Learning to run

Yesterday, I mentioned that I am preparing for a 5k race. I use the word preparing loosely. I have only run three times in the past several weeks. However, I have been gradually ramping up my time and intensity with each successive attempt. On my first outing, I ran 15 minutes, on the second 18, and last night I went a full 20.

The race is on October 8th so I think I’ll still be able to fit in a few more runs and work my way up to 30 minutes. I think I should be able to finish the race in that amount of time, even at the slower pace at which I train. Hopefully, with the adrenalin the competition stirs up, my ego (which will do anything to beat out my slower co-workers), and the training I’ve completed, I’ll be able to make a good showing at the race.

I don’t consider myself a runner. Since college, I haven’t chosen running as a preferred method of exercise. In high school and college I ran regularly, not for it’s own sake, but either as conditioning for a sport or in the context of a game. Actually, since the beginning of this year, exercise has not been a high priority, but to a small extent, I’m trying to change that to get in shape and maintain my good health.

Using the Internet as resource number one, I’ve been able to find an overwhelming resource of ways to get started and develop. However, this really isn’t something that I need more information on or to be educated in. Probably all the searching was really just an attempt at avoiding the real work.

Running is just something I need to do: set aside 30 minutes to workout, and then enjoy or endure the pain or the high, and, every time, the sweat. It’s really about finding out what works and doing it. Hopefully there is more pain than high, or I may become addicted.

Finally, I didn’t snooze ’till seven

I made it to work by 6:32 a.m. Not to the office, but to the laptop to begin writing. I’ve been trying for a few weeks now to wake up earlier in the mornings to no avail. It seems like every week night, I’m able to set my alarm for 6 a.m. with no problem, but when it comes to morning I’ll hit the snooze button repeatedly until 7 a.m., which is last call for getting up and getting ready for work.

This may not seem like any great accomplishment, but for, me, a new dad, whose decided to become a writer, it is a real milestone because it creates for me a new 30 minute block of time in the day. I’ve been developing more goals for myself in the last several weeks, more things I want to do and accomplish on a daily basis. However, to even start working on those goals, I needed to create some more time in the day, so this was a major step forward.

If I can carve out this time consistently, it won’t all be dedicated to writing. I also have a 5k run coming up, and I want to make sure I finish. Therefore, part of this newly created time will have to go towards running to get in shape and to make sure I don’t come in last. It’s a corporate race, where many of my co-workers will also be participating, so I have to be sure not to embarrass myself. That should, actually, provide great motivation to get in shape, but I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before now.

I have not reached my final target yet, but it feels great to even accomplish part of a goal. The final step for me and mornings, or at least the current plan, is to consistently get up at 6 a.m., and get to writing or working out immediately. I may be a ways away from that still, but this morning was a good first step.

For me, getting up early is still a work in progress, but I’m looking for ways to develop this habit of getting up early. Here are a few ideas:

1. Get a reason

Waking up early for its own sake is a losing proposition. I need a reason to make it happen. I already had some new goals set for myself that I didn’t feel like I was adequately addressing, so now I’ve applied these goals to me my action items in this the newly created time. For a long time getting up at 6 a.m. was a goal in and of itself.

I think now, with some clear activities that I want to engage in during that time, it will be much more realistic and manageable. These goals and plans for the mornings are best if it’s something you really want to do that you feel like you don’t have the time to do otherwise. For me that’s writing and working out, but it could be anything. Whatever the case may be, getting out of bed in the morning is easiest when there’s a reason.

2. Banish the snooze button

This, for me, is still the biggest stumbling block. I need an alarm clock to get up in the mornings (and I don’t anticipate that changing), but one of its simplest functions seems to consistently be my undoing. The damn snooze button is so easy to use: just press it and enjoy 10 more minutes of uninterrupted sleep. I haven’t found a way (but I’m sure there is one) to disable that function, but this is not a technical issue.

The 10-more-minutes mentality is what really gets in the way. During that 10-minute snooze, where I promise myself that I’ll get out of bed when it rings the next time, leaves me with too large a gap to start rationalizing all the reasons why it will be better to re-set the alarm to later in the day and sleep until deadline. I’ll be far better off if I don’t give myself the opportunity to talk myself out of getting up. The best solution here is to get up when it beeps the first time, turn the alarm off and leave the bed room. I have a long way to go in learning the self-discipline to stat doing this, but that is another issue entirely.

3. Make gradual changes

I wanted to start getting up an hour earlier, but that could have been too big of a jump. I may be better off setting my alarm for 6:30 a.m. for a few weeks to get used to this new time, to develop my reasons to get up and to wean myself from the snooze button. Once I’ve gotten the hang of 6:30 a.m., I’ll move the clock back again in gradual increments until I reach my goal.

Who knows, with baby steps I may be able to move it back even earlier. Of course if I get really good and start getting up a 5 a.m., I’ll probably have to write and run every morning. I don’t think I’m ready for that.


I’m trying to reduce and simplify my inputs. I spent a lot of time the other day unsubscribing to feeds in my Google Reader. I’m trying to get more focused. I also took steps to reduce the number of bookmarks in my browser and programs in my system tray.

This is all in the interest of making technology a less noticeable part of my life. Don’t misunderstand. I love it and am not sure that I could live without it. However, technology is a tool and should be treated as such. If I can comfortably move it to the background and not give it as prominent of a place in my daily life, I’ll be able to free my mind to engage in other pursuits: really think and not just browse, which is what I have realized that I do with a lot of what I read on the web when I’m “computering.”

My personal goal is to make it more about the writing–the words and the language–and less about the technology and the medium.

I spend far too much time in mind numbing, thoughtless activity. I hope that this project can be a powerful force for change against that negative neurological waste. I want to be different and unique–like everyone else–and, like every other blogger out there, I think my blog will be the podium and platform by which I’ll be able to assert my uniqueness.

However, I understand that in this I am not alone, and I am happy for that. Instead, I get to join my voice with all the others. Maybe it will be a harmonious chorus of ideas, or maybe it will get lost in the noise, unnoticed. Either way, I’m becoming a part of it.

Unburdened technology

Technology brings many gifts to life. But it also bring many new burdens. The next step forward will be learning how to best integrate the modern marvels of technology, but to not let it get in the way. My question is how to let technology work in the background, to be able to benefit from it fully, appreciate it, but not have to think about it or let it get in the way.

One step is to figure out exactly how much technology is needed to complete a particular task. It is easy to upgrade to the latest version of a super sophisticated word processor, only to get so caught up in the new and improved features that you forget what the program was intended for in the first place.

I’ve reverted back to using notepad, a computer program that was probably less complicated to make than a pen and a pad of paper. (No offence to the programmer, but I’m sure making a pen and a pad of paper from scratch would be quite the accomplishment.) I’ve found just in this first post that I am much more focused on the words and ideas that I am writing, because I am no longer thinking about the other functions and formatting I’m sure I’d be exploring in any other situation.

A blog is a technical wonder in itself. But ideally, it can function as an effective medium to showcase the written word. This blog is rather advanced, I think. I probably bit off more than I can chew with the template, and the HTML I had to learn to work with it. However, now that it’s set up, I can forget about it and let it work itself. I know the few simple functions to make it look presentable and keep it up to date. This lets me now turn my attention to the content, where it should be.

Tools of the trade

I’m trying out a new tool for writing. Rather than using a complicated program like Word or Open Office, I’m now just using Windows Notepad. There are almost no functions or options, just a full white window with a blinking cursor.

But the software is only half the story. I’m also using an old Gateway laptop that I bough off a college buddy for $20. There’s no Internet connection or media player. Later, I plan to wipe the hard drive as well to get rid of any possible distractions. I want to have a tool that is entirely dedicated to writing.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend working on the look and feel of this blog, but now the focus has shifted. The most important item on the agenda now is filling the pages with compelling content that is worth reading. I could have the most beautifully designed blog of all time, but without that, I will not be able to attract or grow an audience.

It is likely that the first several posts on this blog will seem somewhat disconnected. This is part of my process of finding my voice. I am confident that after working for awhile that I will find that flow and rhythm that all good writers have. That, I don’t believe, are what my problem will be. Rather, as always, my problem will be thinking of what to write about, and having the confidence that my choice of subject is worthy of being read.

It turns out that my attempts to find a simpler method of writing is not without its drawbacks. In what was meant to be a distraction free environment, I’ve managed to spend more time figuring out how to get this dinosaur to recognize my jump drive and to recognize my plug in key board. The space key on the laptop is unreliable, and I’m not in the mood to back space over every few words.

However, I’m determined. I’m passionate. And nothing can stop me now that I’ve begun. The life of a writer is a difficult one, especially for a young father with a full time job that I’m dedicated to and a little family that I love, more than anything, to spend time with.

Finally, I figured out now how to both run my jump drive and my keyboard on this paleontological computer. I brought my brush and have scraped away the dirt, and now I am ready to go.

I have it set up now where I can comfortable type with my feet up, keyboard in hand, with my computer sitting comfortably at my side on the near by coffee table. This is a very comfortable way for me to write and to map out my ideas. I don’t know if it will bring me closer to being a writer or not.

But it seems like many writers have very peculiar habits, and need to have things just so to work. Maybe me too. Maybe I’ve found what I need to work effectively. I cleaned out much of the clutter, and I’ve tried to make it so my focus can be on creating something new without the constant distraction of things that are old at my fingertips.

A Primer on Dream Recall

Each night I sleep between seven and eight hours. Out of 24 that is one third of my day. I never feel like I have enough time in a day to do all the things I want, and so much of my time is eaten up by sleeping. Its seems like such a waste. But it doesn’t have to be.

Every night, the body goes through several distinct stages of sleep. These stages are divided between rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and three stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). The body goes through several cycles of this. The phases vary in length but as the body has been asleep longer the third phase of NREM lengthens and the REM phases become closer together. It is during the REM phase where dreams occur. REM sleep takes up 20 to 25 percent of each night’s sleep or about 90 to 120 minutes. Now this phase usually occurs several times per night, and within each phase the brain weaves intricate plots and unique worlds which we sometimes remember as dreams.

Most mornings I wake up remembering only scattered fragments of my dreams, and by breakfast they have mostly evaporated into nothingness. Effectively, on a daily basis, I forget one third of everything that happens to me. Based on this, I feel it would be very worth while to remember what happens at night.

Dream recall is a learnable skill, and below are a few quick pointers on how to get started:

1. Get enough sleep

Without dedicating enough hours to sleep, it will be nearly impossible to find the dedication it takes to remember what happened between bed time and morning. It is much easier to remember your dreams when you go to bed before you’re completely exhausted, and stay in bed until you’ve had adequate rest. Different people need different amounts of sleep, but chances are that if you hate mornings, you’re not getting enough sleep.

2. Journal

Typically, the bits of dreams that you remember naturally are most vivid immediately upon awakening. This is the prime time to capture as many of those thought and visions as possible and get them down on paper. The longer you wait, the foggier the memories will become until they’ve evaporated into nothing. You’ll be surprised how many details you’ll be able to remember after doing this for a few weeks. Also, reading over your journal days or weeks after the entry can provide some pretty good, albeit weird, reading.

One trick to dream journaling is to write the dream backwards. First, write down the last thing you remember happening before you woke up. Then ask yourself, what was I doing before that? Repeat this as many times as you’re able and you’ll find a much bigger picture come into focus. After a few nights of this, you’ll be surprised how many vivid details you’re able to remember in the process. There will be details you didn’t think of when you woke up, that will be as clear as anything that happens in the day time.
Pen and paper is the best medium for keeping a dream journal. There are far less distractions than if you were to use a computer. Also, with pen and paper, you’ll be able to start and write a few lines immediately upon waking up, without even turning the light on or getting out of bed. Even if you wake up earlier than you have to, try to jot down a few notes about what you remember before going back to sleep. Chances are, after doing that the remaining sleep you get will be filled with even more vivid dreams.

3. Tell yourself you will remember your dreams

Really, you have to want it. The power of suggestion is such a powerful tool. It seems cliche, but telling yourself you will remember your dreams will actually help you remember them. Telling yourself things to make them happen only really works when the desired outcomes are in your head. Dreams and memories are both in your head, so this is why it works.

The best time for this self motivating talk is as you are laying in bed, falling asleep. Let you last thoughts of the day be of hopeful anticipation of the adventures you will have at night with a firm will to remember all that happens between going to sleep and waking up. So many wonderful things go on in your head in those hours that it is a shame to let them go to waste.

4. Talking to someone about your dreams

This will only work if you have someone in your life that you’re completely comfortable sharing your most intimate thoughts with. I’m fortunate enough to have that person in my life… My four month old is a great listener, and he doesn’t judge me for the things I say.

I’ll probably start working on this with my wife as well, especially if I can convince her to join me in working on dream recall together. I’m not prepared to be the only one talking about my dreams on a daily basis, but if she’ll join me then we’ll be good to go, provided I can prevent myself from making fun of whatever goofy things she might dream about.

5. Don’t try too hard, make sure to have fun with it

Developing this skill may take time and dedication, or it may come naturally and you’ll enjoy the benefits right away. But whatever the case may be, have fun and enjoy it. Thinking about it too hard won’t help and may even prove counter productive, but excited anticipation of all the wonderful things you might see in and do at night will, hopefully, motivate you to follow through on the initial pointers and develop this skill.

Dream recall is really just the first step. There is much more to do to build on this initial skill, such as lucid dreaming. However, by developing this skill alone you can effectively add a third of the time to your life. Enjoy it. And thank me for adding one third to your life.

Debt is a Heavy Load

Large, unexpected bills, are worse when they come due all at once. Even though I have the money stored away, it is still stressful to know I’ll have to part with so much of it so quickly.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be a grown up just yet. The weight of responsibility sometimes seems more than I can hold. But I am an adult now, and I have three people, including myself, counting on me. Now is no time for weakness. Now is no time to falter or back down.

I’ll take care of the bill. Pay it and it will be over. Peace will follow.

I am now determined to pay off all the rest of my debts. I still have two car loans, a furniture loan, and my school loans. It is a lot, and it will take hard work and sacrifice to make it happen, but the freedom that will come with unburdening myself and my family will make it all worth while.

The plan is simple. Take care of the hospital bill. Pay off my car. Pay off my wife’s car. Pay the furniture bill. Pay off my school loans. That’s it. That’s all of it. Oh, also, make sure we are well insured to protect against financial hardship.

There are plenty of personal finance blogs out there offering advice on how to accomplish those goals, so I don’t feel the need to elaborate on the how’s of my situation. I only know that it is a necessary task and that the rewards will be so great and so worth while. I am thankful for the wonderful gifts I’ve received.

Distractions are Good

Distractions are the undoing of any effective time management scheme, right? They are bad and should be avoided at all costs. They should be stomped out. I am about to unwind this conventional wisdom that I’ve displayed in a straw-man argument.

Distractions do not need to be bad. They don’t even need to be kept under close scrutiny. Distractions can be the source of inspiration and creativity.

I don’t feel any need to point out the fact that I am easily distracted. I easily stumble out of what I should be doing into unneeded activity that does not move me any closer towards checking off any of the items on my to-do list.

That’s not the reason I’m looking for an alternative. I didn’t just decide that maybe distractions are good since I’ve failed to successfully avoid them.

However, I think I have discovered that each distraction is really just an attempt to avoid work. Now, this work can be my day job or any other task I set myself to accomplish. But why? Why such an effort to avoid what I actually want to be doing?

The reason I get distracted is because my brain needs a break. This avoidance provides a valuable reset function in my mind. Without distractions, I feel I would tire of my tasks much more quickly than if I indulge myself on occasion.

I don’t want to learn to avoid distractions, though. I feel and un-distracted life would be one without surprises. How many great ideas, inspirations, and moments of joy have been part of a distraction. Too much focus is a bad thing to have if it prevents the enjoyment of spontaneity.

By allowing my mind to wonder freely, I’m able to live in the moment, and experience life as it reveals itself.

Do I get less done? Sometimes. Okay, yes. But the method is acceptable.

Don’t Wait to Start

That big idea always strikes unexpectedly and with little warning. There is a flash of inspiration and the burning desire to act.

Recently, I had the inspiration to start this blog. It emerged from my memories of how I loved to write in high school and college. In high school I fancied myself a poet, and that continued through college, where I majored in writing. As a newspaper reporter, I felt right at home writing every day for a living.

Then I stopped. Apart from the occasional paper in grad school, I wrote almost nothing.
And now I’ve started again.

However, I’ve had to start again gradually. My day-to-day schedule is no longer that of a high school student and even less that of a college student.

I can’t drop everything in my life to follow on this urge. But I shouldn’t put it off.

The most important thing to do in a situation like this is to just start. Rather than sitting around and thinking about it, or even going through a detailed and scrupulous planning process, just start.

The details will come as they do and muddy up the original vision. This doesn’t have to halt or even change the original intention.

When you have an idea, act on it quickly before the initial excitement and passion gets drowned out by every excuse that arises.