The Winter Project Evolves

After ten weeks of tracking habits I think will be useful in staying happy in my least favourite season against my mood day to day I’ve moved on to a new phase: Preparing for projects and building on what’s already working. But first a quick update:

Right after my last week of the project I got on a plane and headed to the US for a few days of work in southern Ohio near Cincinnati. I have to say it was quite a culture shock going getting everywhere by bike, transit and on foot, to driving everywhere. In fact, the hotel in which I was staying was on the side of a street that literally had signs prohibiting crossing on foot. To go to a restaurant across the street I had to drive. My activity levels fell to near zero. No bike and not even sidewalks to walk on. Most of the shopping was in strip malls so even mall walking would not have been an option. (Full disclosure: I have no interest in mall walking and wouldn’t have done it even if I could). I was also surprised to see just how few people were wearing masks there. The entire time I was there other than myself I saw only 2-3 others wearing masks. Still, I was able to find decent food, lots of veggies and even some of the best Thai food I’ve had in years. Aside from my first night there where I arrived late at night, I slept well. But my fitness watch doesn’t miss a trick and after a few days it let me know my fitness level was declining. Still, I was doing something interesting and new and as a result my mood was good. And hey, despite sitting next to a sick kid on the plane and being around loads of other people with runny noses and worrisome-sounding coughs, I didn’t get sick.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a few projects and have been having fun with them.

The first is getting ready for proper long distance cycling. I’m doing a training plan for a Fondo (long ride, usually in the real world but often on Zwift also). For this I’ve been doing three 50 minute rides and one longer ride of around two hours. So far so good. The longer rides can be a challenge but what’s interesting to me is what exactly is challenging. The distance and effort is a little challenging, but the big challenge for me is staying in the saddle. Why? Because of a whole bunch of reasons my mind feeds me. I’m hungry, I’ve probably ridden enough by now, it’s a bit boring, I’ve got a good book to read or I should write something for this blog or for work. None of them is really a good excuse but it is amazing the strength of the temptation and rationalization that goes on. Being mindful of it is really fascinating – and I’m seeing it elsewhere also: cooking, working, and even eating healthily. But the cool thing about being aware of this stuff is that once you see it, it’s like seeing the man behind the curtain. It loses its power.

But like in the Wizard of Oz, it does keep trying for a bit before giving up. So waiting it out seems to be the trick. So far it works great. I am half way through my second week now and I’m feeling my fitness increase.

I’ve also managed to go outside on my bike a couple of times and that’s been amazing. Yesterday I went out to give blood and though the windchill was -5°C, I actually was a bit too warm. I will say this, though, losing a pint of blood gave a noticeable impact on my climbing skills and stamina for the trip home. My heart rate went higher than normal to get enough oxygen to my muscles.

With cycling going well, I’m starting another project: Collecting inspiration for outdoor rides once it gets a little warmer. I’m dreaming of bigger rides this summer regardless of what the pandemic is up to. If things look really good I can go further away, but nothing will stop me from being a few hundred km from home. If I get sick, I’ll figure out what to do or call friends for help. I think it’s unlikely though. I’m looking again at camping as a possibility as well though that means carrying more gear and food. On the other hand that’s also a great deal more flexible in terms of where I can go as I no longer have to worry about ending my day in a town with a hotel and restaurant.

Thanks to the info I’m getting from the Building a Second Brain book, I’ve reactivated my Evernote subscription. I’m using it to capture inspiration as well as other things I used to use it for in the past like work resources and notes, reminders and to-do lists. This is already being really helpful for me because I now have a place for the ideas that I think of or posts that inspire me to do something. I put notes from them in Evernote and go back to it every now and again to refine the notes or tease out ideas. Ideas and resources are filed by category, tagged and even linked to one another to find them easily.

One of my biggest problems in finding projects I want to do is “idea block” – this is like writers block but for ideas and for me both have a similar cause: self-editing either in my mind or just because of circumstances. A good idea comes to me but maybe I think “It’ll never work” or “It’s dumb” and toss it out. Sometimes even if I think it is a fantastic idea I still forget it because I don’t have anywhere to write it. But one thing I’ve since implemented is a no excuses method for keeping these ideas: Making it always possible to take a note. Here’s how I manage it:

  • On my computer or phone I can take a note in Evernote
  • I carry a notebook in my backpack. If I’m out and don’t want to use my phone or don’t have it, I can write it down. Later I can photograph it and file it in Evernote
  • If I’m in the kitchen, living room, or bathroom and an idea comes to me (or even simply a to do list item) I can call out to the Google Home in the room to take a note. The note goes to Google Keep which is my homepage when I open my browser. I then move those notes into my file system in Evernote or make a to-do list item as needed. I really notice that more than any other place, I’m making notes in the shower. Until I implemented this method I’d have to remember the idea until could write it down – often quite some time later.

The interesting thing about taking down ideas and not self-censoring is that the more I do it, the easier the ideas come. It makes total sense when you think about it. If you train your brain to not have ideas then you won’t have them. Stop discouraging yourself and the ideas start to flow again.

So at the moment I have a few ideas for trips to take nearby and a few other seeds for ideas that I’m mulling over.

Another thing I’ve been working on is reducing time on social media and screen time in general. What I notice about those habits is that they’re mostly lacking in depth. There’s lots of flitting about from post to post, replying to some, liking others but not much quiet reading of one topic. I’ve implemented a few tools on this front to improve my information intake.

First off: The social media ban hammer. This is a hard stop. If I spend more than 60 min on social media in a day, Rescuetime will step in and lock me out of not just that but all distracting websites (so news sites, YouTube, Reddit and other time sinks) for the remainder of the day.

But to make that part easier I have set up a few things to make it easier to get the good Internet content without getting sucked into infinite scrolling. Here’s what I’ve done:

  1. Set up Pocket to enable offline reading of articles.
  2. Installed plugins on my browser and phone to easily send articles to Pocket.
  3. Connected my Kobo e-reader to automatically sync to pocket

Now if I see an article that looks interesting, I just stick it in Pocket and read it later on my Kobo – I don’t even need to have an Internet connection.

But what about all the websites I regularly look at, blogs and the like? There’s just two more steps there:

  1. I set up Feedly, an RSS aggregator and subscribed to everything I like to regularly read there
  2. I connected Feedly to both Pocket and Evernote. Things I want to read later go to Pocket, things that might be a good resource for a project or a future need go to Evernote.
  3. I’ve since unsubscribed from every website email update as well as everything I was subscribed to on WordPress.com. So if you saw your numbers go down on either of those, worry not. I’m still reading. In fact, if I’d fallen behind reading your stuff on WordPress (as I have with anyone I read on WordPress) I can now stay better connected.

So between getting my fitness life together, finding a way to keep track of all the ideas I have and improving how I organize them and then finding ways to spend less time on the Internet entirely I’m finding I’m spending more of my time the way I want to.

It really boils down to changing how I think about things. A few months ago if you’d asked me I might say that these are all things I “should do”. They’re the right thing to do and we should do the right thing, correct? We should be productive and not waste time, right? But since spending ten weeks working on paying attention to connections between the things I do and how I feel, I am now looking it in a more practical sense in terms of how I spend my time and what benefits I can reap from it.

For example, simply saying “I should exercise more often.” is one I would have. However, there’s no time associated with that intention, it’s just aspirational and doesn’t even speak to why I should do it. I am trying now to look at it in a more complete way: “I should get on my bike at 4:30 to stay on top of this training program. It will make me feel better in the short term, but also set me up for a summer of fun rides.”

That example is actually true, in fact. I do need to get on my bike for today’s 50 minute ride. So let me leave you with another thing that occurred to me this week that I liked so much I pinned it to my desktop so I see it every time I open my computer:

“How is your time serving you?”

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