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Posts Tagged ‘habit energy’

If you’re like me, you get email. Lots of email. Significant amounts of email that come flooding in on multiple accounts. I get all sorts of messages every day and I am really good at ignoring all but the most important ones. If I spend more than 2 seconds on an email, it must be pretty important. However, there are some emails that I do like to look at even though I may never want to receive them again. These are the “special rewards” messages that come from places with loyalty programs. Specifically, restaurants with loyalty programs. Once upon a time, if there was a frequent diner card or special program offered by a restaurant, chances were I was on it. They are great ways to find out about new menu items, specials, discounts and, don’t forget, the free dessert offers whenever a birthday month rolls around. I get offers on Italian, BBQ, Pizza, Mexican, Burgers, traditional American comfort food, Asian, Thai, ice cream, mega chains and local places. I get information in the form of newsletters and updates about the newest must-eat-here-now! places. I get offers from groupon and livingsocial all about foods that I can get at great discounts. I get special offers from manufacturers who know that I have consumed their products in the past. It seems like a never-ending barrage of messages about things that I should consume if I want to be happy or treated or be part of the “in” crowd. Stumbleupon is always making sure I know about the newest food blog entries or recipe web sites since I checked off “food” “eating” “cooking” and “recipes” when I created my profile there. Every single one of these emails or offers reminds me of the behaviors that led me to the state I’m in today. Each one is a warning.

The marketing of food is huge. Billions of dollars are spent every year to get us to buy and eat foods that are, for the most part, very poor choices for what to put into our bodies. Marketers are very talented when it comes to presenting foods in a way that triggers a desire for a reward. After all, “Why wouldn’t I want to go get that new 1500 calorie meal from Joe’s Super Food Family Fun Time Emporium? It’s $5 off! That’s a great deal. I’m saving money. And, did you see the picture? Oh my God, it looks so amazing and fresh and delicious. Why are we still here and not in the car? Go go go!” See how that works? Create a perceived reward and the brain runs after it.

Now, half the time when I open my email, I’m reminded of how I was living. I see messages telling me about all the wonderful things I could have if I only listened to the marketer’s message. After all, they value me and want to be my personal friend. They wouldn’t make an offer like this to just anybody would they? Yes. They would. They do. All I am is a big, fat reliable source of income to the marketers. These messages remind me of that.

The other day, I was talking to my son about this. He was looking at a picture of a hamburger that was blown up to have an ant’s eye perspective. I was explaining to him how the burger in the picture was probably not even real. He was surprised when I told him that marketers often use plastic components to get the “more real than reality” look. I asked him what this burger would look like if he were to order it and have it brought to him. Even though he doesn’t eat burgers, he understood that what comes from the kitchen looks nothing like what’s on the menu. I ended the conversation by reminding him that the menu isn’t selling a burger, it’s selling the idea of a burger. That’s all they need to do is put a thought in your head and then let it mutate into a desire and an action. After the idea is in your head, their work is done.

My goal now is to keep the marketers out of my head. Lately, I’ve been trying to unsubscribe or filter these messages into the trash. While it is nice to have a reminder of what I did, I don’t think it’s a good idea to expose myself to these messages. It’s the mental equivalent of pushing myself away from the table and saying, “I’m done.” That’s another lesson I’m learning but it will have to wait for another post.

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The past week I’ve been playing Rocksmith. It’s a music “game” that aims to teach you how to play the guitar. Unlike the other music games that have come out over the past few years, this one doesn’t just give you a plastic instrument that you push buttons to make what they call music. This game uses a real, honest to goodness electric guitar. It plugs right into my XBox and knows exactly what strings and what frets my fingers are on. It’s been the most fun I’ve ever had learning how to play a new instrument. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to play but been afraid to make the commitment, this is a great way to get started.

Like any good guitar player, I’ve also been putting the fingers on my left hand through quite a workout. While I don’t really have blisters on them, I am getting some nice callouses. It’s been a great experience to spend a little time each day playing music and watching myself get better over time. When I started, I had a hard time playing for very long and I couldn’t keep up with the songs. Now, I don’t really have any stamina problems and the number of songs I can play is growing more and more.

The practice mind that one develops when learning a new instrument is similar to the practice mind that one gets from a dedicated Buddhist practice. In both cases, one must develop a solid set of routines that serve to enhance the practice. With music practice, a person learns to play more challenging songs and develops stamina and the ability to think in new ways about songs. In a committed Buddhist practice, the challenges faces are the ones that we all face on a daily basis. The problems of suffering and pain and sorrow are slowly overcome while endurance is built up in a solid meditative practice. This past weekend, for example, I started my day off with a solid hour of meditation. This is something I never would have been able to do when I began to practice.

Another interesting parallel that I have noted is that in playing the guitar, I’m trying to build up a strong layer of callous that makes pushing down on the strings easier to do. In my Buddhist practice, I am trying to wear down the mental callouses that have built up over years of exposure to illusion and suffering and attachment. It feels like two sides of the same coin. Building something up or tearing something down with the end result being a stronger practice and greater ability to perform.

With all of that in mind, I’m trying to approach living a healthy lifestyle the same way. It is something I need to work on each day. It is hard to make a lot of headway at first. It seems like something that is almost impossible to do. It will require building up of new habits and tearing down of old ones. In the end, with repetition and diligence, I will see valuable results.

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Besides the obvious dangers of weight gain, there is an equally important thing to keep in mind: when you eat mindlessly, you often don’t watch what you are putting into your mouth. This happened to me tonight and I’m still paying for it. Proceed with caution and heed my words of warning.

One of the healthier things I like to snack on are wasabi peas.  These little bad boys can pack a wallop if you’re not careful about what you’re doing. Queue the horror movie music because tonight I wasn’t careful.

I was sitting on the couch enjoying the wasabi peas while my kids did their homework. I was paying more attention to them than I was to what I was eating and my hand was repetitively going from mouth to bowl to mouth to bowl. This is where the camera zooms in on one specific wasabi pea and the music looms larger as my fingers brush against it. I don’t know if it was my son or daughter who asked me about a math problem but I was definitely answering their question when I grabbed IT: a wasabi pea sized ball of wasabi flavoring.

If you have never seen or eaten wasabi peas, you need to understand their anatomy to realize what I had done. Wasabi peas are dried green peas covered in wasabi powder to give them that traditional sinus clearing kick of my favorite sushi condiment (see picture below). It’s not too bad though and I can usually eat them by the handful. This time, I was grabbing only one at a time as I was answering math questions and didn’t want to talk with my mouth full. That was the only good thing about what happened next.

The little ball of pure wasabi flavoring was lodged between my fingers and then flew gracefully into my mouth. Picture this in Matrix style slow motion for proper effect. As my teeth clamp down on the little ball of powder imagine it exploding into fine particles and coating my tongue and that little thing that hangs down in the back of the throat. Time froze. My brain skipped a beat. My eyes attempted to make an emergency exit from their sockets. My nose, oh my poor poor nose, began searing as every square millimeter of my sinus cavities cried out in pain and, unlike Alderan, were not suddenly cut short. My tongue was on fire. This was the pure essence of wasabi. I had popped a ball of pure hot white wasabi into my mouth and sucked it back like Gary Busey snorting coke off a dog’s back. Hours later my tongue still felt the residual burn of the wasabi. I don’t know how I managed to keep my composure while I sat there on the couch. I coughed a few times, wiped the tears from my eyes and continued to help the kids with their homework. It was not my finest moment.

Consider yourself warned. Mindless eating is bad for you. It can contribute to weight gain and it can cause you to put a large pea sized ball of wasabi flavoring into your mouth causing you hours of pain. Maybe I should have stopped eating the wasabi peas after that but I still had some in the bowl and I’m not one to quit early. That’s the other thing about mindless eating: you usually do it until the food runs out. Even when you have just had a near-death experience with the horseradish from hell.

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I’ve been asked by a number of different people why I meditate. When someone asks a question like that, it’s usually backed up by a lot of their perceptions or beliefs about what meditation is. Most people don’t have a lot of exposure to meditation outside of movies or TV shows or spiritual superstars or charlatans. That kind of exposure will obviously color your attitude toward something.

The thing is, I’m never quite sure how to answer that question. I think it’s because I don’t know what kind of answer the person is looking for. Are they expecting me to answer like I’m Yoda or an ancient master from some kung fu movie? Are they asking because they want to know my personal reasons for choosing to spend an hour a day literally doing nothing? Are they considering meditating and looking for information from practitioners? Are they just trying to make conversation? Isn’t it amazing how one simple question can have so much attached to it? Especially if you’re someone like me who has to analyze everything (EVERYTHING) before answering?

  • “Not one good answer, could I give, but many to this question yes?”  — OK, the Yoda approach doesn’t work.
  • “I meditate in order to be reminded of my interconnectedness to the universe.” — The happy sappy spiritualist answer doesn’t work either
  • “I sit to be like the still water” — I’m never going to be a kung fu master
  • “The clouds drift by the mountain but the mountain sits — observing all, grasping at nothing.” — That sounds cool but I could never pull that off
  • “I sit because I sit” — Does that answer even make any sense?
  • “Meditation is a path to enlightenment” — That just leads to more questions I’m not prepared to get into
  • “I don’t know.” — I could pull that one off easily enough but it would be lying and not a good answer.

So, why do I meditate? I meditate for a few different reasons. I’m going to try not to geek out too much here but I make no guarantees. You have been warned. Let’s try to unpack some of those reasons. Ready…and go!

First, I meditate because it is a medical and scientific fact that it’s good for you. Meditation can be useful to alleviate pain and depression and stress and resetting your brain’s activity patterns to a healthy level. Through the act of meditation, I am essentially hacking my brain. Yes, I said hacking my brain. In order to understand where I’m going with this, you need to answer the following question: Are the brain and the mind separate or the same? The way you answer that will determine how easy it is for you to understand the rest of this post.

Is this your mind?

If you say they are the same, you’re going to have some trouble following me here. I used  to think that they were the same but over the past few years, I have begun to realize they aren’t. Scientific research has also begun to validate this view that they are not one and the same. The brain is an organ, albeit a very complex and amazing organ. The mind is not an organ: it is a sense—much like sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. The brain is a sensory organ for the mind and they do influence one another but they are not the same thing. When you exercise your mind, you actually cause physical changes in the brain. In this way, by practicing meditation, any number of things can be done to the brain to change it one way or another.

As we calm the mind in meditation, we cause a vast neural network to fire off in ways it doesn’t normally do. As we continue to do this with regularity, it becomes easier for the brain to operate in this fashion. We start to reprogram the way the brain works by having our mind change its focus. As we learn to do this, it becomes easier and easier to do. This way, when we want to start changing ourselves, the meditation cushion becomes the first place we go.

I don’t know about you, but the thought of rewiring my own brain to change the way it operates is exciting. This may be because my brain has some great things going for it that I’d love to improve and its got some patterns that really aren’t healthy and need to be changed for the better. Either way, those are some pretty good motivators to want to rewire myself.

That would be my first answer. I meditate because I want to hack my brain. Now that I see that in print, I’m thinking maybe some of those other answers weren’t all that bad. Maybe I should rethink that list.

Additionally, I meditate because it is good for my mental clarity and peace of mind. Through meditation, especially Zen meditation, you are forced to come to grips with your mind in a way that demands careful and thorough understanding of how it works. When you sit on a cushion and you aren’t reciting a mantra, hoping for the well being of all living things, focusing on an image or something in the room or going through a mental set of exercises you have nothing to keep you company but your mind. If you haven’t tried this before, be warned that your mind hates this. One of the functions of the mind is to run on endlessly throwing up thoughts and feelings and reminders and regrets with the same regularity that your lungs move air in and out. Sitting in Zen meditation is to your mind what holding your breath is to your lungs: after about 30 seconds, it gets a little uncomfortable. As your mind reveals itself, you also begin to notice things about it. You see the common themes and patterns that it runs over and over like a hamster in a wheel. With this understanding you begin to gain the ability to ignore it. This is a great way to do things like overcome anxiety, depression, fear, cravings or whatever else your mind may throw at you that is best ignored. The mental clarity I get while on (and off) the cushion is itself enough of a good reason to meditate.

There’s my second answer. I meditate because it allows me to gain mental clarity and peace.

The third reason I meditate will have to wait for part 2 of this post. I’ve already broken the 1,000 word count and I’m not done yet. It’s taken me days to get this far and the need to post something is beginning to outweigh my desire to complete this post. For now, if you meditate, why do you do it? Answer below in the comments. And try to keep the Yoda-speak to a minimum OK?

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Last Saturday night, the kids really wanted spaghetti for dinner. It had been a long time since we’d had it so I whipped up some sauce and made the spaghetti. Overall, it was a good, quick dinner. I even kept my portion down to a reasonable level. It was great for me since I hadn’t had pasta like that in a long time.

Later that night, after putting the kids to bed I found myself back in the kitchen doing a little clean up work. That’s when things went sour for me. I saw the pot of leftover pasta and I grabbed a few strands to “test” them to see if it was still OK and able to be saved. The next thing I know, I’m shoveling handfuls of cold pasta down my gullet like some kind of hungry bird at a worm farm.

This was not the first time something like this has happened to me. That used to be my normal way to” put away” pasta. I absolutely love the stuff and I used to eat pasta four to five times a week. The thing is, I wasn’t planning on eating that way this time. As soon as I had eaten two strands of the pasta, I just kept doing it mindlessly. It felt so comfortable that I didn’t have to think about what I was doing. This is what Savor calls “habit energy”. It is habit energy that allows us to eat mindlessly and put away calories without realizing what we are doing.

The thing about habit energy is that it’s a lot like inertia: once it starts, it just wants to keep on going. For a number of months, that particular part of my habit energy had been at rest and had been pretty happy being at rest. However, it didn’t take much of a push for it to get moving again and it wanted to make up for lost time. I probably ate another one and a half servings of spaghetti before I stopped myself and walked away from the kitchen the rest of the night and went back to learning about programming for the Android. This was the harshest lesson I’ve had in the power of habit energy yet.

Besides giving in to an old habit, the thing that annoyed me the most about this was that  I had just written a post earlier that evening about finding things that keep our minds busy and prevent us from mindlessly eating. I think I was mad at myself because I’d been caught up in pride about my ability to resist giving in to bad habits and influences only to fall like that about 2 hours later. So, I’ve gone back to the beginning and worked on forgiving myself for engaging in this unhealthy behavior and I’ve done some self-examination about how to prevent it in the future. For me, the easiest thing would be to put the food away as soon as I’m done eating and am full enough to not want to eat anything more. I’d also know that the item is good to store and saved for later. If I wait for a couple of hours, I will have allowed myself to get hungry again and the thought of shoveling back handfuls of pasta could be too appealing for me to resist.

That’s how I plan to deal with this in the future when confronted with this situation. The past can’t be changed and there’s nothing I can do about it. The great thing about the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold path is that it provides a framework for me to think about what the right action is to take when presented with this situation again. I need not suffer needlessly for giving into my habit energy if I plan ahead. I’ve already figured out how to do this with the upcoming holiday season. If you don’t have a plan for navigating the dangerous waters of Thanksgiving and Christmas and all of the food and deliciousness that accompanies them, work out your plans now. Don’t wait until “Fat Thursday” rolls around to try and mitigate the problem then. It’ll be too late. I’m doing the same thing now with Halloween candy. I had my one piece of it last night with the kids and now I’m done with it (hopefully). Planning is easy, putting the plan into practice is harder. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it and continue on my way to reaching the 250 mark later this year. The weight that I have on this site is actually the middle point between the two scales that I weigh myself on each day. One says I’m at 265 while the other has me at around 275. Regardless of which one I’m going by, I’m still on track and still losing weight. As long as I keep my habit energy at rest I should be able to continue to ride my positive energy through the new year and into 2011 with a body that is healthier than the one I had in 2001. Regardless of what happens, it’ll be a fun ride.

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Today was one of those days that I really enjoy. I’ve done very little but what I have done was great. I got a new phone: the Motorola Droid 2. It’s much nicer than the one I had previously and, the best thing is, it’s on an open platform and you’re able to create applications for it if you happen to be one of those types of people who actually enjoys the arduous process of developing applications and learning programming techniques for a mobile platform. I just happen to possess that kind of craziness so I’m downloading and installing the development tools for the Android phone now. There are very few things in life that make me happier than learning something new.

Android robot logo.

I have a few ideas about applications that I’d like to make so I’m looking forward to being able to dig into the API (Application Programing Interface) documentation and learning the ins and outs of how to make programs for this platform. Another benefit of being able to learn is that it gives me something to pay attention to rather than sitting around and potentially eating or allowing unhealthy impulses get the best of me. Sure, mindfulness and meditation and exercise are great tools for becoming healthier, but sometimes you need something different to do. For me that’s learning. What type of techniques do you use to assist in your goal of living a healthy lifestyle? What kind of hobbies or interests do you have that give you joy and help you to live the life you want to live? While you answer these questions, I’ll be digging through technical manuals and language references. Sounds like fun doesn’t it?!

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Whoopie (pies)

There are a few things up here in Maine that they just don’t have in Ohio. It’s great to get to experience these things as they are local items that add a uniqueness to where you live. It sets your region apart from everywhere else. Sure, we all have a McDonald’s and an Applebees and other purveyors of swill but in Cincinnati we had Skyline Chili. Up here there are three things that are unique to Maine. The first is a soft drink called Moxie. I’ve had it twice and that’s enough for me. Some people up here love it but I don’t feel the love. I think it’s a flavor you had to grow up with to appreciate. Secondly, there is something a lot of the pizza places make up here: the spaghetti calzone. This is exactly what it sounds like: a calzone that’s been stuffed with spaghetti and sauce. I love these. This is the perfect union of carbs in one easy to transport package. Add meat sauce to the pasta that has been lovingly stuffed into dough and you’re set for at least three meals worth of caloric and carbohydrate goodness. Needless to say, I don’t eat them any more.

Then, there’s Maine’s third contribution to the culinary world: the whoopie pie. In case you don’t know what these are, imagine two cake pieces sandwiched to overflowing with icing. Think a gigantic Oreo cookie with even more sweetness and fat packed into it. They look like this:

 

Whoopie Pie

The Whoopie Pie

I can’t even begin to tell you how sweet these things are. Seriously, they are diabetes in a wrapper. I don’t know who invented these things but they are an avalanche of sweetness and will give you a sugar rush two bites in. Even a hard-core sweet tooth like me couldn’t stand to eat an entire one. These things come in a bunch of different flavors too. Chocolate or Pumpkin cake or some other variation of cake and many different types of icing. My favorites were peanut butter and mint. I never ate these things very frequently but this is one of the things (along with the spaghetti calzone) that I find myself thinking about when my mind wanders into the danger zone of cravings. Tonight, I stared down an entire tray of whoopie pies and resisted the urge to pick one up. I really thought about grabbing one and eating it in the car on my way home. After all, who’d know? I was by myself and nobody would see me eating it. Besides, what would one little whoopie pie hurt really? I’ll tell you who’d be hurt by that one little whoopie pie: me. And my family. And my friends. And the wonderful people that I have met because of this blog. While thinking about giving into temptation, I was able to keep each and every one of you in mind and know that I would have to be writing an entirely different kind of post if I ended up giving in and eating it. So, allow me to cry, “Whoopee, I avoided the whoopie!!” And I’ll shout out a big “Whoopee” to all of you too. For everyone who has posted and given me encouragement and thanked me for what I have been doing, now it’s my turn to thank and encourage you. Keep visiting and coming back. None of us are in our journey alone. We need each other to get through life: both the good times and the bad. Tonight, I’m going to bed happy that I had a victory and thankful for all the wonderful people in my life who I feel connected to enough to care about how my giving in to temptation would let them down. Whoopee!

 

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