So, now that I’m exercising again, I’ve had some time to read — while I’m riding the exercise bike, first thing, before lifting or doing resistance exercises. I’ve been combing the Web for material on the benefits of exercise for the brain, and I’m rediscovering a lot of pieces I read a few years back that slipped into the nether regions of my memory. Yes, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is stimulated by exercise. And intermittent fasting can be good for your brain.
I have an easy day today — I’m telecommuting, and my afternoon appointment will probably be cancelled — so I don’t have a lot of energy demands on me, and I can safely get through the day without being in danger from hypoglycemia or not having enough energy to get by. When I’m commuting and I’m on my regular schedule, I need to have all pistons firing, which means I need a steady flow of energy to my brain, so fasting is not possible.
Today, though, I’m good to fast. I’ll drink my water and tea, get some intermittent exercise, and probably take a nap later this afternoon. Pace myself, and let my body take a rest from eating. I won’t fast into the evening. I just need to be without food till about 8:00 tonight, which probably won’t be a problem. I usually don’t eat until after 8:00 anyway. I ate my last snack last night around 10:00 p.m., I think — a natural fruit popsicle. So, a 22 hour fast will do the trick.
I learned about intermittent short-term fasting at the blog Getting Stronger, which discusses hormesis, or making your system stronger by introducing small bits of stress that test your system and increase its capacity for performance. I have tried to fast in the past, but it went poorly — probably because I had issues with behavior and emotional regulation, and my diet was pretty crappy, so I was all set up for hypoglycemia that made me a bear. So, I never did much with fasting after a few little tries.
Anyway, I have been looking for opportunities to fast, but I’ve either been pretty active, or I have completely forgotten (like over the week between Christmas and New Years) that fasting might be a good idea. So, now I am remembering it, and it looks like this is a really good day to do this thing. And I shall.
I know this may prove challenging later today, when I am looking for my lunch around 11:30 a.m. – that’s when I usually eat. And then there is the afternoon snack that I usually have around 2:30 or so… Doing without them, especially when I am working at home with lots of good, healthy food within easy reach, may be a challenge. But I have to keep in mind that I am doing this for a good reason — and it won’t be forever.
I’ll break my fast tonight, and that will be that.
The big challenge today will be keeping my mind on my work and not getting pulled in a bunch of different directions. I’ll spend some extra time today exercising or sitting and breathing, instead of eating. At times when I am usually having snacks or lunch, I will do a little stretching or sit and count my breaths. This could be a really good way to get that extra meditation time I’ve been wanting.
I’ve felt myself jumping quickly into a state of knee-jerk reactiveness, over the past months, and that has not been good. I can’t just snap over every little thing. I need to be more mindful and also better about managing how I behave with regard to my emotions. I know this is an issue for me. So, sitting and breathing and working on my self-restraint while not eating will be a great opportunity for me.
I just need to keep focused and remember why I am inconveniencing myself — and really celebrateat the end, when I get to eat again. It’s only 11 hours and 16 minutes away 😉
It’s the day before the long weekend. I have three full days ahead of me to do whatever I so choose, and I plan to choose well. Have plenty of down-time. Take plenty of naps. Not stress out about everything, the way I have been for the past several months.
Most people I work with are working from home today, because they’re closing the office early – a little after noon – and nobody wants to spend the time driving back and forth. I’m going to go in, because it’s going to be quiet, very few people will be there, and the traffic promises to be light. Plus, the internet connection is so much better there — I can get more done in less time, which is the plan.
And then I’ll have my weekend free and clear to use as I please. Last weekend, I spent half my time on work-work stuff, which really wore me out. Even if I am working on my projects on the weekend, it’s nowhere near as taxing as doing other people’s work. There’s something about being able to set the agenda myself, being able to pick and choose what needs to be done, and knowing that I’m going to directly benefit from my work, that really picks me up and puts a spring in my step.
Speaking of having a spring in my step, I just got done with my morning warm-up. It feels good to move. I worked on my knees today — leg lifts are in order, because my knees have been giving me some problems. When I do my leg lefts — front, back, sideways, up, down — for a few days running, it actually helps my knees. Something about getting all the muscles around them engaged and working again… I’ve been working long hours, sitting and sitting and sitting… and it’s definitely taking its toll.
So, it’s up-and-at-em for me, first thing in the morning. I wash my face and hands in cold-cold water, brush my teeth, and head downstairs for some exercise. It takes me a little while to warm up, but once I get going, I’m good. I pretty much do whatever I feel will be good for me. Some mornings I do a lot of squats. Other mornings I do a bit of yoga-style stuff, with stretching and holding poses. Other mornings I just move in exaggerated ways, stretching and pushing myself a little bit — especially for my balance. After about 15 minutes of that, I’m done. I’m warmed up, I’m ready to go. I stress myself just a little bit, physically, then I drink my big glass of water and make my breakfast.
And it feels good. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Good.
The thing that feels the best, probably, is pushing myself… just a little… and then taking a break to catch up with myself. Stressing myself just enough to feel it, testing my limits, pushing my limits back — and out — and up/down/wherever — so that I know what it feels like to push the envelope. And after I recuperate and rest and rebuild, I usually find I’m stronger than I was before. Maybe just a little, but still, it’s something.
And days and weeks and months of “just a little better” all add up to being a whole lot better, years on down the line.
All of this would not be possible, if I didn’t push myself. If I didn’t test and stress my system just a little bit, and then recover, I would never get farther down the road I’m on. People tell me I have too much stress on myself, but I disagree. The problem is not the stress. Problems start when I don’t manage my stress properly.
I’ve believed this for years — that stress is actually good for you, it’s formative, it’s educational, it’s a key part of growth and positive change. And I’ve been finding some good reading, lately, that really concurs with what I believe. The first blog I’ve found is Getting Stronger, which talks a lot about “hormesis” — or dosing yourself with little bits of stress, so you can become more resilient and capable. I’ve picked up some great tips from that blog, as well as others the author links to. If nothing else, it’s incredibly satisfying to hear the author (and many of the other writers and thinkers he references) repeat out loud what’s in my head — and have the science to back it up.
The science is where I come up short. I just know what works for me, what keeps me on track. Having those references collected in such a comprehensive manner is hugely helpful.
I’ve also come across James E. Loehr’s book Stress for Success, which I’m working my way through right now. He shares the same belief as me, that it’s not the stress that gets you, it’s the way you handle it. And if you’re not up to the task — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — of handling stress, and if you don’t allow yourself ample time to recover, you’re going to get whacked around a lot, and ultimately lose out on what you’re trying to win.
Again, he’s got the science and the experience as a world-class sports psychologist/trainer, to back him up. Me? I’ve just got my own life experience. But that’s nothing to sneeze at. Looking at how I was just five years ago, versus today — night and day. Total transformation. Not bad, if I say so myself — and thanks to everyone (including a lot of readers here) for helping me make that happen.
The one place where I come up short, time and again, is with recovery. I get so tired, I can’t sleep. I can’t relax. I’m on edge — and part of me loves it. If I’m not in the right “fatigue range”, I am not getting to sleep, no way. The image at the top of the page shows a bit what I’m trying to communicate. Lots of energy with lots of fatigue, means I keep going, no matter what. So, I have to change it up and alter one factor — in my case, the energy/activity piece.
This is all part of appropriately managing TBI — knowing what sets you off, knowing what unhinges you, and then doing something about that. Finding out what works best for you, so you can have the kind of life you want, and then sticking with it. There is so much conflicting information out there — all of it supported by some sort of science or belief or faith, much of it advocated and defended by people who either have an agenda or who mean well but can’t see past their own experience. You have to decide what is best for YOU, what works for YOU, and most importantly what DOESN’T work for YOU.
A great example of this is Tim Ferriss, who I have known about for a number of years now, and whose book “The Four Hour Body” I looked into about a month ago. He’s got a lot of great information, mixed in with a lot of not-so-great information. He’s pretty controversial in certain circles, and I consider much of what he does to be suspect. He calls what he does “hacking” the system, but in a lot of cases, it seems like he’s just cheating and redefining the rules to suit his needs. That being said, I have gotten some incredible tips from him that have literally changed my life for the better, so that alone is good. Reading Tim Ferriss is a lot like having a meal at Golden Corral, the monster smorgasbord buffet type places that is laden with all sorts of foods — some that will enhance your life, some that can kill you at the right amounts. You have to be careful about what you choose to put into your system, and you definitely have to pace yourself. You can get overwhelmed quickly — and develop a nasty case of indigestion — if you don’t use your own judgment and take your time picking and choosing what you’ll put into your system. And you have to take time to digest afterwards.
It’s like that with pretty much my entire life, actually. I have to really take care to not overwhelm myself, because I am prone to fixate on things, get stuck in a groove, and keep going — at top speed — even past the point of there being a point. I feel like I’m making great progress, and I’m really making things happen, but I’m not. Even if I am, if I wear myself out in the process, like I did last week, I pay for it. Big-time. The price tag is high with me. I could NOT afford to lose last weekend, but I did. And now I have to find a better way to get things done.
So, stress itself is not the enemy. It’s the lack of recovery that gets me. I’ve been “overtraining” for years — decades, really. And I haven’t allowed myself ample time to catch up with myself. I’m usually working on something. Always working. Always thinking. Always doing something. And it takes a toll on me, to the point where I don’t even know what I’m doing — or why. It’s clear to me that I need ample recovery time to integrate everything that I take in and learn over the course of my days and weeks and months. My life is pretty much about pushing the envelope, and now that I’ve gotten to a certain point in my life where I’ve pushed about as much as I feel like pushing, it’s time to change gears and invest in serious recovery time, so I can continue to make good progress and not strip my gears.
With that in mind, in another couple of weeks, I’m going to be on vacation — leaving town for a whole week to decompress and unwind. For real. The deadline(s) will be past, the insanity of several projects will be behind me, and I get my life back. To do as I please, to work on what I choose.
Not just yet, though. For the next two weeks, it’s work like a crazy person, and then let it all go.
Now, speaking of getting things done, it’s time for me to get going to work.
It’s turning out to be a beautiful day. I got to bed early last night — around 10 — and I was up at 5:30, after lying in bed resting (and observing my head getting going) for about half an hour. I’m working on getting myself out of bed whenever I am awake (or my head is awake) and not just lying there. I did try to focus on my breathing and just relax, which was fine, but my head was upand ready to go… so up I got, too.
Then I had some breakfast — not the kind of big breakfast I had been building up to over the past months… somehow my portions were getting a little bigger each week, and I was starting to drink 2 cups of coffee in the morning, instead of one. Yesterday, when I cut back and just had a small cuppa joe and an apple, I actually felt really great all morning — started to get a little antsy around lunchtime, and then was increasingly on edge by the end of the day (pro’lly as much due to running out of steam as being hungry). So, I went with the minimalist approach and kept to a strict 3/4 cup of granola, some rice milk, and a cup of coffee that was not splashing over the brim.
I’ve got two whole days ahead of me — praise be. And I got a whole lot done yesterday. I know, because I sat down with my list after I had my breakfast and looked over the whole slew of things I wrote down that I had to do. Sure enough, I accomplished everything that hadto be done — and then some. I exercised… I picked up my package from the post office (alas, it was not the exact item I thought I had purchased, which is actually fine, because now I know what to look out for)… I went to the bank to deposit a check… I went online and moved some money around to cover bills I have had to pay which have not been drawn against my account just yet… I checked on the due date for a very important expense I have coming up in another month or so… I bought a new window fan to replace the one that died in the bathroom… I tended to my lawn and took in the barrel of weeds that I filled up last weekend, and then forgot about so it was standing beside the front porch for the past three days, getting all funky in the hot, wet weather… and then I took my nap. And in between all these things, I also did some research for one of my projects, pricing items at hardware stores and learning my way around towns that are near where I live, but I normally don’t spend much time in.
Not bad for a day’s work. By the end of the day, I was done. Baked at 9:30 p.m., which felt pretty great — except that my spouse was keen on me staying up with them till 2 a.m. watching movies, which is about the last thing I needed. After a testy conversation about how much I need sleep and how I’m not really interested in staying up till 2 a.m. because I really need to keep on a regular sleep schedule, I managed to extricate myself from the living room and crawl into bed for a good night’s rest. I was concerned that I might be too sore to fall asleep, but I had no trouble with that. I did wake up before 5 in a sweat with shooting pains in my lower back and legs (all that bending and standing work on the lawn does a number on me), but when I focused on breathing and relaxing, it subsided, so that was good.
Nothing like starting the day with shooting pains… as much as I wanted to just get up when I woke up, at least this way, I started the day without too much anguish.
And then I had my breakfast… a small-scale, nutritious start that tasted all the better because I went without, yesterday. My 22-hour fasting experience (I had my last food at 10 p.m. the night before, and I ate at 8 p.m. last night) was pretty enlightening, making me quite aware of how much agitation is lurking at the edges of my attention. People I was mad at, situations, circumstances, details that got under my skin… Any number of things were hanging out, waiting to jump into view to get me going. Surprisingly, there weren’t a lot of really great things that came to mind to get me going.
I’m sure it’s just bad habits of thought, because I’ve trained myself over years to generate energy by getting pissed off over bad things. I haven’t trained myself (yet) to generate energy by getting excited over good things. So my go-to default for getting my energy going is to find something to get pissed off at, and then think about that till I’m revved up and rarin’ to go.
Not so hot. Is that really how I want to spend my life and time and energy — being pissed off and upset about things?That’s the thought that came to mind yesterday as I was driving around, feeling miffed about this or that or the other thing. I have a three day weekend, and I’m going to spend it dwelling on sh*t? Silly.
So, I spent a fair amount of time yesterday adjusting my attitude and repeating “Hormesis” to myself — which is the principle of using large doses of stressors for short periods of time to build up immunity to them. Things like cold, hunger, fatigue — all these (among others) are things that you can use hormesis to overcome, and when I thought “Hormesis” at times when my patience was starting to wear thin, it calmed me down, because it reminded me why I was doing this — to train myself to just deal. It also reminded me that the stressors I was experiencing at that moment were fleeting and temporary. I would be eating within hours. I was in training. I could take a chill pill, already.
And that worked.
The other thing that worked, was sticking to my list. I’ve been reading about the usefulness of everyday rituals in making certain activities automatic, so you can focus your attention on other more important things. Rituals and automatic activities free up your mind to focus on the finer points of things, rather than the gross logistics of everyday life. I have found this to be very true for myself. Having a morning ritual of rising at a certain time, stretching, brushing my teeth, washing my face and hands in cold water, and making breakfast in a specific order, frees up my mind by not having to think through every single next step I need to take. I don’t have to figure out what’s next. I don’t have to figure anything out. I can let my mind wake up at its own pace, while my body goes about the work of getting started.
Lists do the same thing for me. When I was really struggling with my everyday life, several years ago, and I wasn’t able to start my days without some sort of meltdown or freak-out, I took to making step-by-step lists for myself each and every morning. I had everything planned right down to the amount of time I spent on each thing. Some people acted like I was crazy to be doing that, and they insisted that I didn’t need that “crutch”, but it helped me immensely. It helped me to regulate the details of my morning, and it freed up my brain to relax because I knew exactly what was going to come next.
All I had to do was follow instructions. Easy-peasy. And it helped.
Now I have rituals in the morning rather than lists, but those rituals came out of the list.
Either way, they allow me to focus my time and attention on things that are more complex — and more fulfilling — than the drudgery of “what’s next”.
And that’s a good thing.
Today, I have more items on my to-do list. I have emails I need to read and respond to. I have things I’ve been needing to do, and haven’t gotten to because I’ve been so busy this past week. Some of them are more fun than others, and I need to arrange them so that I have some good rewards after I take care of the less fun things. Some of them are downright nerve-wracking, because they involve some complex thinking and I’m concerned I will screw them up.
Then again, I do have 2 days left in the weekend, so I can take care of some of this tomorrow.
That takes the pressure off. It makes things easier to start, when I take the pressure off.
Speaking of getting started, I guess I’ll get on with my day. I’m up early, so I actually have time for a walk before I start all this. Excellent idea — off I go…