Sunday, August 30, 2015

Aedificamus: The Value of the Self "Check-In"

We all go through them in certain ways. That one-on-one meeting with your supervisor, the daily stand-up, the family meeting, the heart to heart talks, they all have a purpose. The goal is to make sure that we are "on track", whatever on track might mean at that given moment. On track often means different things to different people. I'm having a bit of that now with my son. He's 19, going to college, working a job, and developing a sense of who he is and what he chooses to do. For me, the check-in's are important. For him, they may be less thrilling, because his idea of "on track", at the moment, differs a little from mine. I need to remind myself of this from time to time; I remember having the same conversations with my dad when I was 19. If I'm not mistaken, many of the topics were very familiar ;).

Checking in with others is fairly easy. With another person, I have accountability. The more difficult process is the personal check-in, the act of interviewing myself and regularly asking the following questions:

  • How are you doing? 
  • Is everything OK?
  • How's everything at home?
  • Are you working on what you need to? 
  • Do you need help with anything? 
  • Are there things you probably should stop doing? 
  • Are the things you are thinking about stopping doing actually the things you should stop doing, or are they the things you need to double down on?

I could greatly expand this list to talk about my family, friends, initiatives I'm involved with, etc., but for today, it's the Self Check-In I want to focus on.

I've been experiencing a rediscovery in regards to fitness and health. Today's technologies give us the ability to have these conversations. As I've said many times, RescueTime helps me know what I actually spend my time online doing. It's great when the feedback is positive. It's frustrating when I realize things I'm doing are, at best, a mild amusement or diversion. At worst, they are a total waste of time. Still, those insights are made with regular check-ins and asking myself "what could I be doing with this time?".

Sixteen days ago, I downloaded the "Pacer" app because I wanted to do something about my exercise (specifically, the lack thereof). Pacer gave me a very simple goal; "can I get 10,000 steps in every day?". At first, I started thinking about it spread out through the day. I determined the easiest way to do it was to park my car at home and walk to the train station (which is one and a half miles from my house). When I reach Palo Alto, I get off the train and walk to the office (another half mile), and then repeat the process backwards. This makes it part of my daily routine. If I were to just do that, I would be 80% of the way to my goal (and cover four miles each day). Just milling about at the office would takes care of the rest.

As I started making that 10,000 step goal each day, I shifting my thinking to "What about doing it at one shot?" Yeah, that is doable. I need to cover five miles, and take me about an hour and forty minutes (that's just walking at a regular pace, no jogging or running, or deliberately lengthening my stride artificially). Soon, I started considering the goal met when I could do it at one shot, or as early as possible. As I was doing this, I started noticing that there was a daily estimation to the calories I was burning (I don't consider this to be scientifically precise, but as a general rule of thumb, sure, I'll take it). As I was looking at the calories, I started asking myself "Hmmm, what if I were to limit my food intake to what I'd burned?" In other words, if I did a walk and I burned 700 calories (which for sake of reference takes me about two hours of walking or about 7 miles), then I am allowed to eat that amount of food. In other words, can I match the calories I eat to the calories I burn?

This approach works for immediate meals. I would not recommend doing this too aggressively, because it does not take into account my basal metabolic rate (which is imprecisely about 2,200 calories for my height and weight at zero activity level. If I were really to just eat what I had "burned", I'd have a daily deficit of 2,200 calories, which comes out to 15,400 calories a week. I'd lose 4.4 pounds each week at that rate, and at least half of that would be lean muscle mass, which would ultimately make my MBR lower. This is why I do not let myself go that low. Generally speaking, I become so irritable at that level of deficit that I have to eat, so at this point, it's not been something I can maintain in any meaningful way. Still, by doing this process, just by tracking the calories I "burn" with keeping track of the calories I consume, and being aware of how much of each I am doing, the net results after 15 full days is that I have dropped 12.5 pounds! Some of that is water weight, some of it is redistribution, some of it is lean muscle addition (and perhaps a little bit of muscle subtraction), but a fair chunk of it is also body fat, and that is something I'm happy to see go "bye bye").

My point with a lot of this is not to say that pacer is cool, or that calorie counting helps, or that evaluating my BMR on a regular basis is helpful (though all of those are). The act of a self check-in, to see what exactly I am doing, and being mindful of that check-in, helps me keep my motivation. It helps me to recognize if I am on track, or if I need to modify my plan. Additionally, it lets me consider if the time I am spending is the best use of my time, or if I can somehow modify what I am doing. Ultimately, what I choose to do with that time, (especially with walking) is important, because it is now literally time I cannot do something else. Actually, that's not entirely true, I'm using that time to listen to CodeNewbie podcasts (currently up to Episode #33), so there is a very limited level of multi-tasking I can do ;).

How about you? Are you giving yourself a regular check in?

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