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A Plea for Purple Voters

Demographics, Democracy and the Blues

Here’s a map of the US with population density graphed in the z-axis (from Time magazine):

And here’s how people voted in the 2004 presidential election with number of winning votes by county graphed in the z-axis:

The more densely populated the area, the more likely they were to vote democratic in the 2004 election.

Another view can be seen below. In this one, the color scale changes between red and blue in each county. If a county voted 100% Democrat, it’s blue. If it voted 100% Republic, it’s red. If a county voted 50% Democrat and 50% Republican, it’s purple. Again, higher density areas tended to vote democratic in the 2004 election.

The Color Purple

I have two theories about why the pictures look the way they do.

The first theory is that living each day in close proximity to lots of people (with competing interests), where you can’t possibly get to know them each personally, forces people to compromise more on a daily basis than those who have the luxury of knowing all their neighbors. This tends to encourage social-liberalism (or social laissez-faire) where you agree to stay out of someone’s business with the expectation that they in turn stay out of your business. For example it’s very easy to be rapidly pro-gun (a position generally correlated with social conservatism in the US) if you personally know and trust each and every one of your neighbors. It’s much harder if you don’t know everyone you see every day. This causes most highly dense urban areas to vote Democratic (the large party in America more associated with social liberalism).

My second theory is that if you live in a highly dense area that is also highly culturally diverse, you are forced to interact with people with opposing points of view, and are likely to be more accepted if you have less extreme views. For example, it’s very easy to be rapidly pro-choice and believe that late-term abortions need to remain legal (to avoid “a slippery slope” where abortion eventually becomes illegal) if you live in Berkeley, CA (an extremely homogenous liberal enclave) where everyone takes pro-choice for granted. Try being rabidly pro-choice in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the Bronx, NY, see the moral pain on a very religious Muslim’s or Christian’s face at the prospect of a late term abortion, and it’s much harder to maintain the extreme. This forces dense urban areas with heterogeneous populations to be more trend more bluish-purple than pure blue.

Perhaps the key to moving elections and candidates back to the middle in the 2008 election is to relocate all the people who live either in sparsely populated areas of the country or in culturally homogenous areas to a densely packed 100 square mile area of the country (I hear Billings, Montana has space). If we did that I suspect all the graphs above would get much more bluish-purple and we’d end up with candidates who are much more reasonable than the current set of Democratic and Republican candidates (who are all veering to the far left and far right).

Spending Purple Money

But we’re not likely to relocate everyone with extreme views to live next to each other (I am firmly against forced relocations of anyone, although I’d love to see Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly share an apartment). However, there is one thing I believe we can do to move American back to the middle ground.

If you are a Purple Voter, always vote in every primary election! Especially the small ones.

For example, New York has a (very unpublicized) local primary election on Tuesday. I’ll be voting in it. I consider myself (currently) a socially liberal, fiscally conservative, internationalist. In other words, I’m a bluish-purple voter, and I’ll vote for candidates as close to that as possible.

You might not think it matters, but the people we vote for in primaries are very influential. They choose the rosters of candidates that we’re presented with for many higher offices. They form the staff of national campaigns. They are listened to by the national parties when drafting policies, candidates and platforms.

Somehow in America many purple voters (like me) believe that if the candidate they voted for didn’t win then their vote didn’t count. And often in primary elections today, the middle ground (purple) candidate loses. But our votes do matter; politics, like business, runs on a market economy. Only in politics, votes are the currency. The mere fact that someone got our vote will cause other politicians to veer in our direction to try to woo us the next time we spend our vote (see how John Kerry veered left in 2004 to try to recapture the voters that went for Nader in 2000).

Purple voters have become convinced that our voting dollars are worthless, and therefore we don’t spend them in the elections where they are actually worth the most – small local primaries.

As a result, purple voters don’t vote in primaries, right and left extremists do. Then our low-level politicians run to the edge of the political spectrums and they nominate candidates for higher offices who also pander to the edges. And that’s how we get the crap national candidates and crap policies they spout (all but one Republican presidential candidate views the Theory of Evolution as suspect; all but one Democratic presidential candidate is firmly against the concept of free-trade). What do we expect? The politicians, like good businessmen, are responding to the market that spends money!

If middle-ground people are consistent about spending our purple money and voting in primaries, the local candidates will eventually notice us voting, and they will start having to pander more to the middle. This will lead to more purple candidates for higher offices. And as the map above shows, America is a lot more purple than red or blue, so if we consistently vote purple in all primaries, we will take back this country.

– Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

The Wrong Way to Run Naked

This is somewhat timely given the essay I’m in the middle of. A Catholic Priest was arrested last week in Frederick, Colorado in the US for running naked at a high school track.

See the full article here: Priest Busted For Running Naked.

In case anyone is wondering, this is not how I recommend “Running Naked“.

– Art

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


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.

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

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

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

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

Less is More (2 of 5 Rules of Change)

(2 of 5 Rules)

Ok, I now knew what I was changing: I wasn’t eating healthily. In order to get back on track to 10-12% body fat by November 2007 I knew I had to change my eating habits. But how? I got lots of advice from the web, from folks I knew, and from folks in the gym. I quickly learned there is no shortage of answers to changing your eating habits to ensure you lose weight. I will summarize them here:

Exercise at least 5 times a week for 30 minutes a day. But don’t expend more than 3,000 calories a week exercising to avoid decreased physical benefits. Drink at least 8 cups of water a day, but don’t drink too much or you’ll die. Try to eliminate fats in your diet by eating lots of low-fat foods such as salads and vegetable pastas, but eliminate as many carbs from your diet as possible by increasing the amount of protein you eat, unless they are indigestible carbs in which case you should eat as much as you can, and whatever you do, eat lots of fat, not protein. Did I mention drink at least 16 cups of a water a day? Eat three times a day without snacking in between to ensure you can maintain a good weight, but if you must snack, make sure you’re eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and low fat dairy products. This healthy snacking, provided you eat six times a day, is the best way to ensure you lose weight. And also, make sure you drink around 6 cups of water a day (although even that is probably higher than you need). Make sure you are consuming fewer calories than you’re expending per day. To do this, figure out how many calories you should eat a day, and then count how many calories you are actually eating, but strive to be an instinctive eater who doesn’t need to count calories. Don’t forget to use chia seed. And of course drink at least 1-2 gallons of water a day.

If you follow this simple weight loss plan, you will curl up in a ball, hold your knees to your chest, and start rocking back and forth while you cry. The resulting loss of appetite and energy expended from rocking will help you lose over 170 pounds in 30 days!

Oy! With all the conflicting information (some of it good, some not), it’s tough to figure out what to actually do. And this is typical of any time you want to change something: your choices (both good and bad) for what to do next are virtually limitless. How do I pick?

Easy! Less is More!

Newton Knew a Thing or Two about Rocks

Everything resists change. The first part of Newton’s 1st law, “An object at rest will remain at rest”, applies equally well to large rocks as it does to teams that need to change, or parts about yourself that you try to change. You may not like how your body looks, and you may not like how you and your team operate, but it’s easier to bitch about it than it is to change anything. Rocks like to stay exactly where they are.

But the second part of the 1st law applies equally well. “An object in motion will remain in motion”. If you can get the rock to move, it’s hard to stop it moving.

So the key to change is getting your rock moving, even if only a little.

That’s where “Less is More” comes in: Do one small, easy thing that will cause a quick change. Make sure the change is visible to the people who matter. And only do that one thing!

You don’t pick the hardest thing. You don’t pick the thing with the biggest bang. You don’t try to do multiple things at once. You don’t try to revolutionize the world. You don’t try to fix all the problems. You don’t go for a curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting, knock-your-socks-off grand-slam home-run touchdown of a transformation. You don’t try to put in place an invisible architecture that will yield billions of dollars in savings in 4 years.

No! You pick the easiest way that will move your rock a little and you don’t let anything else distract from that.

Then, as Newton’s 1st law states, your rock is moving and will keep moving with much less effort. Pretty soon, if you keep making the next easiest change, the rock you thought would never move is destroying everything in its way as it barrels towards its destination.

Invisible Change Isn’t Real

That’s why when I start a new job I always make sure that I’ve made a small but very visible change within 100 days (some folks have heard me obsess about “the first 100 days” before – this is why). I obsess about it. I make sure my team knows we need to do that one thing. Sometimes I make people meet every single day to keep the pressure high. And I make sure it happens because I know the following things happen with change:

  • If you make one small but visible (to all stakeholders) change, your team members start to believe more change is possible (which is a self fulfilling prophecy), your supporters feel better about their decision to put you in that job (which makes it easier to make more changes), and your doubters start to feel scared and get out of the way (which make it way easier to make another change). And then you make another slightly larger change, but because of the first success, this one is just as easy. And soon, your rock is moving very quickly.
  • If you make a change quickly, but the targets of the change cannot see it, then their initial optimism wears off quickly: your team starts to lose faith, your supporters question their own decision to support you, and your doubters pounce on their prey. And your rock stops moving.
  • If you try to make a visible change, but it’s going to take a long time, then each day it gets harder to try and push the very large rock, your mental and emotional muscles get fatigued, your team starts to get tired, your supporters look for faster fixes, and your doubters pounce on their prey. And your rock never moves!

You Are Your Most Important Audience Member

If you’re trying to change something about yourself, like your weight, it should be obvious from the above that you are the most important person who needs to see a visible change quickly. If you don’t, your heart will quickly lose confidence, and, no matter how much your brain prods, you’ll revert back to old behavior.

But it’s just as important when you’re trying to change a team or organization. The change you make needs to be visible to you, more importantly than anyone else. If you lose faith, then everyone loses faith. And the best way to keep the faith is by seeing the miracle of actual change. Don’t forget to look for the change!

One Small Step For Art

So allow me to repeat: Less is More: Do only one thing, keep it simple, keep it visible, and make sure you’d have to be a moron to fail at this one change!

For losing weight, I picked one thing that (a) I could easily do and (b) I was pretty sure would quickly tell me it if worked or not.

As I mentioned last week, I had already been writing down what I was eating in a journal. The small change I decided to make was more quantitatively count what I was eating. That’s it. I found a (very useful) site called Calorie King that contains almost every food you can think of and gives you back the calorie count for free, and just started putting numbers into a spreadsheet based on what that site told me. I’d seen many times at work that just measuring something would cause people to change their behavior to optimize the metric: my theory was if I saw more accurate numbers for what I eat, my behavior would start to change, and I’d see a quick reduction in weight. Sure enough – soon I started to realize that the morning muffin would cost me over 400 calories, but the 2 bananas would be about 200. And I ate the bananas.

(Now I’ll be the first to admit, that my small step isn’t necessarily what someone else would pick, but that’s beside the point. I picked something I knew would work for me. We’re each different, and have different ways of doing things. I’ve seen people succeed with picking the small step of sending back half of every order they get in a restaurant. Pick what works for you, but make sure it’s something easy for you and visible to you.)

The results:

I started doing this on April 10th (167.2 lbs, 18.3% body fat). By April 24th I was down to 162.8 pounds and 17.5% body fat.

Close to 4 pounds and almost 1% body fat lost in 2 weeks. Hell yes, I was on to something.

But how do I keep it going? Rule #3: Evolution, Not Revolution.

(which I’ll continue next week …)

– Art

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