darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Chart)
If you have two and a half minutes to spare and would like an uplifting view of the world from fact-based reality, you could do worse than to watch Hans Rosling's The River of Myths.

screenshot from the video showing Hans Rosling standing behind multi-colored data points that appear to be floating in the air.

(Sorry--no embed code)

Rosling's the guy who developed the dramatic animated data modeling software that remains one of the most popular presentations on TED. Using massive data sets from the United Nations, he demonstrates how in several important measures relating to child mortality and family size, the world is actually getting better.

This new video updates the data and improves on the presentation, and it's really cool.
darkemeralds: Naked woman on a bike, caption "I don't care, I'm still free" (Bike Freedom)
Somewhere during my deep dive into self-quantifying, I got hooked up with Track Your Happiness. Apparently it's some Harvard guy's doctoral research project. Every six months or I get a series of 50 happiness surveys, three per day at random times.

Each survey takes about a minute to complete. They all start out "How do you feel?" with a bad-to-good slider. Most of them include questions about what you're doing, whether you have to do it, and whether you want to do it.

They ask about sleep duration and quality the previous night. Where are you? Alone or in company? (And if alone, interacting with anyone--a distinction I appreciate.) Occasionally they'll pop in a question about sexual activity, or Facebook use, or hours of exercise in the past week, or how much control you feel like you have over your future.

You get personal results as a series of charts and graphs. (Presumably there will be mass, collective results at some future time.) I just finished my fourth survey.

Clearly, I should make a point of riding my bike to restaurants. )

Additionally, it seems that I'm happiest when I'm doing something that I want to do but don't have to do. When I'm either totally focused or not at all focused on what I'm doing. When I'm alone (though that just reflects that I'm a pretty happy person and also alone most of the time).

Here's one that took me by surprise. )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Chart)
If you want to know what your priorities are, look at what you're doing.

I defined six areas for personal development during 2012*, and then, when Megaupload died, I noticed that so far in January I've spent precious little time on any of them.

So I set up a new Google Calendar and color-coded it for my six areas, and roughed in a time budget. If you squint at it, a week looks like this:

Blurred view of a color-coded calendar for one week

The big pale areas are "Non-goal basics," notably work and sleep. What's left is all the time I have for accomplishing my personal goals. That alone was an eye opener. Look at all that time I have to spend doing a job that gives me an income but nothing else.

What became immediately apparent was the power of doubling up. That narrow yellow band before and after work each day represents ten half-hours of what could have been the "non-goal basic" of commuting. But because I commute by bike, it counts as "health and fitness."

Maybe I can use the job as platform for more mental development! What a concept.

The calendar also made it very plain that I already spend plenty of time exercising. There really isn't room for more--not if I want to give similar weight to other goals. So that let me off the guilt hook about washboard abs and stuff.

Now if I could find an app that lets me track what I'm actually doing over the course of a few weeks, I'd have some data.

*If I write them down often enough, I'm sure I can start remembering them: Health and fitness improvements, creativity and craft, mental development, emotional/spiritual growth, new sources of income, and social improvement. There are specific goals under each of these headings.
darkemeralds: Photo of duct tape with caption "May actually prevent head explosion" (Duct Tape)
There's a psycho-physical phenomenon called ego depletion which, brain scientists speculate, is caused by over-use of the will. It happens when you have to concentrate on something, or control your reactions, or generally over-apply your conscious mind.

I'm paraphrasing a bit. Anyway, people seem to have a tank of this mental willpower stuff, and ego depletion is when the tank runs dry. When that happens, you don't have much will to spare for the next thing that requires it--like making a decision, resisting temptation, or controlling your temper.

Depleting and refilling )
darkemeralds: Photo of half an apple pie, with the caption "First Create The Universe" (Pie)
This is the first time I've lost this much weight, the first time I've made a regular habit tracking both my daily weight and my daily food. It's the first time I've ever deliberately pushed the pause button on a diet, and definitely the first time I've ever re-started a diet after stopping (but before regaining all-and-then-some of the weight I'd lost).

After a hiatus of several weeks, it feels good--comfortable and safe--to get back to tracking what I eat. I can envision a time when it'll be enough to do that intermittently, say one week out of the month, but that time isn't yet. I still need that tool.

I haven't quite turned the weight trend line downward again. It takes a couple of weeks for any consistent calorie change to show up there. That's true in either direction, which must account for that magical thinking at the end of a diet that says, "Hey, look! I can now eat all I want and not gain weight." Because for two weeks or so, that's true. The metabolic train doesn't stop on a dime.

Once it does slow down, there are a few weeks where the re-gain is deniable. Then there'll be a couple more weeks where you can't really deny it, but you're not ready to stop it. Then two more once you finally re-take control, and two more after that before the undeniable gain starts to go away again...

The moral of the story, for me, is this: it's easier to stay on the diet than to get back on it, and easier to get back on it sooner rather than later.

I want to remember that.
darkemeralds: Photo of half an apple pie, with the caption "First Create The Universe" (Pie)
Given that ninety-eight percent of "successful" weight loss becomes weight re-gain within a year (I don't actually know if that's still true, but it's a figure that has entered legend), and given that I set out fourteen months ago consciously and deliberately to become part of the other two percent, I think an update is in order.

In a nutshell: I started to experience the creep of bad habit, and over three months I've regained four of the sixty pounds I lost between October 2010 and September 2011. Here's the great thing: the toolkit I put together at the beginning of this journey still works. When the weight trendline began to slant upward undeniably, I was able to take all the tools back out again and use them to get myself back on track--and it wasn't very difficult.

In fact it was much, much easier than starting the diet in the first place. This surprised me: my dread of falling off the wagon and never being able to get back on again was significant.

I get back on. )

I'm fully back on track again, but I'm aiming to lose only a half pound a week now. That means that it could take me seven or eight weeks just to turn the trendline downward and get back to where I was in September. I'm not thrilled about that, but it's a valuable lesson.

On the other hand, I caught it. I caught the problem before my clothes stopped fitting, before I lost the health and mobility benefits I'd gained, and before I fell into the 98% trap that I've promised myself I will never again be part of.
darkemeralds: Photo of half an apple pie, with the caption "First Create The Universe" (Pie)
It's been a little over nine months since I began this trek of losing a lot of weight.

Refining my goals. )
darkemeralds: Photo of half an apple pie, with the caption "First Create The Universe" (Pie)
Two conversations today with fellow travelers along the weight-loss trail have got me thinking hard.

When will it wear off? )
darkemeralds: detail of beaded purse, caption One Bead At a Time (beadwork)
Thomas Sterner, in The Practicing Mind (which I've just read at the recommendation of [personal profile] verilyvexed), tells an almost magical story of slowing down time. Two opposing forces had converged in his life: his philosophical decision to live more mindfully, and a period of impossible scheduling demands in his business.

He disregards the screaming, panicky voices in his head that urge him to hurry; he takes off his watch, and he tells himself quietly that if he can't make his next scheduled appointment, he can call the client. He reminds himself that his commitment to slowing down--to mindfulness--is important to his health and his family. He disciplines himself to make every movement deliberate and careful, and as slow as possible.

In the end, he gets all his work done in forty percent less time than normal. He says that maybe time actually slows down.

So I decided to try it. I was running a little late this morning and really didn't want to walk into our 9:00 staff meeting at 9:05. I did what Sterner did: I told myself not to panic. I laid out my tools (in this case, makeup brushes and stuff), considered each one, used it, put it away...I made my bed neatly...I did up my clothes, paying attention to each button and zipper...I'd misplaced my phone and had to patiently change a setting on my laptop so I could Google Voice myself and locate-ring it.

I ignored the clock. Once I left the house, I rode without haste, noticing the morning and my leg muscles and the nice whirring sound my bike tires make on the street. I stopped patiently at every red light. I attended to making graceful, smooth turns and braking safely on the downhill. I was aware of all the traffic, and none of it bothered me.

I got to my office seven minutes early, and was among the first in the meeting room, cool and unhurried.

It was amazing.

While there may indeed be a kind of magic in mindfulness, I noticed two practical things that would explain a lot of the effect: moving slowly from one task gave me time to consider how best to do the next one, so I made fewer mistakes. And calming my mind resulted in fewer wasted motions and better memory--nothing forgotten or mislaid.

Besides the practical outcome of getting to work in good time, I feel so much better than I would have if I'd rushed. The blood-pressure difference was palpable. And it's fun! It feels a bit like cheating, which makes it extremely gratifying and sneaky.

At the gym

Apr. 15th, 2011 10:50 am
darkemeralds: An old book whose spine reads Signsls and Cyphers, with the text DarkEmeralds (Cyphers)
Crossposted to [community profile] shutterspeed where the current challenge is Black and White.

Just a picture )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Chart)
Leaving Starvation Plateau )

It looks like the rain is giving us a break for the first time all week, so I'm going to get out on Eleanor with all three baskets and burn 500 calories or so doing the Major Shopping. Then maybe a pedicure. You know, to celebrate getting off that one endless pound.
darkemeralds: Naked woman on a bike, caption "I don't care, I'm still free" (Bike Freedom)
I'm not sure there's a precise definition of "weight loss plateau," so I'll say that mine really got underway twelve days ago.

Charts, graphs, facts, decisions. )
darkemeralds: Dark Emeralds in red glasses (Chart)
My public sector place of employment, while sometimes stodgy and always low-budget, does offer me excellent health benefits, an increasingly solid-gold rarity in American life. I don't use the medical insurance, and generally wind up paying for my own non-Western healing things on the rare occasions when I need them.

But I turned 55 in December, and I read What Technology Wants, and I've come around to a view that maybe high-tech medicine has its good points, so when my employer offered a free basic health screening I said what the hell. Might as well get some numbers.

So I did. )

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