Me and Thomas Edison

I just finished reading The Edison Gene:  ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child, by Thom Hartmann.


Oh man was it eye-opening.

As Hartmann ticked off the behaviors of a “hunter” child, I felt like he was describing me.  It really resonated.  Always sensing the environment, given to periods of hyper-focus and intensity, individualistic, motivated by fear/fight-or-flight, prone to addictive behaviors, not very competitive, not willing to follow the script…that was me.

My interpretation of Hartmann’s basic premise — most of the behaviors that get labeled as ADHD are consistent with a genetic profile (the hunter) that was extremely valuable thousands of years ago.  He argues that ADHD is not necessarily a disorder of the individual who has it, but rather a disconnect between the individual’s strengths and the environment in which they are in.  Furthermore, the people with this sort of “hunter profile” (like Thomas Edison) are often the best innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs.

Then I started thinking about my past experience through this new lens — and a lot of previously confusing things started to make sense.  Why in the world was I never able to succeed working at two big, bureaucratic companies?  Why did I migrate away from road racing into trail/mountain?  Why was I so motivated for my first Pikes Peak when I wasn’t for my second?  Why am I able to run for hours without needing to listen to music as a form of “distraction?”  Why do I treat my kids as if they are my equals?  This offered a bit of an explanation.

For the past few years, I’ve been in a pretty deep funk.  I thought I was really messed up…and at least one doctor had me believing I was suffering from depression.  Medication, psychologists, the whole nine yards.

Through this new lens I think that was wrong.  Sure I felt like crap but in my case it wasn’t some sort of disorder.  It was just my way of dealing with the world — I was hyper-focused on the negative stuff.

I’ve come to believe that I have this sort of “hunter” genetic profile….and even more important … that’s not a bad thing.  It’s not a disorder, and I’m not messed up.  There are just times when who I am conflicts with the environment I’m in.

As I started thinking about this, I felt this huge weight just start dropping off my shoulders.  I’ve got a whole new outlook on things, and my major goal over the next few years is to get rid of all these disconnects between me and the environment I’m in.  That means changing the environment, as I’ve spent enough time trying to fit in.

From a running / fitness perspective, I’m starting to explore the spiritual aspects of running and riding.

NOTE:  I realize that mine is an over-simplified version of ADHD and even depression.  I’m understand that there are people at the extreme ends of the ADHD spectrum and people who have severe forms of depression, for which this logic might not apply.  Here I’m just talking about my own experience.  Please don’t read this as any sort of expert opinion on ADHD or depression; it’s only one guys opinion on his situation.



What I think about when I run or ride

People who run or cycle have lots of different reasons for doing it.  I’d guess that one of the most common reasons is mental or emotional.  It’s good to just get out and clear your mind of all the stuff that floats around in there while you’re going through your life.  It might be physically tiresome, but most would say that running or cycling is mentally and emotionally invigorating.

I’d agree with that.

A few years ago I worked for a guy who knew I liked to go on long runs.  The day or so before I ran long (usually on a weekend), he’d literally sit down with me and throw a few ideas out there.  He was hoping I’d spend some time on them while I ran.  He eagerly looked forward to the following week when he’d sit down with me again to get my thoughts on those ideas.  That worked pretty well as I usually had a handful of suggestions to make his ideas better.

For a while now, though, I really haven’t been getting those mental or emotional benefits.  Why?  It has a little something to do with what goes through my mind as I’m out there.  Most of the time my brain gets hyper-active when I’m out running or riding.

There are so many ideas bouncing around my mind it’s hard to actually control it.  Typically those ideas fall into one of the following categories:

  • Obsessing about something that happened during the day.  I churn and churn on something that happened, trying to figure out why it happened and what I should do about it.
  • Self-analysis.  “Wow, I’m really out of shape.  How did I get this far out of shape?  How did I let this happen?  I’m just feeling really heavy right now and I can’t stand this.”
  • Planning big things for the future.  “Here’s how I’m going get back into shape.  I’m going on a strict dietary program.  I’m going to work out every single day for the next 30 days.  If I do all that, I should be able to drop X pounds every week, so I can probably get back to normal weight in Y days.  That isn’t too bad.  I can do that.”
  • Checking the data.  “What is my heart rate right now?  How many miles have I gone?  What is my pace?  I’d like to be able to kick the pace up, but I really shouldn’t right now.  How far do I still need to go?  When should I kick up the pace?  What time is it?”

It isn’t too hard to figure out why I’ve struggled to get out there consistently with these kinds of things rumbling around in my head.  When I get back from a workout I’m mentally and emotionally drained.

I should say that the occasional insight still pops into my head.  Every now and again I come up with an interesting idea, but those have been few and far between over the past few years.

Today I got on my bike for the first time in 2 months.

I decided to change the mental approach — to go for mindfulness as a primary goal.  That meant letting all those random thoughts that typically bounce around in my head just float away.  Instead of fostering the typical incessant dialogue, I decided to make it as much of a sensory experience as I could.

  • Sight.  What new things could I see that I haven’t seen before?  The sky in the southwest was filled with clouds, but in the north it was clear blue.  Someone installed new roadside cameras on Rt. 173 in Bloomsbury NJ.  I saw a section of I-78 that I had never seen before.  I saw hundreds of American flags, an 800-pound pig and open fields that had been full of corn the last time I passed.
  • Smell.  Lots of people burning fires — I love the smell of fireplaces burning (not forests burning).  Each one has a different smell.  I passed lots of farms — distinctive smell there too.  I smelled some dead animals; luckily I couldn’t see most of those.
  • Sound.  Mostly the wind in my ears.  I also pay attention to the sound of cars on the road — it’s the best way to know when one is approaching.  But I also heard the sound of trees and reeds blowing in the wind.
  • Feel.  The wind was different depending on the direction I was going.  At times it was straight in my face, and at other times it was at my back (much better that way).  My hands were cold until I changed gloves.
  • Taste.  Not much here … water, that’s it.

Making it a sensory experience had a dramatic effect on my overall enjoyment of the ride.  Taking an outside-in approach helped me avoid the brain overload that I’ve experienced in the recent past.  It reminded me of some of the mindfulness meditations I’ve been exploring in the past 6-8 months.  Whenever I found myself drifting into one of the negative cycles, I tried to re-center my focus on the senses.  I was really happy with the outcome, and when I got back I felt much more mentally and emotionally recharged.

It’s going to be a focus for me in the coming weeks and months.


Darkness and Fog

I’m in the middle of a pretty deep fog right now.  The last couple times I felt this bad were in the spring of 2009 and late summer 2011.  I don’t know if I ever made it fully out of those.

It’s a little bit of everything.  A big jumble of emotions, physically feeling like crap, mental distraction.  No interest in running or riding.  Lots of eating.  I just really want to lay around all day and do nothing.  Well, maybe just watch TV.

It just kind of came on.  No real trigger that I can identify.  Last weekend, I decided to completely give up junk food.  I was thinking I might be addicted to it.  So I went off it cold turkey.  I struggled but stayed off it for a couple days, and I started feeling better.  Then on Wednesday I re-introduced some.  Thursday I went into a pretty complete funk, and I’ve been stuck there ever since.

I’m torn between two different paths.  Should I completely ignore these funky feelings and just move on?  Or should I “lean in” to these feelings and just see where it takes me.  There’s a quote that keeps running through my head.  It’s from Sir B. H. Liddell Hart and it goes something like …

“If you wish for peace, understand war”

I just wonder whether the best way for me to really get out of this funk is to really explore it fully.  To “understand” it, recognizing that it’s the opposite of what I want.  I have no idea how to do that.  But I definitely don’t want to keep slipping back in.  So rather than rushing to get myself out of it, should I instead just let it be, just try to figure out what it’s like and what’s making it happen?  It sounds counter-intuitive.  But maybe if I let myself fully experience this darkness, I would eventually decide that I am done with it.

I know that letting the darkness be would be costly in the short term.  I wouldn’t run my best Pikes Peak in August.  I might feel crappy for a little bit longer than I would like.

There are some things I’m not willing to compromise.  First and foremost, my relationships with my wife and kids.  I’m doing everything I can to preserve those, to not let those slip.  I also don’t want to affect my job.

Sometimes I think the whole fitness thing is a major contributor to this funk.  Is it stress from worrying about how I’ll do in August?  Or stress about wanting to lose weight to run faster?  Or the time that I spend working out, which robs me of time to do other things?  Part of me thinks that my job performance would increase if I spent more time on that and less (even no) time on workouts.

But then again sometimes I miss working out so badly that I can’t stand it.

Should I spend some time exploring it?  Like not working out for a week or so and seeing how I feel?  Would I regret it?  What would it feel like?  Would my only concern be that I’m not training for August?

I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to get out of this funk.  Stay in the moment.  Every moment.  It will be a fight to get out of this funk, no matter how long I stay in it.

I just wonder whether I should be in such a hurry to get out.  Or should I take a look around?

If I could get only one thing right, it would be…

…staying in the moment.  This moment.  Right now.

There was a time not too long ago when I would be driving to work in the morning, talking on a conference call and eating a breakfast of yogurt and granola.  Literally taking granola out of a plastic baggie and putting it into a cup of yogurt.  I’d be steering with my knee.

I haven’t done that in a while.  But every day I still do things like:

  • Read while I brush my teeth.  I figure reading helps extend the time I spend brushing my teeth, thereby making my teeth healthier.
  • Listen to podcasts or watch TV while I stretch
  • After dinner but before we put the kids to bed, I wander around my iPad aimlessly, reading blog posts or web sites and eating handfuls of junk food
  • Watch TV while I “work.”  I usually have no idea what I just watched, and I don’t get any work done either.
  • Spend 3-4 hours longer on something work-related because I am busy surfing the internet or wandering around my house or reading something.

These are just the simple cases.

Not being present in the moment has a huge impact on every aspect of my life.

If I were to just focus on being present in the moment, every moment, I would probably gain back about 3 hours in my day.  I’d drop a few bad habits (and more than a few pounds).  I’d know what my legs feel like when I’m stretching on a good day as compared to a bad day.  I’d fall asleep faster.  I’d notice little things about my kids that make me smile.  I’d enjoy the air outside on a cool, breezy spring day.  I’d work out easier on my easy days and harder on my tough days.  I’d write more and better blog posts.

I would carry much less stress around.

A couple of months ago I bought a book called A Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Workbook.  I read the first 6 or so chapters, and everything I’ve read so far has resonated with me.  I did a few of the exercises.  About a week ago I tried the “full body scan” right before I went to bed.  It took me about 24 seconds to fall asleep.

While everything has resonated with me, I haven’t put most of the recommendations into practice.  It isn’t easy to perform some of the exercises.  It entails slowing things down to a pace that I’m not used to.  It requires me to acknowledge my emotions and just let them sit.  To not do anything with them.  It requires me to just eat a meal without reading or watching TV.  Just taste the food.

I think I’m also afraid of what I might unearth.  So I make excuses about not having time to do the exercises, or I just “forget.”

Starting now, I’m going to see how often I can just be mindful.  Put the recommendations in that book into practice.  Just focus on one thing and finish it.  Acknowledge my emotions but let them be.  Don’t judge them.  Just let them sit.

I think this is going to be really hard.  Which means it’s probably right.  I don’t expect to succeed very often to start.  But eventually I will get better at it.

I’m curious to see what happens.

Pennsylvania Riding and TED

Yesterday I rode to this place.

It’s the Delaware River, which separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey.  I actually rode over the river into PA, then back again.

It’s an amazing, majestic thing.

I’ve been itching to increase the distance of my bike rides, and I’ve also been enamored with this notion of riding into different states.  I can get into PA with a ride of about 50 miles, and I can get into New York with a ride of about 110 miles.  This particular ride was 65 miles or thereabouts.

I was shocked when I saw the river.  I’ve crossed it hundreds of times, but always in a car.  This was the first time I’ve ridden so close to it.  I recall climbing up the road that hugged the river, getting to the top of the banks, and looking down on this awesome spectacle.  It felt right to me.  I felt like I belonged in that place, that I had earned the right to see that view, that through my own power I had gotten myself to that high place on the banks of the river, with the hills of northwestern NJ in the background.  It was beautiful.

This morning I dove deeply into TED talks.  I’m late to the TED party for sure.  I had discovered them a while back, but this week I decided to listen to a few.  I got pretty engrossed in it today.  It’s great because they’re only 20 minutes long – a great length.  There are lots of great topics, and the speakers that I’ve seen are good.

This one by Susan Cain on introverts really resonated with me.  There is no doubt that I’m an introvert.  The word that connected most with me was “solitude.”  It actually brought me back to the previous day, when I was riding along that river, with nobody but me out there.  Not too many feelings better than that for me.  Listening to that talk on introverts made me feel pretty good today.  Once again the notion of being myself and being happy about it.

Then I stumbled onto this talk and this talk by Dr. Brene Brown.  These also hit home, but in a much more fuzzy way.  The words “vulnerability,” “shame,” “courage,” “authenticity” are a bit scary to me.  But I think there is something really profound and powerful in the concepts that Dr. Brown introduced.  I’m definitely going to peer into the dark, dusty corners of my soul with these concepts.  I don’t claim to have any answers, but I’m excited to explore that stuff.  If I can learn anything or improve even a little in the areas that Dr. Brown mentions, it’s going to be a big deal.

I’m hoping I don’t develop a TED addiction.  One thing I’m trying to do is reduce the constant sensory assault that comes from information.  I’m an information junkie, so TED has the potentially to really make me crazy.  I’m needing some quiet time, so hopefully I can put TED in the proper place.

Catching up + Motivation

Didn’t post for the past few days, but I’ve been consistent in making the time to work out.

Tuesday…15 miles running, hard uphills, about 25% of the run was hard uphill

Wednesday…7 miles running, including 10 downhill sprints that were just under a quarter mile

Thursday…50 miles riding, somewhat easy but with 2,300 feet of vertical gain

Lately I’ve been mapping out some new routes for my rides.  Today I came across this sign.  I thought it was a good sign for the start of 2012.

I also liked this on motivation vs. follow-through.  I’ve posted here before about the notion that I know what I should do and I even plan to do it.  But when the moment comes, I shrink away.  I’ve thought it was motivation.  Maybe not.  Maybe I need to shut my brain down a bit.

I was at the library a couple days ago with my 2-year old, and on a whim I picked up ESPN:  Those Guys Have All The Fun.  For the past few years I’ve been reading mostly classic fiction and business books, so this year I decided to branch out a bit.  The book is thick (~750 pages), but it’s a fast read.  It’s told mostly through interview snippets with direct quotes from the big ESPN players over the years.  I’m curious to see how the authors weave the story lines.  Right now I’m just at the beginning, where ESPN is starting out.  Very interesting stuff there.