Get Back To Where You Once Belonged

Maybe it’s a coincidence but I haven’t written and published anything in long form since the summer of 2016.  We all know what happened in the fall of 2016:  Hilary Rodham Clinton did not get elected President of the United States and one of the Seven Deadly Sins did (the reader can entertain themselves by deciding which Sin got to pout, slouch and scream from the Oval Office for the next four years).  It’s probably a coincidence but the timing is interesting considering that President Bluto’s shambling, egotistical reign segued into the COVID-19 pandemic and therefore it’s not been a very inspiring 5+ years.  I’m not one to vent a lot and that probably drained a lot of my will to write.

But, to continue:  like most people, I’ve been spending a lot of time home during the past couple of years.  Hey, introvert’s paradise!  Plenty of reasons to not associate with other people:  after all, you could die, right?  Or you could spread the coronavirus to other people and kill them!  And you probably wouldn’t want to do that!

It’s still sobering how much things have changed for those of us fortunate enough to be able to work from home and cut most of our physical contacts while still earning a living.  It’s still uncertain when we’ll get out of this.  Every time it seems like things are stabilizing and we can come out and play again, a new “wave” rises.

At this point I’ve lost track of the number of COVID-19 “waves” that have buffeted the world but I feel that it’s been at least 723.  And so life continues on its wary way, with a lot of people trying their best to follow public health guidelines to stay safe while others… don’t.  Staying at home and turning inward seems like a good choice.  Sometimes, though, you’re at a loss of how to productively use the spare time that you have.

I’ve blogged, written articles and essays, even some fiction, for years.  My keyboard hasn’t been completely silent for the past few years:  you’ve probably found this post via Twitter and I’ve been kind of verbose there for most of the past 14 years.  However… there’s a difference between stringing 280 character strands together to say something and writing long form prose like this.  There’s skill required for both mediums.  Twitter often forces you to condense your thoughts as concisely as possible so that you don’t exceed maximum character lengths as well as the reader’s attention span as the day’s Tweets flow before them on the time line of memes and some pretty strong emotions.  Writing longer form removes the character restrictions but demands something else:  mainly prose crafted in a way that doesn’t make you want to switch back to another more stimulating thing.

I like to think that social media sites like Twitter still play useful roles in society, mainly in allowing people to find like-minded spirits no matter how far away they might be and they can be great for providing timely useful information.  But Tweets are like soap bubbles:  they float away easily and can collapse under too much pressure.  Sometimes you need more room to let your thoughts fill the eyes and the mind.

Twitter has been the medium of a lot of garbage, too.  President Deadly Sin milked it for his own selfish purposes for years before finally being booted from the site and he was just one of many.  A lot of pseudoscience, propaganda, misinformation and negativity runs through Twitter daily.  People post, trying to be the most… whatever:  edgy, smart, bombastic, principled, pious, vicious, you name it.  It’s a real river Ganges at times, fit to choke upon and likely to poison your soul.

And yet… there’s still a ton of good people here:  I follow a lot of them.  People trying to share good, helpful information, pointing out resources and good news when it comes.  I see people supporting each other, asking about each other’s day, celebrating their triumphs, sharing the joys, soothing each other’s sorrows.  Twitter is as good as the people who contribute to it and there’s good people there.  But, it’s not enough to just catch the droplets, sometimes you need a whole pond.

There’s still a need for reasoned, detailed thought that you can’t get in a short string of letters and numbers.  There’s still a need to be able to reflect upon what happens in each hour and try to describe the largest context that it fits into.  There still a need to piece together breadcrumbs to lead to answers.  Twitter has a role and you can do these kind of analysis and documentation by stitching together Tweets.  But sometimes it’s not enough.  Sometimes you just need more room.

I used to think of myself as a blogger and I haven’t done that in a long time.  But really I’m just a guy who writes and who wants to express some ideas in the hope of keeping myself balanced and hopefully reaching out to other people.  So while I once felt blogging was a place where I belonged, I’m just content to use it as a means of expression, another type of notebook for scribbling ideas.

Mainly I just feel like the world’s been bloody insane for too long and I’d like to have some space to let my mind stretch out as I try to make sense of it all.   I think there’s still a lot of good stuff and good people worth thinking about and talking about.  And I want to do some of that talking.

So this is me “getting back” to some writing, as sporadic as it may be.  Hopefully you’ll find some worthwhile thoughts here too.

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Test

My goodness, this is still here!

I might have to do something with this.

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Habits, routines and daily practices – what’s yours?

While I’m continuing to run regularly with the goal of running a couple of races this summer, one interesting career development has the potential to change things for me.  I’ve recently transferred into a project management office within my company and will be managing multiple projects on an ongoing basis.  I’m happy with this move and excited about the possibilities but it is making me take stock of my daily and weekly activities because I’m going to have to get better at managing priorities, managing my time, etc.  There’s always room for improvement but I need to get more serious about this.

I’ve made significant improvements in my fitness, wellness and life in general during the past 2.5 years.  In the past I’ve fallen into bad habits when workload and stress have overwhelmed me.  I’ve been through that cycle a few times and I really need to avoid that this time around, so I’m looking at building routines and a lifestyle that will help me manage everything as best I can.

I’ve been spending a lot of time looking into habit building, routines, and good mental health practices during the past year.  I’m fascinated by books and articles about resilience and what things people do to maintain mental and emotional strength.

There are a few things that are part of my daily activities to help keep myself focused and reasonably healthy.  Some of these include:

  • Improved eating habits, including more fruits and vegetables (still a long way to go with this!)
  • Exercise several times per week, usually running.
  • Reading inspirational or helpful books and articles (podcasts also fall into this category)
  • Journaling
  • Better organization of non-work activities using a bullet journal
  • Goal setting and goal tracking

I’ve been learning more about Stoic practices and exercises as another means to become more resilient.  There’s a lot of material out there.

I am not as consistent as I could be with putting order into my life.  This is a good time (I suppose any time is a good time) to get better.

A key theme throughout all of this research is the importance of routines, rituals, systems and practices.  They are important parts of preparing for each day, for improving focus, for creating effective mindsets and for reflecting at day’s end while preparing for the next day.  Creating certainty and focus by minimizing decision making, spending energy wisely, and improving skills seems to be an important part of success.

I’d like to know what other people are doing to help improve their lives through this kind of preparation and work.  Yes, this includes YOU.  I’d love to know how you organize yourself to hit the ground running each day.  What are your trusted techniques and ways of starting strong?  Or, what challenges are you facing in these areas?  Please share in the Comments section, drop me an E-Mail (markdykeman@gmail.com) or send me a reply on Twitter (@markdykeman).  Maybe we can help each other!

 

 

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Almost end of June update – the worst laid plans

Well.

It’s probably not a good idea to take on a goal without a solid plan.

Better Belly Month has been kind of a bust, things have kind of gone the opposite direction, so to speak.  😛  I’ll be bigger at the end of June than I was at the beginning.  Not grossly or hugely so but I’ve definitely gained weight and size.

At the same time…  I’m not overly worried or concerned.  I know part of the reason why I’ve gained weight is that I’m on vacation and I’m… taking a bit of a vacation from healthier eating.  I missed a LSD run this weekend.  And so on.  Excuse, excuse, excuse.

I also didn’t come up with a plan to eat better and maintain physical activity.  A bit part of that lack of planning is that I’ve finished a busy and kind of stressful yet productive winter and spring and I felt like I needed a break, especially since the back end of 2016 looks to be another busy slog.

So, I’m just… chilling.  Relaxing.  Enjoying some of the smaller, more slothlike things.  Noticing things.  Reassessing some things.  Tackling a few long overdue tasks.

I’m disappointed that my resolve didn’t last, but not too disappointed.  It’s been an educational experience one way or another.  If nothing else, it reinforced the need to take the necessary steps to support a goal.  I can accept this.

At least I’m still running!

 

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No speedsters here – attempting a speed workout

Still training for my half-marathon in August.  I committed to adding both speedwork and hills in my training program, since Saint John has plenty of hills and speedwork to give myself a kick in the butt.  So I tried a speed workout this evening.

I planned to do 4 x 500m at race pace or maybe a little faster (I aspire to a 9 min/mile race pace for the half-marathon).  So I tried to mix some Chi Running form into my speedwork… and came perilously close to an 8 min 20 sec pace per mile… which is WAY too fast for me at this point, so I tired out too quickly and wound up cutting down my speed work to 2 x 500m plus 1 lap of 25om…. meh.

That’s the big struggle that I’m having with Chi Running at this point:  when I’m doing the form properly I tend to go faster than I normally run and then I tire out too quickly.  I know it’s just a matter of time and training but it’s a bit discouraging.  I’ll just have to work on the form during shorter distances and then gradually work on increasing my mileage.

Ran about a mile to get there, walked/ran at least 1.5 miles during rest periods and going home.  Not terribly inspiring.  Still a bit warm out tonight but a decently cool breeze certainly helps out.

So… not terribly satisfied with tonight’s run but what the heck, it’s done now.  My training program is already significantly better than last year’s half-marathon training plan, so I still have hopes for a good improvement over last year’s time.

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Chi running practice – a start

I’m trying to incorporate Chi Running into my running and it’s a challenge.  Even though I took a 4 hour workshop I feel that I have a lot to learn.

I’ve run twice since the workshop.  The first run was awful and I don’t know if I was overtired or trying to run too fast but I found myself out of breath several times during the run.  Well, to be honest, I did pig out at supper, so that would have an impact…  Other mitigating factors include the rain and wearing a light rain jacket.  I don’t know.  I focused a lot on my posture, pulling in my gut and putting a bit of a lean into my running stance.  Maybe too much at once?

The second run was still a challenge but not as bad.  The weather conditions were much better (i.e.  no rain and fairly cool) but I consciously pushed myself because I decided to do six hill repeats as part of my half-marathon training for hilly Saint John.  I wound up focusing less on my posture (hill running naturally makes some of that happen anyway) and I was tired out by that, no big surprise.

I find that I’m not feeling relaxed on my runs of late.  Maybe I miss the slower pace of LSD runs during marathon training.  Maybe I’m incorporating hills more than before.  Maybe group runs are encouraging me to pick up the pace, I’m not sure – most of my marathon training was done solo.

It does seem like the Chi Running posture is lending itself towards faster running, especially as I attempt to maintain the cadence of 180 foot strikes per minute (this is a pure guess on my part, I need to start using a metronome).  I’m guessing that I generally used a significantly lower cadence in my running in the past and compensated with a longer stride, which isn’t supposed to be a good thing.

I’m still committed to incorporate Chi Running into my regular running routine.  I am hoping that better form will reduce any stress on my left hamstring and lead to other good benefits.  I have been feeling the need to take my running to the next level, especially if I ever seriously want to qualify for the Boston Marathon, so this a logical next step.  I’ll keep taking that next step!

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Chi Running workshop

I participated in a Chi Running workshop this weekend.  A couple of instructors from Quebec gave the workshop to about 10 students here at our local library (we have a cool library and I’m not just saying that because I’m on its Board).

There’s still a lot I don’t know about Chi Running, but simply put it’s a style of running that is infused with Tai Chi concepts.  One phrase that’s used to describe it is “effortless running”, which means that the focus is on efficient, if not minimal, use of energy for running while incorporating good posture and using both upper and lower body effectively while running.  Some things reminded me of Kung Fu as well, which is natural because there are known similarities between Kung Fu and Tai Chi.

I joking refer to one of the key concepts of Chi Running as “controlled falling”, or as they call it, the lean.  The idea is that between proper posture and balance, the pull of gravity, and the opposing force of your running surface, you can run with minimal expenditure of energy and minimal wear and tear on your muscles.  This sounds good to me as I do have a recurring left hamstring problem.

Getting everything right isn’t easy for me, not at first.  But I’ll keep working at it as I’m interested in how it could improve my long distance running.  Check again in three months!

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Setting sail for the (half) Marathon By The Sea

My next big race is going to be a half marathon in August.  I ran my first half-marathon race at Marathon By The Sea in Saint John, NB last year and it was tough.  And I want to do it again!

MBTS_2016Logo_Web

Used without permission but, guys, it’s free advertising!

I’ve learned a lot during the past year of running and I want to see if I can improve my performance.

I’ve shied away from both hill and speed training during the past but now it’s time to dig in and work on both.  Hill training is especially important in Saint John where there’s at least three significantly hilly areas to run through.  And speed… I need to keep pushing myself if I ever want to have any hope of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, so this is a logical next step.

The race is about 10 weeks away and I’m starting late into the training program but I still have a decent base left over from my marathon training so I should be good to go.

So I’m setting sail for the (half) Marathon By The Sea; time for another adventure!

 

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Notebooks: that useful obsession that’s not at all like drug addiction (and cleaner)

So, while I am busy thinking of ways to make Better Belly Month fly instead of flop, I thought I’d share some of the notebooks and journals that I use to track stuff in.  I’m a devoted pen and paper person (although I experiment with digital tools, too) and I find that writing is truly a part of my thinking process.

Here are the four main notebooks that I’ve been using of late:

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Starting from the left, with descriptions:

2016 – This is a handmade journal full of unlined paper that I made by repurposing an old hard-covered book with a set of sewed together signatures, all glued together.  This is my journal of daily events that I’m capturing.  I’ve kept personal journals off and on since my late teens.  I’ve used 106 pages so far in 2016, anywhere from 1/3 of a page to 3 or more pages for a daily entry.  I have a missed a few days here and there but I’ve written something more often than not.  As of today (June 6) I will have recorded entries 40 days in a row.  I don’t necessarily put my most private thoughts in here.

Books and Media Thoughts – Another handmade journal, one where I capture thoughts and ideas about books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, etc.  I came across this idea in a blog post and I thought it would be an interesting experiment.  I’ve only filled 16 pages in this one so far but some of the pages have multiple entries.  This is one that might become more interesting as I complete more entries and possibly start cross-referencing them to see if there are larger themes.

Bullet Journal – May – June 2016 – This is a simple store-bought hard-covered journal which I’m using as a bullet journal.  A bullet journal is a system for planning and recording information in a simple bullet point style within your notebook of choice.  Some people favor the Leuchtturm1917 journal for bullet journaling, if only because it comes with its own index page and the pages are already numbered.  That’s what I’m going to use for the second half of 2016.  I’ll elaborate on this more in a future post.

Scratching/Planning/Goals 2016 – I’m a fan of freewriting and I’m also quite fond of using writing to more formally develop my thinking on various topics.  This is another handmade journal which I’m using for a few different purposes.  Scratching is a term used by Twyla Tharp in her book The Creative Habit.  Scratching is an early step in the creative process where you gather lots of information, artifacts and ideas and start playing around with them, musing and pondering, trying to see how you can use the collected material in new and interesting ways.  I capture ideas here for future consideration.   On the planning and goals side, I’ve also been using this notebook to capture various goals that I’ve set for myself this year and to do a quarterly review on my progress towards those goals.  I think I’ll have to abandon this one soon so that I have enough pages left to do 2 more quarterly reviews this year!

This is a sample of the notebooks I’m using these days.  There are other notebooks that I use for more esoteric, specialized purposes.

What do you use to think, work creatively, or organize your life?  Leave a comment or otherwise let me know somehow – I’d like to know!

 

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Better Belly Month

Better Belly Month is a bit of a dumb name but it’s the best I can come up with.  I want to reduce my waistline but in a healthy way.  I’m planning a couple of half-marathon races during the next 4 months and I’m going to add a couple of changes into my lifestyle, all in the hopes of shrinking my gut a bit:

  • Work core and abdominal exercises into my training program.
  • Eat better:  not give up sweets completely (and I freely admit that my eating habits haven’t been great during the past couple of months) but use moderation and focus on adding more healthy foods back into my diet.

In terms of my running schedule, I’m going to incorporate hills and speed training into my running.  I haven’t done a lot of this because I’ve been trying to focus on distance running.  However, since I won’t be doing the REALLY long training runs for the next few months (probably no longer than 15 – 16 miles at the peak of the training program), I’m more comfortable with pushing myself with speed and with hill training.

Let the challenge begin!

 

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