The power of defaults: Exercise

Greetings from Penguicon! The polyphasic sleep panel is tomorrow; today is full of teaching and learning martial arts and other great stuff; in short, I could barely be happier if Buddha showed up and demanded it. ;P

I thought of a great example of something I blather about a lot, on the way here: Defaults. “Setting your defaults” refers to the bones of habit-forming. It’s a pre-negotiation between your will, and your mind and body, where you deliberately dig a rut that makes deciding in a certain direction automatically easier than making other decisions. The example I’m going to use today is exercise, though this technique can be used with anything.

The default is what will get done a huge percentage of the time. We don’t have the capacity to be making every decision from scratch, in the moment; when you’re moving through life at speed, you will naturally do the “default thing” a large chunk of the time. This is why it’s so important to deliberately and correctly set your defaults.

Say you want to, as we mentioned, get more exercise. Many modern societies are very sedentary by default — they ingrain in us the tendency to choose not to move, not to exert ourselves, a huge proportion of the time. It’s important to remember that defaults that YOU don’t set are still set — you just didn’t choose what they’re set TO. If that doesn’t squick you out…well, maybe you should be reading another blog. :) For me personally, I feel confident that my base / initial cultural training is NOT setting defaults in me that I think are the best (or sometimes even acceptable) ones; and so I have a great interest in finding and improving them.

One is definitely exercise. Being sedentary is terrible for your health, and as you get older, it allows your body, your abilities, and your skills to deteriorate at a much faster rate than they would if you kept moving. Our bodies and minds were both designed to move, and moving in a concerted and/or intense way for at least an hour a day is essential to maintaining good physical AND MENTAL health.

So how do you set these defaults, so that you can benefit from an automatic tendency to get enough exercise?

Let me back up just a skosh: I do exercise daily, but hey, I’m a busy person. I may certainly not go to the pool/gym, or take or teach a martial arts class, every single day. But I definitely get an accumulated hour or more of intense exercise every day, simply because my defaults are configured correctly. I’ve done a lot of work in the last decade to become active, strong and healthy, but setting good defaults was THE SINGLE BEST THING I’ve done to make that happen. Seriously, I’m walking around this convention (for barely 24h now) and people are pulling me aside to compliment me on how fit, vital and healthy I seem. I’m getting hit on by people ten years my junior who are obviously attracted to my springiness, speed, and alertness; all of which are born of this work. So here’s the payoff: How I set my exercise defaults.

HOW TO DEFAULT TO EXERCISE

  • Travel under your own power. If time allows for either the car or the bike, take the bike. If you can walk it, walk it; if you like to run, run it. Grab the skateboard, the rollerblades, the whatever, every single time that it’s not imperative for some s that you don’t. Stop thinking of the car as the way you get everywhere: ASK the Internet how long it will take to do something self-powered, and take that option whenever you can.

And never, ever take an elevator or escalator if you can take the stairs instead. It doesn’t matter if it’s slower — the time it costs you is negligible in that case. If you are on an escalator or movable walkway, also walk while it’s moving — don’t just stand there passively. Our world is built disturbingly like the Wall-E future in some ways: sitting or standing and letting your body be carried built in is treated as the default “best” option in so, so many places. But fuck that. You WANT to move, so whenever the choice is stand (or sit) vs move, MOVE. Those minutes add up!

  • Lift the heavy thing. If there’s a thing that needs moving and you can safely lifted, lift it. Offer to help whenever tables or chairs need to be set up, or someone is carrying boxes. If you think “hmmm, I could clean behind there if I moved the couch,” move the couch. Always lift and move objects when it’s useful and appropriate. Weightlifting is stellar exercise, and so many of us pass up the opportunity tens of times a day.

Note that this (and all the others) apply whether you’re old, sick, a kid, whatever. It’s always best for your health to move as much as you can. Even if all you can do is pick up and put down something light, you’re better off doing that than sitting still. If you want to gain and maintain health, you need to MOVE, and the easiest way to do that is to DEFAULT TO MOVING.

Moving on…

  • Say yes to your practice. Your default answer for “should I do my practice?” is YES, DO IT RIGHT NOW. Similarly, the default answer for “Eh, I’m not sure, should I go to class / the gym / for a run / whatever?” is YES, DO IT NOW. The only thing that should prevent you from whatever your physical studies are is some emergency that makes it impossible, that overrides your default. If things are iffy enough that you’re asking the question, the answer is YES.

This default, by the way, is the entire reason I learned taiji. Ten years ago I joined a school, and man, going to class was harrrrrd. But I told myself early on that “Unless I totally CAN’T, my default behavior is ‘go to class’.” And because I haven’t said it yet, I’ll add here that defaults get easier to execute with time: When you’re just starting, doing that thing you decided you’d always do feels different, and is tricky; but after the 100th time, it’s as easy as any other habit. The hard work is in doing it those first 10, 50, 100 times, when you have to motivate yourself. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’ll always be hard!

And lastly,

  • Say yes to fun things. “Fun” often involves moving around, which is why you see more young than older people doing it. Many more young people haven’t yet “learned” from our culture to be sedentary, and moving feels good (even if you’ve forgotten that it does), so hey, fun. But if you’re an adult, you’ve probably been trained to not do things that are fun and involve moving: Swimming, dancing, jumping in on an obstacle course, running, jumping and climbing on things…adults tend to neglect these things because being sedentary seems more, well, adult.

Again, F that. Those little fun things are the best parts of exercise: The easy, the different, the pleasurable. Doing squats is good for your legs, but jumping up and down off of chairs or posts is just as good, and totally doesn’t feel like work. Throwing, chasing, climbing, hanging, swinging, running, [**], splashing in the water…these are all exercise, and though small, if it’s your default to do them, they can easily add up to hundreds of calories burned, and tons of strength, balance and coordination built, every single day. (And let’s not even discuss the side-benefits of things like “playing frisbee with your dog”, “going swimming with your kids”, or “being the grownup that gets on the jungle-gym”, because they are *myriad.) I certainly have other reasons for having decided that “say yes to the fun things” should be my default, but simply for exercise reasons, it makes plenty of sense.

So,
SET YOUR DEFAULTS — they are getting set anyway; the only question is, are you deciding how?
NEGOTIATE them with yourself, and decide what your unless-something-is-seriously-preventing-it answer is, to “do I take the stairs”, “Do I go to the gym”, “do I get in the pool with the kids”, etc.
LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES to get a little bit of what you need, be it exercise, education, contemplation, etc., every time some silly little decision comes up (like “should I take the stairs?”).

Good luck, and enjoy your defaults!
(Seriously, can I get an “I <3 my defaults” bumper sticker?)
(…Oh wait…one of my defaults is to ride my bike over taking the car, and as a result of using that default, I haven’t owned a car for two years…so I guess I don’t need a bumper sticker. It’s probably worth it for being able to cycle 20 miles without getting sore though… :D)

[***] also fucking. I mean, let’s be honest, ok? It’s exercise, it’s fun, and getting accustomed to being sedentary (and by corollary, less comfortable with your body) often gets in the way of people saying “yes” to it. I won’t lie, I’d definitely be less svelte if it weren’t for the exercise I get saying “Hell yes!” to a fun romp or three. :)

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Napping that explicates fiddles while implicating swimming. What?

Tons of things going on!

  • First of all, I was hoping to adapt back to Uberman, and got some way through planning it before realizing that yeah, that’s idiotic of me…I’m off work right now, but full-time officey gig is coming back soon, and why on earth would I adapt just to have to give it up in a month or so?? Wishful thinking, of course. But I learned a good bit from the planning:
    • Nutrition is important: For me at least, making the gathering and shopping-for of good smoothie ingredients part of any adaptation is really key.
    • The Group Adaptation’s Shared BFL is truly a thing of beauty! I and others are continually adding to it, and waooooow is it huge and useful. I was thinking I’d need to roll a new BFL, but nope, all there and square and brilliant. -@-
    • The single best “step one” for planning is to identify all your challenges; and step two is to WAIT a few days and see if anything you identified comes bobbing back into your consciousness as a “Heyyyyyy”-type potential problem (like my having to abandon the schedule right after adapting did!). Letting other people know your plans is totally useful for staying on-track, but….maybe do that third. :P
  • A recent trip to a music-oriented town left me thirsty as hell to get back into music. I haven’t done anything with it for years, and I’ve been semi-seriously into several instruments and styles throughout my life, and always gotten a ton out of music.
    • Anybody who knows anything about procuring a fiddle or fiddle lessons, please contact me; I’d love your advice! It took a while to ponder possible instruments enough, but…yeah, fiddle. I want something raucous I can move with and also sing while playing. :D
  • …And art. Long story. But suffice to say that a metric shittonne of things are demanding attention now, and after staring blankly at them all and wondering how the hell this was going to work, I realized that I need to make a change: Specifically, I need an hour-by-hour schedule again — something I haven’t had for years, in favor of flexibility. …But the thing is, I need to keep the flexibility too…the schedule will have to have options for when I’m not at home, or alternative ways to practice or even just meditate on a thing when reality (which has gone completely untrustworthy at this point) sticks me with the inevitable weird circumstance.

Would you like to see that schedule? Oh good, because probably I’m going to show it to you anyway. Other things that have gone on have involved some pretty major successes with gaining more confidence and surety about doing my thing and talking about it — maybe people don’t care, but maybe they do, and if they don’t, it still helps me to keep my fingers busy and a record going for future reference. Thank you in advance if you’re reading this stuff, though; your attention and comments are super useful!

More sooner rather than later ;)

PD

Posted in better thinking | 2 Comments

Is it really time that we need more of?

I can’t get over this question lately: Why do I feel so short on time?

The reason the question bugs me is that, while I don’t have An Answer, I do have one piece of answer, and it is this: The answer is NOT that I don’t have enough time to do all the things I want to.

I know this piece of answer because I’ve experienced, over the last few years, definite periods where I was objectively doing more things in the same amount of time, and yet doing this gave me a distinct ability to feel AND be more productive. As a quick-and-dirty example, there was a summer where I worked more than full-time with a 45-minute driving-commute, swam twice a week after work, took taiji classes three times a week, and went sailing, diving or camping at least once a week. That period lasted long enough for me to notice distinctly that I felt fairly un-rushed, even though there was rarely half an hour’s slush-time between activities and I often spent that on gear- or personal-care. I got my writing done for the most part, too; read books about as much as usual; and wasn’t fantastically neglecting any major things or people. Yet since then, I’ve worked less, commuted less, and done fewer huge hobbies at once only to feel more rushed and less productive in my writing, taiji practice and a ton of other things.

It probably isn’t this simple, but there is some truth to the saying “The more you do, the more you CAN do,” for certain.

So what’s the thing, the quality that brings with it the “more”? If it isn’t time — and time is the one thing I’m fairly certain it isn’t — what is it? Currently I have TONS of time, clock-wise, and yet I get less done on an average day than ever. It’s like I can’t get or keep enough…momentum?

Maybe this isn’t a useful question all by itself, but I’m going to keep on pondering it, because holy crap would I love the answer. Is it attention? Engagement? Pacing? Consistency? Some particular focus or motivation? TELL ME, WORLD. GIVE ME YOUR SECRET.

Posted in better thinking | 4 Comments

Five technical terms you should really know about depression

<strong>Depression itself is not a disease: &nbsp;It&#39;s a complex emotion</strong>, one that mostly-healthy people can go through due to a variety of factors. &nbsp;It&#39;s normal to be depressed for a day sometimes, or for longer in response to getting dumped or losing your job, or even for a really long shitty while after some major trauma in your life. &nbsp;<strong>Depression sucks, but it&#39;s like having a cold: &nbsp;to an extent, all or most of us know &quot;what it&#39;s like&quot;...</strong>

BUT.  Having a cold is WAY different from sneezing your ass off every day for years.  Think of having a cold versus having something like HIV, which makes cold-symptoms potentially uncurable or deadly:  The latter wears away at you in unexpected directions, gradually deforming and breaking other pieces of your health; we were never meant to suffer under depression (or rhinovirus) for months and years on end.  You sneeze for a week, your nose gets red; you sneeze for a year, you suddenly have to deal with bleeding and secondary infections and all kinds of things that would never be an issue with a normal cold.  Etcetera.

A normal, complex emotion like depression can become a chronic illness that will follow and fuck with you for life.  Or maybe end it.  And that's when we call it a "disorder", but of course, there are degrees and kinds of those too.  It can feel pretty confusing, but I think there are just a few terms that, if clarified, would really help us all talk about these things accurately and compassionately.

And while I think it'll help everyone to understand these terms, for their sake and their loved ones', this is also somewhat self-serving for me:  It's great that people hear "depression" and think "oh, right; that sucks and I've been there! I was depressed just last week!" — but sometimes that stops them from listening when you need to add yes but, for me a cold is not just a cold; this one has almost killed me three times and I've had it almost every day for the last two decades.  

So here's some clarification of what I think are the five most useful terms in depression-related clinical psychology.  I'm not good for much else this morning, because Reasons.  :P 

1.  Major Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder, is when you feel depressed for weeks on end (more than 2 weeks is the current clinical limit) and can't shake it.  It's a sickness, but it's a fairly normal one in response to, say, losing a loved one or suffering any major stress.  Think of it as depression flu:  It probably won't kill you, though it can be dangerous to some people sometimes; and it sucks ass, but most of the time you'll be alright once you recover.

2.  Bipolar Disorder is not a kind of depression (which is why it was renamed from "Manic Depression") — it's a mood disorder that involves both periods of nasty depression and periods of equally-damaging mania, which are extreme and switch unpredictably.  While depression is a big negative part of bipolar disorder, the primary treatment focus in this case is on regulating the emotions so that they a) aren't turned to 11 all the time in ways that cause you to make bad decisions, and b) don't switch wildly at the drop of a hat.  The depression part of bipolar disorder can still be dangerous (all depression can be dangerous), but so can the manic part (ever seen someone leap into a car and tear off at 95 miles an hour and not be able to tell you later why they did?), and the disorder is in the body's failure to regulate either emotion's "when" or "how much".

3.  Atypical Depression is like the citrus flavor variety:  The term doesn't refer to a disorder, or to how long or often you have to deal with depression; it's a label for a common "alternative" set of depression symptoms that people can suffer.  Just like there's a respiratory flu and a stomach flu but they both suck and they're both flu, there's an atypical depression (which really isn't all that uncommon, so weird name) that involves insomnia rather than hypersomnia, restlessness rather than fatigue, and some other symptoms that don't strictly *seem* like depression, but totally are, just in a different formulation.  Before I knew this term, I called depressions "A-type" and "B-type" to try and differentiate the symptom-sets I was experiencing.  It's very weird to have different symptoms that you know are coming from the same thing, but I guess it's analogous to having a cold that makes you sneeze vs. one that makes you cough instead — not really uncommon behavior for an illness, and we understand pretty instinctively that both are "a cold".**

4.  Psychotic Depression is as scary as it sounds, but not as complicated:  It's really just what happens when you take depression (any depression, whether it's caused by a trauma, or just a bad day, or a lifelong disorder) and crank the gain as far as it'll go without (or with) breaking you.  The intrusive negative thoughts become full-blown hallucinations and delusions; the suicidal urges become sleepwalking to the medicine-cabinet; crying in bed all day becomes screaming until you lose consciousness; decision-paralysis becomes actual paralysis and going mute because you can't connect with your body anymore — that kind of thing.  It's sooooooo fun.  ::shudder::  As you'd expect, people who have depression longer and more chronically are more likely to have the psychotic kind; as are people who are psychotic in other ways.  When people freak out during depressive episodes and kill themselves suddenly or violently, they're often experiencing (or one could say, trying to escape) a psychotic depression.

5.  Dysthemia  (Dysthymia) I've saved for last, because it's the one I most hope people who read this article remember.  The word could use more exposure, for one thing; dysthymia is technically "chronic depression", but that really doesn't do it justice.   Dysthymia’s an old word (the new term is Persistent Depressive Disorder, but can we just agree that you never hear that phrase because it’s horrible and stupid to the point of uselessness). Before depression was understood as a potentially-deadly disorder, dysthymia used to be a very yeah-what-the-f-ever term to label and dismiss someone as “just sad all the time”. In modern psychiatry there’s a thin attempt to draw a line between long-term “mild” depression (dysthymia) and chronic major depression — but the line is outrageously imaginary, based on self-reporting and total wild guessing about “how often” and “how severe” the “two or more out of five” symptoms one experiences are. What’s NOT imaginary is the effects of depression and living with them for years on end, though. This kind of subjective judging is, in this case, only harmful: once you’re talking about being depressed for most of every day for more than two years, the word “mild” really doesn’t belong in the discussion. (Also, when I originally wrote this, I spelled it “Dysthemia”. That’s incorrect, but I did it because the “e” spelling immediately made more sense to me, and my brain latched onto it, and now, in retrospect, I still like it better. So after pondering, I’ve decided to go ahead and use my spelling, to go along with “my” definition here, which doesn’t DISagree with the DSM-5 (psychology’s diagnostics manaual), but spins it, as well as the old historic use, in a somewhat different, I think more useful, way).

The clinical definition of dysth(y)emia is having depression almost every day for two years or longer.  In other words, dysthymia is depression being damn near, or actually, your normal state.  Most people with dysthemia started getting diagnosed with major depression as a child or teenager (I was eleven). Many say things like “I’ve always been this way.” A lot of us don't make it to adulthood without at least one suicide attempt, and every one of "us" that I've ever spoken to lives in constant fear that something will trigger a particularly bad episode of depression that does us in for good — or fails to, and leaves us trying to rebuild from the ashes yet again.  Dysthemia is usually considered impossible to "cure", only manage; like all chronic conditions, once you've been dealing with it for decades, there's not a lot of hope that things can actually be changed on the ground-level*; only hope that your quality of life can be preserved or improved. Dysthymia is, in effect, the boy-in-the-bubble, broken-immune-system version of depressive disorder:  Like a cold that never goes away, that sticks around at a low level, deteriorating and stressing you in various papercut ways, and flares up, it can seem, every time you dare to think you're getting better.  

With dysthemia, your whole life is symptom-management and using all your sick days at work and being really flinchy around things that might trigger a flare-up; and no matter how good you get at all this stuff (I consider myself pretty awesome at it!), you still know that it's your glass jaw and always will be; and the chances of it being the thing that kills you eventually, one way or another, are pretty high.

There's a lottttt of evidence that dysthemia is caused by, or related to, suffering extreme isolation or ostracization, and/or existing in a cultural mileiu that one doesn't belong in.  Artists and inventors are famous for having it a lot.  Being exposed to a depressed parent in the psychological formative years has also been linked.  Some people consider dysthemia the symptomatic result of sensitive psychologies forced to exist in environments that damage them; cf. "Civilization and It's Discontents", and the many similar writings.  

…And maybe all that is wrong, and I could speculate endlessly, but really I just wanted to write enough that hopefully the word "dysthemia" will stick in your head, and the next time someone talks about depression, you'll have it there to work with, to sharpen and aim your compassion.

Peace!

**These metaphors are almost certainly influenced by the fact that I have a cold.  ;)

*I perhaps disagree with this, but only because I am convinced that spirituality points to the possibility of a psychological reconfiguration that could, I suspect, eliminate depression, even for dysthemics.  ….I may also be biased.  :P

Posted in better thinking, psychology | 7 Comments

Nap Graphic Generator!

Do we NEED a graphic of our napping schedules, really?  …Maybe not.  But man, when you've spent as much time compiling and testing and proving your schedule as I have, a graphic is really cool — sort of like a merit badge.  (ACHIEVEMENT: OBSESSIVE NAPPER!)

This site, which I had nothing to do with and am crazy grateful for having found, lets you make and save your own nap-chart graphic!  It's great for visualizing a new schedule or a change in schedule, as well as just for squeeing over the awesomeness of your nap-routine, like I did.  :D

Click here to see my Everyman 3 schedule, and make your own!

napschedule

Posted in polyphasic sleep | 2 Comments

Magic

Ever read VALIS? Philip K. Dick; highly recommended. There’s a great concept in there, that if you can know someone well enough, you can find ten words or less that will literally reprogram them — Words of Power. (Obviously that concept is present in many places — coughD&Dcough — which speaks to its truth.)

So arguably “Know Thyself” are words of meta-power, because they’re the base instructions for how to be able to deliver to yourself your own Words of Power.

Do we have any greater superpower than the ability to type into our own terminals? To write in our own brains’ machine-language? I mean, if we do, please clue me in immediately; but in the meantime, I’m staying in school, because I can only see endless benefit in the post-post-post-doctoral program in Knowing Thyself.

Posted in better thinking | 5 Comments

Bread and Roses, Then and Now

So here’s a song:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day
a million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill-lofts grey
are blessed with all the radiance that the sudden sun discloses
for the people hear us singing, bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men
for they are women’s children, and together we can win
Our lives will not be sweated from birth until life closes:
hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
go crying through our singing their endless fight for bread
Small art and love and beauty their drudging lives they knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.

As we go marching, marching, we bring the brighter day
for the rising of the women means the rising of the race
No more this drudge-and-idler, ten that toil while one reposes
A sharing of life’s glories: bread and roses, bread and roses.

As we go marching, marching, we drag our mothers’ fears,
the tortures they have all endured still ringing in our ears
This fight is far from over, as the tortured still must know
If we want our bread and roses, there’s a long way left to go.

There’s silence in the Congo; there’s stonings in Iran;
in America a woman’s worth three-quarters of a man
I refuse to teach my daughter how she looks is who she is
You can keep your bread and roses, Mom, I’m taking some of his.

It’s a marching-anthem of the old suffragette movement — you know, the ones who were vilified in the media, arrested and tortured attempting to secure women in this country the right to vote…just a hundred years ago.

Actually, I wrote the last two verses above, on top of the four originals. I feel weird about modifying something of historical value (though it’s not like I did the original any harm), but in this case I think it was important. That movement — the basic right to be a full citizen, to be treated better than a convicted criminal or undocumented immigrant — is a century old. That’s both a long time — long enough to forget the fire and the worst atrocities of the before-movement days, the things that gave us reasons and strength in the beginning — and a short time, because three generations is hardly long enough to undo a culture of slavery that’s existed for uncounted centuries.

One of these days I’ll get a recording of my singing this, because I kind of love how I’ve figured out to weave the last couple verses in; but the important thing is there it is, and I hope it serves as a good reminder, if nothing else than of a beautiful piece of still-relevant musical history.

Posted in better thinking, no more forced pregnancies | Leave a comment