May Experiment Recap (Ping Friends)

ice-creamJust a quickie to get back into the swing of writing publicly again… sometimes you just need to break the silence even if it’s dumb, and then you can have a real conversation. Know what I mean?

The May experiment this year was to reach out to a friend or colleague every weekday. How’d it go?

FAIL

Seriously… no way to even finesse this one.

I did ping a couple of friends that I hadn’t talked to in a while, but beyond that I just did not stick to the plan. I’m not entirely sure why, either.

Sure, it felt awkward to say “hey we haven’t talked in forever but let’s chat!” but I’ve worked with awkward before.

Yes, it was a rough month for other reasons, but still… I’ve climbed mountains, dammit.

For some reason this one just didn’t click, and after about two weeks I gave myself the rest of the month off. Perhaps it’s something I’ll revisit in a future month; maybe I’ll decide to work it into my schedule next time in another way (I’m thinking that a new Sunday habit would work well).

I suspect that when I’m stressed my introvert pattern becomes stronger than normal. Something to be aware of next time; when you’re aware of the tricks your mind is playing on you it’s generally possible to throw a head-fake and nudge your mind in the right direction.

On the Plus Side

My June experiment, about getting to inbox zero, is going great!

More on that soon… I have a few tips that you can use, and believe me that inbox zero feels fantastic.

May Experiment: Reach out and Touch Someone

sharingFirst of all, can I just say holy crap did we really blow through 1/3 of the year already? I hope you got your time’s worth. Not sure I did… hmm.

Anyhow, back to our regularly scheduled frivolity.

For the month of May I’m undertaking something that will sound trivial to many of you. Because most of you probably do this far better than me already… I’m going to reach out to a different acquaintance/friend daily. Well, Mon-Fri, anyway — I’m not superman.

They say the most important things in life are our relationships with others. And in a business context, most great things happen because of who you know not what you know. And while I agree with both of these theories, I find it almost impossible to keep in touch with folks… and I’m not entirely sure why.

Seriously — I don’t even say hi to folks on Facebook, which would be about as low-commitment as you can get.

I am an introvert in terms of me-energy-crowd-blah; but I’m not a hermit. But I seem to have fallen into a pattern of engaging only with concepts and ideas (I love learning!) and not with people. At all.

So this month let’s get out of the old comfort zone, and start some conversations.

My goals are pretty simple if somewhat vague on this one:

  • See what happens!
  • Learn why I am so bad at keeping up with people…
  • Reset my default to be more communicative.

For some reason I think this one will be a bit of a challenge for me. Any advice???

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.

The Benefits of a “Get Better” Mindset

99u.com has a great video up showing, with data, the many benefits from the mindset of continuous improvement. It’s 25 minutes, but will feel like 10… Heidi Grant is a great speaker.

tl;dw: measuring against your past self instead of others and phrasing goals, plans, etc as “let’s see if I can get a little better every time” will result in:

  • increased interest and enjoyment,
  • deeper thinking,
  • more creativity,
  • increased persistence, and
  • superior performance.

(And let’s face it, getting better is just plain fun!)

Let’s see if embedding works:

In case the embed doesn’t work for you, watch it on their site here.

Feb Experiment: Be Still

purple-castI’m behind in writing about this, but my February experiment was more or less thrust upon me when I broke my hand.

I had just put in my notice at trinket the day before to spend more time helping Maddie. We needed to double down on her therapies to try to get back on track after a recent weight drop; per Einstein we couldn’t just keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

But even those therapies only take so many hours per day, so I was already facing the possibility of having some slack time — which is always a challenge for an engineer.

As you can probably guess, I had been compiling a mental list of projects I might tackle in bits and pieces whenever the girls didn’t need my help. Some things I want to build, some things I want to learn, and some things I’ll be writing about in future months…

Then the purple cast happened.

Go go go…

My first instinct, actually, was to press ahead with my projects, hand and all… anything to avoid that maddening feeling of being idle… but landscaping with one hand is a just not an efficient use of time. (Writing is far slower as well; but I still want to do as much of it as I can — I learned that much from my January Experiment.)

yoga-pose

But a nagging thought started to form around the fact that I was so opposed to having idle time. Why do I find it so challenging? I decided that I need to find out, so I reshuffled my monthly experiment plans and February, thus far, has been the month that I am doing my best to just be.

(Yes, those are my abs.)

I am no expert on meditation, and unlike most of the time I haven’t taken the time to read up on it at all thus far. This isn’t meditation, actually… this month’s experiment is far simpler… I’m merely trying to catch myself whenever I start to do something to “distract” my brain from the here and now.

First-world Distractions

I’ve never had any real interest in TV or Facebook; but I can easily while away hours reading up on science, technology, psychology, even history and politics… and while I’ve learned some interesting stuff, it has been totally without intention, and isn’t advancing the cause.

What cause? That’s part of what I’m trying to figure out, actually… and I’ve realized that this constant mental motion is hindering that quest.

The Goal

On the surface this might sound like I’m just trying to cull a few time-wasters from my week. But it’s much more than that, to me. Soon I will set about creating the next chapter of my life. I want it to be intentional, and crafted to maximize happiness on several different planes (me, family, community, perhaps world) as things go along. But I have always been fuzzy about my direction, and before I start down another path, I want a clearer picture of something. Not where I’m going, exactly, because that will change… rather I want to be clear on what happiness looks like — otherwise how can I be confident that I’m creating a life well-lived?

So this month whenever I find myself compelled to research some intriguing but non-essential fact on Google, I shut the computer and look outside instead. Whenever I enter a new room, I try to actually look around and see it. I’m trying to share more of what’s in my head, in order to be less inside my own skull and more present.

So by the end of February, I hope to get to the place where I can just be still and fully present for an entire hour. 

It has not been easy at all, so far — but already it’s been worthwhile.

—————————-

(Image credit MeditationMusic.net)

Feeling like a 3-year-old

broken handLast Tuesday I quit working at trinket.io. The next day I broke my hand. Unrelated.

The timing is somewhat ironic though; I quit to help out more with Maddie’s continuing medical issues, and this definitely makes it harder to help.

Given that I’m very right-hand dominant, it’s been an enlightening week.

It turns out there are literally dozens of things that you think you have mastered — but you have actually only mastered doing them with one particular hand. Brushing your teeth with the wrong hand, for example, is awkward but still very possible. Hammering a nail, on the other hand? Almost impossible.

Eating with the wrong hand is odd; it feels almost like trying to handle a fork with thick leather gloves on.

But the one that really made me laugh was trying to use a knife.

This morning Sydney (age 3) and I made a PB&J sandwich together. And we were equally bad at it!

Handling the knife left handed, specifically… you just don’t realize how many subtle hand movements go into the simple act of spreading peanut butter… all the little angle changes… the pressure has to be just right… one slip either way and your either glomming it on in huge dollops or leaving bare spots.

It sounds annoying, but it was actually pretty amusing. And in fact it has been a nice week of mindfulness — I’ve paid far more attention to the little everyday things, since I’ve been forced to tackle them with the dexterity of a 3-year-old.

 

3 Great Reads from 2013

Quick thought tonight… just wanted to share three of the blogs/posts I came across in 2013 that might change your life.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 8.30.43 PM

1) Mr. Money Mustache

No, I’m not into mustaches, and yes, it’s occasionally a bit over-the-top. Still, face-punching aside, he often hits a false assumption square on the head… there are articles in here that can completely change your relationship with money.

Realizing that freedom (from money worries) is truly attainable, and within a decade if you decide that’s what you want, is an empowering feeling.

More than that, though, it’s about questioning the “normal” that you see around you every day. Sure, everyone works 50+ hours a week and buys a SUV and doesn’t have any time for their passions and waits for retirement at 65… but today (in America especially) you actually have very different options. If you dare.

What if you chose to create the life you really want, rather than pursue what you think is “normal”?


700-0457692) Jim Collins “advice for my daughter post” 

Lots of people talk about advice (financial and otherwise) in broad and hand-wavy terms. Sure, spend less than you earn makes sense. Sure, going with low-fee funds seems to make sense… but there are so many little details to wade through; too much to parse, sometimes,

In this one short read Jim lays out nine simple tactics that, if followed, will virtually ensure that you become financially secure and thus able to do whatever it is that you decide is worth dedicating your life to.

It’s specific, and simple, but it’s sound. If I had read this post 10 years ago, I would be fully retired right now. Wow.

lifestyledesign3) Raptitude, most anything in the “essentials” column.

One more blog about pulling away the false reality that has been pulled in front of your eyes… his greatest hits column has a few gems (that last one should be taken with a grain of salt; he’s not being literal about the “vast conspiracy thing”) but to be honest, most of what David shares here is worth the time.

Read it, close your eyes, and tilt your head back… breathe in an out deeply a few times and just savor the little moment of humanity he’s pointing out. Too often we go through our lives and miss all the living… his is a blog about experiencing this amazing world again.

 

Jan ’14 Monthly Experiment Check-in

on-the-wagon

By my math it’s exactly half-way through January — perfect time to check in on this month’s Experiment of writing every day.

Looking back, I’ve written about 10 days out of the 18 that have ticked away. Not great, but since this is a Monthly Experiment and not a “New Year’s Resolution” I don’t see any reason to feel bad. The learning that comes from thoughtful experimentation is as much the point as the experimental habit itself…

So what have I learned so far?

1) Writing is great medicine

I knew this already, actually; but this month has been a great reminder. It’s amazing to me how much difference it makes just to get my thoughts  organized enough to jot down. Publishing them seems to lighten the load somehow, and walk straighter for the rest of the day.

This is the case whether writing about little personal victories or recent personal disasters. Or even just venting about craptastic customer service from a company like LegalZoom.

2) Ideas get log-jammed

Apparently there is a limit to the number of ideas I can keep in my head. (And it’s a frighteningly small number, too). When I started this experiment, I worried a bit about finding enough things to write about… but I find that every time I give an idea life by evicting it from my noodle, new ones pop in.

I’ve had more and better ideas coming to me, now that I’m writing and sharing the old ones. In fact I have a pretty cool concept for a novel now… maybe I’ll take an upcoming month and write up a treatment.

3) “Pay yourself first”

This phrase comes from the world of personal finance; but a similar effect applies here. Life is hectic; and no matter what you do the hours fall away fast. The days where I saved my writing for evening were very hit-or-miss; very often by the time the kids went to bed I was too mentally exhausted to even think about thinking.

By tackling the things that are important to you as early in the day as possible, you’ll set yourself up for greater success. That way, even if the rest of the day goes sideways on you, you’ve already made real progress on something that matters. In my case, I think I need to tweak my morning routine so that by noon I’m already ahead of the game. That’s a challenge given Maddie’s current needs, but it’s the key to getting back on the writing streak I want to create for the rest of the month.

4) Never 2 days off

Sometimes the world does not cooperate, and despite your best efforts a day will go by without being able to tick your Daily Experiment Done box.

It happens.

But I’ve realized that when that does happen, you absolutely positively must tick that box the next day. One day off is a stumble, easily recovered. Two days off is the beginning of anti-new-habit inertia… it gets exponentially harder to stay motivated on day 2, and especially day 3.

So if you miss a day of whatever daily habit you’re trying out, give yourself a bit of slack — but then kick your butt hard to get back on the horse the very next day.

Wrap-up…

It’s been great writing more. To get the most out of this month, I’ll move a couple of things around so I can end with a 10-day winning streak.

After that, I tentatively plan to cut back from daily to 3 blog posts per week — but to make that stick I know I’ll have to commit to a schedule. Not “when the mood strikes”, but specific days of the week that know I will write.

I would like to do more, actually, but I have so many things I want to do with my limited free time that I will probably have to strike a balance with writing.