New Tab, New You

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This post is about a light-weight piece of software I wrote to help track a few things about me I’m interested in monitoring.  It’s freely available (to use and modify) here.

The NTNY screen in action, tracking weekly goals and (white) carbs eaten.

This is a story.  One time, I wanted to get a lot better at pull-ups.  I wanted to be a good rock climber and to have a lot of upper-body strength, and pull-ups were one of the best exercises I could do.  So I thought about how I could do a lot of pull-ups– there was, after all, no bar in my house or office from which I could do the exercise.  An idea came to me: go across the street to the park, and each night, practice doing pull-ups there.

This was not a good idea.  That should be apparent if you’ve ever tried any self-motivated exercise regimen.  All I was relying on was my willpower to achieve a long-term goal.  I didn’t do anything differently except expect that I would make it to the park.  Every night, even when it was dark and rainy and sometimes cold, and I would magically muster up some willpower and go and do the pull-ups.

I think I went once.  Complete failure.

Now this story has a happy ending.  It’s not about me finding it within myself to walk across the street every night.  No, it’s when I realized that the only thing that could convince me to do pull-ups was to make it dead simple.  I would buy a pull-up bar, but only if it could fit in the door of my kitchen, bedroom, or office.  There was no other place I would see it frequently enough to just stop and do pull-ups.  It had to be visible.  It had to be right in my face.  It had to be zero extra work.

The result: I’ve more than doubled the number of pull-ups I can do to 15, and still improving.

The lesson: if you’re going to change something in your life, Read More

If You Can’t Beat Them… Have Them Beat Each Other

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Photo credit: Susannah Conway

No one’s perfect, and while for the most part our various failings are viewed as obstacles to us achieving our goals, I want to take a different viewpoint here: each of us has many vices that can actually help us achieve our goals.

I think this sounds weird to say, so here are examples.

Laziness over Gluttony

I can resist any temptation until I can see it.  And when I see food– it doesn’t matter how much plaque it will dump in my heart; it doesn’t matter how much fat it’ll layer over my rock-solid abs– if I have room in my stomach, I will probably eat it.

This is not good.  But there’s a catch.  See, I rarely get hungry for sweets, pastries, or beer on my own.  99% of the time, my stomach will be perfectly satisfied with whatever I give it (but not too many vegetables, k?– doctor’s orders).  So the problem is not eating junkfood when I’m hungry for junkfood– it’s eating junkfood when I see junkfood.

Therefore, the solution is Read More

How Slowly Can you Float?

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Original image credit: Darren Kirby (flickr: bulliver)

Last night, I heard someone talk about how he ate less than an Auschwitz prisoner for almost a month. Were we talking about eating disorders? Nope. We were talking about goals. It was his goal to lose weight, and somewhere along the way, things got carried away.

Let’s talk about a fundamental rule of goal achieving. This rule is a good thing to keep in mind as you try to accomplish any of your goals, because it completely changes the way you think about what you’re trying to do. It’s something you may already know intuitively, but if you don’t, you might never go to business school and you might never read a book every week, because you approached those in the wrong way. If things get especially bad, you might forget you’re not in a cattle car in 40s Germany. Let’s not go there.

This rule is called accomplishments vs. habits.

Here’s how it goes.

Accomplishments are one-time things. Running a marathon. Eating at the top-ranked restaurant Next. Going to business school.

Habits are things you plan to adopt and keep up forever. Lose 20 pounds. Walk 10,000 steps per day. Read a book every week. No one has the goal of losing 20 pounds once and then not caring about their weight.  The pounds come off and stay off.

Accomplishments are finish lines that can be raced towards. In fact, if you don’t race towards them, you may never finish. Habits cannot be raced towards– not normally, anyhow. You have to start with something small and only increase it a bit at a time.

* * *

Every few months, I go to a wonderful meetup of total nerds called Quantified Self. It’s for people who are interested in tracking data about themselves– usually things like eating, sleeping, and exercising. It was at this last meetup that I heard, straight from his acutely underfed mouth, how one man could eat so little.

He described the graph he kept of his weight. Each morning he’d measure himself and the program would plot the point on the downward slope of his weight over time. A little dotted line far below represented his goal weight. How fast could he make it plummet? This was the question on his mind, and that was what drove him to the verge of anorexia.

But let me suggest a different question: how slowly could it float? Read More

Write What You No

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Photo credits: mermaid99 on Flickr.com

On the back of your list of life goals, write what you No.

One side has the great stuff you’re going to do with your life, and the other has what you will stop doing.

See, this is all about focus, and focus is about saying no.  Think about that for a second.  It’s true, isn’t it?

And if you look on your life and the things you want to do and you ask yourself “Self, why haven’t I done any of these yet?”, the answer will come back, at least in part, “I don’t have time”.  BullllllshI don’t believe in “I don’t have time”.  IDHT means IDC, I don’t care.  You have plenty of time, and unless it’s all being taken up by far more pressing matters than you or I ever deal with on a daily basis, the time is there and it’s your job to take it.  You don’t find it; you manhandle it.

So where do you get all this time from?  That’s where the list of No comes in.  Choose things you will stop doing.  Cut out the fat from your life.  If you don’t, your dreams will fade like the muscle tone of a middle-aged cubicle tenant.

When Seth Godin– who runs the number one business blog in the world, has written more bestsellers than I have fingers, and responds to every e-mail he gets– is asked how he does it all, he says he doesn’t watch TV and he doesn’t go to meetings, so that’s already four to five hours more than most people have.

That’s some serious No right there!  It gives me the warm fuzzies to see someone so boldly cast from his life the trappings of the non-producer lifestyle.

I think you need to say No, and say it hard.  Don’t be– to borrow a term from Noah Kagan– a wantrepreneur.  You know– one of those two-beer bards waxing poetic about lost opportunities.  He is the sad, sad result of a lifetime of Yes.  Yes to every distraction, yes to every addiction, yes to every fashion.

Therefore, No.  Write down your rules.  We’ll start with Seth’s rules.

No TV.  No meetings.

You’re about to bust out complaining about how you have to go to meetings aren’t you?  If so, you’re missing the point.  Let’s go on. Read More