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My new blog site: Face Climate Change

Resources

I’ve made it a practice in recent times to try to avoid taking on new projects. This is difficult for me, because I love coming up with new approaches to doing things, trying new strategies, and creating things, but at the same time it’s essential, because starting too many things means making it difficult to finish any of them.

Every once in a while, though, something comes along that is too important to ignore, and I need to step up and invest some real effort. Today that thing is climate change: it’s happening much more quickly than most of us imagined, and the results are more immediately devastating. For example, Vermont came very close to being hit by two tropical storms just a little more than a year apart. Vermont. This is a state where there are, generally speaking, no hurricanes, volcanoes, mudslides, earthquakes, tornadoes, tropical storms, or Lyme Disease–except that now we seem to be getting everything on that list except for volcanoes and full-blown hurricanes (though I don’t blame the occasional small earthquake on climate change, just so you know).

Looking at the problem, I see one particular way in addition to changing my own habits and environmental impact in which I might be able to be of some real help, and that’s in teaching principals that can help spread personal responsibility and courage and habit change skills, applied specifically to climate change. That’s what the new site is all about. I hope that if you have any interest in the topic at all, you’ll visit the site, comment, suggest resources, ask questions, or help move things forward in any way you’re willing.

My first post went up this morning: Where We’ll Find the Power to Fight Climate Change.

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Making It All About Just One Thing

Projects

In a post this past weekend (“Something Completely Different: a New Direction for the Willpower Engine and ReidWrite“), I talked about the new focus I’ve pulled together for my writing and this site. What I’m finding as I pursue it is that it’s creating a natural unification of efforts in my life, and this unification is making my life easier, my mind clearer, and my efforts more useful.

Just one goal
I’ve always been bad at following my own advice to have only one major goal at a time. This isn’t because I have any doubt whether it’s a good idea: it is. It’s just because when I tried to narrow things down to one goal, what I would find was that I got down to multiple goals that were each so important to me that I couldn’t bring myself to discard any of them; the best I could do was to put some on the back burner.

I want to be clear here that when I say “goals,” I’m talking specifically about goals for doing new things that I’m not already achieving, goals that need extra time, attention, and focus. Splitting those scarce resources among multiple goals isn’t effective, because it’s hard enough to help ourselves change in just one way at a time; more than one way is usually overwhelming.

The joy of just one thing
But recently, I resolved to take all of the research I’ve done into the psychology of habits and self-motivation and build a novel out of it that will help people experience how to actually change their lives. It’s a tricky job despite the very great success of some books that have tried similar kinds of challenges, like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Ishmael, Eat, Pray, Love (though of course that’s a memoir rather than a novel), and even Ecotopia. It seems easy to me to stumble by either preaching–which loses the reader; or by not bringing in the really useful information–which loses the point. Still, I was never the guy who liked taking the easy jobs.

What’s particularly joyful for me about this whole process is that I’m able to single-mindedly pursue one project without the distractions of a lot of other projects, even though there are innumerable little jobs that are part of that project. At the moment, while of course my efforts go into other important things on a daily basis, when I have time to think about or work toward something big and expansive, I know exactly what that thing is: it’s this novel. That kind of one-project focus is a rare and miraculous thing for me.

It’s a little bit like a handy solution to a fiction writing problem, when you find that two characters can be mashed together into one and that this adds a burst of new possibilities and payoffs. Hey, the thief could also be the guide! you say. Suddenly everything is easier.

Unifying goals turns into unifying sites
Interestingly, unifying my focus also is resulting in a unification of my Web sites. I had already realized that I wanted to bring together my psychology of habits blog and my writing blog: my original writing blog at reidwrite.livejournal.com is getting folded into my original willpower blog at www.lucreid.com . But I realized today what the name of the new compounded site should be, and what else it should include: this site will become the new LucReid.com, and the out-of-date writing site I have by that name is getting updated and folded into this site as well. It’s interesting to me how it all seems to be coming together.

Photo by interestsarefree

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Useful tool for Nutrition and Fitness: SparkPeople

Resources

A screenshot of part of the Nutrition Tracker tool at SparkPeople

Ever since I started seriously working on my own fitness back in 2005, I have kept track of what I eat, my weight, and how much I exercise in little notebooks that I carry around with me, at least most of the time. Recently, though, a friend showed me SparkPeople, a free nutrition and fitness site. SparkPeople allows users to track what they eat, how much they exercise, and what kind of exercise they do (including both cardio and strength training categories), weight, measurements, and other fitness metrics. It’s well-suited both to weight loss and to other fitness goals and offers charts and totals of helpful values like calories, fat, protein, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins and minerals, calories burned in exercise, and more. There are other features I haven’t used extensively, including recipes, forums, goal-setting, and tracking how much water you drink. All of these features are free; to the best of my knowledge there are no paid membership options on the site. SparkPeople is supported by noticeable but well-behaved advertising.

Personally the most useful feature for me is the Nutrition Tracker, where I can tap into a very large database of foods and record exactly what I’m eating in as precise amounts as I can figure out. This allows me to receive detailed nutritional reporting. The tracking on this site takes me a little longer than my notebook method because I previously counted only calories, and I had memorized the calorie counts of most foods I ate, but it has several benefits. One is that it gives me much more information than I had on my own, protein and cholesterol totals being especially useful to me. Another is that, interestingly, I feel compelled to track everything every day–even on the days when I exceed my calorie goal, when the total is less appealing–because if I track a partial day, it feels like I’m being misleading: it would appear that I had only eaten however many things I tracked instead of that I stopped tracking. Using my paper system, there were days that I didn’t track. I like this slight extra incentive to be consistent.

A third benefit is that I’m forced to write down the specific foods I eat rather than, for instance, writing “omelette” and estimating total calories: my numbers are more precise using this system.

While I find some of the tools a little cumbersome–speaking as a techie, for instance, I’d love to see the tool for adding foods integrated into the Nutrition Tracker page as an iFrame–all in all they have been fairly easy to use and quite useful. Of course you have to have access to the Internet to update the system, but they have a good mobile phone interface that I’ve barely used but that might do the trick for people who don’t always have access to a computer.

Speaking about motivation specifically, notice that this site provides some key pieces: one is supporting detailed tracking and regular review of tracked information, which is a rudimentary feedback loop (a more sophisticated feedback loop would just add free-form discussion or journaling about what led to good and bad outcomes and how to change or stick with behaviors for best results in future). Another is the community that’s available there for encouragement and cameraderie. Yet another is focusing attention on nutrition and exercise issues, since more attention often translates to more and better motivation.

Since there are a lot of features on this extensive site that I haven’t used, I hope other SparkPeople users will post their impressions and tips in comments.

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