A Good Excuse

I am finally realizing the secret to why I’m so cyclical with working out.

I go back and forth on this. I’ve done it for years. I get into a good habit — waking up early, getting after it before work — then I slack off and fall off the wagon. Then I get mad at myself and climb back on the wagon. And a few months later I’m off again.

It struck me the other morning why this happens. (Or at least, why I’m going to allow myself to believe it happens.)

The days are getting shorter right now. There’s less daylight out there to go around. Therefore by the time I’m going to bed, the night hasn’t been upon us for very long and when the morning comes, daylight is still a long way off.

There’s something in here, too, about the fact that when we’re deprived of the natural day/night cycle, our body naturally calibrates itself to a 25-hour day, not 24. So, y’know. That’s a thing. And it’s relevant somehow, I’m sure of it. (It’s also heckin’ bananas. Evolution finely tunes organisms to exist in a certain environment under certain circumstances, so how the heck is our natural clock off by an entire hour every day?)

This is not, in other words, a me-versus-my-alarm-clock thing. It’s a me-versus-my-evolution-given-circadian-rhythm thing. It’s the adjustment from long days and short nights to the other way ’round that gets me crossed up; not staying up late to watch Cobra Kai and Jessica Jones.

Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself this week.

Of course, I’m still able to drag myself out for runs, somehow.

I’ll solve that one later.

Anyway, maybe I’ll work out tomorrow.

We Have To Get Out

You could be forgiven for not realizing it’s Saturday right now.

With much of the US (and much of the rest of the world, frankly — though I haven’t heard much about Australia during this time; care to chime in, Glen?) on lockdown, either enforced, encouraged, or self-imposed, the time begins to blend together. One day looks much like the next. I mean, that’s the case anyway, but it’s doubly so when many of us aren’t seeing our usual coworkers, aren’t going through the usual stimulation of the job, maybe aren’t even leaving the house.

To further add to the confusion, if you’re an introvert like me, you now have the permission of the entire community to get away with your preferred behavior of vegging out on the couch, not going out, and generally keeping the world at arm’s length. You know, the things that, under normal circumstances, people try to talk you out of doing.

Which is all well and good for a few days. But we’re a week deep on the social-distancing, minimize-contact-with-the-world, wash-your-hands-everytime-you-have-an-errant-thought adventure train, and that’s when we start to go crazy a little bit. As any teenager will tell you, you can only stand your family for so long, but it’s not like that feeling goes away when you grow out of your snarling, brooding phase.

You have to remember that you are a product of millions of years of evolution. Our species did not develop so that we could watch endless hours of Netflix while sprawled on the couch shoveling the Cheetos we bulk-bought in a panic into our gobs. We aren’t made for bunkering and hiding.

We’re built to move. We’re built to survive in groups.

One of the most important things to do in a time like this, I think, is to remember that.

Don’t get me wrong, there are great things you can do while you’re isolating, and there are tons of blog posts and tweets to tell you all about the things you can do to stay productive — or be more productive — while you’re stuck inside. And you should maybe do them!

And we also need to understand that, in these trying times, it’s gonna suck. Productivity will take a hit, we’re gonna end up feeling crappy sometimes — if not a lot of the time — and that’s gonna slow us down from the things we want and need to get done. That’s okay, too. We can’t (and shouldn’t) expect ourselves to be perfect during this time, to weather the storm with style and grace and ‘gram-worthy hair the whole time.

But we can help ourselves out — and maybe more importantly, we can help out those who are cooped up with us — if we can remember that we are not meant to live this way and we conduct ourselves accordingly.

That means taking a little bit of time for self-maintenance. My early-morning runs feel more important now than ever. (I’m sleeping in until 5:30 instead of 4:30 to get them done, but I’m still up before the sun, because that’s when it happens.) On the days I don’t run, I’m doing calisthenics and strength workouts in my garage, in the cramped, kludge space I’ve cobbled together between the piles of junk we’ve been meaning to throw out and the Christmas decorations.

But you don’t have to get after it like me (aka like a psychopath).

Get outside for a little while.

Take a walk.

Do some work in the yard or the garden.

Heck, even just opening the window to let a little fresh air into your lair can do wonders for your subconscious self-calibrators of goodfeels.

You need this. You owe it to yourself, and to the family and friends you’re stuck at home with.

The Weekly Re-Motivator: If-Then

What if life were like the movies? Or like books, or video games, or music?

What if life were like stories?

Let me back up. At one time in my life, I entertained the possibility of becoming a computer programmer. It made sense of a sort: I’m decent with computers, certainly I use computers a lot, and I’m kind of fascinated with what computers are able to do. I don’t, unfortunately, have the meticulous, detail-oriented mind that programming calls for. Still, I learned a few things about programming, one of which is the if-then parameter, which is the cornerstone of programming.

If this thing happens, then do this other thing. If this condition is met, proceed with the program.

It’s simple but critical. And it’s there in our stories, too. If you see a gun in the first act, then you expect to see that gun fired in the third act. If the main character starts off as kind of a jerk, then he will have some change of heart by the end. If this character is afraid of flying, then you can bet the farm he’ll have to get on a plane before the story runs its course.

But those are big if-thens. They are everywhere in stories. If the character has that extra drink, then you know he’s going to do something extra-stupid before the night is out. If she leaves a MacGuffin at home when she goes out, then that will be the very night she NEEDED the MacGuffin. If John McClane takes off his shoes, then the writers will be sure to make him tromp across broken glass.

You can predict what’s going to happen in stories, then, by paying attention to the little things characters do.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life were the same way?

If I wear this tie, the boss will recognize that I’m going the extra mile and give me a promotion. If I put in this time at the gym, I’ll end up with the body I always dreamed of. If I have a good breakfast, the rest of the day will go great.

Life is never so convenient. We prepare, we plan, we make adjustments on the fly, and life still blindsides us. There are no guarantees, there are no simple straight lines from the actions we take to the consequences we make.

Which could be disheartening, really. I mean, right now, I’m living my life in the hopes that: If I sink in all this time working on my writing and my novels, then I’ll get published and make tons and tons of money. But that isn’t a guarantee. It might not even be likely. Likewise, If I’m diligent about exercising, then I’ll enjoy a long, healthy life. But nope, that’s not automatic either. My books might never be published. I might get smacked by a bus tomorrow, or contract some horrible long-debilitating cancer that cripples me.

Life, to summarize, is a crap shoot.

So why try, right?

If the if-thens you set out have no bearing on the world at all, then what’s the point of planning, of trying? Damn, that’s dark and reductionist. And too often, I think — especially in this country — we think too much in that rigid if-then way. If I do this thing, spend this money, invest this time, then I expect these results. And if I can’t be guaranteed, then I’m not doing it.

We need to adjust our if-thens.

If I sink in this time working on my writing and my novels, Then maybe I can learn something about myself, entertain myself, and maybe possibly entertain a few other people, too. If I focus on my health, then I can improve the quality of the time I have, I can get stronger physically and mentally, I can do things I might not otherwise have been able to do.

Sometimes I look at life as a long con, where you keep your eyes on the distant prize and keep working toward that. The spire in the distance, the North Star that keeps you oriented.

But I think just as important is keeping focused on the immediate, the things you can count on, the real-life stuff that life throws at your feet.

Life doesn’t care about our big plans. Life owes us nothing. Best we can do is make the best we can out of the things we spend our time on.

And make sure we’re focused on the right if-thens.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Useless Measurements

Venturing once more into the realm of dumb things spotted in the retail world:


Notice the little infographic in the top right.

I’m not sure if the fifteen refers to minutes or seconds — it could really be either based on the picture — but what I do know is that if you buy this thing based on its expected caloric burn, you are doing it completely wrong.

I mean, you either want a heavy calorie burn, in which case you’ll lift some serious weight, run some serious distance, or you know, carry a bunch of cinder blocks across a parking lot and back again, or you want to strengthen your … I’m looking at this thing and I’m trying to figure out what exactly it does … fingers? Individually?

But nobody. Seriously. Nobody has ever set out to strengthen their grip and wondered how many calories they were burning. And isn’t 45 calories like, one singular french fry? Or maybe an eighth of an M&M? Maybe it’s the candy shell.

Well, fifteen indeterminate increments of time squeezing this thing will allow you to burn that candy coating right off!

Saddest of all, though, is that for a fleeting moment, I entertained the notion of buying one. I could keep that on my desk. Squeeze it in between sentences.


Enough Inertia

I made a mistake yesterday.

No, it wasn’t the four hours of Sherlock that I watched.  Sure, I could perhaps have put the time to better use, but watching Benedict Cumberbatch in action is never the wrong thing to do.

No, it wasn’t the mediocre writing session I had.  That sharknado is gonna happen, I’m down with it.  The only mistake would be giving up and giving in, and letting the Howler Monkey bite my throat out.

I stepped on a scale.

I’m not going to lie and say it was a great shock to me that I had put on weight.  No, I’ve been on this expectant father trip before, I know what it entails.  Diet and healthy eating kinda go out the window when the wife is eating for two, and well, we’ve made all this extra food anyway, something broken in me since childhood won’t let me waste food on a plate.  Long story short, dear sprout #2 has left me about twenty pounds heavier than I was a year or so ago.  I say a year ago because that’s when I stopped looking at scales in general, not because I was upset at what they had to say but because I’d achieved a level of weight loss I was happy with and didn’t see the need to confirm that I was maintaining.  I was running around twenty miles a week, so I didn’t have anything to worry about.

Needless to say, not only have I fallen off the wagon, but the wagon circled around to pick me up and accidentally ran over my neck.  It’s time to dust myself off and get back on the horse.  (And I think I’m mixing up my metaphors again, goldfinger it.)

Running has been about self-improvement since day one for me.  Somewhere along the way it turned into fun, as well, but that doesn’t let me off the hook for the reason for the season.  I didn’t start running to have a good time, I started it to get my asgard in shape.  And it worked.  Trouble is, when you run a lot, and your metabolism kicks up, you start to feel like you can really eat just about anything and get away with it, which is true to a point, that point in my case being when I tore my foot up back in January and then got plantar fasciitis in my other foot just as the first foot was healing.  So now I’m working on getting back into running like I was before, but I’m twenty pounds heavier and my feet are still a little gimpy.

But I’ve also had the wrong approach with my running of late, which is the running scared approach.  I’ve been running scared of injury, running just to maintain, running to keep weight gain at bay.  I haven’t been running to improve, which is why I haven’t been improving.  I’ve been running most of my miles at just over ten-minute pace for the past couple months now.  For me, for the level I was at before January, that’s kinda pitiful.  So, no more ten-minute miles!  If I’m not improving, I’m backsliding, and there has been quite enough backsliding for one year, thank you very much.

But that’s only part of the equation, a fact I was able to ignore two years ago.  See, I was such an out-of-shape mess when I started running that the shock to my system when I started up was like turning loose a leaf blower in a ball pit.  Total havoc, and I cleared out a lot of balls and lost a lot of weight.  It wasn’t the whole picture, but I was happy enough with the results that I didn’t care about that.  I had lost the equivalent of a big-asgard bag of dog food in weight, who was I to complain?  More running won’t shock my system like that again, though.  I know that because I’ve been ramping up my mileage a little at a time since March, but I’m still gaining weight and I’m not getting any faster.

Time to start focusing on the diet and even doing some exercise aside from running, which is really going to be a test for me.  The only reason I’ve managed to stick with running so long is that at some point I tricked myself into thinking it was actually enjoyable and was therefore not really exercise.  But I have some tools in my pocket, a lot of resources, and I’m frustrated enough with myself that I think I can finally get this fitness thing sorted, and sorted properly.

So, no more lazy running.  No more getting down on myself about my writing.  (Yeah, right.)  If I’m not moving forward, I’m moving backward, and I’m too damn old to be moving backward anymore.

Speaking of moving forward, the novel is at 90%.  Feet don’t fail me now.  Except I don’t write with my… you know what I mean.