Looking for the mouse

Believe it or not, this video has given me a far greater understanding of and sympathy to fanfic.

Thing is, it’s not about fanfic at all, but about an amazing cognitive shift. Please do watch it. It’s fantastic.

"Done" is Good

I’m rather unsatisfied with my swim today.

The best thing I can say is that I showed up and swam for 40 minutes. Yes, that counts. I did my workout. I just prefer them to be more inspiring and uplifting than today’s was.

Notice I didn’t say “I swam a mile”. I’ll be damned if I know how far I did swim.

I brought a lot of it on myself. You see, I did not get my lazy, procrastinating, slacker ass out of the house until an hour after I usually hit the pool. The pool has become increasingly more crowded in recent weeks. I suppose as swimsuit season is approaching, people are wanting to get in swimmin’ shape. Their prerogative and they paid to be there. I can’t really complain about it[1].

So, I walked to the gym – in the rain, I might add. Then here we are with a crowded pool. I waited until there was a lane with only one person in it so that I would not have to circle swim. I find that difficult and distracting in a workout, so I try to avoid it[2]. Well, that little gambit didn’t work. I did have to circle swim for awhile anyway. I lost count of my laps, though I knew what time I got in the pool, so I decided to go comfortably hard for 40 minutes and call it good. I had a lot on my mind I needed to chew on, anyway, so the time was good for that.

Then I get out of the pool, shower off and leave the gym to see that it’s raining much harder. So I walk home in the rain, dammit.

I’m cranky about not feeling great and accomplished after the workout mostly because feeling good is my major motivator. Can I feel good about the fact I sucked it up and did something anyway? Of course.

But I like the feelings of euphoria a lot better. It’s just a fact of working out that I’m not going to get that feeling every time.

[1] Although I admit to contemplating writing an article about how terrible swimming is and how rotten it is for you. You know, in the hopes it would drive people out of the pool.

[2] As long as the alternative is not missing a swim, mind!


This is gonna talk about body, weight and weight loss issues. Stop reading now if that stuff offends you.

I’m thinking about this because I’m feeling unmotivated to go to the gym. One day, more or less, really doesn’t make a big difference in health or fitness or weight loss. I’m going to do it anyway because I’m interested in keeping my habits strong. It may be a real slacker workout. Who knows. But it’ll be a workout, by damn.

I’m in a funny place body-wise right now. While I am, indeed, trying to take off some excess adipose tissue, I don’t look in the mirror and hate what I see. I look fine. I’m using the clinical term because it’s not too terribly emotionally charged.

I don’t look at my eating habits with any disgust. I’ve switched to doing No S and ya know, it’s a nice, sustainable and sane way to eat. It contains excess, is non-invasive, and I can have treats on weekends if I want them. I’ve been losing about a pound a week, which is about as fast as I care to do so. (Much faster and you’re risking losing muscle. I run my thumb over the calluses on my palms and shudder that the work might be wasted. No thanks).

So where is the funny coming from?

Well, I’m writing a book about getting fit without getting too caught up in the weight loss aspects. I almost feel like I shouldn’t lose weight because of the book. On the one hand, I’m saying, “Look, you can get fit without being focused on getting skinny/thin/whatever.” and on the other? Well, while I’m changing my eating patterns about as moderately as is humanly possible, that change is causing a loss of adipose tissue, and that’s kind of why I chose to do it.

Am I thinking about getting thin when I’m working out? Not at all. If I’m in the weight room, I’m thinking about form. I’m doing the arithmetic twice to make sure I’m lifting the correct amount of weight for my workout. If I’m walking, I’m probably listening to music and thinking about what I’m going to be writing next. In the pool, I’m probably also mentally composing something I’ll be writing — a Misanthrope article, making notes about how the workout is making me feel to talk about motivation to get fit, working out a scene in Stoneflower.

Does, “This will help you lose weight” get me into the gym? No. Not even a little. I have a fair idea of the calories burned by my workouts and they’re not high enough to be a great immediate motivator. (Exercise is important, but it’s not the big calorie burner people think it is). I’m actually feeling unmotivated today. I’m visualizing how much I liked the feeling of accomplishment after a great set of bench presses. I’m running my thumb over the calluses in my hands with a certain measure of pride. I’m thinking about how cool it feels to have Dream Theater’s “Learning to Live” playing on my iPod while I’m doing squats, and the anticipatory rush I feel as I hear the keyboard intro, flip my ponytail over the bar and load the iron on my shoulders. (I have a “weights” playlist and for some reason my iPod will trip to “Learning to Live” when I start my squat set about 80% of the time).

If I feel unmotivated to swim, I visualize the moments where it felt good. I imagine being an Orca, moving sleekly through the water. I think about how I love the blue of the water and the way the light plays off the ripples when I’m doing breaststroke. I think about how the water feels moving past my body. I visualize the stroke technique and the way the stretch and reach feels good when I get the crawl correct. I think about the sense of accomplishment I feel when I haul my exhausted butt out of the water after completing a mile. I think about sensation of my hair coming down with a hot slap on my back when I pull off my cap — and the feeling of pride at how hard I had to work out for my hair to be hot in the cool water.

That is what motivates me on a daily basis, even if I have other long-term effects. The scale? It’s a number. Body shape? I only spend about a few minutes a day in front of a mirror. Doing? Ahhhh, that does feel good.

Getting my Courage Back

I tore my left ACL (knee ligament) in the early summer of 2004 attempting a flying side kick.  Yes, yes, that wasn’t the wisest of things for an overfat woman in her mid thirties to try.   I know, I know.

I didn’t even realize the ligament was ruptured until the lack of stability was causing me problems a couple of years later.   I got an MRI and was cautioned that surgery would indeed help and probably solve my stability issues, but that it wouldn’t solve any issues of pain I might have — in fact, I might have more trouble in that area.

Pain, I’m used to.  The lack of stability was not something I’m okay with.  So I got the surgery and wound up having the medial meniscus repaired at the same time.  (We didn’t know it’d been torn until they opened my knee up).  Lack of mobility freaks me out, and recovery from the surgery has to rank up there with the scariest experiences in my life after a couple of incidents where my children were severely ill or injured.

It’s been a year on since I’ve had the repair done.

I still never do anything much that requires jumping or torque on my knee, even though that ligament is probably stronger than the one I was born with.   Because I’d had to spend so much time being cautious on stairs and uneven ground, it’s become an ingrained habit.  In the winter, I walk on ice as if I were in my eighties rather than half that.

I’m starting to plod rather than leap.  I’m not light on my feet.   This isn’t a weight issue.  I’ve been quite light on my feet at considerably heavier than I am now  –probably not as strong, either!   Hell, I’m not even doing dance moves that I used to.

I’ve been playing a little with plyometrics and doing (careful!) jumping exercises on my stairs.   Thing is, it’s a hit or miss, catch as catch can type of thing.  I think it would be useful to develop a definite program with gentle progression and make it a habit.

If I get used to certain moves, maybe I’ll be getting my physical courage and faith in my body back.

Swim today.  You know how not all workouts feel glorious?

This one did feel wonderful.  I had my groove on.  Other than counting laps, I didn’t think about anything while I was swimming.  Usually I work out stuff I’m going to write, or try to chew on a problem to see if I can solve it.  Today, because I’m teaching a class in Word, I had to get my swim in quite early in the morning.  I don’t think my brain had turned on yet, even if the sun was up.

I shared a lane with a guy who likes to do pullups on the starting blocks at the end of every few laps.  I notice that’s a popular thing for some swimmers to do.  Tempted to try it to see if I can.  With the support of starting half in the water, it might be possible.  And fun, if I manage it.  I doubt I’ll make that much of a part of my swimming routine, though, other than variety.

I had a good class yesterday.  The students were interested and involved.  God, I love it when that happens.  I suspect part of it was that I really like that particular class  (Advanced Excel).   It’s moderately geeky, and there’s more room to play and explore than with the other classes.

What was really nice was that I think I’ve convinced one of my students to experiment more.  Every time he’d ask, “What’ll happen if I do <foo>?”  I’d reply, “Try it.”

Sometimes it was because I didn’t know, honestly.  But sometimes it was because I really like to get my students into the habit of exploring.

Today I’m teaching Intermediate Word.  For me, it’s not as exciting a class.  I mean, I like it well enough, and it’s a nice change from endlessly teaching Excel (which is the bulk of what I do for teaching).  But it’s kind of routine unless I get a group for whom the material is somehow exciting.   Then it’s a lot of fun, but that’s true of any class.

‘Course, any teacher will now tell me that figuring out a way to generate excitement and enthusiasm up front is the way to go with this.  And they’d be right!  There are some games I sometimes come up with that even the adults like.  I’ve used one where every time I misuse a term and a student spots it, they get a point.  Believe it or not, this gets them paying attention.  You’d think it wouldn’t but it does.  I came up with it one day when I taught after being up all night in the hospital with a child.  It was for me to stay focused, but it generated some interest for the class, and the mutual focus wound up making it an excellent class.

What's Fit?

A person capable of swimming a mile has achieved an above average level of fitness.

Percy Norman Swim Club


I have to say I have to frown a little at this one. Not that I’m not still excited that I finally can swim a mile. I freely admit I get a big ole kick out of it. I worked a long time to do it, and that it’s my usual swimming workout is kinda cool to me. It was a big <ahem> milestone.

It doesn’t stop me from hurting when I’m on my feet all day. Hell, it doesn’t stop me from hurting when I’m in the water on my bad days. My joints are so bad right now my hands hurt while I was swimming, never mind how my hips, knees and ankles feel walking home from the gym. This means I’m not exactly gonna be able to hike a few miles even if I need to.

I see fitness as being able to cope with random emergencies and get through one’s day comfortably. When I have flares like this, it does interfere with my day, by damn! Forget running away from danger.

Does this mean I can’t get “fit”? To a degree, that’s about right. I really can’t.

But I do what I can. “Can” is swimming a mile (and used to be swimming 400 yards), or walking two or three (and used to be a couple of blocks). “Can” is lifting heavy weights a few times a week. I can prevent muscle atrophy. I can get my heart pumping harder for a half hour or so to keep my cardiovascular system healthy. I can lift heavy stuff to maintain my bone density. I’m certainly far fitter than I would be if I did not attempt to move on a regular basis.

Do I find it discouraging that I’m never going to get to the point where I can run an easy 5K or be able to go all day like a lumberjack?  Kinda.   I just try to ignore that, though, and keep on with what I’m doing because I know that working out is what I need to do.

1My maternal grandmother

Minimum Compliance

When you’re trying to make a habit of something, it’s often a good idea to have some simple way of targeting what’s a good minimum for you having fulfilled the requirements of the activity.

I was thinking about it this week because I’d been on vacation visiting my parents. My parents do have a pretty nice home gym, with a really nice stationary bike, a pretty complete weight set and a couple of other bits of equipment (including a television for relieving cardio boredom).

I only used it twice in the three full days I was there and was trying to decide how much “counted” for exercise. We did spend all day one day touring historic sites and did a whole bunch of walking — the day I didn’t wind up using the gym.

Because of 12 hours of sitting on a train, I came home to more joint pain than I’ve experienced in some years1.  I actually blew off my Saturday weight session yesterday.  I chose to go ahead, take some painkillers and do my normal Sunday walk today and found that getting the blood flowing was helpful and made me feel better.

Which is where “minimum compliance” comes in.  Many people really do, no kidding, have mobility issues, pain issues and what have you.  Now for me, I don’t like to do without my workouts because if I do, I just plain don’t feel very good.  But, do I ever hurt too much to do a planned activity?  Hell yes!

I’ve decided that for me, my own minimum compliance will be quite small — 14 minutes of activity that’s strenuous enough to get me sweaty.  I picked that because if all I have in me is 14 minutes, I’ll likely be doing a Shovelglove workout.   I’m not really strong enough to go much longer, and that’s the “official” workout anyway).  But if that’s all I have in me, that’s okay.  It’s enough.

Now my usual workout is more like 30-50 minutes, depending on what I’m doing.  But I think that for me, having some small minimum that’ll “count” as having worked out will be helpful in the workout habit building.

I’m not beating myself up for blowing off yesterday, mind.  But habit is powerful, and I think it’s important.  I notice I’m very bad at maintaining habits when traveling and I’m looking for good, workable intelligent solutions for that.

However, I’ve improved.  Instead of allowing the change in schedule to throw me much, I was able to jump back into my proper routine fairly quickly.  There have been times when being thrown off schedule for a week meant another week to get back into my groove.  Reducing that to one day is a definite improvement.

1Memo to me: If you ever take that long of a train ride again, remember that walking the length of the train every hour will help prevent that!

The No S Diet

The No-S Diet I’m in favor of simple, workable solutions. The No S Diet is exactly that. The basics are simple. You could read the cover of the book and get the whole idea of the diet.

No Sweets.

No Snacks.

No Seconds.

Except (sometimes) on days beginning with S.

That’s it.

Reinhard Engels, librarian-trained computer programmer, came up with the diet as a way to control his own weight issues.  Over a period of time, combined with some other systems he came up with for exercise he lost about forty pounds.

Did he stop doing the diet afterwards?

No! No! No!

And that’s exactly the point.  The No S diet is a long-term solution rather than rather than a short term patch.  You won’t lose ten pounds in two weeks on this.  On the Everyday Systems bulletin board, the successful No Sers are more likely to talk about losing 20lbs in a year than something more dramatic.  There’s even been a “throw away the scale” thread among people who get more focused on scales than good habits.

Not that the more dramatic losses don’t happen, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.  (I also note they tend to be male.  Men lose fat easier, damn them. I used to cuss about it internally when I was a Diet Center counselor).

So?  Friends, I’ve gained that much in a year many, many times.  Yes, I’m awful when it comes to yo-yoing and it’s one of the reasons I like No S.

This ties in to the Kaizen post I made a few days ago.  The constant simple refinement often gets the best and most lasting results.  It’s a non-invasive, sustainable habit — certainly more so than my gym fixation.  You would not believe what I go through to make sure I have the money to keep that up! (I just like lifting heavy stuff and swimming, what can I say?)  No-one has to make special meals for you, and it includes the idea that yes, you’re going to have a treat sometimes.  It just contains the excess.

I’ve actually put the concepts to the test — three single plates of food three times a day.  I don’t stint.  I eat enough to carry me through to the next meal.   And you know what?  When I do a caloric analysis using FitDay, I’m eating about what I need to to lose weight at a gradual pace.   Not only that, you’d be amazed how good food tastes when you’re genuinely hungry.

When you get the book, do pay special attention to his section on snacking.   It’s a real interesting eye-opener.

I will note that Mr. Engels did include exercise in his routine.  He Urban Rangers a whole bunch, and does Shovelglove every N day (Normal day.  Weekdays and non-holidays).  It is the combination of portion control and exercise that worked for him.  I think only one or only the other would not have had nearly the effective results.

The Power of Habit

I’ve been hitting the gym consistently for about six weeks now.

I’m getting to the point where I don’t even really give it a lot of thought, I just go.

Yesterday, I did my workout and all. Last evening a friend came over and she’d had a stressful day. She wanted to go for a walk instead of having a martini and growling about the troubles, so we did.

I was a little sore the next day, and my joints were a bit creaky. (Walking a lot does that to me. There’s a reason I’m a dedicated swimmer). But, I didn’t even consider blowing off my swim with the excuse I’d already gotten in some extra cardio. I had kind of an excuse — a photo shoot during my normal swim time. Yet, when I got home from the shoot, I packed up my gym bag and just headed to the pool without giving it a second thought.

That’s the power of habit. I didn’t spend time making a decision about whether or not to work out. I just did it because that’s what I do every day. Utterly without thought. Went to the gym and because it’s Wednesday, I swam my mile.

I only got to thinking about it while I was enjoying the fact that getting the blood pumping with no stress on my joints was making my joints feel better. It amused me1.  It also got me to thinking about habit in general and how it works for you or not.

I think the cool thing is that you can make it work for you. We talk “Bad Habits” all the time because they seem like chains that bind us.  The thing is, we don’t honor the good habits we have as the wonderful safety harness that they are.  I think that’s a mistake.  I also think it’s a mistake to look at habit changes in terms of the negative.  You know “breaking” a bad habit?   Because when you’re trying to change a habit, you’re also trying to build a good habit.

I find for myself I’m a lot more successful at going to than running from.  The exercise habit is a good example, but there are others.  I’ve developed mental habits over the years that are not as big and obvious, but my goodness they’ve been wonderfully productive.  In each case, they’ve been a case of “going to” rather than giving a lot of energy to the old, negative habit.  Instead, in the instances where I’ve been successful, I’ve had a replacement positive I was trying to build.  Focusing on that works a lot better for me.

Specific and measurable also works a lot better for me as well.

So, instead of “quit being disorganized”, you’d look at it as, “I spend five minutes every evening putting everything that’s collected on the counter by the entrance to the house in its proper place.”  At first you’ll concentrate on it.  At first you’ll get excited about racking up your string of successes.  And this is good.

But at some point, it’s just what you do and you kind of forget about it.

1 For the record, I don’t recommend laughing when you’re trying to take a breath doing the crawl. Just a little tip.

Interesting New Stuff for Balance

Calf raises 85 3 11
Stiff-legged deadlifts 85 3 11
Squats 85 3 11
Bench Press 65 3 11
Lat Pulldown 80 3 11
Seated Row 70 3 12
Inverted Situps body 3 10

Today was challenging without feeling scary or icky. That’s good. But it was challenging!

I saw a pic of a woman I used to work with who got into weights in a big way. She was unfit, then got real fit. In the pic she looks like she’s squatting about 215 lbs. That’s about twice her body weight. At a guess. Might not be quite that, as obviously she is really strong, and muscle is dense. She’s just not bulked out, ya know?

Does the fact she can squat so much more than I do make me feel like a wimp? Eh… Sorta, but not exactly. I have a pretty clear idea of what she went through to get where she is. It’s more like, “That’ll be me in a couple of years!”

There was a woman using the lifting platform to work out with the Bosu ball and a medicine ball today at the gym.  They’re good for balance work.   In sober truth, I really oughta add some of that sort of work to my fitness routine, but I’m concentrating on lifting at the moment.  You can stand on the blue portion while doing all sorts of exercises or turn it over and use it as a balance board.  My PT was encouraging me to get one after my surgery.  I remember thinking (before I started the workout) that I’ve studied ballet and martial arts and such for decades.   I didn’t need that.

Heh. Yeah, I kinda did.  My balance ain’t all that.

I’ll be more likely to use the one at the gym if I start doing it.  These things cost close to a hundred bucks and if I’m gonna spend a c-note on exercise equipment, it’s gonna be a bench.

I’ve seen people do squats on these things.   I do not yet have the guts.