Sunday, July 29, 2018

Stuckness and Failure

If you recall from our recent episode, this was the list of things I am doing:

  • The Dale Health Initiative (diet and exercise) 
  • Working at the Library Foundation (my day job) 
  • Massage 
  • Writing my blogs (this and my not-dead-yet massage blog) 

And there were reasons I felt stuck, stymied, and semi-failing in all of them. To take them in order:

The Dale Health Initiative has actually been a major success: my sense of failure here is a weird psychological phenomenon, "success hangover," which afflicts me sometimes in moments of victory. It's entirely bogus. I am down to 154 lbs, running one last weight-loss experiment to see where I want to set the parameters for the long-term management of my weight and size. I am becoming appreciably stronger and better-muscled every week. There is simply no way to categorize this as stuckness or failure. So my job here is some simple CBT-style "talking back" to the anxious, depressive mind. It has succeeded, it is still succeeding, it's pretty cool, and I have the striated delts and the sixpack (well, fourpack, anyway) to prove it. Enough.

Work at the Foundation: there was actually at least a grain of truth here. There were some things I was not keeping up with well: there's a couple low-visibility tasks I tend to put off, because I hate them. And my last data-pull for a fundraising campaign was flawed and weird: I had to patch it up after the fact -- never something you want to do, working with data -- and I never figured out what was wrong in the first place. I'm at peace with making mistakes. If you can't make peace with that you don't belong in software. But I hate not being able to reconstruct my mistakes, not being able to learn from them. That is a failure. 

So I've put in some serious time designing checks for my next data pull, and process for documenting the steps -- things I should have done long ago -- so that if something goes south again, I'll catch it in the act and know what I did wrong. And I've instituted a new zero tolerance policy for putting off those tasks. If one of them shows up, I deal with it that day, right away, and I set myself up for public accountability on them. They're not very important, it's not that hard, and I just need to do it.

So that's two down. Next up: massage.

It's high summer, in a heat wave, and my appointments have dwindled. I've lost a couple of regulars and I'm not seeing many new people. None of this is surprising: it's part of the game. Regulars die, they move away, they realize they can't afford it. None of this has to do with me losing weight, turning sixty, and suddenly looking my age. 

I'm doing a lot of processing of having a very different face and body. I have lines, wrinkles, topography. There are hills and gullies where there used to be smooth swells. It's all very different. I don't really know who I am any more. And so, in the fashion of my kind, I connect the anxieties: business obviously has gone down because I look different.

Well, probably not. For one thing, I don't actually look worse: I think most people would say I look better. I may not have as much body weight to use, but I'm stronger and my stamina is better. I used to sweat profusely when anxious -- as, for instance, when seeing a new client -- and now I don't: now it takes a LOT to make me sweat. My appearance actually is just not a very good explanation for the dwindling business. Sure, there are people who won't want an old guy. So what?

And the dwindling business actually doesn't need an explanation. There's normal attrition of clientele, there's the summer heat, and there's the fact that for the last half of my massage career my viral "What People Really Look Like" essay has done all my marketing for me. I've actually had an unusually long run of having my practice filled with long-time regulars. Now I need to drum up business. There's not anything that needs explaining, here. There's just stuff that needs to be done.

I need to update my equipment. My table is shabby, my linens are worn, my carry-bag is busted at the seams. None of this matters with regulars, who don't notice and wouldn't care if they did. But they matter for first impressions.

I need to market. I hardly ever update my massage website. I don't even know what it looks like on a phone: I've never had to worry about it, and I haven't kept up with such stuff. It's not particularly easy to schedule with me. In a business with a lot of "threshold resistance" that's stupid. I need to market, and I need to make it easy to schedule. This is not rocket science. It's business 101.

So there's obvious ways forward.

The last item, the topic of writing -- we'll take that up later. There's plenty to do there, too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018


I acquired stuff yesterday. I don't do that very often nowadays. But I got a 6 quart slow-cooker off Craigslist for $15, which required going to the west side; and while on the west side I stopped at a used sports equipment shop and bought a couple 25 lb plates for my barbell. And now I have new stuff. I'll be able to make six days' worth of lunches at a time, instead of four. I won't have to shift all my plates off the barbell onto the dumbbells and back again; and now, with the big plates, the barbell sits high enough off the ground that getting the bar up onto my lap for hip thrusts will no longer be a weight-lifting challenge in its own right. 

Stuff that's new to me, that is. You could buy these weights at 62 cents per pound used, or $1.09 new. (Why, why would anyone care whether their plates were new?) I carried the plates one at a time out to the car, delighting in them. I have always had a thing for hunks of solid metal. I had some silver ingots at one time -- before I wised up about investing -- and I used to just take them out sometimes to heft them, and feel the weight and density and close-bonded strength of the things. Same with these plates: metal delights me, and no doubt one of the reasons I cling to my antiquated "standard" weights (rather than Olympic) is that they are simply metal. No plastic sleeves, no rubber bumpers: just iron. Ferrum. Fe. The most common element on earth, by mass; and, as a word, as pretty an illustration of metathesis, and the corrosive influence of the letter 'r', as there is in the English language.

Me, my jammies, and my eye-urn in the new workspace

So. Many delights, and half-again-ing of recipes, in store for me. And a lovely day for a swim at Broughton beach. (Tuesday! It's the weekend!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

About That Crisis

My last post about "how do I serve?" elicited some responses that made me stop and reconsider: several people said, in essence, "what makes you think you aren't serving right now?"

I'm doing four things these days: 

1) Massage
2) Working at the Library Foundation (my day job)
3) Writing my blogs (this and my not-dead-yet massage blog)
4) The Dale Health Initiative (diet and exercise)

So... why do none of them count as useful? 

The Dale Health Initiative, which has been the spotlight act lately, has been wildly successful. And that is basically the problem: it's a success; I've won; so now it's over. I have a hard time with success. When I meet a goal my standard response -- this drives Martha crazy -- is to fall into a phase of angsty self-doubt. Somehow my success is not real: I've just put one over on people. It's not as perfect as it should be. It's not where I really should have put my energy. Something's wrong with it: something's wrong with me. The fact that I've transformed my diet, lost 65 pounds, shrunk my waist by fifteen inches, built lots of new muscle and strength, attained mobility and flexibility and endurance that I never had in my youth -- none of that matters, because I still consume too much sodium. (Yes. Welcome to the Dale mind.) 

It's largely a natural response to hedonic adaptation: "if this is such a great success, then why am I not wildly happier than I was before?" --Well, because that's not how day-to-day emotional happiness works. It's the increase in well-being, it's the achievement in excess of expectation, that feels good. It has to work that way or it would fail in its main motivational function. When my circumstances improve, in a short time they simply become the new normal. And just maintaining the gains (or losses, I should say?) is a lot of work. The rewards are mostly in, but a lot of the costs remain.

And of course, the Health Initiative is self-absorbed and (the way I do it) isolated. Most of my meals I make just for myself. Exercise happens in the Robinson Crusoe island of the Wreck Room: there's no "going to the gym." So there's not much in the way of doing anyone else any good, unless its reflection via the blog is helping anyone.

But -- more important -- I've managed to discount everything else I do as basically having run its course. I've cast it to myself that I'm coasting to the close, and just waiting for all my  enterprises to die. And that's where my perceptions are most seriously out of whack. It's just not true, not true of any of them. I am at the moment a bit stymied and frustrated in all of them, but it's not a crisis, and there are clear paths forward for all of them, if I just slow down, take them one by one, and address the difficulties. These things are doable. None of them has dead-ended. I just haven't had much attention to give them, so of course they've been coasting.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

A Long, Slow, Obscure Developing Crisis

I was and remain skeptical of the notion that will power (self-regulation, putting-off-the-marshmallow, whatever you want to call it) is trainable, and I still find it difficult to imagine what the mechanism of that "training" might be, but I don't know how else to explain the steady progression in my self-control. There were changes in my life a year and a half ago that substantially reduced my stress, and which made bringing my eating under control possible, but those were one-offs, and this development seems to keep going. There's all kinds of ways in which I can self-regulate now, all kinds of planning I can undertake and carry out. Eating, spending, exercise, social media fritter: they're all becoming workable.

I suppose an explanation that doesn't involve the will being generally trainable would simply be that when you've got more will available, you construct new daily routines, and as those daily routines become habitual, the will you used to construct them becomes available for new construction. That would account for the appearance of steady progression. It looks like more and more self-regulatory power, but actually it's just that the steady finite surplus "accumulates" in the form of habits.

There also of course is just an enormously increased sense of self-efficacy. But none of this quite explains how easy it now feels -- how progressively easier it feels -- when I encounter a temptation, to shrug my shoulders and say, "sounds nice, sure, but I'm not someone who yields to temptation any more. That's not who I am."

On the other hand, I am in a long, slow, obscure developing crisis: the grandiosity of my former self -- the flip side of yielding to temptation -- has also been going away, and it leaves me up against my limitations and my mortality, in a particularly bleak way. In the last third of my life (assuming luck), what can I do that's of any use to anyone? How can I serve? I don't know. So many of my basic assumptions are dissolving, in this corrosive political atmosphere. I need to find or make a compass: I need to wake with a purpose. Eating right and exercising are well and good, but they're instrumental goals, not ultimate ones. The point of maintaining a car is that you eventually mean to drive it somewhere.