Friday, January 20, 2017

Aedificamus: Temptation Bundling and Topping Out

I've been taking part in an interesting experiment over the past year and a half, give or take a few weeks. If you are reading this post, you've already seen the "Aedificamus" in the title. That means this is a post about health, fitness, and my often fumbling and stumbling approach to it.

One of the things that I have found interesting is how easy it is to find escapes from things I need to do. I have the best of intentions. I have set and calendared the things that I know I need to do. Yet, there is always a diversion, a distraction, some way I can wiggle out of what I planned to do. Then, I get down on myself for missing the mark or not doing what I know I should be doing. I think this stems from the fact that I overestimate both my energy reserves and my willingness to do things, especially if those things result in me being sore the next day. So what is an earnest person to do?

Two people have been instrumental in helping me think about this in a different way; SuperBetter author Jane McGonigal (if you have not seen her talk about "The Game that can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life", I highly recommend it) and Manoush Zomorodi of the "Note to Self" podcast. Both Jane and Manoush have explored the ways that technology, play, and the quirkiness of our brains can lead to interesting discoveries.

Jane specifically opened up the idea of incorporating gaming into my workout routines. Most of us look at gaming as a sedentary affair. True, there are fitness games and games that specialize in movement (I have several revisions of Dance Dance Revolution, as well as two high-quality Red Octane dance pads that get good use). However, the majority of games don't fit into a physical activity model. That doesn't mean that we can't tweak the way we play so that we can include activity.


I've incorporated a rebounder, or a small trampoline, into my time when I play casual games. This might sound strange, but it is surprisingly effective. As I stand on the rebounder, I am constantly shifting my weight. The bounce and the movement require my body to adapt, as well as to counterbalance. Additionally, the actual gameplay becomes more challenging. I have to play while in unbalanced motion. The net result is that I am able to do a process of "temptation bundling". The idea behind temptation bundling is we take something we should be doing but we may put off or otherwise shy away from and blend it with something we actively enjoy but may feel guilty giving our time to. The net result is, I get to play the various games I enjoy and at the same time give myself a vigorous workout.

During an episode of Note to Self called "Your Quantified Body, Your Quantified Self", Manoush shared stories from a number of listeners, as well as interviews with experts, on the promise of all of this collected data that we can record about ourselves through our various fitness trackers and devices, and what it ends up meaning to us. As I have used the LoseIt application, over time I have become familiar with a set of basic metrics. One of the key features of LoseIt is the "Challenges" space. People can compete individually or against others in teams to meet fitness and nutrition goals. What makes the metrics interesting is that they all "top out". Sure, you can do more, but the point accumulation stops.

Here's the gist of the point accumulations. Other than logging in every day and recording food and activity, you can quantify the following:

- Eat 75 calories of fresh fruit to earn 1 point. You top out at 3 points (225 total calories).

- Eat 25 calories of fresh vegetables to earn 1 point. You top out at 8 points (200 total calories).

- If you exercise (or earn a caloric adjustment from your fitness tracker) each time you burn half of your current bodyweight in calories, you earn 1 point. A 200 lb person would earn 1 point for every 100 calories burned. It would be a different value for other weights, but the same principle applies. Everyone tops out at 10 points (in my example, 1000 calories).

- If you record breakfast and lunch, and each meal has a caloric intake of 150 calories or better, you get 5 points for each meal. If you log dinner, you get 2 extra points, for a max of 12.

- If you weigh in once a week, you get 10 points. Any additional days you weigh in over the course of the week gets you 1 additional point for each day you weigh in, for a maximum of 16 points.

- You can earn points towards your weight loss goal, or while maintaining your weight. If you maintain your weight during the week, you can earn up to 40 points per week. If you lose weight based on your goal, you can earn up to 50 points per week.

Seems like a lot to wrap your head around, but think of puzzle pieces. Figure out how to get 225 calories of fresh fruit and 200 calories of vegetables, and I'm done with those needs for the day. If I burn 1000 calories in a given day, I've maxed out. If I've lost weight at the target level or maintained, I top out there, too. Topping out allows me to say "enough". If I top out, I'm good. I need not keep going for that day. Of course, I shouldn't reverse the process by doing something that will undermine my efforts, but I don't feel like I have to keep slogging. When I see that I 've topped out, I don't have to focus on that goal any longer, at least for that day.

Ultimately, success occurs when we are enjoying the process and when we can see that we have put in sufficient effort without overdoing it. Gaming may not be your thing, but maybe Netflix is. You may not have a rebounder, but you may have a treadmill, or a stationary bicycle, or something else you can do to be active while you do that thing you really like to do. I'd be curious to hear what your temptation bundles are. If you would like, please share them in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Aedificamus: The Value of Continuous Feedback

One thing I owe my readers is a full review of LoseIt. I keep saying I'm going to do one, but each time I try to get into it, I find the review keeps getting longer and more detailed. For those willing to wait for that, I'll plan to post it by the end of the week. The "tl; dr" version is "a great way to track calories and exercise, interact with others on your journey, and make fitness and weight loss somewhat fun and entertaining, or at least as fun and entertaining as it can be".

The piece I want to talk to for this posting is the community aspect, and how that community can be helpful if you let it be. With a couple of exceptions, my "friends" within the LoseIt app are people I do not know in real life. My sole interaction with them, at least so far, is via the LoseIt app. I know some might think that that's a very weak connection, and probably not really helpful beyond superficial cheerleading. I understand that reasoning, but I would have to soundly say to anyone who thinks that way, "you are wrong".

I had an interesting experience after I came back from Philmont in July 2016. Over the course of two and a half weeks, where I'd exercised a tremendous amount, burned a lot of calories, and kept a meticulous measure of my food, I should have come back leaner and lighter than ever. Instead, I came back close to twelve pounds heavier than when I had left. I was weirded out by that, and I felt a little ashamed. Maybe I hadn't kept as good a track as I intended. Maybe my calculations were wrong. Maybe I didn't work as hard as I thought. Regardless, I certainly didn't want to post a twelve-pound weight gain. What would my friends think?! Yes, even at this point, my primary feeling was of shame because I'd drifted so far off my course. My answer? I'd stop posting my weigh-ins for a bit, jut until I got back to my earlier number and then I could pick up like nothing happened. Surely it wouldn't take that long.

Days stretched into weeks, and weeks stretched into months, and then it dawned on me that I'd stopped weighing in entirely. I still posted, still logged my food, still cheered people on, but my weight hadn't moved on the charts for three months. Hmmm. Well, I better take a look. I mean, come on, how bad could it be?

I stepped on the scale and ended up reading a weight that was thirty pounds heavier than when I reached my lowest weight back in March of 2016. Thirty pounds!!! What the...?!! I knew full well what had happened, and why. I felt embarrassed to post a follow-up. It felt good to get that daily high five for being on track, even if the daily high five was coming from people I didn't really know. For certain, my embarrassment of having to post a reversal made me shy away from weighing in each day, and that shying away from weighing every day removed me from that immediate feedback loop. I ate much the same as I had been, and I figured I was moving about the same amount, but over the course of several months, the food intake crept up, the activity level crept down (injuries and minor aches helped that along, to be fair) and thus, I found myself in negative territory, giving up thirty pounds of gains.

I tried quietly setting a new goal, and I even made a post stating that I was trying a new plan of attack. Net result? New update and a definite highlight of reversal.

What also resulted? One of my friends gently calling me out and reminding me that I'd finally faced the elephant in the room and that I could move forward from here. 

How has reality looked since then? Like this:

That old familiar saw-tooth pattern is with me again. I'm down roughly 6 1/2 pounds in the past couple of weeks. I have up days and down days, sometimes in a row, but usually back and forth. It's maddening, but it's also helpful. If I have a particularly big drop in a day, it's an indication that I can put the brakes on a little. If I bounce up a touch, it's an indication that I need to be more active. If I bounce up a lot, I need to seriously think about what I ate the day before, and see how I make sure to not repeat it today. The key point is everyday feedback, both from my app via pictures and data points, and those daily cheers and well wishes from virtual friends contribute to success. The real takeaway is our online friends are our support system, and they want us to succeed. They will cheer us on, but they will not often call us on our BS. They will wait and watch patiently, to see what we ultimately do. In my case, it was obvious that my lack of weigh-ins was a sign that I'd lapsed. When I stepped up and admitted it, no one called me a failure or lazy or any of that. They just said "glad to see you are back on track. Good luck out there."

Fitness goals are often challenging. They take a lot of patience and focus. Quick feedback is helpful but more important is a willingness to accept that feedback and actually act on it. Get over the embarrassment of lapsing. It doesn't mean we lack discipline. It means we're human, like roughly eight billion others out there. Own that humanity, log the discrepancies and move on. Our friends want to celebrate our successes, not remind us of our failings. No, really, it's true. If we have a bad day, acknowledge it, deal with it, and do better the next day, and the next day, and the next. Ultimately, we will reach the goal we have set and probably much faster because we are allowing for regular feedback each day. Don't let temporary embarrassment derail your goals. Use the feedback each day to plan an even better tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Everything Old is New Again: Adventures in Khan Academy

One of the things I decided I wanted to do more of back in December (remember, I don't do New Year's Resolutions, I try to ingrain habits before January 1st whenever possible ;) ) was to look back at the areas of my knowledge that I once knew or learned, but that time and inattention have seriously atrophied. For me, one of those areas is Mathematics.

Granted, I use programs, spreadsheets, and calculators quite a bit. I can manipulate formulas and compare results as good as anyone, but how well do I really remember even the most rudimentary of skills? How do I find the area of a trapezoid? Can I do Greatest Common Factors and Least Common Multiples quickly in my head? How much Geometry do I really remember? How about Calculus? OK, to be fair, I made it through first-semester Calculus in college and was overjoyed to have received a good grade. I then stopped due to time and work constraints, so I only got so far.

Khan Academy has what I consider to be a neat collection of Mathematics courses and challenges that you can work through. They have Mathematics topics broken down by discipline, as well as by what grade (K-8 and High School) they represent. At the moment, I'm reviewing 6th Grade math (hey, you have to start somewhere, right ;)?). They have individual modules that you can practice, videos that talk about the concepts, and mastery challenges you can perform and record your progress. My current goal, alongside keeping up a streak as long as I can, is to get to 100% mastery on all math levels through high school. As you can see, I have plenty to do still:

As a kid, I used to consider Math to be the bane of my existence. Now? It's fun! What's more, I'm realizing how many things I learned one way, but are now being taught in a slightly different manner. It's been fun to see the differences and how some of the explanations are better than what I learned, and how I still reactively use the tools I was given several decades ago because, well, that's what I mastered and still consider "my way" of doing it. Perhaps more interesting is looking back and realizing that I either learned many of these things much later than the grade they correspond with or that I never learned them at all, at least not in this context.

Khan Academy does a great job at focusing on the basics, and I'd like to challenge my readers out there to pick an area they'd like to develop a better proficiency. Like me, you may discover that you'll be eating a few pieces of humble pie along the way, but you may also unlock a fun new pastime looking at something you may have long since stopped using, or at least actively thinking about.

If you'd like to follow along with me, my Khan profile is here :).