When the Cat’s Away, The Mice Will… Write a Lot of Blog Posts!

Image courtesy of foskarulla on Flickr

You may have noticed that I have been writing more these last few days. Partly, that’s because my wife and my sister packed up all of the kids, 4 total from 10 months old to 7 years old (God, give them strength.), and took off to the beach.

Only one ER visit so far during the trip!

So I am wifeless, kidless, and have extra free time on my hands. But mostly, I’ve been writing more because…

I’ve been feeling really inspired lately.

The weather is nice, the air is fresh, the world is getting colorful again. But for me, there are three primary reasons that I have been feeling so good. I thought I would share them with you.

1. I’m almost there

Image courtesy of Evil Erin on Flickr

It is hard to believe, but I am nearly at the end of my planned weight loss journey. All I have to do is “just tap it on in, tap, tap, tappy.” Last December, I set out a three phased plan to lose weight:

  • Starting out: I started at 236 lbs. (Boo this weight!)
  • Goal 1: Be down to 220 lbs by April for my fraternity’s annual graduate dinner. Check (though I gained 3 pounds from the dinner and Pabst Blue Ribbon that weekend)
  • Goal 2: Be down to 200 lbs by September for my 10 yr high school reunion. Check (and the old high school honeys couldn’t keep up with my tootsie roll)
  • Goal 3: Be down to 190 lbs by New Years Eve so my wife’s birthday present can be ABS (And back abs, ’cause there’s a Situation up in here)

Really, I didn’t know what I should set my end weight goal to be. I ended up and chose 190 because it was a good even number on the upper end of the “Normal weight” BMI chart. (Holy shit! I just realized I am in the normal weight range on the BMI chart!) I knew that would get me to a point where I would really be able to assess my body and reassess my goals.

Do I need to drop 10 more pounds?
Do I need to start training for a strongman competition?
Do I look like a tool being so skinny and need to start going to Mickie D’s again?

I wouldn’t know till I got there… Well guess what? I’m 3 lbs away from 190!

I’ll write up a bigger post when I finally get there, but for now, I’ll move onto Inspiration #2

2. There are soo many good books out there

Image courtesy of luis de bethencourt on Flickr

I have tried to stop watching so much TV lately. In case your wondering, September is NOT a good time to stop watching TV. But after a late summer TV binge where I watched a whole season of True Blood, Mad Men, Fringe, and 3 seasons of Stargate SG-1 (Only 234 Stargate seasons left to go!), I decided books should move to the top of my priority list.

I wanted to share some of the one’s that have stuck out. You may notice that they are all non-fiction and pseudo self helpy. That is why I’ve been so inspired.

  • Rework (by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson) – This book really changed my perspective on how I go about my work. It’s raw and minimalist and all-around amazing. The book link is to amazon, but even if you don’t buy or read this book, please check out Signal vs. Noise, the blog for the company that that the authors run… incredible stuff.
  • Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (by Chip and Dan Heath) – Wow, I’m must be all about multi author books. I am only on the second chapter of this book, but the book’s introduction is so impacting that I had to go ahead and mention it.  They use an analogy for the psychology of change that has completely tangibilitated the whole subject for me (it’s so good, I made up a word for it). The introduction is available in the Amazon preview, so if you have a few minutes, go read it. You will not be disappointed.

But I haven’t just been inspired by the good ol’ bounded paper books. There have been some epic e-books out in the wild. One of my new favorite things is reading e-books while I workout on the elliptical machine. I’ll hop on there late at night, and get fully absorbed in these books. An hour later, I realize I’ve burned 700+ calories and by brain has just been filled with wonderful knowledge and motivation. Here are two that really hit me.

  • Fearless Health (by Matt Gartland) – I think I have mentioned Matt before, but this *FREE* e-book is spectacular. It came out in August, and sat on my virtual nightstand for a while, but I finally picked it up, and I am really glad I did. The book is directly targeted at your mind and it’s role in becoming vibrantly healthy… and it doesn’t miss. Check out this book and Matt’s blog Healthy Lifestyle Design!
  • Rebel Fitness Guide (by Steve Kamb) – You all probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of Steve and what he does over at Nerd Fitness. This book does not disappoint. It not only gave me motivation and inspiration, but it lays out a clear exercise and eating plan that will lead you to become, well, a bad ass. I will admit I don’t follow his plan religiously since my wife and I take classes at the gym together, but if I missed a class at the gym, I attack his plan with a vengeance. (Is it odd that I go to a gym called Empire Fitness, but I actively train to be a part of the rebel alliance?)

And lastly, I just bought a bundle of minimalist guides from some of the pros like Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, Everett Bogue of Far Beyond the Stars, and Adam Baker of Man vs. Debt. This package was put together by another awesome author, Karol Kajda of Ridiculously Extraordinary. I’ve been a outside observer to most of these minimalist blogs and authors, checking out their blogs now and again when they had a viral post, but this package was too good to pass up. The package contains 17 books for $27! Some of the books I was already thinking about buying anyways at their full price, but at $1.50 apiece, I couldn’t not click.

Check out the 17 Minimalist Guides sale here, it is only available for two more days (stupid limited time offers and my inability to not fall for them). I can’t wait to dig in.

3. I am actively trying to better myself

I mentioned in my last post that I am trying new methods to meet some of the lifestyle goals I have been having problems with. I am still only two days into it, but I can already tell the Geek Into Shape Goal Board is keeping me focused and honest.

I woke up this morning with a bad craving for a Pumpkin Spice Latte  (did I mention I love the Fall), but I was able to withstand the urge because all I could think about was that little yellow post-it note that says: “NO $4 COFFEE”. So instead of going to the coffee shop, I worked out for an hour. Two birds, my friends! Two birds!

Here is my progress so far:

First progress report

Back to the Grindstone

Well, now I’m off to do manly things like mow the yard and clean out the garage (my Wife gives me chores, you know).

I would really appreciate it if you would share some of your recent  inspirations with me in the comments section.
Do you have any good book recommendations?
Am I missing a new fall TV show that I shouldn’t be?

How I Plan to Master My Life (One Pesky Goal at a Time)

Image courtesy of margolove on Flickr

It’s time for me to change how I attack my goals.

Why, you may ask? I have definitely been successful with my primary goal — losing weight. But there are still some pesky lifestyle goals that I cannot seem to get solid footing on:

  • Not eating out during lunch (but everyone is going, and it’s Greg’s birthday, and the boss will be there)
  • Stop buying $4 coffee (but it’s so damn good, and I’m so sleepy, and the barista is sooo hot)
  • Go to bed at a reasonable time (but I’m in the middle of a raid, and I need to catch up on blogs, and Caprica is on the DVR)

I know how to achieve these goals, but I can seem to make it happen. I always seem to lose focus due to the daily grind. And I’m tired of it.

It’s time to make a change how I attack my goals!

I have been ranting on and on about how Agile Software development methodologies have benefited my overall health and fitness mindset. The premise is very simple: focus on action toward your goals rather than over-planning, and set small, incremental goals intended to add up to your long term goal. This is what I have been doing, and still no luck. But I just realized I haven’t tried to incorporate one of my favorite aspects of Agile Development into my new healthy lifestyle — the focus on information radiators.

I first read about information radiators in the book Agile Software Development: The Cooperative Game. An information radiator is a clear and easy to access display of critical information that is used to track progress towards an end goal. The genius of the information radiator is that it provides a clear visualization of how you are doing against your goals. It should be the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night. Now, I don’t know nuthin ’bout no fancy psychology, but having that constant visualization of progress helps provide immediate focus to what needs to get done.

Aha! An information radiator is what I’ve been missing!

So I decided to try an experiment, and build my own information radiator. I call it my Geek Into Shape Goal Board.

I thought I would take you on the journey with me – building the board, setting goals, and tracking my progress. Hopefully this will give me the clarity and the focus each day to overcome the little unhealthy devil sitting on my shoulder. If it works for me, maybe it will also be what you are looking for. So here we go…

Step 1: Choose your information radiator

I thought about a few ways to do this. I wanted to go cheap, so buying a giant white board like I use at my job was out of the question. I initially planned on just painting an empty wall I had in my bedroom, but the Mrs. just laughed at my face when I brought that idea up to her. So, I decided to go with a nice, simple cork board. I used a standard black frame cork board that I got from Target (here it is on Amazon)

Step 2: Choose your methodology

Since my goals are so focused on day-to-day activities (and since my board was only 22″ wide), I decided to set up daily goals, based around a week-long tracking period. I plan on setting four goals each week. As I achieve each daily goal, I will “mark” that goal as completed by advancing the goal (like a progress bar). At the end of each week, I will assess my progress, possibly modify my goals and/or add new ones, and start fresh for the next week.

Step 3: Design your goal board

Now that you have your information radiator and you have set your methodology, it’s time to get creative and have some fun designing you board. Here is what I did:

Initial Goal Boards Design

With this setup, I gave myself a cool header, and my main progress chart is sort-of like a weekly calendar. I left some space in the middle for (what I consider) the most important piece of the board – my motivation.

Geek into Shape Goal Board With My Motivation

Step 4: Set your goals

The next step to finalizing the Geek Into Shape Goal Board was to set my goals for the week. When I designed my board, I left enough space for 1.5″x2″ post-it notes to track my goals.

Writing down goals for the Geek Into Shape Goal Board

Since I could fit four goals on my board each week, I took the list I mentioned at the top of this post (I promise to go to bed early tonight. I promise to go to bed early tonight. I promise to go to bed early tonight.) and added a fourth goal of working out for 45 minutes or more for 6 out of 7 days during the week. Here is what my final board looks like:

Final Geek Into Shape Goal Board with Goals

Step 5: Place your information radiator

I decided to not place this on the free wall next to my bed, like initially planned. I realized that I normally haven’t even come into consciousness when I mosey past that wall. So, since I am trying really hard to meet these goals this week, I decided to put it somewhere more visible to me:

Placing the Geek Into Shape Goal Board

Step 6: Track your progress

To be continued…

I am so excited to try this new method. It puts these goals that I have set for myself right out in the open. Each morning, my goals and motivation for achieving these goals will be staring me in the face, refocusing my mind, and beating down any urges I might have to sabotage progress.

I’d love to hear what you think. Would a constant visualization of your goals, your progress, and your motivation help you stay focused? Do you like my board (I do)? Please leave a comment with your thoughts!

GiS Podcast Episode 5 – 9 Geeky Gateway Activities to Get You Fit

We geeks have an unfortunate dilemma when attempting to go from geek to super awesome fitness geek of infinite power.

Our hobbies — gaming, coding, reading, correcting people on the internet — tend to be measured in hours and days of time commitment and normally involve some sort of social commitment as well — guild raiding, project deadlines, book club meetings, a lot of dumb people on the internet that need to be corrected. Adding a new heavy time commitment like proper nutrition and exercise seems like an impossible thing to do with all of our other interests and commitments.

But there is always time for health and fitness,  and you don’t  have to leave your geeky hobbies behind. There are so many ways to merge fitness into your geeky lifestyle and incorporate your geeky lifestyle into fitness. And that is exactly what this list is intended to help you out with.

 

This podcast is an audio version of a guest post I did over on NerdFitness.com.  For the full text and all of the juicy links, please go visit there. There is also a ton of good comments and suggestions that you should check out.

In other news… Hell has frozen over, because I posted a new podcast! Sorry for the delay in getting a new episode out. I hope my inconsistency doesn’t come across as apathy. I appreciate everyone who takes the time to listen, sends me emails, posts a comment, or writes a review.  Thanks for listening, and I hope to bring you more episodes soon!

Fitness Mind Hacks Part 2: How Programming Helped Me Lose Weight and Become Healthy

Code Monkey want a better body. Code Monkey way too fat.

As I mentioned last week, it only took a few key changes to drastically change the way I approached and, more importantly, conquered my fitness goals.  These changes had nothing to do with learning about the the latest fitness and diet trends — I already knew all of those. The changes had nothing to do with joining a gym or buying fancy equipment — I had tried both. No, my problem was all mental, and mostly due to a lack of confidence and a lack of hope. I didn’t believe that I could tackle the monstrous project called “health” because I didn’t have the skills or experience.

Image courtesy of juco on Flickr

Well, all of that changed when I took a new approach to how I thought about fitness and diet and health. Small mental changes, little fitness mind hacks, that helped me relate my fitness journey to other aspects of my life that I was successful at. I would have to say the biggest of these mind-hacks was when I realized that I could treat my fitness related goals like I treat my software development projects.

It amazed me how closely aligned the processes I use every day when I write code or plan my software development project were to the process for losing weight and setting goals. I’ll admit it wasn’t a huge leap to make this correlation, it seems obvious in hindsight, but it was this minor mental mapping — software development to fitness — that kick started my weight loss and kept me delivering on my fitness goals.

Here is exactly how programming and software development helped me lose weight and meet my goals:

1. You need a good development environment

Image courtesy of John Wiseman on Flickr

As every programmer knows, you need a good development environment to get things done. Without the proper environment, you’ll often find yourself limited in your capability to move forward or spinning your wheels trying to get started because of too many options.

Finding the perfect environment is a can be a little bit of a task in itself.  Take the time to look at your options. The environment you choose should easily mold with your personal style, taste,  and experience.  Like choosing a software development environment, you don’t want limit yourself to the status-quo or what the “pros” say you should use when choosing your fitness development environment.

Explore, experiment, and like Goldilocks, find one that is “just right”.

Here is my mini guide for fitness development environments:

  • The minimalist environment (This is the style for all of you vi and gcc’ers): You don’t need a fancy gym membership or exercise equipment to get you where you need to go. You understand that you only need two things in this world to get into shape: you and gravity – and those things are always available.
  • The DIY environment (This is for the “best tool for the job” coders): You realize that there are some great tools that exist to help you meet your goals, so you buy a few weights and some resistance bands and you maybe even splurge on an exercise bike. But with this method, you are not limited or constrained on what you do. You build your own environment based around only the things you need.
  • The virtual environment (This is for you… virtual environmentalists?): Like the DIY environment, you have a hodge-podge of tools at your disposal, but you have an specific environment you are aiming for as a part of your end goals, so you really try to set up your training environment to match.   If you want to be a fighter, you enroll in a martial arts class where you learn critical skills you need or buy a punching bag to hang up in your garage. If you want to be a rock climber, you build find or a training wall.
  • The fully integrated environment (This is for you Eclipse and Visual Studio users): With this method, you commit to a place that offers the kitchen sink when it comes to fitness. I’m talking about a good, ol’ fashion, all-purpose gym.  You need weights – you got ‘em. You want aerobic classes – they offer those too.  You want tanning beds – most of them surprisingly have those as well. Even though you may have to pay a premium for it, you have just about everything you need in one nice, consolidated package.

For me, it was a combination of the all of these environments that got me where I needed to be. The fully integrated environment helped me figure out what was available and mold my training path. The DIY environment helped me supplement the areas that the fully integrated environment lacked. And the DIY environment allowed me to workout wherever I happened to be sitting or standing at the moment.  One, none, or all of these environments might work for you. Take time to try them all and see which gives you the best results.

2. Just get Started

Phot courtesy of ColtahMang on Flickr

The most important thing I have learned in software development is that, sometimes, you just have to get started. You can spend hours researching the “perfect” ab workout or developing a detailed 48-month fitness plan, and never move a muscle. The unfortunate thing is that there is no perfect plan. Like in software development, you can spend all your time trying to figure out the perfect framework, or the best libraries for the job, but sometimes the best way to figure it out is by diving straight in.

Start moving. Do anything. Run. Walk. Pop, lock it, drop it. It doesn’t matter – just do it.  If you need to refine you workout routine later, as you read about optimal methods for your specific goals, you can. But just get moving today.

3. Always be agile

Photo courtesy of Garrettc on Flickr

A while back, I wrote about how to Agile development practices applied to health and fitness. The concept of Agile Development comes with a host of methodologies that keep your development paths clean, quick, and versatile. Here are a few of those methods that I used to drop pounds.

  • Use short iterations for your goals: Of course you have a long term goal (40 pounds, run a marathon, etc.), but the best way to meet your long term goals is to set many short term goals that build up to your long term goal. The time frames should be short and and the goals attainable. For example: If you want to lose 50 pounds in 6 months, set a goal of 8-10 pounds a month and then forget about the big goal. Each month, put all of your focus on the short term goal. Sprint towards that goal as fast as you can.
  • Do daily scrumsEach morning, ask yourself the following questions: What have you done since yesterday? What are you planning to do today? Do you have any problems preventing you from accomplishing your goal?
  • Allow time for reflection: At the end of each sprint, take some time to reflect on the previous month. Did you meet your goal? If you didn’t, why not? Reassess your next month’s goals. Maybe something has changed – a new long term goal or a new long term deadline – that might change your short term goals.

There are so many support groups that have this model built in already. Use them. My favorite is the 28 day challenge on the Nerd Fitness message boards. Each month, you set 3 goals that you are pushed to meet within 28 days. Each day (or week, or never, your choice), you post your progress — what you did the day before, what you plan on doing the following day, how you feel, etc.  At the end of each challenge, you have a week to share and celebrate your results. If you didn’t meet your goal, there is a whole community of people ready to help you work through what you need to change and motivate you for the next challenge.

4. Use Design Patterns

Photo courtesy of Grant MacDonald

As in any field, there are problems common to all software development projects. For these problems, people have built general, reusable design patterns that can be adapted to your specific goals. Keeping a good working knowledge of some of the most common design patterns can save you time during your development. Instead of focusing on a secondary problem, you can just focus on the core business logic.

The same is true for fitness. If you have a specific goal in mind, chances are, someone has had that goal to and met it. If you are lucky, they wrote the method they used down and put it out into the public domain so you can just adapt their plan to you. You might know these as training plans. Here are a few of the fitness design patterns that I have used:

These patterns can give you a big head start towards meeting your goals, but don’t feel you have to follow these plans word for word. Remember we are all different. Use them as a guide, but you will know when it is time to start building your own custom pattern. Remember to write it down and maybe you will have your own pattern that will act as a guide for others.

A few more quick mind hacks

There are a dozen more little hacks I use, most of which are too small to give a deep discussion on, but I thought I would quicklymention a few of them.

  • Always refactor your code - You should frequently reassess your workout routines and try to remove inefficiencies and isolate the things that are working. We are all busy people, if you can get your workouts down to the most efficient components, then you will save time and get more results for your effort.
  • You’ll always benefit from better debug logging – Always keep a record of what you do. When you get to the end of your sprints, you might need to look back to remember what you have done. You need to write down all of your core stats (weight, mileage, pounds lifted, etc.) each day as well as your emotional and physical state. Did you lift more during the week you got more sleep?
  • Set up good regression tests – As you meet goals and set new goals, do forget you go back and test your overall fitness levels. If you successfully ran a 10k and set a then new goal to be a backup dancer for Usher, make sure you don’t lose your ability to run a 10k. At the end of every fitness sprint, you should pick a few things that will test your overall fitness ability. Use your old goals as your regression tests.

Conclusion

Applying good software development practices to my fitness life really helped me feel like I had control over my destiny. I knew all of these processes worked. They have taken me from a white screen to a complex application many times before. Thinking about my fitness goals as just another software project gave me the confidence in myself to complete it. I hope this will help some of you too.

I’m interested in what my fellow software developers think.

  • What processes in your daily life as a code monkey have you applied to your fitness life?
  • What processes can you apply?

Let me know!

Fitness Mind Hacks Part 1: An Introduction

I think by now, we all know the general dirt on how to get into shape. The critical fitness and nutrition information is everywhere we turn: The Biggest Loser, the fitness magazine rack at the bookstore, the buddy at work that tells you all about the latest fitness blogs and podcasts while doing awkward hammie stretches at your desk (that’s actually me, well except for the stretches… they’re not awkward!). However, even with the abundance of information and awareness regarding healthy living, there are still a lot of good people out there who can’t seem to find a way put down the Kit-Kats and pick up a dumbbell.

I was that person.

I knew how to workout. I knew how to eat right. But knowledge was only half of the battle. What was holding me back was my mind… my will.

I wasn’t good at working out. I felt like I didn’t relate to the fitness community. And for a long time, I never fully grasped the fact that I, nerdy ol’ George, could be anything other than what I was: overweight and lazy.  Proper fitness was so foreign to me (which is sad that this was the case), that it seemed like something I could never attain; probably because I had tried and failed.

My logical mind knew I needed to shape up, but my emotional side couldn’t kick my ass into gear.

But all of this emotional incompetency changed for me when did one simple thing: I started relating my fitness journey to things in my life that I was good at. I started flooding my head with these little correlations to areas of my life that I was succeeding. I tricked my emotional mind to believing that change was possible. I was reprogramming my brain to take away those silly, irrational barriers that were preventing me from getting where I wanted to be. This “mind-hacking” concept is not new and is used in many other areas other than fitness, but it is what started the positive change in my fitness journey.

So what exactly am I talking about?

The idea is to relate your fitness goals to something you know, something you are passionate about, or something that is so pervasive that you can instantly relate to it.

For example, I love playing MMOs – Lord of the Rings Online, World of Warcraft, etc. – games that are all about starting at level one, and building up you character to the ultimate warrior through slow and methodical steps. Well, mentally, there is no difference in the process leveling a character up from 1 to 60 in those games and dropping 1 to 60 pounds in real life. You start on a journey, and you diligently work at it. You make mistakes, you learn, you grow (as a person, which hopefully corresponds to a shrinking waist). Eventually you reach your goal, and then the real game can begin.

I could level characters all day in game, why couldn’t I level up myself? The answer, was: I COULD! And I did.

What I plan to do over a few upcoming posts and podcasts is really dive into the fitness “mind hacks” that helped me clear away my mental barriers. The first of which will be a topic dear to my heart: software development and how it changed the way I view fitness.

In the meantime (does anyone hear that Spacehog bass-line?), here are some fantastic recent articles from some of my favorite bloggers that I would classify as fitness “mind hacks”

See you soon!

2 Months Gone, 10 Years Gone…

I know, I’ve been gone a while. But, hey, that’s the way life is. Work. Youngest baby started to crawl. You know, the regular excuse type stuff :)

So, I thought I would update everyone as to what has been going on in my world. Have no fear, I’m not out of the exercise game. I have been a little inconsistent, but I have been chuggin’ along and making some great progress.

10 years already?

I just had my 10 year high school reunion this last weekend, and I made my weight goal for the reunion – UNDER 200 POUNDS! I haven’t been there since my freshman year of college. I am also now wearing size 34 pants, and need a lot of new clothes.

It feels so freaking awesome to be where I am. I still have work to do, but I am at a point where I feel very confident in my size and appearance. I no longer feel “fat”. I just feel like I need to shape up a little bit. I feel like I am in control of my weight now and it is manageable.

Here are some comparison shots (I unsurprisingly don’t have many pictures of myself, but I am becoming less camera shy as I lose weight… It’s amazing how that happens):

December 25, 2009 - Playing the role of the jolly fat man too well

September 4, 2010 - Teaching my daughter the fine art of cornhole

I still need to keep at it, but I am pleased with where I am, and the maintainable changes I have made to get to this point.

Ow, my calves hurt.

I am also up to running a 5k in my Vibram Five Fingers. It took me longer than I expected, both from laziness time constraints and muscle soreness.  I kept wearing my VFFs to this high intensity cardio class at the gym. I was doing alot of jumping and quick direction changes in the shoes, which really stressed some muscles I wasn’t used to using. I kept off my feet for a week here and there, which slowed my progress, but I didn’t want to put myself out of commision for longer with an injury.  I’m not in a hurry.

I plan on running my first actual race this weekend if I make it back to where my parents live. If not, there is a race in my current town at the end of the month. I plan on running with some of my buddies, one of which will be wearing VFFs as well. Not that I’m against running in regular shoes, but I feel like I’m in a special, cool club since I switched to VFFs.

Website and Podcast

Like I mentioned above, I’m not out of the game, but life is taking priority right now. I will probably switch gears to write more about my personal journey. There are so many good sources for fantastic original content out there, like Nerd Fitness and Healthy Lifestyle Design, so I just plan on switching to a mostly consumer mode on geeky fitness content for a while. If I do have something to say or something sparks my interest, you will definitely see a post here or a guest post somewhere else.

As for the podcast, I don’t want to be a pod-fader, so I won’t. I’ll just be a pod-not-very-often-updated-er.  I have a road map for about 30 more episodes, but it takes a bit of work to write, record, and edit the episodes currently. And I have some more ideas that are taking up more of my brain power currently.

So that’s me right now! What have you been up to?