Monday, 28 September 2015

The Dream of a Purpose For A Life

So for complicated reasons that aren’t very interesting, I’ve been thinking about the “find your purpose in life” thing. I had a number of thoughts, but mostly of an analytical nature which aren’t terribly useful to anyone. And then along comes Mike Cernovich with a post about living your dreams and daring to dream big. Being a sad sack, if I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a gajillion times.

Here’s my problem with it.

I have no dreams.

Seriously. I’ve never wanted to “be” anything or anybody. I’ve never looked at anything and thought “That. That’s what I want.” I’ve thought the equivalent of “that would be a really cool-to-have” but never “This. Right here. Right now. This is it.” I’ve been mildly blissed out now and again, and certainly been at ease for lengths of time, often by the sea. I like warm dry air, swimming because the feel of water on my skin, strong winds for a similar reason, blue skies, sparkling water, the restless waves of the Atlantic… all sorts of stuff. I can be transported by music and look at pretty girls for ever. But this is all just drugs.

Let me explain that.

My hormone soup is sharp vinegar. My serotonin re-uptake is so efficient that the stuff barely has a chance to work. As for oxytocin and all those other feel-good hormones, give my hypothalamus a prod because it doesn’t produce any. The slightest wound takes forever to heal, and I have never felt bonding to any of the perfectly attractive and pleasant women I’ve known. I spent years as a suffering alcoholic, and a few more before and after as a needy, depressed ACoA. Heck, I can’t even take a week off work without feeling agitated and depressed. Whether I go away or stay at home. It’s not the work and the people I miss, but the distraction that coping with commutes and work provides.

My body, brain and hormones are wired entirely wrong. I cannot feel good - I don’t have the chemicals that you do when you feel “good”. Your idea of feeling “normal” would be my idea of a heavenly rest. It’s not that I feel down, bad or depressed all the time - though I used to when I was drinking - it’s like you’re wearing an emotional silk shirt and I’m wearing emotional coarse wool shirt.

My dream is to get away from my hormone soup. I've stayed away from drugs all my life because I know that if I found one that got me out of it, I would never come back in again. There is nothing in this world that can get me away from my body - it comes with me wherever I go. And every now and then I simply can’t keep up the pretence, and wallow in self-pity for a while. Not long, because I can’t really afford long, but sometimes it’s the only honest feeling I have. No. Make that, sometimes it’s the only feeling I have.

Which sounds a little melodramatic, so I’ll say that I have all the "daily feelings”, you know, the simple stuff that ranges from “Yum tuna sandwich” (did anyone actually say that in real life?) to “Ugh rain and no umbrella”, taking in “yippee a window seat” and “isn’t it great to be alive walking across Waterloo Bridge at 07:30 under a blue sky?”. Those are top notes on the base of slightly brakish tapwater (to strain the metaphor). The difference between you and me is the base, not the top notes.

So what about the whole “purpose” and “dreams” thing? Those of us who needed fixing, and may still secretly want fixing, and those of us with mis-wired hormones, tend not to be enthusiastic about dreams and life-purposes. Even if we realised our dreams, we would still have the same emotional problem.

Over time, I’ve come to consider that self-respect is a better motive than happiness - well, I would, wouldn’t I? I do stuff because it stretches and develops me, and that is a good in its own right. Not a popular one, and not one with a lot of sugar, but I’m fairly sure that Aristotle would get the point. Self-respect keeps me training, walking, watching what I eat, reading difficult books, and other such improving activities. It doesn’t get me on the Promenade des Anglais watching the sunset before supper on a side street in the Old Town, and I do miss that stuff, but I can’t do it on my own anymore. Maintaining my self-respect (aka “overweening vanity”) doesn’t cure Cancer or rid Africa of hunger, but, oh, neither does anything else.

My main motive is and has always been fear. Fear of winding up in a no-hope council estate. Fear of being poor; of being coarse, crude and stupid; of chaos; of being overweight; of irreparable injury; of a slow, lingering death that takes my dignity. I do stuff to avoid those things, and when I have, I pretty much feel like I’m okay. I don’t do stuff because it’s going to make me richer, or more popular, or more satisfied. Fear is a strong motivator, but it doesn’t get me past a fairly basic standard of living. Vanity that does that. (Oh yeah, I’m a total mess.)

Mike Cernovish thinks of dreams in terms of going places and doing things. At his age, and with what he has in the bank, I’d think of it like that as well. When I was much younger, I wanted to be a university lecturer (actually, I wanted to be a philosopher, and lecturing was how you got paid for that), and I thank my Higher Power that didn’t happen. When I started work, I wanted to get into management, and now I’m glad I’m not. I don’t like what management and university teaching have become. As for back-packing round South America or jumping off bridges with a big elastic band round my ankles… nah. I’ll leave that to the kids in Deloitte’s.

A man at any stage of his life should have an ambition, as it gives him direction, but what it is can change as his life changes. There’s no proper pattern, except that it’s generally sensible to match the ambition to the energy you have, which tends to be higher when younger. At the moment, one of my ambitions (Mercury in Gemini, what can I say?) is to find an intuitively-acceptable explanation of why there are as many linearly independent one-forms as holes on a Riemann surface. There are complicated explanations, but no simple ones. When (not if) I find it, you will read about here. I have no connections with the academic world, so it won’t be seen by anyone. I’m not doing it for you, I’m doing it for me.

In the end, this is one thing about all ambitions, plans and dreams: unless we do it for ourselves, it won’t be satisfying. Satisfaction comes from playing the music, not the applause. Other people might benefit, and it’s nice that they do. But they don’t have to for the ambition to be successful.

Your Mileage May Vary on this. You’re not an alcoholic and you’re not my age. If you have ambitions and dreams, please do all you can to realise them. And on that subject Mike’s post has some good advice.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

How I Use My FitBit, Diet and Exercise To Lose Weight

What the doctors and diet industry won’t tell you is that if you want to lose weight, you need to make eating and exercising work together. Why? Suppose your BMR is 2,200 and you don’t exercise beyond about a mile’s walk on the commute and to get lunch. That’s about 2,300 calories (that’s right, one mile at 4 mph at a reasonable weight is 100 calories. See why exercise alone won’t do it?) At a 500 calorie daily deficit, that’s 1,800 calories. Do that to your body a couple of times and homeostatis is going to kick in: your body is going to turn down the energy it uses to get through the day to allow for the lowered intake. This is where the exercise takes effect: not only does it force your body to burn calories, but it tells it that there’s an expectation of higher activity rates and it had better stay alert. This counters the homeostasis, and you get your 500 calorie deficit.

Okay? Eat less, body slows down; exercise more, body speeds back up again. That’s why we need to do diet and exercise together.

My Fitbit tells me the number of calories I have left to eat today, assuming I don’t do any more over-the-BMR activity. This is often a scarily low figure. I used to have very inactive Saturdays, and had used up my allowance after breakfast and lunch. If the calories left falls below about 200, I know it’s time to get some walking or exercise in (because hot chocolate drink in the evening). Basically, I keep going until the "calories remaining" is back where I need it. Now, I don’t actually just walk round our office (not trivial, you could run the 400 metres round the full length of my floor) until I use up 250 calories, but it does encourage me to, say, get off at Oxford Circus and walk rather than go to Piccadilly Circus, which is just round the corner from my gym. That’s often all it takes.

It’s not enough to say “If you eat a little too much, you can walk it off.” You need to know you’ve walked it off.

It’s not quite as closely-managed as I may have made it sound, but it’s possible because the Fitbit, or any other tracker with the same functionality, makes it easier to monitor my activity and intake. As with checking the calories / 100 grammes on food packaging, it’s a habit that’s easy to get into and quickly becomes automatic. Using this method, I’ve kept up a 500+ calorie / day deficit for three weeks, with no real pain.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Way of The Superior Man - Or Pitching To Your Audience

For reasons that are too unconvincing to describe, I wound up reading a book called The Way of the Superior Man recently. I rarely feel “that’s three hours I won’t get back”, but I did about that book. Pseudo-spiritual snake oil and polysyllabic tantric soft-core porn. I found many things objectionable about it, not least the characterisation of many dysfunctional and downright rude and thoughtless female behaviours as flowing from a “feminine energy” and therefore “good” or at least, as unavoidable and non-negotiable as the weather. Why would anyone say that?

Well, it’s like this. a) The audience for these books, and sites such as Rational Male and MMSL, is mostly married men; b) the appalling female behaviour described so well is actually that of a disrespectful bitch who should be kicked clean out of any man's life; c) but he can’t kick her out, because the cost of divorce, so he’s stuck with her; d) which would be intolerable if he believed that her shrewish behaviour was directed at him personally and specifically, and that there was nothing he could do to change the situation; e) so he needs to believe that all women are like that, it isn’t him personally, and maybe by Connecting With His True Purpose or Instilling Dread or running Married Game or some other trick, he can make his life more tolerable; f) hence the popularity of books and sites which reassure married men that, indeed, All Women Are Like That, and find “reasons”, from mystical “feminine energy” to “evolutionary psychology” and for all I know String Theory as well, for what is actually consciously-chosen, shrewish, nasty, dysfunctional, manipulative and generally awful behaviour.

I’ve always been amazed at just how much ingenuity men put into “explaining” the unacceptable behaviour of their, or other men’s, partners. I’m amazed because I’m a bachelor (the bit where I was in an LTR and told myself that the bits I didn’t like were just what happened in LTR’s and I needed to get used to it? Never happened). Bachelors are bachelors because they aren’t prepared to put up with women’s random. Who would? The answer is: millions of married men. Who live in an emotional world I can’t even begin to imagine. Maybe bachelors have Rat in their Chinese horoscope: that little critter never gets into anything he doesn’t have a way out of. Which is also the first rule of business: never sign a contract you can’t afford to cancel.

So books describing the Way a man should live are not going to sell if the opening message is “Married? Put this back on the shelf. You’re screwed.” On the other hand, if they don’t say that, they are full of lies and deception. To this day, the best self-improvement book for men remains Bernhard Roetzel’s Gentleman. Which tells you how bad all the others are.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Feel the Emotion, Don’t Buy The Chocolate

Eating and training well consistently are easier to do if your life is in a reasonable groove. It doesn’t have to be a dull routine, just stable enough that you know you will be able to make your training sessions, and you’re not going to be exposed to distracting business lunches or trips to places where all the food is heavy and the portions are large. That much is obvious.

The real trip-up isn’t missing a training day or a heavy night on the lager and curry. The real trip-up is from the consequences of interacting with other people, or “emotions” as you earthlings say.

I can only speak for myself, but the experience of rejection is chemical. I feel like someone has injected me with something you wouldn’t want in your system to set you up for a Saturday night. Along with fear, it’s the only emotion I experience that vividly. If that is Argentinian steak, everything else is new potatoes in comparison. If I get to feeling that I have been rejected by the entire human race, or am rejecting all sorts of good things for myself, then I can fall into a slump from in which it’s a really good idea to eat a bar of chocolate every night. And biscuits while watching a couple of episodes of a box set. And some cake for tea. One nasty bout of self-pity and I can add an extra 1,000 calories per day for a week or so. And eat lasagna instead of salad and chicken escalope for lunch. That’s at least four pounds straight on, and it takes a while to get back into managed eating again.

Don’t even think of quoting Buddhism at me. I will dive down the Internet and squirt custard in your face if you do. Anyone who lives a life worth living is going to have mood-altering emotions, and they are going to act out on those emotions. Most people have a drink, others pop out for a cigarette, yet others spend hours talking about it, and I eat because I’m a non-smokng alcoholic with no other resources.

I’ve mentioned before that having something to interrupt the progress from feeling to chocolate is useful. I’m not a believer in managing one’s emotions: managing what I do under the thrall of those emotions is usually a fairly sensible thing to do. But not denying what I’m feeling. Feelings tell us things about ourselves.

Feeling rejection tells me I really do want something; feeling angry tells me that my boundaries have been stepped over; feeling scared tells me I may be about to lose something valuable; feeling frustrated tells me either that I’m stuck in a situation I can’t get out of or that I’m not taking the action I need to take; feeling bored tells me I need to re-think how I spend my time. Not feeling anything tells me I’m where I want to be doing what I want to be doing. (Happiness isn’t a feeling: it’s the absence of bad feelings. The “up” feelings that even I get from time to time are from drugs that the body produces.)

Try to change what we feel and we lose the information. (But maybe that’s why other people try to do that.)

Emotions have to be acknowledged, felt, and their effects managed. The effects, not the emotions. If I want a good jag of self-pity, then I’m going to have one, but what I’m not going to do for a while is let them take me into Asda (?^%$!) when on the way to the car so I can stock up on biscuits and chocolate.

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Real Food Groups: Dangerous, Safe, Caution and Protein

I’ve been mildly obsessive conscientious about looking up and recording calories for about a week now. It’s an easy habit to get. Pick up some food from the shelf, flip the pack and find the nutrition table. You’re looking for the kilocalories (these are so-called "small calories”, and a small calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of a gramme of water by one degree centrigrade; a “food calorie” is 1,000 small calories, sometimes written with a capital C). It’s worth doing for a while. I still can’t quite get over how many calories grains have, and how much fuller I feel if I eat the same amount of calories in root vegetables or potatoes.

Nobody can remember long lists of food and calories and of course it is silly to check everything before you eat it. The point is that you don’t need to. Start looking at calories and some patterns will jump right out at you. (Context: I cook most of my food at home from raw or tins of beans. The only processed foods I eat turn out to be those in the “Dangerous” group below. But if you eat prepared meals with little sachets of oil or mayo, you’ll need to look at the labels.)

Here’s one so obvious it’s hit even me within a few days of looking up the numbers:

Dangerous: 500+ Cals/100g or per portion. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cakes, biscuits, pastry, chocolate, four tablespoons of oil (Indian food cooked in ghee). Also anything that adds a disproportionate about of calories: mayo, salad cream, white or brown sugar.

Safe: less than 100 Cals/100g. Fruit, vegetables. Potatoes. Plus these have, if un-processed, lots of fibre which make me feel full.

Caution: between 100 and 500 cals/100g. Any carbs (wheat, rye, corn, rice, polenta and anything else that the health food faddists are pushing), cream, yoghurt with added flavours. Cheese, especially the hard stuff. Also sauces and gravy. Also beas: baked beans 150 calories / 100g, borlotti beans 355 calories / 100g. Cheap jam donuts, 250 calories. Bagels, 250 calories. Good strong wholemeal bread, going on 100 calories per slice.

Protein: between 100 and 500 Cals/100g (depending on fat content: oily fish and red meat is higher). Meat, fish, eggs. Protein comes from dead animals, not plants.

Protein gets its own group because animal protein is the foundation of any diet. (This blog is written by a man for men and men eat the flesh of dead animals and fish. Veggies and vegans are women, no matter what gender they may be. I know there are some serious lifters out there who are vegan, but they are exceptions.) Anytime you want to increase your oestrogen levels, tuck into the soya. Anytime you want to put on weight, get your proteins from beans that also come stuffed with carbohydrates.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

August 2015 Review

There’s a Flanders and Swann song about the weather in England. “In July the sun is hot. Is it shining? No, it’s not!” July is usually hot but quite sunny. August is now terminally grey and overcast. And depressing. It’s also the month when, for some reason, I start to take stock of what I’m doing and make some changes.

I changed up my work shirts to blue, single cuff, non-iron, slim cut, 17.5x35 from T M Lewin's. Of whom I’ve long been a fan, but until I looked at their website I had no idea just how many combinations were available. The one I ordered was exactly what I wanted. I lost two pairs of trousers on the train earlier this year (it feels like last year) and punished myself by buying replacements from M&S. Those got dumped as well, for two proper pairs, again from T M Lewin's.

Finding out from my Fitbit that pretty much no matter what I did, I got around 6:15 - 6:45 hours’ sleep (unless I really do climb into bed at 21:30 or so), I decided that watching an early evening film and getting back at 21:30 wouldn’t kill me, as long as I didn’t then spend an hour looking at nothing much on the internet. So I’m trying to make that a new habit.

I read The FUSE: Gridlock; DMZ: On The Ground; Hadley Freeman's Life Moves Pretty Fast: The lessons we learned from eighties movies; Mai Jai's, Decoded; Philippe Georget's, Summertime All The Cats Are Bored; Fuck Yeah, Menswear; a monograph on Basquiat’s paintings; The Architecture of Modern Mathematics; and No Highway by Neville Shute.

I saw Straight Outta Compton at Cineworld; Salt of the Earth, Eden, Diary of a Teenage Girl, and Precinct 75 at the Soho Curzon, The Killers at the Prince Charles Cinema. Also S1 of Miami Vice. (Will Nikita look as dated in thirty years?)

I’d registered for the Windows 10 upgrade on my old Samsung, and a couple of weekends after the launch date, it told me it was ready to install the new OS. Which it did in about ninety minutes, from the internet, without losing any data or programs, or requiring me to fill in forms about the software I use. Corporate IT departments please note.

My new gym routine is fairly settled. Tuesday is weights day. Sunday and Thursday are body-weight flexibility exercises: jumping onto or over boxes; Vipr movements; … ; and pull-ups, pull-downs and rows. I need to work on my back. Following my trainer’s advice, pull-ups get done first, and following some bro-science, I don’t do a set to failure. I feel a lot less ache-y and more energetic as a result. Three weights sessions were not doing it for me.

And I had a signing ceremony with Sis and Nephew at my solicitors. They are now my attorneys for Finance and Care. This is a slightly more emotional exercise than you might think. It involves thinking, if only for a while, about what you want to happen to you when you start going gaga or get some unpleasant cancer. Which was probably why I felt it was a much more emotionally-messy month than I’ve made it sound.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Counting Calories - Get An App

My Fitbit has started telling me about the food I eat. Or rather, I have started to confess to it. It has a UK food directory, which makes it a lot more useful than the American version imposed on users last year. To use it well, I’ve had to get into a couple of habits: reading the calorie count on food packaging, and calculating or measuring the weights of a single item (as when I buy two salmon fillets.)

Download a calorie counter app - I use Fitbit’s built-in tracker, or try MyFitnessPal, or Google for some reviews. Very few food brands cross national borders, so you need one with an English food list if you’re in England, a French list for France and so on. However since you are never going to eat another packaged supermarket supper again, but cook nearly all your own food from raw ingredients you’ll only be using a fraction of the food database and since modern food suppliers simply don’t provide us with a wide range of foods (as opposed to brands), it won’t take long to build up the short-cut menu that all these apps have.

The app does a number of things for you. It can look up calorie values (Apple, 1 medium), but most of all it can do the calculations for you. Food packaging states the calorific value of 100g of the contents. It might tell you per pack or per item as well. Portions are rarely 100g. You can try to calculate the calories in 115g of salmon at 229 calories / 100g in your head, or you can use the app. Look up the food, adjust the portion size and add it to the list.

Is it worth doing this? Isn’t it all a bit “quantified life” (whatever happened to that?) and geeky? Shouldn’t we just, you know, use our common sense, eat properly and don’t obsess about it? Well, no.

I walk five miles a day during the week, and do three hours a week in the gym. That, along with my basal rate, burns around 2,800 calories a day. I need to lose weight (aka body fat), and to do that I have to maintain a 500 calorie / day deficit consistently. (Much less and my body will homeostatically adjust for the difference.)

Know what 500 calories is? 500 calories is a slice of fudge cake from Cafe Nero. It’s a Tuna sandwich from Pret. It’s six chocolate digestive biscuits or a 120g bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. It’s not quite all of a Steak-and-Kidney pie from Square Pie. It’s a 100g of potato crisps, two-and-a-half small croissants from Sainsbury's, four tablespoons of olive oil (!), or a square of Bakewell tart from Pret.

I don’t smoke. I don’t drink, and I don’t get much chance to do the other thing either. If something happens that causes me to get emotional, I might show the weights who’s boss, but I’m more likely to hit the fudge cake. You can go have a couple of pints (260 calories) or some wine (equivalent about 300 calories). If it’s really bad, I may wind up at a meeting, eating a bar of chocolate, and listening to some middle-timer rattling on about nothing. So I need a habit - recording food eaten - that interrupts the habit of eating on emotions. I may be suffering emotionally, but dammit, I don’t have to put on weight as well. The Fitbit app tells me how much I have left to eat for the rest of the day, allowing for my planned deficit. That’s what I really need to know and will keep me in line.

If your common sense is unusually well-informed about the calorific value of various foodstuffs, if you can prepare and cook food from raw ingredients quickly, and you have the emotional reactions of a brick, you can "use your common sense, eat properly and not obsess about it”. Otherwise, get an app and start tracking.