Month: April 2014

Experiment Wrap-up: Water-only April

For all three of you keeping score at home, my April experiment was to drink nothing* but water — with a couple of cheat allowances built in.

Was it a success? Hells yes.

Does that mean I didn’t sneak in a couple of extra cheats over the course of the month? Actually yes I did — but that doesn’t make the experiment a failure… in fact in this case those cheats were essential to the learning I hoped to gain from this experiment.

To recap, I wanted to find out:

  • Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
  • How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
  • Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
  • Any effect on my waistline?

So What Did We Learn?

Was it hard: easier than I expected.

It’s so much better to try on a change for a month than it is to attempt to alter your life FOREVER with a new year’s resolution… c’mon, you can do anything for a few weeks, right?

In addition, I employed the mind hack of removing choice by going with “water only” rather than specifically saying “no caffeine or alcohol”. Even though in my life these two mean the same thing, it put liquids into the category of “don’t have to think about it for even a second”. If instead I let myself debate several times a day whether to have water, juice, caffeine-free soda OH MAN I REALLY WANT A DIET DEW — see how that happens? When you put it into the don’t-think-about-it category instead, it’s way easier to stick to a new habit. I’ll write more about that trick soon because it’s a powerful way to hack your life.

Energy: bit less afternoon lag, but not a world of difference. On one of my cheat days, though, I had a large soda at lunch time. I’ve read that caffeine leaves your body almost entirely within 8 hours, but that night was NOT a good one for sleeping. YMMV, of course; but through careful observation this month I’ve realized that I’m way more sensitive to caffeine than I had thought. If I had to guess, your sleep may be more affected by it than you think. Worth experimenting, I’d say.

Productivity: not much change, actually. I am a bit surprised by this; thought I would be able to squeeze in a couple extra hours of creative work this way, but it turns out that — currently — external forces are much more of a limit than my own energy levels. I only manage to get about 2 productive hours in a day right now, which is truly disheartening.

Waistline: yes, I think. I did just hit 161 lbs which is a total loss of just over 10% from my recent high of 180. But there are a lot of factors at play there; so I credit not-drinking (and the accompanying reduction in late night snacking) with perhaps 50% of the credit.

Now What?

As I said above, the experiment was a smashing success. I learned great stuff about myself, and more importantly I changed my internal default. Defaults are a huge thing. Perhaps the single most important life hack there is… which reminds me that I really must write about defaults at length soon.

Before, my default was to indulge in caffeine and alcohol more or less at random. If the mood struck and I didn’t feel too bad about it (wow; 2pm I really can’t risk another soda… or wow that’s been several days in a row maybe not today) I would fill and empty my glass with abandon.

Now my default is to just reach for water. There are definitely times where I go for something stronger in either direction — but it will be a conscious choice and thus easier to indulge with balance.

Your Homework

If you’ve read this far, thanks! What I would love for you to do, though, is to give this a try… pick something that you want to drop or add, and give yourself a month to try it on for size. Decide up front what cheats you will allow (I’d recommend giving yourself one day off per week, say on Saturdays, as a mental edge.) and really commit to it.

Don’t tell yourself “I can’t do this thing I want to do”… just smile and say “I’m not doing that this month” and see how much easier it is to demote that habit from a controlling force to a minor nag. After the month is up, if you decide to stick with it wholesale, fantastic! If you choose, thoughtfully, to go back to your prior habits, fine. But like me you may end up going for something in the middle; turning it back into an occasional treat rather than a salve… and no better way than to put it out in the cold for a month then welcome it back in on your own terms.

Now where’s that rum?

 

* Up front, I decided that if I was at a social event with drinking I’d have one. That happened a couple of times, and I found it very easy to stick with just one. I also specified that I might have soda water if desperate for something fizzy; that didn’t happen, but I did have a couple of sodas this month in times of “need some bubbles” which lead to increased learning — so not a bad thing, from an experimental point of view. On the “bad” side, I have had a few nightcaps in the past two weeks in moments of stress. While not what I was originally shooting for, it was still useful to see how going from almost-every-night to nothing to on-occasion worked in practice; would I slide down the proverbial slippery slope back to almost-every-night? Happily, the answer is no.

Direction Matters more to Happiness than Position (Maddie’s Progress)

They say that lottery winners, on average, don’t end up any happier a couple of years after their big win. On the other hand, folks that have lost a limb in an accident often report being happier — again, on average — a couple of years down the road.

Seriously; folks that have lost a leg are often happier than lotto winners. Why?

It all comes down to a truth that I’ve been reminded of recently: the trials of everyday life don’t have nearly as big an effect on your happiness as whether you believe that things are getting better. The direction of life change is more important than where you are right now… or to put it another way, it makes all the difference in the world whether you think your life will get better and better in the future.

Here are two examples I’ve lived lately.

purple-cast

1. The Purple Hand

At the end of January I broke my hand. The cast they put on it had a fiberglass “web” running over the soft fleshy part between my thumb and index finger, as they usually do. After a couple of days, that started cutting into my thumb pretty good… but for lack of options I did my best to ignore it.

Three weeks into six-weeks of healing, I took a serrated kitchen knife to the webbing.

Aaaaaaaaah!  Now that’s relief…

For the next week I was barely bothered by the rest of the cast, even though it was still rubbing my index finger fairly badly (hence the tape in the picture) — I just kept remembering how much better it was to have that webbing gone. (And I knew the cast would be gone soon.)

When the cast did come off, my world experienced a similar lift. Sure, the hand hurt… and I still couldn’t climb… but my new wrist freedom was such a huge step in the positive direction that it lifted me for weeks. And since I could feel things healing up, I continue to be reminded that things are getting better and better…

2. Maddie’s Growth Chart

For the past 22 months we’ve been fighting to get Maddie to gain weight. Long story. This chart says a lot:

chart

She’s been under the 1% of weight for just about all of her life. It’s hard to eat when your GI system is under-developed, and it’s hard to develop your GI system when you can’t eat…

From month 12 through months 23 she gained approximately nothing… just slowly slipped off the bottom of the growth chart.

Those were 11 very difficult months.

It’s not hard to let one particular life rut pull down your whole mental frame. When the present isn’t changing, why would the future be any better (irrational thought this is, it’s not hard to understand). Of course the best way to make sure the future sucks is to stop trying to make it better… but let’s move on.

Finally, over the past 6 weeks or so, things are starting to click. See that uptick I circled in green? That is the single most exciting thing I have ever seen in my life. No exaggeration. All of a sudden the future is looking bright… there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it isn’t a train coming our way.

Once more, even though things are still challenging the direction of change makes it all feel OK.

The Lotto Winner and the Amputees

So what’s the deal with these sad lotto winners and the happy amputees? From what I’ve read, it comes down to much the same thing.

Sure, the lotto winner might still be rich (might not, often enough), but is their life getting better? In fact, they often feel like the best thing to ever happen to them is in the past, and it’s a long slow slide down from here.

Whereas the folks that lost a limb have one of the biggest challenges (mostly) behind them… they’re getting by and hopefully getting better, and they tend to see the future as better still.

The Point

The big takeaway for me is that you can easily use this to hack your whole mood. Rather than complain about the weather, find one thing that is within your control and work on improving it… revel in the glow of this one little area of your life moving on up, and you almost can’t help but see the future as rosier.

Then it gets even better.

When this sense of things getting better in one area spills over into a positive outlook on the future, it gives you more energy and lets you notice and take advantage of other opportunities, which ends up causing things to actually get better and better in other areas.

Thinking really can does affect reality.

April Experiment: Water

water-90781_1280Not “mind like water“; this month I’m re-discovering how good plain old water can be.

First, though, a quick rundown of the March anti-experiment since I didn’t actually write about it at all yet… which was caused by:

The February That Kicked my Ass

Between the broken hand, Maddie’s issues, and a couple of other problems I coasted into March without much energy to try something new. I ended up basically saying: let’s take a month off. Totally. No experiment, no working on myself, and while we’re at it let’s kind of slack off on my other recent experiments.

An anti-experiment month, in a way: let’s see what happens if I don’t even try to care.

It sucked.

Poor diet, no exercise, and most importantly the lack of a positive focus made it a very low month: low productivity, low energy, low emotions.

Result of March anti-experiment: Let’s never do that again! Having a particular goal to work towards — and see progress towards — yields a domino-effect of positive action touching all aspects of life. Makes it easier to carry through with preexisting commitments, makes it easier to find the good in every day. I have re-started my recent mindfulness, diet, and writing habits and feel better already.

April Experiment: Water Only* (to drink)

I’ve been doing this since April 1st, actually. Occasionally I have started an experiment on the first Monday instead of the first of the month; but I’m realizing that it works much better for me to prepare ahead of time and actually start on the first. Do what works best for you.

Quick back-story:

I had fallen into a daily pattern of TeaTeaTeaTeaWaterWaterWaterRum/Beer/Wine… Copious amounts of unsweet tea or Diet Dew to power through the morning, switch to water after lunch to hopefully not screw up my sleep that night (I’m sensitive to caffeine), and then switching over to tasty adult beverages when I got to the point in the evening where I didn’t feel the need to be productive anymore. Not every night, but frankly most nights.

But why experiment with changing this?

Because this was not a pattern I decided to adopt. It just sort of snuck up on me over a few years… kind of like the time my left pinkie went totally numb for a few weeks.

The Pinky that Wasn’t There

My work and some of my play has always involved many hours at the keyboard. A few years ago I became aware that my left pinky (and part of my left ring finger) were moderately numb and tingly pretty much all the time. Huh.

Had that come one suddenly, it would have grabbed my full and undivided attention — what the hell happened to my finger??!?!?!!!? But just like the apocryphal frog in boiling water this one came on slowly enough that I mostly ignored it… until I happened to look closely and realized how absurd it was to walk around with a fully numb pinky. Finally it grabbed my attention and I easily fixed it. (Switched to a split keyboard. Much better.)

Just like the pinky, this caffeine/alcohol habit crept into my life without any real conscious thought. So is it really the best pattern for me? Unlikely.

Sometimes You Have to Hit Reset

I could certainly have just decided to scale back one or the other of these minor drugs, but sometimes it’s better to start with a clean slate and then introduce things thoughtfully and see what really works for me. Kind of like what Apple did with iOS7. So since 4/1 I’ve been drinking water only, 24/7. I’ll certainly add things back in later, but on my terms, and consciously.

Besides the clean slate, I want to find out:

  • Is it hard to give these up for a month? If so that’s worth some serious thought.
  • How does it affect my energy levels — morning, afternoon, evenings?
  • Am I more productive? Less? Both, at times?
  • Any effect on my waistline?

So far, it hasn’t been very hard at all, which is reassuring. Too soon to tell on the rest.

* Exceptions…

This isn’t a do-or-die thing. If I’m at a social event with beer/wine, I will have just one. That happened once already. If I decide I absolutely need something fizzy, I will fire up the soda stream. That hasn’t happened yet. It’s important to decide your dos and don’t in advance though, or there is a slippery slope just a’waiting.