The Flinch + Bike Riding

Last night I finished The Flinch, by Julien Smith.  It’s another installment from Seth Godin’s Domino Project.  I read and liked Poke the Box, so I figured I’d give The Flinch a try.  The fact that it cost $0 made it an easy decision.

Like Poke the Box, The Flinch is more of a manifesto than a book.  It’s short and worth a read.

The Flinch resonated with me.  Smith’s point is that flinching is an instinctive reaction that we need to face if we want to achieve everything we’re capable of.  I’ve seen it for myself, lived it, am still living it.  It never goes away.  I haven’t figured out how to deal with it yet.

Smith’s book is mostly motivation.  I can see myself going back to it frequently.

For me the flinch manifests itself as an impulse that pushes me towards things I know aren’t right.  Call it a weakness.  It arrives mostly in my eating habits.  I’ve chronicled them enough here that I’m sure everyone (including me) is sick of hearing about it.  Smith’s solution for facing the flinch is a lot like what I described here.  Stress can be a good thing.  The key is how you think about it.

If you like to read and have an eBook reader, I recommend picking it up.

Anyway, did 54 miles on the bike today.  It was a fun ride.  Started out with wet roads but the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.  Mid to upper 40s, just perfect.  I love riding on days like that.

Moderate intensity and I felt good the whole time.


Wednesday downhill fartlek, Murakami

No running Monday and Tuesday this week.  I traveled across the country to Los Angeles on Monday, returning on the red eye Monday night into Tuesday.  Was super tired Tuesday.  Good trip I think, hopefully a productive one too.  We’ll see.

I finished the book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami while I was on the way home from LA.  I didn’t know about Murakami before I got the book as a gift.  I’ve never read anything by Murakami, but in exploring his writing I came across a book I’m looking forward to reading — 1Q84.

As for What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, it was ok but nothing special.  It’s basically a memoir of Murakami’s experience training and racing marathons and triathlons.  As a runner and NaNoWriMo enthusiast, I thought it would be interesting.  The most interesting aspects were Murakami’s perspective on running and writing and how they interact and support each other.  There weren’t enough of those.

But even though I wasn’t really impressed by Murakami’s memoir, I definitely still want to read 1Q84.  It sounds really good.

As for my Wednesday workout, I tried something new.  Not exactly sure what it was, but I’ll call it a downhill fartlek.

11 miles with the downhills as hard effort.  I need to build strength at downhill running to balance the uphill running and just get faster overall.  I focused on my form and counted my cadence during these.  My cadence was about 90-95 foot strikes per minute.  Most of the hard efforts were just over 1 minute in length.  I did about a dozen of them, with easy running and rest in between.

I felt good about the run.  We’ll see how I feel in the upcoming days.

How to fix the bad habit that’s blocking your breakthrough

What one behavior or bad habit is keeping you from a breakthrough running performance?  Perhaps it’s your consistency in training or getting up earlier to stretch.  Whatever it is, everyone has a nagging, hard-to-resolve issue that affects their performance.  For me, it’s my eating habits.

At the end of April, I told my wife Annie how I planned to lose 7-10 pounds in May.  Dropping 7-10 pounds would get me to a better racing weight for a marathon I planned to run in early June.

My weight loss plan had one objective – eliminate binge eating.  About twice a week, I go on eating binges.  I typically binge on sweet stuff (chocolate chips, sugar cereals, cookies), but the worst episodes expand to include salty snacks (peanuts, tortilla chips).

Doing the math convinced me that I could reach my goal within a month.  I consume about 4,000 calories during an average eating binge.  Assuming two binges a week, that’s about 8,000 calories per week consumed during binges.  Eliminating these binges (and adding some good calories) would allow me to drop about 2 pounds per week.

So what was my experience during May?  Did I lose the weight?  No.  I didn’t lose a single pound.  I may have gained weight due to an increase in binge eating.  I never weighed myself on a scale, so it’s difficult to tell for sure.

My poor eating habits had a ripple effect beyond just my weight.  They also affected:

  • My sleep.  These binges often involve staying up beyond my bedtime, and when I finally go to bed I cannot sleep normally due to all the food I just ate.
  • My workouts.  Poor nutrition and sleep results in poor workouts.
  • My productivity.  I accomplished less than I expected in May because the hours I spent binge eating were also spent watching TV.  These hours could have been spent more productively, either working or sleeping.
  • My energy levels.  My energy levels dip by the end of the day.  While other factors (e.g., sleep) influence my energy level, my eating habits surely contribute to it.
  • My emotional state.  I am disappointed and disheartened by my eating habits.  These emotions affect other aspects of my life, including my confidence, my day-to-day relationships and my overall outlook.

Unless I do something about my eating habits, I don’t see an end to these problems.

Enter the book Change Anything:  the New Science of Personal SuccessChange Anything:  the New Science of Personal Success boldly claims that it can help you change even the most difficult behaviors in your personal or professional life.  The Change Anything approach is based on behavioral and social science and rigorous analysis of “changers” – people who have successfully implemented behavioral changes.  Change Anything extends the framework and concepts of a prior book (called Influencer:  The Power to Change Anything) from these same authors.

Does the Change Anything approach work?  I intend to find out by implementing the recommendations in Change Anything on my biggest behavioral challenge – controlling my eating habits.

In this post, I’ll share insights I gained from developing my “change plan.”  Hopefully my experience will help you get a feel for how the Change Anything approach works, so you can decide if you want to try it on the problem that’s blocking your breakthrough.

Overview and Insights Gained

My first insight is that a clear and compelling goal is critically important.  Starting my change plan, I immediately realized that I had to re-state my goal.  The goal of losing weight does not adequately capture what I want to accomplish.  Instead, I want to change my eating habits to improve my athletic performance and have more energy throughout the day.  Losing weight is one by-product of achieving that broader goal, but so is changing my body composition, recovering better and faster from workouts, and eliminating the late day energy dip that I experience.

The four “scientific strategies” that comprise the Change Anything approach resonated with me – it felt like the authors were watching me struggle with my eating habits.  The scientific strategies put structure around the complicated problem of my eating habits, helping me identify where I needed to focus.

Once my goal was clear, I found that implementing the first two scientific strategies was straightforward.  The first two scientific strategies are:

1.  Identify “crucial moments,” or the moments we are most at risk.
2.  Create “vital behaviors,” or the actions we will take to achieve our desired results.

I easily identified my crucial moments and created my vital behaviors.  I manage my eating habits properly 90% of the time.  I only binge eat at certain times under certain circumstances, and I can spot those times as they come on.  Furthermore, I know the actions I should take to prevent eating binges.  I just can’t take those actions consistently.

Taking the right actions to achieve your desired results is the focus of the third scientific strategy:

3.  Engage all six sources of influence

I was encouraged to read that willpower is not the only factor that determines whether I can successfully change my eating habits.  The book defines six sources of influence that affect our behavior and suggests that we are not always aware of this influence.  A major premise of the book is that changing behavior is possible if we can get the six sources of influence working in our favor.  The six sources of influence are:

  • Personal Motivation
  • Personal Ability
  • Social Motivation
  • Social Ability
  • Structural Motivation
  • Structural Ability

I struggled to determine how to get the six sources of influence working for me.  Initially I tried to narrow the six sources to a smaller number that might have the highest impact, but then I realized that would defeat the purpose.  The intent is to get all six working.  Therefore, my change plan calls for action in each of the six sources of influence.  Recognizing that I cannot attempt everything, I focused on the highest impact action(s) I could take within each of the six sources of influence.

The fourth and final scientific strategy made me feel better about my past failures.  The fourth scientific strategy is:

4.   Turn bad days into good data

Change Anything acknowledges that the change process is difficult and that bad days will happen.  I have clearly experienced this difficulty.  Rather than letting these bad days torpedo my change efforts, Change Anything suggests that I learn from these bad days, using them to adjust and improve my change plan.  I can incrementally improve through trial and error, keeping what works and tossing out what doesn’t work.

Moving Forward

I’m off to a good (re-)start at taming my eating habits.  Change Anything comes with complementary access to a web site for managing change plans, and I’ve got my change plan in place.  I’ll periodically report back to let you know how my changes are progressing.  I may not lose those 7-10 pounds in one month, but I hope to steadily improve my eating habits and eventually reach my goal.

What about you?  What habit is blocking your breakthrough?  Have you tried to change it?  Are you willing to try Change Anything?  Could you suggest a better approach?

Do we know how much we eat? Or why we eat that much?

Eating habits have a dramatic effect on your running experience.  Excess weight reduces running performance and increases injury risk.  But eating habits are about more than just excess weight – shifting to a more nutritious diet can also improve your overall running experience by giving your body what it needs to recover and perform well.

Our awareness of our own eating habits is a central theme of the book Mindless Eating:  Why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink.  Brian Wansink is a Ph. D., university professor, and researcher who studies consumer behavior and nutritional science.

I have long struggled with maintaining consistently good eating habits.  Therefore, I excitedly picked up Mindless Eating; I hoped to gain insight into my eating habits and how I could improve them.

Comments on Mindless Eating:  Why we eat more than we think

In Mindless Eating:  Why we eat more than we think, Brian Wansink delivers a unique and compelling perspective on why we eat so much and, therefore, how we can eat less.

Chapter 1 of Mindless Eating outlines the author’s basic argument:

1)  The environment around us heavily influences both what and how much we eat.  This typically happens without our explicit awareness (thus “Mindless” in the title).

2)  If the environment exerts a heavy influence, we can improve our food choices (eat better and/or eat less) by changing our environment to work in our favor.

3)  Changing our environment to work in our favor gives us a greater chance of losing weight and eating better.  This is because small, “mindless” changes in our eating habits are more likely to “stick.”

Wansink devotes most of the book (chapters 2-9) to supporting his argument using normal, every-day life situations.  Topics include what influences portion size, how packaging affects our food choices, and how past experience affects our eating habits.  He uses numerous research studies to prove his points.  Each chapter provides suggestions for changing our environment to help us eat better.  The final chapter summarizes Wansink’s suggestions for improving our eating habits.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human behavior, not just anyone who wants to lose weight or change their eating habits.  Here are some other positive aspects of the book:

  • I could identify with the scenarios that Wansink describes – his research includes familiar situations (e.g., family dinners, restaurants).
  • It was a refreshing, easy read – Wansink mixes theory, research, stories, humor, and recommendations well.
  • I felt good when I finished – Wansink refrains from being critical of people.
  • Wansink also highlights ways that we can use “mindless eating” ideas to our advantage.  For example, we can get our children to eat more fruits and vegetables by serving those items on larger plates.
  • Wansink acknowledges realities such as (a) we can’t completely change our diets overnight, (b) sometimes we like to eat things that are not healthy, and (c) many diet plans are not easy to continue following.

Overall, Wansink more than proves his argument; he provides insight into human behavior and an interesting, fun read.

Putting Mindless Eating into action

As I read the book, I started to become aware of eating habits that had previously been “mindless” for me.  Specific examples include:

  • The Handful.  I spend a lot of time in the pantry taking handfuls of cereal, granola, nuts, and pretzels.  Big containers in convenient places are a challenge for me.
  • See food, eat food.  I once tried to put a candy jar on my desk at work.  It was a clear (see-through) glass jar.  Bad idea.  In about a week, I had eaten so much candy that I had to ditch the candy jar.  It’s the same at home – if food is visible, I am more likely to eat it.
  • My eating scripts.  I started to identify specific scenarios in which I would mindlessly over-eat.  One example is the “get-home-from-work” script, where I would immediately head to the pantry for snacks even though I would be eating dinner in ten minutes.  Another example is that I over-eat snacks when I’ve had a really bad day or when I’ve had a really good day.

While Mindless Eating helped me gain awareness of my eating habits, I had difficulty applying the Mindless Eating techniques.  For example, standing in the pantry after getting home from work, I found myself thinking “I’m in the middle of my get-home-from-work script.”  Yet I couldn’t actually stop myself from executing my script and over-eating.  So while the book helped me gain great awareness of my eating habits and provided techniques for improving them, something was still missing.

Motivation was the missing ingredient, as I discovered upon reflection.  I needed sufficient motivation to actually apply the techniques I learned in the book.  Without motivation, I found myself unable to make the changes necessary to achieve my goals.

My journey to more mindful eating has just begun.  I’m happy with my newfound awareness and eager to continue applying these techniques.  If I gain any additional insights, I will be sure to report them back.

What about you?  Are you aware of your eating habits?  Have you read the book?  What did you think?  Reply by posting comments.