30 November 2010

Two steps forward, one step back

Yes, I know the saying is the other way, but my way is much more optimistic. Often when we have setbacks, we feel that we have slipped immensely and have failed. But we should realize that a setback is only a setback. We can continue on past a temporary failure or glitch and still enjoy the road, and realize our end goal.

Given that I’ve been ill for the last few weeks, I will be restarting my pushup challenge from the beginning again. Hopefully my energy levels will be up enough to start again this next Monday. I don’t feel like this is a major setback in any way. The pushups will still be waiting for me when I feel better.

The time away from the gym has given me opportunity to formulate other goals. One thing that I have started working on is brushing up on my Spanish.

About 6 years ago, I took 3 out of the 4 Spanish classes offered at my local community college. My abilities have been languishing since my son was born, and I wanted to refresh what I knew and improve beyond that. I hired a tutor to help me review and I quickly went through all 18 chapters of my Spanish textbook. I signed up to take the B1 level exam in Los Angeles last week.

In hindsight (because that is always 20/20), I think that my review was a little rushed. I had about 6 weeks to prepare. When I got to the exam, I was fatigued from illness, and lacked the conversational confidence I had even a week prior. So, I’m not really sure how I did on this exam. I hope I passed, but if I didn’t, it will give me a diagnostic on my abilities.

Now I’m trying to formulate my Spanish related goal for next year. Even if I didn’t pass the B1 exam, I may try a higher level exam next year, like the C1. Or I may set other goals, like being able to hold a conversation for X number of minutes, or being able to watch a movie with captions turned off, etc. My ultimate goal is fluency, but how I will measure this is still to be determined.

So, proposing un brindis, here's to temporary road blocks and set backs, and the journey ahead.

18 November 2010

Look for an opportunity to be remarkable

Inspired by Srini Rao’s talk, Don’t Look for a Job: Look for An Opportunity to Be Remarkable, I reflected on the many opportunities to be remarkable. If you haven’t seen this video, I recommend you take a listen to what Srini says. His remarks are valid for both college students as well as seasoned professionals.

I’ve thought about ways I’ve tried to be remarkable in my own life, and what might apply for other situations as well.

Work life:
  • Look for ways to stream line processes. Oftentimes, a certain process exists in a company, because “that’s the way we have always done this.” Be an innovator and a problem solver and look for ways to automate tasks, or cut out the fluff. I’m a software tester by profession, and I really try to automate 80% of my tasks. This lets me focus on the remaining 20%, which is usually the really hard stuff.
  • Question whether you really need to be at that meeting. Unfortunately, some companies have many meetings, and there exists the culture of having pre-meeting meetings. If you don’t really think you need to be there, say so. Ask if you can just get the summary of decisions made. This way, you will have more time to...
  • Focus on your most important project. If you don’t know what this is, ask your manager or boss. Find out what the most important thing is that you need to be working on today, and work on fulfilling that. When I arrive at work each morning, I ask myself this question. I periodically will discuss this with my manager to make sure that our goals are synchronized.
Now I realize that these tips are probably not what Srini had in mind. I assume that you already have a job, and are looking for ways to be remarkable there. I also believe that there are ways to be remarkable beyond the 9 to 5.

Life in general:
  • Give your stuff away. This last weekend, I was gathering up our old baby gear, and was planning on taking it to a local resale shop to see if they needed any of it. Some things, like portacribs, are not accepted at Goodwill, so, I might as well try to make a buck if I can. I have also asked other expectant parents if they needed any of this, but hadn’t found a good home for everything. But, then my partner, D, asked an expectant co-worker if they needed anything. She said yes, and was so grateful for the offer. Her husband has been out of work, and they only had bought a crib. I feel so helpful that I can give them our old car seat/stroller combo, as you need a car seat to leave the hospital with your newborn.
  • Invite people over. Whether for a meal, or to stay the night, people thrive on human interaction. Make memories for your family, and have a great time.
  • Learn a foreign language. You will not only gain the ability to speak to more people on planet Earth, you will also expose yourself to new cultures and new ideas. And this makes it more fun to...
  • Travel. Everyone loves to travel, right? The best way to do it, though, is to avoid packaged tours and cruises, and get into the daily lifestyle of your destination. This, again, expands your mind as you learn how other people live and think. You will find that this exposure will change you on the inside. After living in Germany for three months, I again yearn for another opportunity to submerse myself in another culture.
I’m sure there are lots of other ways to be remarkable in your life. I’ve only scratched the surface.

15 November 2010

Training while sick?

Now that cold and flu season is upon us, many of us that are active in sports and fitness will face a time where we need to decide: when am I too sick to train/exercise/play?

My general rule is this: if the symptoms are above the neck, then I’ll work out. If the symptoms are the neck or below, it’s time for me to rest and recover.

For example, if I have only nasal or eye allergies, I’ll usually do an indoor activity, so I’m not exposing myself to outdoor pollens. I’ll swim or lift weights or hit the treadmill. I find that usually after about 20 or 30 minutes, my symptoms actually improve. The natural dilation of the airways from exercise are quite beneficial to nasal congestion.

However, if I’ve got a sore throat or cough, I will stay home. I usually will feel a bit fatigued as well. This is my body telling me it is time to rest and recuperate from a bug.

You may ask: but what about that race I’m training for? Or that 100 pushup challenge? Or what about the gains I’ve made, won’t they be lost? Relax. If your race is still a ways out in the future, you will have plenty of time to regain your momentum. If it’s the day of the race, well, it is really up to you and your previous experience as to whether or not you can truly perform.

I personally have had to drop out of a 10K race that I was training for because of a knee injury. I gave the t-shirt away, too, because I couldn’t see myself wearing it. But I consoled myself that it was just one race, and others will come. I’m not an elite athlete by any stretch. I know that when I’m ready, I’ll participate in another race.

So, this week, I will be following my own advice. I have a cold now, and I will not be doing any pushups, or swimming any laps, but only resting, until I am feeling better. I figure it is better to rest now rather than make myself worse and prolong the illness. Hopefully by resting earlier, the body will recover sooner, than later.

12 November 2010

Pushup challenge week 2

This week went better for me. I still have the same neck stiffness and knot in my shoulder muscle from last week, and will probably need to see a masseuse, but the pain was much better thanks to the jacuzzi, Salon Pas, and my partner’s elbow massaging that knot.

Anyways, I completed week 1 of the pushup challenge. The last set of 13 was difficult, and I struggled with the very last pushup, but I’m glad I persevered. For today’s workout, I tried something new: I did 5 minutes of cardio to warm up and get the blood flowing. I’ve also tried to mentally pump myself up the last few days, and the mental attitude is also a great contributing factor to my success this week. I visualized myself doing pushups with great ease, and repeated the following mantra to myself: You are strong.

Next week I’ll move on to week 2 of pushups, week 2 of situps and week 3 of squats. This weekend I’ll do the week 2 challenge for squats to determine if I’m really ready for week 3.

How did you do? Please comment here or on my facebook.

09 November 2010

The Responsibility of Stuff

I have been inspired lately by several blogs dedicated to simplicity and minimalism. A few blogs that are my favorites are Zen Habits, Becoming Minimalist, and Minimalist Moms. Of course, there are many other blogs in similar vein, but these stand out to me as the most meaningful for my personal situation, probably because each author strives for minimalism, while finding balance in their family life.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wanting to clean out some clutter in my closet. Finally this week, I filled a few shopping bags of clothing that no longer fits. Minimalism is about finding purpose in the things you have, and getting rid of unnecessary things. I have a long way to go on this, but my wardrobe is a good place to start, because the closet is a small space. It’s amazing what you can find, though, stashed in cramped areas. I found some old maternity clothes in the back of the closet. Into the charity pile. I also found shirts with company emblems from up to four jobs ago. Into the charity pile. And as for the jeans that I had been saving for when I finally lost weight, they do fit me now, but I don’t really like them anymore, as, alas, styles change. Into the charity pile.

My 2 year old son actually helped me in this project. He cheered me on while I tried on some old clothes, and then put the ill-fitting clothes in the bags for me. I included him in this because I want him to start getting a sense of the responsibility that stuff requires, and that sometimes, other people may get better use out of something that I’m not using. And, after all, I can’t justify a toy purge until he sees me purging some of my own stuff.

I took my son with me to Goodwill to drop off the old clothing and shoes. On the way there and back, I reminded him that other people might want my old clothing more than I do. When we got home, on his own, he started to put a few toys in a box, for our next Goodwill drop off.

Lessons learned:

  1. Start with a small space, like a closet, or even a drawer. This makes the task doable and less overwhelming.
  2. If you have gained weight, don’t hang on to those clothes you might fit into one day. Even if you do lose the weight, fashions change and so may your mind.
  3. If you have kids, get them involved as much as possible and remind them why you are doing this.

05 November 2010

Week 1 of 100 Pushup Challenge

This first week of the 100 pushup challenge was definitely as challenging for me as I originally suspected. I started on week 3 with pushups and situps and on week 1 with squats.

On Wednesday, my day two, I had to go back to week 1 for both pushups and situps for a couple of reasons. First, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) had set in by Tuesday evening. My triceps and pecs were sore. Second, I woke up Wednesday morning with a bad catch in my neck and shoulders, and I really didn’t think I could continue with the same level of pushups and situps without causing more strain on my neck.

I don’t think the pushups caused the neck strain, because I’ve had this problem before, and I know it is due to working in front of a computer all day, and then not being relaxed enough when I sleep.

By Friday, my day three, I was still struggling with the pushups, and was one pushup short from the recommended number for the third set. I am undecided if I will be redoing week 1 again next week.

All in all, though, I think it was a great success for me. Even though I may repeat week 1, I don’t count that as a failure at all. I definitely feel stronger today than I did on Monday. I already can tell a great difference.

And if you were struggling like me, I think you should commend yourself for giving this a shot, and making it through the first week. Next week we will be that much stronger.

For those who are doing pushups with me, how did you do? Let me know here in the comments or on my Facebook page.

04 November 2010

My son likes pink

The blog post, My son is gay, by Cop's Wife at Nerdy Apple Bottom, is about a boy who wanted to dress like Daphne from Scooby Doo, and how his mother stood up to other disapproving mothers at his Christian school. I liked it for several reasons. First, kudos to the son who knew exactly what he wanted to dress up as for Halloween. This holiday is exactly about dressing up as whoever you want to be. And, second, kudos to the mother for telling others that just because he dressed up as Daphne doesn’t mean he is gay. But if he were gay, it wouldn’t matter anyways.

As parents, we have not taught our son very much about girl things versus boy things. He is very interested in cars and trucks and trains, which are typically boyish interests. However, he has a stuffed pink poodle as part of his stuffed animal menagerie. And he still enjoys grooming with the pink Barbie comb and mirror that he got with a McDonalds Happy Meal when they were out of boy toys. His favorite drinking cup at home is the pink cup from a multi-color set we have.

In fact, my son really likes pink, and we have told him, it's okay to like pink. It's a nice, happy color!

The only time I’ve ever discouraged him from something gender specific was when we were shopping for a new swim suit this last summer. We were at Costco, probably buying diapers in bulk, when we passed a table with swim suits for young children. There were two choices:

  1. Pink and yellow girls’ swimsuit with big fish on the top, smaller fish design on the bottom.
  2. Blue and green boys’ swimsuit with big surfboards on the shirt and smaller surfboard design on the trunks.
Which one do you think my son preferred? It was the girls’ swimsuit. He was drawn to it because of the fish motif. He enjoys looking at pictures of fish, and singing the Slippery Fish song. He’s never even seen a surfboard before, so why would he want that?

I talked him out of the girls swimsuit by telling him it was, in fact, a girls’ swimsuit, and it might not fit him right. He went with the boys' swimsuit without much fuss.

Did I feel guilty about it? Just a little. I wasn’t sure if the girls’ swimsuit would fit him, but I also had the fear of what other people, particularly parents, would say. Yes, I felt guilty about the fear I had.

This Halloween, I marveled at the girls dressed up as Woody and Buzz Lightyear. But I didn’t see any boys dressed up in girl costumes. I aspire to be fearless like Cop’s Wife and let my son be a kid and have fun no matter how he is dressed, or what color he prefers.

02 November 2010

The trick is to keep breathing

I don’t meditate regularly, although it is something that I’d like to do eventually. I don’t have much practice at meditation, and have only read a little about it. The times I have meditated, I found it to be quite relaxing and energizing at the same time, and a good way to clear my head of the constant chatter.

One thing that I do regularly, however, is exercise. I do strengthening exercise, I walk, I run, and I swim. When I walk, run, and swim, I find I can get into the same mental state as a good meditative session. I think cardio exercise really lends itself to this. When I run or walk, especially outdoors, I find myself at first looking at my surroundings. This might be houses, cars, cats in driveways, etc. Then I start to think about my pace and my distance. Eventually, I find myself focusing on my breath.

The same thing happens when I swim. When I start out, my mind is usually skipping from one thought to the next, but quickly, I start to focus on my pace. I count laps, strokes per lap, and sets of laps. And, eventually, I find myself focusing on my breath, much more than in running. In running, you can breathe however and whenever you want. With swimming, you need to breathe much more regularly, synchronized to your strokes.

All of this mental focus on breath brings to me a relaxed, attentive state of mind. It could also be the endorphins created and the cortisol burned. But I believe that my mind and body are connected in more ways than chemical and hormonal reactions. And breath benefits both my mind and body in astounding ways.