Willpower – or “Won’t Power”

In my last post, I discussed how the choices we make affect our health.   After a crazy couple weeks of 7am meetings, late afternoon meetings, normal end of the month/beginning of the month workload, and a few dinners thrown in for good measure, I finally have a normal morning.  But yesterday it caught up with me a bit.

I haven’t missed a workout in the last month until the weekend.  I was doing some yard work and just sort of “tweaked” my back.  Then I had to mow the grass the next day, which led to back spasms that kept me up well past midnight and affected my sleep.  Of course, another 7am meeting followed, after which I received frustrating news about an employee resignation.  Then I had a late afternoon meeting.  The rest of the day, I did some relatively mentally strenuous data analysis on trying to quantify organizational financial performance around a specific type of work.

Exhausted, stopping to grab a six pack on the way home seemed like a good idea.   It was like I was on autopilot.   As if by divine providence, the beer I wanted and another great beer were on sale.  I had a few great beers last night, slept well, feel a little crappy today, but the back feels much better too.  I wasn’t a good husband last night either…just sort of watched tv and drank beer.

But I’ve done well on my fitness goals.  I’m down a little over 10 pounds in a month.  I’m at my lowest weight since early 2016, and overall I feel great.  But yesterday, I just feel like I ran out of energy to fight my urges.  But, I’m not down on myself.  I basically understand what happened.

There is an essay published by Dr. Frank Crane in  1919 titled Mule Power.  In it, he mentions only the strongest have great willpower.  But everyone has a stubborn streak.  He exhorts his readers to use their mule-like stubbornness to simply choose to do nothing, which is easier than doing the thing you don’t want to continue to do.  He calls it “Won’t Power”.

That’s all well and good, and I get a lot from his essays, but it’s not that simple.  There’s some physiological things going on in our bodies.  The lack of sleep, missing meals, and physical pain affected my ability to maintain my willpower.  Plus, i had done well, hit my first goal, so why not indulge?

The thing is, Willpower has a certain capacity each day.  Gary Keller likened it to your mobile phone in his book The One Thing.  If you let it fully recharge, you’ll get through a day, maybe several days if you don’t use it much.  But if you have one of those days when your on your phone all day, it needs to be plugged in to recharge at some point, or else it will become fully depleted and fail to work. And heavy mental work depletes the same reserves as willpower.

So yesterday, my willpower level finally hit that critical mark, and it needed to recharge.  And like many electronic devices, when willpower completely loses power, it goes back to default settings.   I wish my default was something else right now, but as an introvert who enjoys adult beverages, mindless tv and gaming by myself while enjoying beer or wine is part of my recharge process.   It is what it is.

This is exactly why it is important to find a routine that shakes up your habits and breaks the triggers.  What do you need to change to get enough sleep, to do the things that fulfill you and give you some recharge during the day?

So for me today, it was sleep in a bit, catch up on some reading, write a blog post, listen to some music.  Tonight we’ll go dancing.    Tomorrow I’ll take a half day to get some errands done, and do however much of my planned workout I can do in the afternoon. I probably need to start figuring out how to meditate as well.

So if you’re having trouble committing and sticking with a goal, examine your battery level.  Willpower is not infinite.  What is triggering your lack of compliance, and how can you more fully charge up your willpower reserves?



Doctor Yourself

Rolling Hills-1-2

It’s spring once again, and honestly it has been a dismal winter in Southwest Pennsylvania.  I think it snowed for 7 consecutive months.  Not continuously, but every month from October through April there has been snow.  If not, it feels that way.  And most of the time if it wasn’t snowing, it was gray, overcast skies or raining.  But Spring has sprung finally.

Around the holidays, I became more focused on my health and specifically the weight I had put on during the fall.  For several years after losing some weight, I maintained my weight around 195-200 pounds most of the year.  But I was up to 210 and not feeling my best.  So I went back to my 4HB supplements and eating plan, but made little progress this time.  So after 3 months, I started doing some more reading.

I pulled Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint 21-Day Transformation off the shelf and re-read it in about 2 days.  I’m now following a largely primal eating and exercise plan, which isn’t much different than 4HB.  The main difference is no beans in Primal, and no “Garbage Day”.  I had dropped 7 pounds in 8 days.  Then the weekend hit, we went to a party with virtually no Primal choices, and I had some beer.  Then wine and a couple cookies last night.  I’m back up 5 of the 7, but I think most will drop off in a couple days.

Honestly, alcohol is still my biggest challenge, as I crave it some nights after work.  So as i started looking into why that is, I learned some interesting things about vitamin deficiencies in alcoholics, and regular consumers of alcohol in general.  And also a little about willpower in general. I feel a little like Paul in Romans 7; I know alcohol is  a poison, I don’t really want to have any, I know I will feel better in the morning if I don’t drink, but yet some nights, I drink anyway.  If I stay on this path, it will become a problem.

So now I’m taking high dosages of Vitamin C (4,000-5,000 mg), B-complex Vitamins (300mg+), and Chromium(400 mg) daily trying to overcome the deficiencies that cause the cravings.  The Vitamin C has so many potential benefits.  I found Dr. Andrew Saul’s information about  vitamins via The Fat Burning Man podcast.  His website is  Doctor Yourself.

My previous round of intentional weight loss in 2011-2012 was in response to being offered yet another medication for high blood pressure and low HDL.  I was also having should pain, so an injection was suggested.  I chose a different path:  I started eating better, gave up alcohol, started exercising.  So I’m going down the same path of making better intentional choices this year.

Much of our healthcare costs in the United States can be linked to our choices, primarily regarding what we eat.   Ten days into eating cleaner, I had some of the best tasting broccoli ever for dinner last night.  It was weird, but we both commented on how great the broccoli was.   Food that is good for you can taste great.

I’m not a doctor, and this isn’t meant to serve as medical advice.  But with the guidance of a good physician, I think most people could change their futures by eating better.  Your DNA is a blueprint.  But just like a house that is designed for maximum energy efficiency, if you don’t put the wall of windows facing south, you won’t get maximum benefit.  We can affect the way our genes are activated by the fuel we give our bodies.  Many of us are actually killing ourselves slowly with the food we eat.

My wife likes to cite family members who lived a long time without taking vitamins.  But I know her grandfather had this apple cider vinegar concoction he drank daily.  Most of them had a can of bacon fat sitting on the counter they cooked with.  We didn’t ask them what they ate or what “elixers” they took.  They couldn’t get most of the processed foods we eat.  They grew their own vegetables and canned the surplus.  They weren’t overweight.

Once again I’m trying to take control of a specific aspect of my future.  What good will all the financial and strategic planning of early retirement be if I’m not health enough to enjoy it?


Americans can be lazy and disrespectful

While I was out shopping for a few gifts for my wife on the Saturday before Christmas, I became aware of an alarming trend.  Everywhere I went, there were people that were parking curbside and waiting.  Usually someone was in the car, but sometimes not.  I saw this perhaps a dozen times in a four hour window of shopping, and I did not once see someone getting into or out of a car – so they weren’t just stopping to pick someone up or drop them off.

My first reaction was just an amazement at how lazy these people might be.  I usually intentionally park a little farther away to do some extra walking.  The passengers in the curbside-parkers (maybe I’ll just call them curbers) are clearly doing a lot of walking while shopping.  Can they seriously not walk the extra 50 yards to a true parking spot?  I noticed no handicap parking tags, plus often the handicap spot was literally just steps away and open.

Parking away from the other cars also minimizes the chance of some hitting my car or putting a door ding in it.   Not a big concern, but it just takes away some risk of a bad driver or someone not paying attention swinging their newish SUV into a spot or a kid in daddy’s car  on the phone or otherwise distracted hitting my car.  Blame my Aunt Nancy on this one, as her vintage Volvo daily driver still looks nearly new, and I learned this tip from her.

As i thought about it more, I became a little more disappointed, because these curbers are also really disrespectful to the thousands of other people shopping in at least two ways.   First, they’re stopping and parking in what is essentially one lane of two lane traffic.  So all the others drivers must go around them, driving out into the other lane of traffic to get around the curber.

When they pull up and stop, any other vehicles behind them are potentially initially delayed as they try to figure out what in the world they curber doing.  I actually witnessed this twice, and neither time was a turn signal used – so everyone else sat there for an extended pause before realizing there was nothing blocking the way – these people were just stopping for no apparent reason and had no plans to move.  I’m sure it sucks a little Christmas cheer out of some people when they realize they’ve been stuck behind a curber who has just claimed a new spot to wait.

A second way it is really disrespectful is to the shoppers on foot.  Now, to get to the store or back to their car, they must cross what was a two lane area of traffic either in front of or behind the curber.  Drivers coming from either direction already have to figure out what the yahoo is doing just sitting there, and they also now have limited visibility to pedestrians on top of this extra distraction.  So Curbers are putting others at risk purely for their own personal convenience.

Then it gets worse.  We’re fighting an obesity epidemic in this country.  Curbers are a prime example of the cultural reasons why.   People are too friggin’ lazy to even walk to their cars!  More importantly, somebody else is happier to just sit in the car and diddle away on their phone while a (presumed) loved one is shopping.  GET OUT OF THE CAR AND GO WITH THEM!  YOU NEED THE EXERCISE!

Then there’s the whole fuel economy thing, because it was a cold day so every car was sitting there idling.  One was definitely there for almost 30 minutes, because I went into three stores and shopped around, and waited in line at two of them, and the car was still there running when i came back to my car.  These are probably the same people that will complain about fuel costs and that they have no money to invest in retirement or whatever.  It’s because you’re sitting there burning off $2 worth of fuel every hour going nowhere.  It’s not the $2, it’s the mentality that accepts the wasteful use of money and time that leads to having no money.

Obviously our local police departments don’t need money – because these people are clearly parking in a no parking and fire zone.   An officer could just walk the beat and write dozens of tickets in an afternoon, keeping people safer and encouraging others to be just a little healthier at the same time.  There’s probably multiple violations that could cited in most of these cases.

While it aggravates me, overall it just makes me sad.   It’s probably a little piece of why people in other countries often thought I was either Canadian or British.  They said I was too nice and too friendly to be an American.  I didn’t expect everyone to speak English, so how can I be an American?  I talked to others, and tried to fit in with local behaviors as much as I could, including walking.  10,000 steps?  Try 25,000 to 30,000 on a typical weekend day in Italy, France, or Belgium.

Curbers are just one example of the entitlement and disrespectful attitude that many Americans exhibit.  My question is how do we save ourselves?  How do we reverse the trend as a society?  It’s obviously not an easy answer, except for one part of it:  All of us can save ourselves.   Take responsibility for your life, your health, your financial future, and for how you treat others.  Maybe we can’t fix the United States as a whole (and don’t expect any government to fix it either), but we can make an impact in our part of it; we can make an impact in our lives.

We really should be thinking more about others than ourselves this time of year, but often when we think of others, we get so many good things for ourselves.

Merry Christmas.


Avoiding weight gain this holiday season

Season’s Eatings!

Every year around mid-November many of us start eating out more due to holiday meals and gatherings with friends.  We eat more cookies and desserts because those we love work hard to make them, and honestly – they just taste sooo good.  A certain percentage of us will drink a little more alcohol than usual as well, and all of this can easily add up to a few thousand additional calories a week over the six-week Holiday Season, which can stretch to 10 weeks if you’re an NFL fan!

It was around this time of year in 2011 that I made a decision to change my lifestyle.  I was 45 pounds overweight according to my doctor with a BMI index of 29.7, which classified me as overweight but approaching obese.  I was on blood pressure medication and had sinking HDL cholesterol numbers, so I was on medication for cholesterol as well.

Over the next 6 months I managed to lose 30 pounds; during those 6 months we had Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, The Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter – all of which are holidays I normally celebrate and indulge by eating or drinking things that are detrimental to losing weight.  As a result of losing the weight I was able to stop taking cholesterol and HBP meds, the latter of which I had been on in one form or another for 16 years.

The Warning Signs

I’ve maintained that weight for a few years now, but each autumn I fight what I think is a natural biological tendency for us to store up some fat for the winter, as if we’re bears preparing for hibernation.  As the days get shorter, my appetite seems to grow, and if I’m not careful my waistline will too.  I tend to get a little down each year  – the winter blues – usually around late October, so traditional comfort foods become more appealing.  Fall and winter are also the season for my favorite beers, so I tend to crave more beer than the wine I normally drink.  All of this conspires to undo the efforts I have made to have a healthier lifestyle.

When I stepped on the scale on Sunday morning it read 201.9 pounds.  Crap!  That’s seven pounds above my normal “cruising weight” of 195, and it’s only a couple days after Thanksgiving.  More importantly, it crossed my action threshold of 200.  I realized my discipline in eating had slipped, primarily due to all the international travels recently.  I was 192 at labor day, and had held 195 through October, so I had put on 7 pounds in a month.  I had to curtail this upward trend immediately!

Taking Action

*I’m not a health professional – I’m an engineer, author, and musician.  This is what I have done and it works for me.  If you haven’t been to a doctor recently, go get a check-up and share your fitness goals and ideas with him or her.  I want you to be healthier and happier, not hurt or headed to the Home Triumphant.

Instead of waiting for a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight and get back to 195, I decided to get to 195 by New Year’s, and then I’ll push to 190 or maybe even 187 in 2015.  I’m reclaiming my eating habits on all normal days, but will feel free to enjoy the holidays.  What I did in 2011 has worked for some of my friends as well, so in hopes of maybe helping a few others avoid packing on the pounds this winter, I’ll share what  I’m doing and share my progress each week.

My plan in 2011 wasn’t revolutionary, and it’s not really even “my plan”.  I followed a modified eating regimen with excerpts primarily from Tim Ferris’ 4-Hour Body, Mark Sisson’s Daily Apple, and Paleo while using P90X as my workout routine.  I never got to the point where I could do the full 90 minutes of P90X – I mean every rep of every exercise – but I modified to where I needed to be and took a few days off when joints or muscles were really sore.

For 2014, I plan on following the eating plan and doing these workouts I found on Fitness Magazine’s website, although probably a modified version.  I’ll be happy if I get each strength workout and 2 days of intervals in each week.  For meals, I’ll probably eat the same breakfast and lunch each day during the week and try to eat sensible on the weekends.  I might even eat the same lunch and breakfast on the weekends too.  Dinner will be more flexible, but I’ll still avoid excess sugars, refined starches, and artificial foods. If there’s chemicals in it or names I can’t pronounce, I look for an alternative.  Here’s what my meals look like:


  • (3) Organic Brown Eggs, over medium, fried in grass-fed butter
  • Black Beans – a portion about the size of my fist
  • Broccoli – about equal to the black beans


  • 1/2 of a strip steak (5-7 ounces) – medium rare
  • about 1/4 cup of lentils
  • steamed spinach – usually with a splash of apple cider vinegar

The basic premise of Ferris’ 4-hour Body (4HB) is don’t eat anything white, and pretty much don’t eat fruit.  You need to have lean protein, certain veggies, and beans at every meal.  You don’t count calories or nutrients.   And you need to eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up to stoke the fires of your metabolism – to “break the fast” your body has been on since dinner so it doesn’t enter “fat storing mode” after you wake up.

Sugar (as well as sugar substitutes) is a key ingredient to watch as you change your eating habits. For my wife, she ate relatively well and was already thin.  But when we used the MyFitnessPal app to track her foods, we found she was almost 4 times the recommended calories from sugar as she should be.  Orange Juice, jellies at breakfast, fruits, and chocolate were the main contributors.  She made adjustments – diluted her OJ with 50% water (much healthier and tastes better than the low calorie OJ’s), eliminated jelly, changed the types of fruits she ate, and switched to dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.  It’s all about managing your insulin responses and eliminating spikes.  The end result was she needed to buy a new wardrobe, and she has maintained her weight as well.

“Garbage Day”

I can’t recall if this is Ferris’ term (it probably is, and I need to re-read the book), but what makes this work for me and my friends is the notion of “Garbage Day”.  Most people fail to change their eating habits because they feel the need to “cheat” by eating bad foods they enjoy.  On Ferris’ 4HB plan, one day each week is a binge day.  The theory is that the body can only process so much caloric intake at a time, so an occasional binge won’t stop your weight loss, and in fact it might even accelerate the loss.

I use Garbage Day for my bag of chips, my beer, and whatever I want.  In 2011-2012, I would top 6,000 calories in a day on Garbage day – mostly from beer and cheese.  A few imperial stouts at 500 calories each and 12 ounces of Toscano cheese add up! Anyway, Garbage Day lets anyone eat well 6 days a week and indulge in what they crave on Day 7.  I found that over time, my Garbage Day cravings became more subtle.  I no longer enjoy eating a bag of Doritos, but for 6 or 7 months I looked forward to Saturday or Sunday to rip open that bag!

The Take Away

Start now!  Don’t wait for January to change your eating habits.  Don’t think of it as a diet; make a lifestyle change and don’t feel guilty about eating at parties and dinners.  If you start now, I bet you will most likely at least maintain your current weight, and you’ll already be building discipline to roll into 2015 with a solid plan to improve your health.

Here’s my progress thus far:

  • Sunday morning, Nov. 30 – 201.9 pounds
  • Today, Dec. 4 – 198.2 pounds.

That’s 3.7 pounds dropped in 4 days.  The weight loss won’t stay that fast, and it’s not unusual to see a 5-7 pound range in a week using Garbage Day.  So if you weigh yourself at the same time almost every day like I do, don’t be shocked if you gained several pounds a day or two after garbage day.  Give it a few weeks, drink plenty of water (no sodas! sugar!), and if you’re disciplined 6 days a week, you’ll see a downward trend in your weight if you have excess body fat. Now excuse me while I go do my intervals for the day.