2015 Resolutions

A very ambitious list.

I’ve been slipping — and it’s got to stop. So I’ve decided to set up and stick to some New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Fight the Social Media Addiction

I spend entirely too much time on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Actually, if you spend more than 30 minutes a day on social media — and aren’t being paid to do it as part of your job — you probably spend too much time, too.

Think about it. Yes, you enjoy it. It’s a nice, convenient social experience. But it’s also a timesuck. And the time you spend online looking at cat photos and clicking like buttons is time you could be spending doing other more rewarding things like engaging in personal interactions with family and real (not virtual) friends, working on projects that enrich your life (or bank account), and getting some fresh air and/or exercise. These are all things I want to spend my time doing. I don’t want to sit in front of the computer after breakfast, tune into Facebook, and look up two hours later to discover that half my morning is gone and nothing constructive has been done.

So I’m placing a limit on social networking:

Less FacebookFacebook:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new updates on my newsfeed and checking and responding to comments on my or other people’s updates.
  • Maximum of 3 updates per day, including updates of photos or links but excluding updates automatically generated when I post to my blog. These can be done at any time.
  • No likes. (I actually began doing this a few months ago and I find it very rewarding, mostly because it prompts me to share more meaningful commentary when I like something.)

Twitter:

  • No checking in between 8 AM and 8 PM. “Checking in” refers to logging on for the purpose of reading new tweets, checking and responding to notifications on my account, and adding or removing followers.
  • Maximum of 12 tweets per day, including photos, links, tweets automatically generated when I post to my blog, and retweets but excluding scheduled tweets. These can be done at any time.

LinkedIn:

Stop using it. Period. This should be pretty easy since I only check in once every month or so and always leave with a bad taste in my mouth.

Google+:

Really? People still use this?

I know this sounds silly or even kind of extreme — almost like a mom setting parental controls for her kid — but I have identified a problem and I have decided to tackle it by setting limitations. Let’s see how I do.

2. Watch Less TV.

I think I watch an awful lot of TV, especially when you consider that I (1) don’t have cable or satellite TV, (2) only get 4 live channels, and (3) rely mostly on Netflix, Hulu+, and other Roku-available content for options. Again, I think this has to do with the long winter nights — I certainly didn’t watch much TV when the sun was setting after 8 PM.

What’s reasonable? I think 5 hours a week is reasonable. That’s less than an hour a day. That might seem a bit low, but when you consider that I’m out with friends a few evenings a week, it should be pretty easy to maintain.

Read a BookAnd there is this added cheat: a movie — no matter what length it is — counts as just an hour. But, at the same time, an “hour-long” TV episode watched without commercials, which is really only about 44 minutes long, would also count as an hour. I’ll need a scorecard to keep track. It should be interesting to see how I do.

What will I do instead? That’s easy: read.

3. Lose 15 Pounds

MeasureYes, I need to lose weight again. Doesn’t everyone?

Back in 2012, I lost 45 pounds and went from a size 14/16 to a size 6/8. Since then, my weight has crept up a bit, although I’m still able to (barely) fit into all of my new clothes. Time to nip that in the bud and go back to my goal weight. Remember, I burned the bridge to fat town back in 2012.

I’m not very worried about achieving this. I’m going to use the same diet I used in 2012 to lose 45 pounds in 4 months. I expect to get back to my goal weight within 2 months but will likely stay on the diet for an additional month for the added benefits it offers — mostly appetite reduction. That’s what made it possible to keep the weight off as long as I did.

In my defense, since the last 10 pounds came on very quickly — over the past two months — I suspect it has a lot to do with my reduced activity level. Winter means short, cold days here in the Wenatchee area. Unless I’m out doing something that keeps me busy and warm — like skiing or snowshoeing — I’m not likely to be outside. And there isn’t much exercise indoors — although climbing scaffolding can be pretty exhausting after a while. This is my best argument for going south for the winter and I may do it next year. (Yeah, I’m a snowbird for health reasons. That’s the ticket!)

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who think “big is beautiful” and that being thin is something that society forces upon us to make us feel bad about our bodies, wake up and smell the deep fried Oreo you’re about to shove in your pie hole. I never said I wanted to be thin. I’ve said (elsewhere in this blog) that I wanted to remain a healthy weight for the rest of my life. The added benefit is the ability to look good in clothes, have lots of energy, and feel better about myself. Don’t be an idiot. If you’re more than 10% over what’s a healthy weight for your height, you owe it to yourself and your family to shed those extra pounds. Trust me: you will be glad you did.

4. Write More

Writing PadOne of the things social media time has stolen from me is writing time. Instead of sitting down to write a blog post or an article for a magazine or even a chapter of a book, I spend that time on Facebook or Twitter or even (sometimes) LinkedIn. Or surfing the web. This are mostly unrewarding, unfulfilling activities. I get so much more satisfaction out of completing a blog post or article — especially when there’s a paycheck for the article.

I want to blog more often — at least four times a week. Blogging is something that makes me feel good. I wish I could explain it. I think it’s because I’m documenting the things I’m doing, thinking, and feeling. Creating an archive of these things.

I’ve been blogging for 11 years now and am very proud of that fact. I’m also thrilled that I can go back and read about the things that interested me so long ago. Why wouldn’t I want to do this?

I also want to explore new markets for paid article work. I have opportunities and when I can focus I can write and submit work I can be paid for. Why aren’t I doing more of this?

And I definitely need to complete a few work-in-progress books that I’ve started. And turn some of my blog posts into ebooks I can earn a few dollars on.

And I sure wouldn’t mind reopening some of the fiction work I began 20 or 30 years ago — work that was once so much a part of my life that I’d think about it in bed to help me drift off to sleep. Time to bring all that back into my life.

5. Just Say No to Starbucks

Say No to StarbucksWhy do I go in there? The coffee isn’t even that good!

I live in Washington, for Peet’s sake (pun intended), a place where there are coffee shops on nearly every corner and more drive-through coffee stands than gas stations. Why am I going into Starbucks, a place where saying “medium” instead of “grande” can earn you a snicker from the order taker?

Chocolate Covered Graham CrackersAnd don’t say it’s the dark chocolate covered graham crackers. Although it could be.

I guess I just don’t like the idea of supporting a global corporation with mediocre products when I could be supporting small, local coffee shops with slightly less mediocre products.

What I really should do is stop drinking coffee in the middle of the day.

This will be easy to do once I set my mind to it. I just have to not crave coffee when I walk into the Fred Meyer or Safeway supermarkets.

Scorecard

Because I’m so anal, I’ll keep a scorecard to see how I do. I’ll try to report back with success — or failure — at year’s end.

Wish me luck!

And why not share a few of your resolutions for 2015? Use the comments link or form for this post.

Snake Oil Supplements?

An amazing infographic about the tangible benefits of popular supplements based on scientific evidence.

Snake Oil Supplements?
This is a greatly reduced version of the static image dated January 2014. Don’t strain your eyes to study this — go here to see the full sized image.

Fellow author Tom Negrino shared a version of this infographic on Facebook the other day and I’ve found myself going back to it over and over to study the data it presents.

The presentation of the data is pretty straightforward. In each bubble is the name of a supplement and the condition the bubble represents. (If both aren’t listed in the static graphic, try the interactive version; point to a bubble to expand it.) The size of the bubble indicates the popularity (based on Google hits) for the supplement/condition combination. The location of the bubble determines the amount of scientific evidence to support the supplement’s effectiveness for the paired condition — the higher up in the image, the more evidence exists.

So, for example, fish oil/omega 3 appears several times on the chart. in the “Good” area, it’s paired with cancer symptoms, meaning that there is good evidence that it is effective against cancer symptoms. Near the “None” area, it’s paired with Crohn’s disease, asthma, and diabetes, meaning that there is no good evidence that it is effective against these conditions. You’ll find this particular supplement in other areas of the chart, too — I’ll let you explore those for yourself.

Why This Matters

Too many people are relying on supplements to help them with real health problems. They read something online or get advice from their “alternative medicine practitioner” with recommendations and they spend lots of money on pills and powders and liquids at health food stores, hoping to avoid real doctors and real medicine. They think they’re saving money and keeping “big pharma” from getting even bigger. But if they’re using supplements for conditions at the bottom of this infographic, they’re basically throwing their money away.

And that bothers me.

It’s nice to see the research presented in such a user friendly way. Best of all, as the main page for the latest version of this graphic says:

This visualisation generates itself from this Google Doc. So when new research comes out, we can quickly update the data and regenerate the image. (How cool is that??)

So we can expect to see this image modified as time goes on. In fact, you can see previous versions of it on the site if you poke around enough. (Tom, in fact, originally posted an older version that was embedded on another Website.)

Why You Should Care

Now I know some readers are going to push back against this data, possibly with anecdotes about how copper or acai berry or slippery elm helped you or your friend or your sister-in-law’s cousin overcome some ailment. You’re also going to say something like, “It can’t hurt to try, can it?”

You’re wasting your time with such an argument here. I don’t put supplements in my body for a specific problem without scientific evidence that it might actually work. I don’t throw away money on unproven remedies when proven remedies are available.

You probably shouldn’t either.

As for whether it can or can’t hurt to try, it certain can hurt. First, it can hurt your finances by causing you to waste money on something that probably won’t help you. Second, if you rely on ineffective remedies instead of getting real medical care and proven effective remedies, you run the risk of extending or complicating the condition. The What’s the Harm? website summarizes all kind of harm that came to people who relied on “alternative medicine” and supplements. (Alternative medicine is not medicine; if it was proven effective, it would be medicine. Think of aspirin.)

And if you want to explore a similar graphic about “superfoods,” be sure to check out this image.

And now pardon me while I add garlic to my shopping list…

One Solution for End of Life

Choosing your time to die.

I went out to eat with a group of friends yesterday. These are like-minded folks I met on Meetup.com, Freethinkers. We meet monthly for dinner. During the summer months, we have potluck BBQs in a park along the Columbia River. Now that the weather has cooled down and days are shorter, we’ve taken our meetings indoors. We ate at Thongbai, a great Thai place in downtown Wenatchee, yesterday.

It was a great night out. I think there were at least 20 of us all seated around an L-shaped table in the back room. Lots of good conversation. But there was a pall hanging over some members of the group and it wasn’t until after we’d ordered our food that I discovered why: two of our members, an elderly couple, had killed themselves in late September.

Charles was 81; his wife Ruth was 97. Ruth had health and mobility problems and could not live without assistance. Charles may have had health problems, too. They’d moved out of their house and into a Wenatchee condo in 2011. In late September, Charles arranged his affairs and got into his car with Ruth in the condo’s garage. He used a semi-automatic handgun to kill Ruth before shooting himself.

After dinner, we discussed their deaths and our thoughts about the situation in some detail. One by one, we each offered up our own opinions. They were remarkably similar: we all believed that a person should have the right to end his/her own life when the quality of life deteriorates. What made us all sad was the violent method Charles had used. We wished they could have gone out together more peacefully, hand-in-hand while they drifted off to that last sleep.

Their situation really struck a chord with me. In October, my godfather was approaching the end of his life. His quality of life had faded to the point where he probably wouldn’t have considered it worth living. I went to visit him one last time, dreading the thought of seeing him a shadow of his former self but wanting to offer him some kind of comfort in his final days. But I didn’t get there fast enough; he died the day before I left Washington. As I wrote last week, I felt good that his suffering was limited and his death was relatively quick. He didn’t need to take action as Charles and Ruth had; I doubt he would have anyway. I was just glad that he didn’t have to suffer longer than necessary.

My friend sitting beside me at dinner last night had another suicide story. Today, she’s heading over the mountains to the Seattle area to attend the funeral of a 23-year-old girl who had taken her own life. No one knew why. She was young and pretty and had a lot going for her.

In my mind, I think about the differences in these people. Charles and Ruth, together their entire lives, facing the decline of body and mind that comes with old age. Making the decision to end their lives together before they’re too far gone to make that decision (and take action) for themselves. And this 23-year-old girl, with her whole life ahead of her, bowing out without trying to live. I can understand Charles and Ruth’s decision, but can’t understand the girl’s.

I’ve written about suicide more than once in this blog. It seems to be a topic I can’t avoid — I’ve been exposed to it more than what’s natural. The Conrail engineer’s stories about people who’d purposely stand or lie or park on the railroad tracks, knowing the train couldn’t stop. The suicide I witnessed back in 2004. The artist who hung himself in one of my rental apartments. The new tenant who killed herself before even moving in. The friend who dove into the five-story atrium at work. The cousin’s girlfriend who dove off the roof of her apartment building.

Every situation is different, every situation is tragic in its own way. Every situation makes me think hard about what was going on in their heads when they committed their final act.

But as for Charles and Ruth — although I’m sad about their demise, I understand their decision. They chose to die when they were ready.