Failure by Psych-Out

Yesterday I went to a climbing gym with my co-workers for our summer staff party.  It’s been at least five years since the last time I tried rock climbing, and over a decade since the last time I actually climbed a rockface.

The experience was interesting.  On the one hand, the venue is great, and the staff were awesome.  My co-workers were all super supportive, and in no way did I feel like I didn’t belong because of other people.  I did, however, felt like I didn’t belong because I’m a 325lbs mass of meat that doesn’t have the greatest cardiovascular system and a nervous suspicion of gravity.

I made two attempts to climb a fairly easy 5.5 wall.  The first attempt, I chickened out about a quarter of the way up.  A little while later, I made a second attempt and got around 80% of the way up before I stopped, thought about things, and promptly started climbing back down.  In other words, I psyched myself out before I reached the top.

I was really bummed out about it afterward, because I knew that if I pushed through the mental barrier and went up the last 5-10 feet, I could have made it.  Instead, I saw that I still had a bit to go and felt that I didn’t trust the auto-belay device to support my weight, and the hand-holds near the top would have been tricky to climb back down on.  So, instead I decided to turn back and climb down until I was a safe height up from the ground where I could let go and still not injure myself if the auto-belay device didn’t arrest me.

It’s really stupid to let myself succumb to this kind of thinking.  I know that the equipment is safe, and I know that I won’t injure myself if I slip.  Nevertheless, I let my fear get the best of me, and I turned back before the end.

We can’t win them all.  I’ll try to do better next time.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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The Animated Bibliography

*Update: I’ve added bullet points to the bottom since the time of original publication.  New points are identified as “New.”

I’ve made references to the concept of the “animated bibliography” in a few recent instagram posts.  I first started conceiving of the idea when I wrote a short self-reflective critique of my habit of reading self-help books.

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-/16 The Achievement Habit by Bernard Roth. The concept of design thinking and Stanford's "D School" has been on my radar for a few months. The book was listed in an article I read so I checked it out. Given what I've read over the last year, it's pretty par for the course. It was refreshing that it wasn't an animated bibliography of research like other books I've read in the genre. Instead, it is written with a lot of anecdotes from the author's life as a mechanical engineer and professor, which I found quite enjoyable and a nice change. To be honest, the thing I was more excited about was that I listened to this for free on the #Libby app using my @kitchenerlibrary membership. While I like my Audible subscription, I love my library more and am glad they offer this for audiobooks. #books #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #productivity #habits #learning #audiobook

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I doubt I’m the first person to notice this trend in publishing, and I’m not entirely confident that this is a new trend at all.  The more likely explanation is that this is something that has gone on for a while and I’m just too stuck in reading the same books listed on every “must read” list to see the broader context.  Were I to read books that were published earlier than the last decade, perhaps I would see that book have always used this strategy to convey information.

Nevertheless, it would be fun to take on a bit of a research project to see whether this trend has proliferated from a certain point in time, who the early adopters were, and how quickly it’s accelerating.

For the moment, here are my early observations:

  • The animated bibliography is a style of nonfiction where the author uses a micro expression of some authority to explain or contextualize some broader universal “truth.”
  • The authority is either scientific studies or biographical case studies.  Biographical case studies are not always literal examples, but can also be mythical or metaphorical examples.
  • The material is rarely discussed from the negative; that is, the material is presented as a causal relationship to explain a phenomenon, but less commonly are counter-examples, counterfactuals, or false-positives discussed.
  • The author is usually repackaging the work of someone else, rather than the original author of the micro expression.  For example, there is a difference between Daniel Kahneman writing a book reflecting on behavioural economics and his original studies, and someone invoking a study published by Daniel Kahneman to explain an phenomenon.  The animated bibliography would be the latter, but not the former.  The animated bibliography is a presentation of the things the author has learned.
  • The animated bibliography has parallels to how research papers are written at the undergraduate level.
  • The animated bibliography can be thought of as a narrative stitched together.  A series of vignettes (chapters) that bring stories together under a broader meta-narrative that provides a unified theory.
  • The animated bibliography is a method of delivering nonfiction, but it is not necessarily meant to be a moral lesson.  It is protreptic in aim – it attempts to be explanatory, if not educative.
  • The animated bibliography typically falls under a few key genres of nonfiction: business, productivity, leadership, personal development or self-improvement.
  • In isolation, the animated bibliography is merely a geneology of ideas, but taken as a genre it becomes self-referential.  The same studies and case studies start popping up over and over.  These, in turn, get meta-referenced by popular authors who write about them.  For instance, a reference could take the form of a book referencing another author’s book about a series of published studies.
  • Hypothesis: this phenomenon (if it is a new phenomenon) is an emergence from the overlapping worlds of start-ups and founder idolization, social media-fed ennui, high technology, scientism, and people’s inability to move from idea to action.  The books are proliferated as instructionals and how-to’s to solve a behavioural problems.  They paint an ideal way forward, but the fact that they keep getting published, and that a market still exists, means that no one book can actually be held up as the definitive voice.  The plurality exists because they singly do not provide broad answers.
  • The market creates a series of urtexts that spawn and inspire secondary and tertiary levels of reference.
  • *New* The author takes on an authoritative tone in the books, but uses the references to others as the source of their authority.
  • *New* Rarely is the book the result of a lengthy period of research or work in the field as a practitioner.  Instead, the book is the product of some period of immersion or research in the topic at hand (e.g. the author spent a year working on the topic and is writing a book about it).

I’ve deliberately kept things vague in terms of which authors and books I have in mind when I make the observations above.  Perhaps in time, I’ll have more courage and name names of those I find to be the biggest offenders of the genre.  For now, though, I choose to remain silent.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

Locus of Control – I Re-Assembled the Elliptical!

While I have recently joined a new gym in our new city after the move, I have used it once as of writing.  I have yet to work out a schedule that allows me to easily pick up the habit of exercising.  This is, of course, a terrible excuse to not exercise.

Exercising at the gym will either be something I do before work, or something done after work.  Each of these options have complications that provide just enough friction that implementing them is stopped by my slothful lizard brain.

In order to exercise at the gym before work, I’d have to wake up earlier.  This is hard for me for a few reasons:

  • Because I work at the bar a few nights per week, my sleep schedule is variable, so keeping a consistent bed and wake-up time is challenging.
  • I’m a heavy sleeper, so finding a way to wake me up without disturbing my partner is difficult.
  • I’ve developed a habit of snoozing when my alarm goes off.
  • Being late to work is bad, so if I’m late to get to the gym, it throws things off for me.
  • I’m lazy.

In order to exercise at the gym after work, I have a few barriers that I’d need to overcome.  Ideally, I’d go straight from work, but:

  • On days when the dog is at daycare, I’m usually the only one who can pick him up before they close since my work is closer.
  • On days when the dog is at home, I need to go home first to take him out to relieve himself.
  • Because I’m the first one home, it makes more sense for me to start dinner.
  • I have the habit that once my “pants come off,” or if I sit on the couch, it’s hard for me to get up and go again.
  • Exercising after work is challenging if I’m tired from work.
  • I wouldn’t be able to workout on days after work when I also work at the bar or have board meetings (mornings are more likely to be clear of other scheduled activities).
  • I value spending time with my significant other over going to the gym.

These are all excuses.  They are in no way real impediments to going to the gym.  Instead, they provide just enough friction to stop me from making a change.

Another option would be for me to workout at home.  Until recently, we’ve been limited in what we could unpack while the renovations were ongoing.  However, now that the renos are done, we are in a position to reclaim more space in the basement.  The disassembled elliptical was buried behind boxes of stuff, and there was little extra floor space that could be used to set up the machine.

Last week, I decided that I wanted to finally set up the elliptical so that I had no excuses for skipping some form of exercise.  I wanted to take back some locus of control for my fitness.  Everything listed above is coded in language that suggests I have no control over my situation.  There’s always a reason outside of myself that prevents me from committing to exercise – “if only things were different, I’d exercise.”

But this is wrong.

In truth, there is nothing stopping me from exercising.  I’m making excuses on why I’m not modifying my behaviour.  Instead of whining and whinging about why I can’t exercise, I need to address the nagging feeling that I am drifting about in my day to day life.  I don’t feel in control of things, but this is false.  I tend to react, without intention.  I act as if I don’t have an active agency in how I spend my time.  By not making decisions about how to fix my behaviour, I’m still making a decision – only now I’m pretending to be a victim of circumstance and pushing off ownership of that decision to do nothing.

And so, last week I decided to take back some locus of control and re-assemble the elliptical and go for a run.  This is not a behaviour change, but merely a first step.  (Or several steps according to my FitBit…)

Now, I must be responsible for continuing to take those steps.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Honest Gym Update

Earlier in July, I joined a new gym.  It had been some time since I went to a gym, and indeed I had cancelled my last gym membership due to not attending in months.  I researched some of my local options, and I settled on a non-chain gym to join.

My first workout was July 5th.  The gym has 24-hour access for members, and I wanted to blow off some steam, so I went out to run on the elliptical and do some light weight lifting.

All in all, I like the gym so far.  The layout is different than what I’m used to, but I like the aesthetic and vibe.  You have a decent mix of people using it, from muscle-heads to grandmas, and everyone seems welcome.

However, since July 5th I have not been back to the gym.  Despite wanting to get back into the routine of exercising, I have yet to make any progress towards forming a new habit of going to the gym.

Granted, things have been hectic as we dealt with the fallout from the move, the renovations, wedding planning, etc.  Still, this is not a good excuse and I should be doing better.

I figured this accountability post would be a good thing to share, because it’s going to take some work before I change my behaviour.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

I (Finally) Cancelled My Gym Membership

I finally got around to cancelling my membership to my gym.

My last visit to the gym was at the end of November last year (I thought it was October, initially, so I wasn’t doing *that* bad…).

I have been away from the gym for so long that the branding and colour scheme has all changed to Crunch Fitness in my absence.  It was strange to walk in and see all the same equipment, but with new branding stickers adorning the equipment and different paint on the walls.  The vibrant reds and blacks have given way to more muted blues and greys – a shadowy ghost of the former company.

I’ve written before about my poor habits with going to the gym, and how much it costs me when I fail to go for months at a time.  I’ve had some successes, but mostly I tend to fall off the wagon.  The longest string of success I’ve had with exercise is using the elliptical at home with the Zombies, Run! app.

The decision to cancel my membership is motivated by three reasons.  First, since we are moving in May, I will be too far away to reasonably commute to the gym (and if I was inconsistent before while living close to the gym, there is almost no chance that anything would change in my habits after the move).

Second, I reviewed my finances and wanted to clean up some unnecessary recurring charges to my credit card.  Things like the gym and my subscription to Crave TV were cancelled since I rarely use them.

Third, with the move to the new house, I’d like to take a crack at exercising more from home.  I’m fairly regular with the elliptical running, and I would like to purchase a few more items to create a bit of a home gym.  While I doubt I’ll have a home gym like Jujimufu on YouTube anytime soon, I can add a few pieces that will allow me to get a reasonably comprehensive workout from home, such as a barbell, bench, and maybe a squat rack.  Stretch goals would include battle ropes, a heavy bag, and kettlebells.

If the home gym fails, there is a commercial gym and a more specialized gym in the town I’m moving to, so I could always sign back up when things settle down.

In the meantime, here’s a salute to World Gym (and Cruch Fitness who took over all the World Gym locations here in town).  I very much liked my experiences at World Gym, and I don’t regret our time together.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

On Indulgence and Order

This past Christmas break, I learned an insight about myself.  In order to feel truly rested during a break, I need two days to myself.  This insight came as a result of the frantic pace that comes with Christmas – cramming to finish as much work as you can before shut-down, travelling all over to visit family, tending to personal projects and end-of-year business, etc.

Two days probably sounds like an overblown indulgence to you, but I realized that in order for me to feel a sense of rest and recharge, I need two consecutive days for my own uses.  With one day, I get a chance to catch up on things – sleep, bills, messages, work, etc.  But two days gives me more freedom to do what I usually need to do – binge.  If I only have one day to myself, I can’t “binge” on whatever it is I want to binge on.  If I were to binge during that one day, I would feel like I’ve just put off doing work for a day, and now everything is piled up further.

But if I have two consecutive days, I get one day to binge, guilt-free, on whatever it is that I want to do (sleep, food, video games, Netflix, YouTube, etc).  I get a chance to get it out of my system, guilt-free.

The second day, then, is my chance to put my life back together.  I can plan out my tasks.  I can take care of personal maintenance tasks.  I clean and de-clutter.  I get a chance to breathe and focus.  It puts life back into order after the mess that comes from indulgence.

It has also made me realize that I’m not balancing things out well in my life if I have to wait for extended vacation breaks to get two consecutive days to myself.  I really should be more mindful of what I schedule for my weekends.

I can only follow this model of binge/purge and order because I am privileged to have a good job and stability in my life.  I recognize that this is not available to everyone, and I appreciate that I’m at a point in my life where it’s something available to me.  For that, I’m thankful.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Zombies, Run! 5K Training App Review

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This blog post is not a paid sponsorship.

On Friday, I completed my last training mission for the Android version of the Zombies, Run!  5K Training app by Six to Start.  While this is supposed to be an 8-week training program, I’ve been at it since mid-October.  Having completed the program, I wanted to give some of my thoughts on the experience.

Overall, I loved it!

Imagine taking an audiobook about a zombie outbreak, and attaching a step-counter/GPS tracker to it.  That’s what the app is at its core.

Story

You play the silent hero, Runner 5.  The adventure opens with you in a helicopter bound for the Town of Able.  While en route, your helicopter is shot out of the sky, and you are forced to make your way to the settlement with the help of Able’s radio operator, Sam.  Once you make it to town, you meet a diverse cast of characters who you “interact” with throughout the 8-week plan.

The bulk of your interactions take place with Sam and Maxine, the town’s doctor, who also serves as your training coach while you build stamina and prepare to take your place as one of the town’s Runners.  The Runners are a group of people who are sent out on missions outside the guarded walls of town to run messages, look for survivors, gather supplies, and occasionally serve as decoy bait to lure zombies away.

While managing a zombie outbreak is bad enough, you still have the lingering question of who would shoot down a helicopter from the middle of the zombie-infested countryside, and more urgently, who is stealing supplies from the town’s quartermaster.

I found the story very immersive.  It brought me back to my old radio drama days from high school, with well-acted characters and sound effects to help you believe that you are being chased by zombies.  The creators took time to ensure the voice acting was well-done as you rely on the characters to help you experience the story.  There is no narrator telling you a story, but instead the story unfolds around you while you run.

Despite the fact that this is a training app, there is a surprising amount of story given to you.  You learn a bit of the backstory of the main players, and there is a lot of world building going on about life and the history of the zombie outbreak.  You learn a little bit about the politics of the various surrounding towns, and you get swept up in the human drama.  Indeed, your final mission is not just a 5k run, but a race against the clock to make a critical delivery to someone you’ll never meet but means the world to a close companion of yours.

The App

I found the app easy to use and well-designed.  As I mentioned above, the app is basically an audiobook and a step-counter.  There is a bit more to it, but those are just extras that help with customization.  The app tracks your progress in one of three ways – a GPS tracker that lays out your run via a Google Maps integration, a step-counter if you want to use a treadmill, and an estimated distance tracker for use on rowing machines and ellipticals (how many minutes it takes you to go 1-kilometre).  I chose to use the step-counter feature despite using an elliptical, which meant my in-app distances were skewed, however I corrected the distances with the tracking done by the elliptical itself.  I also used my Fitbit to track caloric expenditure and heart rate, since they were calibrated to my height and weight.

The best part about the app is that you can choose to use an external audio player when the app isn’t talking to you.  I used both Stitcher and Spotify and found that the integrations were smooth.  This allows you to listen to music on the run.  When the training app needs to deliver information to you, it pauses what you are listening to and continues the story, before switching back to your preferred audio.  Even taking phone calls mid-app worked well.  There was only one time where my music didn’t start back up after I took a phone call.

One note of caution is that the first 3 or so weeks of the app are free to use, but you need to pay a nominal fee ($5.49) to unlock the rest of the missions.  While this might be annoying, or a bit of a barrier for people, I liked it because a.) I’m in favour of companies making money off of users to keep creating good content; and b.) letting you use the app for free lets you test it out.  By the time I was ready for week 4, I wanted to find out what happens next, and I thought a buy-in of around $5 was worth it to continue on the adventure.  The full (non-training) app uses a subscription model, but still allows you to trying things out before you need to unlock the full app.

Training

I found the 8-week program to be a little easy for me, but using an elliptical meant that there was only so much crossover I would experience.  If I were to have tried running, I suspect the app’s difficulty would have been scaled more appropriately to me (and my knees would have taken a beating).  But the main purpose of the training is similar to most other “couch to 5K” training programs – get you moving a couple days per week while the difficulty is slowly ramped up.  I appreciate this approach, as it is enough to challenge you, but easy enough to keep you coming back for more.

To keep the difficulty scaled for me, I would often run through rest breaks, and I ensured that I kept the resistance level at a good place to maintain a heart rate of around 140bpm.  To ensure I was running fast enough, I monitored the elliptical’s RPMs, and used the following markers:

  • 40-50rpm: slow walk/rest
  • 50-60rpm: brisk walk/warm up
  • 60-70rpm: steady running pace
  • 70+: hard exertion/sprint

Before each mission, you can review what the day’s exercise routine will look like.  The training sessions involve a combination of walking and running periods, and some sort of ancillary movement to develop your leg muscles, such as knee-ups, skipping, and body-weight squats.  Some days are straight training, where you get little story development, but learn more about the people you are interacting with.  However, some training days morph into mini missions where you need to divert due to zombies or pick up critical supplies nearby.  One time, you even risk you life to help a downed runner in the field.  This is probably what kept me so engaged.  If it were just a disembodied voice telling me when to walk and run, I doubt I would find it very engaging and would have likely lost interest quickly.  However, because the training prompts are integrated into a narrative, and the characters are cheering your development on (because you are expected to take you place as a member of the community), it breaks the monotony of running up into more interesting chunks.

I’m not entirely sure to what degree I improved my cardiovascular health.  Because I didn’t feel like I struggled with the difficulty, it’s hard to measure my progress.  The best I can estimate is that my running distances did increase over time, even if you were to control for the duration of walking in the training cycles and the differences in run duration from week to week.  Despite having not measured with any amount of accuracy what my abilities were pre-Zombies, I’m fairly confident that I am in a better state of cardiovascular health having completed the training program.

Final Thoughts

If I have one complaint, it’s that the narrative move from the training app to the full app ends up restarting the story a bit.  The first mission in both the training app and the full app is  the same, meaning your story doesn’t really continue after the training app.  I suspect that once you start running the story missions, things will feel more integrated, but I was a little sad to have to “meet” Sam and Maxine for the first time again after having “developed” a relationship with them while I trained.  This is a relatively small nitpick on my part because narrative and story are important to me, but it’s not something that takes away from the experience.

I have already recommended the app to friends of mine, and I officially recommend it here.  I got well more than $5 in value from the app’s minor cost.  This is a well-made app that is easy to use, and integrates well into my exercise routine.  It makes exercise fun and engaging and the story is compelling enough to keep me coming back for more punishment.  If you are looking for a way to help you commit to a cardio routine, but you are starting off from scratch, this is a great option if you don’t mind running from zombies.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan