In January of 2008, I was walking through my university campus’s student centre and passed by a table for the UW Campus Response Team, whom were recruiting volunteers for the new semester. I doubled back, chatted with the team members, and signed-up to participate in their interview process. I had taken first aid courses periodically during my cub scout and army cadet days, plus I had ran some basic first aid courses while abroad, so it felt like a good fit.
In retrospect, my “experience” was quite paltry, but I had shown the team managers that I had enough of the “right stuff” that they invited me to join the team and participate in the weekend training course they put on for new recruits. It’s an intense crash course in first aid skills that were well beyond my experiences and the training spanned several hours Friday night and all days Saturday and Sunday, before you perform your final scenario test to qualify as a secondary responder.
The material covered was largely derived from emergency first responder courses, along with some material covered for pre-hospital trauma professions (e.g. fire fighters and paramedics). The training was designed to create heuristics in the responder’s mind to quickly flow through critical details while gathering as much information as possible and start treatment momentum. The last thing you want is for a responder to have to intentionally think through what steps they should follow, because it shunts cognitive capacity away from situational awareness and into operational procedures.
In an effort to automate one’s thinking, you end up doing a lot of mock scenarios and skill drills. As a responder, you end up creating a script in your mind to follow. The script is based on a common set of things to attend to, which you follow according to handy mnemonics and other memory aids.
Despite the mnemonics functioning to provide mental triggers for actions, you still need to learn the process to go along with the mnemonics, and from the start of training weekend, you only have precious few hours after training concludes for the day to encode the information out of your working memory and into longer term storage.
I needed a way to quickly drill myself and aid in recall. The system I settled on was to get some window writable markers and write out my mnemonic devices on the bathroom mirror. Every time I used or walked passed the washroom, I would attempt to fill in as many of the mnemonics as I could remember, and note where I made mistakes. Through constant repetition, I was able to turn:
Mechanism of injury?
Count the casualties
Signs and Symptoms
Past medical history
Last meal/beverage intake
It was a quick and dirty way to give myself quick feedback on these concepts that I could readily apply to my first aid treatment during training and eventually on shift. Any time I lost momentum or felt nervous about the judges evaluating me, I would mentally go back to my bathroom mirror and fill in the blanks. I haven’t been on the first aid team in almost a decade but these concepts easily come back to me, even during my crazy nights at the bar. It’s a testament to the stickiness of the ideas and the effectiveness of the drills.
I’ve noticed something about myself: as time goes on, it’s getting easier for me to make “good” choices. I’m not sure if everyone shares this and it’s a common thing as we get older, but I’m finding it easier to do things that I struggled with when I was younger. Through some combination of experience, changes in my living conditions, and physiology, my ability to adopt certain habits and mindsets has improved. Here are a few examples I’ve noted.
First, sometime around turning 30, I found it easier to start going to the gym and exercise. Maybe it was the tail-end of the quarter-life crisis, but going to the gym (and paying for it!) seemed like a more important thing and it was easier to embrace. The trick is to make the habit stick.
Also around the time I turned 30, I found it important to stop pirating media content. Instead, I sought out legitimate sources for content, such as the library, paying the $1 for song and app purchases, paying for Spotify, renting movies on my gaming system, etc. I’m not perfect – I still pirate foreign shows from fan sites that subtitle the content and I make liberal use of an adblocker, but overall I have shifted away from feeling entitled to content to valuing paying for it.
Recently, I found it super easy to start flossing. This might also be an existential issue, where my teeth aren’t going to get any better, so it’s important for me to take care of my gums.
Even turning down junk food is getting easier. I appreciate that my body is changing, and it no longer has the resiliency to allow me to eat whatever I want. In my 20’s, I could eat anything I wanted at any time and I never felt sick because of it. Now, I find that those same poor choices lead me to feeling off or ill in the hours that follow. The food was never good for me, but in my 20’s I didn’t experience the short-term negative feedback that told me it was bad to consume junk (instead, it was just hurting me long-term through slowly accumulating body fat and other bad stuff).
This is not to say that I’m now perfectly virtuous. I can’t get the gym habit to stick quite yet, I binge on Nibs and Netflix when the opportunity presents itself, I enjoy my craft beers, and I never go to bed on time. I’ve been experimenting with systems to help stem my poor self-control (such as intermittent fasting or connecting my router to a timer) in order to give my rational brain a leg up on my monkey brain. It’s a slow, steady, incremental slog towards progress, but I keep at it.
I suppose a common thread that runs through all of this is that the short-term downsides that come with bad decisions are finally manifesting themselves, which provides near-immediate feedback. Rather than putting off the negative outcomes to some indeterminate point in the future, my body and attitude are giving me early signals that bad choices have consequences – consequences that can be mitigated if you address it now (exercise, good nutrition, and flossing are all forms of preventative maintenance, which Jim and I talked about on our podcast a few years ago).
This reminds of an exchange between Socrates and Cephalus from Book 1 of Plato’s Republic, when Cephalus is talking about what it’s like to be old and free from the passions of youth. Being in my 30’s is a far cry from “being old,” but I think we can derive wisdom from the speech:
“I will tell you, Socrates, (Cephauls) said, what my own feeling is. Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is –I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away: there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life. Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause. But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault. For if old age were the cause, I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known. How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles, –are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men’s characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden.”
Last week, I discussed how I felt really good after a particularly productive day. Just as I was drafting the post, I shared my thoughts with my wife. She was happy for my sense of accomplishment and expressed encouraging words about the value of feeling fulfilled, productive, and useful. But, I didn’t just marry her to build me up; my wife is also my best sounding board to check my intuitions.
In her wisdom, she asked if that kind of feeling of satisfaction is a healthy one. I knew what she was getting at right away. She wasn’t expressing skepticism about this one instance, but instead she was gesturing at a longer trend of mine.
I have a mindset and set of expectations on myself that are dangerously close to being unhealthy, to the point where I know I would never try and convince a person to adopt it themselves.
You see, I hate feeling like I’m wasting my time. I don’t mean this in a hustle/grind sort of way, nor does this mean that I don’t waste loads of my time (hello YouTube; you are my true weakness).
I hate napping because I feel like it’s a waste of my time.
I should qualify that a little bit. When I say a waste of my time, I don’t mean that napping isn’t good for me. I know that sleep is good. Sleep will rejuvenate you, help your brain work better, help you feel better, etc.
When I say that napping is a waste of my time, I mean it in an existential sense. When I sleep, I am unconscious, and when I’m unconscious, time slips past me faster. It’s almost like time travel. I go to sleep and wake up in the future. All the time in the middle is gone, and I can never get it back. I have done nothing, and made no memories.
This line of thinking extends to downtime. I don’t handle downtime very well, often feeling guilty to take time to myself to mindlessly indulge in “non-productive” things (the aforementioned YouTube, movies/tv, videogames, etc). When I give myself permission to focus on fun things, it’s always clouded with the knowledge that by taking time to do a fun thing, it’s time not spent on something productive, and no matter how much fun I have, I know that those tasks and projects I need to work on will still have to be done. I’m not trading off tasks; I’m delaying progress because time runs linearly.
My wife (rhetorically) asked if this line of thinking is sustainable, and it is obviously not. Indeed, she rightfully labelled it as a stupid worldview to hold.
The real problem is that while I would never advocate for anyone else to frame their worldview in these terms, I want to (and choose to) do it for myself. I think this is largely because I’m so disordered in my productivity and I’m always battling against my akrasia (a fancy Greek term for making bad decisions due to weakness of the will). It’s my way of punishing myself for not focusing when I want to focus.
The reason why I mentioned that this is an existential problem for me is because when I think about my mortality, I know that every moment that passes is bringing me closer to death. Every moment that I spend watching YouTube videos instead of getting stuff done is non-renewable time that I can’t get back and exchange for time on more important things like my wife, my dog, family, friends, or leisurely pursuits. Realistically, I have finite time, a finite number of heartbeats, and no way of buying more. Instead, decisions like not going to the gym, not sleeping, or eating unhealthily have the opposite effect and are likely shortening my life.
I know this is stupid. I know this is unhealthy. And I don’t have a good solution to address it. This isn’t a case of believing that hustling for the sake of hustling is inherently virtuous. Quite the opposite, I think grinding away should be in service of something higher than itself. This is, plainly, a different flavour of a fear of missing out. I’m worried about missing out on things by not being productive.
I don’t have an adequate response to the charge that my worldview is not good. At least I have some semblance of self-awareness and a great partner in my wife that calls me out on my shenanigans.
With the turning of the new year, I spotted an interesting trend for my blog traffic.
Starting on the 27th of December, I had a relatively huge spike in traffic for my blog. I’ve written about it before, but this was the first time I’ve seen such a consistent spike for a single article around a specific, meaningful date. In this case, as the new year approached, it would appear that people began searching for health and fitness options and through their searches, they stumbled across my brief review from January last year of the Zombies, Run! 5K Training app. I joked with a friend that since fitness posts generally account for my top posts here, if I wanted to monetize this site I should switch to posting just fitness content – seven of my top twenty posts of all time are fitness related.
I continued to see higher than usual traffic to that post over the week, but now my web traffic has starting to level off a bit, so I suppose whatever actions people intended to take for the new year are (hopefully) well under way. And for those who stumbled across my review, I hope that my words were useful for you. If you have used my post to help you make a decision about using the app, drop me a line in the comments. I’m curious what, if anything, you found valuable, and if I missed anything you were hoping to learn.
In the meantime, I hope your year has kicked off well and you are working hard towards your goals.
*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.
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.
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.
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…)