Archive for February, 2014

Back to normal this week, but ending the week a year older than I was when it started!

Positives:

  • Birthday – there were nice presents, tasty cake, scrumptious dinner – a day of being spoiled.
  • I’m a year older and I feel pretty good about it.
  • Bought some new gym wear – and all in medium as opposed to large which it was the last time I bought gym gear.
  • Saw the movie Machete Kills – highly amusing, heartily recommended.
  • Now level 13 at Fitocracy.
  • I can dead lift a Sloth bear!
  • Been using the hockey ball to try and improve the scar tissue in my right arm, think its getting better.
  • Discovered Syatt Fitness – some good articles there.
  • Discovered Al Kavadlo – just wow! I’m already wondering if there is anything that I might be able to do that he makes look effortless. His You Tube channel is amazing too.

Neutrals:

  • Still making slow progress with the same book.
  • Weight staying reasonably steady at under 79kg.
  • Only made the gym three times this week. That’s my minimum and I had hoped to do better.

Negatives:

  • Got toothache on Friday and it hurt big style. Unable to train on Friday or Saturday (emergency dental appointment) because of it.
  • Lots of birthday cake left doesn’t bode well for the coming week’s diet.

Back to training fully this week coming and living life to fullest despite being a year older!

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When I first started going to the gym I used to wear baggy old clothes that I could hide in. I’d tell myself it didn’t matter what I wore it was about what I did, that’s what was important.  It’s hard to argue with that statement, but here’s the thing, I didn’t perform very well. I didn’t feel good about myself and my confidence was rock bottom. Once I managed to learn a bit about what I was doing and I started to see improvements in my shape, my mindset about what I wore changed completely. I got rid of the old baggy jogging bottoms and T-shirts and bought some proper gym gear. It fitted better and I felt better in it, I felt more confident and as a result I performed even better.

Today I found another improvement. My current gym gear was getting pretty old and faded and I decided to get some new stuff. I’ve dropped a size. I’m now a medium – upper body and waist. Two and a half years ago I was an X-Large and I remember how delighted I was to get to being a large. I’d never really expected to get to medium. It wasn’t an intention or a goal, but it just seems to have happened. Naturally, I’m delighted. This is what I bought:

  Reebok top Adidas running top

My first ever sleeveless gym top and a standard sleeved one, although both are fairly fitted.

I’m a firm believer in feeling positive improves performance. As I’ve got older appearance has mattered more to me, and just as much at the gym as anywhere else. So feeling good about myself brings confidence, this my improves performance. It doesn’t substitute for performance. I’ve seen plenty of people at the gym in trendy clothing that do very little in the way of exercise – that’s not what I’m talking about. Instead, when I feel good about myself I’m more inclined to be able to squeeze out that last rep when my arms are burning and I’m feeling exhausted. Confidence helps me do more, and by doing more I feel more confident  – it’s a win-win situation if you can get the mindset right.

I’ve never worn a sleeveless gym top before. Never had the courage. I’ve always been too old, not buff enough, too much something, not enough something else. Well at 48 years of age I’m going to give it a go. I’m slightly surprised at myself for being this confident. Two years ago this would simply never have happened and would have never even been considered. Anyone suggesting it to me would have got a flat refusal. But yet here I am… I’ve toned up enough in the last couple of years to be able to wear this and while I’ll feel a bit strange (at first anyway) I won’t feel silly or laughable. Is buying a sleeveless gym top the onset of the mid-life crisis? I don’t think so, but if it is at least its cheaper than a Harley.

On the practical side I also find wearing the proper gear means I sweat less, and there are no two ways about it, I just don’t look that great when bright red of face with sweat pouring off me. Anything that improves that has got to be good – for everyone. So I’m guilty of a bit of gym wear vanity. I can live with that, if it helps my performance and I feel better in it then it sounds like a good investment to me. I dare say some people would disagree and if that works fine for them then I have no desire to try to change their minds. But as this blog is about me, its my opinions I’ll be focussing on.

I can’t say it’s as simple as new clothes automatically equals better performance, but I can say new clothes gives me a little more confidence and that boosts my performance. It’s also a chance to try something slightly new – and that’s always worthwhile. Sleeveless tops, whatever next…?

I came across this picture on the Fitocracy website and it amused me. Base your lifting on what size of bear you can lift (well why not?)…

tumblr_mui8wgHDF31qf1avqo1_500Bring forth the 250 lb panda and I’ll show you who’s boss. In fact I reckon I could probably dead lift a Sloth bear on a good day (managed 140 kg this week, so that sounds about right).

But, damn, it’s a longggg way to Grizzly from where I am. That’s almost three times my bodyweight – not sure we will ever get that one. However, everyone loves pandas so its good to know I can lift one when the opportunity arises – and of course that it stays still long enough.

I missed last week’s update as things at work have been busy resulting in too much away time.

Positives:

  • Valentine’s night postponed to the Saturday and enjoyed it with a nice meal and a bottle of wine – domestic bliss!
  • While away at work and being stuck in hotels at night I went out and treated the Fair One and I to a new top each. Indulgent but nice.
  • Mood staying positive. In fact my 48th birthday is due soon and I feel quite comfortable gaining a year as opposed to dreading it.
  • Now level 12 at Fitocracy.
  • Sleeping better again.
  • Trainer showed me how to massage my right arm which has some scar tissue in the muscle.  So I’ve been rolling around on a hockey ball to improve it.

Neutrals:

  • Still reading the same book, but only dipping into it, despite the subject matter being interesting.
  • Weight staying reasonably steady at 79kg.

Negatives:

  • Was away for three days this week due to work and with a load of driving it limited me to only making the gym twice
  • Diet hasn’t been great due to being away.
  • Muscle tear in my right arm been limiting my workouts too

Not away next week so need to get back to the gym and improve the diet too.

It was with a wry smile I read this article on the BBC website. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘slimming industry’, in fact I can’t think of a better example of a business which deserves to be pummelled out of existence. If that sounds a little harsh then let’s have a look at the evidence. If the slimming industry model actually worked, if the products were successful,  we wouldn’t have the industry. Instead we would have fit and healthy people. The slimming industry model is built not on customer success, but instead on customer failure. According to research, 77% of people who buy slimming industry products gain all lost weight within 5 years. I can’t think of any other business where a 77% failure rate would be accepted.

The slimming industry makes its bucks by selling dreams – not solutions. Well, not solutions for 77% of the customer base anyway. Buy a fad diet and the products, lose some weight, finish fad diet, put some weight back on again, buy another fad diet and more products. Repeat cycle for the rest of your life, or until you don’t care any more and decide being fat and unfit is acceptable. Wherever there is a fad diet there is someone making money. Buy the book, the DVD, subscribe to the monthly update, the supplements and then wait for the next one to come out that is EVEN better (which is normally not too hard a promise to keep). The money (and we’re talking billions here!) comes in from the repeat failure of customers unable to make a long-term difference. A significant part of that is down to the customer looking for an easy way to have the lifestyle they want while not putting on weight. ‘I want to eat burgers and pizza every night and still look great.’ That is never going to work and anyone who says its possible is lying or more likely about to try to sell you an alternative. Yet the slimming industry keeps on flogging the dream and the suckers keep paying for it.

There is a Weight Watchers group that meet weekly at the gym I go to. I see them sitting around in the reception area. One slim woman with big hair, perfect make up and a painted on smile clicking away on a laptop while taking money, one set of scales and a bunch of overweight people sitting about. There have been a at least a few times I’ve thought of saying ‘instead of sitting on your ass in the reception area why not go into the gym and maybe move around a bit?’ But that would be rude and probably hurtful. I believe that most of the people attending these meetings think that by showing up and paying their fees they are already making a positive step to lose weight.

weight scales

So now Weight Watchers are feeling the pinch themselves. They have fallen victim to the amount of fitness and diet apps out there. We no longer have to sign up to Weight Watchers and attend meetings, we can fool ourselves from the comfort of our own couch while eating potato chips that by downloading an app we are living a more healthy life. It won’t make us any healthier but at least it might make the snake oil market a good bit more competitive which will allow people to have more money for their medical bills when their health fails from following the fads of the slimming industry. Looking at the company statement the writing has been on the wall for WW throughout 2013. Growth in quarters 2013 went 10.9%, 6.6%, 0.6% and then in Q4 down 5.3%. And I’d also love to know what was behind:

Excluding the $14.5 million over-accrual reversal benefit associated with the settlement in Q4 2012 of the UK self-employment tax litigation

Looks like they got off far lighter than they expected for some tax ‘issue’, or perhaps just a clever way to defer some profits to reduce tax dues for the year? Who can say? For me, and I’m not an accountant, the big thing in the statement was how attendance had dropped from 50.7m to 42.9m in one year. So over the course of 12 months approx 1 in 6 people who had been paying Weight Watchers decided to stop. There is no business on the planet looking at that statistic that isn’t thinking ‘we must do something about this’. It’s also a chance for a positive change. Its their big chance to do something the slimming industry has never done – provide an honest product that makes a lasting difference. I’m not holding my breath though.

One last thing, if you ever get the chance to see the BBC series The Men Who Made Us Thin, then I really recommend you do so. A fascinating documentary on the marketing that leads us to purchase products from the slimming and health industries and also some of the history behind it. A really good series. You can find a write-up of it here.

That this is a day late probably sums up everything about my attitude towards Valentine’s Day. It’s not that I am against a day which celebrates love and being close to someone, it’s just that I can’t be bothered with the tacky marketing and the doing something on the day because s/he will be massively offended if I don’t.

February 14th this year saw me at work all day, followed by an appointment with the trainer at the gym. Roses, cards with high content of pink and cute did not feature throughout the day. Was Mrs. Mid Life Female bothered about this? Not a jot. A few years ago we managed to find decent cards for each other but not these days. We decided to stop buying cards for each other when we agreed we couldn’t find any we liked, the gesture becomes a bit empty when its preceded with an apology about ‘how it was th best card I could find’. For the past few years all I can find is nauseating slush e.g.

valentineslush

You have got to be fucking joking!

It ticks a number of Valentine’s Day boxes – Roses: check;  Talks about love: check; Flowery semi-poetic gibberish: check. If I spoke to the fair one like this she would administer a well deserved slap. This example is typical of what’s on offer at this time of year. It’s designed so the person giving this can avoid having to come up with anything original themself. Frankly its awful. Any other day of the year uttering this kind of gibberish will get you dumped on the spot. But on one day of the year it is apparently OK to spout this kind of rubbish and the poor recipient feels they have to tolerate it on the grounds that it is Valentine’s Day. There is a great scene in National Lampoons Animal House when John Belushi is walking down stairs of a frat house toga party only to find some guy with an acoustic guitar singing about love, off-key, out of tune and with appalling lyrics. Belushi takes the guitar from him and smashes it to pieces, before handing it back. This is how this kind of card makes me feel. Not loving and romantic but violent and mildly psychotic about finding the person who designed it and pulling out their fingernails with pliers.

Of course if you are a celebrity the gesture and the expense involved are the most important things. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like being rich and spending a vast sum on a gesture and ensuring your agents leak it to the press and turn it into a PR stunt. Love is getting one of your minions to arrange the Valentine’s Day gift but press recognition is what really counts.

In the past I have been out for Valentine’s Day dinner, restaurants bursting at the seams with couples looking into each others eyes over a plastic rose and some cheap pink bubbly being passed off as Proseco, trying desperately to think of something to say. Never again. Its one of the few days of the year I’d really advise NOT going out for a meal.

For the mid-life male its a little less mass market. It’s about what celebrating what we enjoy. So after work today we settled down with a take away curry (extra chillies please), a nice bottle of wine and will follow it up with a reasonable movie, which will most likely have little romance but an impressive body count. I will tell her how much I love her and it will have nothing to do with the day of the year – because I do it every day. No pink frilly tacky shit in site. We’ve been together for over 20 years and in that time we have gone past the stage of doing things because somehow it’s expected and instead we do what makes us happy.  She doesn’t need 1000 roses to know I love her, she needs to hear me say it and know I mean it, 365 days per year – not just 1.

Search around the web or Twitter these days and this expression is common enough. But what is Life Hacking?

No matter what you might think, Life Hacking does sound pretty cool.  If asked what you do for a living which answer would you rather come up with:

Answer A – I’m distribution manager. Or…

Answer B – I’m a life hacker.

I know which one sounds more interesting to me. Life hacking sounds grandiose, it sounds worthwhile, its modern, its cutting edge. Its making differences to lives today – and those differences will make a fuck of an improvement to your life – right now!

According to Wikipedia:

Life hacking refers to any productivity trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life; in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem of a person in a clever or non-obvious way.

So life hacker isn’t really an occupation, its more a hobby or perhaps a pastime? Let’s reword the question. So what do you get up to in your spare time?

Answer A – Try and hit the gym regularly, keep up with some books and a little blogging

Answer B – I life hack. I make myself more productive and more efficient.

For sheer interest value I’m still with Answer B. But as its now only a pastime, I’m starting to think it’s sounding a little cheesy and maybe smacks a little of an over inflated ego.

There are lots of websites and individuals with Lifehacking claims and these range from the sublime to the ridiculous. For example I’ve seen a Lifehack suggesting that you shouldn’t wash a pair of denims and instead just use Fabreeze to freshen them up a bit so the denim doesn’t fade so quickly. Save washing only for when they are covered with stains and noticeable dirt. OK, this sounds a moderately practical idea but somehow it doesn’t conjure up what Life hacking sounds like. Another one I saw suggested taking a picture with your mobile phone of friends when they borrow something (with the borrowed item) so you can remember who borrowed what later on. Seriously? This is hacking one’s life? No, it’s just old-fashioned ‘tips and tricks’ and even then some of them are just plain idiotic (my suggestion is if you are incapable of working out who you lend things to, its time to stop lending things…. How’s that for a Life hack?).

That said – I still want to hack my life. But not in a fortune cookie kind of way. I want to review my actions and my productivity. Could I have done better using a different technique? Could I have gotten better results? And my favourite unanswered question – what is my potential to do that better next time? Where that is anything from the report I’ve written, to the time it took me to make a playlist to the set of reps I did at the gym. The hack comes in with the improvements I can think of.

To me a life hack should be meaningful and not as Wikipedia suggests a “novelty”. It’s not a gizmo to make your desk marginally tidier (use bulldog clips to secure cables) or how to stop paint spilling off a tin (put a rubber band across the open top of the tin to wipe your brush on). Life hacking should be something you feel enriched by, your life has changed for the better.

  • Ignore calories and concentrate on what you are eating and what’s in it.
  • If you want to lose weight, don’t just go to the gym – eat less. And eat more carefully. For weight loss eating better is way more productive than going to the gym.
  • Don’t look for motivation, it’s a variable. Think about discipline – it is a constant. (This statement alone is making a massive difference to me just now).
  • Don’t change the world overnight. Just getting lots of small gains will change your world for you. Next thing you’re winning the Tour De France.

To me, the above are life hacks – real life hacks. That’s the sort of information that changes lives – meaningfully. So my aim is to become a life hacker. I’ll hack my own life to be happier. I’ll hack it to be more productive, to be fitter and to feel I’m living up to my potential. I’m not interested in ‘novelty value’ and never will be. So the Mid Life Male will be looking to become a meaningful life hacker. It might not be everyone’s definition of life hacking, but it will work for me and hopefully along the way some others too.

I’d love to say this all my own work, but it’s not. Instead, it comes from Craig Jarrow at Time Management Ninja. There is just so much good stuff in here I just had to put it out again.

Here are 29 Ways You’re Wasting Time Today:

  1. Complaining. No one gets what they want by whining. Instead, try asking.
  2. Commuting during rush hour. Time-shift your drive for less traffic.
  3. Gossiping. It never gets the work done.
  4. Doing other people’s work. Do your work first.
  5. Watching TV. No one ever accomplished their goals by sitting on the couch.
  6. Hanging out with negative people. Be careful, attitude is contagious.
  7. Procrastinating. Action now always beats inaction.
  8. Indecision. Make decisions or life will make them for you.
  9. Reading the news. Go on a media diet.
  10. Antagonizing others. If you don’t have something nice to say…
  11. Playing video games. Angry Birds doesn’t get work done. Neither does Words with Friends.
  12. Eating junk food. Do something active and get your body in motion.
  13. Making empty promises. Stop saying what you’re not going to do.
  14. Waiting for something to happen. Go out and make it happen.
  15. Attending unnecessary meetings. Practice the “Right to Decline” unneeded meetings.
  16. Reading Email. Only check it 3 times a day. Morning, noon, end of day.
  17. Answering the phone. Remember, your phone is there for your convenience.
  18. Playing Email Ping-Pong. Avoid the back-and-forth, go talk to someone.
  19. Not putting things away. You’ll have to look for them later.
  20. Surfing the web endlessly. One thing leads to another…
  21. Constantly updating your social media status. No one needs to know what you are eating for lunch.
  22. Not capturing ideas. Where did you write down that million dollar idea?
  23. Fighting with others. Agree to disagree, but skip the fight.
  24. Reading the tabloids. Do you need to know which celeb got arrested this week?
  25. Looking for things you misplaced. Make sure you have a place for your stuff.
  26. Letting email notifications interrupt your day. Turn off those pop-ups!
  27. Piling instead of filing. Piles are not organization.
  28. Not looking at your todo list. You wrote that task down, but you didn’t look at your list.
  29. Solving the same problems, again. Make sure you document solutions so you have them down the road.

What Shouldn’t You Do Today?

Sometimes it’s not what you do, but what you stop doing.

Protect your day from these time-wasters.

You just might have a little more time in your day.

Question: Where do you catch yourself wasting time?

Back to me again, seeing as Craig has already done all the hard work.

I look at the above and it reads at first like its workplace related, but its more than that. There is a lot of stuff there that relates to everyday home life. One of the things that horrified me was when I worked out how many hours a week I could just spend trawling the web for any and all tangents that caught my interest. However if I had to pick just one of the 29 listed points it would be number 27:

Piling instead of filing.Piles are not organization.

As soon as I read this one I just thought, that’s me – and not in a good way.

Overall, I think I’m pretty good at managing my time, but yeah, always room for improvement.

Links – Joe Abercrombie

Posted: February 3, 2014 in Books

Quite simply Joe Abercrombie is my favourite author and has been for some years. I first encountered his offerings when the Fair One brought home a book she had seen lying about in Waterstones entitled The Blade Itself.

BladeItself

I took a quick look at the blurb and decided straight away this was more my kind of thing than hers:

  • Science Fantasy – check.
  • Characters with silly names hailing from ridiculous sounding locations – check.
  • Not a standalone book, its part of a trilogy – check.

The Fair one was having none of this and pointed out the book also had:

  • A somewhat dark nature (how many books start with a ‘hero ‘ who is a torturer?) – check.
  • A definite dark sense of humour throughout – check.
  • No ‘cute’ races like hobbits, kender, faeries or windlings. So it can’t possibly be fantasy – check.

We agreed to share the book. This was back in 2006, we haven’t missed a book he’s written since then. If you look closely at the picture above you will see the quote from The Guardian – “Delightfully twisted and evil.” That sums it up pretty well. The traits of all Abercrombie’s books include a dark humour throughout, a wonderful turn of phrase and characters with as much (if not more) darkness to them as they have redeeming qualities. You won’t find a Legolas in any of his books, but certainly a few characters that would give the Lannisters a run for their gold.

I’d suggest you buy them and read them in order as the characters from one book tend to appear in later ones.

Abercrombie is changing things about a bit for his next book – Young adult fiction. ‘Half A King’ already written, comes out in July. This should be an interesting departure for him. He’s already addressed fan concerns on his forum that just because its Young Adult doesn’t mean it can’t be dark and twisted too. I’ll be curious to see how that goes.

You can find Joe Abercrombie on Twitter under @LordGrimdark and that’s well worth following. Especially for the 1-star reviews of his books he tweets excerpts from e.g. Today’s 1-star: ‘This book killed a small part of my inner child.’ If you have an inner child then keep them the fuck away from an Abercrombie book, go give them some fairy tales or similar. Unlike a lot of authors Abercrombie doesn’t just use social media to push his products but he opines on all sorts of everyday stuff, usually with good comedic value. His blog is good value too, with lots of variety – games, TV, whiskey deathmatches and even the odd bit about what he’s writing.

If I still haven’t convinced you to get some of his books then all I can say is think of George R R Martin with more (dark) humour and a plot that knows where its going.  If you like Game of Thrones, then you can’t fail to like this too.

Continuing in form from the previous weeks.

Positives:

  • Made the gym five times (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Work has been more demanding this week but I still made the gym at the same frequency. Sometimes I just forced myself to go. Discipline over motivation.
  • Weight staying steady and still under 79kg.
  • Spent some time on Twitter this week looking for new sources of inspiration. Discovered Effortlessgent, subscribed to Seth Godin (how had I forgotten him?), Craig Jarrow (Time Management Ninja – what a name!) and Chris Guillebeau. Godin and Jarrow are excellent, the other two are too early to tell.
  • Still focusing on a positive mood.
  • Now level 10 at Fitocracy.
  • Watched Whitehouse Down and loved it.
  • Experimenting with a Reward based credit card – let’s see how that goes. It’s a while since I’ve done anything new with money related matters.
  • Cleared out the loft of junk. Still struggling to comprehend how we amassed so much of it in the first place.
  • Won the lottery!

Neutrals:

  • Work still too quiet on the sales front, no shortage of stuff for me to do. But it’s not as busy as we should be.
  • Haven’t slept quite so well this week, not sure why.

Negatives:

  • The fair one’s cold has been awful all week. Three days off work and she hasn’t made the gym.
  • Current book is proving to be a grind. Perseverance required.
  • The lottery win amounted to £5.10.