Thursday, March 06, 2014

Irrational Distraction

I need some courage. Not to face down a bear or even an angry toddler. No, I need courage to say no to social media. I realize the oddness of this given I am writing this in a blog, blogs being part of social media and all.

Here's the thing. I spend way too much of this precious life surfing through Facebook for what my friends (and my "friends") are up to. I have a hard time passing up quizzes that will tell me which president I am or which city I should live in. As if knowing my preference of condiment really gets to the answer to anything like that. Or that it even matters. I read scads of stuff I could not care less about. I post lots of stuff for other people to not care about. Why?

Tick. Tick. Tick.

That's my life advancing. From birth. To death. Do I really want to use so many of those moments checking the newsfeed? Or should I say the "news" feed? What is news these days anyway? That is probably a topic for another post.

Dan Ariely, brilliant professor of psychology and behavioral economics and author of many thought provoking books such as Predictably Irrational, is teaching a course on Coursera that begins next week. I've signed up for three other courses since I completed a philosophy course via Coursera over a year ago. One of those courses was just not as interesting as I thought it would be. The other two appeared to be quite interesting. I dropped the classes. I just didn't have the time. I bore myself with that refrain.

I'm truly looking forward to this next course. A Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior promises to be full of insight and learning as well as a little demanding of my time. It is just the kind of information I like to sink my teeth into.

I would have said the coursework will be hard to fit into my already busy schedule, but I'm learning to face the truth. Yes, my schedule is busy because I am a business owner, and because I have two non-driving teens participating in extracurriculars and going to schools with no busses. But I also fill every tiny hole in the calendar and on the clock with incessant checking of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest and email. Talk about irrational!

I am most certainly feeling a call to return to humanity in real life and to nourishing my intellect. I have people I'd really like to connect with. I want to get out in nature and feel really alive. I have a list of books ten times longer than this words on this page asking me to read them. I must do these things.

This post is one of many meditations – most of them offline – I will be doing on detaching, at least to an extent, from the digital social umbilicus. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Restrictor's Plate

Those of you who know me in real life and maybe even some of you who know me via social media probably also know this: I have a food issue.

Today my inbox presented the gift of a Geneen Roth post titled Good Girls and Rebels that speaks to me in a special way. Please go read the whole thing. It deserves that full read. For the foundation of my post explaining its specialness to me, I'll quote just this part:

"...I’d done a lot of research and discovered that most women who are concerned about their weight fall into one of two eating types: Permitters and Restrictors...
"About half of us, I told them – the Restrictors – do very well on diets (at least for a while).  We find rules, tips, and lists comforting.  When calories counted most, Restrictors knew how many were in a small apple, a baked potato, a Krispy Kreme donut.  When the au courante measurement became the glycemic index, we knew how many grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrate were in a serving of string beans, a hamburger the size of your palm, a pat of butter.  Restrictors like regulations because they provide a sense of control over the uncertainty and unpredictability of being alive. 
"Permitters, on the other hand, abhor rules.  We find them oppressive and suffocating.  Although we know we could stand to lose a pound or 50, we’re suspicious of programs and food lists.  Permitters are the type of emotional eaters who say, “Gee, I can’t understand how I gained 10 pounds in the past two months.  I thought I was doing so well.”  Whereas Restrictors maintain hyper vigilance about food, Permitters prefer denial.  Our (usually unconscious) logic:  If I’m not aware of it, it can’t hurt me. If I give up trying, I won’t be disappointed when I fail. Like Restrictors, Permitters crave safety, but unlike Restrictors, we see no point in trying to control the uncontrollable; we prefer to join the party and have a good time…"

In the past (like two weeks ago) I would have tried to convince you I am both a Restrictor and a Permitter. But you know, if I'm honest with myself, using Geneen's framework I'm a Restrictor with sometimes very wild and long binges that feel like the Permitter's rebellion. I work so hard at following the rules that I finally snap, throw up my hands, cry "Uncle!" and go face first into everything, especially all the things that I had put on the B-A-D list.

More important than the precise Restrictor or Permitter label, I am scratching my head about the near maniacal logging and tracking I do using LoseIt! I'm beginning to doubt the rules that I've collected, fully supported by and co-created with my doctor. I question my sanity when I hear myself preloading guilt for anything I'm about to eat unless it fits exactly in the rules and is a punishing less-than-desirable-in-taste-and-appearance. And I wonder if there are really only a few, if any, truly health-related rules and the rest are just the latest nutrition fads.

Would I be better off throwing out the rules and the tracking? What would happen if I simply practiced deeply listening to my own body? Would it be so bad? Would my genetics really win some self-conceived battle I'm waging?

I had already been wading in that pool of thoughts as I've been recovering from the latest 11-week binge. Now I find myself paddling closer to the deep end of the pool.

But first, I need to log my dinner. And oh, I that dessert was just a treat. Just a one time thing. I'll go back to the plan tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We're Walking, We're Walking

Think Kit day 10 prompt:
Make It a Habit!
What habits did you start this year that you want to continue? What inspired you to get in a new groove? Will you continue into 2014?

This one is a personal triumph. After many years of false starts, I finally established a regular exercise program, regular in the sense that I get 3-5 hours in a week, typically on the higher end of that.

It started this summer when my daughter joined a running club. On one of the first days I took my bike thinking I get a ride in while the club ran. But then the leader of the club asked me to ride with the group as an escort. One day turned into essentially an entire summer of following these middle and high school students on their runs. I got a basket so I could carry water bottles and other odds and ends. In retrospect, I kind of made this club my part time job.

Even though I wasn't getting anywhere near an aerobic workout, it felt great to move and to be outside, even when it was yucky hot. And the kids inspired me to do more. At some point, I added extra trips to the trail to ride on my own or to a track to walk. Once autumn came and the club finished its runs, I had this impending sense of loss. So I transferred the momentum to my treadmill that had been sitting oh-so-lonely in my basement.

Two things helped make that transition successful: a heart rate monitor and HBO original programming.

Heart Rate Monitor

One reason my past efforts had repeatedly failed is that I'd routinely get sick about two weeks into any new effort. I'd done some research that led me to suspect I was simply overdoing it and taxing my already crappy immune system. Cobbling together some of what I learned, I set up my HRM to keep me in a low-level zone. Voila! As long as I stay there, everything is peachy. The results include improved insulin receptivity, lower blood pressure, and better sleep.

HBO Original Programming

Let's face it, there's a big difference between riding the Monon with the wind in my hair (the hair that sticks out of my helmet, that is) or walking a track while the dogs run free around me versus slogging away on a treadmill. Can I hear a "boring!" My solution has been to revisit my favorite HBO programs while I walk away in my target heart rate zone. I'm nearly to the end of the Six Feet Under series. Now, those are 50+ minute programs. When I started this latest stretch of regular exercise, I was doing half hour, maybe 40 minute walks and rides. So I thought I'd do just that and then watch the rest of the show while cooling down. Yet, what really happened is that I just stay on the treadmill for a full hour. Why not, right?

The habit isn't perfect yet. I haven't been doing much the last few weeks. I had an injury that kept me off the treadmill and now I'm fighting with myself to get back on. As I write this, I'm sitting in my walk-on-the-treadmill clothes, knowing that it's a first step of getting there.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The One Where I Tell Something Weird About Myself

Think Kit Day 8 prompt:
Share a Creation
What did you make this year? Whether something personal, like a song or some art, or a work project, share your process and the end result of your creation.
Yes, I have a degree in fine arts. No, I do not create art. (I reserve the right to start.) Long ago I stopped designing things for commerce. I do a little sketching now and then. But – and if you've been following my posts, you know what I'm going to say – I'm not going to share those. They're weird. Trust me.

I tried making jewelry some years back. That only lasted about a year.

I cook. But that's kind of boring since most of us do that.

I research, develop strategies and plan for clients. But I can't really show their secrets.

I don't write music. I don't spin yarn. I don't handcraft greeting cards. I don't even make my bed.

I do make something. Oh my. Am I really going to do this? Um, yes...

I make my dog howl.

It's true. Ask my husband and kids. (Yes, I'm sharing just a little personal weirdness. The sketches are far, far weirder.)

A little over a year ago, my family adopted a street dog. He'd been "owned" by a neighbor. Rocky (said dog) has a habit of climbing fences. After some time, our neighbors decided they were done with him. Let him go. Then they moved away, leaving the little turd angel behind. I worked at finding him a permanent home. And I actually found one. Excited at my success, I was extolling Rocky's virtues to his soon-to-be new person when she said, "well, Nila, I think he already has a home." Sigh. So he stayed, bad habits and all.

Sometime in the first quarter of 2013 I was walking around the house howling (Really, don't ask. It's better for everyone that way.) when Rocky began making the most awful sound. (I suspect he thought the same of me.) He was…howling.

I took our little show on the road (meaning the rest of our house), co-howling a few times for show and tell. Then I got worried that I was hurting the poor little guy. I consulted an expert (Google) who assured me that he was okay. In fact, he probably liked the whole thing. I was essentially saying "we're pack" and "I'm your alpha." Okay then.

Shortly after we began our howling, Rocky started leaving small gifts in my bed while I was gone. Socks. Bones. Small stuffed animals. Always lovingly buried in the tangled mess of my unmade bed.

The photo shows Rocky sitting on the dashboard of my parked car howling along with me. That day was Rocky's Reese's cup. Two of his favorite things: howling with Nila and going for a ride in the car.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Some Things I Just Won't Share

Think Kit Day 7 prompt:
What do you want your life (or your kitchen, your job, your ______) to look like? Create your own inspiration board.
A few years ago for the third or fourth time I did the thing where I go through magazines cutting out words and images that speak to me. This particular time, instead of arranging them onto a single board, I used a blank 8-page saddle-stitched brochure dummy* I had lying around to make an "inspiration book." In my mind, I was creating a book that would show a little essence-of-Nila and how I'd like that to show up in the world – kind of like a mood board that we might present in a brand project. When I was feeling a little scattered, my thinking went, I could pull out the book and get back to center.

I like the words and images enough that I really do look through the book now and then. And when I'm in a funk, I'll open up a spread and leave it out where I can see it.

But (oh, there it is) I'm not going to show you.

This book is so intensely personal that I don't care to share it publicly, either in pictures or words. Sorry. I almost did it. But I can't. If you're a good friend and you really want to see, I'll share it with you over tea, okay?

Theme forming across these Think Kit posts: I'm only sharing so much. Even though I really want to share and have community and express myself and that wonderful stuff, I'm very much afraid to be more than my private self in this public venue. Please forgive me.

*Apologies for the jargon. The dormant print designer in me comes out to play from time to time.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Committing to Kindness

When I read today's Think Kit* prompt (How do you want to get involved in your community this year?), the first thing that came to mind is more random acts of kindness.

While that maybe doesn't sound all that organized or committed or big, I truly believe the small kindnesses that are spread across time make a huge impact on humanity. Kindness is very important to me. I daresay it's a core value. I like to believe that I live in a kind way. Most of the time. Still, I wish to more intentionally act in ways that are of benefit to others.

Besides being a nice sentiment, how do I get myself to act on committing more random acts of kindness in the midst of a not-so-atypical American-style self-absorbed busy life?

Wondering if there is an organization simply for kindness, off to Google I went. That's how I found the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube) and applied to be a RAKtivist. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be accepted and excited to experience just what being a RAKtivist means. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation site says that "RAKtivists participate in fun and easy monthly 'Kindness Raids' in their own communities as well as the online community." The introvert in me is a little scared. The practitioner of compassion in me is ready.

*Think Kit is a kind manifestation of SmallBox. The blogging project "is a series of writing prompts intended to help people share stories online."

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Mapping My Personal Genome

One of the coolest things I did this past year was have my personal genome sequenced via 23andMe. I'm an information junkie, especially when it comes to human behavior, personality, identity and individuality. I've been fascinated by the idea of this code we all carry that, with the important influence of environment, creates each of us as unique beings. And for $99 I could have that code mapped and analyzed. Really, you should see the twinkle in my eye right now.

Among many other things I learned by using 23andMe's service (most of which I'm unwilling to openly share with the whole Internet):
  • I am 2.8% Neanderthal. Don't feel too superior though. I'll bet you have somewhere near that. I know someone else who is 3% Neanderthal. So there.
  • Steve (husband) and I are not related/share no DNA (well, beyond in the way we all are/do) which is a relief since we have children. Why that's a relief, I don't know. Modern American taboo, I suppose.
  • I'm 98.6% European (um, duh), 0.4% Sub-Saharan African and 0.2% East Asian and Native American. Go here to see a cool break down of all that and get an idea of what 23andMe can tell you about yourself.

The FDA, 23andMe and, Um, Me

You may have heard all sorts of things about 23andMe recently. There's a letter from the FDA (link goes directly to the actual letter at and a class action lawsuit from California. As a result, posts and articles from seemingly legitimate sources have been saying things like the company must seize operations or stop selling their kits all together. Neither is true. I won't get into the details of the FDA issue or the lawsuit. You can read those on your own.

What I took away from recent regulatory and legal action is that the FDA doesn't want 23andMe marketing the health aspects of their DNA sequencing kits without approval of the kit as a medical device. And the lawsuit is related to fear that people will get health information and do unwise drastic things, like get a mastectomy upon learning that have certain nasty BRCA genetic variants (those that indicate potential for breast cancer). It's all more detailed and complex than that, of course.

Some of the concern, it seems, is about the actions people may take based on their results. As a happy customer, the whole thing irritates me. There is no do-it-yourself breast removal shop. Fortunately for me, I didn't have the BRCA SNPs show up in my data. But if I had, I would have talked with my doctor and gone from there. I'd likely have had multiple consults before sliding onto a surgery table and facing a scalpel.

In fact, in addition to the simply cool stuff I can look at in my results, I learned that I carry a certain gene variant that has serious health implications. The timing was incredible. This is tough to get into without giving away too much personal information, but by knowing this information I was able to avoid action that may have had deadly consequences. I am grateful to 23andMe for allowing this discovery.

What Now, 23andMe?

As of tonight, 23andMe is still selling kits but the results will only include ancestry information and raw data. Anyone who already had both ancestry and health results gets to keep access to that information. Customers who ordered kits before November 22 also will get access to ancestry and health results. Customers who ordered after November 22 will get only ancestry and raw data results or can request a refund. But don't take it just from me.

In 23andMe's own words (on Health page as of 12/6/13):
Changes to our health-related product. 
At this time, we have suspended our health-related genetic tests to comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s directive to discontinue new consumer access during our regulatory review process. In the future, you may be able to receive health-related results, dependent upon FDA marketing authorization. 
How does this impact you? 
Current Customers
  • Current 23andMe customers who received health-related results prior to November 22, 2013 will continue to have access to that information. However, no new health-related updates will be provided to your account.
  • Customers who purchased kits before November 22, 2013 will still receive health-related results.
  • Customers who purchase or have purchased 23andMe’s Personal Genetics Service (PGS) on or after November 22, 2013, the date of the Warning Letter from the FDA, will receive ancestry information, as well as their raw genetic data without interpretation. These new customers may receive additional health-related results in the future, dependent upon FDA marketing authorization. Customers who purchased kits on or after November 22, 2013 will be eligible for a refund. 23andMe will be sending an email with refund instructions to all eligible customers.
New Customers 
  • If you purchase today, you are purchasing both ancestry-related information and raw genetic data without 23andMe’s interpretation for $99.
  • In the future, you may be able to receive health-related results, dependent upon FDA marketing authorization.
We want to make clear that we stand behind the data we generate for customers and are proud of profoundly improving the lives of so many customers. Our lab partner adheres to strict quality standards that are part of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 — known as CLIA. These are the same standards used in the majority of other health and disease-related tests. We decided several years ago to comply with CLIA guidelines to be consistent with other types of laboratory testing and to assure customers about the quality of data. Our testing has shown a greater than 99.9 percent accuracy rate.
We remain firmly committed to fulfilling our long-term mission to help people everywhere have access to their own genetic data and have the ability to use that information to improve their lives.

This post is part of ThinkKit by SmallBox. Today's prompt to interview people about their year didn't fit with my need to be a temporary hermit. Instead, I took a lifeline. Sort of.