200 day report on my Life Transformation Experiment

I thought that it was time for an update.

200 days ago, on Ash Wednesday, I started what I thought would be a temporary personal mortification… a Lenten sacrifice. I adopted a pescetarian diet and committed to 30 minutes of daily exercise.

My Numbers, Pre-Pescetarian Life Transformation
Blood Pressure: 130/85
Weight: 192lbs
Resting Heart Rate: ~74

Athletics: I could only run 12 minutes at a maximum speed of 8 km/h. I could not make it up the (very) steep hill next to my house on a bicycle without taking a break.

Here is the 200-day punchline (i.e. my numbers now):

On Animal Product Days (cheese/eggs/fish):
Blood Pressure: 110/65
Weight: 167lbs
Resting Heart Rate: ~63

On Vegan Days (only plants):
Blood Pressure: 100/58
Resting Heart Rate: ~59

Athletics: I can now comfortably run 5km at an average rate of 9-10 kph.  I can comfortably swim 2k (breaststroke) in 55 minutes. I go on regular brisk 90 minute hikes in the woods behind my house in Ancaster.

Surprise Benefit: Acid reflux is gone (except sometimes on animal product days)! I had been taking Zantac regularly – I stopped two weeks ago and have only had heartburn on days when I ate cheese, eggs or seafood.

This experiment will now go from being the Pescetarian Life Transformation Experiment to… The Vegetarian Life Transformation Experiment.

Why vegetarian? I am sufficiently convinced that I am healthier and happier on vegan days. However, I am not yet ready to go vegan – I still love cheese and eggs too much. So it will have to be a vegetarian experiment for now.

I will also try experiments with:

  • Meditation
  • Intermittent fasting
  • Different combinations of cardio and resistance exercises
  • Schedule Planning

Why these experiments? I am finding that the key to happiness and balance is discipline. I am going to experiment with different disciplines around the four things mentioned above.

How do I keep all this going? Excel is my friend – I have a great spreadsheet with a lot of these data. For swimming I use a PoolMateHR from Swimovate, which tracks lengths, speed, force, stroke count and heart rate. For nutrition, MyFitnessPal is super useful – it allows me to fairly easily and accurately track nutrition goals so that i make sure I am getting the macro and micro nutrients I need stay healthy.

I have been thinking of getting a sports watch with HR that can track swimming, running, cycling, etc. but I have done a lot of research and still find even the best products (mostly from Garmin) feel like they are still not quite out of beta.

My goal is to find my healthiest, calmest, most productive, creative and compassionate self.

I wish you peace and health.

I will keep you posted.

 

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Being inspired and inspiring

I woke up today feeling inspired.

I had a good night’s sleep after having accomplished a few simple things during the previous day that I had been thinking about. The feeling of sunlight on my arms and face was beautiful as well.

I got to thinking about how I could transmit that feeling of being inspired to others. How to be inspiring? I think it has to do with a few things:

  • Openness. Be open to the day and the experiences it brings. Be open to the ideas of others – don’t feel threatened.
  • Positivity. Look to see the upside of everything you encounter. This means putting openness in action. Generally people come to you with an idea because they have been inspired or maybe they are worried about something. Both inspiration and worry are legitimate! A positive outlook recognizes this.
  • Calm. Maintaining calm inspires others because it gives them a feeling of security and peace. Without those two items, it is very difficult to be productive.

I wish you an open, positive and calm day!

Pleasures of public transit

I am taking public transit as a part of my wellness journey.

I am on a trip to Ottawa today, which meant an early morning wake-up at 4am to catch the early train. I took the GO Train at Aldershot Station with the other bleary-eyed riders to Union Station in Toronto. Then VIA Rail from Union to Ottawa.

I meditated for 10 minutes on the train and felt the fatigue from only sleeping 5 hours dimish. I understand that meditating reduces blood cortisol levels, but somehow I feel more awake after meditating, especially when tired. Odd.

In Hamiton, I have been taking public transit as much as possible. I have taken the bus to McMaster since I returned from my research leave. This is for three reasons:

  • Stress reduction. It reduces my stress levels significantly. Even if my bus ride is only 15 minutes, I can still do some light reading or just look out the window. Very peaceful when compared with driving.
  • Earth-friendly. It is environmentally much more sustainable. I have only filled up the gas tank in my SUV once in the last two weeks, instead of twice.
  • Cost savings. My parking spot at McMaster costs about $1200 (not including gas and wear), whereas transit will cost only about $800. I spend about $150 in gas to drive to Ottawa (not including wear), whereas I can get a return ticket for about $120-$150 if I take advantage of the Tuesday deals.

Harley Davidson motorcycles are awful

I rarely complain about the behaviour of others. My attitude is usually live and let live, knowing that everyone is carrying their own burden and that I probably do a lot of things that annoy people of which I am not aware.

There is one thing that I thought I would mention: the horrible, flatulent noise of Harley Davidson motorcycles and sports cars that have loud “sport-tuned” exhaust systems.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cars. I am a huge Formula 1 fan and I enjoy going to the Honda Indy almost every year. I also think motorcycles are cool and a fun, economical, environmentally-sustainable way to get around.

My problem is that Harleys and sports cars are tuned to annoy. They are tuned to make a spectacle of the driver and disturb the peace. I live on a beautiful driving and cycling road in Ancaster, Ontario, which means that lots of cyclists and motorists use the road. Hearing the horrible sound of a Harley or a sports coupé with sport-tuned exhaust is a great way of ruining a moment or breaking a train of thought.

Finally, to those who think these noisy vehicles are cool, I have to tell you that you’re part of the past not the future. To me, loud vehicles read “the past” or “dated” or “old guy” or maybe even “insecure.” They are also incredibly disrespectful of homeowners, shopkeepers and pedestrians.

My advice to these people: impress folks by spending a lot of money on a really beautiful Cervélo bicycle and learn to ride it well or an electric sports car or motorcycle.

Then you’ll be part of the future, not a noisy, irritating relic from the past.

A lovely day

I woke up early today (5:30) and made myself an americano and some spoon-size shredded wheat with blueberries and strawberries. Then meditated for 10 minutes and spent the morning working peacefully, writing and editing on the deck as nature woke up around me.

Then an easygoing 50 minute swim at the Ancaster Lions Pool, lunch at The V-Spot in Dundas (noodle salad with spiraled rainbow veggies and thai peanut lime dressing). A treat after – an ice cream from Purple Pony in Old Ancaster then some writing, dinner (tomato and onion on toast with vegenaise), then herbal tea, meditation, reading in bed and sleep by 10:30 (I hope).

I look forward to seeing what tomorrow will bring.

Sleep and not sleeping

Sleep is central to our well-being. It is a healing time when the body rebuilds itself and our mind consolidates memories and learning.

I have found that sleep is a good barometer for how I am doing in terms of day-to-day wellness. I always thought that I only needed 4 to 6 hours of sleep and I wore it like a badge of honour.

People marvelled at it, but now I realise that they were not marvelling at my not sleeping long as an achievement, rather they were impressed that I was willing to make such a terrible sacrifice.

Since my focus on wellness started on Ash Wednesday, I have not focused on sleep. Last night, after a productive day of editing, taking care of things at the office, and an hour-long, easy-going swim, I felt exhausted and slept eight hours. The first time since Ash Wednesday.

I can’t say I woke up rested, but I definitely felt better, calmer, stronger.

I am going to start paying attention to sleep.

Gratitude

I woke up today feeling very grateful.

Grateful for having been blessed with privilege and opportunity.

Grateful for having a supportive family and friends.

Grateful for professional friendships based on trust and warmth that have created opportunities for me to contribute in academia, politics and professional communications practice.

Grateful for life in a peaceful, tolerant and well-managed country, Canada.

Grateful for the warm sun, nearby trails and a cool blue outdoor swimming pool in my town.

Grateful. Warm. Calm. Alive.

Finally rained

It has been a very dry summer in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live.

This morning I was awakened by loud claps of thunder and the sound of rain pattering on the windows and roof. I realised that it has been a long time since I heard this sound. It even felt a little strange to hear it.

This got me thinking about how quickly we adapt to our circumstances. Normally, in Ancaster, Ontario, where I live, summer rain is a part of life. This summer, however, we’ve had a drought. So rain stopped being part of what I expected to see.

I was happy to be surprised by refreshing rain this morning. I could almost feel the plants’ relief.

Back from research leave

This Canada Day marked my return from a year’s research leave. It has been a good year- I moved into a new home, got involved in the federal election, made a bunch of great new friends, and wrote most of a new book on social media in Canada. I also became pescetarian and mindfully started on the path to fitness.

I am looking forward to coming back to McMaster as director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program for a three-year term, until 2019. I love teaching and being part of the university community. I love the rhythm and cadence of university life and the excitement that students feel at the prospect of learning and growing. I love research and discovery – both from the personal perspective of gaining a new understanding of the world, but also because  research and the enlightenment it brings help to transform our communities for the better.

The MCM is a wonderful community of practitioners who learn from one another. I count our faculty among the learners as well, because when twenty very bright, leading communicators from across Canada get together in a room to discuss and debate the theories and practices of management, strategy, marketing, and communications, even the top experts become facilitators. What a joy for all involved.

If you have been thinking about an MBA, you should consider the MCM. We offer the course courses of the MBA in a format that works with your schedule and busy life. It really is an “MBA for creative people.”

The fact that the MCM is offered to you by McMaster University in partnership with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, opens a whole world of experience for you in the United States!

If you’re interested in the MCM, do send me a note and we can chat about the program and your application to join the 2016-17 cohort, which starts in October.

We have extended our application deadline to August 15, 2016.

 

The quantified self makes us more human

I have been thinking a lot about the concept of the quantified self. Since Ash Wednesday 2016, I started a fast that meant that I went pescetarian.  While I thought that I would miss beef, chicken, pork and duck, the reality has been that I do not.  It helps that my favourite foods have always been fish and seafood.

Being a researcher by nature and by profession, I started reading about the benefits of not eating meat and found them to be legion: farming meat animals is a terribly energy-intensive process that generates a lot of waste water and pollution.

This led to a greater reflection on my life and its impact on others and on the environment. I decided to track what I ate to be able to quantify my diminished impact on the environment and so doing realised that I had been over-consuming calories on a regular basis. Logging the food and drink that I consumed made me aware of the reality of what I put into my body. That was illuminating and brought me some peace, strangely.

I started to add fitness to this regimen and tracked its impact on my net calories per day. I enjoyed the feeling of self-knowledge and personal calibration that I could achieve by tweaking what I ate and the calories I burned through different types of exercise. A side benefit was that I started feeling a lot calmer on the days I ran or swam or rowed and more alert and clear on the days I practised intermittent fasting or was under my calorie goal for the day. It was a good feeling.

It was at this point that I realised what I was doing was an exercise in mindfulness. I was finding that the data and quantification – in my case it was a simple excel spreadsheet and myfitnesspal – gave me a feeling of knowing myself  and being present in my life. That was a very good feeling.

I also started to realise that gently introducing and then tracking new habits wasn’t so hard. I realised that it’s mostly a factor of letting a habit that makes me feel better (like exercise) sink in so that it feels natural and I miss it if I haven’t done it that day.

I realised that my main motivation for keeping a good habit was if it made my life easier, happier or better (after the initial period of adjustment, of course). For me, that meant that the habit involved finding peace. Since then I have added other habits that are generally good for the environment and for my personal peace: I stopped swearing, committed to always obeying the speed limit when driving and to very brief daily morning and evening meditation.

I found that after an initial period of frustration, each of these habits brought me greater calm and a greater feeling of being present in my life and in my surroundings.

My greatest surprise on this journey has been that: tracking these habits became an exercise in mindful living instead of a burden.

I will post on this from time to time during the coming year.

It’s been a good journey thus far.