I’ve ridden quite a bit in the last year. Last October I rode more than 600 km as part of the Great Cycle Challenge (which I will probably do again this year). I rode over 4,500 km in 2018. I climbed more than 41,000 metres. 263 hours in the saddle.
This isn’t a lot for some people, and that’s exactly what I want to write about: Challenging People.
I don’t mean people who are difficult to deal with. I mean people who challenge you to do more/better/faster/longer. I’m surrounded by people who climb hills faster, descend faster, ride further, ride longer. To the extent where when I’ve been for a 90 km ride, or been for a ride where I’ve climbed 1,000 metres, and I tell people about it (which I do like doing because it’s a good source of praise), I don’t really feel like I’ve done anything special. The achievement, something which many would consider to be big (or even impossible), has been completely normalised/trivialised.
I don’t think this is a bad thing – it’s helping me push myself to ride further and faster.
This all came to me when I was listening to a podcast by Adam Spencer (I was riding up the Patrick Joncker Veloway at the time). He was interviewing an ultra-marathoner, Michael Hull, who fell into being an ultra-marathoner partly by accident/serendipity, because he was surrounded by endurance athletes in his teens, and it was the norm. The details might be a bit fuzzy beacuse it’s a long time since I listened to the podcast, but I think it went something like that. There’s a link to the podcast at the bottom of the page.
I didn’t surround myself with challenging people intentionally. It just happened, and I’m really glad it did. I’ve challenged myself significantly in the last 12 months, both mentally and physically, and I don’t think I would have had I not had these challenging people in my life.
Now – this has covered the adjective definition of challenging, but there’s also the verb definition. I hope that I’m also challenging people when I talk about what I’ve done. I’m hoping that while I’m telling people about my achievements (and getting a bunch of praise for it), it’s also pushing someone to try something new. Try to ride further than normal. Up a steeper hill than normal.
I think if everyone had challenging people in their life, and spent time challenging people, we’d all achieve more. And achieving feels good.
I wonder how many thousand posts have been written in the last week about what changes people implement in their lives in 2019. They seem to be quite widely derided on Twitter, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me. It’s Twitter after all. A place mostly filled with grumpy, shouty people who complain about everything. But I think it’s a logical time of year to try to implement a major change – especially weight and health related. We’re 357 days away from Christmas, which is traditionally a food and drink heavy time of year. Easter is 15-ish weeks away, which also has some pretty delicious foods. So starting afresh in the new year seems like a good idea, because of the temporal distance to difficult times, and not just because it’s an arbitrary “we’re now in this spot in our orbit around the sun so I’m going to change…this time for sure”.
I have a few plans for this year, and I’m going to try to give them until Christmas 2019 before I re-evaluate how it’s going. No quick fixes. No shortcuts. No unrealistic expectations. My plan, beyond the immovable foci of work and (extended) family, is to focus on my fitness (mental and physical), my weight, and creativity.
For fitness, I think I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, with a few tweaks. I love cycling and it helps my mental wellbeing as well as my physical, so I’m going to keep riding my bikes. Last year I managed a bit over 4,000 km of cycling. I’d like to crack the 5,000 km mark in 2019.
Cycling is gloriously meditative for me and it gives me time to process a lot of things, but it’s not as quick as the mental clean and sweep that I get from going for a run. I’m not going to set myself a target for running distance for 2019 because I should probably get rid of a few kilos before running, but for 2020 I’m going to aim for at least 365 km.
I think I should also work on overall strength and flexibility, so I’m going to ease myself into a calisthenics routine for overall strength, and as we live near one of the very good yoga schools in Adelaide, I should probably make use of that, too.
Weight and Food
I’m too heavy. This morning when I weighed myself I weighed 108.5 kg. A couple of years ago I was under 100 kg (I’d go as far as saying “mid 90’s”, even), and it was wonderful. I’d got there from my starting point of ~113 kg using Duromine, which I would recommend if you’ve tried everything else. I’d try it again, but I think it triggered some migraines for me, so I’m steering clear.
My climb back to 108.5 kg has been relatively slow, and considering how I’ve eaten the last 6 to 12 months isn’t surprising. Stress-levels have been high, and this has lead to some very poor chocolate-related diet decisions.
My goal is to be in the 80s, or low 90s, and the plan for 2019 is to use intermittent fasting to restrict my calories to get there. I’ve done it a bit in the last month or two and if nothing else, I enjoy the process. I’m not going for the popular 5 and 2 intermittent fasting, but opting for alternate day 24 hour fasts instead. Every second day (ish) I’ll skip breakfast and lunch and aim for a normal dinner. I’m hoping to do this at least 3 days a week. It’s said to be very good to combat insulin resistance, too, which couldn’t hurt.
I find this type of eating good from a social point of view, because that’s where it feels like my previous diets have come crashing down. Keto/LCHF makes it difficult to eat out, and I actually feel a bit ick eating like that. Generic calorie restriction makes it difficult to eat in general. With the alternate day 24h fasts, I can have dinner with people any night of the week, so ticks the “still works in a social group” box, and if I need to have lunch with people, I can shuffle my days around.
I like being creative, and this year, I think, is the year for me to take it up a level. I have three main ways for being creative. The first is writing, and I’d really like to try my hand at some fiction writing. The second is Making, and I have some ideas for electronics projects to do for myself and with the kids. The third is music, and I think this is the year when I start playing with a group of people (I’ll avoid the word “band” for now), and give writing a song a proper crack.
Driving home from the Fleurieu Peninsula on Sunday there was a heavy blanket of smoke hanging over the hills and the Adelaide plains. I’d been to see dad, helped him repair his lawn mower and sipped a coffee at Port Elliot. I had spent longer there than anticipated, and was running late for dinner with the kids. The way the setting sun was being coloured by the smoke was too enticing, so I swung off the freeway and went up to Mt. Osmond to take a few photos.
I’m finding the act of being creative is really good for my overall wellbeing, so even though it meant that I only just made it home in time for dinner with the family, it’s a really excellent thing to be able to do.
It feels a bit hypocritical to post about an app so soon after I posted about managing a screen addiction. But not very. I guess the point of my other post wasn’t that I didn’t want to use my phone. I wanted the interraction with my phone to be meaningful, and valuable.
In the last few years I’ve found myself to be very easily distracted, and I forget what I need to get done. Not big picture stuff, so much, but with smaller things. I’ve tried paper lists. I really, really wanted to be able to do paper lists with neat handwriting and big flourishes when I got to cross things off as done. Unfortunately it’s become clear that it just doesn’t work for me in the long term. On my phone, I’d tried Trello, and Evernote. Both seemed like they would do the job, but neither of them did.
I needed to try something else.
The next thing I found was Todoist. So far it is really working. I’ve been using the premium version for a couple of months now, and it is really excellent. I’m going to avoid sounding too much like an ad here, but with Todoist, you can add items to your list using natural language for categories, priorities, due dates, and recurring items. For example: “Take Out Bins every tuesday at 1900 #chores p1” will set a repeating item called “Take Out Bins” every Tuesday at 7pm, categorised as “chores” with a high priority. The desktop app is good too, for setting up your recurring events and doing all the things that are tedious to take care of on your phone.
I’ve added my standard house chores to it, spread out a bit over the week as repeating items. Basic stuff – vacuuming, dusting, laundry, mopping, cleaning bathrooms. A lot of chores are in there. Then I have some one-offs in there that come and go.
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain (allegedly)
I still put things off. I still have things that are long overdue on my list. Those frogs don’t always get eaten first thing, but there are gentle reminders that I still need to do them. So, in the end, they do get done rather than fall off the todo list and finally forgotten.
The developers at Todoist have also gamified your todo list. It’s not important to me. Or not very important, at least. But having a few graphs showing a rough approximation of my productivity over the last week is nice. The app would be just as good without it, but it’s a bit of a bonus feel-good.
So, in essence, since getting Todoist, I have a cleaner house and less frustration because of forgotten tasks, and I like it.
Over the last 20 years my riding has moved through several stages. I’ve gone from a ride-my-bike-to-Uni person, to a downhiller, to a non-rider, then back to a daily commuter and light cross-country rider. My latest incarnation is more like a commuter and utility-biker by weekday, and when I get a chance on the weekends, I will either hit a trail around the hills on my mountain bike, or climb a hill or two on my road bike.
I find riding does wonders for my mental health. The endorphins, the sense of accomplishment, the good sleeping all combine to make me feel really good for a day or two after a big ride.
If, for some reason, you want to see my riding (it’s mostly commutes), look me up on Strava.
I resisted calling this title something like “Man, nearly 39, installed a Morse Code keyboard on his phone. You won’t believe what happened next…”. Only just.
Because I did install a Morse Code keyboard on my phone. But a bit more on that later.
I love technology. I love controlling technology might be an even better way to put it. There are so many cool things you can do with a few cheap bits of tech. What I don’t love is being controlled by technology, and that’s what was finding was happening to me more and more.
Some people refer to it as FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. I don’t know what I would call it, but the desire to check my phone for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, messages, updates, emails (everything BUT a dreaded actual phone call) was there all the time. All the time. Can’t sleep? Phone. Waiting for someone? Phone. Toilet? Phone. (Ew, but we all do it). Eating alone? Phone. Watching TV? Phone.
I saw an ad for the Light Phone 2 recently. A phone that doesn’t do much. It has a monochrome e-ink display. It makes phone calls, sends text messages, gives you directions, handles contacts and a calendar and that’s about it. It’s a phone that’s designed to be used as infrequently as possible. It got me thinking about what I could do to reduce the amount I use my phone. My phone is a bit like food – I can’t cold turkey to deal with an addiction like you can with a lot of things. I need my phone for work and to be in touch with friends and family.
What’s the second best thing? Make my phone as unpleasant to use as possible.
In Android (and probably iPhones, too) you can, with a few screen-presses, change the screen to be grey scale. No more colourful eyecandy dopamine hits when I unlock my phone.
The second thing is to make it hard to idly punch in messages all the time. Along comes a new keyboard, called DotDash. And yes. It’s a Morse Code based keyboard, with 5 buttons. One for dots. One for dashes. A shift key. A space bar. And a frequently used backspace key. If you need a hint, you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen to get a Cheat Sheet. I still need it, but much less. It’s actually surprisingly fun to use, and is really easy to use without looking at the screen.
The last thing that I need is to somehow measure what sort of improvement (or change) I’m seeing in my behaviour. I could probably load another app that shows me how many hours of the day my phone is active, but that doesn’t take into consideration mindless scrolling time vs. thoughtful, unavoidable use. So I’ve decided to use battery life as a metric.
I usually need to charge my phone in the evening when I plonk down on the couch. Battery is usually at around 10-15%. Last night it was on 47%. Now, on day 2 of this experiment, at 1615, it’s at 66%.
The other thing, which is slightly related, that I’ve stopped doing, is to have headphones in wherever I go. I have used headphones as a way of dealing with two years of on-and-off very stressful situations, but it’s become a crutch. One that I’ve decided I need to be free of. Fewer vices is better.
There are some annoyances with having your phone set to greyscale, and that is that you don’t quite know what your photos look like. It feels like I get a greyscale thumbnail (or a contact print, even) of the photo, that I can later see in full glorious colour when I sit down with my computer.
And colour never looks so good!
I realise I’m only two days in to this experiment, but it feels like it’s the right thing to do. I’ll try to remember to post an update soon.