly describe myself as water flowing down hill. The water finds the easiest path to get to it's destination. I have known people who always get gung ho about everything. They always try and make sure they do there best.  If something is worth doing it is worth doing to the best of your ability. To me that has always sounded like a whole lot of unnecessary work. This is all a long winded way to say that I am lazy.

The oddest thing about my life philosophy of maximizing laziness is my love of people who are excellent at things. Ever since I was a child I have loved watching artists work or wood workers produce things. I watched all those PBS shows.  Now I subscribe to a bunch of creative youtube channels. I marveled at the great things they created. I knew that all these people put in a great deal of effort and had spent years building their craft, but for some reason I unconsciously assumed that if you had a talent for something it was always easy.

This idiotic belief manifested many ways in my life. I wanted to play guitar but I would never sit down day after day to practice. I thought maybe I had some skill at painting.  I bought a starter paint set.  One day without any previous practice or preparation I sat down and spent twenty minutes trying to create a masterpiece. What I made ended up being a horrific disaster. I didn't touch paints again for twenty year. In normal life this led me too look around in my thirties and realizes I hadn't really accomplished anything in my life and didn't seem to be going anywhere.

I decided that I needed to start living intentionally.  To try and be a better me while actually working toward larger goals. I tried to accomplish this by making lists of things I would do. Like New Year's resolutions these were supposed to guide me to long term change.  I might stick to these new plans upwards of 2 to 3 days. I would often be full of resolve when falling asleep. Tomorrow would be different. I would make positive changes in my life.

About five years ago I decided to get really serious. So I started what I called the slackers Guide to Life. I even still own the domain slackersguidetolife.com.  I planned to get myself out of debt, be healthy, and live a creative and productive life. I encountered a problem in that I didn't really have a plan on how to do that.  I decided not to buy anything for a year. I also planned to workout, eat right, and write everyday. I actually managed not to buy anything unnecessary for a year. Otherwise that attempt was mostly another failure.

Then I hit the big forty.  I realized it wasn't a joke anymore. I had gone half way through my life. I decided to take a much more proactive and scientific approach to productivity, habits and success.  So I looked into what science tells us about goals etc.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TWTW: December 14th through the 20th.. WHAT DAY IS IT??


It was a normal boring week. Though I was the most productive at work I think I might have ever been.  I wrapped up a bunch of stuff for the end of the year. Over the weekend I finished the last of the Christmas shopping.

There was something odd about this week.  I kept not knowing what day it was. Wednesday through Friday I woke up each morning and lay in bed thinking "So nice it's Saturday and I don't have to go to work tod.... oh crap."  The Saturday morning I woke up thinking I had to get ready for work. On Sunday I went to go to a local deli. I was confused when I got there because they were closed. They stay open to 6 on Saturdays and it was only 3.. Oh yeah it was Sunday.



Here is a funny Jobu story that I will try to convey correctly. Jobu was in the bedroom. He suddenly had a brilliant plan. He would sprint full speed out of the room and then jump onto the dinning chair and then onto my shoulder bag resting on the dining table.  Why? Because cat.  He sprints out of the room and jumps on the chair.. but he is going to fast.  He starts sliding off the chair. He attempts the second jump to the shoulder bag. He only manages to get his paws attached to the shoulder bag. Sadly for our intrepid adventurer he was still sliding off the chair.  In slow motion he starts pulling he shoulder bag off the table. Jobu fell back on the chair and the bag fell on top of him. He then fell to the floor and again the bag fell on top of him.  If I had filmed that I would so be making money on youtube right now.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Shortest Day of the Year

I believe this is the first time I have every blogged twice in the same day. I have written multiple posts on the same day but never posted more than one. I would have just tacked this onto the music monday post, but I didn't think about it until later.

Today is the shortest day of the year. Sunrise was at 7:12 this morning and sunset at 4:31.  We got 9 hours 19 minutes of daylight. In six months will be the longest day of the month. Sunrise will be at 5:49 and sunset at 9:16.  They daylight will be 15 hours and 27 minutes. I got this information from a great site called gaisma.

The Earth is weird and things like this fascinate me.
  • DateSunriseSunsetLengthChangeDawnDuskLengthChange
    Today07:1216:319:1906:4117:0110:20
    +1 day07:1216:319:1900:00 equal length06:4117:0210:2100:01 longer
    +1 week07:1416:359:2100:02 longer06:4417:0510:2100:01 longer
    +2 weeks07:1516:409:2500:06 longer06:4517:1110:2600:06 longer
    +1 month07:1116:579:4600:27 longer06:4217:2710:4500:25 longer
    +2 months06:4117:3310:5201:33 longer06:1418:0111:4701:27 longer
    +3 months06:5619:0612:1002:51 longer06:2819:3313:0502:45 longer
    +6 months05:2420:2615:0205:43 longer04:5120:5916:0805:48 longer

Music Monday: Gary B - set me free

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

TWTW: December 7th through the 13th.. boring normal week.#doggie


After the last two weeks being pretty exciting with traveling, holidays, family, and a musical this week settled into boring normality.   A few things did stand out

Computer problems

I had been having an intermittent problem with my desktop computer.  When I would be playing a game, the graphics would mess up.  The screen would be half one side of the game, or there would be lines through it. I would reboot and the thing would work fine again.  Finally while playing a game of Starcraft 2 the screen went wonky and then finally completely blank. No reboots could fix this problem. I took the cover off the case and  pulled out the video card. I built this computer about four years ago and I put in a pretty good video card. I paid about $300 for it at the time. When I looked at the card, I noticed that the fan had caked over with dust and fur. I guess that the card just overheated and burned itself out.  After some more testing to determine that my problem was the video card, I borrowed one from work and found another one I could buy on ebay with the money I had made selling things.

Did I mention I have been ebaying almost everything in my place :)

New Glasses

I have a very mild prescription for glasses. I don't wear them most of the time. Only when I am driving at night or my eyes are really tired and I want to see the tv. About three weeks ago I realized I couldn't find my glasses. I looked everywhere. I checked all the businesses I usually go to.  I checked all over work. I even looked in the tub that collects the ice from the ice maker. No dice.  So I scheduled a new eye doctor appointment for Wednesday. The new prescription was almost the same.
Because insuance only covers frames every other year. I picked out one of the cheaper pairs to buy. Though I went to a place that advertises one hour service I had to wait until Saturday to pick up my glasses. 

New Doggie

Speaking of Saturday, on that day, my friend from this sad post, got a new doggie.  Her name is Mazie Mae. I haven't gotten to meet the new doggie yet but I hope she is sweet. 
Mazie Mae


The temperature all weekend stayed warm. It hovered around 60 most of the time. Even if it rained and was windy. I took a lot of walks.  On one of those walks I picked up pine cones from a neighbors yard to make my wreath extra fancy.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

I Made My Wreath Extra FANCY! (tm)

With the encouragement and advice of Liene from Femme au foyer I decided to fancify my sad looking wreath. 

Before
Not being particularly crafty, I didn't expect much in the way of success.  I bought some little Christmas colored bells from the hobby store for a few dollar  I locally sourced some pine cones (stole them from a neighbors yard). s.  I attached them and the bells to the wreath using some colored ribbon I had bought awhile  ago at the dollar store. It appears one dollars worth of ribbon will last me the rest of my life. You may note that if you source your pine cones from nature they may come with little friends.  I had to squish a few bugs. 
After
And there are the results.  Click for  a larger view.


Wednesday, December 09, 2015

The Trees Wept Ice TWTW: November 30th to December 6th

TWT = That was the week. I am shortening the title so I can include more descriptive text.

I went back to work on Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday break. I forgot why I was there or what I did there.



I realized I displayed the signs of having had a good a rejuvenating break. I felt like I had been gone from work for almost a month.  Often when I feel stressed out I think that to do nothing would be the best way for me to relax. I will schedule weekends of nothing but wasted time and leisure.  I found I would usually not be that rested.  If I do something, like go to show or hand out with loved ones, I find that I recuperate better.

The rest of the work week went by in the normal fashion of me trying to avoid working, just kidding boss... or am I.

On Saturday I had to drive back to Chicagoland. I had agreed to go see the matinee showing of The Christmas Story musical. I had forgotten the exact date. Luckily my friend reminded me. The show was on Sunday but I decided to head up the day before to make sure we had plenty of time to get there. When I woke up a dense fog settled over the land. Since I didn't need to hurry I took my time getting ready. I also had some stuff to do around the place, clean etc.


This picture was taken at about 11:30. The fog did not burn off for over another hour.

Small aside. The entire morning Jobu was General Von Grumpy Meow. He just could not settle down. He would whine at me and I would pet him. He'd get all purry and seem like he was about to go to sleep and then he'd wake up and whine some more.

At some point I went for a walk, I hoped that Jobu would settle down. I started walking and was startled. Rain seemed to be falling from the trees but only under the trees. The fog was condensing on the limbs and falling down.

The temperature must have dropped during the walk because the fog started to condense as ice.  It seemed like the trees were weeing ice.

Luckily the show on Sunday happened during the Bears game so I didn't have to see them look horrible and lose to the lowly 49ers. I enjoyed the show.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

That was the Week: November 23rd through 29th Much giving of thanks


The beginning of the week was fairly boring. It was all spent in anticipation of the big holiday.

Thursday we celebrated Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving ended up being a pretty special one. My Mom was getting a special treat. All her children and grandchildren were going to be there. I had planned to lave about ten am so I could arrive a little after noon.  My family has a tradition that for big feast holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, that we eat the big meal in the afternoon. We planned to eat about 2 or 3ish.   Being me I didn't leave till almost noon.  The cat had to be petted etc. I arrived a little after 2 and walked into a house filled with action and yummy smells. I thought I had walked into the 1950s or something.  The women were all in the kitchen and the men/boys were playing a video game.  I guess in the 50s it would have been smoking and playing cards or something. The rest of the guests arrived and we sat down for a great meal. Everybody had a lot of fun and enjoyed the family camaraderie. That reads like I am trying to fake something but it was true.  Everybody enjoyed themselves and my mom had a great time being with her family.

That was all nice and good but the most important thing happened later in the evening. THE BEARS BEAT THE PACKERS IN LAMBEAU FIELD!!!

On black Friday, we managed to mostly avoid the crazy crowd and had a trip to Best Buy. I noticed that my work laptop wasn't charging. I looked a the end that goes into the laptop and it looked like it had been broken off. I checked and it had not broken off into the charging hole. So we did a trip to BestBuy, which was not that crowded. I picked out a universal charger that looked like it would fit. I drove home that day and then opened the charger to find out that none of the tips included would remotely fit. So I went looking online for an official replacement. I zoomed in close at the end and realized that there was no metal bit on the end that had broken off just a bit of rubber that seemed to have eroded from use. I fixed it easily and now have a fully charged laptop.


I spent Saturday simply. I cleaned around the house and spent time with the cat and returned the unneeded laptop charger. That night I went to a birthday part at a karaoke bar.  It was loud and crowded and I left early.

Sunday I put up the Christmas decorations.  For a few years now I have put up colored lights on the balcony of my apartment. This year when I plugged them in I noticed a big section in the middle, the most important section, didn't light up. I fiddled around with them for a bit but couldn't get them to work. So off to walmart I went for replacements.  I bought some cheap lights and while I was there I thought we not buy a cheap wreath as well. The lights are up and here is my sad cheap wreath:



Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Thanksgiving Post 2015

We continue one of the two traditions that have developed her on my blog over the last couple of years. On Thanksgiving or there about in time, I post 5 things I am thankful for. The other tradition is posting Michael Buble's Have Yourself a merry little Christmas.  If you have seen any of the other lists you will notice a lot of similar things. Perhaps I should stop posting one every year :)

In no particular order:

My Family: I got to spend a most of Thanksgiving with all my immediate family. I spent time with my parents, my brothers and all the nieces and nephews. I had a blast as did everyone else. I always make resolutions with myself that I am going to spend more time with my family and I always fail to do so .

My Friends: I have a great group of friends who are there when I need them.

My Job: I am thankful that I have a job with a good boss and good coworkers.  I am never to over stressed.

Modern Medicine: I am glad that all I had to do was take a pill for a few days and my back pain cleared up.  This thankfulness also goes toward having good insurance because of my good job.

The Beauty of Nature: This follows on from my wonderful walk in the snow a week ago but I also just have a long history of appreciating the beauty of nature. Being in a place of natural beauty can be like meditation. It is both humbling and centering.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

That was the Week: November 16th through 22nd



In our last installment, I was taking powerful pills to try and get my back back in shape.  They worked like magic. Well mostly, I still experience a little bit of pain.  I went off the meds on Monday. By that point the pain had largely subsided. I think I've figured out the way the medication helped. It released the tension in the muscles and stopped the spasms of pain that certain movements brought on. This allowed me to walk and move normally. This put everything back in the right position with the right movement. Before the pills I was hunched over shuffling around and sitting at odd angles to avoid the pain.

With my newly better back, the work week went by smoothly.  On Thursday I had to help run an event in the auditorium, which is not my normal job.  It was stressful in the beginning as we ran around trying to set things up and get things working. It ended up going to almost perfectly.

The most important event of the week happened Saturday. We got THE FIRST SNOW OF THE YEAR!!! I love snow. Not a huge fan of winter but I love snow.. go figure.

Sunday morning dawned nice and sunny. I had some garbage to throw out.  I put on a hat on some gloves. It had been in the thirties on Saturday so how cold could it be Sunday morning?  I walked outside and froze instantly. IT WAS FREEZING.  I quickly tossed the garbage and ran back inside. I checked the weather and it claimed it was 12F out!   It is way to early in winter to be that cold.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The First Snow of the Year... YEAH #SNOW

A rare Sunday post but it is a special circumstance.  Yesterday we had the first snow of the season.

I know I have said how much I like Fall in the past, but my favorite thing is snow. Especially snow like we had yesterday.  We got about three inches of snow and it was huge big flakes. The temperature hung around 33 throughout the day so it wasn't cold.  I took a long walk and snapped a bunch of pictures.  These pictures don't really capture what I experienced.  I walked slowly, listening to the soft sounds of the snow. The snow brought grace and peace.















Tuesday, November 17, 2015

That was the Week: November 9th through the 15th.. my aching back the pain the pain


When we last left our intrepid hero he was going to bed on Sunday night with  a slight back pain.


I woke up Monday morning.. uh I gotta get up and go to work.  Let's just get out of bed. I can't move. You can do this.. Swing the legs out and sit up.. UHHHHG!

I had stiffened up significantly over night and had some spasm of pain under certain movements.  I ended up calling into work saying I would be late since everything took so long to do. I couldn't put on my jeans. I couldn't lift my leg high enough to get it through the leg hole. I eventually got ready and went to work. I lurched about the office like the humpback of Notre Dame as I tried to move as little as possible. It didn't hurt a whole lot when I sat down and almost not at all if I lay down, but the muscle would so stiffen up and hurt that the temporary pain relief wasn't really worth it.

Over Tuesday and Wednesday it got a little better but no much. I still lurched around.  All the limping had really caused my bad left hip and left to begin hurting a lot.  I was not in good shape.

After almost four days of pain I thought it time to got to the doctor. After an hour wait, the doctor saw me.  The exam confirmed what I had assumed. I had a torn muscle in the small of my back. The doctor gave me some stretches and recommended heat. Most importantly, she gave me a small number of very powerful muscle relaxants. These are the types of pills where they tell you not to drive or make important life decisions while under the influence.

I took a pill at work on Friday.  I waited for the effect. About lunch time my boss was talking to me and my body just started shutting down. I had an almost uncontrollable desire to fall to the ground and sleep forever. Finally my boss left. I closed the door and crawled under my desk to take the nap of the dead. I slept for eleven hours that night after taking a pill before bedtime.

I took another pill early Saturday afternoon. When it kicked in a collapsed in bed next to the cat and slept for another two hours.  On the upside the pills were working. I had a lot less pain and I had regained the ability to walk like a normal person. Not only did the pills make me tired but they gave me a muddled head I called the brain cloud.  I really wanted a tall glass of ice water, so I went into the kitchen and made one.  I walked back into the living room and set it down right next to the other tall glass of ice water I had gotten like twenty minutes earlier.

When I went to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Bears (they WON!!!) I left the screen door to the balcony open. I often open it to let Jobu hang out out there. But I always close it in fear that with this tiny brain he will try and jump to the ground breaking his fuzzy legs. I still had some pain and stiffness that night but thing where trending toward being healthy.




Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris why do you weep?


I have spent a grand total of five days in my life in Paris. We didn't fall in love. I did fall for some of her many charms and we had a short fling in the spring of 2012.



Over the last day I have written (In my head) a lot about the latest attacks in Paris. Frankly, I have read so many stupid things over the last day that I don't want to add my own stupidity to the cacophony.

So I am just going to leave you with two things. First, I have met a lot of people in my life. They have been from all sorts of different places with all sorts of different backgrounds. Despite all that diversity they have all had much in common. Most people just want to live their lives, fall in love, have a few kids, and be happy once in awhile.


Secondly here are some pictures of that beautiful place who's people have been wounded.








Friday, November 13, 2015

Introvert or Extrovert - A Brain Fuel Connection?


In a previous poorly written and confusing post, I tried to explain the correlation between the energy our brains use, habits, and self improvement. Every time we make a decision we use up some of the energy that we have available. Deciding what to eat for lunch, deciding/resisting the temptation to eat a cupcake at work, all take up energy and make us mentally tired. Some decisions use up way more energy than others. One way to reduce the amount of energy we use is to make habits. Habits end up existing as pre-made decisions. If you line up your clothes in you closet so that in the morning you just put on the next outfit, you won't use up any brain energy deciding what to wear.  I had a friend who always ate the exact same thing for lunch and made it the night before. He never had to put out any effort into lunch either in the morning or at lunch time. We regain this energy through sleep, relaxing, and eating.

What does any of this have to do with extroverts and introverts? The current definition of an  introvert is someone who re-energizes through being alone or with a small number of people in quiet situations. An extrovert replenishes their energy from being in public loud and active situations that involve a lot of people. I bet you can see where I am going with this?

Maybe the reason people recharge is because they are doing the thing that requires the least amount of effort. For the  person who is used to coming home and going out with friends or stopping for happy hour on the way home being with people in a social environment takes almost no efforts. This allows them to rebuild their energy. It would take way more effort for them to say no to going out with their friends and staying in to read a book. The opposite for introverts.

The main reason I think there may be something to this idea is my own life.  And as we all know science is powered by personal anecdotal evidence. In my life I have flipped multiple times between being extroverted and being introverted. I have had long periods of time where I would just stay at home and play video games and watch tv and times were I would go hang with friends almost every night.

Some circumstance in my life ususally precipitated these shifts.  I moved or some event ocurred that I repsonded to by changing my behavoir for a long period of time until that became my new behavior.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

That was the Week: November 2nd to 8th



A short and painful That was the Week for this week.

I began Nanowrimo for like the 6th time.  I have tried to write the same novel five of those times. I am not using Nanowrimo in the traditional way. The normal goal is over 1600 words I day. I find that number daunting and hard to do. Instead I am just trying to write something, a little bit, every day. I am trying to make a habit of it :)  I did not work on the novel one day during the week but I did write other things so I count that a win.

On Sunday I did my laundry. My washing machine is broken but the dryer still works. So I take my clothes down to the laundromat, wash them, and then bring them home to dry.  Wet clothes are way heavier than dry clothes. When I got home I picked the big basket of wet clothes off the ground. I felt something not right in my lower back. It didn't actually hurt. It just felt wrong.  I carried the clothes up the rest of the way. Eight hours later I bent down to pick something off the floor.. OUCH!!! Something hurt. My back didn't lock up or anything but my lower back was sore. It remained sore the rest of the night but never really got that bad.  I went to bed... to be continued.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

That was the Week: October 26th through November 1st Sickly sicky was sick #nanowrimo


At the end of the last exciting episode of this is my boring life, we left our intrepid hero sick in bed. Sadly the sickness continued throughout the week.

When I woke up Monday I was already forty minutes late for work. I called into work, rolled back over, and promptly fell asleep.  I awoke at 11:00.  I had built up a little bit of strength and didn't feel very sick. So I decided to do a half day at work. I showered and put on my work clothes.  I walked down to the car and suddenly felt really weak. I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion.  I went back inside, climbed into bed next to the cat, and slept for three more hours.

I felt well enough on Tuesday to go into work. I was still tired and felt kinda week. I wasn't particularly productive but according to my boss I am never productive :)

That day at work really took it out of me and I had to stay home sick again on Wednesday. I slept till eleven in the morning and then took another 3 hour nap in the afternoon.

By the end of the work week it was down to just being a cold. I had a cough, some snot, and still wanted to sleep a lot.

Friday afternoon my work put on its Halloween party, or Fall Frolic. It was fun though I very quickly got tired again.

On Saturday I helped with my apartment complexes Halloween party. The most important thing about it being October 31st wasn't that it was Halloween.  It was Nanowrimo eve. So I spent Saturday evening outlining my novel.

Sunday I got up wrote a thousand words in my novel after setting all my clocks back an hour. I then watched the Bears lose a game they should have won.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Food Friday: Winter (butternut/acorn) Squash Soup

The ten of you who regularly read this blog will recognize this recipe as being very similar to my pumpkin soup recipe from last year. It is almost identical. Though I like the some what different flavor I get from the butternut and acorn squash.



Ingredients:

I am not going to provide precise amounts with this recipe because when you aren't dealing with everything pre-processed in cans you have to learn to adjust. Since the amount of squash will probably be the limiting factor. So start with less liquid than you think you will need and add until you have the consistency you want. For example, I did not use the entire box of chicken stock. I have a little left over.. which I have no idea what I am going to use it for.




  •  Some squash(I had 1 butternut and 1 acorn)
  • chicken stock
  • diced onions (medium)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • salt
  • pepper
  • thyme
  • parsley

Preparation: 

This is much easier if you just used canned pumpkin.  Cut the squash in half. Dig out the seeds with a spoon. Now comes the "fun" part. It took me about twenty-five minutes to get out as much of the meaty part of the squashes.  I used a sharp paring knife and a spoon and I dug and I cut.  I ended up with a nice pile of squash bits.  I threw them into my food processor and pulsed until I had made my own squash puree.

Put the puree, the diced onion, the garlic, and chicken stock into a saute pan. You are going to have to make a call as to how much chicken stock you need. At the end we are going to want a soup with a nice thick consistency. Check out the top picture for what we hope to end with.  Bring this mixture to a boil and then let it simmer for thirty minutes.  Now you need to blend this. You can either use a stick blender or you can use a regular blender. Careful kids it's hot. Spice to your preference. Simmer the blended soup for another thirty minutes.  Stir in the heavy cream.  Put into a bowl and garnish with parsley. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Science of Self Improvement

In my previous post in this series, I told you how I came to realize I needed to understand the science of human behavior and self improvement. In this post I will lay out what I learned through my studies.



Sources

Much of this post is based on a book called Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. But I also read a lot of other articles and sources of information. I am not going to bother to try and find references and links to them all, even if I could. So if you trust me on any of this it is your own fault.

Two Factors

Two important factors intersect on our quest for self improvement: the limited ability of our brains to do things, and the power of habits to maintain behavior without significant effort. Obviously, the situation is much more complex and can depend a lot on the individual. But continued study has shown us many helpful things.

Our Brains Run on Fuel

I will present a very simplified explanation of how our bodies power our brains. Our bodies take the food we eat and convert it to energy. I good portion of that energy gets sent to power the most important part of us, our brains. When we run out of energy from food our bodies start converting fat etc into more energy. This thing is obviously much more complex involving neurotransmitters etc etc..

Every time we do anything with our brains we use up some of this energy. Learning a new task at work, resisting the temptation to eat a brownie, trying to win an argument in a meeting, these all take up the amount of available fuel your brain can access. We replenish that fuel through eating. Those snicker commercials aren't far off.  You aren't you when you are hungry. You have a harder time doing things and making decisions.  When and what we eat can help keep our brains fueled. Foods that release their energy slowly, such as nuts, can keep us going while sugar will give a quick but short burst of brain power.

If you have been following this you may be realizing one of the reasons dieting can be difficult. You need the fuel from food to resist the temptation to eat too much, but you need to eat to give yourself the brain fuel to resist temptation. It can be difficult but is not impossible. There are tricks you can do and long term success is a very real possibility. 

So willpower can be described as the amount of fuel your brain has available and the efficiency in which it is used.

The research points to two interesting caveats. There does seem to be an inherited amount of willpower. Some people are just born with more than others. Most importantly it can be trained like a muscle. They studied people who showed the attributes of having a lot of willpower. These people did things  that "flexed" their willpower.  Stand still for long periods of time hold you hand for as long as possible in a bowl of ice water. One of the most important things they found about people who seemed to possess a lot of willpower is that they used as little of it as possible. That leads us to the next important point: habits.

Habits Conserve Brain Fuel




Habits are simply ingrained behaviors. They are things you have trained yourself to do requiring almost no effort. Habits range from brushing your teeth or putting the toilet seat down, which take almost no brain power at all, to getting up early in the morning and going to the gym.  What they found in researching a lot of very successful people was that they didn't spend a whole lot of time or effort deciding what to do. They didn't spend their time fighting to find the motivation or will to do positive things. It's just what they did. They busy executive who started the day with a stress relieving workout just did it. A habit begins with willpower since they are formed by repeated actions.

Make a habit  make a new habit re-enforce habit

I believe one of the most powerful tools at our disposal for long term self improvement is the creation of positive habits. This leaves our limited willpower to handle the really important things. My coworker does this.  He uses tools and automates much of his work. Repeated tasks become as easy as one click or including one function in some code. This way he isn't wasting his limited resources of time and brain power on trivial things and can concentrate on the actual hard parts. When we make the mundane things of life habits, we free up energy to consciously make positive habits. By making it so we don't have to put much effort into doing something that positively impacts our health and well being we can create a life of slow and steady improvement.

I am convinced of the need to create  conscious positive habits in order to live a good life.  In the next post in this series I'll tell you about the practical steps I have chosen to take to create good habits.

An Aside: The Self Esteem Myth


The early chapters of the willpower book deal with the self esteem myth. There has been a prevalent belief for awhile now that it is more important for a person to feel good about themselves instead of being good. A series of studies in the late70's/early 80s showed that successful people had high self esteem and the unsuccessful had a low self esteem.  It was surmised that if we elevated every bodies self esteem performance would increase.  (There was actually lot more studies and thought into it than they just assumed.) 

The same psychologist (not gonna bother looking up his name) how began the self esteem movement continued to study the issue.  By the 90s he realized he had made a big mistake. To simplify it, the people who were good at things had a high self esteem because they were good at things not the other way around. They found almost no improvement in performance based on increasing self esteem. In fact if people were below average at something and you increased their self esteem, they became worse at those things.