Sunday, July 9, 2017

Habits -The Healthy Habit Revolution - Book Review

I can be wrong

I don't remember how "The Healthy Habit Revolution: Create Better Habits in 5 Minutes A Day" by Derek Doepker ended up in my Kindle library, but I know my first impression was that this was another self-help/me-too kind of book.  I went to Audible to check a sample of the audio and found out it was read by the author.  The author is a fitness and life coach.  I could just hear the "bro"ness in his California accent. I was convinced this would be a bad read and that I would be able to poke holes in his methods and techniques.  I even thought I could make a game out of counting the "Dude" and "Bro" quotes in the book

Maybe I should not even take the time to read this book and move on to something more intellectually stimulating like "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies"  by Nick Bostrom.  That surely would make me smarter.

But I decided I was at the pool and my Kindle said the book would take me less than 3 hours to read. Why not risk it.  I am glad I did.

I was pleasantly surprised very quickly at Mr. Doepker's referencing of other books like "The Power of Habit" on how to make - and break - habits.

An Action Oriented Book

Many habit books I have read have been full of theory, biochemistry, and studies.  This book references several of those.  But this book is not about that.  It is about getting you moving.

The core of the book is a 21-day plan to get your first "micro-habits" going.  The book is intended to be read over 22 or 23 days (not the 3 hours I took). One chapter per day so that you can reflect on your journey to that point and educate your path going forward.

The breakdown 

Though not directly named by the author this book has three major sections.

  1. Background and Introduction to Micro-Habits
  2. Daily Chapters
  3. Review and Going Forward 

Background and Introduction to Micro-Habits 

After a quick yet concise history of how Mr. Doepker used the methods described in this book to improve his life and the life of his clients, he goes into a breakdown of the basics of creating a few small habits, micro-habits, that the reader would use during the 21-day exercise of this book. 

As someone that has built many good habits in my life, I found myself nodding in agreement with Mr. Doepker's definitions and methods. If you follow them, you will select good initial micro-habits to start with. 

Daily Chapters


The daily chapters are short.  Something you could read in less than 10 minutes per night.  So they would not be much of a burden on even the most hectic schedule. Chapters seem to include another small bit of advice that would be well timed for that portion of the habit building journey.

Each daily chapter builds off the one before it. Though direct in the advice given, there is a building set of sub-lessons, what the author calls "hidden lessons," that are pointed out in the final section of the book.

Review and Going Forward 

In the final segment of the book, Mr. Doepker directly covers the "hidden lessons" in the daily chapters. But more importantly, he gives good advice on how to take this start and build on it. There is a good preview of the mistakes one can make in the building process, like being too inflexible.

Finally, there is an excellent reference section so that ones newly formed habits can be taken even further by reading the biochemistry, philosophy, and lessons from others.

References

If you had to start with one book on habits to be able to find many other good books, I would have to recommend this one.  It has references to no less that 12 other books and authors in the habit building space. (There are actually 17 books and 9 recommended articles).  I can even forgive him that three of the books he recommends are his own books.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Why we get Fat: and What to do About It - Review

At the end of 2016, I read Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes introducing me to the concept of a biochemistry and hormonal reason for weight management.  I will be writing a review on that book at a later date.  It was an eye-opening book but not one that I would recommend to the casual reader. You have to want to understand EVERYTHING to do with the biochemistry of nutrient storage and the history of nutrition advice in the US if you are going to read that book.

Luckily Mr. Taubes has a more recent and more approachable book Why We Get Fat: And what to do about it.

Insulin and Carbs

If you read either book, you will learn about the mechanisms that insulin uses to move nutrients (fats and glucose (sugars)) into cells.  You will also learn that the constant use of this process will eventually lead to insulin resistance in cells - namely muscle cells.  Meaning that fat cells are much more likely to take in nutrients while muscle cells atrophy.  This means your fat cells are getting bigger while your muscles starve.

I can not do all of the biochemistry justice in this simple review.

Not all fats are the enemy?

For anyone raised in a western country, we have been indoctrinated for years that fat is a four-letter word.  It will kill you and everyone you know.  This book touches on why there is no good science to back that up.  (For a deeper understanding of how nutritionist in the 50's used partial data sets and miss-correlated colesterol to heart desease to come up with this theory I recommend reading Good Calories, Bad Calories).

The book talks about how natural fats found in meat, avocados, butter, and cheeses not only don't cause heart disease in most people, they allow you to feel full so you can stop eating.

Cortisol


The book also added new biochemistry items I did not know about.  Namely how Cortisol affects the body.  The quote I highlighted is: "cortisol makes us store fat both directly (through LPL) and indirectly (through insulin). But then it works to release fat from our fat cells, primarily by stimulating HSL, just like other hormones."

I translated this to mean: Cortisol primes the pump such that if we have any nutrients that can be crammed into a fat cell (or noninsulin resistant cell), it will get crammed.  However, if nothing is present Hormone Sensitive Lipase (HSL) will break down the stored triglycerides in fat cells to allow them to be released into the body.  So if we are fasting during this process, and have only converted glucose in our system as our stress decreases, we will have mobilized a bunch of fat that our liver can turn into ketone bodies.  Much of the body can run on ketone bodies rather than glucose.  The liver can create glucose as needed for the other parts of the body that can only run on glucose.

But if you reach for that cookie, or beer, or other comfort food, LPL and insulin will not only prevent the freed fat from being used, but it will push more into your fat cells.

My experience

In the past six months since reading Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes I have lost over 40 pounds. The word "Hangry" can no longer be used to describe me. I have eaten more bacon, eggs, and steak than I ever thought was possible in the past. I also eat a lot more green leafy vegetables too (ten-year-old me would die).

I have made mistakes by eating too much protein, too many carbs, and not enough fat.  There have been weeks where my diet has been dialed in, and I feel like a racehorse.  And there have been weeks where I have just wanted to eat a pint gallon of ice cream.

Luckily, thanks to the fact that I log my food into MFP (My Fitness Pal) (allowing a review of what has been eaten, what the nutrients were) combined with the biochemistry I have learned has allowed me to understand what could be happening and make corrections for it.

With these two books doing so well at educating me how to leverage my biochemistry I am going to have to read The Case Against Sugar (Gary Taubes' latest book) soon.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Subtle Art of not giving a F*ck - Review

One of the things about traveling for work is that you get a chance to read - a lot.  Generally, I read technical books, history books, diet & exercise books, or business books. In this case, I could not help but wonder what knowledge a book titled "The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck" could contain. At a minimum I expected I might get a laugh or two - I was not wrong

Though there is a significant amount of language that any former sailor would feel comfortable with, this is actually a serious book written in a language that feels more approachable to the people that probably need it most.  I see the use of "adult" language as a means for the author to keep readers that are so frustrated with things in life that they most likely swear regularly to release the tension that is built up in them.  This tension prevents them from being able to see a good plan to go forward.  They can not see what to prioritize.  And when everything is a priority - nothing is a priority.  When nothing is a priority one does not improve their lot in life.

However, you might be surprised that there is actual wisdom in this book.  Here are just a few of the quotes I found in this book that I did not expect:

  • Self-improvement and success often occur together.  But that doesn't necessarily mean they are the same thing.
  • After all, the only way to overcome pain is to first learn how to bear [the pain].
  • ... there is no value in suffering when it's done without purpose
  • Happiness is therefore a form of action; it's an activity, not something that is passively bestowed upon you,
How many of us needed to hear and understand that happiness was an action we took rather than something that someone or something gave to us?  I think this is something every goth kid needed to hear in the 80's, every grunge kid needed to hear in the 90's, every emo kid needs to hear in the 00's. (Disclaimer: neither me nor the author are claiming this is a cure for actual depression just a way to shock some people just enough to look at the world in a slightly different perspective to ejoy what they already have)

And my favorite excerpt from the book:
  • Problems add a sense of meaning and importance to our life. Thus to duck our problems is to lead a meaningless (even if supposedly pleasant) existence.
I don't know how many people I know that try to live a problem free life.  My favorite people are always the ones that have had a ton of problems and have successfully solved some of them and learned valuable lessons when they could not solve others.

So if you are not offended by adult language, are looking for a different and frank look on how to get your life's priorities in order try out this book.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Life Jungle Gym Entry 1 - The Career Ladder vs The Life Jungle Gym.

Intro


In reading "Lean In" - by Sheryl Sandberg, she references Pattie Sellers metaphor: “Careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder.”  This got me thinking that maybe Pattie and Sheryl should expand this metaphor to all of life.

I will talk more about my thoughts on the life jungle gym later, but first, let me review the book so far.  I am only 50% of the way done with the book, and I am both saddened and happy that I have not found any new information.  As a male in a leadership role, I am always concerned that I am treating each of the people I work and interact with as individuals.  Just because someone falls into a particular group (male, female, engineer, sales, manager) does not mean they will all have the same needs, goals, or motivations.  This book has not changed my thought of that.  However it concerns me that even with the number of very successful women in society, many talked about in this book, it seems that women not only have the momentum of society to overcome but their own internal and peer group pressures.  I look forward to finishing the book to see what more can be, and has been, done.

The Life Jungle Gym


Getting back to the carrier ladder vs. the life jungle gym; there are just so many ways in which the latter is superior to the former. The metaphor of a ladder is apt, it can not stand on its own, it must be propped up against something.  When you climb a ladder you can only see 180°, but you are not even facing the view.  Someone focused on only climbing the career ladder is very one dimensional and, though they may have done interesting things, not very interesting as a human.

The jungle gym of life is much more engaging, you have more options. If someone is blocking your path you can go a different direction.  You can seem more, and your view is seldom blocked. You seldom have to wait for someone else to move up before you can advance. Nor do you have to remove them from above or watch that someone is looking to remove you from the ladder so they can move up.

I am not saying that a jungle gym life is a utopia.  You can still fall off.  Sideways is not up.  There will still be people above you. But it gives you options, choices, more control over your paths.

How?


How do you make life more like a jungle gym? By taking risks, looking for opportunities, and going another way when the current path is blocked.  When a block happens, you can use the phrase "GOOD" by Jocko Willink.  Jocko is excellent at treating life like a jungle gym and seeing the opportunity in every "setback." To paraphrase him -

  • Get fired. Good. Now you can find a more challenging job.  
  • Don't get that promotion. Good. Now you can learn more in your current position
  • Spouse does not have dinner ready.  Good. You can learn more about sharing domestic responsibilities (Ok he never said this one, but having met him in person it seems to be line with his thought process)
Now Jocko is very different than Sheryl Sandberg, but they both are looking at different ways to be aggressive in your goals.  This does not mean pushing everyone over. This means "Leaning In" and "Getting After It." By being aggressive with your goals, not people, you will build strong legs on your jungle gym.

In contrast to a ladder that needs something to lean on.  A jungle gym can stand on its own due to the number of foundations and legs it has. Do you balance your love of your work with a vibrate home life? Do you even know where to start?  I am no expert, but  I always look at physical, mental, and mastery.

Physical

If you have a knowledge worker job that causes you to sit a lot, are you balancing that with regular exercise? Or better yet, an activity that you can talk about.  I am always fascinated by rock climbers, triathletes, other ballroom dancers, campers, hikers.  Basically, anyone that experiences a physical activity rather than just going to the local gym to do a physical activity.

Also, being in good shape makes people look at you more favorably.  It is not a pleasant fact, but it is true.  The more in shape you are, the better people assume you are at your job.

Finally, there are significant neurological benefits to working out regularly.  If you want to learn more about exercises impact on the brain, I recommend checking out the book "Spark" by John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman 

Mental


Do you spend your leisure time watching mindless TV or playing the same video games? You are not really growing your mind.  There is nothing wrong with this in moderation. But what are you doing to use the 18 million new brain cells that you current have that will be reabsorbed if you don't put them to work?  I am not saying that you need to learn four languages and read classic literature in its native language.  But you could try a new language a little at a time.  You could at least reread that novel you liked so much back in school.  You could improve your skills in the kitchen.  Nothing will help get you through the hard time of a carrier change than being able to make an impressive meal on a budget. You can't do that without some knowledge.

You could also prepare another carrier leg for your life jungle gym. Do you know how to code?  How is your business skills?  What about taking an online course.  It does not have to be a paid college course. iTunes U, MIT, Harvard, and other schools offer many free courses online.  Udamey, CloudGuru, and others offer low-cost domain specific courses that can help prepare you for a particular task or event. 

Both the leisure and professional mental improvements above make you better prepared to go up, down, sideways, or even diagonally on your growing jungle gym.  

Mastery


It will be problematic to live a fulfilled life, or have a successful career, if you are only an expert at one thing.  This is not to say that expertise is overrated, it is not.  You should have a minimum of one marketable skill that is at a professional level.  If you are young, you should be building this skill. However, once you have reached a minimum degree of skill building, why would you stop there?  You are already used to being a learner.  Take advantage of that and start learning the next thing.  This will give you options in your career path.  

Have you ever noticed that your best leaders have always been people that have many skills at, or near, the expert level?  How do you think they got there.  They worked for mastery on their own.

In one's personal life mastery adds depth as well.  What if that coffee table your feet are on was built by you?  What if you could walk up to that piano in the bar and play a real song?  What if when you went to a black tie affair you could Tango and Foxtrot?  How much more interesting would you be?  How much more depth would someone think you had.  These are the type of people that other people want to know.  Knowing more people exposes you to more opportunities.  This means you have more opportunities to move around on your ever growing life jungle gym.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Habits - Entry 2: Habits vs Task Lists

So I was thinking about the difference between a task list and a habit.

To me, it really comes down to task lists are a tool and habits are an action.

Task list are great.  Whether you use your phone's built-in task list, a free app, or a paid app they can all be very powerful.  I use Todoist with an annual subscription. Many people I know use, or used Wunderlist.  My wife is the queen of bits of paper.  And I have seen others that still have 1990's style pocket notebooks. I, myself, used Franklin Covey products back in that day.

Regardless of what you use, and if you are just starting out you should probably use something, these items are just tools.  It is the action you put with them that starts to turn things into a habit.  As a matter of fact, if you want to use a tool to help you build habits the first habit you need is to use the tool.

Once you have established the seed habit of using the tool you can figure out what works best in that tool. For me David Allan's "Getting Things Done" method.  But just reading that book or his website did give me efficient habits. I needed to start the habit engine.

To "plant" the seed habit I looked at a few things and decided what would work best for me: Scheduled Reviews and Deliberate Thought.

Before even starting this process I knew I lived by my calendar. If it were not in my calendar it would not happen. So I schedule multiple times to review and reflect on what opportunities I had missed and taken to build my root habit of using my task list. I looked at what I added, evaluated it for quality and ensured that I would improve as time went along.

Reflection dovetailed nicely into the second part of my plan - Deliberate Thought. By doing these reviews, I was more likely to recognize an opportunity to use the tool and build the root habit.

Though it was easy to start this process, it was just as easy to skip it sometimes.  But my calendar appointments brought me back into track.  Your mileage may vary, but make sure that you have a means of getting back into it when life finally injects itself and you have to skip a few days or weeks.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Habits - Entry 1

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit" - Aristotle

As I look back on what has allowed me to be successful, it has been due to the painstaking efforts I have made to cultivate helpful habits.  Whether it has been:

  • Diet and lifestyle changes
  • Continuous learning practices
  • Getting a kick out of racing someone else to acquire the most in-depth knowledge of a subject. 
  • Practicing using that knowledge to execute a project.  
All of these things, which started out as one-time events, I continued until they became habits.

Lately, I have become fixated on how automatic patterns are formed, what habits I have, and how to replace my harmful, or unproductive, practices with productive practices.  I expect to post many entries as a kind of record as I go deeper and deeper into how to encourage healthy and productive habits.

In future entries I will talk about:
  • The brain and habits
  • The psychology of habits
  • Applications and Apps for habits
But first, let's talk about why habits are so important.  Energy conservation. We each only have so much mental and physical energy (though you can grow both through training).  When something is a habit it takes less of both.  Less mental energy and less physical energy.  This means we can use the energy we have to focus on important infrequent tasks.  We can give those tasks more attention to detail and produce a better result.

If you have thoughts on habits feel free to comment below

Thursday, May 4, 2017

4:45 with Jocko and Lief

This morning I got up at 4:30 so that I could be in morning PT (Physical Training) with Jocko Willink and Lief Babin.
This was the “warm up” to a full day leadership training course.
The workout started with a 5 to 10-minute run, that quickly went through New York’s Times Square to a local park. At the park, the crowd of two to three hundred split into six groups. Burpees, Jumping Jacks, Flutter Kicks, Pushups, Squats, and Crunches/Sit Ups. Each exercise was executed for two minutes with one minute to run to the next station. Upon completing the sixth station, the groups would start again. There was enough time to perform the circuit twice.
After five months of recovery from meniscus surgery, I was surprised that I was able to make it through. Don't get me wrong I did not "power" through all 12 sets and 12 runs between stations. I looked like a 44-year-old man who does not do enough exercise trying to keep up with a group of Navy Seals and 20 and 30 somethings.
Luckily I was not alone. There were people of all ages, sizes, and physical fitness levels. I am glad I participated and look forward to doing it bright and early tomorrow morning.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Welcome

Welcome

Clever Sea Turtles is being incorporated a a Wisconsin LLC. This will allow me to publish my personally built software applications, provide consulting, and legally protect my interests.

Many ideas have been rolling around in my head over the years and have been captured in notebooks. Microsoft OneNote to be exact. With this LLC protection I intend to spend a few hours a week executing these ideas and releasing them to the public.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Start

Welcome

With this initial post I start what I hope will be a routine addition to my weekly life; posting about things I am interested in. Hopefully I will find things that you the reader are interested in too.

So who am I?

Just a man of moderate success that has been in IT, business, and software engineering since the '90s... ok the late '80s but I don't really count my BASIC days. As with any western person I am trying to find a deist and excersize routine that will keep me enjoying life as long and fully as possible. Finally, I have a growing passion for learning dance.

As the weeks, months and years go by I expect that I will try to post on all these things and we shall see which ones create a following, which ones are ignored, and which ones are just the therapeutic scribbles of an aging man (who does not spell well).