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Guide To Moving Well

2014-03-04 10.15.29This post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

In developing my own approach to exercise and movement in general, I’ve been forced to confront my own limitations.  If I do too much I trigger a flare, if I do too little I rapidly get stiff and sore, so moderation and pacing has been key.

Ironically I think this has given me a pretty good perspective on exercise, one that’s quite in tune with how our ancestors moved.  They didn’t do the bench press, or do a high intensity session on a stationary bike, they didn’t run a marathon or spend 20 minutes stretching every day. 

They walked a lot, danced and played a bit, did the odd sprint and occasionally needed to lift heavy things, they also rested a lot.  Of course I’ve invented this pattern of ancestral exercise to suit my own bias. Roman soldiers probably marched for 30 miles a day for weeks on end in full armour carrying heavy packs, some hunters probably jogged 20 miles every day, but it suits me to think that on average I’m not far off.  I’ve written this guide to moving well based on my own very basic and minimal exercise approach, it definitely won’t work for everyone, but it seems to work well for me.

My basic recommendations are intentionally simple, easy to follow and fairly easy to achieve.  I think they provide a good baseline level of fitness that’s sustainable:

  1. Walk a minimum of 10,000 steps every day, ideally broken into two walking sessions (morning and late afternoon).  Other aerobic exercises are not really a substitute for walking, we are born to walk, they should be considered a complement
  2. Sprint 2-3 times a week, walking up hill fast enough to need to stop and rest counts as sprinting, swimming or cycling as fast as you can for a minute or so, 5-10 times might be better. I like the exercise bike for sprints, although its not often that I’m well enough to do them.
  3. Do strength exercises at least a few times a week. My favourites are the classic body weight exercises, press-ups, bench dips, pull-ups and the amazing plank, do these to exhaustion.  All other guides you read will recommend doing multiple sets and doing all four+ exercises every other day.  This is much too intense for me, it would trigger a flare for certain.  I just do one set each day of a single exercise and cycle through them every 4 days.  I can’t imagine our ancestors doing much more and I continue to improve month on month.
  4. Stretch multiple times a day, paying particular attention to the Hamstrings, Achilles tendons, and the Shoulders.  I’m sure I need to stretch more, but I can only sustain activities I enjoy.
  5. Don’t sit for much more than an hour without moving.  I recommend drinking a lot of water while at your desk so you have to get up to pee.  Then walk around, maybe stretch, use a toilet that requires a walk up/down stairs.
  6. Once or twice a week do a longer walk, bike, swim or play sport
  7. If your body can tolerate it lift weights twice a week, go for maximum intensity rather than duration (I don’t do this, but the evidence is strong that it’s worthwhile, I would do it if it didn’t cause a flare)
  8. Try and mix exercise and play

Equally important though is not to do too much exercise.  The metric that I use is not to do more than 4000 calories of exercise a week, excluding gentle exercise like walking or cycling to the local shops.

I fit my exercise into my daily schedule,  I don’t make special time for it:

  1. I do a towel stretch of my Achilles tendons while still in bed in the morning
  2. I do the plank when I wake up for a couple of minutes
  3. I do inclined press-ups and/or dips on benches that I walk past while walking in the park or along the prom
  4. I do stretches while waiting for the cafe to open
  5. I do heel raises and drops when climbing the stairs
  6. I do pull-ups on a door frame bar when I walk past it at home, we leave it up all the time, tall visitors need to duck
  7. I walk to the swimming pool or cafe first thing in the morning
  8. I walk to the supermarket at night to buy tomorrows salad and tonight fruit salad
  9. I sometimes cycle to a coffee shop a three miles away rather than walk to the one a mile away
  10. During the summer we play ball or Frisbee on the beach
  11. I walk up and down stairs a couple of times between conference calls
  12. I use a push mower to cut the lawn
  13. I watch work videos or company briefings on the exercise bike in my home office
  14. I do some hiking every other week, with decent hills

Sometimes when I’m flaring I can hardly walk for 5 minutes down the street, I can’t manage more than a few press-ups, other times I can walk 15 miles and do 50.  The important thing for me is to keep moving every day, regardless of how little I can do or how slowly I can do it. 

This guide is very much attuned to me and my lifestyle, but I think it provides a good baseline for everyone, many people will want to do a lot more but if you do remember the 4000 calorie ‘rule’ and adapt it to your circumstances.

Special notes for those like me:

  1. Keep moving no matter how bad you feel, even if its just walking up and down stairs, or bottom shuffling. 
  2. If you legs hurt try not to limp, shuffle etc., not only does this make you feel ill (just like smiling makes you feel happy) it can cause more problems than it solves by putting strain on the rest of the body
  3. Do your normal body weight exercises, but very slowly with perfect form, so for example do 3 slow press-ups and then imagine doing the rest, this slow version is much gentler on the joints
  4. If you can’t do even slow body weight exercises, invert them, so lie on you back and move your arms as if you are doing a press-up, or plank.  Support your feet on a chair and pretend to do chin-ups.  Do you also do other slow imaginary exercises, for example do a slow motion imaginary power lift, spear throw etc.  Amazingly these build strength pretty well.
  5. Do gentle stretches
  6. Get out of bed
  7. Get dressed
  8. Get outside the house

The picture today is from the peak of Cat Bells, a nice little climb – who am I kidding, it nearly killed me, even though it is one of the lowest peaks in the Lake District.

Guide To Better Sleep

2013-08-04 05.13.41

This post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

I consider good sleep to be the bedrock of good health and it’s key enabler for the discipline/willpower that we need to work at improving health.

I used to sleep like a log until pain in my joints, tendons and head stopped me getting to sleep, or spasms woke me all through the night. I still struggle to sleep and so need sleep aids, but over the years I have done plenty of reading about how to improve my sleep and practiced many of the techniques.  When I’m not in a flare after lots of experimentation these are enough for me to achieve good sleep.

Whilst there are many books on sleep and hundreds of techniques, supplements and medications I’ve found only a few to be really worthwhile, I’m presenting them here in order of effectiveness from my perspective:

  1. Sleep for around 8 hours a night,  some people might need a little more or less but 8 hours is a good target.  When I’m ill I notice that I really need 9-10 hours, so I switch off my alarm clock and I make sure I get it, but as soon as the flare subsides I’m waking up after 8 hours again
  2. Take a hot bath before bed and then allow yourself to cool down quickly, then snuggle up warm and drift off.  After the bath I like to cool down by walking on cold tiles in the conservatory in just my shorts, the cold floor on bare feet seems to be the key.
  3. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, if you go to bed late, or get up early still stay within an hour of your usual time.  If you like a weekend lie in stick to the one hour rule.
  4. Choose a ‘going to sleep dream’ and repeat it every night, or choose a few.  Practice these dreams until they become very familiar and boring.  For example I choose to imagine what I would do if I won £12M on the lottery and kept it secret (lottery winners often are very unhappy).  I imagine how I would use it in small ways to make my existing life better and help others.  Another dream I use is to imagine how I would transform my garden, build a workshop, big greenhouse, lots of raised beds, north and south patios etc.  I start the dreams when awake, but I never finish them.
  5. Wear ear plugs, especially if your partner snores or you have kids who seem to play music all through the night.  These have been vital for me, I buy them in bulk on eBay.
  6. Keep the bedroom nice and cool and then snuggle under a quilt.  I need to keep my feet extra cool to get off to sleep, so I push them out from under the quilt at first.  I also suffer from restless leg and when I feel the maddening tingling start I rub on some cool gel and this seems to take the tingling away
  7. Keep your bedroom very dark and use it only for sex and sleep, I’ve found this to be very important.  In our room we have put up blinds as well as curtains and covered our bedside clocks with flaps of card.  I do sometimes sit and read in a comfy chair in the bedroom though.
  8. Don’t drink anything for a few hours before you go to sleep, as you get older this becomes more important otherwise you will wake up during the night needing to go pee
  9. Don’t consume caffeine in the afternoon, all the books say this so it must be true for most people although it doesn’t seem to affect me
  10. If you are a night owl like me, adjust over time to getting up early.  The spin off benefit is that hours you gain in the morning seem much more useful than the hours you lose at night.  Before electricity everyone did this, we are programmed to go to bed around 9-10pm and get up around 6am, we just get out of the habit. 
  11. Wind down by reading a good book before bed,  I do this in the hot bath using my kindle set to its dim setting.  Some people say not to read an exiting book, but I’ve not found this to be an issue
  12. Eliminate blue and bright lights for two hours before bed.  We dim our lights right down while watching TV, use yellow LED fairy lights for the hall, use red bulbs for the upstairs landing and toilet.  I find this helps a lot.  Don’t use a computer, iPad etc. for at least an hour before bed and use f.lux on any PCs to remove the blue light and dim the screen automatically at night
  13. Clear your mind before bed.  For example I like to get everything ready for the next day.  I make up my salad, pack my work and swimming bags, write my task list and any to-do items, get tomorrows reading ready.  Then I know I have nothing to ‘worry’ about, its also a nice boring wind down routine
  14. While reading in the bath use candles to light the room.  This is my favourite tip, I love the relaxing, blue light free, flickering candle light.  I make my own candles using three wicks in a small glass bowl filled with wax beads.  We have loads of these bowls from small puddings that the girls buy to bake in the oven.
  15. Follow your breath when you first get in bed. Don’t try to get to sleep, trying to do anything keeps you awake, once you are nice and calm start the dream described in item 4
  16. If you are a man, then you will probably fall off to sleep very quickly after sex,  in my case even faster if my wife stokes my back.  Unfortunately I almost always wake up about an hour later and can’t get back to sleep.
  17. If you can’t get to sleep after about 30 minutes (experiment with the time) get up, walk around in the dark, read a book and then try again.  Sometimes when I wake in the night in a lot of pain, the only way I can sleep again is to take pain killers and then repeat my hot bath, candlelight, reading routine.
  18. Get a new alarm clock.  I recommend a sunrise alarm clock, that includes a wake-up Light that starts producing light 30 minutes before your set wake-up time. The light gradually brightens, like the sun rising.  Normally I find I’m awake before the alarm sounds and if not the alarm wakes me very gently with the sound of tweeting birds
  19. Expose yourself to bright light in the morning, I switch the bright bedroom lights on as soon as I wake up, go for a walk outside and then sit and read next to a full height window at Caffe Nero for an hour first thing.
  20. Eat something 1-2 hours before bed,  this avoids hunger pangs later on.  Debbie and I like a big bowl of Berry salad with full fat spray cream while we watch TV, my favourite meal of the day!
  21. Move more during the day, but don’t do strenuous exercise in the evening.  I follow this pattern, trying to move around every hour or so, and then I might go for a relaxing evening walk or swim
  22. If you have a really bad night and sleep for say only 3 hours, still get up and go to bed at your normal time, you should be extra tired.  To get you through the day take 30 minutes to relax using a guided meditation like Yoga Nidra, this is the recording that I use https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/yoga-nidra/id216056524
  23. Banish the TV, phone, tablet etc. from your bedroom, most people advise this, but I still keep my phone in ‘do not disturb’ mode on my bedside table,  if I wake in the night with an idea whirling around I like to jot it down
  24. Finally I’ve found that tracking your sleep can be useful.  I use my fitbit to do this and It’s quite enlightening to see your sleep quality and duration change over time.  Sometimes you fail to notice these changes if sleep gets gradually worse over years, tracking helps you do something about it before it’s too late.

This guide is fairly generic with comments from my personal experience, bear in mind that at the time of writing I’m a 50 year old so this guide doesn’t consider the special needs of teenagers, shift workers, people who travel across time zones ….

The picture I’ve chosen is of the view from our apartment at sunrise in Scarborough last year.  It was so hot that week that I had to sleep with the patio doors open in the bedroom, the cool, fresh sea air was perfect for sleep.

Defining Health

1186843_10152113164710828_1328334568_nThis post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

Most books on health intentionally define it in a narrow fashion that suits their agenda, or they define it in a way that would only work for someone who has the potential to achieve good physical and/or mental health. 

I wanted to be more inclusive in my definition, for example someone who suffers from a chronic health problem may never be able to run, hike or even walk so a definition of health that works for them may not include aerobic fitness.

I also wanted a definition that included a balanced view of health, avoiding defining as healthy the person who eats a superbly healthy diet, but has a dysfunctional family life, or the person who exercises all the time and maybe as a result manages to eat a terrible diet and still not gain weight, or the person who is addicted to exercise and uses this as a prop because the rest of their life is s shambles.  More interesting is the person who might be ill, in constant pain, or physically disabled but who has come to terms with it, has deep, rewarding relationships, meaningful work, and a rich, vibrant life. . maybe this person is the healthiest of these examples.

Of course we all want good physically and health but the cold, hard truth is that not all health problems are solvable. As much as we’d like to believe otherwise, we don’t have full control over all of the conditions of our lives.  Equally importantly we don’t all have the time, discipline and priorities that align with achieving good health in every area of our lives.

I looked at all manner of different definitions for health n writing this post, but in the end I decided to share the one that google returns, it defines heath as:

the state of being free from illness or injury

I chose to share just this one, because it showed that the conventional view of health is a long way away from the way I’m thinking.  I don’t believe that defining health as the absence of illness or injury is useful.  Health needs to be defined positively, n terms of what it enables in life.

So getting off the fence I’m going to define health as:

the physical and mental attributes required to enjoy the whole of life, make a positive difference in the world and to be at peace with yourself

I chose these words for the following reasons:

  1. I wanted to include physical and mental health, for most people these two sides of health are going to positively re-enforce each other.  The more we discover about our body and mind, the more we understand how they are part of a single interconnected system
  2. I wanted the focus to be on the attributes of health that enabled different individuals to enjoy life, not some externally defined, idealised, view of physical and mental health
  3. I wanted some focus on how these attributes might change over the course of life, what it means to he healthy at 20 and 100 are very unlikely to be the same
  4. I wanted to include some recognition of the fact that choices that a person makes when they are resilient and young might negatively affect them when they are fragile and old
  5. I used ‘enjoy’ because, for me, it’s consistent with the idea of living well despite challenges that might stop a person hitting a high bar like life long happiness.  Equally I didn’t want a selfless definition of health that wouldn’t resonate with most people including me
  6. I included making a positive difference in the world because I didn’t want a hedonic description of health, i.e. one that only serves the individual.  Physical and Mental Health should allow a person to achieve something worthwhile with their lives
  7. Finally I felt it was important for a person to be at peace with themselves and the world, to accept their limitations, to not crave what they can’t have. 

I hope you find it useful to think through how you would define health yourself before you read my little guide, so that I don’t just impose my own values.

I chose todays picture of the sun setting behind the wind farm at Cleveleys because I felt it was a beautiful reminder of the characteristics of heath.  To make time in our busy lives to stroll, or roll, along the promenade with family, enjoying the setting sun, despite or enhanced by the presence of the wind turbines.

Developing A Sense Of Purpose

PICT0262One of the topics that I’m intending to write about in my Simple Guide To Mental And Physical Health is the need for a sense of purpose in life and the need to make progress towards that purpose.  I’ve been doing some research in this area and comparing it to my own experiences.  People with a strong religious faith might find enduring purpose in worship, or living according to the teaching of their faith, but I don’t have that to fall back so I need to find that purpose myself.

When I was younger I didn’t think about purpose, it just was obvious, I needed to pass my finals, earn enough to buy a house, raise my family.  Now though it’s becoming more and more important.  I still need to support my family but even that’s in transition as Debbie starts to earn a good wage of her own, the kids are mostly raised and earning money themselves.  I no longer have an external purpose ‘imposed’ upon me I need to nurture one from within.

About 15 years ago my work provided me with a clear purpose, to improve the lives of the users of the services that I architected and designed.  That purpose has gradually degraded over time, work has become a much more complex place, with many conflicting drivers and much less continuity.  I’m less in control of my working life and contenting myself with trying to serve others to the best of my ability, it’s often satisfying but it’s not a purpose.

I’ve been looking for inspiration from those who have chosen an ‘Intellectual Life’ people who definitely need to find their purpose from within.  I’ve been reading Cal Newport avidly.  Cal promotes the need to get stuck into deep work, to find purpose through disciplined effort despite often slow progress.  I like hard work, but given my health limitations a life defined by hard work would not be a good choice.

People often say that purpose comes from following your passion.  Unfortunately I don’t know what my ‘true’ passion is.  I’ve come to believe over the years that you need to choose to commit to an activity and develop a passion for it, rather than start with a passion.

I’ve been looking at Buddhism which promotes the idea of finding purpose in living well and Mindfulness, or living consciously.  There’s a lot of value in this but it’s not enough for me.

I’ve been reading Blake Robinsons beautiful blog Intellectual Life and it’s providing me with some hints as to a way forward and recommends some books (not available as eBooks unfortunately) but I’m not buying anything for myself right now, so those will have to wait.

I’ve been thinking of volunteering, I used to do this when I was younger and I liked doing it, but I don’t have time in my life for that right now and I don’t think it will ever be my purpose, I like building things too much.

So it’s clear that I’ve been thinking a lot, but what have I concluded?  I think purpose for me needs to keep evolving as my life changes, right now it needs to be something totally within my control to balance the lack of control at work and it needs to be something that doesn’t cost money.

This is what I’ve decided:

  1. For now this blog will be a big part of my purpose in life, but I will also complement it by developing other areas of my life that provide purpose
  2. I will be creating (building) a body of work that will grow in content and quality over time
  3. Gradually I will shape the content of this blog to align with some themes that are evolving slowly as I write
  4. I’m not sure what the themes will yet, but most likely they will be focussed on helping others

This is how I’m thinking about this blog:

  1. I’m building on the work of an amazing group of people who have come before me and continue to work along side me
  2. My contribution, at best, will be a very minor addition to an huge body of work that already exists
  3. My contribution will focus on simplification of what is already known, combined with relevant personal experiences of what does and doesn’t work for me
  4. Meaningful contribution will be hard and slow, I’m no genius, no full time researcher, no great writer, so my expectations need to be low
  5. I will improve as I go along, I won’t wait until I have perfected my writing skills, or researched a topic for years before I start.  I will start and learn by doing
  6. I shouldn’t expect readership, comments, or other external signals of success for many years, if ever.  In intellectual life progress is almost always slow, there are few breakthroughs.  Few people get a successful blog, contribute new breakthrough ideas.   So I need to create the blog because I enjoy doing it, as an end in itself
  7. I will measure progress in years

The blog will fill a gap in my life that work used to fill, but it will only complement other areas of my life that provide purpose including:

  1. Maintaining a strong family through the many transitions we will go through, the girls are growing up fast now and all become increasingly independent
  2. Supporting Debbie as she embraces her growing sense of purpose and through her passion for teaching
  3. Living well and continuing to challenge my declining health
  4. Looking after my house and garden and growing more of my own food
  5. Making sure we are financially secure by the time I retire
  6. Simplifying my life and living mindfully

The picture today is of the Haweswater in the eastern Lake District.  When I’m walking here purpose doesn’t seem very important.

Thoughts On The Noah Movie

20130725_085234000_iOSDebbie and I went to Cleveleys today, had brunch at Cafe Cove and sat down with some trepidation to watch Noah.  Overall I found it worth the investment and it sparked some good discussions and little research by me by way of follow up.  I can sum up my thoughts quite simply:

A thought provoking and challenging film that doesn’t attempt an accurate re-telling of the Bible story, but does seek to confront some of issues it raises and the grisly realities of it

Although I didn’t really rate the film making, I did enjoy the overall experience.  Most criticism of the film centres on inconsistencies between it and the bible.  I’m afraid those criticisms don’t work for me, as few believe the bible story to be the literal truth and the bible itself is riddled with contradiction.  What the movie did was get to the core issues that the biblical story is addressing and stimulate some debate.  I think that’s very healthy.

Issue 1 – The Movie confronts the issue of whether human kind is inherently good or bad, or whether we are all a mix of both.  In the biblical story a clear judgement is made, hundreds of millions of people are so bad that they are not worth saving, only Noah’s family is good.   In the movie this issue gets a lot more nuanced:

  1. Noah considers even his family to be a mix of good and bad and therefore, whilst worth saving, he (or maybe God) believes they are not good enough to be trusted with repopulating the earth
  2. Human kind can not be trusted as custodians of the Earth and to not abuse Earth’s other the animals
  3. Ham (very quickly) finds at least one person amongst those scheduled to die who he considers good enough to become his wife and to help populate the Earth, Noah disagrees
  4. All of the family, except Noah, consider themselves good enough to repopulate the earth
  5. Eventually Noah is too weak to follow what he considers to be Gods direction and so he spares his baby grandchildren.  He despairs at his weakness but comes to terms with it.

Personally I side with the movie on this one.  I think history now supports Noah’s original instinct in the movie, human kind is still has a bad side, although as Steven Pinker points out in Better Angels of Our Nature we are getting better. 

Issue 2 – Whether human kind’s real crime is against God or against other humans, animals and the planet.  In the biblical story the focus is on crimes against God.  In the movie a strong case is made that mans downfall was as a result of his abuse of animals, the planets resources and our respect for other people.  In fact the biblical position that man has been “given dominion over the animals and the earth” is used as a defence of man’s abuses. 

Again I find myself siding with the movie.  As a race we need to respect each other, animals and the planet in equal measure.  We are part of the whole, we do not have dominion over anything, our ‘towering intellect’ does mean we have greater responsibilities though.

Issue 3 – Whether the Biblical creation myth is inconsistent with scientific theory and fact.  When considered at face value they are of course completely inconsistent. However the movie does a nice job of showing that if you re-interpret the 6 days of creation as 6 ages then the bible story works as a framework for telling the story of the big bang, the creation of stars and planets and the evolution of life.  Naturally I again sided with the movie.

The movie also did a good job of dealing with the fact that it would be impossible for all the animals to survive peacefully on the ark, with all of their food and excrement for 100+ days, instead they were subject to some mystical hibernation.  It also confronted the issue of where all the timber came from to build the Ark and the fact that the Ark building and animal migrations would have drawn a lot of attention and therefore some fearsome mechanism of defence for the Ark would be needed.

One final area of debate concerned the portrayal of Noah himself, some commentators made the point that the biblical Noah was a kind and peaceful man, whereas in the movie he was a driven, cruel and tough (but also spiritual).

I liked the movie’s view, to succeed Noah would have needed to be a man capable of marshalling the vast human and physical resources required to build the ark, keep all of those people motivated, safe and fed for 10 years, whilst all the time knowing that every man, woman and child in the world were soon to be ‘executed’.  Such a man would need to be a psychopath (recent books claim that CEO’s and Presidents are often psychopaths it’s not so bad) which is pretty much how he is shown (driven, ruthless and lacking in empathy).

There were a few significant negatives in the film, for example I didn’t much like the way the fallen angels were depicted.  Overall I recommend it for anyone with an open mind who likes to think and be challenged. 

As someone who doesn’t believe in a God but is still very interested in the Bible as a source of wisdom, I particularly liked this sentiment, from an article in the Christian Post:

Religious and biblically themed movies are cultural bridges for the gospel. Whether the movie is Noah,Bruce Almighty, The Village, The Passion of the Christ, Heaven Is For Real, Exodus, Mary, Mother of Christ or The Blind Side the bridge is built for us. Why destroy the bridge rather than walking over it? The gospel travels more easily over a bridge than over a chasm.

If you want more I suggest you read this article that briefly describes some of the motivations and research that went into the movie.

I will point out at this point that I’m no biblical scholar, but did I do an hour of research before writing this limited review.

The picture that I chose for this review is of Cleveleys beach, which topped and tailed this movie going experience.

Measuring Your Life

2012-08-09 20.26.18This post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

A couple of years ago Clayton Christensen, one of the foremost researchers into innovation in business, wrote a book titled How Will You Measure Your Life.  In that book he applied the lessons from his business research to our personal lives, It’s a superb book.  I took two things away from it relevant to this blog post.  First you need to become aware of what’s important to you and second you need to invest your resources in those areas. 

This post is about simple tools that will help you become more aware.  Everything I’m going to describe you can do with pen and paper, or with a spreadsheet.  I don’t recommend either.  If you’re anything like me you won’t have the discipline required to keep tracking unless it’s easy and rewarding.  So I’m going to recommend apps and gadgets that make tracking sustainable and fun.

There are thousands of apps and dozens of gadgets out there to help in the quest to live well.  I’ve not reviewed all of the alternatives, but I am going to share what I use and consider plenty good enough to meet everyone’s basic needs.  I don’t think you need to worry to much about finding the best tools, just make a decision, start and commit to keep going.

imageTrack the things that are important in your life.  Many people recommend tracking new habits you want to establish.  That’s fine but I think it’s much more important to track the things that are important as well, habits you think you already have.  When I started doing this I was shocked to see just how infrequently I did things that I loved or valued.  For example I really like it when we all sit down for a family meal, but when I started tracking we were only achieving it a couple of times a week, now it’s more like 5.  It’s also a good idea to track habits you are trying to break or to spot patterns of negative events.  For example I now track how frequently I take strong painkillers, this used to be about 25 days a month, now its frequently less than 10.  Tracking makes you more conscious of things that are important to you.  I’ve included a sample of my own tracking data on the right.  I use the lift app for my tracking, it’s web and cross platform, easy, motivating and has great visualisation.  You can also export your data as a CSV file for further analysis.

Keep a Journal or a diary. Lot’s of people recommend keeping a journal, I’m not going to disagree, but I personally don’t have the discipline to do it.  I do however think it’s incredibly useful, fun and insightful to let technology journal for you.  In my case I do this with an app called Momento.  It automatically builds a Journal from my blog posts, tweets and Instagram photos.  I can manually add additional entries as well.  After years of use the 2-3 daily diary tweets, occasional photos and blog posts build into an incredibly useful diary.  I can easily search it to find when I was at Chorley to do my travel expenses, find out when I had the boiler serviced, when I last went cycling.  I use it to compare how I was feeling last year and this.  Just recently on the anniversary of my Dad’s death a few years ago I looked back on my entries for the month he died and I treasured those memories.  It’s an amazing payback for such a tiny amount of effort.

Track what you eat.  Even if you don’t need to loose weight I think it’s worth tracking what you eat for a few weeks or maybe months.  I started about a year ago and I’ve not looked back.  Like habit tracking and journaling I’ve found it fascinating to see how little attention I paid to food until I started tracking it and how, without much effort, my diet has improved steadily just because I pay attention.  I eat very simply, only about a hundred foods and maybe 20 different meals so it’s easy for me to keep track.  I use the MyFitnessPal app and I’ve found it quick to use with excellent reporting.  I can’t see myself stopping tracking now as it takes me literally 2 minutes a day – it’s great.  I also track my weight using WIFI scales but I don’t recommend that for most people.

Track your movement.  In what’s fast becoming a recurring theme in this post when I started tracking my physical activity I was again surprised at how little I moved.  Even though I felt that I was obsessed with moving about when faced with the cold hard facts I found that over the years I had gradually stopped moving around in the afternoon and evenings.  The afternoon and evening walks had stopped, the after dinner swim was no more, cycling had become a once a month major event.  A soon as I clipped the fitbit to my belt all that changed.  As soon as I became aware I started to do more and over the last year I’ve gradually changed my work and home life to encourage movement.  I use the fitbit one, which clips to my belt, my wife and one of my daughters also use the same model.  We all like them.  I love the fact that I don’t have to think about it, it’s always there, automatically feeding my activity and calories burned into MyFitnessPal.  Years ago I had a much cheaper belt clip tracker, it didn’t sync to anything but it did the job. I don’t recommend it though because it takes more effort and with tracking the less effort, the more likely you are to keep tracking and the longer you keep at it the greater the benefit.

This post describes my personal journey in more detail.

I’m going to talk about other apps for relaxation, sleep, pain and other tracking needs in the specific sections of this guide.  The ones I’ve listed above I consider to be the basics.

The picture is of Scarborough Grand Hotel. The building is designed around the theme of time: four towers to represent the seasons, 12 floors for the months of the year, 52 chimneys symbolise the weeks, and originally there were 365 bedrooms, one for each day of the year. The hotel itself is in the shape of a ‘V’ in honour of Queen Victoria.  An excellent picture for a post about ‘measuring’. Debbie and I went on holiday to Scarborough last year.  I did my longest ever walk that holiday. My fitbit tracked every step, my achievement is recorded by tweets and photo’s in Momento and lots of food was eaten and tracked in MyFitnessPal!

The Future Of Microsoft

2014-04-08 16.43.19I expected to see a new Microsoft start to reveal itself at the build conference last week and I wasn’t disappointed.  Steve Ballmer has handed Satya Nadella a real gift, by allowing him to preside over the unveiling that Steve must have been orchestrating for years.

The new Microsoft is on it’s way to becoming a true Devices and Services business.  It provides the tools to develop the services, host them and manage them regardless of operating system or language.  It develops it’s own compelling services and apps to consume them on all devices.  It provides development tools, and with partners, these can target ‘all’ devices.  Finally, and it seems almost a distraction, it provides it’s own devices and the operating systems that run on them.

Whilst Windows is still important it needs to fade into the background and since it’s now free on all form factors except desktops and enterprise class tablets that’s going to be the case.  Ironically Microsoft must now be one of the largest developers of iOS apps in the world, they have a large portfolio of truly impressive apps, perhaps more impressive than Apple have themselves.  Their Azure cloud is rapidly evolving into an immensely powerful, flexible, cross platform reality.  Their development tools are moving in the direction of being not just the best for Windows but the best for mobile too.  Even Windows is showing real progress towards the promise of delivering one platform and one binary that can run on all form factors.

Microsoft, already a niche contributor to Open Source, is now a much more visible supporter having opened up two of their key technologies.  A new generation of engineers are back in charge, engineers who respect and love the open web. 

In Steven Elop Microsoft finally gets a leader with great stage presence and an ability to talk to everyman that Satya hasn’t quite mastered.  But Satya, Terry Myerson and Scott Guthrie all showed that they know talk to developers.

Microsoft has given us a glimpse of it’s future, maybe it’s done enough to make people question its old ‘evil empire’ reputation.  Now it needs to move fast to solidify the change and the best way of doing that is to start acquiring businesses that prove it’s prepared to put serious money behind this new future.  Perhaps it needs to acquire enterprise Linux vendor Red Hat, and/or cross platform development tools vendor Xamarin.

Finally it needs to deliver on the promise of a compelling upgrade for traditional enterprise Windows users next year and a great version of Office for touch/pen enabled Windows devices too.  Office on WinRT is critical to demonstrate that it’s really the future platform for ALL Windows applications. It can’t afford to focus on the future to the exclusion of it’s loyal existing customers, as it did with Windows 8. 

The future looks bright to me, after a couple of years wondering where Microsoft was going Build finally made me smile.

Todays picture is a hundred year old tree in Astley Park.  Despite it’s age it’s blooming very nicely, a nice metaphor for the aging Microsoft, rejuvenated by its young engineer leadership.

What I’d Like to See in Windows 9

2012-12-04 08.33.17Windows 8.1 Update tidied up some of the issues that we all have with the intrusive start experience that windows 8 imposed on us and made WinRT applications slightly more acceptable to Windows Desktop users.  Windows 9 needs to do a lot to please me though.

I’m looking for some serious investments for the knowledge worker.  The companion device space, primarily 7-8 inch Tablets has had plenty of investment, what we need now is investment in those of us doing real intensive knowledge work.  That means investments in professional tablets, laptops and multi-screen/big screen experiences.  Here’s the shortlist of features I’m looking for in Windows 9 beyond a start menu (personally, not as an enterprise architect)

  1. I want traditional Windows applications in the Windows Store.  Microsoft can deliver that by building App-V into Windows 9 and allowing App-V sequenced apps into the store.
  2. For these traditional Windows Store apps I want their user state preserved in OneDrive, in the same way that WinRT apps do.  Microsoft can do that by mandating that in addition to App-V apps define their roaming settings using UE-V.
  3. I want to be able to send my apps, desktop, audio and video to other PCs and set top boxes quickly and simply, in the same way that I can with my iPad using Airplay. 
  4. I want updated app experiences for music, video, image and video editing that work well for desktop users as well as touch users
  5. I want a seamless transition between desktop experiences and touch.  What I mean is that if I’m using Microsoft Office on my laptop and I unplug the keyboard and transition to tablet mode I want to use the touch optimised version of Office open with the same document at the same place, same for browsers
  6. I want to be able to connect into my home network using Direct Access, just by having a single PC running Windows 9 on my home network.
  7. I want desktop management APIs built into Windows 9 natively, so that BYO devices can be just enrolled for management in the same way that Windows RT devices can
  8. I’d like to see a backup to and restore from Onedrive option, now that cloud storage is so cheap and bandwidth so plentiful
  9. I’d like to see remote desktop everywhere, so I can RDP into my phone, my Tablet.  RDP easily and securely into my home network.  I want this for apps and desktops.
  10. I want an advanced search interface, exposing some of the power that’s currently hidden away in statements like “name=windows, type=pptx”
  11. I want the transparent tiles effect that’s in Windows Phone 8.1

The picture today is of Cleveleys beach, which is where I will be in the not too distant future!

Changing Bad Habits At Work

2014-04-10 08.59.11In response to my post this morning Identify Bad Habits And Replace Them With Good Ones @NigelBarron tweeted some of the worst habits that we have at work.  Conference calls, Email and PowerPoint.  I’ve certainly worked to change some of these so I thought I would explore what I’ve done.

I’ve pretty much eliminated all routine conference calls from my life.  Instead I just read the status reports and highlight reports, write a comprehensive highlight report myself and write blog posts.  I don’t think I miss much.  It’s not that conference calls are inherently bad, used well they can be an amazing productivity boost, but they have made us lazy and have fragmented accountability.

I have dramatically reduced my emails, in part by unsubscribing every day for the last month, but also by sending a weekly highlight report and by encouraging other people and projects to do the same.  Also writing a blog helps as well.  I get a lot of questions sent to me and I frequently answer by sending links to blog posts or collections of blog posts.

For some purposes I like PowerPoint, but it can dramatically constrain a discussion so I like to use A3 pads of paper for small team discussions or a whiteboard for larger groups.  When I do use PowerPoint I like to create a hyperlinked navigation structure that lets me jump around in a way that follows the discussion and use a pen to sketch on the slides or on blank slides as needed.

I’m wondering how other people have changed their bad habits and thinking that I need to write a more detailed post of the conference call soon.

The picture above is of the new ‘grass’ benches at my beloved Beach Terrace Cafe, which is now on twitter @beachcafefylde and FacebookThis is my view as I’m writing this post

Identify Bad Habits And Replace Them With Good Ones

2014-04-08 16.24.10This post is part of a series that makes up my Simple Guide To Health which is part of a broader collection of posts on Living Well.

Summary: Replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones.  Once established habits require a lot less willpower to sustain

Good habits are central to living well.  In my own life I’ve found that it’s incredibly easy to slip into bad or lazy habits, they are usually effortless, seductive and suck away the enjoyment of life one day at a time.  Although the human brain loves novelty it seems to me that it likes routine better, and once you’ve carved the deep ruts of routine in your brain it’s very hard to get out of them.

Here are a few examples from my own life of how I’ve been surprised by my own routines.:

  • I love walking, especially in wild places, but a few years ago I got out of the routine of driving to a place to walk.  Scheduling the time, organising the kids, driving all seemed too much effort.  This went on for years until finally I worked up the enthusiasm to make the one hour drive to Windermere Lake, when I got out of the car, and breathed in the view of the lake, I was stunned that I could have stayed away for so long.  The majestic beauty took my breath away.  Even after this experience though I still need to keep reminding myself that such incredible experiences are only a little effort away.
  • I love swimming and I’m a member of a heath club that has a fantastic pool, Jacuzzi  and Sauna, but weeks can go by between visits.  The effort to pack my gear, walk the 5 minutes to the pool, risk that it’s busy all conspire to keep me in front of my laptop rather than under the water. Every time I make the effort though I’m amazed just how wonderful it feels and struggle to understand what’s kept me away.
  • Finally my wife and I used to cycle to work every day, we both loved it, but maybe 20 years ago she stopped cycling (kids) and I carried on.  A couple of months ago after years of encouragement she got on a bike again and the look on her face after 6 miles was so wonderful.  She loved it, couldn’t believe she had left it so long, but 12 months on and she’s not been on a bike again, even though she keeps planning to start cycling to work again.

So I’ve been mulling over the characteristics of the bad habits that make them so seductive:

  • They take very little effort
  • They provide instant reward
  • They don’t involve much, if any risk

Lets take a quick look at these:

  • Effort, examples of bad habits that don’t require much effort are watching TV, eating unhealthy food, sleeping too much whereas good habits like reading, hiking, going swimming all require significant effort to make them happen but much greater rewards
  • Reward, examples of bad habits that deliver and instant reward include eating sweets, watching another episode of 24 whereas good habits require you to wait for the reward (sometimes the reward comes weeks or months later) making a home made meal, reading a book, climbing a hill, cycling to work
  • Risk, examples of bad habits that are low risk include watching soap operas, driving to work, going to the same place to eat every week whereas good habits often require you to take some risk, if you cycle to work it might rain,  if you go swimming it might be too busy to swim lengths, if you make a new recipe you might not like it

You need to discipline yourself and use a few key strategies if you want to change your habits:

  • Only change one habit at a time, you need to marshal your limited will power and build on success
  • Write a list of the habits you want to establish and remind yourself of them, regular reminders reinforce your willpower
  • Swap a bad habit for a good one, for example swap watching TV after dinner for reading a book or going for a walk
  • Keep track of your progress
  • If you are struggling to make a change then take the smallest step possible

This picture is of Astley Hall in Astley Park.  It’s only 2 minutes drive from my office at work, so it makes it easy to establish the habit of walking in the late afternoon after sitting for a few hours.