Monthly Archives: July 2007

The Shiny Ball of Atheism

(2 of 5 in the Pragmatic Path to Agnosticism)

Imagine a Faith that has delivered miracles you’ve actually seen in your lifetime, other miracles that can be conclusively documented in prior lives, and that promises, based on an unparalleled track record, continued miracles in the future.

Imagine you have just been admitted into the leading seminary of that Faith, where you, surrounded by true believers and acolytes, are promised a position in the clergy and a chance (however small) to brush arms with the saints of the Faith, and someday perhaps be a saint yourself.

Imagine all that is asked of you to be part of this world is hard work, and strict adherence to doctrine. Officially, you can even worship another God if you’d like. What’s not to like?

Do all this, and you’ve conceived of Caltech. I was admitted in 1992, joined a fraternity-like dorm, and found a new way of viewing life that would shape my outlook on the world.

It was here, after having rejected Catholicism in high-school, through using several of the new shiny tools and toys I was given during my education that I came to be a devout atheist.

The Scientific Method

Science is founded on many principles, but few are more important than the Scientific Method. It’s a series of steps that are drilled into every budding scientist, and that you (should) follow throughout your career. You start by having a question you want to answer, such as “what does matter consist of” and then you go from there:

One of the key points in the method is how it determines truth or falsity. The method does not have to completely prove something – only show a hypothesis is consistent based on known data, is probably true, and can make some (falsifiable) prediction about the future.
If you can meet these three definitions, then your hypothesis achieves the coveted title of “accepted scientific theory.”

A Tangent on Probability

Many readers may be familiar with probability, but let’s go through a brief refresher. In science we talk of events occurring with a certain probability, and all we mean is, all things being equal, how LIKELY is the event to occur. Events can be very likely (i.e. more times than average, the event will occur) or very unlikely (i.e. more times than average, the event will not occur). Imagine placing an event along the following scale:

Now, this being science, folks like to apply numbers, and then usually assign probability a number between 0% and 100%. What does that mean? Well:    

0% is “it will NEVER happen” and 100% is “it will ALWAYS happen”. And 50% means “it might or might not happen”, or “50-50”, or “even odds.” Let’s consider the classic case of “flipping a coin”:

On average, you’ll get heads once out of every two coin flips. So, the probability of getting a heads (assuming an average coin) is 50%. What about the odds of getting EITHER a heads or a tails?

If you’re asked to bet $1 to potentially win $2 on this question, it’s probably a good idea to take the bet. You’ll win ALMOST all the time. But you might think the probability of getting EITHER heads or tails would be 100% or “Dead Certain”, but it’s not. Why is that? Well…

…it’s possible that the coin will land EXACTLY on its side. The probability of this occurring is very very small, but it’s not zero. So you can’t say the odds of getting EITHER heads or tails is 100%, just that it’s very close (say, 99.9999%).

That is an important part of the scientific method. It tells us what is PROBABLY true, but it is usually impossible to prove anything to 100% (one exception). Still, being PROBABLY true is usually enough, and is very valuable: you can use it to make extremely accurate predictions about the future! For example, I confidently predict the sun will rise tomorrow, but technically the probability of that occurring is not 100%.

And I’d guess most people can agree on the likelihood of the following events being true and make some accurate predictions about the future based on them (for example, will you find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow tomorrow?):

Technically as an Irish citizen I’m require to believe it is possible leprechauns exist, but I know it’s extremely improbable. It’s also possible that Lucky Charms Cereal does not actually exist (e.g. we all live in a Matrix like world), and I really hope it doesn’t, but it is extremely probable that it does exist.

March of the Scientists

Seems boring (it often is) but this method, in various forms, has been followed since the ancient Greeks, and the results have been outstanding. Think of the miracles that science has brought us, and almost all can be attributed to consistent repeated application of the scientific method: the theory of gravity, plastics, flight, nuclear power, and computers to just name a few. Consistent application of forming hypothesis, doing tests, examining data and repeating: in this way, we have uncovered the world.

And coincident with the rise of this method, a culture has arisen among scientists, and Caltech is no exception among them. It is a culture of intense optimism in the belief the science can continue its rapid progress and illuminate more of the universe. And it is a culture of intense skepticism, questioning those who believe in things that science has proven to be false but also (usually) relentlessly questioning the things that science has already proven to be true (a good example is how Einstein questioned Newtonian gravity and as a result brought a deeper understanding of that theory). (Note: in its purported focus on self-questioning, science is differentiated from almost all other faiths, and certainly all mono-theistic faiths I know of).

What does this have to do with God? I had struggled with the concept of God, and my struggles intensified as I learned more about the world. Even before I went to college, I had formed a belief that the world was divided into things we knew (could prove) and things that were unknown (we hadn’t yet proved or disproved), and I was trying to rapidly expand the former. God and the concept of spirituality firmly lived in the world of the Unknown for me.

Caltech showed me was a way to rapidly expand what we knew, gave me a set of tools that could be used to achieve that goal, and imbued me in a faith that we will continue to make progress.

I viewed the world at the start of mankind as being mostly “The Unknown” with a small set of knowledge (e.g. how to make fire)…

…and that over time through the application of the scientific method we’ve rapidly expanded on the amount we know.

The more we looked for spirituality in the world of the known, the more we failed to find it, and we were rapidly running out of “unknown” areas where spirituality could hide. Evidence of the existence of God was scarce. In fact, the data and experiments done by mankind over the last 2,000 years, and especially since Darwin, have pointed towards the improbability of the existence of the God I grew up with (and certainly in the concept the world was built in 7 days 6,000 years ago).

I came to believe during my time in college that we were rapidly expanding on our knowledge and removing places for God and Spirituality to hide, and that we were likely to prove that concepts of God, spirituality, Plato’s unmoved mover, and others were nothing but the biochemical rantings and ravings of a fit species trying to survive:

Support Group for Atheists

And I wasn’t alone in this belief – in college a belief in the non-existence of God was the most popular view point among my compatriots (agnostics were tolerated, but theists were ostracized). I believe among hard-science intellectual communities today, it remains the dominant belief due to three arguments:

  1. There has been a relentless increase in the things we’ve proven about the universe.
  2. During thousands of experiments, we have found no evidence that proves the existence of God.
  3. The culture of science, correctly, puts huge value on skepticism.

Therefore, it is PROBABLE that God and spirituality are purely concepts, invented by man, and any instantiations of either concept can be wholly explained via (eventually) knowable physical phenomenon. And anyone who says anything different, well, that’s “crazy talk.”

And it’s fun. It leads to wonderfully amusing things like the God FAQ, cute summaries of traditional theist arguments for the existence of God, and countless fun spoofs of people of Faith including one of my favorite, What Would Jesus Drive?

I’m a sarcastic person, and the opportunity to use these tools and logic to eviscerate the concepts I’d had forced upon me as a young man was too good to give up. And I became an ardent hard-core atheist, mocking any who tried to advance an alternate view of existence.

(…by the way, hard-core atheists are not quite as amusing, as Unitarian Jihadists…)

What’s Your Problem?

So now I had a philosophy to replace my concepts of order in the universe. What was the problem? My friend Sarah put it to me much better than I ever could write, so I quote:

“There has been a philosophical gap there, maybe since Spinoza. I think atheists and agnostics need a spiritual outlook as much as anyone else, but they have more difficulty finding it. (By “spiritual” here, I am referring to a sense of wonder, awe, or inspiration, and obviously not a belief in supernatural agents.) I find people like Bertrand Russell inspirational in the sense that they lived good lives despite a lack of belief, but atheist philosophers have a tendency to recommend calm stoicism in the face of the universe, rather than inspiration or awe. Stoicism is nice and all, but it doesn’t get you through the day.”

I gradually realized that pure atheism without any sense of spirituality “didn’t get me through the day.”

And just as importantly, I realized that my logic in arriving at hard atheism, the 100% confident belief in the non existence of a spiritual element to the Universe, was (and is) horribly flawed.

Why? Strangely (and likely to the dismay of Creationists) Darwin and a German gentleman named Heisenberg point the way.

(which I’ll continue next week…)

– Art

Help me raise over $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Nude Numbers (#7)

For reference, here’s last week’s data. Curious what this post is? Click here.


As mentioned earlier, I may have a stress fracture. This week continued my rehab with swimming and lifting. Weight control was better, but body fat remains higher than I’d like. The marathon and bike-ride plans are still in danger, but if the injury is a stress fracture (hopefully), I can be back on the training plan in about 3 weeks.

Subjective Data

  1. Leg feels a lot better after 12 days in the boot. I can now walk without limping, although I do feel dull pain as the day progresses. I’m wearing the boot on alternate days right now.
  2. I read the book Total Immersion, which tells me I have a lot more to learn about swimming. Still, I did (and enjoyed) the ‘yardage’ this week.
  3. My back was sore again on Sunday (heavy lifting day on Saturday) so I took it off (continuing to listen to my body).
  4. Weight is down with the restricted calorie targets I have, but body fat remains stubbornly high. I think I either need to cut more (which I don’t want to do) or accept my BF will remain around 16% until I can ramp up pool yardage or running mileage again.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.


Swimming continues, and I was able to get a lot more laps in this week. Towards the end of the week I concentrated more on form and drills than on doing laps, hence my Saturday lap numbers look low (they were alternated with lots of drills on balance).

Recovery is going well, and I’m still optimistic I’ll be back on the road to have a shot at the marathon. The bike ride is in September, and I’m not (maybe should be) too worried about it. It’s just 170 miles, and it’s spread over 2 and a half days.

Lifting was great this week, and I even worked leg drops and incline presses back in (although single-leg). Quick note in case you’re wondering: if you’re at a gym doing 45-degree single-leg incline-presses while wearing a boot on a fractured leg, some people will stop and chat with you and claim you’re “hard core.” Have to say, that was a first in my life J

My eating was good this week. I only cheated on one meal on Saturday (and it wasn’t even that big of a cheat). Still, while my weight went down, my BF stayed pretty constant. I admit this is more frustrating to me than I’d like, but I know I’m doing the right things so I’ll keep everything unchanged here for now.

As usual, if you have suggestions, leave a comment, or reach me at “art (at)”.


Basically more of the same:

  1. Continue rest, rest, resting the leg. I’m alternating days wearing the boot, and not walking much (taking the bus to and from work instead of my 2-mile walk).
  2. Keep swimming. I’m going to alternate drill days with yardage days to try to get some cardio workout (even if my form sucks).
  3. Keep doing the upper-body and core lifting, and keep with light leg work.
  4. Keep 2,000-2,250 calories-per-day target to keep weight under control.
  5. Keep smiling.

Presentation Notes

No changes to data presentation this week. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

– Art

Help me raise over $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

The Fattening of America

Obesity in America

I was being lazy this morning and ‘flicking‘ online when I ran across the following link detailing the progression of obesity in the US in the last 20 years.  Scary!!!

I would be interested to see that same data cross-referenced with rates of:

  1. Increase/decrease in portion sizes at restaurants and/or grocery stores.
  2. Advertising for food products and/or advertising for food products to kids.
  3. Price per calorie of food (broken down by restaurants vs. grocery stores).

Not to claim that we shouldn’t take responsibility for our own actions, but since I started measuring what I ate, I’ve discovered that calorie counts in restaurant food are way higher than I thought, and appear to have risen substantially over the last 20 years.  It makes sense since the marginal cost of serving more food is a small for a restaurant, yet popular with customers.

Even though I’m not obese, it’s generally a good idea for me to eat no more than half of any dish I’m served in a restaurant.

Get Thee Behind Me Jesus!

(1 of 5 in the Pragmatic Path to Agnosticism)

There are Jews?

I came to the US from Ireland when I was fourteen and went to a public high school in Florida. There were a few unusual qualities about my school: I could take Hebrew as a foreign language; I got all the Jewish holidays off; and a lot of my fellow students were Jewish. To most readers this won’t seem too strange.

To me, well, it was shocking. I didn’t think Jews still existed!

It wasn’t that I didn’t know about Jews. In Ireland I’d learned a lot about them: God chose them as his people. He guided them to the Promised Land. They eventually fell out of a state of grace with God, which required God to send his only son Jesus to save them and mankind. They rejected Jesus and crucified him. And then they disappeared from history.

OK, one exception: one Jew appears again in the 1500’s in Venice where he lends 3,000 ducats in exchange for a pound of human flesh (which, when adjusted for inflation, is one of the worst deals in the history of the butchering profession)(1). But that was it. They were never heard of or talked about again.

None of my Irish teachers ever explicitly said that the Jews died out, but I assumed they did(2). Yet here was a school full of people my age who not only claimed to be Jewish but, counter to what I thought Jews would be like, were the same as me except they had different holidays with unpronounceable names.

Maybe I had not gotten the full picture of the world so far?

Muslims Too?

Over the next few years several more cracks appeared in the sheltered picture I had painted of the world. My best friends were either Jewish or protestant. And they were good people. I struggled with the concept that, to my understanding of Catholic doctrine, my protestant friends were condemned to external damnation (Jews got special dispensation in the doctrine, and instead went to Limbo where they served as babysitters for all eternity to unbaptized Catholic babies(3)). For a God that advocated love to all mankind, this seemed a little odd.

Confused, I spoke to my priest about it. Fr. Black (an amazing priest by the way) acknowledged the conflict, told me I should discover with God how best to interpret the doctrine and suggested I pray to ask Him for understanding. I did pray, a lot, and during my prayers came up with the idea to seek out more knowledge about different religions.

So I enrolled at a local community college in some comparative religion courses. I learned a little about Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and others. I started buying books on my own to learn more about them. I became a sponge and immersed myself in whatever spiritual resources a seventeen year old can find. I even read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance because I thought it had something to do with Buddhism (not really, but on the other hand I still recommend The Tao of Pooh).

One interaction from that period ate at away at me– in the last class I took, an Islamic student pointed out that in her understanding of Islam, non-Muslims could not enjoy the same rewards in heaven as Muslims.

The concept of Protestants being condemned to hell had unsettled me, but hadn’t forced me to break with the church; I think mainly because in Irish Catholic teachings the Protestant faiths were consistently represented as the oppressor, and a turning away from the true Faith. My instinct at the time was that Protestants probably didn’t deserve to go to Heaven. Plus few Protestant faiths, especially the Church of England which I was most familiar with, was so draconian as to damn all other faiths. But Islam, I knew nothing about, had few preconceptions, and yet here I found out that not only did Catholicism damn Islam; Islam essentially damned Catholicism (although not quite as dramatically).

Mutual Exclusivity, a Loving God and Yiddish

It was this contradiction that led to my deciding to reject Catholicism. Why? Because I couldn’t reconcile this logical conflict: Muslims believe they worship the one true God, and that other faiths are inferior. Catholics believe they worship the one true God, and other faiths are inferior. Both faiths profess that God is all merciful and loving. And yet, if you both religions are right, then the other religion must be wrong. It’s the classic liar’s paradox. It was inconceivable to me that a God who loved mankind, created mankind in his own image, watched over mankind, and one day would redeem mankind, actually had decided that all mankind was damned. (Why this logical inconsistency in doctrine is the one that tripped me up, versus countless others like the concept of the Trinity, I don’t know.)

In the words of my new friends: Oy vey!

I was confused and I was angry. I felt I was wronged. Between the logical inconsistencies, the things I felt had been hidden from me (like the fact that people who follow other religions are often loving good people), and the fact that I personally had never heard from my anthropomorphic God, I felt I had to do something.

So I lashed out by doing something I’ve often done when I have trouble coping: I broke completely, cold turkey, with the thing I couldn’t grasp – the concepts of God and Faith that I’d grown up with. (Which led to “Jesus Cathy, We’re Raising Heathens!”).

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

And looking back on it, well, nothing new here really. It’s a text book example of a teenager rebelling against his parents, and trying to make his own mark in the world. You could probably mad-lib a blog entry on it (I know I did…).

What I hadn’t appreciated at the time was, while I had rejected God (with a big ‘G’) and Papal authority, it left a part of me unfilled and incomplete. Simultaneously I went off to college, where a new Faith awaited to fill the hole left by Catholicism. Not only that, it was a cool, awesome, shiny, exciting new Faith that was sure to upset my parents even more!

(which I’ll continue next week…)

– Art

Help me raise over $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

(1) I had to study “The Merchant of Venice” in Ireland for my Junior Certificate in Ireland.

(2) As a side note, certainly no one ever mentioned that 6 million Jews had been murdered in World War II — my experience of Irish history was completely silent on this point. Some have opined that this was out of a collective guilt the Irish felt about being neutral in World War II. Possibly. Also likely is that in the limited time available to teach history to children the Irish education authorities focused on national issues to create a cohesive national story that would create and inflame the passions necessary to maintain an independent nation. Regardless, it’s inexcusable. But before Americans erupt in outrage, I point out that each culture selectively culls and teaches the history they want. For example, very few Americans are aware the US spent several decades occupying countries in Latin America (in particular Nicaragua) mainly to protect the economic interests of the Chiquita Banana Corporation (then called United Fruit Company) but this is heavily taught by countries that want to view the US as a potential adversary. Countries teach what they want their kids to think as adults, not necessarily the complete truth on any subject.

(3) This is not completely accurate. Catholic doctrine teaches that people who do not accept Jesus Christ into their hearts through baptism go to Hell. Two big theological problems show up with this though. One is what happens for people who are too young (the unborn and babies) who die before they can be baptized; does a just, loving and merciful God condemn these innocents (Augustine thought so)? The other is what happened with people like Moses, obviously good people who enjoyed God’s love, but who lived before Jesus was born and hence could not have accepted him into their hearts? To solve these two issues, Catholic doctrine (over centuries) evolved two concepts for something called Limbo. One, the Limbo of Infants was a place (separate from hell, heaven or purgatory) where infants went when they died because (still suffering from Original Sin) they were ineligible for heaven (this concept has recently been dismissed by the Catholic church, and replaced with a concept of “I don’t know, but seriously, would God do that… (see section 1261)?)” The second concept, the Limbo of the Patriarchs, was a place that existed where people like Moses and other Jewish prophets, people who existed before the life of Jesus and hence could not have accepted him into their hearts, went when they died. Then, when Jesus was resurrected, the Limbo of the Patriarchs was emptied and all the Patriarchs ascended to heaven with Jesus. In the catechisms I was taught growing up, these two concepts were often intermixed, and I developed the (incorrect) understanding that both Limbos were the same, and the Jews hung out with all these infants essentially providing free babysitting services.

The Pragmatic Path to Agnosticism

The Fortune Teller’s Curse

I grew up very Catholic. Some people in the US went to Catholic school; I went to Catholic country. I was an altar-boy for 6 years. I prayed to God every day. Some people took my resemblance to my cousin Owen, a local priest, and my piety as a sign that I was the boy of my generation destined to serve the Church.

When I was seventeen I decided, with the aplomb and attitude only a seventeen-year-old can muster, to reject the Catholic Church and the concept of God. It was the first major decision I made as an adult and, though I dreaded telling my parents of it, I felt it was an important part of adulthood to take a stand and fight for it.

Of course when fighting for a stand I wasn’t against stacking the odds in my favor. I decided to tell my parents independently to avoid their ability to gang-up on me. I knew it would be traumatic for them: Both are strict Catholics, with my mother bordering on the fervent side in her beliefs. And I knew it would be, to put it mildly, unpleasant for me to break the news to them in parallel.

My conversation with my father went as I expected: he grew very cross, told me I didn’t know what I was doing, and stormed out of the room yelling to my mother, “Jesus Cathy! We’re raising heathens!”

However, my “coming out” to my mother did not go to plan. She listened patiently to my arguments. She stayed calm as I told her I would no longer go to mass; no longer pray to God; no longer worry about the salvation of Jesus Christ. She just waited. And when I was done, when no more words could come out, she just touched my arm and said:

“I’m glad you’re having doubts Andrew. When I was your age, I had doubts too. It only made my faith stronger in the end.”

It was the scariest thing anyone has ever said to me. Not just the words, but the confidence in her voice, the surety in her eyes. As though she could clearly look into the future and pluck out my path. I was stunned. And she just left the room. We never talked about it again.

But here I am, almost seventeen years later, and I still fear she will end up being right.

The Spirit of Running Naked

I spoke a while ago about trying to change myself, in mind, body, soul and spirit. The last few posts focused almost exclusively on the body aspect. The next few will focus on the spirit.

To those who find metaphysical-struggles and theological-bullshit boring and not interesting, I apologize in advance, and will return to more concrete topics later. But for the remaining two people (you know who you are) who might find this interesting, the next series of posts will outline how I’m trying to improve my spirit and what that means to me. I will write about why I rejected Catholicism, how I came across and embraced the religion of atheism, some of the problems that emerged for me with atheism over the past ten years, how I’ve now come to now reject strong atheism, and explain how I’ve ended up accepting the concept of spirituality and exploring what that means in my life.

As with the 5 Rules of Change, this will be a multi-part essay that I’ll post one per week over the next few weeks. Or if you prefer to wait for the entire thing, come back to this page in 6 weeks and I will have updated the links below. Stay tuned:

  1. Get Thee Behind Me Jesus!
  2. The Shiny Ball of Atheism.
  3. Survival of the Holiest.
  4. The Fundamentalist Atheist.
  5. Rise of the Pragmatic Agnostic.

Nude Numbers (#6)

For reference, here’s last week’s data.


As mentioned earlier, I may have a stress fracture. Considering that, this was a good week. I started to learn how to swim, and while weight was still shooting up at the beginning of the week, I got my weight back below 160 by the end (I reduced my calories intake by about 500 calories/day). The marathon and bike-ride plans are still in danger, but if the injury is a stress fracture (hopefully), I can be back on the training plan in about 4 weeks.

Subjective Data

  1. I wasn’t really able to move before Wednesday when I saw a sports-MD. He gave me a leg brace/boot which means I could hobble more effectively.
  2. Leg feels a lot better after 5 days in the boot. I was able to stand at home yesterday and hobble around without pain.
  3. A lot of people suggested swimming to keep my cardio-fitness level high while I recover. I’ve never swam for exercise before, but I started this week. Wow. That’s hard. Why didn’t someone mention that?
  4. My back and shoulders were pretty sore and tired after Saturday’s swim, so I took Sunday off (trying to be better about listening to my body).
  5. I still think I’m at a lower body fat than the 16.0% my scale is reading on “normal” setting. For reference it’s reading 10.8% on “athlete” setting.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.


First off, thanks to everyone for their great suggestions on what to do while I recover. A lot of folks suggested swimming, so I’m trying that. I’m also making sure my non-heavy lifting days are very cardio intensive to make sure I get my HR up (Thanks Amy).

I was much better this week about calorie intake and was religious about eating every 3-4 hours. It paid off in the data towards the end of the week (went from peak of 164 to 158, and while I know most of it was water weight and error of margins of scale, it still made me happy).

Lastly, apart from a miserable start to the week when it was painful to move, I’ve been excited and having fun learning something new (swimming). I definitely suck at it, but I’m sucking less each day (which is good, because sucking water while breathing ain’t nice). I did buy a copy of Total Immersion and will read it over the next few weeks.

As usual, if you have suggestions, leave a comment, or reach me at “art (at)”.


  1. Continue rest, rest, resting the leg. I’m going to wear the boot for at least 2 weeks before I start trying to walk without it.
  2. Keep up the swimming (I’m going to target 4-5 days of swimming and gradually build up laps). J is afraid I’ll start doing triathlons as a result, but I promised her “not this year” J
  3. Keep doing the upper-body and core lifting. I’ll also start working in some left-leg leg drops (harder than you think…) in the hopes my right leg muscle decides to not atrophy out of solidarity.
  4. Keep 2,000-2,250 calories-per-day target to keep weight under control.
  5. Keep smiling.

Presentation Notes

I added swim data this week, and put a little reminder of the goal (and red/yellow/green status for how I’m tracking). I don’t have a gray target zone for swimming since it’s not on the official plan, and I don’t know what’s reasonable for my body yet. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

– Art

Help me raise over $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

How I Lost 25 Pounds by Being a Manager

5 Rules of Change

In July of 2006 I weighed around 185 lbs, about 25% of which was pure fat. I wasn’t happy about that and some other things, so I set a goal to get to 10-12% body fat and run the NY marathon in November 2007. To do this, I’ve been applying approaches I’ve used as a professional manager, and to myself.

Specifically, I’ve always believed in 5 Rules of Change whenever I’ve tried to change teams and organizations. Here are those rules, with the posts explaining the detailed thoughts behind them, and how they’ve been helping me lose weight and change my life:

The Rules

The Summary

How I’ve Used The Rule To Lose Fat

Know What You’re Changing

Understand and measure what you want to change.

I measure body fat and weight every day, and post results each week to this blog.

Less Is More

Make the easiest change you can, but make sure it’s a visible change to you.

I first started counting calories I ate, without a target level of calories, because I knew just counting would make me think about what I ate.

Evolution not Revolution

Try to make a small change to how things work today, rather than change the world overnight.

The first small change I made was set a calorie target (in addition to counting).

Round Wheels Work

Look for people who have similar goals to you, and do what they do

Based on success stories I could find, I then started eating 6 times a day, drinking more water, etc.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

Continually make small but risky changes; don’t be afraid of failure – failure can guarantee success with the right mindset.

I look at my measurements each week, and adjust something (add more exercise, increase calories, rest, etc.) if I’m not hitting my targets

Results So Far

I could give you lots of colorful charts, but I won’t. (See the Nude Numbers posts if you actually want numbers.) Instead, some people asked for photos to track progress.

Well, here’s a “before” photo I posted a few weeks ago…

…and here’s me at a family reunion 3 weeks ago

185lbs @23-25% BF versus 160lbs @ 15-16% BF. Not exactly a butterfly and still some way to go for the goal, but heading in the right direction I think.

Closing Thoughts

My point is I do believe in the methods I’ve outlined over the past few weeks. They have worked for me professionally and now they’re working for me personally.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading this series of posts. I know there are many ways to change, and this just happens to be mine (and I can’t claim it’s rocket science or that I succeed at it all the time). I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has tried changing aspects of their lives (either with different methods, or these methods).

Part of what I’m trying to do on Running Naked with changing how I run my life is to become a better person through sharing my experiences and learning from the experiences of others. Your feedback is invaluable to me in that.

Thank you for your time,

– Art

Help me raise over $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Good news and bad news…


I finally got in to see a sports MD yesterday and get some x-rays of my leg.

So here’s the bad news: looks like I have either a stress fracture or tendonitis in my right fibula (lower leg).   Either way, the treatment is the same: I’m in a boot for the next 3 weeks with instructions to rest it and stay off the activity that caused it, so no running.  That said, if it’s a stress fracture (I hope) I still have a shot at the marathon (but it just got way more difficult).

And here’s the good news: I just found out I can save a ton on my car insurance!

Wait, no, that wasn’t it.  I don’t even own a car…

The good news is the ton of suggestions and encouragement I’ve gotten from everyone out there.  Popular consensus is to make sure I keep going to the gym, and try swimming to maintain endurance.  I don’t know how to swim efficiently (I taught myself how to swim in a river in Ireland, and so don’t know how to breathe), so this should be fun to learn.  I’ve got to figure out how to keep my right lower leg immobile while doing it, but it’s doable.  I’ll work a trainer this week to figure it out.

Stay tuned…

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate (5 of 5 Rules of Change)

(5 of 5 Rules)

As a reminder, my goal is to get to 10-12% body fat by November 2007 (starting from around 20-23% in August of 2006). This series of articles talks about the approach I’m taking by turning some business management techniques onto myself.

Congratulations! Now Fail.

You’ve decided to change something big about yourself. You’ve been careful to measure what you want to change (Know What You’re Changing). You’ve started with a small step (Less Is More). You’ve changed an existing way of doing things to maximize the chance of success (Evolution Not Revolution). And you’ve tried to steer the change towards something that works for most people (Round Wheels Work).

And shock, you’ve been successful! You can see change! (In my case for the first time in 10 years, I can see my belt buckle while looking down).

Congratulations. That’s hard, and you should take a minute or two to look back and feel proud.

But let me give you a warning: This is usually where I fall down. I’ve succeeded in all those steps before in my personal life, but I’ve failed to make them a lasting change. And that’s because I’ve always failed to apply Rule #5: Iterate, iterate, iterate.

There Is No Third Way

But first, let’s talk about what happens if you didn’t get that first success? What if you did all the right things, but the change failed? It happens all the time: the diet that didn’t stick despite it being healthy (I’ve done that); the team where you didn’t fit in despite your best efforts (I’ve done that); the time you promised yourself you’d be nice to your brother at a family wedding but instead you ended up telling him you’d never talk to him again because of some insensitive thing you think he did (yup, did that too)?

How do you move forward? There are three ways:

  • THE FIRST WAY: Truly accept that you can’t change this part of your life.
  • THE SECOND WAY: Try a different way of changing.
  • THE THIRD WAY: Wander around in a state of self-pity and self-loathing where you lie to yourself claiming you really want to change. But don’t actually do anything, as a result making yourself miserable, your friends bored, and your pets vaguely annoyed. Convince yourself it was the actions of others that caused you to fail. Rail against the machine that got in your way. Corner complete strangers at parties and let them know the evil that befell you. Go on the Dr. Phil show.

When I was younger, I often chose the third way (although Dr. Phil would not accept me as a guest). I steadily gained 30 pounds all the while telling myself I wanted to get into great shape, but <insert excuse here>. I wanted some people at Tellme Networks (a former employer) who saw me as fatally limited in some ways to view me in a different way, but <insert excuse here>. I spent 3 years not talking to my brother after that family wedding, telling myself I really wanted to, but <insert excuse here>. I can give a lot of examples where I walked down the third way.

But over the last few years, I’ve realized something: the third way is a dead-end (despite what Tony Blair might think).

In every failure we face, we must force ourselves to choose the first, or the second way. If you frame your failures like that and act accordingly, simplistic as it is, all your failures will turn into successes. (I won’t claim I’m the first person to realize this.)

Failure Breeds Success

What do I mean?

What happens if you choose the first way after a failure? You accept you cannot change something. (I mean really accept, not tell yourself you accept but actually pack an RV of sorrow, bitterness and regret for a lifetime journey down the third way.)
Guess what? That is success! You’ve actually changed yourself – not in the way you originally thought, but in a way that is closer to happiness. Some people may say this is a cop-out, but it’s not. If you’re truly come to accept the world as it is, you’ve achieved a change that few ever succeed at.

For example, I realized at Tellme that I couldn’t change the opinions some people held about me, and I truly accepted that. I had gotten off on the wrong foot with them, and no amount of asking them for their respect would change that. Hell, I came to realize that some of their opinions about me had a grain of truth in them, and I should concentrate on either accepting those truths about myself or changing myself rather than changing their opinion of me. Strangely my happiness and effectiveness at work went up drastically after that. Once I stopped looking for others to change and to give me respect, and instead focused on changing myself, I got way more done and got a lot more respect. Odd that.

And what happens if you choose the second way after a failure? You change something and try again. Or in other words, you follow rule #5: You iterate, iterate, iterate until you succeed in changing.

(In case people are wondering, I did spend 3 years not talking to my brother because of something he said at my other brother’s wedding. What did he say? Actually I couldn’t remember the next day – I could only remember that I was angry. Every time I thought about reconciling with him, I convinced myself that I was truly wronged and that he should apologize first – even though I had no idea what the fight was about!!! After 3 years of excuses for not speaking to my brother, I decided to follow the Second Way and flew out to Atlanta to have dinner with him and apologize. He was as eager to talk to me as I was to him. We actually talk regularly now. Yeah, that third way is pretty stupid…)

Success Breeds Failure

So if you’re serious about change, but fail the first time, you either try again or accept the world and reach a state of higher contentment. That doesn’t seem bad.

But what happens if you succeed at your first change? Well, if you’re happy with the change and can accept that no more is required, congratulations you’re done. But if not, and it’s just the first step in a larger transformation, then the reality is most people stop here anyway.

Why? Because if you succeed the first time you have way more appealing options than if you fail. You could:

  1. Sit back and bask in the glory of what you just did (you deserve it you know. The hard work paid off. You can pick it up again later.)
  2. Repeat exactly (or do an easier version of) what you just did (you know it generates success.)
  3. Change something about what you just did to make it a little harder and riskier and try again.

Looking at those options, the first (basking in the glory) is mighty appealing. No doubt about it, it’s fun to sit back and admire your handiwork. Some acknowledgement is good, but too often we stop there. We keep intending to get back to our efforts, to finish the job, and well… This is what leads to someone losing 15 pounds quickly out of a target of fifty, but then bouncing back as they slack off. It’s not one moment of failure; it’s a slow unnoticed decline into failure.

The 2nd option (repeat what you just did) seems appealing, but a truism of change is the law of diminishing returns applies: repetition generates less change each time. Slowly you get disappointed with progress, and start putting progressively less into your efforts: You get bored doing the same thing over and over; you make excuses why you don’t need to go to the gym today; why you don’t need to organize that team-building event; why you don’t need to… and soon you’re standing still again.

Think of the many big changes in politics, business, or even your life that petered out quickly because the first two options were chosen. Option 1 and option 2 are insidious traps because they’re so easy, so pleasant, and you never feel the harsh reality of direct failure, and so you don’t get the benefits that costme from failing.

Personally, I’ve fallen into the 2nd trap more often than the first trap. For example, in many prior attempts to get in shape, I’d see great results in the first 6 weeks, keep doing the same thing, and then I’d drop off slowly after 6 months.

So to keep change going, you must risk failure and iterate, iterate, iterate. Change something about what you just did, risk something, and then go back and try just as hard again. If you fail, you get to apply the benefits of failure (see above). If you succeed, well, iterate, iterate, iterate again until either you fail, or you feel you can change no more but accept where you are.

So now, I’m trying to be religious about applying Rule #5.

(Note: While I argue failure at hard change is often better that success repeating the same easy change, please don’t take this as a recommendation to “change” a tire by holding up the car with your bare hands rather than using a jack just because it’s a “harder change.” In that case, stick with the easy change. Heck, call AAA).

Iterate Away the Fat

Where was I? Oh yeah, this series of posts is about losing body fat.

Last week I’d mentioned several changes I slowly added to my regimen: Eating 6 times a day; counting calories; drinking more water; etc. Each change was (and is) done as an iteration on the prior week. The key thing I do is watch where my body-fat is each week (measured daily, but I look at the weekly average) and where my energy level is. I change something each week to keep both moving in the right direction (down and up respectively). Watch the Nude Numbers posts for examples of that.

It has been (mostly) working, but some weeks I fail. Last week happens to be a good example: I got injured, but also didn’t change my calorie consumption to match my decreased activity. It followed on the heels of a rest/relaxed week in my schedule where weight had gone up a little (per plan). As a result my body fat has gone up too much and today I weighed in at 162.2 lbs and 15.7% body fat.

So, I’ve been changing some things, iterating, and I keep trying. I’ve reduced my calorie target back down to 2,000 to 2,250 a day, and am resting my leg. I’ve increased the amount of veggies I’m eating (sugar snap peas are in season and are very filling). If my leg doesn’t heal, I’ll switch to some other non-leg based cardio exercise.

What I’ve found over the past year as I’ve been doing this is lessons of the “failure weeks” are the ones that help me the most, so I’m optimistic about the latest one. I’ll continue each week posting my Nude Numbers so you can see how I do on this, and whether I’m actually applying these philosophies.

– Art

Help me raise over $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Nude Numbers (#5)

For reference, here’s last week’s data.


Not a good week for training. I’ve sustained a potentially serious injury and marathon and bike-ride plans are in jeopardy. Read on…

Subjective Data

  1. My IT-Band (or whatever it is) injury got markedly worse on Tuesday. The pain area is on the outer-right leg, about half way up the calf-muscle. I did a 2 mile on Tuesday (fast run) and afterwards it got hard to walk. I’ve been limping since then.
  2. Secondly, I kept eating as though I was running and biking at the same pace, so weight crept (way) up.
  3. And then lastly, my general bummed-outness about this meant I skipped the weight-room.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.


Not a good week at all and the low point so far since I started this transformation effort last July.

My right outer leg is sore to the touch, which could be several things, none of which are good. I have an ortho appointment on Monday the 16th to see what’s going on. To make matters worse, I kept eating at the same pace as before, even though I wasn’t working out as much, and weight crept up.

Essentially, big piles of suckage!

Of course, I’m running naked which makes this both harder and easier: Harder, because I have to admit in front of a public audience that I overdid it. Easier, because I can ask for your help and support.

To that end, any suggestions readers have on things to do or try to hasten my recovery are really appreciated (can’t guarantee I’ll try everything, but I do want to get safely recovered as soon as possible so I still have a shot at the marathon). You can leave a comment, or reach me at “art (at)” See my current plan below.


  1. See an ortho specialist this week to figure out what actually happened, and what sort of recovery time I’m looking at. I’ll keep y’all posted.
  2. Rest, rest, rest. No running or biking until I know what’s going on. That pretty much restricts me to upper-body and core work in the gym.
  3. That said I’m going to try to be good about going to the gym so my upper body remembers what that’s like.
  4. Cut back on calorie intake to 2,000-2,250 calories-per-day target to get weight back under control.
  5. And lastly, smile, because although it does suck, I’m still alive, mostly healthy, and (despite this minor setback) still one of the luckiest guys in the world.

Presentation Notes

I now have copies of bike and run targets (in gray) in dashboard. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

Round Wheels Work (4 of 5 Rules of Change)

(4 of 5 Rules)

As a reminder, my goal is to get to 10-12% body fat by November 2007 (starting from around 20-23% in August of 2006). This series of articles talks about the approach I’m taking by turning some business management techniques onto myself. In prior posts about changing body fat, I talked about how I “learned what I was changing” and how I had early some success by remembering “less is more” and continued that success by realizing that evolution trumps revolution. But when you don’t know how to evolve…

Miss Scarlett, I Don’t Know Nothing About Skinnin’ No Cats!

When I’ve been faced with tackling a new problem I’ve never had to tackle before I often find out there are many ways to solve the problem. Worse, lots of people claim success at each approach I find, so it’s hard to decide what the right course of action is.

For example, recently I’ve had to figure out the following things: How to structure the legal framework for a startup company; how to track customer support issues for a new Internet product my company is building; and how to start training for a marathon. For legal structures for companies, people can use “partnerships”, “c corporations”, “limited liability corporations” and other forms. To keep track of support requests (e.g. why was I billed for this?) some people just use a simple spreadsheet and communicate via e-mail with customers (and swear by it); others buy software dedicated to tracking support. When training for a marathon, some people run a gazillion miles; some people slowly ramp up and never run more than 30 miles in a week, and some people train by carrying their wife on their back.

In other words, there always appear to be “many ways to skin a cat“.

Now, truth is I don’t know anything about skinning cats. I’ve never done it. I’ve never wanted to do it. So, where the hell do I start? Well…

Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits

…I did grow up on a farm in Ireland and we raised rabbits commercially for a few years. And it turns out I know quite a few things about rabbits:

  • If managed intensively, Rabbits can produce 12-18 offspring every 3 months.
  • Rabbits mature at about 6-months-old, and can then breed year round.
  • You don’t need many males (bucks) to maintain a high reproductive rate, so they are automatically used for meat (sorry guys, at least in rabbits, we’re expendable).
  • You can wean offspring (and slaughter for meat) after about 8 weeks.
  • That many rabbits produce quite a lot of poop (which I had to clean), fur (which I had to clean off of water pipes) and meat.
  • Every rabbit we killed for meat had to be skinned before delivered to its final consumer.

And so in my life I’ve skinned lots of rabbits. After doing that over and over, I’ve come to this conclusion:

While there may be “many ways to skin a rabbit”, there’s only one good way to skin a rabbit.

I won’t describe it directly here, but click the link if you really need to know. But, it’s the most economical way. It takes the least time. It causes the least mess. And over decades (maybe centuries) of rabbit farming, it’s used by all rabbit farmers.

What’s my point?

Well, disgusting as it is, if you’re thinking of getting into rabbit farming and want to figure out the best way to skin your rabbits, you’d be a fool not to ask a rabbit-farmer how they do it. If you don’t, you’ll waste money, you’ll waste time, and you’ll cause a big mess. Who wants that!

The same thing applies to anything you’re trying to change; if you don’t know how to evolve what exists today, you’d be a fool not to find the rabbit-farmers of that problem and ask them.

You Are Not Unique

And yet, very often when we’re trying to change, we don’t look for what other people do. We convince ourselves that we’re different than anyone else, we succumb to “not-invented-here” syndrome, and we forge ahead on our own. When you have direct experience this may make sense. Or if what you’re trying to change or create has to be different (like when you’re building a new technology) it may make sense not to look at what others do (but probably not).

But when you’re trying a change you’ve never done before, and it really doesn’t need to be different, it’s good to remember that you’re not as unique as you think you are. No matter what the challenge is, be it social, business or personal, chances are tens to millions of other folks have faced nearly the exact same challenge before. And if you look for those people, they can teach you real shortcuts that are much more likely to succeed that trying on your own. They’ve made millions of mistakes so that you don’t have to.

They’ve invented a round wheel. You should use it.

(There is an exception to this rule: If the industry’s way of doing something is clearly standard, but you have an existing system you need to change that isn’t standard, you’ll likely have more success evolving the existing system towards the standard rather than just imposing what the industry thinks is best. If you don’t evolve the existing system, you’ll end up with the resistance and rebellion I spoke about last week.)

Which Wheel?

Great! So we should use round wheels. Yet I started this post talking about the many perfectly good solutions there are for different problems. How do you pick the right wheel? Simple:

Don’t look for the wheel; look for the wheel-maker.

Describe your problem and what’s important to you, ask yourself who has tried to solve similar problems, and ask them what they did. They’ll tell you their wheels.

Let me give three examples:

  1. How to legally structure a startup: First, ask yourself what’s important to the founders. In the Stolen Bases case, it’s good tax treatment during the investment stage, but legally structured in a standard way that minimizes tax headaches and makes it easy to add investors later. Once you have noted a few of your goals identify similar companies or people who have tried to achieve the same goals. And then, go ask them what they did. It turns out that folks love to give free advice J. We chose a Limited Liability Corporation.
  2. How to track customer support requests: First, ask yourself what’s important to you. Will you be immediately hit with a lot of customers requesting help, and how will they ask (by phone, e-mail, etc.)? Do you even know who your customers will be? If you’re like me in the early stages of a company, you can’t answer most of those questions. However, I can easily come up with companies that also could not answer those questions. So, I asked those companies (I know several founders in this situation, and there are online communities to post to as well). And our answer was obvious: research but don’t pre-buy or pre-install software. Instead start with a cheap spreadsheet or bug-tracking system, make sure I spend lots of time dealing with our initial customers, and then upgrade to a middle-tier solution with ticket tracking when we better understand our support patterns.
  3. How to run a marathon: First, ask yourself what’s important to you. I want to finish my marathon successfully, but I don’t care about my finishing time. I don’t (contrary to how it appears) want to spend a lot of time training for this. And I want to minimize my chances of injury. So, I looked for people who ran marathons with those criteria, and they suggested I run with a group like Team-In-Training or Team Continuum. So, that’s what I’m doing.

My Fat Loss Wheel

So, let’s bring this back to losing fat. I mentioned last week that I chose to eat 6-times a day as a change. How did I figure that out there? Well, I first asked what my goals were for how I lose fat:

  1. I want to lose fat (not necessarily weight), but more importantly I want to keep off any fat I lose. So whatever change I make has to last me a lifetime.
  2. I don’t want to diet – I think ‘diet’ is a four letter word. Instead, I want to change how I eat so that my normal mode of eating allows me to gain or lose weight with only minor changes.
  3. I do want to lose weight, but not at the expense of my health.

Then, I looked for people who had similar goals and visibly succeeded over long periods of time. I didn’t care about people who lost 20, 30, 100, or 300 pounds. I cared about people who lost mostly fat, and then kept it
off for more than 3 years (my wheel-makers). What did they those folks have in common?

Well, here’s a bunch of them: John Stone, Anthony Ellis, several stories at sites like this, and others.

There’s a lot of stuff in there (good and bad), but if you read through it and look for people who have lost a lot of weight and kept it off for 3+ years, you’ll see the following trends:

  1. All of them decided to make permanent changes in their lives, not just short-term diets.
  2. They measure what they weigh, and what they eat.
  3. They figure out how many calories they should consume a day to maintain their current weight, based on their basal metabolism rate (BMR) (which is how many calories their body expends based on normal activity).
  4. When losing weight, they try to never lose more than 0.5 to 1 pound a week. This means they try to eat 500 calories (about 1.25 Starbucks muffins) a day less than their BMR when losing weight, or 500 calories a day more when gaining. If they consistently lose more than a pound, they INCREASE what they eat!!!
  5. They eat 6 times a day, with small meals, making sure their body never feels hungry (and therefore never starts reducing metabolism to adjust to lower calorie intake).
  6. They drink lots of water, which helps the stomach stay full and hence feel less hungry.
  7. They all lift weights because that encourages the body to use any additional calories for muscle, and more muscle means a higher basal metabolism rate (and therefore more food you can eat without gaining weight).

And here’s what they don’t do:

  1. None of them recommend going all protein all the time.
  2. Almost none of them went for crazy surgery, and those who did often gain weight back or get some additional health problems.
  3. None of them go on crash diets (at least not for long, and they all seem to regret it when they do).
  4. None of them sweat it if weight goes up one day, or if they pig out one day. But the next day, they get back on track and they look at long term trends.

(Note: Some recommend supplements or weight reduction pills; others say they’re extremely dangerous. I’m conservative, so I tend to be with the latter folks on this).

Big Wheel Keep On Turnin’; Body Fat Keep On Burnin’

So, I figured out my BMR (about 2,700 to 3,000 calories a day), subtracted 500 calories (my target zone is 2,200 to 2,500 a day), started counting what I ate, and ate six times a day (I was already lifting weights before I started this).

And I discovered a few things:

  • While I feel hungry when I stop eating my smaller meals, 10 minutes later I no longer feel hungry (it takes the brain time to catch up with the stomach).
  • In order to put together six meals that add up to 2,200 calories a day but also ensure my body never feels hungry, I have to eat more fruit and vegetables because they make me feel fuller throughout the day. And that’s good for many long-term health reasons.
  • I rediscovered cooking as a fun hobby again (and sites like this help me find meals that are really easy, tasty, and good for me).
  • I kept losing body fat (15.1% by June 24th).
  • And I discovered it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I feared it would be.

The question is can I keep doing this? Well, enter the last rule: Iterate, Iterate, Iterate.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

Help me raise over $5,000 $10,000 to help people suffering from cancer

Nude Numbers (#4)

No changes to presentation this week. For reference, here’s last week’s data. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format:

  1. I’m still lacking copies of the bike and running training plans (hence no gray areas).

Subjective Data

  1. Got eating back under control – targeted 2,500 to 2,750 calories a day.
  2. My right IT-Band has been acting up for 3 weeks now.
  3. Lower running mileage this week as per Team Continuum training plan – but much faster than normal.
  4. I didn’t get a long ride in on Sunday because… well, I didn’t get to bed on Saturday night until 4am. I had tons of fun, but I’m not young enough for that J
  5. No spinning on Thursday because I took my wife out to dinner instead.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.


Well, couple of observations:

  1. Good: weight-room work-outs were good this week. Core getting stronger.
  2. Good: put life ahead of training on Thursday and Saturday (biking mileage is down as a result, but “Happy Wife” == “Happy Life”) and this was good.
  3. Good: running speed continues to increase. I did the race part of my long run (8.6 miles) in 71 minutes, which is fast for me.
  4. Watch: Weight is up but body fat percentage is declining which suggests I’m adding more muscle than fat (but still need to watch here).
  5. Bad: My shoulder injury from some weeks ago is still there. My friend JK suggested I get my bike fitted, so I’m doing that this Thursday.
  6. Bad: My IT-Band on the right side is quite sore. I bought new shoes (3rd pair in 3 months) on Sunday to see if that helps. I’m also taking Monday off to let it rest.


  1. Keep constraints on eating, at the range to 2,500-2,750 calories per day. Keep body-fat at current % level or below, and focus on abs/core in weight room.
  2. Give IT-Band some time to heal, lightening up on running if necessary.
  3. Get at least one long bike ride in this week.
  4. Get copies of training plans so I can show targets for run and bike.
  5. Start taking photos to track progress (as per a few requests), and if I get brave enough, actually post them.

Evolution, Not Revolution (3 of 5 Rules of Change)

(3 of 5 Rules)

As a reminder, my goal is to get to 10-12% body fat by November 2007 (starting from around 20-23% in August of 2006). This series of articles talks about the approach I’m taking by turning some business management techniques onto myself. In prior posts about changing body fat, I talked about how I “learned what I was changing” and how I had early some success by remembering “less is more“. Those two techniques help you successfully make an individual change. The next 2 articles will talk about how to choose specific changes. The last will talk about how to make a habit of it.

Che and the Art of Revolution Management

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A new executive gets hired into an existing company with a mandate to drastically change how the company does business. She’s awesome. She’s just had amazing success at where she grew revenue from nothing to a gazillion dollars. And, she has big dreams for how the company will change the world.

She’s smart: She knows it’s important to know what she changes, and that less is more. So she’s clearly defined goals for the team and is focused on only one first step! But it’s a big step: she’s going to introduce a brand new product built in a brand new way! She can’t wait to start and her team can’t wait to start…

Fast forward six months, and our intrepid new executive is at odds with all other folks on the executive team, her team is demoralized, no one knows how to get even the simplest stuff done, and all our heroine wants to do is skulk out the door before 4pm and hope no one notices.

What happened? Well, most likely our failed executive tried to implement her revolutionary ends with revolutionary means, and the thing she was trying to change rebelled (a counter-revolution). Like Che Guevara in Cuba in the 1960’s, she tried a change that frightened those who needed to change, and the establishment bucked her. And it’s a very common story…

You Say You Want A Revolution?

This is a blog about change, and it would be foolish of me to dismiss revolutionary means as a way to achieve revolutionary ends – so I won’t. Some truly spectacular things have been achieved with revolutionary means:

  • The American Revolution put in place the world’s most successful representative democracy;
  • Einstein’s sharp break with classical physics allowed us to enter the nuclear age;
  • And Alexander Fleming’s discovery of the antibiotic effects of penicillin changed medicine overnight.

Revolutionary means are exciting; they stir men’s soul; they inspire poetry; they are the means humans remember most in history; Revolutionary tactics are just plain sexy!

But there is a hard truth about revolutions that is rarely publicized:

Revolutionary ends through revolutionary means almost always fail.

Want examples? Well, how about: all the violent revolutions that ended up on the bin heap of history (I’m Irish and our story is littered with them); all the superior technologies that failed to get traction in the marketplace; all the products that have been labeled revolutionary initially that never caught on (Segway anyone?). And I’m not even going to bring up communism.

Why? As mentioned before, everything resists change. And the bigger the change, the bigger the resistance. Revolutionary goals involve change so large it was previously unimaginable. If you try to bring about these goals by making one or two really large changes (revolutionary means), every conscious and unconscious form of resistance will crop up, because (although we won’t admit it) we like the status quo.

For example, if you try to change how a group of people work or interact in some large new way, some people will openly and actively resist your revolutionary change – and these are the easy folks. Worse, others will give lip-service to believing in your change, but continue doing things the old way intentionally. Worst of all, some people will actually believe in your change, but continue doing things the old way anyway because they’re scared. Without near infinite energy and drive to keep pushing against the passive resisters, the revolutionary means will falter. And the revolutionary ends will fail.

It’s not that resisters are bad or evil people; they’re just human. While people can accept and even thrive with small changes, we all get insecure and frightened when the rug is pulled out from under us. Intellectually we may think the change is a good idea, but emotionally we feel threatened.

I want to achieve revolutionary ends, but I don’t have limitless energy or drive and I prefer my attempts at change to have higher odds of success. Fortunately there is another way to succeed…

Vive Le Evolution!

You may not know this, but Malcom McLean has had a big impact on your life. McLean initiated one of the most revolutionary changes of the 20th century – a change that enabled a scale of globalization that was hereto unimaginable. This change has allowed us to get access to goods from far away countries and prices that would shock and astound our grandparents. And what did McLean do? He built a ship that took trailers directly from trucks and stored them directly in its cargo area without requiring the trailer to be opened and repacked.

This one change has directly led to the cost of shipping via the ocean to drop from over $5/ton in the 1950’s to less than $0.20/ton today.

McLean dreamt big and always meant to revolutionize the shipping industry. He first had his big idea of loading ships directly from trucks in 1937, but at the time this idea would have required rail car infrastructure to change, truck beds to standardize, and mechanization to take hold in docks (a place where the Longshoremen ruled) – or put another way, achieving his revolutionary ends would have required truly revolutionary means. He didn’t even attempt it. But over the next 20 years, thanks in large part to World War II, the rail industry developed box cars that loaded directly from trucks. Forms of truck-standardization begin to appear (large boxes). And dock owners were open to mechanization technology to recover margins that had been falling since the war ended. In 1956, the year McLean’s first container ship sailed, his revolutionary change required only one evolutionary idea: load the trailers directly, and therefore don’t require the truck containers to be opened.

McLean is a good example of revolutionary ends achieved through evolutionary means. But it’s not the only one. Property law evolved slowly over centuries in Anglo-Saxon law, but has revolutionized how humans live. The Internet revolution has been achieved through thousands of small evolutions including networking protocols (TCP/IP), cabling innovations (Ethernet), and programs that parse simple text protocols (web browsers).

In fact, look closer at the examples I gave of “revolutionary ends achieved through revolution means” and you’ll see something interesting. While we’re taught the sexy story that they happened overnight, in fact they did not – they evolved:

  • The creation of the US representative democracy experiment started well before the start of the Revolutionary War (you can see it stirring in writings well before 1776), and continues to evolve to this day;
  • Einstein’s big breakthrough of special relativity built heavily on papers published just before Einstein’s (as Newton before him, Einstein saw far because he stood on the shoulders of giants);
  • And Fleming’s “overnight success” with penicillin actually took over 20 years and an entire team of talented scientists making small evolutionary changes.

In all the cases cited above, the drivers of the change had revolutionary ends in mind… they just used a series of smaller evolutionary steps to get there.

Put another way, Evolution, not Revolution.

Fight the Revolution; Accept the Evolution

We’re odd creatures. We’re inspired by revolutionary ends and ideals (the stuff of dreams) but actively resist and fight revolutionary means.

So what’s the key so succeeding at bring about big change? Well, first, it’s always good to have a revolutionary end in mind — the dream is powerful, absolutely required and must be shared by everyone involved in the change.

But in the early stages of change, when you’re trying to get a team to see the goal can be achieved, try to start by evolving from existing systems, people or processes.

People (even good people) will fight a revolutionary step that forces them to move too far out of their comfort zone, but most people (even bad people) will acquiesce to an evolutionary step that moves closer to a revolutionary goal. And after several successful evolutionary steps, while your team may think the next step is yet another evolutionary step, to the outside world you’re a team of revolutionary guerillas successfully installing a new regime (think of this as Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity for Guerillas).

In a more real world example, it’s easy for someone to resist a totally new system, but hard for someone to resist a 20% improvement in an existing system. And once that’s successful, how hard is it to improve another 20% on top of that, especially when your team has seen they could do it once? Before you know it, by making steps that are no more than a 20% change, you’ve made revolutionary change (think of compound interest: 20% growth over 10 years will turn $100 into $620).

Lastly, I’ll admit there are some times where evolution is not the way to go, and you’ve got to make big change (I can’t recommend evolving the Bush cabinet, but that’s OK, because I know George Bush doesn’t believe in evolution either). But these circumstances are rarer than you think they are – we often think it’s the only option because we’re attracted to the concept of revolution. Beware that siren call — you take a big risk by not starting with evolution.

Person, Evolve Thyself!

So back to the goal here, getting to 10-12% body fat by November 2007. It turns out when changing something personal the same principle of Evolution, not Revolution applies.

If you have a revolutionary goal (let’s say run a marathon when you haven’t run more than 1 mile in 10 years), and you use revolutionary means (no training, but take lots of painkillers), you’ll likely fail.

But consistently making small steps that evolve from what you did the week before, you can achieve some spectacular results. For another good example, go read GNP3.0 and watch the revolutionary change that starts in early 2006 by taking small steps.

On my weight loss goals I decided to try to evolve. There are lots of revolutionary means out there; Atkins all-protein-all-the-time diet, Gastric Bypass, or my personal favorite, the Alli Fat pill (which apparently sells quite swell despite the following disclaimer: The treatment effects may include gas with oily spotting, loose stools, and more frequent stools that may be hard to control). All of them are effective in the short term, but people tend to gain the weight back pretty quickly. But for me, they would be huge changes in how I eat or live.

Last week I talked about how I made one small change – I measured what I ate. But with weight loss, your body adapts quickly, so you need to keep changing.

The next step I made was a small evolution on that: I set a target for how much I should eat, and then started eating 6 times a day (I’ll talk next week about why I picked that).

Eating 6 times a day was a very small change — I didn’t change what I ate, just when I ate it. All I had to do was eat half of what I normally ate at a meal (so I could still eat with others), and then eat the remaining bit 3 hours later.

The results: 1% of body fat lost (17.5% to 16.5%) between 4/24 and 5/15, which was right in line with my goals for rate of change. And I never struggled to make the change because it was so small.

Of course, sometimes it’s not obvious where to evolve to for that next 20% improvement. In that case, I’ll recommend — Rule #4: Round Wheels Work.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

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Nude Numbers (#3)

Couple of changes to presentation this week. For reference, here’s last week’s data. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format:

  1. I’ve added gray areas in the weekly graphs that show the target where the lines should be. I don’t have targets yet for bike and run, but hopefully will have them next week.

Subjective Data

  1. I really relaxed my eating this week (ate whatever I wanted) and my energy level was way higher. This is good, that said…
  2. I got very unrestricted later in the week, and averaged over 3,000 calories a day and body fat crept up slightly. I’m now in danger of missing my November 10-12% target, but…
  3. I used two other alternate measurements of body-fat this week. On the Tanita “Athlete” setting on my scale, I’m getting an 8% measurement. At the gym using the caliper method, I’m getting a 10% measurement. Lastly, using the “mirror” test, I’m happier with my overall fat composition, but my abs/core need work.
  4. My shoulder hampered me on my long ride on Sunday, so I cut it short from a 65-mile target to a 38-mile ride.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.

Hit two personal bests this week. Longest run (Saturday): 10.18 miles. Fastest 4-mile run ever (Friday): 4 miles in 30’20” (with half-mile warm up and cool down).


Well, couple of observations:

  1. Good: 2 personal bests! It appears that upping calories was a good call.
  2. Good: Back in weight room which was a miss last week, and abs / core are definitely getting stronger.
  3. Watch: Need to start watching calorie intake again, but increasing my target is the way to go.
  4. Bad: My shoulder injury from some weeks ago is still there. Not much I can do here except work on my core/abs to make sure I have good support during rides (keep shoulders relaxed), but this is an injury I’m just going to have to grit out.


  1. Put constraints back on eating, but up my calories officially from 2,000-2,250 range to 2,500-2,750 range.
  2. For now, keep body-fat at current level or below, and focus on training over body-fat for a few weeks to see if abs/core work gets me where I want anyway.
  3. Get copies of training plans so I can show targets for run and bike.