Everyday Systems: Podcast : Episode 1

Everyday Systems Overview

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Hi, I'm Reinhard. I run a self improvement site call everydaysystems.com.

Five years ago, I had all the usual self improvement problems. I was fat. I smoked too much. I drank too much. I exercised too little. And I diddled away all my free time in front of the computer. Low self esteem, that problem I guess I didn't really have, beyond what can be expected of a fat, slothful, drunk who wastes all his free time.

So I came up with a bunch of simple, common sense self improvement systems to fix these problems. And they worked. I solved my problems. So I put the systems up on the web. I thought they'd be interesting just as a personal record, what I did, what one guy did. But people took these idiosyncratic, personal, and, admittedly, kind of crazy sounding systems and applied them to their own problems -- successfully. Even more successfully that I had, in some cases, because their problems had been bigger to start with.

Just a little disclaimer before I continue: I am not health professional of any kind. I'm a computer programmer with degrees in English literature and library science. Please be skeptical about whatever I tell you and consult your doctor if you have any doubts. If you do not have any doubts, ask you doctor whether maybe you should. Do not sue me. Legally speaking, this is entertainment, got it?

OK, so why didn't I just use some existing off the shelf self improvement system instead of rolling my own? There are a ton of commercial self help systems for diet and exercise and everything else, why didn't I just use one of them? In computer programming, you always want to see if there's a preexisting solution to your problem before reinventing the wheel. That's a cardinal no-no. You don't want to waste time working on solved problems.

The problem with commercial self help systems is that they made me feel like a sucker. Maybe some of these gurus are honest, but they all seem like such charlatans. Besides their cheesy affect they all want to sell you these branded diet bars and what not. That was my first problem. I just didn't trust them.

The other problem was that despite the too good to be true tone all these gurus have, when you cut through all the mumbo jumbo, and there's a lot of mumbo jumbo, the plans are actually really unpleasant. You either have to spend all your time counting stuff -- carbs, calories. Or you have to give up whole categories of food. I like food, all different kinds of food, that's why I was fat.

Or, on the exercise front, you had to do mind numbingly boring, uncomfortable but supposedly really effective exercises --physiologically speaking.

Maybe some this stuff could have worked if I could have forced myself to do it, I'm not disputing that, I'm not even interested in that, but I knew I wouldn't be able to make myself do it, because it was too unpleasant. Maybe for a month, I could stick it out, maybe even for a year. But no way for a lifetime. And that's what you want, right? You don't want to go back to being fat after a year. If you can't see yourself doing a diet or an exercise program for the rest of your life, why bother starting? It's a waste of time and will. And physically bad for you too -- yoyo dieting is supposed to be terrible, right?

Look, If it really seemed like one of these systems was working for lots of people, maybe I'd have gotten over my reservations and gone with one of them . But the statistics didn't seem that way. A huge percentage of americans claimed to be doing low carb at the time. If low carb really worked and this huge percentage of the country was doing it, why were we still getting fatter? Why were we much fatter than we or any society had ever been in history? I know there are true believers who say, well, if you do it right and stick with it, it'll work. But if almost no one managers to do it right or stick with it, why should I be any different? It's like communism. People say "well, Stalin, Mao, and pol pot didn't get it quite right, let's give it another try." That's crazy.

So the off the shelf solutions weren't attractive. How would I do it differently? To tell you the truth, I came up with the systems first, and then thought up

The systems focus on the internal not external. That means not on the physical properties of certain foods or exercise movements but on the much harder problem of how to get myself to behave differently. That means three main things. The systems need to be painless enough so that I won't hate doing them, natural feeling enough so that I can automate them into unconsious habit, "second nature," and unobtrusive, timewise, so I'm not tempted to give them up as soon as I get busy.

The systems should also be free or cheap, simple but specific, and grounded by some striking image, pun or metaphor to give them a sort of superrational compellingness. They should be fun. Funny even. That way I don't feel like a dismal slave following them, I feel like a good sport, holding up my end of a joke.

So what are the systems? I'll give a really quick overview now, and then revisit each one in it's own future podcast.

We'll, there 800 pounds gorrilla (literally, almost) of self improvement issues: the problem of being overweight. Or more specifically (because remember, we have to break each problem down into tractable component parts), the problem of eating too much (lack of exercise is another problem I'll deal with separately, as is (and this may be shocking to some) nutrition). We used to have a great word for this: gluttony. Can't use that word now that everybody is fat, right? Though you have to wonder: if this is the terminology people used when everyone was skinny, maybe there's something to it.. In any case, The solution, the everyday system that solves this problem is called the No S Diet (or you can pronounce it the noes-diet, not nose on your face, but plural of the word no). The NO S Diet: No Snacks, NO sweets, no seconds except (sometimes) on days that start with S. That's actually the whole system right there. 14 words. The worlds shortest effective diet plan. You wouldn't take diet advice from a fat person, why take it from a fat book, right? And No S is effective. "Don't eat too much" is shorter, just 4 words, but it isn't effective. I lost over 40 pounds on No-s and kept it off for almost 5 years now. No yoyoing. Other people on the no s diet bulletin board have lost even more weight than this. I do have a few more words than these 14 to say about No-s, but I'll save that for a future podcast. If you're antsy to learn more now, go to nosdiet.com. Or everydaysystems.com. You can get more information about all these systems from everydaysystems.com

Another big problem is lack of exercise (or as we used to say when we weren't so given to it, Sloth). It's such a big problem that I've got two systems for dealing with it. Urban Ranger: an inspirational metaphor, a kind of role playing almost, to get you walking, purposefully waling. "Purposeful" is the key here. And shovelglove, a workout that involves wrapping an old sweater around a sledgehammer and mimicking the movements of traditional farmers, coal miners, and other manual laborers for 14 minutes every weekday (and yes, 14 is a significant number). So shoveling movements. Tree choping movements. Butter churning movements. Fencepost driving movements. And more. The rationale behind shovelglove is that by doing movements that mimic real life activities, you, for one, exercise muscles that you might actually want to use in real life. It's not just cosmetic. God forbid you actually have to shovel snow or something. Shovelglove prepares you for this. But also, more importantly, these movements are fun. There are movements we've done (more or less) for thousands of years and our bodies like doing them. It's a kind of communion with our laboring ancestors. And it's fun. It's play. You're pretending. It gives your imagination something to work with. It's not trapped in this totally uninspired, totally brainless physical prison of an activity. It may be less physiologically efficient than some contrived gym movement in terms of working some particular muscle, but because you can get into the workout, you stand a much better chance of actually doing it. And the fact that you enjoy it is worth something in itself, I think. You do it, you like doing it. You like doing it, so you do it.

Another problem is alcohol. I'm not going to say alcoholism, that's more than an everyday problem, please look somewhere else for a solution for that, I don't want to be the slightest bit responsible for advising you on a problem of that magnitude. I'm talking about occasional binge drinking. If you have this problem, most of the time you're fine, but every now and then, you find yourself smashed. And in deep, humiliating trouble. Perhaps national news worthy trouble. This is actually a pretty topical issue at the moment I guess. Moderate drinking, on the other hand, is supposed to be ridiculously good for you, and, incidentally, a great pleasure. How does a non-alcoholic who is nevertheless given to occasional disastrous binges navigate this? How do you get your resveratrol and joie de vivre and what not with reasonable assurance that you're not going to wind up puking your guts out in the back of a patrol car? Easy. Glass ceiling. A two drink a day absolute maximum. No more than too glasses a day. That's your ceiling. Yes, there's fudge room. But not enough fudge room to find yourself insulting female police officers or indulging paranoid anti Semitic fantasies.

Last problem I'm going to mention today is distraction management. We aimlessly surf the web or listen to all kinds of crazy podcasts when we should be doing something else. Then we complain that we don't have time to do what we really want to do. This is a much more difficult problem to deal with than it seems, but I chip away at it with a system called Weekend Luddite. The original luddites were textile workers who smashed machines that were putting them out of work in I think it was 19th century England. Weekend luddites are more moderate. We don't smash machines, we just avoid them. And only on weekends. And only machines that we find are wasting our time. And there are a few other little exemptions that I'll get to when I give weekend luddite it's own segment. Distraction management is actually a serious problem. It doesn't seem that way. It seems almost innocuous. Web surfing. Video games. Watching infomercials on channel 357. Good harmless fun. But it's really not. Wasting time is wasting life. What's more valuable? I'm all for relaxing. But there are much better, more intentional ways to relax.

If these systems seem too simple to work, there are two reasons for that. One, ok, you probably really do need to hear a little more about them. And you shall. I'll give each one a segment of its own in future podcasts. Or go to everydaysystems.com. The other reason they sound so simple is well, they really are very simple. But that's an advantage. Complexity is bad, where it isn't absolutely necessary. And it isn't for these problems.

There are also some common subsystems that some of these systems share that might be useful to you in creating your own systems. I'll cover these as well in a future podcast.

I hope I've at least piqued your interest to hear more. That's it for this week. Thanks for listening.

By Reinhard Engels

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