12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding

joan

This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. This is Experiment 4.

As a 10-year-old I borrowed a Joanie Greggains workout cassette from my mom, and then spent the summer with Barry Manilow as my soundtrack, Copacabana-ing myself from husky to slightly-less-husky.

Fast forward 30 years, and my life involves mostly sitting in a chair looking at screens of various shapes and sizes. I sometimes get inspired to go for a jog (not true – running is death) or hunt down the old dumbbells in the garage (pretty much never).  An experiment to get more active seemed in order.

I didn’t want to to join a gym or buy equipment. So I did a little research and found another way.

Minimum Effective Dose (MED) is the smallest quantity of anything that will produce the desired outcome. Anything beyond MED is wasteful. For example, heating water above 100 degrees Celsius is a waste of energy – it’s already boiling.

High Intensity Interval Training  (HIIT) applies MED to the body through short, intense workouts. The Experiment: Using the 12 Minute Athlete smartphone app, workout 12 minutes per day, with the caveat of taking a rest day if I get too sore (spoiler alert – I got too sore) and write about the results.

Hypothesis: I expect to see minor-but-noticeable improvements to body composition, energy, and mood, and that the exercise will bleed over into other health-related actions like healthier food choices and increased general activity.

Day 1, 5:30am. It was not easy to climb out of bed, but it felt easier knowing that I only had 12 minutes of work to meet today’s goal. It was fun. Here is the Day 1 workout: 3 rounds of these 6 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest in between equals 12 minutes.

At 7:00 my abs ached. Pretty bad.12min

Day 2, Welcome to Burpees. As a high school basketball player, I was introduced to Bear Crawls – a barbaric activity that played a significant role in my journey to adulthood. Having lived a pretty sedentary life since then, I hadn’t really experienced much pain in a while.  Enter Burpees.

I took Day 3 off.

Day 3, Sabbath. No HIIT today, and it rained outside so I didn’t walk much, either. Everything hurt, including the bottoms of my feet.

Day 4, Workout Buddy. My 13-year-old son joined this afternoon. Keeping up with him was harder than I expected. Also, today’s randomly-generated workout added Pike Jumps, which I think were invented by the Burpee guy.

Days 5 and 6, Change of Plans.  I changed our schedule to an every-other-day workout. On Day 6 we pistoled, reptile-push-upped, and dive-bombed our little hearts out. Then we ate ice cream.

Day 7, Week 1 Reflection. After 4 workouts totaling 48 minutes, I felt as sore this weekend as I have in a long time – a testament to my mediocre physical condition and the potential effectiveness of this strategy.

Day 8, 50 Seconds of Hell. The randomized HIIT workouts had followed a pattern of 30-second workouts with 10-second rest periods. Today the HIIT gods selected 50-second workouts, which were way, way, way, way harder.  Full disclosure for peer reviews of the experiment protocol: When 50-second sessions randomly popped up later in the week, we “randomly” re-rolled until we found 30-second intervals. 

Day 9, Rest Day.  I felt much less sore than last week, which surprised me after yesterday’s workout.  Am I getting accustomed to this already?  Is my body getting stronger?

Day 10, Back at it. Today was summed up in a single quote from my son:  “If my legs were my mouth, I’d be vomiting.”  I can think of no stronger testimonial.

Day 12, Super Basement Bros. My son has joined me for most sessions, which as been really fun.  And we stink up the basement bad. And the basement is my office. Oops.

Situps felt easier today than they did a week ago.  It’s working, it’s working!

Day 14, This is it!  I managed to twist my ankle on the first set of high knees today. I rested through the next interval, and then tried squats. The ankle felt ok, so I pressed on. Strangely, the pain went away halfway through the workout and didn’t come back.

I am superhuman!

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Conclusion. For the first time in years I saw muscle definition in my shoulders, after only a few minutes of total exercise. I think this HIIT thing is legit. Also, the computer voice in workout app is my new Joannie Greggains – a high honor, indeed.

For more info on the topics of MED and HIIT, and more high intensity exercises, see The 12-Minute Athlete by Krista Striker and The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.

Image credits (order of appearance): Joannie Greggains; Krista Striker; Brett Curtis (via Flickr Creative Commons). 

Experiment 3: Less, but Better

tree

This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. After the first 4 weeks, I learned that adding new activities to an already-busy life can make that life even busier. I’d like to carve out some space.

Enter Experiment 3.

I consider myself a minimalist when it comes to physical items, but not so much with tasks, activities, and inputs – especially related to news and social media. So, for this experiment, I attempted to slow down a bit, reduce noise, add silence and experience a little boredom. My hope is that “addition by subtraction” will bring time and energy to spend with the people I love and the activities I most enjoy.

Day 1: Phone Cleanup
I removed all social media apps from my phone: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn. I also reduced my podcast subscriptions from 20 to 10. If I did nothing else for 2 weeks, this made a huge difference in my daily experience.

Day 2: Disable Notifications
I unsubscribed from all the email newsletters and notifications I could find.  No more pocket-buzzing for LinkedIn requests or e-mails when people react to my witty tweets.

It was early 2017 as I began this experiment, so it was difficult to avoid the news of a controversial presidential administration. I did manage to stay away from the news until after work today, which elicited internal questions: Am I being irresponsible? Do I even care about the world, the vulnerable, the marginalized? What if the President tweets something ridiculous? What if Betty White dies?

Day 3: Quiet
More unsubscribes, both at work and home. I noticed a significant difference in my Inbox after two days. I also recycled 40 magazines I had “planned to read someday.”

I finished an audiobook and did not start another. I paused all podcasts, at least for a couple days (an experiment within the experiment), to find out what silence might sound like.

Answer – Silence is scary as hell.

Day 4: Irony
After 30 minutes of early morning “pacifier-sucking” via e-mail and social media online, I set three priority To Do tasks and knocked them out before noon. My wife and I shared a late lunch out, brought to us by essentialism.

I discovered an Evernote folder called Minimalism, chock full of notes, articles, and book recommendations. This seemed incongruent with the ideas of minimalism. I deleted the folder.

Day 5: More Quiet
I subscribed from seven more e-mail newsletters, including some I really like. I told myself I could add them back after the experiment (Two months later, I haven’t missed them). On a no-headphones walk with the dogs, I accidentally discovered an elegant, previously-elusive solution to a difficult problem at work.

I ran a quick errand tonight with no audio soundtrack. Driving alone in the old Camry, I was joined only by my thoughts, feelings, and the smell of takeout Thai.

Day 6: Unplugged Saturday
I attempted no internet today. It was weird. While waiting for my turn at the hair stylist I literally did nothing. No screens, no magazines. Nothing. I sat quietly, staring at discounted shampoo while others stared at phones. I was legitimately concerned that people might think I was crazy.

In the afternoon I read a story that was printed in a book. A book, made of paper, that had been crafted from a tree. A tree!

Day 7: I skipped the Super Bowl and lived to write about it
Full disclosure: I watched 15 minutes of the Super Bowl: the 10-minute halftime show and 5 minutes of overtime. Instead, my son and I fried homemade donuts.

Day 8: Snow Day!
Miracle of miracles – a Snow Day in Seattle! I reworked priorities to take advantage of extra time with my family. While fixing dinner, instead of listening to a podcast or book via headphones, I switched to music, filling the house with sound. It attracted attention. I enjoyed impromptu dancing with my wife and the requisite head shakes and eye rolls from the kids. It was awesome.

Day 9: Oops
Rookie mistake today – I answered the phone from a number I didn’t know. It was a sales call that wasted everyone’s time. Lesson re-learned.

Day 10, 11, 12 – Taking Essentialism on the Road
I usually cram a lot of inputs into business trips. I work on the plane until the laptop battery dies, listen to podcasts, and consume the latest business or self-help book. This time I changed the focus from input to output. bringing only a poetry book and journal.

In the mornings I kept the hotel room TV off, swapping local morning news for a 30-second scan of newspaper headlines. It turns out people love to share news when they find out you don’t know what happened, so I just listened.

On Friday I avoided work e-mail all day, downloaded it to my laptop at the airport, and processed it in an hour on the plane. I spent the next 5 hours with a Steve Jobs biography, Yo-Yo Ma on cello, and my journal. I got bored on the plane for the first time I could remember. It was uncomfortable and annoying and generated tons of great ideas. Boredom played a vital role.

Day 13, 14: Less is More
Another No Internet Saturday, which freed up time to bag up giveaway items for the Goodwill, spend some quality time watching movies my family, and read my tree-paper-book.

I wrapped up the experiment by skipping the Grammy Awards. I figured if something amazing happened I could watch the performance later online.

I never did.

 

If you want to dig deeper on this topic, I recommend choosing any one of these, and applying what you learn while reading it: The Power of Less, Everything That Remains, The 4-Hour Workweek, Essentialism, or Deep Work

Photo Credit: Ingrained Builders

Experiment 2: Experience Tranquility

zen

Image: Blizzard Entertainment via icy-veins.com

As I shared at the beginning of this year, I am conducting a series of 2-week self-experiments. In the first, Address Book Lottery, I connected to others. In Experiment Number 2 I have turned the focus inward.

The Experiment: Meditate once each day for 2 weeks.

Hypothesis: Daily meditation will reduce stress, improve mood, broaden perspective.

Equipment: Calm smartphone app, YouTube videos, a floor.

Following is a description of my meditation experience through present tense narrative, reflective analysis, poetry, and poop jokes. You’ve been warned.

Day 1, 10am Ok, here we go. Day 1, this is gonna be great. Headphones in, firing up the app, music is calm… Whoa, super-loud voice, too loud!

Turning down volume, that’s better, here we go. My back hurts, I never sit this straight, my foot is tingling, the poodle jumped in my lap. Focus, focus. Breathe in, breathe out.

I’ve had my eyes closed for a while. what if I were blind? Is it inappropriate to think about being blind – or to write about it? Breathe in, breathe out, in, out. I have a LOT to get done today,… this is boring… did I fall asleep? Breath in, breathe ou – wait, it’s over?

Observation: Mid-morning is distracting – too much activity. Maybe I should shift to an earlier time, and then try a little harder to “just let the thoughts pass by like clouds” tomorrow. Wait, is trying harder bad? I’m getting confused already.

Day 2, 6am. Alright, Day 2, this is gonna be great. Here’s the poodle again, hi buddy, no problem. He’s licking my fingers. I just showered, what could he possibly be licking? It’s ok, relax, breathe in, breathe out. Did I hear someone on the stairs? Did they just laugh at my puppy-and-me meditation? 

Day 3, 5pm. I just couldn’t get it done today. I felt exhausted and like a failure for not even completing three sessions in a row. I attempted again at 9pm in the high school parking lot, which felt public, dark, and awkward.

Day 4, 7am. This morning I moved to our basement laundry room for quiet and privacy. I did not prepare for the cold.

Laundry Room Meditation Haiku
Smells of dirty socks,
Toes freezing, frostbite likely,
Solution is clear.

Day 5, 6am. Ok, today I’m ready for high-quality meditation. I got up early, took a shower, walked and fed the dogs, and secured a comfortable spot in the living room. Here we go!

Crap.

Literally. There was dog poop on the floor right next to me. How did I not smell it?!? I cleaned up, sat back down, then heard a series of dings. Oh boy – 6 text message from work – I better call to sort this out. After clearing up that issue I tried to meditate again, but the magic was gone.

Day 6, 6pm. I attempted a 5-minute session while waiting in the high school parking lot, but my daughter got out early and interrupted the session 3 minutes in. Tranquility is hard.

Day 7, 8am. During this session I had a really, really great idea – a “million dollar idea” – that I completely forgot by the end of the session. Sorry, heirs.

Day 8, 2pm, Taking the meditation experiment on the road, I brought by zen to Juneau, Alaska. I attempted using a random YouTube meditation. It was terrible, but it did include this philosophical gem: “Your ears are made for hearing.”

Day 9, 6pm, After a full day of work in Juneau, I got settled at the airport preparing to meditate before the trip home. There were lots of distractions – announcements, people nearby talking. Wait – those people were in my workshop today. Should I say hello and talk to them? I was exhausted and dressed like a 90s teenager, so I did not go over and tried to avoid eye contact. I refocused on my breath, and then… “Welcome to Flight 66 to Seattle…”

Day 10, 9am, Today I tried ambient sounds only (no guide) for 15 minutes, and it felt pretty great. I had visions of outer space in the midst of the session, which helps me with perspective. Today’s list of tasks feels less daunting when compared to our eventual demise from a supernova.

Observation: Over the last couple days I noticed how the Hawthorne Effect is affecting me. One the first things I think about during meditation is writing these post-session reflections, which obviously must alter the results. Time to kiss that honorary Ph.D. goodbye.

Day 11, 9am. I was very distracted today, so I started counting my breaths from 1 to 10, and then started again. Once I hit 43 before realizing I’d forgotten to start over. Counting is hard.

Day 12, N/A. I literally forgot.

Day 13, 9am. Today I was joined by Otis, the feline master of our domain. He entered the room wailing the sound of painful death. He was not dying, but rather hungry or bored or he noticed I was sitting on his favorite piece of carpet.

Day 14, 5pm. I had a little epiphany while thinking about the past 2 weeks. Alongside purposeful meditation, I’ve found myself pausing more often – sometimes only for a few seconds – throughout the day. This evening I approached a traffic signal changing from green to yellow to red, and instead of cursing my bad luck, I welcomed the 90-second break in the day. A red light meditation.

Breathe in, breathe out.

rocks

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, joseph140178

Experiment 1: Address Book Lottery

rolodexI’m planning a series of experiments aimed at attempting new daily practices, learning new skills, and finishing uncompleted projects.

The first experiment of the year is simple: E-mail 50 randomly-selected people from my address book and see what happens.

Choosing an address book. I’ve been a professional for 18 years, and in that time I’ve worked a number of different jobs. I’ve done a good job transitioning my address book each time. More recently, though, my contact list has become fractured among Outlook, Gmail, social media apps, and my phone. For the sake of choosing something, I went with my Outlook Contacts – a list I started in 1999 and currently includes 1,181 people.

Selecting 50 people. The next step was identifying the random 50 people to email. For this task I used this random number generator: http://andrew.hedges.name/experiments/random/. A few interesting things came out of the randomized subset:

  • Three of my direct-reporting employees were part of the 50. To avoid “obligation to the boss” awkwardness, I removed them.
  • One selected contact was a name with no e-mail address, so I replaced it with the next contact on the list.
  • One was a deceased business contact. I remembered him fondly, and then added the next name.

The email. I chose my current business email address (instead of my personal Gmail) for this effort. First, that is how I met many of these people, and they may recognize it. Also, I think a corporate address is less likely to go straight to an automated spam folder.

At this stage I was nervous that this will come off as creepy or a sales call or both.

Hi,

I realize this email may seem a little weird.

As I begin 2017, instead of developing a year-long resolution, I’m trying a series of 2-week experiments. Some will be health-related (working out daily, eliminating sugar); others will be habits (meditating daily, reading fiction each night); and some just weird ideas (wear the same jeans for 2 weeks, learn the ukulele).

My first experiment is in the “weird idea” category: Contact a random subset of 50 people from my address book and track the results. I anticipate some emails will be undeliverable, recipients won’t remember me, and some will just choose not to respond. But I hope in some cases I’ll get to revisit old stories, revive a few connections, and maybe spark some interesting email discussion. (I also realize that, in some cases, we just talked last month or even yesterday – that’s part of the fun, too!)

Letting “the universe” or “God” or “mathematics” choose the initial recipients is part of the fun, and you have literally been randomly selected. If you’re up for it, I’d love to hear from you. Where are you living, what kind of activities are you enjoying, and – most importantly – what are you passionate about in 2017?

Thanks for considering, and I hope you have an amazing year!

Brian

At 6pm on January 3, 2017, I sent the email to the 50 randomly-selected contacts. And then I waited. Will anyone respond? Will some think I’m a moron? Was this a bad idea?

The numbers

  • 15 bounced back immediately as undeliverable. 30% of my randomly-selected contact list was effectively useless? Yikes.
  • 2 responded that evening.
  • 6 responded the next day.
  • 3 responded over the course of the next couple weeks, including the final response 15 days after receipt.

As of this writing, I received a total of 11 responses, which (after factoring in the undeliverables) is a 31% response rate of those who presumably received the email. Not bad for a random note with no real subject. Respondents included customers who I’d spoken with a few days before, a person I had met once at a conference 10 years ago, and my father – Hi, Dad. (I kept other identities confidential, and I’ll note here that I didn’t use any of my dad’s response in the content below.)

Responses. I was blown away by the information shared with me, given that in most cases our relationship could be considered past its “best by” date. Respondents, some of whom didn’t even really remember me, shared their life struggles, relationship problems, victories and defeats, and goals for the future. Many shared with me recent successes in health and business, and relayed to me their hopes and dreams for 2017 and beyond. Responses came from every region of the country. Here are a few sound bytes from the emails received:

  • From what I remember about you, you were skinny and recently married and young.
  • I’m going to be passionate about my family’s health and not just physical, but spiritual health.
  • I’m on sabbatical this year and enjoying seeing new things and travelling around the world.
  • Travel is in my weekly budget and chances are, if a friend asks me to visit, I’ll book it immediately.
  • Thanks I felt like I won the lottery.
  • Yes, weirdest email I have received in 2017.

In the end, it was a fun experiment that put me back in touch with people I hadn’t heard from in some time, and I’d recommend giving it a try.

Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons, flic.kr/p/4MLzSY

2017: The Experiment

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The Problem: I have approximately 17 million ideas that I typically don’t follow through to completion. Instead, I spend much of my life in the daily loop of tasking, numbing, and tasking.

The Idea: Live 2017 as a series of two-week experiments.

I intend to try new things, and I even start some of them, but I habitually get bogged down in the middle. I have a deep love for beginnings, so part of this is series of experiments is to give myself something new every two weeks – a year of beginnings!

Experiments may include daily practices (cold exposure, meditation); finishing partly-done projects (board game, website); learning new skills (Spanish, ukulele, javascript); removing a habit (coffee, social media); or weird ideas just for fun (wear the same outfit every day, watch every Spielberg film).

In some cases I may love the “new thing” and want to continue it. That’s fine, but it will be important that I don’t require myself to stack experiments. If I’m learning Spanish or Elvish (both potentials for this year), I want the freedom to skip meditation sessions or eat red meat or check Twitter 37 times a day.

I hesitate to claim any goal or purpose to this little game, but if there is one, it’s to learn a little bit more about myself and how I respond to trying something new.

Photo courtesy of Keene Public Library, Elliott Community Hospital, https://flic.kr/p/4HjgpY