The Awesome 30-Day Push-Up Challenge

It's August, and that means it's time for another entry in the Year of the Habit. (See previous entries in the series here.)

July was a pretty good month. The "Looking Outward" goal was a worthwhile experiment, albeit difficult to quantify. It's something I still need to work on, but I think I'm getting better. It's all about the mindfulness.

Now for something completely different:

I want to do 10,000 push-ups in August.

That's a lot of flipping push-ups.


Why do I want to do 10,000 push-ups?

  1. Because I've been lazy in the working out department lately.
  2. Because it's a quantifiable goal, and I feel like I've been copping out with the intangible habits this summer.
  3. Because push-ups are one of the best exercises ever.
  4. Because it's going to be really freaking hard, and achieving it would be ridiculous and awesome.
  5. Why not?

So, here's the plan.

Obviously, I'm not going to do all 10,000 push-ups at once. Therefore, push-ups can be done any time, anywhere.

10,000 push-ups divided by 31 days equals 322.58 push-ups per day.

That's 6.45 sets of 50 push-ups per day.

Or 9.77 sets of 33 push-ups per day.

Or 12.9 sets of 25 push-ups per day.

Or 25 push-ups per hour for twelve hours.

Or whatever's your pleasure.

Fifty has become my standard set, so I'm going to shoot for seven sets of fifty every day. That will give me a slight, mostly negligible buffer.

I'll be adding a counter to the sidebar on so you folks can keep an eye on me and my increasingly sore arms. I'll also be logging all of my push-ups on Fitocracy (see my review here).

I think that's all there is to it. Care to join me?

Time's up... LET'S DO THIS.

(P.S. Yes, my thesis is done! Just in time. Stay tuned for a big post about it in the near future.)

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Not Eating Cookies is Harder When You're Tired

If you read the site yesterday, you know all about my awesome Saturday. What you probably don't know is that when I got home at almost three in the morning, I enjoyed a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy! and some Phish Food courtesy of Messrs. Ben & Jerry.

Which is ridiculous, given the amount of food I consumed throughout the day.

But as I sat there on the couch — possibly making little ice cream cookie sandwiches — I realized that the reason I couldn't help myself was because I was so incredibly exhausted.

I have very little willpower when I'm exhausted.

I could have fallen asleep immediately had I just gone upstairs. But my sleep-deprived brain decided that cookies and ice cream sounded like a much better plan, and I was powerless to argue. I knew it was a terrible idea, but I literally didn't have the strength to say no to myself.

Of course, this speaks to the importance of sleep, but there's also a bit more to it.

Here's an article by Tony Schwartz called "The Only Way to Get Important Things Done":

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you'll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

"Acts of choice," the brilliant researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have concluded, "draw on the same limited resource used for self-control." That's especially so in a world filled more than ever with potential temptations, distractions and sources of immediate gratification.

Via Shawn Blanc

So not only are we less equipped to make good decisions when we're tired, we're less equipped to make good decisions after we've already made a bunch of decisions. And because those two variables tend to coincide at the end of the day, it's no wonder the glow of the refrigerator always seems most tempting after midnight.

The solution?

Get your sleep, and automate as many decisions as possible so you don't have to think about them anymore.

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A Tale of Two Eating Philosophies

I've been thinking about this food dichotomy:

  1. Eat whatever you want and enjoy it; life is short.
  2. Eat healthy and take care of yourself; live longer.

In general, I tend to fall into the second camp. I want to live a long life, so I love to eat healthy and exercise.

But once in a while — like this weekend — I do enjoy going on a total food bender and indulging in some of my favorite vices.

I had a crazy Saturday. After about four hours of sleep, I drove out to West Hartford Center for a public yoga class with hundreds of other people in the middle of Lasalle Road. Then I had to cut my friend's dad's lawn before making it to Mill Pond Park at 11, where my students were putting on a karate demonstration at the Newington Extravaganza. I got home, showered, changed, and drove to North Branford for my friends' apartment-warming/graduation/birthday party, where I proceeded to eat everything in sight. Burgers, shish kebab, buffalo chicken egg rolls (oh my god), pasta salad, potato salad, cake, cookies, and more. Then I drove to Cheshire to pick up a friend of mine, and we drove to Bridgeport to see Primus at the Gathering of the Vibes festival. I got home around three in the morning and promptly passed out with my clothes still on.

It was great.

If I lived every day like that, I'd probably collapse from exhaustion pretty quickly. But it felt good to burn my candle all the way down for a change. It was a blast, actually.

I think it's the same with eating.

As I sat in a lawn chair at the party, drinking my first rootbeer in probably six years and laboriously trying to digest a double cheeseburger, I remembered that some people eat like this every day. I can't even imagine what that's like, and I have no desire to find out. When I splurge, I always look forward to eating healthy again and to getting back on the path.

So while I choose to eat healthy most of the time in the hopes of living a long and happy life, I have no regrets about eating myself silly this weekend. I was among friends, and we were celebrating. Not just a particular event, but life in general.

And it is short, no matter what we do.

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Two Observations About Food

Since I moved out of my parents’ house, I’ve been eating very healthy most of the time. Eating properly feels good, especially when you’re out on your own and responsible for your own well-being.

I’ve made a couple of observations about my dietary habits over the past month or so, and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is that the easier it is to eat, the more likely I am to eat it.

When you’re hungry, your willpower is diminished, and so it’s easier to grab something you can eat immediately than it is to prepare something healthy. Of course, unhealthy foods — like cookies, chips, and other snacks — require the least preparation. When you’re really hungry, it’s hard to spend five or ten minutes making scrambled eggs when you could be eating a cookie in five seconds.

Because the easiest foods get eaten first, I’ve decided not to keep any in the house. Even reasonably healthy things, like apples. If I have eggs, salad, chicken, vegetables, and apples, the apples are the easiest to eat. Everything else requires preparation. When I’m feeling particularly hungry and/or lazy, I’m much more likely to just eat five apples instead of making something else. So, easy foods are out.

Which leads me to my second observation, which is the notion of gateway foods. Gateway foods can actually be pretty good for you, except for the fact that they lead to much more unhealthy foods. I’ll give you an example.

Over the weekend I stopped over my dad’s house to pick up some mail. I wasn’t in the door for more than a few minutes before I was indulging in a heaping bowl of fruit salad (already made, and thus an “easy” food). But fruit is good for you, so no big deal, right? That first bowl lead to two more bowls. And since I had already had so much fruit, I thought I might as well enjoy some nuts while I was there (another easy food). And what goes great with fruit and nuts? Cheese. Obviously.

Within an hour I had enjoyed much more fruit, nuts, and cheese than I had intended. So by the time my dad pulled out the dark chocolate covered popcorn, I figured, “might as well”. And then came the latest sickeningly sweet variation of Oreo.

Fruit, nuts, and even cheese aren’t inherently unhealthy foods, but because they’re so easy to consume and require virtually no preparation, it’s easy to overeat them. Once you’ve binged on that stuff, it’s harder to rationalize not having some chocolate, dessert, or whatever.

So there you have it. Be wary of easy foods. Be wary of gateway foods. The best way to eat healthy is to have no other choice.

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Start with One

Finding the motivation to workout can be hard, especially when it's 97° outside.

It would be so much easier to just take the day off. You can hit it twice as hard tomorrow. Or the day after. Or maybe on Monday.

Making excuses is easy. Overcoming them isn't.

One strategy I've been playing with lately is to just do a little bit. Maybe just do ten push-ups. Or one pull-up. Maybe just put your workout clothes on and go stand outside.

Usually, doing a little bit motivates me to do more. I think, "Well, I'm not going to do just ten push-ups. That's ridiculous." So I'll do some more. And then some more. And before long, my arms are hurting. Boom. Mission accomplished.

It doesn't always work. Sometimes I'll drop and do 25 and think, "Nooooope. Not right now." And that's OK. Sometimes you're just not in the mood.

But usually all it takes is a little bit to get started and build momentum. Get the endorphins flowing.

Instead of thinking of your workout as some massive excruciating endeavor, just do a little. And if that feels good, do a little more.

Sometimes you're not in the mood to do a hundred push-ups. That doesn't sound like fun at all. But one? You can do one. And while you're down there, why not make it ten? Or fifteen or twenty? And since you're warmed up now, why not fifty?

You don't always have to start big. You can start small.

As long as you start.

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Enough #141: "Primal"

This week, I had the privilege of guesting on Patrick Rhone and Myke Hurley’s prestigious audio program, Enough. We talk about the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, barefoot running, and more.

I had a great time recording with Patrick and Myke. They’re both Internet heroes of mine, so being asked to come on the show was a great honor.

It was a really fun conversation, and it’s only about 40 minutes long (unlike certain other podcasts), so I hope you’ll give it a listen.

My sincerest thanks to Patrick and Myke for having me.

Click here to listen to the show!

How to Win a Staring Contest with a Cupcake


That’s the number of cupcakes that were left over after my niece’s christening party. Chocolate with vanilla creme filling, and red velvet. Each the size of my face. Sitting there, staring. Unblinking. Waiting for me to cave. Damn you, Stew Leonard.

It’s easy to be enthusiastic when a goal or habit is new and exciting. It’s fresh, and you’re fired up about being a better person.

But once that newness wears off — like say, when you’re 23 days into health nut month — it’s hard to maintain the enthusiasm. You’re tired, maybe a little cranky, and you’ve become complacent. You’re used to your goal. It’s no longer at the forefront of your mind, but lodged somewhere in the back. Your energy drifts elsewhere, which makes you vulnerable to slipping up.

Our enthusiasm for positive change fluctuates over time. In the case of diet and exercise, some days, we’re fired up, rarin’ to go, ready to be the healthiest person ever. Other days, the mere scent of a cupcake can cause the whole thing to come crashing down.

It’s easy to make excuses in the face of a cupcake. That sexy pastry’s right there, taunting you. Moist, sweet, delicious. Loaded with sugar. You know it’s bad for you, but the excuses start to form in your mind…

I’ve been healthy all day/week…

I had an awful day, I deserve a cupcake…

It’s not a big deal. It’s just one bite…

When staring down a cupcake, these excuses creep in and take over. They take root in your mind, and suddenly you can’t remember any of your motivation for being healthy. The brain becomes overwhelmed with temptation, and so there’s no room for discipline.

A solution I’ve been experimenting with this month is something I’m calling “The Reasons Why List”.

The Reasons Why List is self-explanatory. It’s a list of reminders about why you’re working toward your goal. For example:

  1. I want to look like Tarzan.
  2. Sugar will kill me.
  3. Bruce Lee definitely wouldn’t eat that.
  4. Gotta look good naked!
  5. I want to live for as long as possible.

And so on. You’d be surprised how many you can come up with. When staring down a cupcake, consult your Reasons Why List.

Eating a cupcake is a pleasurable experience, there’s no doubt about it. But that pleasure is fleeting. The five minutes spent eating a cupcake are wonderful, but they’re soon followed by physical and mental discomfort. An unhappy stomach, and a guilty voice inside your head. Was it worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Documenting all of your reasons why can help you determine whether or not a cupcake is worth the consequences. The Reasons Why List reminds you who you are and who you want to be.

When staring down a cupcake, remember your reasons. Beat back the temptation, and move a little closer toward your goal.

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Easter Casualities

Well, after seven healthy days in a row, I crashed and burned in a fiery explosion of Easter entrées, desserts, and candy. Pants were stretched, stomachs were tested, and abdominal muscles were forced to retreat from the Easter bunny’s onslaught.

But, that’s alright.

The important thing to remember about diverting from habits is that it’s very easy to go back to them.

All you have to do is step back on the path.

I could allow myself to feel guilty and depressed about the eight straight hours of sweets and treats, but what good is that going to do?

One bad meal isn’t as bad as one bad day, and one bad day isn’t as bad as one bad week. Rather, one bad meal is a mere bump in the road. When you look at the big picture, the healthy days still greatly outnumber the unhealthy days.

At the same time, one must be mindful. One bite doesn’t mean the whole day is shot. You can’t allow one mistake to become two, or three, or seven.

Don’t allow one step off the path to become an excuse for tumbling off a cliff.

Rather, when you’re stuffed with truffles, or high from caramels, or laden with cheesecake, take pleasure in the realization that you brought this on yourself. If you can choose to step off the path, you can just as easily choose to step back on. Right now.

Sometimes you have to utterly destroy yourself to remember just how much control you have.

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How to Upgrade Your Shaving Game

We’re already one week into April, and what a glorious, life-changing week it has been… But, more on that Monday.

I want to wrap up this week with a post about shaving. Not your typical Schick Quattro Titanium Alloy Terminator shave — I’m talking about real shaving:

Wet shaving.

I first learned about the art of wet shaving via this excellent article on The Art of Manliness. I’d like to offer my own experience and demonstrate how — much like running — sometimes, the old way is the better way.

Why Wet Shave?

  1. Cost. The most practical reason to start wet shaving is that it’s far less costly than modern shaving methods. Cartridge razors are stupid expensive, and you constantly need to purchase refill packs. A wet shaving kit, on the other hand, is a great investment. Safety razor blades are only a fraction of the cost, and while shaving soaps might be more expensive upfront, they last longer and give you a better shave than the cheap gels at CVS. Likewise, a quality safety razor and brush will cost more in the short term, but they’ll probably last for the rest of your life.

  2. Higher quality shaves. Dragging four blades across your face is not good for your skin, and razor burn is painful and unsightly. Safety razors use a single blade that shaves smoothly and efficiently, and the proper technique goes a long way.

  3. It’s fun and bad ass. Like a cold shower. The manliest of men have been wet shaving for hundreds of years, so you’ll be in classy company.

What You’ll Need

  • A safety razor. I own the Merkur Model 178 Classic. Remember, this is a one-time purchase. Pay for quality, and you won’t have to replace it every six months. Also see the Model 180 Long Handled version if you have particularly big hands.

  • Blades. Cheap and available at drugstores. 100 blades for $24 on Amazon.

  • Shaving cream/soap. Natural ingredients, smells great, and lathers up splendidly. I use Taylor of Old Bond Street Sandalwood Shaving Cream.

  • A brush. The better the brush, the better the lather. There are boar bristles and badger bristles. Badger brushes are a bit more expensive, but they’re higher quality. I have this one by Omega.

  • A mug. Any will do. I bought this one.

See The Art of Manliness for other recommendations.

The Shave

Warm water is best, as it softens your facial hair, although some prefer cold water. Lather up with your soap, mug, and brush.

The shaving technique itself is the trickiest part. I’m going to quote AoM here:

The four keys to a successful shave with a safety razor are 1) use as little pressure as possible; 2) angle the blade as far away from your face as possible; 3) shave with the grain; and 4) go for beard reduction, not beard removal.

A couple of tips:

You do not need to press down as you would with a modern cartridge razor. The weight of the razor will shave your hair just fine.

Shaving with the grain is crucial to avoid razor burn and ingrown hairs. For a while I just assumed that “with the grain” meant “down”, which is not true. The hair under my chin and on my neck especially seems to grow to the right, which is weird, but it’s important to be aware so you avoid irritation. A cool rinse will close up your pores and leave you feeling fresh.

Once you get the hang of it, I think you’ll find the wet shaving experience to be a highly enjoyable one. It turns shaving into a mindful, pleasant act, unlike hacking up your face on your way out the door. The safety razor is a beautiful piece of machinery, and it feels good to put time and care into your shaving routine. A wet shaving kit also makes a fantastic gift. They’re available on Amazon.

Like cold showers and going barefoot, sometimes modern “conveniences” aren’t actually what’s best for us. The wet shave is a timeless ritual, and one I think you’ll really enjoy.

For more on the art of wet shaving, check the following, in addition to the Art of Manliness article above:

  1. The Zen of Shaving | Zen Habits
  3. Badger & Blade forum

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The QLE Barefoot Primer

Barefoot running is all the rage these days, and since I’m a fan and April is health-nut month, I thought I’d write up some of my knowledge and experiences with the barefoot scene.

Why Barefoot?

Barefooting is popular among the paleo/primal crowd because it’s based on evolution. I’m not a podiatrist, so I won’t get into too much detail, but the short, in-favor argument is that human feet are not meant to be encased in rubber and other synthetic materials. Our ancestors evolved and survived without footwear, and they still managed to hunt down wild beasts and drag the carcasses back to camp.

To me, this perspective makes sense. Our barefoot gait is unnatural when we walk or run with conventional footwear. Specifically, when we run with shoes on, we tend to reach with our foot, landing on the heel before transferring our weight forward onto the ball. This is called heel striking, and it explains why runners often experience knee problems and shin splints.

See this post on MDA for a comparison video of barefoot and shod gaits.

Our body’s natural shock absorbers are not in the heel. Try this: stand up, and lift your toes off the ground, so that you’re balancing on your heels. Now, bounce up and down without letting your toes touch the ground. Super awkward and uncomfortable, right?

Now, lift your heels off the ground instead, and bounce on the balls of your feet. See? Much better.

When you heel strike, the impact of your foot hitting the ground travels up the leg and into the knee. That hurts. When you land on your forefoot first, the impact is absorbed much more efficiently.

See this video from the Natural Running Center for more about the principles and physiology of barefoot running.

Now, yes, you could probably learn to forefoot strike while wearing your latest pair of stylish and expensive Nikes. But, why fight evolution? If the theory of barefoot running makes sense to you, why wear a product that inhibits the habits you want to develop?

Modern footwear works against the natural design of the foot, which makes for less efficient movement.

Bare-footwear: Working Out

Of course, your feet might not be ready for total barefooting. Fortunately, a variety of companies have put out shoes to help simulate a barefoot experience. These shoes usually have a larger-than-normal toe box or individual toe slots, which allow your toes to spread out as nature intended, rather than being cramped together inside a Reebok. They also feature “zero-drop”, which means virtually no arch support. This is also good for your feet, as you rely on your arches for support, rather than allowing your foot muscles to atrophy via the artificial arches provided by modern shoes.

The preeminent brand of barefoot shoes is the Vibram Fivefinger, and they’re what I recommend for barefoot exercise. Vibram is known for their well-made soles, which will protect your feet from rocks, glass, etc. while still allowing you to run barefoot-style. They have a ton of different models, styles, and colors, so you’ll have no trouble finding a pair that suits your particular workout and fashion sense.

If I were to recommend one model of Fivefingers, it would be the KSO. “KSO” stands for “Keep Stuff Out” — hence the closed mesh upper and strap. These are Vibram’s most popular model, and they’re incredibly versatile. You can use them for running, yoga, water sports, and pretty much everything in between. Other Vibram models are designed for more specific activities.

Sizing a pair of Fivefingers can be slightly tricky, as you’ll be measuring your feet in inches rather than relying on a standard sizing system. See Vibram’s website for sizing tips. It’s best to try a pair on in person. I’ve found particular success at REI, although Fivefingers seem to be in the window of all major outdoorsy stores now.

I never liked to run until I bought my KSOs, and now I love it. Running barefoot is very freeing, and it makes the experience much more fun, especially if you can find some good trails. Sprinting is also a great workout.

If you’re self-conscious about wearing “those weird toe shoes”, there are other, subtler options. See Justin Ownings’s great site, Birthday Shoes, for a wide selection of brands, styles, and reviews.

Bare-footwear: Casual Wear

Running around and working out in a pair of Fivefingers is great, but you’re probably not enough of a badass to wear them in public or to the office. Understandable. Fortunately, several companies have put out barefoot shoes that work well for casual use.

I’d been looking for a good pair of casual barefoot shoes for a while, and I finally purchased a pair last month: the Tough Glove by Merrell.

I love these shoes. I’ve owned many different Merrells, but these are my favorite by far. They’re subtle, good-looking, and ultra comfortable. They have a Vibram sole. I can wear them with jeans or dress pants, and they let me avoid weird looks from non-barefooters while still giving my feet all of the barefoot benefits. I ordered mine from Zappos in my regular 10.5, which felt great, but seemed a little long in the toe. I exchanged them for a size 10, and they’re a perfect fit. I never want to take them off.

Getting Started with Going Barefoot

If you’ve been wearing modern footwear all your life (as most of us have), you’re going to need to give your body time to transition to the barefoot way. Runners, you will need to learn how to run barefoot. Specifically, be conscious of your gait. Watch the natural running video to get an idea of what to look for. To some degree, wearing barefoot shoes will naturally change your gait, but you still need to be mindful of it when first starting out until you develop good habits and form.

Speaking of just starting out, take it slow and easy at first. You’re going to be using muscles your legs have probably forgotten about, and you’re going to feel it. Don’t try to do your entire five-mile routine on day one, and don’t be afraid to let your feet rest. Take it slow, learn good form, and build up to longer distances. Once you get into it, you’ll probably never go back.

Barefoot Resources

If you’re interested in barefooting, the above links are great resources. In addition, check out the following:

  1. How to Make the Barefoot Transition | Mark’s Daily Apple
  2. Daniel Lieberman’s Harvard Study on Foot Strike Patterns
  3. Birthday Shoes
  4. Barefoot Ted’s Adventures
  5. Newton Running

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Cold Shower Therapy

I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but one of the things I look forward to upon rising is a long, hot shower. It’s the next best thing to a warm, toasty bed.

Lately, however, I’ve been experimenting with cold showers.

“WHY would you do that?” you ask.

Well, as you’ll see, the only reason not to take cold showers is that they’re uncomfortable. The benefits far outnumber the negatives. Observe:

  • It helps you wake up. Hot showers are very relaxing, but they don’t do much to get you going in the morning. Cold showers shock the system, leaving you alert and energized.
  • It’s good for your hair and skin. Hot showers dry you out, and slathering moisturizer on after every shower is a pain. Cold showers prevent this, and they also help close your pores, which makes your skin look healthier.
  • It improves circulation, testosterone production, and male fertility. Ladies.
  • It increases your metabolic rate. This is because your body is trying to warm itself. Cold showers also help activate brown fat, which burns calories to help warm the body.
  • It improves mood and energy. Hot showers make me sleepy. Cold showers are invigorating; it’s a healthy form of stress for the body.
  • It makes you feel like a bad ass. Sometimes, it feels good to scream and curse while flexing all of your muscles under an icy waterfall.

For more on the benefits of cold showers, see:

  1. “The James Bond Shower: A Shot of Cold Water for Health and Vitality” | The Art of Manliness
  2. “Why so glum, chum? Take a cold shower to ditch the morning blues” | The Handbook of Awesome
  3. “Cold Water Therapy” | Mark’s Daily Apple

The best way to experiment with cold showers is to take your typical warm shower, and then turn the temperature down for the last couple of minutes. You can steadily decrease the temperature as you get acclimated, or try going progressively colder with each shower you take. Make sure the water is truly cold; it should make you gasp.

I’ve been turning the temperature down at the end of my showers for a couple of weeks, and I can honestly say I look forward to it now. I’ve also found that my usual “hot” setting is now too hot for me, so I’m using cooler water while washing.

Spring is the perfect time to develop this healthy habit because of the warmer weather. I know it sounds horrible, but you might learn to love a cold shower. If I can do it, you can do it.

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Favorite Apps: Fitocracy

In the spirit of April, I want to tell you about an awesome new app called Fitocracy.

As its name suggests, Fitocracy is all about fitness. It’s part social network, part roleplaying game. You sign up for a free account, join some groups related to the types of exercise that interest you, and then get to work. As you log your workouts, you earn points, complete quests, earn achievements, get props, and more.

The app is highly social, and you can connect it to your Twitter and Facebook accounts to find friends and share accordingly. Fitocracy features a strong sense of camaraderie, and your news feed is always populated with interesting fitness-related discussions.

Central to the app are points and levels. Every exercise you do earns you points. For example, 50 push-ups = +75 points. After you’ve earned enough points, you gain a level. The concept of leveling up applied to fitness is brilliant, and this feature alone makes Fitocracy motivating and highly addictive. It makes you want to exercise more because you want to earn more points. I’m much more likely to bust out ten pull-ups on a whim knowing that I’ll earn +65 points for doing so.

Beyond the points-and-levels concept lie Achievements and Quests, for which you can earn hundreds of bonus points. Achievements are generally related to specific numeric goals, i.e. “Perform barbell bench press for at least 1.3x bodyweight”, or “Cycle 100 km (62 mi) in your lifetime”. Achievements push you to break personal records and workout harder than before. For example, I earned the “Top of the Bar” achievement by performing five pull-ups in a single set, so now I really want to earn the “I Prefer Being Off the Ground” achievement by performing fifteen pull-ups. (Almost there!) Fitocracy rewards progress. It’s a great motivator.

Quests are a bit more fun and elaborate. For example, the “As Seen On TV!” quest is as follows:

  • Perform at least 100 jumping jacks
  • Perform at least 30 crunches
  • Perform a set of 5 push-ups
  • Perform planks for a set of 30 seconds
  • Perform bicycle abs for at least 20 reps
  • Perform bodyweight squats for a set of 10 reps
  • Perform bodyweight lunges for a set of 15 reps

Each of these exercises can be completed at any time; they don’t have to be done in a single workout. There are a ton of quests, and just flipping through them inspires you to get cracking. You want those bonus points!

In addition to Achievements and Quests, there are also Challenges, which are special quests created by your groups. You have to sign up for Challenges manually within your groups.

Fitocracy also has detailed statistics and leaderboards, so you can see how you’re progressing individually, as well as how you’re stacking up against your friends.

Fitocracy helps you log everything via its website and brand new iOS app. It knows pretty much every exercise you can think of, and adding reps and sets is a breeze. You can also view graphs of your progress and keep track of personal records. Fitocracy is much more fun than logging your workouts in a plain old notebook.

The iOS app is very well-done. It has a ton of personality, and it’s a lot of fun to use. Fitocracy has already taken up residence on my home screen. You could consider Fitocracy yet another social network/thing-to-check, but I think the health benefits far outweigh any potential distractions the app may present. It’s a matter of signal-to-noise ratio. If the app works for you and inspires you to workout, then it’s worth it. If you don’t exercise and just spend time reading comments, then obviously it’s not.

Fitocracy has been in private beta for a while, and the app was just released to the public last Friday. Since it’s only about five days old, it’s not without a few minor bugs, but nothing that will prevent you from enjoying and benefiting from the experience.

If you’re not an iPhone user, the Fitocracy website is equally robust. A very active online forum is also available, which gives you the sense of joining a community. That’s where I believe Fitocracy is leagues above other fitness apps. You’re not logging your workouts all by your lonesome. There’s a sense of achievement, progress, and friendly competition. You want to earn more points, hit that next level, and complete quests before your friends do. It’s a lot of fun, and it works.

You might scoff at the idea of earning achievements in an iPhone app, but they’re merely a motivator. The real benefit is of course the exercise itself, and Fitocracy inspires you to do a lot more of it and have a blast in the process.

You can get Fitocracy for free in the App Store, and/or sign up online at

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Year of the Habit: April

Happy April! Don’t you love it when the first of the month falls on a Sunday?

I’m ultra excited about this month’s habit, but first, let’s recap the year so far:

  • January: Started flossing every day, and still going strong! Can’t wait to stick it to my dentist.

  • February: Stopped biting my nails, also still going strong! I’m almost at the point where I feel like I can say “I used to bite my nails”, which is crazy.

  • March: Attempted to read every day. This was somewhat of a failure, as I couldn’t bring myself to get in bed early enough to read every night, even for five minutes. Alas, The Shadow of the Wind remains unfinished. However, I did manage to read two books last month: Enough by Patrick Rhone (exceptional; see my review here) and Minimalist Business by Ev Bogue. In addition, my good buddy Rich and I just started reading Catch-22, and I think treating the book as a joint-venture will yield a particularly fruitful reading experience.

I’ve also picked up some Bonus Habits along the way, which were not assigned to a particular month. These include publishing Monday–Friday, and going to the library on a semi-regular basis to work on my thesis — which is almost done.

Before my 25th birthday, I was also adhering to a strong workout routine every day. Since my 25th birthday, however, my dedication to my usual diet and exercise regimens has been unsteady.

That brings us to April. It’s beach season!

That’s right; April is going to be health nut month.

There are several tools and sub-habits I’m going to implement this month, most of which I’ll relate to you in future posts this week.

As you know, there are two components to healthiness: diet and exercise. I’m going to focus especially on the diet aspect during April because 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet. Part of the reason I burned out on my last workout regimen was that I tried to do too much. I was exercising six days a week at home in addition to yoga and karate classes. That’s unsustainable.

Eating garbage guilt-trips you into working out for four hours every day. It’s much easier to eat well and exercise spontaneously, when you feel like it. Exercise should be fun and invigorating, not exhausting.

I’m going to be Primal as much as possible this month, but of course, you can’t be perfect all the time. In particular, I have my monthly Manference dinner, Easter, and my little cousin’s birthday this month, all of which will present culinary hurdles. But, that’s OK. Remember the 80-20 principle. By identifying my potential fat days in advance, I’ll be able to anticipate them and act accordingly over the course of the month.

Furthermore, I’m going to use the Jerry Seinfeld Don’t Break the Chain method to track my healthy eating days. Seeing how many days in a row you can perform your habit is an excellent strategy, and it’s worked quite well for me so far this year.

How’s your Year of the Habit going?

For more about my health regimen, see the following at Mark’s Daily Apple:

  1. Primal Blueprint 101
  2. The Definitive Guide to the Primal Eating Plan
  3. 10 Real-Life Reasons Why the Primal Blueprint Works for Me

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The Necessity of Rest

Quite often, life reminds me of the importance of rest.

I say “life reminds me” because I rarely plan “rest” as a part of my day. When I go too long without it, it always finds a way to force itself into my schedule.

By “rest”, I don’t necessarily mean sleep. Rather, rest is a break from my regular routine. Maybe it’s a skipped workout, or a couple of days without picking up my bass, or a round (or nine) of indulgent eating.

It’s easy to feel guilty about resting when we could be doing more productive activities. But the way I see it, rest itself is highly productive because it enables us to return to our normal lifestyles with renewed enthusiasm.

Earlier this month, I was in the middle of a long butt kicking streak. I was writing a lot, enjoying my work, eating healthy, and adhering to a solid workout routine.

Then, my 25th birthday happened.

My birthday fell on a Wednesday this year, so celebrations began the preceding weekend (read: Thursday). Friends took me out to lunch, my family had a party, and I was also celebrating my friend’s birthday, as he was born five days before me. Long story short, I fell off pretty much every wagon I had been triumphantly riding.

I had trouble finding the time to write. I stopped working out. I missed my yoga class. I slept in. And I ate about a metric ton of birthday food over the course of six days.

Of course, I felt guilty about breaking all my healthy and productive routines, but my friends and family were quick to use my 25th birthday as a rationalization for my stepping off the path.

It sounds like an excuse, and I suppose it is, but at the same time, it wasn’t until I stopped moving that I realized how necessary my little vacation was. My muscles were sore from working out six days a week. I was weary. I was burnt out. I was tired. So, life found a way to sneak some rest in there. If you don’t give yourself a break once in a while, eventually you’ll crash.

Now that my actual birthday has come and gone, my vacation is over. It’s back to healthy eating and exercise, and it feels fantastic. I can approach these things with fresh strength and focus.

In music, a rest is an interval of silence; no note is played. Victor Wooten teaches his students to “play the rest”, which means to treat it just like any other note, even though none is audible. The rest should be felt, as opposed to rushing through it to play the next note.

Rest in real life is the same way. We need time designated to let our bodies and minds recover from the diligent adherence to our normal routines. It takes energy to stick to a workout, eating, or writing regimen. Every once in a while, you need to take a break. Go ahead. Skip a workout. Have some birthday cake. Sit and do nothing. Then go back to being awesome.

No matter how much we love our routines and lifestyles, we still need to be able to rest and enjoy it guilt-free. Afterward, we can come back stronger than before, with new appreciation for the lives we lead.

So, go on. Take a break. It’s Friday.

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Favorite Apps: F.lux

Speaking of night owls, I’ve been meaning to write about a fantastic utility that helps you see better in the dark.

F.lux is a free app for Mac OS X that adjusts your screen’s brightness depending on what time of day it is. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s actually hugely important.

The light emitted by computer, smartphone, and tablet screens is the same type of light given off by the sun. Our bodies are programmed to wake up when exposed to this light, which is why people often recommend letting sunlight in to wake you up in the morning.

What you don’t want, however, is to be blasting yourself with “wake up” rays right before bedtime. That’s where F.lux comes in.

F.lux uses your location to determine what time of day it is, including when the sun sets. During the day, your screen will look like sunlight, and at night, F.lux will adjust your screen’s brightness to a warm, soothing glow. You can even tell F.lux what type of overhead lighting you have, and it will adjust accordingly. Once you set your preferences, F.lux will do everything automatically, so you don’t have to worry about it.

This is the kind of app you don’t think you need until you try it, and then you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it. F.lux makes your screen “healthier” because it will prevent your computer from blasting you with wake up light when you’re up late, so you’ll sleep better. Your screen will also be less offensive to your retinas no matter what time of day it is. It does take a little while to get used to, because your screen looks quite different without its brightness maxed out 24/7, but you’ll love it in no time.

I’ve been using F.lux for months, and it will be one of the first apps I install on all of my future Macs.

Give F.lux a try. It’s free, and your eyes will thank you.

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Happiness Is a Warm Screen

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Lam wrote an article called Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic, which discusses the role technology plays in our happiness and overall well-being. Brian’s piece was in response to Matt Ritchel’s New York Times article featuring a Stanford research report, which states girls aged eight to twelve who spent more time in front of screens are “less happy and less socially comfortable” than their peers.

Brian’s article is excellent, and you should read it. Technology and happiness are two areas of focus on QLE, so I wanted to offer my response.

Here’s Brian, referring to the Stanford study:

I am fascinated by this study because everything I have been doing in the last year professionally and personally has been to reduce the overage of technology and noise in my life and it has increased my happiness by many fold.

“Overage” and “noise”. Brian is quick to admit that he makes his living on the Web, and I will forcibly argue the value of technology and even certain social networks. The concern here is too much technology, to the point where it obstructs our ability to appreciate life outside it.

Brian uses junk food as a metaphor for the type of information we are lured into consuming, and the comparison is apt. The truth is, most of us are aware of how unhealthy processed food is, but its ubiquity also makes it almost impossible to avoid. Junk food is everywhere, often in disguise. Unless you are consistently mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth, it’s all too easy to fall into a complacent state of consumption.

So it is with technology.

As Brian mentions, television is inundated with celebrities and reality shows. Radio is laden with ads and overproduced, auto-tuned noise. The Internet is a barrage of headlines, linkbait, and meaningless Facebook statuses. This form of technology is so omnipresent that is has become the norm. Like eating at McDonald’s, you have to consciously choose to reject the garbage everyone else is mindlessly consuming. You have to be the weird one by not eating that stuff, or by not drinking or smoking, or by not having a Facebook account. The unfortunate truth is, you have to go out of your way to be healthy.

This is a matter of individual responsibility. You cannot control what appears on a menu, but you can control what you order or whether you eat there altogether. So too, you cannot control what other people put on the Internet, but you can control whether or not you choose to consume it.

There are two categories of people on the Web: people you don’t know, and people you do know. Brian handles both. First, the people you don’t know:

The first thing I did was to take back my time. I quit all the online content that was id-provoking and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like “top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone” and “EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY.” And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don’t have time for this.


Do we really need to follow the 24-hour news cycle? To be informed at all times? Whether it’s politics, tech, or otherwise, I say no. Is there important stuff going on somewhere in the world at this very moment? Probably. But, how much of it is stuff I need to know about? Unless you define yourself by being the first to know the latest news, you don’t need to worry. If something is big enough for you to need to know about it, you’ll find out. Trust me. Imagine trying not to find out who won the Superbowl. Exactly. And that’s not even important.

The solution comes down to old-fashioned quality versus quantity. Take tech news, for example. I don’t need to follow TechCrunch and Engadget and Gizmodo because 75% of the things popping up in my news feed would be things that I do not care about. To be honest, I don’t care about the latest evil thing Google did, or the latest creepy thing Facebook did, or how big the latest Android phone is. I can’t be bothered.

Instead, I follow writers — individuals — whose values align with my own. In tech, if Gruber, or Shawn, or Ben, or Viticci are talking about it, then it’s probably something I’ll want to pay attention to. And even then, not always.

“Well, how can you just blindly go by whatever these guys are saying?”

Because I trust them and enjoy hearing their opinions. I may not always agree with them, but I feel its safer than consuming information from a news aggregate and blindly taking it as fact.

Now, about those people you do know. Brian:

I also stopped reading twitter and facebook regularly, because most of my online acquaintances are nice, but I like to think about these experiences as shallow and yes, also I don’t give a shit about 99% of people I interact with online. I’ve met some great friends online, but once I find them I would prefer to spend that time and energy with the few I would do anything for. Also, clicking the like button 1 billion times will never give you an orgasm or a hug or a high five.


That’s it, right there. What’s the quality of this relationship? What does this person contribute to my life on a daily basis? Love? Support? Laughs? Or shitty, melodramatic Facebook statuses?

Delete. Defriend. Unfollow.

You don’t need the noise. If “quality over quantity” is true for anything, it’s true for relationships, and not only digital ones. Let them go. You’ll have more time for those who matter.

This is not to say there are no benefits to technology. It allows us to learn and communicate in profound new ways, but we must be cautious. It should never take the place of life itself. Here’s Brian again:

Try using technology to work and read and watch faster. Then use that time to go explore the world or do whatever makes you happier. Is it hanging out online? If you think this, then you probably have not seen the things I have seen away from my computer.

Use technology. Enjoy technology. Read. Write. Learn. Connect. Discover. Grow. But be selective in those endeavors. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a state of complacency. Don’t allow yourself to become a mindless consumer. Be disciplined. You’re smart and good-looking. You can tell what is good and what is garbage. You can tell what is signal and what is noise. You can tell what’s worth it and what’s a waste. Choose mindfully, and then shut it down.

Don’t let your screen replace the sun.

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Thank Your Headache

In Victor Wooten’s 2008 novel, The Music Lesson, the student wakes up one morning with a headache. The teacher, after appearing, mysteriously tells him that he should thank his headache, rather than fight it. The student does, and the pain subsides.

It’s a wonderful book with bountiful wisdom, but that chapter has always stuck with me. The idea is that, rather than tense up when we feel pain, we should be mindful of what our bodies are trying to tell us. We should be grateful for the pain because it’s usually a warning about something that could turn into a more serious problem if ignored. Hence, thank you, headache.

I was reminded of that story as I drove home tonight with a dull pain behind my eyes. Rather than resist the headache, I acknowledged it and thanked my body for telling me something was wrong. In my case, I could tell I had stayed up too late and needed some sleep. I also noticed my shoulders were hunched and my jaw was clenched, so I breathed and let go of the tension that had creeped its way up my neck. When I did that, the pain didn’t go away completely, but it did subside quite a bit. The pain was my body’s way of getting my attention, and when I noticed and acknowledged what was wrong, it was as if my headache said, “OK, good. Just letting you know” and calmed down. Thank you, headache.

I know it sounds cheesy, but it works. The next time you have a headache, try thanking it instead of getting frustrated or annoyed by it. Listen to what it’s telling you. It might be saying, “Hey, you haven’t had any water today”, or “You should probably take a break from staring at this computer screen”, or “Don’t worry so much about this presentation”.

I like to think our bodies don’t just cause us pain for no reason. It’s more likely that they’re trying to tell us something. Of course, if you’re bleeding profusely, by all means get to a hospital. Otherwise, try taking a moment to listen and see if you can’t hear what the headache is saying.

Your mind and body work best when they’re on the same team.

Now, I’m off to bed. Have a great weekend!

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Seize the Spontaneity

Sometimes, the things we know are best for us are the things we find hardest to do. With the new year, we find ourselves saying, “I want to write more”, or “I want to exercise more”, or “I want to floss more”. But these things are hard, and sometimes the motivation to just do the thing is elusive.

One component of what makes these activities difficult is that they often have intrinsic barriers to starting. With writing, you have to be at your computer and open a new document. With exercising, you have to put on your workout clothes, leave your house, and go to the gym. With flossing, you have to measure out the ideal length of floss, wrap it around your fingers, and remember how much you hate flossing.

These acts seem inconsequential, but they actually inhibit us from doing the thing we know we should be doing. Sometimes even the smallest barrier is enough to sap our motivation. The thing doesn’t get done, and we feel crappy about it.

The solution, then, is to minimize barriers as much as possible, which is something Merlin and Dan talked about in episode 47 of Back to Work.

One way to reduce barriers is to choose tools that make things easier. I keep a notepad on my desk so I can quickly write things down if an idea comes to me. Likewise, I use Alfred to launch apps on my Mac, so all I have to do to open a new document is hit CMD + Space, type “b” for Byword, and hit Enter. This process is much easier than moving my mouse down to open the Finder, clicking Applications, then clicking on Byword. It makes it very easy to start writing.

You can figure out ways to do this with any activity. Laying out your workout clothes the night before, for instance, might increase your likelihood of actually exercising. You might also figure out ways to workout at home, so you eliminate the barrier of having to travel to the gym.

I get in trouble with my dentist every six months for not flossing enough, even though I know how important it is. But so far this year, I’ve flossed every day this week because of three little changes. I started using Plackers instead of regular floss because they’re easier to use. Second, — wait for it — I started flossing in the shower. I don’t know why; it just makes more sense to me as part of my shower routine. I also put the bag of Plackers on top of my towel rack, so I can’t get to my towel without moving them. This forces me to floss every time I take a shower, i.e. every day. So far, so good.

Now occasionally, if you’re like me, you’ll experience a random fit of inspiration. You’ll know exactly what you want to write, or the weather will be beautiful and you’ll want to go running, or you’ll just feel like flossin’. I get these little windows of energy from time to time, but the problem is that they’re fleeting. Sometimes I’ll wake up, see it’s a beautiful day and want to get outside and workout… but then I’ll pick up my iPad or get distracted by music or something on the Internet. By the time I break away from the distraction, the motivation is gone, and it’s lunchtime anyway. Oh, well.

The key here is to seize the spontaneity. Choose tools and methods that make your barriers as small as possible, and use any windows of energy to smash through them right away. The smaller the barrier, the less energy needed to overcome it, so you’ll be able to stop waiting for divine inspiration and start doing more of the thing you want to do.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a 50 degree January day here in Connecticut, and I have some sprints to do.

Back On the Primal Path

If you follow me on Twitter, you might be aware that I managed to eat pretty much everything in sight over the holidays. On the one hand, ‘twas the season to indulge, but on the other hand, the increased intake of my culinary vices made me feel lethargic, guilty, and more than a little gross.

I’m pleased — and my body is relieved — to report that I’ve been back on track and eating Primally for five days in a row now.

It feels fantastic.

Still, I’m not here to admonish the act of holiday feasting. On the contrary, my relatively brief foray into the realm of Christmas treats has taught me a few things about keeping a diet in perspective.

First, pigging out for over a week reminded me how much I love my normal Primal Blueprint eating regimen. Don’t get me wrong, holiday food is delicious, but so is eating Primal, and it doesn’t come with the associated bloating and guilt trips. The good news is that stepping off the path for a little while didn’t become a permanent change. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get back to my old healthy habits. That’s how a vacation should feel, and it speaks to the effectiveness of the Primal Blueprint as a sustainable lifestyle.

Second, while I did eat a lot, exercise little, and lose sight of my abdominal muscles over the holidays, the overall results of my week-long binge were… not that bad. Sure, I was a bit squishier than I was before, and my mood was a little low, but it’s not like I suddenly had fifty pounds to lose or had developed some chronic illness. I’m not saying this to condone unhealthy eating or tell you to take a week off whenever you want. Rather, it helps put the average cheat meal in perspective. I survived an entire week of holiday gluttony with pretty minor side effects. That means I should treat a single cheat meal as no big deal, rather than feel guilty about indulging with friends.

The key here, though, is not rationalizing or condoning the unhealthy meal and allowing it to become what’s normal. I would still rather eat Primal, and I will as much as I can. But, if I happen to be in a situation where it’s difficult to do so (if I’m a guest in someone’s home, for instance), I’m not going to sweat it. If I can survive an entire week of holiday eating, one cheat meal for the sake of manners won’t hurt. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be a tiny misstep. Remember, that doesn’t mean an unhealthy meal every day won’t hurt! It’s just a way of altering your perspective so you feel less bummed out about deviating from your healthy habits. Step off, then step right back on.

Again, my holiday binge reminded me how much I love the Primal Blueprint. My sister is a recent convert, and she agrees that even after just two days back on the path, she feels so much better. I’m not trying to pimp the Primal lifestyle, as I have nothing to gain from doing so. (The gain would be all yours, actually.) These lessons can be applied to whatever diet you’re invested in. Still, if you’re interested in going Primal for the new year, Mark Sisson just put out a new updated and expanded paperback version of The Primal Blueprint. It’s inexpensive and a great way to get started.

One final note about my transition back on the path: I’ve started logging my workouts and meals using the Day One app, which allows you to journal from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. They all stay in sync via Dropbox, and the app itself is well-designed. Keeping a record of what I do to be healthy each day helps me stay mindful as the new year progresses and the “resolution enthusiasm” wears off. I’m trying to see how many days in a row I can go without a cheat day. Of course, you don’t need an app to make this a habit. Pen and paper works too.

Mindfulness Meditation Is Rediscovered

Amy Gross retired from her job as editor-in-chief of O, the Oprah Magazine to pursue a career in mindfulness meditation:

The key shift is in turning toward pain, when all your life you’ve turned away from it. You give it your full attention—you yield to it—and, paradoxically, its hold on you diminishes. (The majority of chronic-pain patients in an eight-week meditation course are able to reduce their medications and become more active.) You open to emotional pain as well. As you meditate, the grip of your history loosens and you get a little saner, lighter, less entangled.

Via Ben Brooks