The Will Power Instinct by Kelly McGonigal: A Review

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Photo by Ash on Pexels.com

Do you have a hard time resisting what  you see in that picture? You’ve come to the right place.

One of the best self-help books I have read in a long time is The Willpower Instinct: How-Self Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal. It is so good I bought the audio book after I bought the digital version, and I am seriously considering buying the print version. I think this is a must read.  Self-control, or will power, is a must for staying fit – eating right, working out, and living a more direct life.

What is self control? Here is a great definition from Wikipedia:

Self-control, an aspect of inhibitory control, is the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behavior in the face of temptations and impulses. As an executive function, self-control is a cognitive process that is necessary for regulating one’s behavior in order to achieve specific goals.

“Self-control.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jul. 2018. Web. 4 Sep. 2018.

Here is a description of the book from the publisher:

Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, readers will learn:

  • Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
  • Willpower is not an unlimited resource. Too much self-control can actually be bad for your health.
  • Temptation and stress hijack the brain’s systems of self-control, but the brain can be trained for greater willpower
  • Guilt and shame over your setbacks lead to giving in again, but self-forgiveness and self-compassion boost self-control.
  • Giving up control is sometimes the only way to gain self-control.
  • Willpower failures are contagious—you can catch the desire to overspend or overeat from your friends­­—but you can also catch self-control from the right role models.

What is apparent to me is how connected self-control is, with mindfulness although the two are closely related. I think that a high level of self-control is necessary for mindfulness, and that mindfulness is a natural pathway to self-control although the two have very different skill sets.

Over labor day my wife and I went out of town to visit relatives. We had the audio version to listen to during the drive, and we  both loved it. We would often pause it to discuss certain points that were being discussed.

McGonigal is a prolific writer and I highly recommend this book, and I will be reading a good deal of her other works.  Note:  I am making a rare cross-posting with my other blog www.michaelrayperkins.com.

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Gossamer Gear Umbrella Review

Rules for Backpacking Rain Gear

  1. There is no perfect solution.
  2. If it rains long enough and hard enough you will eventually get wet.

I don’t mind getting wet. What I do mind is getting chilled, or getting drenched, and getting miserable. Keeping your gear dry is the first priority because you should always be in a position to call it a day and set up your tent, tarp, or hammock to shelter in. To wait it out. I am absolutely fanatical about that.

But when it comes to rain gear which allows you to keep moving there are so many variables. It does matter though. It can be more than being miserable, it can mean hypothermia and maybe even death. We actually had a father and two boys die when day hiking the Ozark Trail in Missouri because they got wet on a day when the weather turned cold and they were unprepared. Only the dog survived.

For commuting on my bike the answer is easy. I wear a poncho. It doesn’t restrict my movement, air can get inside so I am not drenched in sweat, and the one I use, a cheap Coleman poncho, does the trick. Besides, it is 34 minutes from door to door. Hiking and backpacking is more complex.

When hiking the AT my wife and I outfitted ourselves with Frogg Toggs, and ultralight umbrella’s from Gossamer Gear. We had pack covers, and we used contractor bags to put our sleeping bag and extra clothing in. Why the umbrella?

Although it not so much an issue on the AT the umbrella has material on the outside to reflect the heat. I understand it is pretty popular on the Pacific Crest trail for that very reason. I have only used it in light to medium rain, not a downpour, and can report that it works great for that. But your feet will get wet. What about that?

There are two schools. One is to try to keep your feet dry. The other is to acknowledge they are going to get wet and use quick drying shoes and socks. Experienced people do one or the other but most of the people I follow and respect just take it for granted that their feet or going to get wet.

We kept our umbrellas outside the pack and within easy reach. Our drill was to prioritize putting on the pack cover, and then having done that don the umbrella. It worked well as long as the wind wasn’t high. If the wind is blowing hard, or in the wrong direction, you are going to have the thing flip.

The conclusion? For anything less than a downpour the umbrella is a good idea, and for limiting sun exposure it serves double duty. At around $40 bucks it is reasonably priced. There are probably other suppliers, but Gossamer Gear sells one branded for them that is made in Germany.

I do not know if I am going to stay with Frogg Toggs or not. Frankly I do not have enough experience yet to make a determination yet. I am an avid reader of what other experienced people have to say about gear though. I was impressed with a review from the Section Hiker blog on the LightHeart rainjacket. I recommend reading all of what he has to say, not just about this one rain jacket, but especially about waterproof breathable jackets. Spoiler alert. They are not reliable over the long run.

By the way. I am fascinated with the Gatewood Cape. It provides shelter and acts as a poncho. If I was backpacking by myself I would already have one.

What I learned on the Appalachian Trail: Lesson 1 – The Need for Hope & Adventure

This is my first post in a series of what I learned on the trail.  This not only includes new lessons, or new information, but a sharpening of focus on maybe what I already knew but have been ignoring.  As you will  read in a moment, this first post is in the later category. It will certainly be my most political one.

On any adventure like hiking the Appalachian Trail (mountain climbing, bicycle touring, backpacking, long distance motorcycle trips) which takes you out of the “rat race,” into a more elemental existence over an extended period of time, you have access to this type of experience.  Call it an epiphany.

So I had an epiphany about something which I think I already knew, which came into focus on this trip.  It was about addictions in general,  and specifically substance abuse. There is plenty of substance abuse on the trail, but it is oddly more visible because of the bubble. The bubble is the group of people that you find yourself traveling with, running into here and there, as you hike.   On any given day you may pass them,  or they may pass you, but from time to time you run across each other.  Also other hikers, or entries in shelter logs, will keep you informed.

As our society becomes more frantic, more anxious, we are at risk for becoming overwhelmed on many levels. What is making us more anxious? Technology is a major contributor, but other factors are economic, political, and even existential as we look for meaning in the midst of our present times.  We are easily overwhelmed, and over stimulated, and  often resort to numbing ourselves with food (we are an obese nation and the rest of the world is right there with us), nicotine, social media, sports, and those little magic boxes we call “smart phones,” which make us dumb.  Then there is of course prescriptions drugs, and illicit drugs.  It occurred to me on the trail that illicit drug use is no longer the realm of some fringe minority, but is now widely accepted.

I have heard this in my classroom from college students, and I saw it on the trail.  This doesn’t mean that most Americans are using drugs, or most college students, or most backpackers on the AT.  However, it does mean that drug use is no longer necessarily  deviant, and is certainly more tolerated. We are becoming used to it, our nation has an insatiable appetite for illegal. Exhibit one is the current opioid  crisis.

When hiking on the AT we spent 8 – 9 hours a day backpacking.  For that entire time, and most of the rest of the time, we were in the moment.  Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book entitled “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”  Which is true.  But, increasingly the trick is to be able to recognize and appreciate it rather than trying to escape it.  Why is that?  Because many of us, myself included at times, are not happy with where we are at the moment.  We want to be someplace else.  Someplace besides bullshit jobs, meaningless meetings, long commutes, or just struggling to live day by day. Struggling to pay the bills, and struggling to find some meaning in all of it.  We are becoming tired of being commodities, and cogs in an exploitative economic system with a government system that is viewed as ineffective, and often corrupt.

So what is missing from our lives?  Maybe it is adventure.  Or maybe the idea that things can change, things can get better.  Maybe it is the idea that we, as individuals as well as collectively, can evolve rather than devolve. That democracy can work.  Good will be rewarded and evil will be punished.  Maybe not all the time, but enough to where we think the playing field is fairly level.  That we can achieve some modicum of stability in our lives. All those things have been a part of the American experience which gave us a reason to get up in the morning.  Is that still the case?  Well, the jury is till out on all that.

Maybe the reason that illegal drug use is up is that increasingly more and more of us don’t have a reason to get up in the morning. We don’t have adventures.  We are becoming entangled in an existence where we seem to have little agency.  Drugs are a way to blunt the brutality of that assault on our humanity.

Along with this series on lessons learned I will also be making more post with pictures on the adventure that my wife Jenifer and I had together on the AT.

The picture below is just for fun.  I have never seen a Harley in a grocery store before.  This picture was taken in Blairesville, Georgia which was close to the place we stayed before and after our hike.

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Harley On Aisle 4

Tales of the Trail

We are off the trail now, as planned, and relaxing at Misty Mountain Inn & Cottages in Blairsville, Georgia. Cabin 4.

We came of the trail at Woody Gap.

We now have this:

Yesterday we had this:

We don’t appreciate what we have, nor do we appreciate the power and magesty of nature which we think we have conquered. But that is a delusion. It was before us, and will be after us. This infrastructure we have created is as fragile, and temporary, as a spider’s web, a butterfly’s cocoon, and a Robin’s nest.

I will soon begin a series of post entitled “What I Learned on the Trail.” Not what I learned with complete certainty, but glimpses and hints. I’m not even sure what it is I really learned. Maybe just some kind of awareness? Language struggles to convey reality. Language, and this blog post, are just facades as to what really is.

First Hike of 2018 and Three Lost in the Woods

Great weather for a change inspired me to get out and hike. The low fifties on a sunny day was perfect.

Picture of author
Looking like a dufus

Every year I forget how hiking uses muscles that you don’t use otherwise. Especially the glutamous maximus. I need to train for this spring.  By the way, after seeing this picture I want straight home and trimmed the beard.

Hiking trail in Missouri
Trail close to the trailhead

Missouri has lots of parks and lots of small trails including those at Rockbridge State Park which is about a seven minute drive from my house.  I wanted to do the eight mile loop on the Gans Creek trail but opted out because they are evidently redoing the routes and it is a chaotic mess.  The blazes are being changed and the main route that was fairly well marked last year is, I think, incomplete.  I couldn’t make heads nor tails out of it.

I started at the South end and wanted to loop back around through the Northern trailhead and come back,  but cut my hike short by at least an hour because the trail markings were so confusing.  It was not so much about getting lost, but the uncertainty of where I was on a trail, and hiking on a trial where the blazes from last year were either missing or changed. It is that chaotic.

To get back all I would have had to have done is follow the creek which runs downstream from North to South back where my car was parked at the trailhead where I started.  Worse case scenario was bushwacking (hiking off the designated trail) my way back following the creek downstream to the trailhead.   That would have been wet and muddy.  A compass would have made it a bit easier, but I could have done it without the compass because of the creek. I had foolishly not brought my compass and will NOT make that mistake again.  Also, the sun was to my West and that was visible. So I wasn’t going to get lost.

On the way out I passed a group of three teenagers and we greeted one another.  On the way back,  about fifteen minutes after  I decided to turn around, I passed the group of teenagers again.  They asked me if they were on  the route back to the Northern trailhead.  Actually that is the same question I had asked myself, and was unable to answer because of the confused trail markings.  Essentially why I had decided to turn around.  They had a map which was useless to them because it was just squiggly lines, and I don’t even think it was updated with the new changes.

I told them I had no idea. That is not what they had wanted to hear.  They had started on the Northern end and were trying to make it back there where their car was parked.  They had asked other people for directions and the people they asked had  either not known or had given them directions that turned out not to be helpful.  They were not panicking but they were concerned. They had been over  three hours in the woods, they had no water, and the one cell phone they had between them was about to die.

I looked at  them and wondered what to do. Just giving them directions were not going to get it done.  At least two people had done that. I was familiar with the trail, but the new configuration, which I suspect is not yet complete anyway, had confused me. I could try to lead them back to where they started, and would have eventually made it, but it was late in the afternoon, and I didn’t know the distances.  Then I would have had to hike back to where I had begun.  Also I could see their feet were wet and muddy, and they probably had on cotton socks. I am also sure they were hungry and thirsty although they declined my offer of water.  The other option was to lead them out and drive them back to their car on the highway.

They were in a bit of a dilemma.  They meet a stranger in the woods who offers to take them back to the trailhead and then drive them to their car. If they were my kids, or if it was me lost in the woods, I certainly hope somebody would have helped out.  I could tell they were hesitant.  As I would have been.  As a matter of fact I had the same concerns about them but had sized them up as good kids, with no gear, out on a walk that went bad.  They decided to take me up on my offer.

They thanked me profusely. And they were grateful, but I am not sure if it was because I didn’t bludgeon them to death with my hiking pole, or they were just glad they were finally going to be able to get home.