The Early Worm Gets the Worm

Last week, I talked about anxiety around time. The part I didn't really mention was that I'm starting to feel anxious about finding work. Calgary is in really bad shape with respect to the job market, with hundreds of applications for each opening. However, I know that since I get anxious well before I need to, that's an indicator that I can still take it easy for a while. The month of October was focused on really basic exercise, so November will be about cranking up the exercise portion by going to the gym and about beginning to focus on my sleep.

I started going to the gym this week. I wake up at 5:30 AM, make coffee, and catch a ride with a buddy to hit the GoodLife gym by 6. Once I get home, I make a nice protein shake in my Magic Bullet with milk, greek yogurt, vanilla protein powder, peanut butter, and a banana. It's been a long time since I lifted weights, and it wasn't an easy routine. It's good that I'm not working right now because my body was much less useful this week. I could barely bend my arms at the elbow, and it took great effort to stand and walk around after my first leg day in decades. I laid down in agony for pretty much the entire week. Extra Strength Tylenol doesn't really help, but I also know that the hardest part is starting. Luckily my friend has a healthy love/disdain for me, which makes it easier to force me to not wimp out. He apparently feeds off my misery, so we're the perfect workout partners. I'm playing a lot of Civilization these days because it distracts from the physical pain. In combination with the workouts, I'm finally able to escape my overwhelming emotions, continuing the trend from previous weeks. The bad thing is that Civ is doing such a good job at helping me escape that I play for hours at a time. Sometimes progress is simply a matter of shifting your problems.

I think one of my workout goals will be to look good. I've written before that I never really cared to look good or dress well. I want a Superman chest. I'm also not working on my diet just yet, which I'll reserve for December. October was exercise, November will be exercise + sleep, and then December will add on diet to complete the cycle. I suppose January will be the job hunt.

I'm not fat. I'm cultivating mass.

What I'm learning from this gym experience is that it's okay to push yourself hard so long as you rest hard as well. The past 20 or so months, I dove head first into my emotional problems, and now this week, I'm doing that with the gym. Exercise destroys your muscles, and the resting part is where your body actually becomes stronger. It's all so simple, but even though I knew it in my head, I never practised it. Overworking for years, I never really took the necessary time to rest and keep a level head. Partying and drinking don't count as resting either, but they help in a different way. Up time requires down time. What goes up must come down, and I just kept going up and up until I couldn't anymore and ultimately crashed. I'm making progress in this area though.

Another lesson I'm learning is that it's okay to borrow someone else's success. Like some old army buddies were saying on the TV show Firefly:

When you can’t run, you crawl. And when you can’t crawl, you find someone to carry you.

Copying my friend's routine helps a lot. You wouldn't know it from looking at him, but he's actually pretty smart. He has good technique and posture, so I'm learning. Plus, GoodLife gyms opened later than normal for Remembrance Day long weekend, so while we waited, we went to the Pokémon Gym.

Small batches. I forget if I talked about this before, but one lesson from the Lean Startup is that it's better to create finished products in small batches versus mass producing in bulk. When you create one product at a time, you verify lots of intermediate steps and learn things along your way to the end. You can then use those learnings for your next cycle, and things will improve and accelerate from there. When you produce in bulk, you spend extra time shuffling the half-finished products between steps, and that wastes time and increases risk because the small problems you run into along the way are multiplied by the amount of bulk. I've always hated washing dishes since my mom yelled at me when I helped out (and messed up) as a kid, but I had to wash a few loads this week because Carrie was pulling 14 hour days all week. Small batches means its faster to wash and rinse dishes individually, whereas I had always scrubbed everything at once, rinsed, then stacked everything at the end. This probably saves water, but it's slower and you run into different problems along the way (all of them being really minor). So I tried something new this week, washing dishes in smaller batches to make it less painful for me to do. Scrubbing, rinsing, and stacking one dish at a time makes the process faster and less painful because it creates more room in the sink along the way. Stacking a bunch of soapy dishes is clumsy. Maybe the bulk way saves water, but washing dishes by hand wastes water by comparison with dishwashing machines, which are so much more efficient and effective. Some people just prefer it by hand, but this is one job I'm glad to hand over to the robots. One day that technology will be mine.

Looked at another way, no matter how I ended up choosing to wash the dishes, it could be considered a small batch because I finished that chore before moving on to another. Doing all the chores in bulk might look like washing 5 dishes, then taking the trash out but only as far as the hallway, then putting away half the groceries, then sweeping a small corner of the studio. Another way of unencumbering my big batch (or cumberbatching) is by breaking it into smaller loads over a few days.

Carrying the lesson of small batches back over to my bigger problems, it's better to handle them one at a time. I started with a pretty consistent record of Pokewalking almost every day in October, so this month it's been easier to step up the exercise while starting to work on my sleep. My mind has already been conditioned to get outside at least once a day to close the Activity Rings on my Apple Watch, so even though the exercise is now in a gym and much more difficult, the problem has effectively already been solved because it's a daily habit. As I wrote in previous posts, I didn't really care that all I did was merely walking 5 km, but it was more important that I set a bar, however low, that I could reach consistently. With that problem gone, it's easier to start working on a new problem, which is my sleep habits.

It's better to refer to sleep routine or habits as sleep hygiene because there are lots of good and bad practises, but doing some of the bad ones won't necessarily dictate how your sleep will go. Say in oral hygiene, if you don't brush your teeth one night, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll get a cavity. Sleep is multifaceted, and it's different for everyone. For myself, I haven't had great sleep this year, which was a contributing factor in me failing to work hard and rest hard. To start off this month, I'm holding myself to these guidelines:

  • Use the silent, vibrating alarm on my Apple Watch instead of a harsh and loud alarm on my phone.
  • Get up right away after my alarm. Snoozing has zero value in terms of actual rest.
  • Exercise earlier in the day is better for sleep. Late night exercises can make you stay up later.
  • Use a softer light in the morning to gently wake up. I have a Philips Hue Go, which is a portable, battery-powered LED bulb. One day I'll get the Philips Hue Bridge so the app can make it mimic the sunrise.
  • Only one coffee a day, in the morning. Somehow a coffee any time after 12 PM means I sleep after 12 AM.
  • Only naps after lunch for maximum half an hour.
  • Set an alarm to get ready for bed.
  • Turn down the lights and screens (TV, tablet, phone). These light sources trick our brains into thinking the sun is out later than it actually is. Nothing much happens anyways, so there's really nothing to check that urgently.
  • Avoid late meals and snacks.
  • No upsetting conversation topics in bed like the US Election and white supremacy.
  • Sleep for seven to seven and a half hours each night. Eight hours is too much for most people and results in feeling less rested. Sleep cycles last somewhere between 90 and 100 minutes, and you should aim to wake up in the end, right after dreaming.
  • If I can't fall asleep after being in bed for three minutes, get up or read a book.
  • Drink less and stay in more. I don't really have the energy to go out these days. Plus summer is gone, though you wouldn't know it with Calgary's weird warm weather. Fall has been a nicer and warmer season than summer this year.
  • Wake up the same time on weekends. Sleep doesn't work like a bank, so you can't catch up on lost sleep with a 1:1 ratio. Binge sleeping, whether sleeping longer on some days or napping for hours, throws off your sleep cycle immensely. It's better to maintain good sleep hygiene every day.

My sleep routine is getting a makeover. Now my schedule lines up nicely with Carrie's, which makes our mornings and evenings much easier. It's still been a really hard week, especially with my body being so sore that I couldn't move. I skipped the gym today because I'm struggling to walk (should have skipped leg day), so I'm sure my workout buddy will make me pay for it in the gym tomorrow morning. One problem at a time.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le