Monday, May 26, 2014

About the Food I Eat

I decided not to say diet in the title because I know that if you're literate - I'm guessing you are by this point - you skip a lot of posts titled diet just like I do. So, full disclosure, I'm going to talk about diet a little bit here today. This is going to be a little background into my recent diet changes to lay the groundwork for a some future posts.

Steak, is a red meat.
Quick English course: Diet can be a noun or a verb. The two noun meanings? 1) the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. 2) a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.

Most of us forgot about number one decades ago. Insert your own joke about how predicable it is that our society abandoned meaning one for version two. I feel the first definition contains a really interesting word that is missing from our diets today: habitually. I could write 1000 words about what I think about our fondness for fad diets, but this is going to be about how I've been shaping my diet in recent years. I'll share more about where I'm at now and where I'm trying to go in a future post; today is more about the journey.

About three years ago this month I started transitioning the way I looked at health. For a couple years before that I had gotten very focused on trying to build muscle mass in the most at-home, mid-20s, desperate way. I was lifting a lot of gym-rat type weights and transitioned my college diet to a protein focused one. It wasn't all stupid, I learned to put priorities into my meal planning and cut out wasteful calories in favor of the protein that I felt would help me attain my goals. Finally I accepted my body type and realized that being bulked up had zero benefits for my lifestyle. I started transitioning my workouts to more functional strength types: cardio, core, dynamic movements that combined multiple muscle groups. And with it I slowed down my protein goals and started thinking about healthy eating overall. 

The first step was simply trying to eat "healthy." I followed all the conventional tactics and cut down on sweets, ate a little more produce, etc. Around May of 2012, Beth and I started cleaning up the grains in our diet. That meant a switch to conventional wisdom's whole grains. It meant updating our breads and pastas, but didn't really require any new menu planning.

The following January, after doing some reading on Paleo eating and discussing the benefits with family we deciding to switch from cleaning up to cleaning out grains entirely. There's a lot of information out there about Paleo - I strongly feel like there's a difference between what has become the Paleo diet and what has always been a Paleo methodology to eating. I'll cover that in the future too.

In our transition to Paleo we went completely clean for a short time, maybe 45 days and then introduced a few things back to see how they impacted us. Since then, we've been enjoying the best health of our lives along with a flood of awesome and creative new menu options. 

The journey through the last few years is really goes back to diet's first meaning. It's about how we habitually eat. We have never adhered to a fad diet that we've forced ourselves into overnight. We've never gone through the kitchen and thrown out boxes and boxes of foods that "we're no longer allowed to eat." Each time we've made incremental changes in our diet we've focused on the menu staples that most needed to be addressed and found solutions that would allow us to be successful. By consistently making sustainable changes to our diet we've improved the way we habitually eat in a significant way. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Like-em May Playlist

We're back for the second installment of monthly playlists. The weather is starting to turn here and the energy along with it. We've finally attained the type of outside warmth where you need to crack a window whether in the car or at home and you're not sure if you should wear shorts or pants so you just wear shorts and tough it out.

Jack White - Lazaretto

I'm a huge fan of Jack White's music. I considered taking a day off of work just listen to the new album when it drops in June, but I decided to just spread it out over every evening that week. OK, maybe not, but I'm loving the sound of the new offering's already released singles, "High Ball Stepper" and this:

The Whigs - Modern Creation

We need a word for one of those songs that you're singing to in the car long after the song has ended. I've greeted colleagues with a "it's just a moderrrrn creation..." and a nod. If you have a word for that already let me know.

The Bleachers - I Want to Get Better

Here's a great catchy tune - the single The Bleachers released earlier this year. I would write more, but I'm still processing what the video was trying to tell me. Anyway, still like the song.

Kaiser Chiefs - The Factory Gates

I've been playing a lot of the whole album the Kaiser Chiefs dropped this year. I hadn't ever really gotten into them previously, but I'm digging the sounds here.

TV on the Radio - Mercy

TV on the Radio tends to have one song in every major release that I just play like crazy.  You know that circle thing with the arrow that you hit to replay a video? You're going to need that in about 3:18.

Max Frost - White Lies

For the life of me I can't figure out what is bringing White Lies back like it's a new release. The single was released in 2013. There hasn't been much more from Mr Frost. More Max! We want max Max. Anyway, I'm happy White Lies is getting played everywhere again. Clever lyrics alert: "I'm picking up really sketch vibes" will go to the lyric HOF.

James Vincent McMorrow - Caviler (and Kiings cover)

We're wrapping up with a double feature. McMorrow's voice seductively draws your attention all the way throughout this song. The Kiings are local Milwaukee guys and covered this amazingly well. You know how a good chef makes that dish you thought you mastered at home just a touch better. The Kiings did that here.

That's it for May. Play them loud.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Be Interested

I have a customer with whom I've never been on the same page. He is several generations my senior. He's criticized me for not having a pencil at the ready and being too dependent on my computer. He marches his way into my office as if I've just been sitting around waiting for him. He wants business to be done the way it was done decades ago and has decided that as the local face of the company, I'm going to hear about it. Naturally, he does a fair amount of business with us. The other day he came in needing a minor service. Shortly after sitting down he set a new iPhone on my desk and mentioned that he had just picked it up last week. Yes, the same customer who refused to use ink over lead. Happy to find common ground I asked how he liked it. 

We spent the next ten minutes talking about how he had become the unofficial photographic historian for the city. He had some 11,000 photos of historic buildings and homes, new builds, landscapes, events, and everything in between. Most of the photos had been taken with a more professional camera, but he had moved all the storage to the cloud for quick access when he was out and about. 

As a person who prides myself on my talent in cultivating relationships, I must say I learned a great lesson about people during that conversation. No matter how busy I might be, or what important things might be on my agenda for the day, none of it is as important as the people. 

A number of years ago, I'd guess I was in college, I read some great advice that applies here. Unfortunately I don't recall the source, but it amounted to a simple concept: be interested. The story had been about someone who was struggling to enjoy settings with numerous new people because they felt others simply droned on and the conversations were boring. The advice was to "be interested" and to really listen to others and appreciate the diversity of people. 

I forget that lesson from time to time, but when I remember to put it to work it's amazing how different interactions with others feel. You learn how often you get caught up in your own agenda and how you really don't give others the time and attention they deserve. I relearned that with my customer the other day. When I could lay aside my work for ten minutes and really listen to who he was, it was surprisingly easy to find something I found interesting about him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bulletproof Your Diet Efforts

Google stopped counting "best diet tips" after getting to 313,000,000 in a little more than half a second. I didn't read any of the results, but I'm guessing most of the results include lists. Anyway, there are a lot of strategies to help you meet your diet goals. I'm just going to talk about one today. It's my own. I stumbled on it trying to eat better myself and I know it will help you. Most tips you read or hear about are about trying something new. This might be a new idea, but it's designed to keep you from going back to something old. 

Change your staples.

That's it. Change your diet staples and you'll have just as hard of a time going back to your bad habits as you had cleaning up your weekly menus in the first place. Many people make the mistake of trying too many new recipes when changing diets. I love to cook and I love creating in the kitchen and trying new things. But being a full time chef when you get home from work is exhausting. If you're not careful, it's easy to pick up an old staple one night on the way home from a long day of work and that's too often the beginning of the end for healthy intentions.

There was a time in my life when I could leave work late, stop at the store, blindfold myself, grab some fresh chicken, a package of those Buitoni tortellini, a jar of marinara, and head home. I didn't actually use the blindfold but I could have. Today, it's zucchini instead of tortellini and if they kept it in the same place every day I could probably do that blindfolded too. In the same way, it's automatic for me to pick up ground hamburger and some sweet potatoes or a spaghetti squash. 

When we first dropped grains in early 2013 it was a challenge sometimes to stand in the grocery store and try to find a quick meal for a Thursday night. But as we swapped out pasta nights for squash nights, pizza nights for hamburgers and salad nights, and pancakes for egg frittatas it's gotten much easier. And now that we have new staples, I'm not sure I'd immediately know how to switch back.

Some tips on replacing staples:
  • Write down a list of your go-to meals
    • Choose the ones that least fit the healthy diet you are trying to attain and work backwards
  • Find comparable options and swap when possible
    • When we cut grains we used zucchini and yellow squash to make the same dishes. We dropped hamburger buns and put our burgers on a bed of salad.
  • Menu plan and shop less often (at least for a while)
    • We're not great about this, but we often shop for the first half of the week on Sunday afternoons. It forces us to focus on shopping a little less often and doesn't set us up for failure on one of those quick stops on the way home from work.
After a couple months you'll start to feel like your grocery store trips are more automatic. You'll be buying familiar things every week and maintaining your diet switch will be a lot easier. Give it a try. Good luck and happy eating.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On Trail Running and Maybe Meditation

I've mulled all sorts of ways to write about my love affair with trail running.

I have bits of writing about my transition from a shin-splinted sidewalk sprinter to the river-side runner I am today. I have bits down about how trail running is more spiritual than physical or mental. I've written about the added challenges of navigating tree roots, rocks, puddles, narrow passages between trees, steep banks, various depths of mud and how they make me love running even more. 

Some day I'll share some of those with you. Today is about the mental benefits of trail running. You can read all about how nature is a good stress reliever and how activities like camping and hiking, visiting state and national parks, and enjoying a good campfire are some of the greatest pleasures in life. It's all true - and that's why I run in it.

I'm a really bad meditate-er (I'm OK with illegally hyphenating a word if I'm making up the work to begin with). Like probably at least a few of you, I have tried to meditate a handful of times and I suck at it. I can't sit still. I can't clear my mind. Thinking about my breathing is one of the few ways I can actually bore myself. I like to think it's because I'm imaginative. When I manage to stop thinking about all the stressors in my life, I fill it right back up with something new. I could probably do it with some practice and instruction, but I haven't figured it out yet.

When I'm running the trails however, I'm forced to put everything away. The challenge of navigating the path and the cardio effort require intense focus. I'm pretty good at worrying about all kinds of things at once, but out there it's not physically possible. If you zone out into thinking about a conversation from work or with your spouse you will trip over a tree root and roll down the bank into the river. If you think about your bank account you will stumble on a rock and drive your shoulder into a tree. If you think about chores that need to be done in the house you will miss your turn and find yourself stranded on the end of a long peninsula with a the flooded river around you.

Like the stories that I have heard about from my mediating friends, I reach a point of emptiness in my thoughts that doesn't really feel empty. It feels peaceful. It feels clear. It happens naturally because I've put myself in a place where my stressors can't follow. Whether or not it's the same, I guess it's taught me about the importance of taking time to do something, to go somewhere, for yourself once in a while. I think more people need to take that seriously be it on a mat in a quiet room of the house, on a trail in the woods, or anywhere in between.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Wolf Of Wall Street and Income Producing Activity

I won't really spoil anything from the movie here - instead I'm going to spoil the post a bit right now. Most of the inspiration for this post is from the first few minutes of the movie while we are being introduced to Jordan Belfort and his budding Wall Street career. I would write a movie review, but... well trust me, it's better that I don't start that.

At the beginning of the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort makes his way into his first Wall Street gig and meets a number of extreme characters. His lunch with Matthew McConaughey's Mark Hanna was, for me, one of the best parts of the movie. Hanna spoke about everything he did to be successful, clearly he was motivated by money and showed that he would do literally anything to get more of it. He offered that he was doing everything from alcohol to drugs to a number of other things to keep his edge every single day.

Moral notes aside, as the movie had its off-putting moments if you're the kind of person who has ever even driven past a church, Hanna's depiction of serving money was interesting to me. I say "serving money" because it reminded me of Matthew 6:24 - "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." I'm not going to try and enforce any moral code on Hanna, Belfort, or anything else that happened in the movie. Good stories inspire me to think about myself and Hanna's high level of success and the extreme choices he made to achieve it left me thinking about my own professional and personal success.

This isn't going to be about Matthew 6:24. The passage is another one that gets you thinking about how you define success, but it's a topic for another day. Rather this is about how Hannah forced as much income producing activity into his day as possible.

During a typical work day for me, I might spend 2-3 hours seeing clients, another 2 hours doing follow up, an hour reading on policy or product changes, an hour talking with colleagues, thirty minutes completing trackers and checklists, thirty minutes getting myself back on track after an interruption or after completing a task, and an hour at lunch. It would be easy to argue that all of those things have there place and that I appear to be pretty efficient at managing my time and getting a fair amount work done each day. You could also argue that spending just 25-40% of my time meeting with clients (the highest probability of income producing activity) is simply not enough to maximize success.

So how do I gear my day to shed more of the non-income producing activity in favor of more time with clients? Here are two things that I've made a habit in my work day that have made the difference for me:

Daily List

I already set a daily list of important items everyday when I first sit down at my desk. I look at items from the previous day that went undone and the items that most need to be done today and make a list. I try to keep it short. I first started this after hearing about the "6 Most Important Things" idea. Some days I have four, others eight, but I try to always have a list. To drive more income producing activities, I need to focus on what items are filling up that list. Half or more of those items should be about driving new production.

Personal Accountability

It comes down to me. I could ask to be managed, but like anyone else on Earth, I hate that. Being managed is a demotivator to me because I like knowing that I did something of my own volition. Simply then, I just need to decide that I'm going to push away service activity and adhere to more sales activity.