Priorities

Priorities are a powerful tool in all parts of your life, but most importantly they are the direct path to attaining goals. I discuss how prioritizing lead to my successful weight loss of 2012 and why my progress slowed in 2013.

What happens when a swimmer stops prioritizing forward motion? He ends up treading water.

I have memories of sitting at the dining room table with my mom on my left, my dad on the right, and my younger sister sitting across from me. As a family we would assemble the monthly issues of “The Get Organized! News.” TGON, as we called it, was a monthly newsletter my mom wrote and published out of our home. Usually it was eight pages; two 17×11 sheets folded and nested within each other.

Like a well oiled machine we would assemble hundreds of newsletters, label them, and rubber band them for mailing.

Despite my mom writing a newsletter about organization, I was slow to pick up on it. Organization that is. She did her best to impress upon me the need to make my bed, pick up after myself, put things away when I was done and actually put my laundry actually inside the hamper as opposed to around it. As a kid, I just couldn’t understand why these things were important.

One thing my mom did teach me though, with some help from the author Steven Covey, was to recognize priorities. Covey uses an analogy about having a jar, and all these things you need to fit in the jar. They’re different sizes and shapes, from golf ball sized down to sand, so it is no easy feat. He explains that what you need to do is start with the big things and then once they’re in there do the small stuff like pebbles and sand.

This is, of course, his metaphor for time and how we spend it. And for much of my childhood I took it as just that, but I think the critical second part of this lesson is that while it’s about managing your time it’s also really about setting your priorities.

The above triangle was a commonly quoted aphorism at Georgia Tech (and other colleges I’m sure.) In humor it speaks truth, in reality it speaks about priorities. As it ended up, I prioritized social life and the Internet, much to my academic chagrin. In retrospect I don’t think I consciously deprioritized school, and in fact I believed I was still doing enough even in the face of hard evidence to the contrary (namely grades).

I remember my parents calling me one day while I was at school and my mom tentatively asking, “Honey, we’ve been reading your blog and… well… you never talk about studying or doing homework on there.” I waved their concerns away, saying that I was studying but it didn’t exactly make for riveting blog reading. Which was true, but also the truth was: they were right. My priorities had been steadily shifting away from school.

I clearly remember staying in the computer lab all night to work on a project and after getting stumped, staying up the whole night anyways screwing around on the web rather than working or seeking help. It makes me sick to think about what I wasted because I didn’t set my priorities for school.

Tech Tower by hectorir

Over the past year with my weight loss I attribute the majority of my success to making myself aware of and paying close attention to my priorities. Exercising was bumped to a top priority overriding things like TV, Internet, and social lunches at work.

Eating right became a high enough priority that I began passing on candy, having epic battles of self-control when presented with buffets of poor choices.

To me, priorities are the overlooked part of the goals & resolutions equation. Gurus and self-help experts talk endlessly about the importance of setting goals and striving for them, but they seem to gloss over the part where success for goals comes from making the goal a priority and becoming conscious of how it ranks in your life. You have to decide how they are prioritized amongst your life, and then consciously act on this change.

Changing habits is hard. I can’t tell you how many times I caught myself, change in hand, standing in front of a vending machine. Or found myself rummaging in the kitchen, not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. These were (and still are) actions so deeply ingrained in my mind that it still takes a conscious decision not to do some of these. And I come to these decisions because… I’ve set my priorities!

Over the past month I’ve been treading water and I’m fed up. I held onto most of my good eating habits but I’ve been snacking more, and even indulging in an occasional soda.

So, now I’ve come to terms with my lack of progress and found the stirrings which will drive me forward again. Namely, my 30th birthday is fast approaching. And I badly want to be in the best shape of my life for that birthday.

This week I am prioritizing ‘working out and moving forward’ to be the top of my list.

Where do your priorities lie?

A Year’s Worth of Exercise

A year ago I weighed 352 lbs and decided to change my life. A year ago I had been “trying” to lose weight for several months only to be continually derailed. Derailed or sabotaged. A year ago I didn’t know how hard this was going to be. A year ago I didn’t know how good “this” felt.

Here is my journey over the past year, sharing how I shed and lost my weight thus far.

The Work

“Do or do not, there is no try.”

The workouts began simply, I walked on the treadmill. Not a casual stroll though, I cranked it up to a fast walk (up to 4mph) which quickly had me sweating, and I did that for 30-45 minutes. I did this nearly every night for the first few weeks. Every evening after work or morning after getting up on the weekend I would head to the apartment complex gym and use the treadmill. I found that I really enjoyed walking on the treadmill and reading e-books, so that was my way of passing the time. Simply walking fast attained much of the results you see here. Well, walking fast and eating less crap (but not zero crap.) I’ll talk about food later.

Along with walking one of the things I was most excited about in Seattle was going hiking. I don’t have complete tracking but I did a fair bit of day hiking around Seattle and logged over 40 miles of hikes for the year.

When Summer arrived in Seattle, the weather turned gorgeous and I decided to take advantage of my short commute to work (just over 2 miles) and bike to work. Biking was nice, the ride to work was easy with a large downhill to give me lots of momentum to start, and only one uphill segment for an overpass near the office. The ride home was the bear because of the giant hill and it took a few weeks before I was capable of biking up it. With biking though I laid off the walking, so progress slowed.

Then in September I went to the gym to see how far I could run, I expected to get to a half mile and stop, but then I reached the distance and kept going. I hit 0.75 miles and kept going. Then I hit a mile and hit stop out of shock. As I said in the post ‘Learning to Run‘ – as far as I know, I never ran a full mile before, ever. That was a big milestone for me, but it also was such an accomplishment that I let my foot off the gas and despite attaining a new level, saw a backslide.

This led me to set the goal for November to do my “RuMiDaMo” where I ran a mile for everyday of the month. I felt it was fitting since November was already a month of challenges such as NaNoWriMo and Movember. That was an awesome challenge and really felt like a new level.

After that month of daily runs I discovered I had upped my ability to running a full two miles. But with that came a concern about pushing too hard, so I slacked off a bit and took to running roughly three times a week, but without it being everyday I missed more runs and again felt my progress slow.

And that’s where I am, in a year I went from walking 2-3 miles to being able to run 2 miles.

The Food

“One should eat to live, not live to eat.”

For this first year, I made strides to simply “eat better.” I cut way back on non-diet sodas, at least cutting those calories if not all the other crap. Largely I set my diet around the following two anchors:

Breakfast was a smoothie. Its contents varied a bit, but the core of it was a banana and strawberry smoothie. Eventually I came to the final concoction which I’m quite happy with. The final recipe is: Spinach, Strawberry, Banana, dry oatmeal, and whey protein with milk. The whey protein helps it hold me through the morning.

I also relied on a morning snack of almonds, I keep in the desk at work. Almonds are potentially high calorie so you have to manage the quantity you eat, but they are also very good for you.

For lunch I relied on a noodle bowl. This is one of those “the devil you know” sort of things. This lunch is “fine” in terms of healthiness, but it accomplished some very important things:

  1. Be quick to prepare
  2. Be cheap
  3. Be tasty
  4. Hold me through the afternoon

The noodle bowl was a store bought (from Trader Joe’s initially, though we’ve since found it at Fred Meyers) under the brand Annie Chun’s Teriyaki bowl. Basically an upscale ramen bowl. To that I add broccoli and chicken.

Dinner was the shared meal with my wife, so it was much more fluid. We ate whatever we wanted (within reason). Pizza, meat loaf, sometimes chili, or we would go out and eat sushi etc.

And through out all of that I still battled with my sweet tooth and my penchant for gorging. In many ways it is an addiction for me. Hand me a giant bucket of popcorn and a movie and I’ll do my best to plow through it. Giant bag of Starburst? Yep. Basket of snacks for a two hour meeting? I better sit as far from it as possible. Doughnuts? NOM.

I would say my success was largely accomplished despite my food habits. Sure I made strides to improve it, but I would say I still have a fair ways to go.

The Result

“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

So here we are, it’s time to show the cards. I present to you, a side by side of change.

weightloss

A few notes:

  1. Sorry for the watermark but it’s necessary as I learned. Websites, fitness sites, and spam sites, love gobbling up the side by side progress photos and not giving credit or presenting them as evidence for whatever they’re selling. I had a side by side I shared earlier this year posted to MSN without credit to me (or others in the list).
  2. The right photo is actually a few days ago, and a few pounds heavier but I don’t think you’d see a 2 lb. difference. It was also taken after a two mile run so pardon the horrible look on my face.

Now for the nitty-gritty. I weighed myself 86 times over this past year. Allowing me to share this chart of progress with you all.

 

chart

 

Some stats:

  • Total weight lost so far – 67.8 lbs
  • Average weight lost per day – 0.19lbs (1.33 lbs / week)
  • Best month – January 2012, lost 17 lbs
  • Worst month – October, due to a work trip that complete derailed my progress

You’ll see that there are numerous points on this chart which go up and not down. This was not a simple downward journey, many times I’d misstep and pay for it on the scale. The thing to understand is that fitness is a war that’s only over once you declare it over, until that day it’s just a series of battles. And you can lose an infinite number of battles so long as you keep trying you can still win the war. As you’ll see, despite the numerous jumps in weight, I won this year’s war. Just keep on working and fighting.

The Future

“Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.”

My goal for 2012 was to lose 75 lbs, I think my goal for 2013 is to lose a total of 40lbs, but I’ll actually lose more as I add muscle.

I’ve been tracking my body fat percentage for much of last year making use of a handheld device which measures it. It’s far from perfect and those results are far less interesting given that I haven’t tracked it for all of 2012. I’ll be tracking it continuously for 2013 and hope to really see marked change on it for next year.

One thing lacking from this past year was weight training. I did a little but nothing major and never set down to make it a core element of my workout. I will begin adding it to the workouts for 2013. I’m also going to begin doing road races, though only casually. I had hoped to do them in 2012 but obviously did not. My first road 5k is the St. Pat’s Dash here in Seattle. I’m also eyeing the Run For Your Lives race up here in August and possibly a Mud Run. I’m eager to resume hiking once the weather cooperates and hopefully do some overnight trips with some friends! Along with that I’d love to start doing other stuff like rock wall climbing and maybe adding a martial art to the list (there’s a Krav Maga studio near the house.)

Eating-wise I am eager to turn it up to the next level. I think the smoothie breakfast is good though I may refine it some more. My main focus is to experiment and research other lunch meals that are healthier. I’m setting a 30 day challenge for January where I drink nothing but water (or milk with morning smoothie.) Water can be by itself or as tea, but I’ll cut out all sodas completely for 30 days. Should be interesting.

The Thanks

This progress wouldn’t have been possible without my support team. At the heart of that team is my wife who has been supportive the whole way even going so far to be the pushy coach to make sure I hit my goals and didn’t miss workouts.

Along with her though are two very important people, my younger sister Charlotte and my brother Adam. With them as major motivators who also spent this year exercising and sharing our progress with each other they are the main driver behind my continued success and indeed for getting this ball rolling.

Also all of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers who cheered me on and joined me in this journey as I’ve posted about it.

Thanks to you all, I’m eager to update you all again down the road! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a run.

30 Days of Miles

A look at my experiment in November of running a mile every day examining the weight loss and some of the events that happened during the month.

I started November calling it RuMiDaMo as a play on NaNoWriMo but after a week or so I dropped the name and just shared tweets and Facebook posts about my daily runs. What I expected was a decline in response and interest by my friends, I thought people would start tuning the posts out as they began going “There goes Trick again, going for another run.” What I found though was that while a few would tune me out, others would follow along, celebrating each milestone and victory right there with me. In fact, a handful would be inspired to launch their own month challenges, much like how I was originally inspired by Google’s Matt Cutts.

So, for everyday of November, I ran a mile. I did this using treadmills available to me, I never ran a mile on pavement outside. And I did this for a few reasons:

  1. I had to limit my excuses. If I was going to run outside, then I needed the weather to cooperate and Seattle is not exactly known for ideal running weather.
  2. I had to limit my risk of injury. Treadmills are less exercise than running on pavement because the ground is always perfectly flat. Your foot is never surprised by a rock or a shift in the pavement. And for this month, that was ideal because I was scared of not finishing my 30 days.
  3. I had never run like this before, so I needed to minimize variables. This wasn’t a lab test, but I wanted to do the same thing for 30 days, not find new running routes or test my limits beyond the scope I laid out.

So, for thirty days, I faithfully made my way to a gym either at home, at the office, or in a hotel, and I knocked out a mile run with a warm-up and cool-down period. As much as I maintained the status quo for 30 days, there were a few deviations or changes worth noting:

Longest distance run: 1.5 miles (see below)

The second day of the month I got overambitious and decided to run a mile and a half, which I was able to do. But I paid for it as I slowed down my pace for the next three days to ensure I didn’t overdo it and have to stop early on my challenge. But I know I could do 1.5 miles then, so I had to wonder after 30 days how far I could run. This was really a big thing because it became a constant struggle for the next four weeks to hold myself to my mission of a mile a day. Discovering a new personal best wasn’t worth, at the time, putting the 30 day streak at risk.

Best mile: 10:10 (5.9 mph)

For my final daily run I pushed myself and cranked out a respectable 10:10 mile which ended with me doing 7 mph for the final 1/8th of a mile, compared to my slow and steady 5.5 mph which I use for most of my runs, 7 mph felt blistering and left me gasping for air as I crossed the finish.

Most snafus: 3

In one run I had the following happen: shoelace came untied, accidental stop button trigger, and phone dropped onto treadmill. I had to stop the run three times to rectify these, but I faithfully made sure I hit my mile without issue, padding the distance a little to allow for the time it took the treadmill to come back up to speed.

Starting Weight: 295.4 lbs

Prior to my first run, I weighed in at 295.4 lbs. I wasn’t going into this with the intent goal of burning calories, but I was curious to see what effect it had on weight loss.

Finishing Weight: 284.4 lbs

Despite a work trip which caused me to regain some lost weight, and this month having the holiday of gluttony, my first weigh in after my 30th run put my weight loss at 11 lbs for the month. Not too shabby!

 

So what’s next? People wanted to know if I was going to continue running everyday, or if I was going to run further, etc. And the answer is that I happily took December 1st off of exercising. My plan is to continue to run, though I’ll be running further and thus taking days off to rest and not overwork my muscles. I’ll also be adding in weights again, probably in the form of some kettlebell exercises. But, who knows, we’ll see! I still have a fair bit more weight to lose until I’m happy, so the trek continues.

Now it just has more running in it.

Update: After a weekend of rest, I went for a run yesterday and churned out two miles. The longest I’ve ever done and, honestly, longer than I ever thought I would do. Don’t get me wrong, it was a really difficult run, and I won’t be pushing past that distance for a bit.

Learning to Run

I’ve never been a runner, even when I was a high school athlete. Now I’m learning to be a runner, and pushing through the pain and mental roadblocks.

I have never been a runner. Literally. Even back in high school when I played Football and rowed on the Crew, I ran as little as possible. In fact I didn’t do wrestling because their workouts required long distance runs.

As far as I know, I never ran a complete mile — until a few weeks ago. On August 14th I churned out a 12 minute mile on the treadmill.

What happened? Did I carbo load? Did I load up on caffeine? No. Nothing special. Just mental. That evening I went to the gym and decided to run. I had run a quarter mile a few weeks before and that night I decided to see how far I could go, expecting a half a mile or maybe three-quarters. So when I churned out a full mile, I was shocked. I had run a mile! And when I told my brother, he said something amazing and uplifting to me:

“You know who runs miles? Athletes. Like you.”

Now I’m certainly not an Olympian. And perhaps even the term “athlete” is still a stretch, but I like the idea of being one and its amazingly motivating as I’m running towards it.

I had tried to do the Couch to 5k Program before when I lived in Orlando, but I fell off a wagon and never started it back up. The Couch to 5k program focuses on training you to run increasingly longer times, starting with running 60 seconds and walking 90 seconds repeating both for 20 minutes. What they’re doing is that they’re training you to endure pain and push further, it trains you to run longer distances and be acclimated to the feelings of pain.

That’s where I had a disconnect with running. Pain. I did not really grasp that running meant working through pain, I sort of believed that if I were a runner – then running wouldn’t hurt.

I don’t know where I turned the corner, or what caused it. But I realized that running is always going to be painful. I mean sure, the better I get, the further and faster I can go before it hurts. Running is about the challenge of it.

Even though it was only a surprising mile run, it hearkens back to the story about Dean Karnazes discovering he could run for hours.

DEAN KARNAZES WAS SLOBBERING DRUNK. IT WAS HIS 30TH BIRTHDAY, and he’d started with beer and moved on to tequila shots at a bar near his home in San Francisco. Now, after midnight, an attractive young woman – not his wife – was hitting on him. This was not the life he’d imagined for himself. He was a corporate hack desperately running the rat race. The company had just bought him a new Lexus. He wanted to vomit. Karnazes resisted the urge and, instead, slipped out the bar’s back door and walked the few blocks to his house. On the back porch, he found an old pair of sneakers. He stripped down to his T-shirt and underwear, laced up the shoes, and started running. It seemed like a good idea at the time. – Wired

I’m still not a long distance runner, and I have no idea how far I’ll end up running, but I’m working on it. I’ve discovered that as long as I’m not exhausted, then I can sit down and run a mile. I might be in pain, I’ll probably have a stitch in my side, but I’m getting there.

It’s fascinating to me as I learn to run, because it feels so odd to do something that is, in many ways – completely new.

You have to walk before you can run. Well, I’ve been walking for 28 years, it’s bloody well time I learned to run.