Monthly Archives: December 2015

Everyday system for moderate drinking

NYEBoweryThis is the second of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

This might be a good one for the New Year. Just say’n.

“The glass ceiling system” for healthy and pleasurable moderate drinking.

This isn’t intended for people who suspect they may be alcoholics. Please keep looking, but don’t look here.

Ok, so what’s the problem “the glass ceiling is trying to solve? Occasional excessive drinking.

Most of the time you’re fine, drinking like a normal person, but every once in a while you get  smashed, and could find yourself in trouble.

The obvious solution is to just stop drinking. But there’re two problems with the cold turkey strategy. One is that research shows that moderate drinking is ridiculously good for you. Moderate drinking defined as a drink or two a day, depending on how big you are. The other is that moderate drinking is a great pleasure. For moderate alcohol consumption, with its clean bill of health, the claim of pleasure is real and legitimate.

So how do you balance this if you’re given to occasional over drinking, and still want to get the health and pleasure benefits of moderate drinking? A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That’s your glass ceiling. Yes, there’s fudge room. But not so much fudge room that you’re going to wind up with problems.

Two glasses are clearly different from three. On the other hand, there is wiggle room. You could get an enormous Bavarian beer stein and fill it up with Everclear, but you can’t do it without seeming like an astonishing drunkard. You can’t hide your excess in lots of dainty little increments, and excess, when it’s out in the open like that, is shameful.

Shame has a bad rap these days, but shame can be good. Shame has been around for all of recorded history. It isn’t going anywhere. You might as well use it instead of fighting it or pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s powerful. Make shame your ally and shame will keep you reasonably moderate.

OK, other ambiguities and potential loopholes…

No refills. This should go without saying, but common sense sometimes has trouble with the obvious after a couple drinks.

And no saving up. Use it or lose it. If you don’t drink for ten days that doesn’t mean you can drink 20 drinks on day 11.

Allow for the occasional 4 drink event. Yes, 4 drinks is a binge. But as binges go, it’s as small as they get. If you’re the kind of person that needs a system like this, you probably would have had much more otherwise. But if you find yourself doing this a lot, alarms should go off.

A word of advice to those with unsympathetic drinking buddies: don’t tell them what you are doing. If you play it cool, chances are they won’t notice, especially if you alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. A tonic and tonic looks amazingly like a gin and tonic.

Conversely, when you’re starting out at least, I’d avoid mixed drinks that you mix yourself. The mix is camouflage. With a dash of cranberry juice you can bypass the shame of drinking a big glass of vodka. Shame is your friend.

If you are physically small or want to give yourself some extra buffer, lower the ceiling to 1 drink. Or have a variable ceiling of 1 drink on  week days, 2 on weekend days. But be sure you can stick with this. Much better to abide by a liberal law than break a strict one.

You’ll have a much easier time exercising moderation if you genuinely enjoy and respect what you drink. Don’t view it as drunk-juice. You’ll be drinking less, so spend a little more and get the good stuff. Moderation is an opportunity for greater pleasure.

And as an additional benefit is that your tolerance will go way down. I can now get a nice buzz from two drinks.

I haven’t been more than a little tipsy since I started this in early 2002, yet I enjoy alcohol far more than I ever did in my youth. Frankly, I’m amazed. 

That’s it for glass ceiling. It’s probably the simplest system I’ve discussed yet, but it changed my life.

Everyday systems

Saying - alwaysThis is the first of seven posts about simple everyday systems for managing your time, health, and eating developed by Reinhard Engels. Fifteen or so years ago, Reinhard was an overweight computer programmer who ate poorly, sometimes drank too much, and avoided exercising.

For most things simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and according to Thoreau, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

So Reinhard created habits that were easy to do and could be sustained forever. He didn’t like complicated exercise routines – he wouldn’t like doing them and would likely stop if he made it to a goal.

About ten years ago, I stumbled across Reinhard’s idea for exercising for 14 minutes a day using a sledgehammer to mimic shoveling and other common movements.

Starting there, I checked out his other systems. They were easy to implement and claimed longterm results for himself.

I didn’t really go whole hog on his system because I was already doing, and enjoying, other stuff like lifting weights, but I have used his sledgehammer idea, more as a fun way to rehab from injury.

Anyway, what follows are my shortened versions, from his website and podcast explanations, of his “everyday systems.” I did it for myself to have the ideas in one spot, and for you too, if you’re interested.

Moderation. Everybody from Aristotle to your Grandmother agrees that moderation is a good idea. It’s the wisdom of the philosophers and the virtue of the common folk. At least, it used to be. Of course, they had little choice but to be moderate.

Sheer scarcity kept them in line. Powerful traditions formed an additional line of defense. We, on the other hand, live in an age of material superabundance and declining traditions. So how, in the absence of the external pressures of scarcity and tradition, can we give moderation the teeth it needs to be effective? Think in terms of habit, semi-automatic behaviors requiring little willpower to maintain once they’ve been established.

It’s about establishing a consistent, almost automatic pattern of behavior over time. Much of the challenge of successful self-discipline is throttling your enthusiasm so you don’t burn out. Keep the focus on meeting some clearly defined, rigorously un-ambitious daily “good enough.”

Sustainability has to be the first thing you consider when evaluating a habit you want to acquire.

Maintenance is more important than progress. Progress is intrinsically temporary; maintenance is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.

Habit Branding. A good system should be “branded” with a striking image, pun, or metaphor. That way you’ll be much less likely to forget or ignore it, even when things get stressful. Some Everyday Systems are little more than a striking brand. Others have significantly more rules or back-story, but even these systems are well served by a brand: the brand gives you a handle, all you have to do is have the brand flash into your mind and you can easily retrieve all the rest.

No keeping track of things. The system shouldn’t require you to keep track of anything beyond the day of the week. You have too many things to keep track of already. Sometimes it’s interesting, but it gets unbearably boring and onerous fast.

Small time footprint. Ideally, the system should free up time, not take more of it. If your exercise routine, for example, competes in any significant way with your social life or even with your favorite television show, sooner or later your exercise routine is going to lose.

Socially Unobtrusive. Consider whether your habits are going to be unbearably irritating to the people around you. It’s not simply a matter of common courtesy: the consciousness of others’ disapproval will quickly wear you down.

Free or cheap. If you need anything at all, it should be nothing you can’t pick up at your local hardware store. 

Simple but specific. Common sense is great, but too vague to be a practical guide. Behaviors  involving complex decisions, might be precise, but can’t be automated into unconscious habit. A good system finds the happy medium: unforgettably simple but unambiguously precise.

Comic pragmatism. Self-help tends to take itself dreadfully seriously. But crazy is a great mnemonic device. If something is a little nuts, you’ll remember it. It’s a joke, but it’s also serious. It’s effective because it’s a joke.

Enjoyable. Successful self-discipline requires plenty of carrot as well as stick. Everyday systems make pleasure integral.

Chuck Norris jokes

everything is borrowedIt’s close to the holiday season and the parties that come with it. So brushing up on some jokes may be a good idea. I’ll share my favorite Chuck Norris jokes with you.

There’s a whole genre of one-liner extravagant claims. For example, trading insults about your mama, like “Your mama’s so fat, the back of her neck looks like a pack of hotdogs.” Or there’s the “World’s most interesting man” ads for Dos Equis beer, which are great too.

The Chuck Norris one-liners are useful. When you want to use extreme exaggeration to make a point, replace Chuck Norris with the person you’re talking about. For example “When Donald Trump turned 18… his parents moved out.” After all, the holidays have generally become a time for excess.

Here’re my favorites:

There’re no steroids in sports, there’re just players Chuck Norris has breathed on.

Chuck Norris can speak French… In Russian.

Chuck Norris beat the sun in a staring contest.

Once, a cobra bit Chuck Norris. Then after five days of excruciating pain, the cobra died.

When Chuck Norris was born he drove his mom home from the hospital.

Chuck Norris has counted to infinity. Twice.

Chuck Norris’ tears cure cancer. Too bad he’s never cried.

Chuck Norris has a diary. It’s called the Guinness Book of World Records.

Chuck Norris’s daughter lost her virginity, he got it back.

Chuck Norris hears sign language.

Chuck Norris can do a wheelie on a unicycle.

When Chuck Norris turned 18, his parents moved out.

Chuck Norris sheds his skin twice a year.

If you spell Chuck Norris in Scrabble, you win. Forever.

Chuck Norris ordered a Big Mac at Burger King, and got one.

When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he’s pushing the Earth away.

Once, Chuck Norris walked down the street with an erection. There were no survivors.

Chuck Norris just stares down a book until he gets the information he wants.

Chuck Norris can see around corners with his penis.

Chuck Norris doesn’t win, he allows you to lose.

Chuck Norris can understand women.

Jesus walked on water, but Chuck Norris can swim on land.

Hick’s Law

pastry clockA lot of people don’t realize it, but every single option you need to evaluate, and every decision you need to make, slows you down. This phenomenon is known as Hick’s Law.

Hick’s law applies to things as diverse as fighting or shopping.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu if you’re mentally going through a small list of concepts rather than a  large number of techniques, there’s a lot less to keep track of. By keeping the concepts in mind, the movements will take care of themselves.

In shopping the many choices can be daunting. Lately, I’ve been shopping online because we’re going to the States for the holidays and I’m buying things to bring back to Mexico with us that we can’t get here.

I actually enjoy shopping, but I was a little overwhelmed by the options. The internet is a giant machine designed to give people what they want. And like everyone else, I’m like an ant drawn to a picnic.

I’m buying an old fashioned safety razor and blades so I can stop throwing out plastic razors, save money, and possibly get a closer shave.

Like many things, there’s a subculture of shaving enthusiasts with strong opinions on gear and technique. The choices on Amazon for safety razors is surprising. There’re safety razors with different weights, handle lengths, finishes, ways to secure the razor blade, degree of blade edge exposed, and more. Lots to wade through. I was ok with it but Hick’s Law is definitely in effect. So I need to do some digging for information as well as shopping.

Then there’re the razor blades themselves to sort through.

What’s up?

Hunter Thompson shootingWhat’s up with all the mass shootings in America?

At the lowest level, it’s embarrassing that nothing gets done about something that’s really a public health issue. I’ve had non- Americans tell me they’re afraid to visit the US. The likelihood they might be shot is low, but that sounds hollow.

There’re other weird ideas in America concerning guns.

Things change. In 1975 the term “active shooter” wasn’t around because the idea of someone walking into a building and shooting people was an alien idea, but in 1975 people also thought glaciers were permanent.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, America has almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns. Countries with more guns have more gun homicides, and it turns out that Americans with guns at home are likelier to be killed or to kill themselves with guns.

Nowadays, overall shootings and murders are way down, but nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the US are suicides.

Connecticut passed a law requiring gun purchasers to first obtain a license and gun homicides fell by 40% and suicides fell by 15%. Missouri repealed a similar law and gun homicides increased by 23% and suicides increased by 16%.

Freeing people from chains they revere is hard. We tend to explain our successes and failures in ways that allow us to live with ourselves afterward. Consider the 2nd amendment guaranteeing our right to own guns, back when it was written it was also legal to own another human being. Things can change.

Some people say, “Everything happens for a reason.”  What they’re really saying is, “I neither recognize nor accept that my actions have consequences I’m ultimately accountable for.” Albert Einstein said, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.”

It’s hard for someone to learn what he thinks he already knows, but if you find yourself digging a hole you don’t need – stop digging.

Roots

tropical boat launchThere’re lots of transient North Americans living in our little Mexican town every winter. As the weather gets hot in the spring, they return North.

In the industrialized world, moving is common. We do it all the time for work, love, or for a better climate. So far, I’ve lived for long periods in three different spots.

How’s a community  built and sustained if you’re not a local?Sometimes we discover the picture we thought you had, that everybody thought we had, actually turns out to be wrong. Building a permanent and sustainable community takes time.

The problem seems to be how to connect when connecting is time limited. When it comes to community, you get what you give. I don’t know what the right mix of time and place is, maybe there really isn’t one. We just have roots in different spots and those roots will just be a little weaker than the roots that are in one spot.

The situation reminds me of Segal’s law which says “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”