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Posts Tagged ‘Updates’

Back once again, the incredible..

October 3rd, 2009 No comments
Welcome back
I haven’t been able to update for about four weeks.  The reason for this is that I, rather uncharacteristically, decided to dive into the work of updating my blog with four days left before school started.  I had been making excellent progressive during the past three weeks, and cleared off a ton of tasks.  The remaining items that I had left seemed manageable, so I felt it prudent to start in on another project before school started.
What I didn’t foresee was that Movable Type, the blog software I use, and the theming capabilities that it comes with, are iffy at best.  Actually getting a particular layout to work with my blog, based on my own anecdotal evidence, is very fiddly work.  On top of that, I have very little CSS experience to draw upon, and just don’t really enjoy doing the work.  Although the idea of using themes was to avoid having to do any of that, the themes that you are given are quite limited, and if you want to go even just a little bit outside of the box, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty.  I was not fooling myself that this would be necessary, but didn’t anticipate that school would get as busy as quickly as it did, and that installing a theme would bring down my whole blog.
If you are viewing this site directly, you can currently see that it’s extraordinarily ugly (and I’m actually surprised you’ve read this far if that is the case, instead of just refusing to accept my imposing something like this on your sensibilities).  If you’re viewing it in an RSS reader, then that’s all good, and really the main aim to which I publish anyhow.
Still, people are bound to be googling my name from time to time, and it sucks that this is the ultimate result that they end up at.  Enough of that for now.  Change will come, at some point down the road, and until then, we’re all stuck with either using a feed reader (which you should be doing anyway – check out Google Reader if you haven’t yet), or reading text on an ugly site.
Law School

I don’t know what I can write about law school at this point that won’t end up coming off as hopelessly optimistic or simply trite.
Suffice it to say that I’m really enjoying the faculty, the classes, my classmates, and the subject matter so far, and that although I’m sure the workload (and consequently, the stress) will increase as time wears on, I’m optimistic in my belief that I will continue to feel positive about both my decision and the new field of study that I have chosen to pursue.
Law bears a lot of overlap with a way of thinking that I have pursued and espoused for a while now: skepticism.  Being in a degree program where we are not just encouraged but expected to make use of faculties that focus on seeing both sides of an issue and determining the most effective ways to argue for either of those is challenging and rewarding.
Dancing

The fall term has kicked off at Vibestreet Dance, and things are going great.  I’ve finished giving my third class so far this term, and have also started giving some private lessons.  The students seem to be enjoying what I’m putting down, and that’s good, because I really am too.
So far I have taken the class through the basics of popping, waving, and tutting, and this Tuesday I will be giving an intro class to locking.  Although I am nowhere near the locking instructor that some of the people I’ve been fortunate enough to train with are, I think that I am good at conveying information in a way that other people can understand, and I do spend a lot of time thinking about and trying to understand the fundamentals of these dances.  I’m excited to teach something that is still very new to me, and especially a dance that I have so much respect for and that has so much history behind it.
Giving private lessons is also a new experience, and allows for a much more organic approach to teaching.  Whereas class teaching requires that I keep things at a basic level, stay on track and can only address individual students for a brief period of time, teaching one-on-one with someone allows us to follow diversions that may come up, and to spend much more time on a specific piece of foundation if the student is having trouble with it.
I was fortunate enough to be awarded a small scholarship by Liz Vaesen, an instructor in Vancouver that brings hiphop workshops over to Victoria about six times a year.  As a result, I’ll be taking a dance workshop tomorrow in old school hiphop and locking from Keeley Kaukimoce.  It’s an honour to be chosen for something like this, and quite humbling.  Homework allowing, I’ll blog about my thoughts post-workshop.
Productivity

School is busy and requires a lot of time, but by staying on top of classes, reading, and managing my time effectively, I’m finding that I still have time to fit everything else that I want in.  We are given classes only from Monday to Thursday, and Fridays are reserved for make up classes.
So far, I’ve spent my Friday’s studying and fitting in a game of squash around lunch time.  With a little bit of discipline, it’s pretty easy to avoid falling into the trap of treating Friday like your weekend, and getting through a ton of your work.  I get up at the same time I do on the rest of the weekdays (6:30), put in four hours of studying, g
ive myself two hours off, and then come back for another four hours.  By the time I’m heading out the door to meet up with friends in the evening, I’ve completed most of my reading for Monday and Tuesday.  
One of the most valuable habits that I developed through my previous work in project management, and learning and applying the principles of GTD, has been minimizing and eventually quashing the tendency to procrastinate.  Defeating this bad habit is one of the better ways to squeeze more time out of each day.  You don’t actually gain any more time, but you are now controlling 100% of how you want to spend that time.  Whereas, when procrastinating, you are forced into undertaking activities that fit with the aims of procrastinating (typically short in duration, because you won’t allow yourself, mentally, to start anything big, knowing that you’ve got something else you really should be working on; usually somewhat fun, and usually a bit of a distraction – Facebook anyone?).
If you’re interested in more tips on eliminating procrastination, check out some of my archives related to Productivity and GTD.  Ah, excellent.. clicking on those links currently appears to be broken.  Bah.  Well, look for those later then.
The rest

I’ll end on a curio that Bay and I picked up this weekend at Future Shop, shown below:

IMG_2700.JPG

This little piece of plastic acts as a power-free amplifier for my iPhone’s speaker.  If you look, you can see taht the plastic has a series of curves cut out of the interior.  These curves operate on a similar principle (presumably) to that of many brass instruments, and you can see that at the end the cut-out spreads out into the shape of the bell of a trumpet.  Simply by putting my iPhone into this device, I can amplify the signal considerably, without needing any power.  Although you can see a wire coming out of this guy, it is simply cable that connects my iPhone to my laptop.  This can be removed without affecting the way this device operates, and is simply there to allow me to use the amplifier as a dock as well as it’s original purpose. 
I’ve got my homework/study space set up at home on our dining room table (though it’s pretty easy to move to the office), and I can use this dock to hold my iPhone when it’s acting as a remote to our home stereo.  That looks like this:

Laptop-and-AirCurve.png

Kind of cute right?  It’s pretty functional too.  When I want to listen to my voice memos, the amplifier serves quite well, as I just turn on my speaker and shoot them through it.  Makes it quite handy to process those ideas at the end of the day or week (during my weekly review).
Anyhow, enough of that.  More to come now that I’m back up, but until then, at least I’m publishing again.
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Saiyonara

August 14th, 2009 No comments

Well, I’ve finished my last day at work.  As a result of the fact that I’ve cleaned up all of my loose ends, I’m left with very little to do today – that will no doubt be a completely different story from my life a month from now.  

The timeline for my last day was:

Last day of work:

8:00 Last day arriving at work

8:10 Pour last cup of coffee

8:30 Login and go through morning routine last time

9:30 Fill out timesheets for the last time ever

9:45 Last scrum at Refractions

10:00 Last coffee with Graham at work

1:15 Last JV lunch (while working at Refractions) downtown with Bay

3:30 Sent out goodbye e-mails to co-workers

3:45 Deleted archived e-mails from my computer

4:00 So long Refractions

While cleaning up my desk this week, I came across two of my logbooks that I had maintained when I first started.

 

I originally started maintaining a logbook when, during my first review, Paul Ramsey (the former president of Refractions, and someone for who I have a great deal of respect) mentioned that he noticed I worked better under pressure and when there was a lot on my plate.  He recognized that that he too operated in this manner as well, but that something to work on would be to track what I was working on and to try and maintain a more consistent pace.

 

The logbook was my first attempt to do this, and really, my first attempt to begin any kind of system.  About three years back, I realized that although I was now twenty-seven years old (thirty now!), with both a high-school and a university education, no one had ever taught me any kind of system for managing my tasks (really, for managing my life, both at work and at home).  Before I even made this realization though, I knew that I wanted to pursue Paul’s advice.

 

The logbook was the first attempt to accomplish this.  Looking through the book is a bit nostalgic: projects that I’ve long since forgotten, and that have long since died.  Attempts at organization that I now recognize as convoluted and problematic.  Lists of TODO items that remain unchecked to this day (did these ever actually get done?).  Even with all of these flaws, I still recognize the value that these first attempts brought me.  They provided me with a starting point.  They set me down a path, and gave me a base from which I could start evolving my own system.  You can never go for a run if you don’t take that first step, and that’s exactly what this book was.

 

I scanned in some representative pages from each month, along with an appendix that I had created at the back, so that you can see how I started progressing along the path towards a full-fledged system like GTD, and get a feel for the missteps that it’s okay to make as you attempt to get yourself organized (if you choose to).  Let’s repeat that one more time – it’s okay to make mistakes.  Take that first step!

 

January.png

February.png

The first two images are simply scans from the month of January and February.  Although the domain and context of what I was working on isn’t relevant, you can see from the way I was taking notes that there was still much to be desired.

The first scan shows an action item at the bottom, but with nothing to differentiate it from the rest of my notes.  How would I know at a glance that this is something that I have to act upon, versus something that I can just use as reference for later on?  What about the state of this action item?  Did I ever actually complete this task?  Did I just neglect to complete this?  Did it simply stop being necessary?  There’s no way to tell what happened here.  While I’m sure that I did in fact complete this item, you can see that it is important to create ways in your system that allow you to determine the answer to these questions quickly and at a glance.  Otherwise we’re just taking up valuable mental cycles that could be devote to more valuable tasks.

Unfortunately, I only realized now that I scanned in the wrong pages from my appendix, so I no longer retain the code I used to mark up the pages.  The main colour used were blue and green.  Blue items indicated discussions I had with co-workers, while green items indicated useful information or knowledge to reference back to later.  Orange  indicated important TODO items.  Whenever I had a page where I had created one of these items, I would colour the top or bottom corner (or both if I had multiple items on a page), allowing me to quickly determine if I had something that needed to be referenced on a given page.

This system quickly got out of hand, as it is impractical to flip through pages of a book trying to find the correct coloured corner that corresponds to a piece of information I need.  There is no ability to categorize a given piece of reference information, as it sits forever on a page in the book.  I have no folder that I can put the information in, and no ability to search through the book, other than sequentially flipping through each page.  Obviously this system left a lot to be desired, but it was a starting point.

Once I started PMing projects, I moved away from a static book and to a system that was more focused on the GTD approach to managing tasks, using looseleaf paper, and folders to organize it.

That’s the end of my time spent PMing.  Onwards to new challenges!

Inconsequential Update

March 28th, 2009 2 comments

It’s been a decent while since I’ve blogged.  Every time the spectre of a week passed without blogging raises its head, my mind goes to the many entries I’ve read stating that a good blog needs to be updated regularly.  Unfortunately, I’m just not geared that way.  I can appreciate that people that are paid to write professionally (even if only on a free-lance basis) need to be able to get the machine working and produce, but I don’t enjoy writing when I’m not inspired.

In addition to inspiration, I need time to sit down, think about a concept, and then flesh it out before I can even begin to write about it.  In school I was absolutely one of those students that constantly got frustrated when a teacher taught us the correct way to go about writing an essay (brainstorm, overview, etc. etc.), I would follow that plan and get a poor grade, and then next time whip something up the night before and get a better grade.  Just like that, the negative behaviour was enforced.  Nevertheless, these days, with concepts that I consider reasonably complicated to write about, I find these techniques essential, and am glad that I at least paid attention in class, even if I didn’t implement the lesson being taught at the time.
As far as normal life is concerned, things have been busy (aren’t they always).  Taxes, chores, and taking on any additional extra work that naturally comes out of having a spouse in school full-time have all eaten into my spare time.  No spare time, no time for solitude and contemplation, no time for inspiration, no time for writing.
Beyond the day-to-day things, I’ve taken on a few new things in my spare time.  One of them is pursuing some volunteer work with the group that is putting on the West Coast Music Festival in Whistler this year.  This is a new festival, but one that I’m very excited about and would like to be a part of from the ground up.  I’m also still considering volunteering my time to aid in the management of our local Victoria Electronic Music Festival this summer, and so this is eating up some spare cycles as well.
Lastly, something new has come to fruition that I’ve been waiting on forever.  Last year I briefly took some hiphop dance classes, in the hopes that it would provide some inspiration for the styles of dancing that I really want to keep pursuing, which is popping and locking (and all the other funk styles under those umbrellas).  I liked the hiphop classes, but they weren’t really what I wanted to be learning, and I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice the time to do something I was only tangentially interested in.  However, Brooke (the owner of Vibestreet Dance, and a generally all-around cool girl) sent out a group e-mail recently that mentioned popping classes.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’ve been waiting for over ten years to take a popping class in Victoria.  I’m not exaggerating – our urban dance scene is simply that weak on the island.
The classes start this Monday and will go for 6-7 weeks.  We’ll see how things fare, and if I’m enjoying it, I’ll sign up for more and keep going.
So, this entry has already digressed from my original topic related to work, so we’ll switch this into a general update and I’ll continue on this path.
I invited my friend Graham to join me, but he declined, suggesting that the class would be too basic.  While I think that he’s correct (at least, as far as what he’s willing to devote his time to), I’m comfortable with this fact.  My popping has been self-taught right from the beginning, aside from two workshops that I’ve taken.  The workshops have been fabulous, but you can only learn so much over the course of a day or two, and if there’s one pattern I’ve noticed about progression and improvement, it’s that you will forever be hampered if you don’t start out with the right fundamentals.
I’m hoping that I can learn and crystallize some of the things that I’ve always advocated other people starting out learn, but have never been able to train myself to practice correctly, such as: Fresnos, Twist-o-Flexes, Correct isolation for various pops, and so on.
All of these are extremely important techniques from which you can improvise the rest of your dancing around.  When my friend Michi was initially starting out, I made a point of giving him feedback when he wasn’t correctly carrying out these fundamentals, which in turn let him avoid the same mistakes and bad habits that have become engrained in my own dancing over the years.
My expectation is that I will be both incredibly frustrated, and incredibly enlightened.  The frustration comes from trying to unlearn the bad habits I’ve acquired and replace those with the correct techniques.  The enlightenment will come from the feeling of finally learning how to correctly apply these techniques and then to use them in later dances.
I was thinking this morning about why squash has really taken off for me, but dancing has not.  Dancing has always been a passion of mine, and even when I was in middle school, I had a yearning to learn how to dance, but no idea where I would actually go to take classes (too bad too – what a difference that early start would have made).  The conclusion I’ve come to is that for my interest in dancing to continue and stay strong, I need to find a culture for it.
When I first started dancing and practicing, it was just Graham and I.  We kept this up for a while, but grew weary of it.  Then I discovered raving.  The rave culture has plenty of very valid, very negative connotations associated with it, but the one truly positive one that I found was that good dancing was respected.  Bad dancing was also respected, unfortunately, but there was still an elite group of people that you would see time and again at these parties and that you would recognize and bust out with.
Once I outgrew the rave culture though, there was nothing less to spurn me onwards and keep me going at it.  I can go out to the bars now and then and find good DJ’s to dance to, but there’s nothing inherent in this situation that encourages someone to keep improving.  People at the bar like to see good dancing, but there’s no need for me to improve beyond a certain point – the moves and routines that I was using ten years ago still earn praise, and so there’s nothing driving me forward.
Does this sound silly?  Shouldn’t you do something out of the sheer love you have for it?  Yes, to an extent.  But we are all humans, suffering from interest and passion that waxes and wanes.  Maybe it’s just me, but if I want to keep up with something, I need a culture behind that to support it.
So, that’s the other thing I’m really hoping I can discover with this dance class – a culture of other people that are interested in the same styles that I am, and that will imbue me with a desire to continue progressing.  Will it happen?  I don’t know.  Sometimes these things occur serendipitously, without you being able to force them.  I’m not going to these classes expecting anything other than a starting point and a way to learn the fundamentals.  But, I’m going to keep my eyes open for further opportunities and new sources of inspiration.
Stay tuned – I’ve got at least one more entry planned for this weekend, this time to actually write about what I’ve had on my mind related to HR practices, and Monday night will likely have a new blog entry explaining the first popping class, so that should be an interesting read.

The new hotness

January 25th, 2009 2 comments

Well, apparently my recent post about hating the look and feel of this blog was enough to spur me onwards to make the changes I needed to.  If you are reading this through an RSS reader, then you won’t be able to tell, but I devoted Sunday to making some small changes to the site layout, and then tackled the task full on once I got familiar with what I had available.  Below I’ll detail the changes I’ve made, and what’s in store for the future.

Basic style

When I woke up this morning, I made coffee, did some chores, and then Googled for “moveable type site templates”.  I knew that you could do templating with movable type, because it comes pre-installed with about 30 different layouts and templates that you can use.  Personally I find most of them quite ugly, but surely some other people with better design sense than I had made contributions that were available for download.
My search quickly took me to a blog called “The Code Monkey Ramblings”, here, which provides a lot of very nice templates.  You can also download them all in a big batch, so I did that, and tried to figure out how to install the stupid templates.
It was actually a pretty big pain in the ass, since good tutorials seem almost impossible to find. Once I figured out that I needed to manually edit the template in my blog to include the appropriate CSS file, I started to get things going.

The first change was to choose the template, and get that actually displaying correctly.  I had to fiddle with Movable Type’s settings in order to setup the appropriate number of columns for the template I chose, which you can see below in its original form:
greenlight_screenshot.pngI liked the look and feel, and the fact that it was non-rectangular and had some bleed between the various containers.  I also liked the subtle vines and leaves in the content section and the footer.  I wasn’t too crazy about the color (green is good, but that’s a lot of it), but I figured I could deal with that later.
Hacking the template

Once I had the template displaying correctly, I decided I wanted to change the color.  There were a few other things I would need to change as well, and I think that by making my own changes, I’m at least remixing the template in a way that lets me feel like I’m at least participating in some extent towards the look of my site.
I fired up Photoshop (intimidating in itself to me, since I’m a complete novice), and looked up how to apply a color filter to an image.  The process was actually very painless and I just followed this tutorial here.  I changed the main color in a blue direction on the four main images, and then just uploaded that to the site to see how it looked.  It took me a while to figure out where certain color settings were stored for different parts of the site, but it went fairly smoothly.
Having the new color blue set up, I noticed that the green color being used by the stylesheet looked fairly ugly.  However, with a different hue, green would actually look really cool with the blue, possibly as a highlight.  Additionally, I’m a big fan of blue and grey together.  These colors would work excellently with either orange or the right shade of green as a highlight.  I made sure I was using only web-safe colors when choosing the shade of green I wanted, because that way, any text I included on my site could be colored the same shade if I wanted it to.
The trickiest part of the endeavour was getting the grey background.  Changing the main content box was simple, as was the footer, but the area on the right with the vines was difficult because it required that I select the vines, and then change the color of everything else.  Rather than spending hours to painstakingly select the vines, pixel-by-pixel, I just created a new layer with the right shade of grey, and then played around with various blending techniques.  Eventually I found one that allowed the vines to mostly shine through the grey, without being too obscured.  The end result turned out pretty good, and only took me about two minutes to get operational.  Not too shabby for a rookie.
Now that I had all of the graphics set up, I could turn my sight towards the CSS stylesheet.
Changing the stylesheets
I loaded up the stylesheet file (there’s only one, fortunately), and then, with the help of the Firefox plugin, Firebug, I determined which parts of the page needed to be changed.  I’d never really used Firebug at work, since, by the time it was mentioned at work, I wasn’t doing much, if any, web development.  I was really impressed at how easy it was to pick out the appropriate element, and drill down quickly to see exactly how it is being styled (you can even turn that styling on and off, independently of everything else.  Amazing!).
The future

So, now that I’ve done that, what is next?  Well, a few things.
    • Top menu

I’d like to get the links in the top menu working, which, if you’ve tried clicking, you will notice do not currently work.  This blog has been without an “About Me” page for far too long, and it’s time to update that and provide some insight into who I am and what I write about.  Having the RSS link in an obvious place is also important, as that’s how I’d like to see most people reading this blog.  RSS is good!

    • Mobile updates

I’d really like to be able to send quick blog updates through my mobile phone.  If I’m out, if I’m doing stuff.  This is basically a similar concept to Twitter, but focused and radiating out from my blog, rather than from another system.  Ultimately I want this web address to be the place to get at any information I am radiating, so that it is all consolidated in one spot.

    • Run RSS
      feed through Feedburner

In spite of the fact that Feedburner have had some negative publicity lately, I’d really like to start tracking some statistics related to the RSS feed that I am publishing.  I rarely see commenting occur on this blog, and I’d like to find out why that is.  If it’s simply that I have very few readers, that is cool, but I’d like to know that that is in fact the reason why.  Also, since I want to see more and more people I’m friends with using RSS aggregators, I want to see how often that is happening for people that are reading my own blog.

    • De-ugly the sidebar

Okay, so, this is only the first step, but I’m not a fan of how clunky and cluttered the sidebar feels right now.  I think that with better fonts, and spacing, I can make that look much sharper and more intuitive.



That’s essentially where I’m at now.  Now that I’ve overcome the initial inertia associated with updating the look and feel of the website, I’m excited to continue making tweaks.  Approaching the problem the way I did today taught me that sometimes it’s a lot easier to start from something pre-made and adapt it to suit yourself, than to create anew.  This is hardly a groundbreaking insight, but it’s good to remind myself that starting from an existing template really did help me overcome the massive mental barrier that was preventing this task from getting done originally.

This task has been long overdue, so I’m very happy to finally have it completed.  I’m not a designer, so having an ugly looking website doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on my professional credibility.  However, it sure doesn’t look nice, and why give people a reason to form an initial negative opinion?  Having things look crisper, tighter, and cleaner, is a good way to ensure that people at least consider staying around and having a look at what you have to say.
If there are any questions, as always, please post them.

Goal check-in

January 11th, 2009 No comments

It’s just shy of two weeks after the new year, so I think that it’s a good time to check in with myself after the goal I set towards the end of last year to focus heavily on fitness and healthy eating. As I mention in the blog post I’m planning to publish shortly after this one (just needs editing now), I’m not really a fan of New Year’s resolutions. However, I’m absolutely in favour of setting goals that are achievable, pursuing those goals, and treating failures or stumbles as an opportunity to re-evaluate your goals and determine if you need to set your immediate goal a little lower, or stay the course. So, that’s really what this is – a chance for me to check in, see how I’m doing, evaluate my progress, and then see if I need to change.
So, what were the goals? Nothing particularly specific, mostly that I wanted to be mindful of my calories, cut back on drinking, and though I hadn’t mentioned it explicitly, I wanted to make sure I was getting in exercise about six days a week and lifting weights five days a week. When I say exercise, I really mean something aerobic. Lifting weights burns calories, but nothing compared to squash, running or biking. I treat weightlifting as a cross-training exercise.
I was using livestrong.com for a while to keep track of the calories that I was eating on a daily basis. Livestrong is a great tool for this, and I highly recommend it. What did I learn? Well, I was eating about 20% more calories, on average, than I needed to. For those that are curious, this, for me, was roughly 400 calories a day. Cutting that many calories is not that difficult if you are aware of it and willing to make changes to do it. Just not eating is the worst approach, because it’s not sustainable. I made the changes I wanted to by making sure I had healthy snacks at work (fruitsource fruit bars and fresh apples, cheesestrings, low-fat whole grain crackers, and granola bars – make sure they aren’t dipped in chocolate or peanutbutter though) cutting back on drinking (more on that shortly), and snacking less late at night.
Now that I’ve got a general feel for how many calories I’m eating daily, what the number of calories that something contains is, and how many calories I need, based on my fitness regime, I haven’t been using livestrong very much. I think this is fine, since the website was only there as a tool to help me achieve my goal, not the goal itself. I may start using the website again if I feel that I’m starting to slip and eating gluttonously (note: this doesn’t mean drinking one extra beer, it means eating three chocolate bars in a day), but otherwise, I don’t feel like I need it anymore.
Did this change make a difference? Well, it’s tough to say. When I started, I weighed about 190 pounds. When I weighed myself at my parents, right before the start of the holidays, I was roughly the same weight. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a failure though, as I’ve been working out five times a week, and I (and Bay) can tell that I’ve been putting on muscle-mass. As a result, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve shed unneeded fat, and replaced that with heavier muscle tissue. Sounds pretty good to me. I’m going to chalk this goal up as a success so far.
Am I going to continue on with this? Absolutely. I don’t set my goals as something that I achieve and then discard, and neither should you. This goal is intended as a lifestyle change, so now that I’ve determined where I want to be, I will keep at it. The benefit is that it only gets easier from here, since the habit is setting in.
How about cutting back drinking? Well, I approached this goal by initially cutting out all of my alcohol consumption, and then gradually re-introducing. This allowed me to re-calibrate myself, and gave me a fresh benchmark from which to determine how much drinking I felt comfortable (from the point of view of obtaining my goal) doing. I also bought, and continued to stock my fridge with, O’Douls non-alcoholic beers. They make a lager and an amber, and although I normally prefer medium to dark beers, I think their lager is the better of the two. Non-alcoholic beers aren’t great, but they’re not horrible. When I come home from a squash match, I feel better about myself cracking open a non-alcoholic beer with 60 calories than I do a regular beer with twice that. Plus, it has a small placebo effect on me that partially quenches my desire for alcohol.
Why don’t I just stop drinking completely? A couple of reasons. The most obvious one, to me, is that I enjoy it. I love the taste of beer, I love drinking with my friends, and I love some irish cream in my tea on a rainy day. Put simply, I don’t want to stop drinking completely, so trying to set this as a goal is just a way to set myself up for failure. I want to make sure I’m always setting goals for myself that are reasonable, and inline with my personality. Anything else is a waste of my time. The second reason, and this is similar to the first, is that it’s something I do with my friends, and is a part of the squash community. Having a beer with a friend after a tough squash match, or when working on their computer, or just hanging out – these are all things from which I derive great pleasure, and I don’t want to remove those from my life.
I think I was pretty successful in attaining my goal. As I mentioned above, I was successful reaching my caloric goal, and cutting back on drinking definitely helped towards this. I essentially cut out having more than one beer after a squash match, and stuck to drinking non-alcoholic beers at home on the weeknights. I’m pretty happy about this result, and I’m going to give myself a checkmark on this goal too.
Hey, how about those holidays? Well, I made a decision heading into the holidays. I decided that I would allow myself to open up the gates, cut loose for two weeks, and then tighten back up. I did this because I know that I possess a finite amount of willpower, and I know that the holidays are a time when there are a lot of opportunities to eat and drink. If I tried to restrict myself during this time, I would probably be miserable, annoyed, and severely stretching the limits of my willpower. Atheletes know that to train effectively, you need to spend time throughout the year where you give your body a rest and let it recuperate. The mind is no different, and if you’re exercising your willpower, you also need to make a point of giving it downtime where you don’t have to exercise it.
Incidentally, I read a study recently that had tested whether or not your willpower was affected in the long term each time you tested it, and this turned out to be true. This means that if you have a goal to not buy clothes at all this week, and you go window shopping once every day, you will be weakening your willpower each time you go window shopping. If you want to maintain your willpower, the best way to do it is to avoid situations where it will be tested altogether. (I’m not advocating that you should cut yourself off completely from something you enjoy doing. Just be mindful of the fact that you’re weakening your resolve each time, and keep this in mind before making the decision).
The last goal was to focus on fitness. Generally I try to avoid setting goals that aren’t measurable. I mean, how can you check in with yourself on a weekly basis and ask yourself if you’re really “focusing on fitness”? I actually had something more specific in mind when I decided on this approach though, as mentioned above. Weights five times a week, and no more than one or two days a week without any aerobic exercise.
So how did I do? Well, the first step was getting my bike back from being stored at my parents. It turns out I really like biking, so this made things a lot easier. If I didn’t have a squash game booked, I now had two options that I could pursue instead: jogging or biking.
Generally speaking, I think this goal is the one I am most proud of. I’ve managed to continue with my lifting regime for at least two months now (probably closer to three), and I don’t find that it is cutting into any other part of my life. This is a pretty ideal situation for a goal that involves establishing a change in your lifestyle. If, after pursuing it, you can look at your current daily routine and not feel dread or like you are going to have to make drastic changes to fit something in, you’ve achieved your goal. Like I mentioned before, I’ve noticed a visual difference, and I definitely feel stronger. But, looking any different was not my goal. Let’s check in with the rest of the goal.
To further this goal, I’ve been getting up early some mornings to go jogging with Bay. Bay is part robot and able to achieve her fitness goals based on seemingly impossible conditions, such as having five hours of sleep, but I’m not, so it’s been a challenege some times to get up. Jogging is a great way to condition your heart and lungs, and with a set of headphones and an iPod, it’s very enjoyable. I load up my iPhone with my favorite skeptically-themed podcasts and spend an hour learning while I’m jogging.
As far as being successful, I would say that this goal has been my most successful. I have been training hard on the court, and my game has improved thanks to my efforts, and the excellent coaching of Mike Johnson. However, on top of that, I have absolutely noticed that a higher level of fitness has made a huge difference. I can play in long grueling rallies with the confidence to know that I have the energy and the conditioning to make it through to the end. After a tough rally, I’m recovering my breath faster than before, and in rallies where I’m really chasing the ball to recover, I can make a good shot, settle in, and get back my wind to continue onwards.
All of that aside, the most significant change I’ve noticed has been mental. With a higher level of fitness, I have the confidence to play the best shots in a rally. The funny thing about squash is that the more tired you become, the more inclined you are to play low percentage shots. These are shots that will only be effective a low percentage of the time, but will outright win you the rally when they do win. Generally speaking, you should steer clear of these shots, especially when you’re locked in a difficult rally. However, when you start to get tired, your mind plays tricks on you, and tells you “End the rally now, don’t keep hitting the safe shot up and down the wall. Just put the ball away and win”. With a higher level of fitness, I can quash this voice and say “Sucks to your assmar Piggy, I’m playing safe shots up and down the wall until an opportunity to apply pressure to the opponent presents itself”.
So, definitely a checkmark goes to this goal. As an added benefit, coming back from holidays was much less brutal than I had expected, likely just because I had a fairly high level of fitness going into the ‘days, and so even given the excessive eating and drinking, I was still able to come back afterwards feeling relatively fit.
How about the process of getting back into the swing of things after the holidays? Well, by the end of two weeks, I was pretty much ready to get back into things. I’d had more than enough to drink, loads of junk food, and generally I was feeling pretty lazy. This is generally the way everyone feels when they make their new year’s resolution – fed up with their excess, and ready to get on the healthy wagon. The only difference is that I’m just returning to the same gradual process that I put into place earlier this year, rather than making a giant sweeping change.
So, that’s about it. Hopefully this is helpful for anyone reading that is trying to come up with a different way to set and achieve goals. In summary – set achievable goals, pursue them, check in, and revise as needed.