5 things to add and subtract to be healthier and happier

On my walk to get coffee this morning, I was listening to the James Altucher Show as he interviewed Noah Kagan. James was sharing how he completely eliminated every material thing in his life other than three sets of clothes, his laptop and a kindle. It sounds like he’s living a pretty excellent life moving from Airbnb to new Airbnb each month, but then Noah asked “How does this related to the person in Ohio?” It’s a fair question, as most of us don’t have the desire to get rid of everything, however we might benefit from evaluating the excesses in our life.

The minimalist movement is not new. There are Netflix documentaries, a book section on amazon and the entire tiny house movement. One of the books that continuously comes up is, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” When I moved several months ago, I spent the time thinking through the value that items had or didn’t have. I felt like I got rid of many things, however on moving day I realized there was still a lot of stuff.

The conversation between James and Noah got me thinking, what are five things a person could remove from their life today that would make them happier and healthier (a guidepost for my decision making). It also sparked the question, what five things could they add to be happier and healthier?

I did not limit myself to material items, here’s what I came up with:

Eliminate:

1. Daily news from television or radio. This is something I did years ago now and it has paid me back exponentially in terms of happiness. The reality is that it’s impossible to hide from all news stories, but that was not my goal. I simply wanted to avoid the heightened state of anxiety the 24 hour news cycle tries to keep us in.

2. Alarm clock. This may not be possible for everyone, but sleep is a major factor in one’s journey to health. The alarm clock was not created to help us sleep better.

3. Push notifications on your phone. I will admit that I have not done this yet. As a product manager and creator, I know the value that push notifications can provide to positively influence behavior. However, I’d argue that the majority of push notifications you get are interruptions and not helpful, nor supporting your health.

4. Daily Commute. The research is pretty clear that the longer your daily commute, the less likely you are to be happy and the more likely you are to have depression. There are multiple strategies to limit or eliminate your required commuting, so before you say it’s not possible, at least spend some time thinking creatively.

5. Storage units and junk closets.  It’s easy to allow our things to grow into the spaces we give them. If we have storage units and junk closets, it’s likely we have a lot of junk. I still have a storage unit that is hopefully going to be cleaned out in the next week. Sadly, I couldn’t tell you what is in it. I clearly don’t need anything that’s in there.

Addition:

1. Walking without the requirement of exercise. I believe that movement for the sake of moving, along with the ability to take the opportunity to enjoy the interesting things you discover is one of the most beneficial things we can do. I love to exercise and also think it’s critical for your health, but this is different. Exercise invokes purpose and expectation, I’m simply talking about going for a walk.

2. Pomodoro Timer. It’s one of the best additions to my day in the past year. It’s helped productivity and breaks me from getting stuck in long durations of sitting.

3. Social engagement. There are many studies that show a healthy and connected social life is predictive of longevity. While it’s hard to create this in a day, it’s possible to commit to an activity where you will engage with others. I get myself out and work in a co-working space, but you could also try meetup.com to find a place to start. This does not include social media engagement, which I know would feel much easier and be less scary.

4. Food you could grow. Eat something today that you know you could grow yourself, if you had the time and desire to grow it.

5. Therapy. I used to have a stigma associated with therapy. The saying, “you need to see a shrink”, was never a phrase shared with empathy or kindness. However, seeing a therapist is one of the best things I’ve ever made the decision to do. I have friends and family that are there for me, always willing to listen if I want to share. But, the value of having a completely non biased person listen to me verbalize my thoughts without judgement or agenda, is invaluable. As long as I can afford the service, I will keep it in my schedule.

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Quick summary analysis of driving habits with the Automatic tracker for past 13 months.

Intro:

I realized last night that I have had my 2004 Volvo Wagon for over a year now. It’s not exactly a car I love, mostly because it has some issues, which I knew about when I bought it. I do love driving Volvo wagon’s though, especially as something to roll around town in. I added the Automatic tracker to the car when I bought it, primarily so I could see all the engine warning codes and know when I needed to take it to Robert at Meadowthorpe Motors (the reason I buy Volvo’s), or when I could ignore them.

Knowing I had a year’s worth of data available, I decided to go pull down the data and do a quick analysis of my driving habits. Here’s a quick look:

Interesting observations:

  • I had 1,861 trips!  This seems ridiculously high, until you realize that every time you go out to a store you’ll make a minimum of 2 trips and often many more. I’m assuming this will be less this year, now that I commute most place on bike?
  • The month I drove the most miles was May 2017… which is the month I moved.
  •  When I leave town in a car, I always rent a car. So in February when I drove to Kansas and Texas, along with Minnesota in June are not reflected in mileage driven.
  • Moving has decreased the total driving, on average.
  • I don’t really spend that much on gas. Only one month (again May 2017) did I spend more than $100 on gas.

The analysis (completed using a Jupyter Notebook):

Import pandas, numpy and read in data from csv exported from Automatic

In [46]:
import pandas as pd
In [47]:
import numpy as np
In [48]:
trip = pd.read_csv('automatic-trips-2017-08-01.csv')

Pull out the first two rows from data frame to see what is available

 

Here you can see my trip from Joseph Beth Bookstore to Barnes & Noble, than B&N to Five Guys !!

Here’s an image capture of that output:
Screenshot 2017-08-02 08.36.43

Create a dataframe with only the columns of data initially interested in, then print the head to view

In [50]:
trip[['Vehicle','Start Time', 'Distance (mi)', 'Fuel Cost (USD)']].head()
Out[50]:
Vehicle Start Time Distance (mi) Fuel Cost (USD)
0 2004 Volvo V70 2017-08-01 8:03 PM 1.73 0.21
1 2004 Volvo V70 2017-08-01 7:24 PM 9.04 0.81
2 2004 Volvo V70 2017-08-01 7:00 PM 4.98 0.53
3 2004 Volvo V70 2017-07-31 7:35 PM 2.17 0.28
4 2004 Volvo V70 2017-07-31 7:10 PM 9.90 1.00

The date needs to be changed to datetime format, but checking current type first

In [51]:
type(trip['Start Time'][0])
Out[51]:
str
In [52]:
trip.loc[:, 'Start Time'] = pd.to_datetime(pd.Series(trip['Start Time']))
In [53]:
type(trip['Start Time'][0])
Out[53]:
pandas._libs.tslib.Timestamp

I want to use the TimeGrouper method from pandas, so need to set index to the datetime

In [54]:
trip.set_index(trip['Start Time'], inplace=True)

Print first 5 rows to make sure index is now set to ‘Start Time’

In [58]:
trip[:2]
Here’s an image capture of that output:
Screenshot 2017-08-02 08.36.43

Some columns no longer makes sense after applying sumer (avg. mpg, etc), subsetting desired columns for new dataframe

In [57]:
monthly_miles[['Distance (mi)', 'Duration (min)', 'Fuel Cost (USD)', 'Fuel Volume (gal)', 'Hard Brakes', 'Hard Accelerations']]
Out[57]:
Distance (mi) Duration (min) Fuel Cost (USD) Fuel Volume (gal) Hard Brakes Hard Accelerations
Start Time
2016-07-31 497.85 1265.68 49.51 20.85 19 0
2016-08-31 692.04 2217.81 77.31 32.84 47 9
2016-09-30 825.78 2396.94 85.45 36.00 40 3
2016-10-31 792.81 2148.12 82.74 32.75 27 2
2016-11-30 662.76 2000.36 69.73 29.27 15 0
2016-12-31 704.19 2273.12 83.56 33.14 23 0
2017-01-31 555.44 1731.53 65.27 25.12 6 1
2017-02-28 453.55 1290.42 47.37 19.22 14 2
2017-03-31 723.20 2151.33 76.75 31.01 19 5
2017-04-30 797.27 2331.63 81.87 31.47 20 0
2017-05-31 943.92 2899.84 103.62 38.95 49 0
2017-06-30 256.22 821.56 26.54 10.38 12 0
2017-07-31 400.41 1347.42 44.46 17.40 15 0
2017-08-31 15.75 36.01 1.55 0.61 0 0
In [ ]:
 

Growing up on the edge of The Sandhills.

I have lived in many different locations through the state of Nebraska: Alliance, Imperial, Hastings, Broken Bow, O’Neill and Lincoln – those are the towns I can remember. I think I also lived in North Platte prior to any of my own childhood memories. Three of those places: Alliance, Broken Bow and O’Neill rest at the edges of a highly unique geographic location, called the Sandhills.

When I mention that I grew up in Nebraska, most people I meet have never been there. It truly is fly over country for most people, with potentially the closest they come is a ski trip or family vacation to the Rocky Mountains. If someone has been near the area I grew up, it’s because they took I-80 through the state on their way west. (And even then, I have probably met less than a dozen people that have ever done this in the past 5 years). I-80 doesn’t provide the best experience, for someone passing through the state.

While many people see it as a place to fly over, I look back at it and appreciate the childhood it allowed me to have. I surely didn’t think this way growing up. I felt like I was missing out on so much. However, I realize now that the things I either took fore granted back then or outright disliked about growing up in western and central Nebraska are key to who I am today. Could I live there again, probably not – but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of respect for what it gave me.

Here’s a video that a former teacher from Broken Bow posted on Facebook today. Interestingly, it’s posted by a guy who grew up in Nebraska and (according to his twitter profile) lives in southern California.

My West: The Sandhills of Nebraska from Ron Scheer on Vimeo.

I am happy when: I’m with people I love without distractions

The Crags, Teller County Colorado (2005)
The Crags, Teller County Colorado (2005)

I’m happy when I am with someone I love and free of distractions.

I recently got a new Mac Mini, which meant that the bulk of my saved photos over the years were stored on a different computer. I luckily had stored the Iphoto library on an external hard drive, so it simply required me to eject it from one computer, plug it into the other and then update the library to the newest version of. Boom, photo library complete. Well, at least I thought I was done. I started to look through some of the photos and realized that they were greatly misorganized. To be more specific, they were never organized. I then decided to take on two tasks:

1. Organize the photos by year. I’ll try and filter in a better way later.
2. Find a place to store the files in the cloud, to make sharing them easier.

I spent the afternoon doing this task. If anyone has a great system for getting the photos from their various devices into one spot and well organized, I’m willing to hear suggestions.

I do not want to share a story about organizing photos. What I wanted to share was something that I noticed as I began organizing the photos. I don’t know if the photo collection completely reflects reality, but it is an interesting observation to start the journey.

The photo albums started in 2003, which is about when I got my first digital camera. I think I had one a year earlier, but who knows where those photos are. What you will find are a lot of photos taken in the woods of Kentucky. I spent a lot of time with friends, such as Tyson, Eric, Beth and random others friends camping, hiking, mountain biking and just hanging out. It was the first year I had lived in Kentucky and they introduced me to all the glorious beauty that Kentucky offers. (Even if I can’t see the changing of colors throughout the seasons due to my color blindness). We also spent a lot of time together that year as a group, adding in Jeff Buhr, doing triathlons.

As you look at the timeline of years, you see this same set of photos through 2004. The major addition to the photo collection was that Nikki started showing up. In fact, we currently have several framed photos hanging on our walls that are from camping and hiking trips we took that year. The following year includes all of the adventures we shared while living in Colorado, including our hike to the top of Pikes Peak. There’s something symbolic about hiking with someone you love to one of the highest peaks in the United States.
I have often looked back at the years of 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 as probably the most happy years of my life thus far. In reflection, I have thought that those years were so great in part because I:

1. Practiced regular meditation
2. Spent time in prayer often
3. Attended or taught yoga multiple times a week
4. Exercised consistently
5. Had been introduced to a new author, Thomas Merton, whom I found great comfort
6. I generally had a stable living, work and school experience

Looking at the photo collection, I started to wonder if those things were not the catalyst. If we can assume that we photograph those things that we find most interesting and bring us the most happiness, then I can safely say that none of those things are true. Interestingly, I don’t even have any photos of my trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani when I visited the place Merton lived and wrote during his life spent as a Trappist monk. I also fear that if that statement is true, what does it mean for the thousands of selfies I see on Facebook and Instagram each week?

When I jump forward in the photo collections, you see similar types of photos for the next several years. They are of weddings, outdoor adventures and races. That is pretty much it. As I shared in my last post on happiness, there was a point that racing stopped being enjoyable. There’s also a point in the collection that the volume of photos starts to get pretty thin. In fact, from 2011 through mid 2013, it is pretty sparse. In fairness, this could be due to the fact that both Nikki and I have Iphones now and we are not as good about saving those photos as we were with a digital camera. But, even with those photos added they would not be of the outdoors, races or spending time undistracted with family or friends. The lone exception might be the 100’s of photos I have of Kelty (whom I will write about at some point, but does have her own section on this blog).

There are multiple variables that play into that period of time. There were external influences, such as a business that I couldn’t get to take off the way I thought it should, along with my anxiety over Nikki going back to school. There were internal factors such as an increasing desire to be left alone and difficulty finding a positive outlet for increasingly depressed moods.

Hindsight is 20/20, but as I now look back, I realize that my desire to be alone was an attitude created from a faulty sense of what makes me happy. There have been times that I have been happy on a trail, for hours, by myself and very content. Those times are very few when compared to the amount of times that I’ve been happy with others, doing something that consumes our attention.

Here are some key suggestions that I feel that I’ve learned through this awareness:

1. Find an activity that you can do with those that are important to you, then plan it, schedule it into your calendar and prioritize it. Do not allow yourself the option of “being too busy”, which as been the most common phrase I have said out loud for the past 3 to 4 years.

2. Nurture the important relationships. It is not feasible to go to events, trips or outings as much as we probably want – so put a little effort into the relationship connections. I have developed a strong habit of not answering my phone or replying to emails. In fact, I have 5,725 unread emails as I sit here and write this. I’m certain that some of those calls and emails, I wish I would have responded to.

One of my three personal goals for 2014 was to write a handwritten letter to 50 of my friends. Or, at least 50 letters to my friends, sending some of them a couple letters. We are mid May and I’m currently at zero. I am trying to learn how to better follow this advice. I have so many great friends from high school, college and since that I see on Facebook and that is the end of the connection.

3. Don’t substitute social media for true connections. This is partly as a response to the statement I just made about Facebook connections. It is easy to fool ourselves into feeling like we are staying connected in a meaningful way because we see a photos on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. It is not true. Nikki and I were eating breakfast the other morning, which happened to be at a place where two people I see on Facebook regularly were also eating. Interestingly, none of us pretended to know each other. Very odd, I think.

4. Remove distractions and be present. Nikki and I were trying to go to dinner together once a week at one point, until I think she go so fed up that she stopped asking. The common experience was that we would go out but then as we ordered and ate dinner, I answered emails, Twitter posts and Facebook messages. Removing the Facebook app from my phone is the best things I have ever done. I’m getting better about leaving the phone in the car at times also.

In summary: Give me a few friends, 20 miles of trails, backpacking gear and enough water and food to last the weekend. Remove LTE and wifi connections. That is one definition of my happiness.

The “Balanced Life” is still a lot like Duck Dynasty and Bigfoot

A friend shared something he wrote 1 year ago today (12/30/12) about trying to find a balanced life. He was responding to my thoughts on the idea that I have shared for several years now, here’s what he wrote:

“I’ve been a small business owner now since 1998. As 2012 comes to an end, I feel like it’s time to finally give up on an idea I’ve now had for 15 years. I have always thought there would be this perfect harmony between work life and personal life… if I just got the business to where I thought it needed to be…. Ahhhh…. Balance!!! The perfect work and personal balance is something that we all dream about as small business owners. I think a lot of people start small businesses because they want freedom and before you realize it will never happen, you think a business owner can just do nothing and make a lot of money. So I gave up on sitting on a beach, doing nothing, and making a lot of money about a decade ago. But the push towards a perfect balance has now after 15 years gotten me nowhere closer to a balanced personal and work life, and this is with success… So I am giving up and publically admitting to one of my two best friends, Gary, that he has always been right. There is no such thing as a balanced life when you’re a small business owner. Dangit Gary!!! You’re freaking right, you grumpy pessimistic bastard.”

I won’t share everything, although it was interesting to see what he wrote a year ago and put it in context to the conversation we had sitting at the bar until 2am in Montana this past summer.

He did share a couple more thoughts that I also agree with strongly, so I wanted to put my own thoughts to the three points he shared.

1. Being focused is more valuable and attainable than “balance”. Let’s face it, how many times are you on your weekly date night and checking your email, facebook or twitter more than you are actually listening to your significant other? How often are you at work, day dreaming about something you would rather be doing? Or checking facebook and twitter. Even worse, how often will you find yourself very busy at work or home and start to feel overwhelmed, when in reality you are just good at staying busy for the sake of being busy.

Focused time > Balanced time
Being present > Being busy

2. The idea of the “perfectly balanced life” is total garbage and the only thing it does is make us feel guilty if we can not somehow obtain it ourselves. There are all kinds of ways we are sold the idea that to be happy we have to obtain perfect balance, but the reality is it doesn’t exist. It only exists in the minds of people, the same way unicorns, bigfoot and the idea that Duck Dynasty is an actual representation of reality within a television show.

We really want to believe all those things exist, because it gives us something to think about. The ideas excite us, entertain us and potentially make us feel guilty when we can’t find it.

What is actually true > What is true in television shows and movies

3. When you are trying to find that balance you so deeply crave, stop playing tetris and start playing chess. To be open and honest, I suck at both games – so excuse me if the example is not perfect. But in tetris, the game is usually quite easy at first. You get pieces and fitting them together just right is easy to do, but eventually more pieces come and they come faster. It gets difficult quickly and I always end up losing.

In chess, things need to be a little more strategic and thought out. But one of the best things a good chess player can do is understand when it is advantageous to sacrifice a piece or two, if it ultimately allows them to save the king. Start playing chess! Make decisions based upon what the most important things are – the things you need to protect. Then take note of what you may need to sacrifice to do that.

It’s the sacrifice that many individuals are unwilling to try. We want it all. Here is a short status update from a friend on Facebook today (I have not asked permission to share this, so I’m removing the son’s name):

So we’re putting together a donation of outgrown and unused toys, and [son] eventually realized what was going on. He got quite upset, sat down, spread his arms, palms up, and cried, “Daddy! I want more, not less!”

When I hear people talk about how they want to have a balanced life, frustrated they have not found it yet, even angry at circumstances or themselves about their lack of balance. I envision them sitting there in sadness because they don’t know why they just can not have more; why does the answer have to be less?

Less Crap > More Crap

A final thought on why I could be completely wrong.

I am fully aware that having the perfectly balanced life might exist. If it does, I have not found the person that exhibits and lives fully into that reality yet. But, it also means that I have not achieved it; therefore maybe I just lack a framework, developed necessarily from experience, to lay out the steps to obtain that mythical unicorn.

My concepts and ideas are purely theoretical also. I often (and I mean daily) find myself struggling to “want less” not more, so maybe the completely satisfied life with less is also a similar mythical creature?

The other reason that I want to be wrong is that I like the idea of finding Big Foot and I’m completely entertained by Duck Dynasty and wish that someday I might find out both of them are true.

Hope > Guilt