No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Back from vacation

Posted by Ben on Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hope you’re sitting down. This is going to be a long one.

I’m finally back from a week’s vacation in Charleston, South Carolina—be ready for some slightly old-news and politically-tinged links as I start this on the Saturday (and it’s now what day?) after the trifecta of Halloween, time change, and Election Day—and writing here instead of on a friend’s book project. Not that that wasn’t fun and all—I learned a LOT about the chaos that marks the initial throes of creativity in a group setting—but despite the dozen or so print-worthy pages I pieced together during the “morning” work sessions (whenever people decided to wake up and get coffee until we decided to have “lunch”), it’s tough (for me, anyway) to get fully engulfed in writing up an idea that’s not my own. We got a lot done, and there’s still a lot to do, but I don’t have—or just haven’t developed—the brain to sit down and grind out pages of work just because I have time to do it (trust me, putting this blog together is like making sausage: nice product, nasty process). No, my writing explodes without warning (bite it, peanut gallery), so I have to ride the wave for all it’s worth whenever it happens. I’d love to make a living out of writing—and as we all know, I can churn out words—but it’s not exactly something you quit everything else to do before bringing in at least a trickle of revenue. Got to pay the bills with something else while doing the writing (for free) on the side.

Slightly related side note: I signed up for a Twitter account today (“nomagicpill”—I have no idea how the codes or symbols work yet). Apparently blogging is SO last year (just like laptops, apparently). Talk about too many options, but I’ll get to more of that in a minute. At least I’ve practically pulled the plug on my MySpace account (yes, it’s actually still around).

Beyond writing, it was a great, rainy week of not a whole lot, including a supposed extra hour of sleep (which I hate just as much as losing an hour in the spring). There were a couple nights out in Charleston itself (the house was in Folly Beach), substantial sessions—both solo and with a “band”—of Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero World Tour, a typically violent game of spoons, and a game called Killer Rabbits and the Quest for the Magic Carrot. One of the guys found it at a hobby shop and thought it looked similar to Chez Geek/Goth, only slightly more gratuitously macabre. He was right, but it was still fun(ny). If you’re looking for any party games, Rabbits and Chez Geek are good ones, though they do have a somewhat steep learning curve, and we still had to establish some house rules for Rabbits, but then, we wanted to play, not scrutinize the lengthy rulebook. For me personally, I got in some good saddle time on the Harley (the rides to and from Charleston notwithstanding; pictures on my Facebook), a couple of okay workouts (with a possible sport-specific training modification to come when I resume regular training this coming weekend), a renewed love of cooking on a gas stove, and a realization that I should probably suspend my CSCS pursuit.

Yes, you heard correctly. I’ve slowly lost steam for this push over the past couple months for a variety of reasons, and a conversation with another beachgoer at the house this week brought the boiler to a quiet rest. She was flipping through some of my study materials while waiting to go out one night, noted how difficult the stuff was (at least I correctly answered some of the questions she tossed out), then asked why someone would get a CSCS certification. I told her the various settings and positions and clientele that are out there, which was all fine and dandy, but then she asked why *I* was working on it. Good question. I’m fortunate in that I have a job that allows me to spend time pursuing other interests without inhibiting my work performance or income, but what would happen if I took a different job? I wouldn’t have the time I have now, and who knows if I’d actually enjoy the work, especially enough to do it full-time? Cost is an issue, of course, and I’m not so committed to a major career change yet to justify further expense toward a complete overhaul, just maybe more toward making it a side job first. Plus, I have some other logistical considerations coming up in the spring to keep in mind (namely whether or not I’ll still be in Charlotte). I enjoy my training a lot, and I don’t mind offering tips and advice when asked, but as a full-time gig, I just don’t know. In that light, I will continue looking at my boot camp and youth conditioning pursuits since those lend themselves more to once- or twice-a-week sessions (Saturday mornings, maybe one weekday afternoon, etc) and make a decision on those once I better know where I’m going to be this summer, and of course, I’ll continue my reading and research as well as this blog. So there’s that.

—————

So, Halloween is over, and you know what that means (aside from various hangovers here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Millions of leftover pumpkins! Grab what you can and cook ’em up! That’s some good, healthy eating (the girlfriend doesn’t know I’m soon going to disembowel the one sitting on our front porch if it’s not too rotten). It also means the start of two solid months of total dietary debauchery, at least for most people. If food options run rampant during the other ten months of the year, it’s outright anarchy now. I don’t need to go down the list of goodies because you probably already have. However, take a minute to go back and look over your list again. Just exactly where is the cornucopia of food options? Let’s see… sugar, sugar, flour, sugar, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, sugar, chocolate, sugar… hmmm… sounds pretty similar to every other month of the year (read: not many healthy options). The only real differences are the amounts and relative percentages of caloric intakes. Nope, that stuff is always there, perhaps in different forms, but just because these two months have some sort of social attribution, we suddenly get a free pass? Two months out of twelve—well, AT LEAST two months. How many of you started your holiday snacking back in September? How many of you will hate to see any of it go to waste and therefore continue packing it away well into January? Throughout the year, you have cheat days here and there, maybe even a cheat week once or twice in a blue moon, but two whole months? Let’s face it. There are too many gatherings and literal feasts to stay completely on-track without alienating someone on the Christmas card list (which isn’t always a bad thing, but I digress). Given the current economic situation, there may be fewer or less elaborate setups, but that may actually just continue a food-buying trend toward cheaper (read: junkier) foods. Are you SURE you didn’t start back around Labor Day?

Quick aside: A bad economy can be a HYOOGE burden on our health, be it physical, mental, emotional, whatever. I’ve sprinkled in links and comments here and there over the past several blogs, but I’m planning on putting together a whole post focusing on keeping your fitness and sanity during an economic slowdown, whether its worldwide or personal, something that may be exacerbated by the onset of winter and the associated blues, doldrums, holiday letdowns, or so-called seasonal affective disorder (I miss George Carlin). Stay tuned.

Admit it: it’s not so much the season that causes over-indulgences. It’s just that the usual stigma of horking your weight in cookies and cakes flies out the window. Hey, everyone else is doing it, so why not? (Note: you might want to duck my flying backhand right about now.) A friend of mine, who like clockwork produces a weekly message for thought and motivation, offered one relevant to my point here (the following is re-printed without proofing or permission from anyone):

Mahler’s Monday Morning Motivator # 235 – The Season of Excess

The Season of Excess (11-03-08)

Over the past weekend and with a simple step on the scale this morning, I am reminded that we have entered what I like to call “The Season of Excess.” Yes, excess, as in too much, more than what is needed, indulgence, intemperance, or just plain gluttony. A good example, on a broad scale, might be the presidential election campaign. I don’t think there is a person I have talked to or corresponded with, regardless of their political stance, who is not just plain sick and tired of the campaign and cannot wait until it’s over. It has been a long and grueling feed at the trough of posturing for both sides. I am reminded of a little joke I once heard that it is so appropriate, that elections are held in November in the United States, since it is the month of Thanksgiving and voters elect the next group of turkeys.

On a more personal level and bringing the idea of this season of excess closer to home, it seems as though with the end of summer and the change of seasons a lot of our healthy eating and fit living habits tend to take a hike. Yes, they take a hike, but we don’t. In the summer months, the outdoors seems to bring out the best in us. There are so many activities and we seem to be just a bit more conscious of our physiques, what with the lighter and more revealing clothing we wear. As autumn approaches, the calendar presents us with so many opportunities to ditch all the work and effort we have put in during the warm weather. First comes Oktoberfest, prompting us to indulge in our favorite brews. Then Halloween, my personal challenge, where we are tempted with more empty carbohydrates than the most clever of wizards could ever conjure. There is something inherently evil about a peanut, covered in chocolate and topped off with a candy shell. Closely following on its heels is Thanksgiving Day where family and friends gather in love and comradeship to see who has to loosen their belt first before the football game comes on. Then Christmas sneaks up on us and we find ourselves neck deep in cookies, candy, eggnog, cheese balls, and goodies of all kinds. It seems the only thing we don’t eat is the damned fruitcake. I don’t think I have ever actually seen anyone consume fruitcake. It’s always there, but never gone. We finish off the season with more excess as we ring in the New Year with enough liquor to put a salty sailor to shame and literally brining many of us to our knees in homage to the porcelain god that sits stoically in the bathroom. And, after all is said and done, we resolve never to do it again and to get in shape in the coming year, until, of course, the next Season of Excess.

There may not be much that you can do about the holidays. They are what they are and I love each and every one of them. The Season of Excess is one of my favorite times of the year. But, with that said, I think I will try to also turn it into a different season, by keeping up with my workouts, by trying as much as possible to eat and drink in moderation, by making wise choices while reveling in the company of friends and family. It is possible, dare I say, to change The Season of Excess into The Season of Success. Well, at least I am going to give it a try. How about you?

I don’t need to tell you how many different training programs, both legitimate and craptacular, are out there. I have neither the time, patience, or desire to even begin that laundry list. With so many options, how do you know which to choose, let alone stick with for more than two weeks before jumping to the next fad program? Sometimes, even when you do things right, your body just may not be designed for it, meaning you have to take some tools out of the training bag. Same for dietary medications and supplements. Have you stopped to really look at the vitamin/mineral section at your regular store? One word: insanity. Seriously, if you took the recommended dosage of every single pill that’s supposedly good for you, your wallet would be beyond empty, and your belly would be bloated, yet you’d still be hungry. How awesome would that be? There’d be no need for all the fad diets! Needless to say, these industries suffer from extreme excess and “variety” that does little more than confuse the public, which consequently lines the pockets of these snake oil salesmen.

A couple of my other frequent reads wrote on the forthcoming season bloat as well (here and here). My question is: why is excess even an option? Should we just because we can? One particular post I came across discussed the changing perception of obesity over the years. It’s worth the time to read and watch the embedded videos (which are funny in their own right). At this time of year when people throw gastronomic caution to the wind, I’m going to state the obvious: people have not, do not, and will not become fat based on these two months out of the year. Sure, they certainly don’t help, but all the New Year’s resolutions in the world are pointless when (a) they rarely make it to February and (b) they don’t signal true lifestyle changes. Instead, they follow the fad diet and exercise habits of “purging” or “cleansing” or “turbulence” or whatever buzzword is trendy, all of which inherently imply temporary, quick-fix overhauls meants to negate chronic, built-up “impurities” in whatever form. If followed to the letter, they do work—temporarily. In my humble opinion and experience, the degree and longevity of success on any program is directly related to the degree and longevity of the effort put into researching and following said program. Even if you don’t ultimately get the results you want, keeping up with something for three months rather than three weeks gives you a good idea of what WILL work, and you can adjust accordingly; hopscotching lifestyle changes doesn’t allow enough time for your body to adapt, meaning it just stays in the same form you’re trying so hard to change.

I have a friend who is one of those hopscotchers. She IMs me once every month or two to announce her new plan, which never includes a long-term lifestyle modification, just the latest infomercial special or push from whatever women’s magazine she picked up that day even though she asks for—and I no-longer-enthusiastically offer—advice (in her defense, her recent pictures do show a significant weight loss, but I’m waiting for that six-month “set point” to kick in before I sincerely congratulate her). Look, you can’t know if your plan is one that’ll work long-term, but if you’re going to invest your time and money into it, the least you can do is give it a fair chance to do what it purports to do. I mentioned I’m choosing to limit my academic and professional options for the time being. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on them, but I’ve given them a fair shake recently and have decided to step back a little. I have a myriad of options for work and play, and they will remain there as long as I hold some ability, experience, and/or interest in them, but for now, I’m keeping things simple, within my means (financial, physical, mental, and otherwise), and letting things slowly develop on their own instead of rushing headlong into a dozen different pursuits at once. I tried that lifestyle back in college, and it was the right time to do it, but not so much now—I like my sleep too much :)

Lots of links to catch up on (I won’t go through my entire backlog this time), but first, a special Election Day post-mortem: post-election blues, the psychology of voting, getting out the vote, drive-thru voting, the psyche of would-be presidents, Nanobama, computers pick 1952 winner, CNN’s magic wall, five best Hollywood Presidents, Twitter updates, a butler well served, a century of Presidents, Colbert beats Obama, Obama in = Bush spy secrets out(?), need-to-know physics, a view of California’s Proposition 8, Cressey talks taxes, and a couple comics (XKCD, HijiNKS Ensue).

Body bits: warming up (stretching sense, NY Times joins the 21st century, Eric’s take, Andrew’s take, Vernon’s takes 1 and 2), you CAN get strong on bodyweight alone, fixing your deadlift, Mark makes a pipe (I made mine awhile back from these instructions) and sandbags (the ones I made), one reason why Spiderman can beat you up, single-leg supplements, running CAN be good for you (as long as you do it correctly for your body type), brisk walking is also good for you (if you’ve been doing absolutely nothing else), towel pull-ups, for the love of two wheels (and proper descent), soreness is not the goal, Dr. Eades takes the new federal fitness guidelines to task, as the spine turns and hurts, callous relief, a doctor who discourages plastic surgery etc (despite advances).

Edibles: mmm… bison, skimming the soup scum, ideas for coconut, primal snacking, Mark holds court on the (lack of) need for carbs, food pr0n from Dr. Eades, liquid calorie bombs, another magic pill wannabe (note the last line of the article), takeout = long slow painful death (someone’s a little late to the Omnivore’s Dilemma party), chicken industry suffers from inbreeding, bake sales tanking for healthier fare.

Mind matters: a mindset for vitality, road runner rage (Mark’s take), compassion meditation, strategy may trump will power, dealing with information, solitary gaming, “Wired to Connect” audio series.

Kiddie corner: strength training Little Leaguers, kids know best about fitness (read: free play), 21 is not working, huge jump in childhood medications, a dark side to youth sports (and another).

General health: women shafted on health insurance, elderly care modeled on child care, the complexity of elderly falls, check the source of those meds, women are germier than men (yet WE’RE still pigs), Iraq looks to alternative medicine (so does Manhattan), green spaces reduce health gap (even Charlotte thinks so), migraines may signal lower cancer risk (not sure which I’d choose, though), the consequences of moisturizers, caffeine iffy during pregnancy, n=1 doesn’t make an expert, the world’s healthiest countries.

Geek-out:
—Transportation: 40mgp 450hp Scorpion, a crossing anniversary, “cars” powered by air, possible Detroit nuptuals, Scythe redefines ugly, an E85 apocalypsemobile, a hybrid bicycle(?), Brown goes green, pimp my scooter, homemade motorcycles, million-dollar motorcycles, Tesla builds coffers, a push for infrastructure and more, grandmother of all auto shows, California green-lights high-speed rail, $15 flights to Europe, Boeing says three years to biofuel, tarmac testing.
—Tech stuff: distorting body image, flexible displays on the cusp, Mercury take two, radiation protection for astronauts, Tsar Bomba anniversary, Men in Black for real, the tech of bowling, block cell phone spam, Firefox hits 20% market share (and introduces “porn mode“), social media becomes the news, micro solar panels, more Sony laptop battery fires, Twittering War of the Worlds, Bond villains’ last line of defense, gadgets you can trash, USAF looks to re-write cyberspace laws, cloning from cryogenics, FCC opens up white spaces.
—Nature: the devil Down Under, casualties of going green, exploring in a winged submarine, walking the earth, virtual Yosemite, getcha sun, fungus synthesizes diesel.
—Miscellaneous: America needs a geek overhaul, toys from the future, story of a child soldier, another look at da Vinci’s face, social responsibility in business dealings, how math solved “Hard Days Night,” wingsuit cliff-jumpers, paper airplanes on crack, birthday of a design star (with pictures), remembering Michael Crichton.

Git r dun:
—Individual factors.
—Staving off the boredom of the grind.
—Sometimes you have to go through “stupid” to become “invincible.”
—We’ve apparently failed to learn from the past.

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