Get Simple

I am really trying to get rid of all the unnecessary, excessive, and obscuring things in my life. Make it simple. Minamalism.

I thought I would share two simple changes I made.

The first was taking every toilet paper hanger down. Nobody used them. There was always an empty roll in the hangers with just the tube and a shred of paper. And then you had to figure out where you might find more. Problem solved:

Toilet Paper Holder
Toilet Paper Holder

How about socks? Are you tired of sorting and trying to match up socks? Do you have a clothes basket someplace that’s filled a quarter way up with single socks for which there is no known match? I threw all my socks out,  and purchased 12 pair of socks for $10. I use them for everything including running. There are some blend – not cotton. After about 3 years or more they started to get holes in them, so I went out and purchased a new package of the very same style.

I don’t even have to fold them up. I just stick them in my drawer and grab two when I need them. Problem solved:

Pair of black socks
Plain Black Socks
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WillPower: The Book

The single best nonfiction book I have read this year, and maybe the best one I have read in three or more years, was Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister, and  John Tierney published by The Penguin Press in 2011.  I will save you the trouble and provide you the Amazon link here.  According to Wikipedia Roy Baumeister is the internationally known “Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.”  You can also visit his faculty web site.

This book offers remarkable insight into the obstacles we face when losing weight, exercising, and otherwise trying to lead an organized, healthy, fulfilling, and productive lifestyle.

I always highlight, and write notes when I read, if the book is intriguing. I then go back and take notes.  I have not done that yet, but below is a list of the most memorable, and useful items, that I remember from my first visit. In no particular order:

  • although we can increase our capacity for using willpower, it is also something that can be depleted.  When it is depleted you make bad choices you regret later.
  • making too many decisions too fast can deplete willpower. This phenomenon is known as decision fatigue and is related to the next item:
  • willpower requires energy (our brain is 2% of our body but consumes a whooping 20% of the total calories we burn).  If our energy is depleted our willpower, along with other functions, decreases.
  • we can have too many goals.  It is not a good idea to have a large  laundry list of goals (and goals are not to be confused with tasks).  Finishing a degree, writing that novel, and remodeling the house, while you are trying to lose weight is probably not a good idea.
  • organization is the friend of willpower.  The more organized you are the less stress, and cognitive energy, goes into finding things, doing things at the last minute or missing deadlines, and worrying about what has not been done.  Unfinished business, commitments, and obligations creates an “open loop.” This leads to yet one more item:
  • I personally think that it is essential to have some kind of organizing system like the Getting Things Done (GTD) system of David Allen which postulates the aforementioned “open loop” problem.  Tame your tasks. Unfinished business creates an open loop and we often have lots of little, and big, unfinished tasks, commitments, and promises. We are into something else, or maybe two other things, and suddenly remember another thing we forgot to do because we have no system of keeping track of what needs to be done, and what has already been accomplished.  That is known as a todo list my friend.  Get one, and love it.   The GTD system is specifically mentioned in the book and I have had fantastic results with it so far and I am just in the early stages of learning it.  I will be reviewing that book next since I am still reading it.
  • avoid having to make too many decisions and especially trivial ones.  Make a decision, and unless it is a disaster or obviously the wrong one stick with it.   Either have yogurt or egg whites for breakfast and stop worrying about it. They are both good choice.  Wear the gray or black socks.  Does it Preplanning meals, workouts, and activities is a best practice.  You can be flexible but don’t fret too much about first world problems or matters that well, don’t matter.
  • habits are your friend.  If something is habitual you don’t have a chance to think about it.

I also think that reducing clutter (in all areas of your life), and practicing some degree of minimization is helpful.  Everything is connected.

The book is not the complete instruction manual for building willpower I was hoping for.  It was also written in 2011, and I am sure there has been a lot of good research since then.  But, it is entertaining, and filled with lots of great information that you can apply.  I will be investigating the phenomenon of what we call willpower from the psychological and neuroscience perspective to try to see what best practices are being developed.  It is a fascinating and useful field.

How to Solve Your Sock Problem for $20 or Less

Well, maybe you don’t have a sock problem but let me describe mine.  Or rather, the one I used to have before I found a solution.  You might find something useful in this post yet.  First  a disclaimer.  I do not have a foot fetish, or at least I do not think I do, but I have written a lot about shoes, and foot related issues. Why?  Runners, and walkers depend on healthy, relatively pain free feet, in order to do what they do.

I had two problems with socks. The first problem I had was five years ago when I started walking and did some modest running to get into shape.  I ended up with blisters so bad I did not think I could keep doing either one.  A little research on the internet was all it took to discover that although my feet still probably needed to get used to the regime, the main culprit was that I was wearing cotton socks. I switched to all synthetic socks that wicked the moisture away and that solved the problem.

My socks - all black all the time.
My socks – all black all the time.

The second problem was spending so much time and energy on trying to sort, and match socks.  As everyone knows eventually you end up with a pile of socks with no matches. Finally, a solution came to me.  I would switch to all black socks made of nylon.  I hardly ever wore any other color, and most definitely knew that I could live, doing everything I needed to do,  with just black socks.

So I went shopping and found And1 brand socks for ten pair per package for ten dollars.  I purchased one bag of regular length, and another ankle length for working out.  I threw out the socks that had no match, and donated  the rest to Goodwill.

The new socks wear like iron, don’t shrink, and there are no problems with blisters.  I am wearing a pair now. Below is what my sock drawer looks like today.  I wish i had a picture of what it used to look like before I wised up.

My sock drawer.  No more sorting - simple.
My sock drawer. No more sorting – simple.

At 58 I want to simplify my life as much as possible.  I want things that work and do not get in the way of living.  And here is a reminder to all of us, runners as well as other fitness enthusiast):  running is a means to an end and not an end to itself.  I have discussed the topic of minimalism in some earlier posts.

Strength Training on a Budget: The Minimalist Weight Lifter

What is this post about?

Even the practitioner of ugly running who prefers running over other modes of exercise will benefit by weight training.  In this post I am going to talk about strength training with weights.  One of the four  components of fitness is muscular strength, and no matter what your sport, or profession, you need a certain level of muscular strength in order to be fit.  Unfortunately muscular strength is also something that starts to degrade as you get older, and especially if you live a sedentary lifestyle. In this post I am going to discuss how to strength train on a budget which includes limited space, and limited time,  as well as a limited amount of equipment.  You do not need to join a gym or spend a fortune on strength training.  By the way, this is not a post for somebody who wants to be a body builder, or power lifter. I know nothing about those sports.  However, I have been weight lifting for over forty years, and it still amazes me how effective it is.

Equipment

You can strengthen your muscles by making them work against resistance, hence the term “resistance training”.  Muscle has to be overloaded to be strengthened, and this can be achieved by lifting weights. Weight lifting just works.  But you need equipment.

Several years ago I had an epiphany regarding weight training equipment when I used a very petite workout room at a hotel.  It was small, but cleverly equipped.   There was the usual treadmill, bike, elliptical machine, and one adjustable bench. Oh, and of course a television or two.  But what really caught my eye was the lack of weight machines or even barbells.  Instead in the corner, taking less than two square feet of floor space, was a rack of dumbbells, in pairs,  of various weights.  At the time at home  I had a big multi-gym, and three barbells as well as lots of free weights.  It took up over fifty square feet of floor space, and I hardly ever used it. I eventually got rid of most of it, and I now work out extensively with dumbbells.  The only thing I wonder about is why it took me so long to figure this out.

For less than the price of two pairs of decent running shoes, or less, you can buy a bench, and a set of dumbbells. Arguably you could get by without the bench, but I like having

My mongrel set of dumbbell weights scrounged over the years.
My mongrel set of dumbbell weights scrounged over the years.

one.  I prefer the kind of weights where you take the plates on and off. They are economical, versatile, and wear like iron. Pun intended.  Unlike running shoes you will never wear this stuff out, and it is highly unlikely you will break it. I don’t know how you would! I have weight plates, and bars, that are over thirty years old.  There is no better fitness equipment bargain. I also buy my equipment used when I can although I had to buy what I call my multi-bench new. I just had one problem though.  I had been using machines, barbells, and pulleys for decades with only the occasional dumbbell use.  I did not know how to replicate a full body exercise routine with just dumbbells.  What to do? I did what everyone else does when faced with an insurmountable problem.  I used the internet.

Information & Instruction

The internet was useful but overwhelming.  I could find the information, sometimes, but it was scattered, often contradictory, and the sites that I visited were exceedingly thorough but intended for the younger set with an over abundance of testosterone. I tried it for a couple of weeks, printing out workouts, instructions, and all that.  But, it was piecemeal while I was looking for the big picture. A program to follow. I was looking for a progressive workout routine, scientifically devised, by somebody with credibility – preferably with credentials.   Also, I wasn’t sure how good  much of the advice was. I suspect some of it was harmful, and none of it was for a 58 year old man. So I did what I do when the internet proves to be  unsatisfactory.  I used the internet to buy a book on working out with dumbbells.

If you go to Amazon and search for “dumbbell workout” or something similar you are going to find a lot of books. I read the reviews, and downloaded ebook samples of about six of them.  One of them was reasonably priced, from the few sample pages and table of contents it seemed good enough, and the digital version was about five bucks. I purchased it. I had it on my iPad in less than ten seconds. I was disappointed in about ten minutes. It is a great book, but unfortunately the digital version was not useful to me.  A good book on weight lifting of any kind has lots of charts, lists, diagrams, and pictures.  Content within context is important, and the digital version was unusable in that respect.  So, I did what I should have done in the first place, and purchased a real book.  I got it in two days and am totally  satisfied with one exception I will discuss later.

One of the latest additions to my library.
One of the latest additions to my library.

The book that I ended up with was Ultimate Dumbbell Guide by Myatt Murphy published by Rodale Press.  Pages 3 – 29 are introductory in nature lauding the benefits of weight training, which indeed are many, and the utility of dumbbells.  The second part of the book, pages 30 – 233, are variations of different dumbbell exercises by body part.  It is very through, and user friendly. Pages  237-262 covers how to create your own workout, and a few routines.  That last section is the weakest section of the book, but is still very good.  Unfortunately it, like the other books I reviewed, did not talk about older athletes.  My goals as a 58 year old or decidedly different than they were when I was younger.  Overall the Ultimate Dumbbell Guide delivers. You might be able to do better, but you can for sure do worse.  I have to recommend it.

Training Log

I am a big believer in  using metrics to measure progress, and to  generally keep track of what you did when.  Awhile back I published a couple of weight training logs and I have had the opportunity to try them both out.  I am satisfied with them.  So, if you are working for a free workout chart for your weight routine just scroll down to Weight Lifting Charts or hit that link.

Conclusion

We know a lot about weight training, and there is a lot of good information out there – even on the internet.  However I found running back and forth to watch/read routines, instructions, or exercises online was unsatisfying.  The book I reviewed above works for me, but there are a lot of other good ones out there. I think that 90 percent of the population can do fine with dumbbells, and all would benefit by having the luxury, not necessity, of having a bench.  I believe dumbbells are the best strength training bargain you can find.  Although some people may disagree I also think that dumbbells are more beneficial and safer than other methods.  You will also probably not need a spotter when you do dumbbell presses on the bench whereas lifting heavy with a barbell can be dangerous especially if you do it alone.  With dumbbells there is no bar across your chest.  Several deaths occur on the barbell bench press each year.  See my good friend Scooby’s article.  It happens.  By the way Scooby has forgotten more about weight training than I have ever known, but he is definitely on the body building side of the game.

I found the following information online, which I think sums up the general consensus of how one should go about weight lifting. and I would like to share it with you:

You can strengthen your muscles by making them work against resistance, hence the term “resistance training”. A muscle has to be overloaded to be strengthened. This can be achieved by lifting weights.

Alberta Education recommends starting with a resistance of around 80 percent of the maximum weight you can lift at one time and doing 3-9 repetitions of this weight through 3-5 sets for effective muscular benefits. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7181.php

If you are a runner, and I am, even if your a grandfather, which I am, and even if your not a genetically gifted natural athlete, which I am assuredly not, weight lifting is something you should consider.  Grandmothers, and younger people too.  It is an ecumenical form of essential exercise. Have fun.