Friday, September 13, 2013

Why (Not) Try Something New? Finding Optimal

Have you ever tried a new diet - not because you perceived you needed to, but just to find out what it might do for you? Have you tried that change for at least two weeks?  Or how about a new sleeping pattern just to see how it makes you feel? Or a different kind of social activity than what you normally do?

Why would you do that? You might feel like you have your eating, socializing or sleeping dialed in - so why change it?
Tried Liver Lately?
We are very good at finding routine (overview by Agre here). We develop our own patterns of routines quickly (there's even organizational routines - nice overview pdf here). Routines are part of our survival - we can only process so much information at a go suggests Agre- so having routines to fall back on can be very important.

We tend to work from a place of "if it ain't broke don't fix it" because - my bet is - we have other stuff that feels like it is broken, or at least needs our attention. Why add more demands to that attention?

Finding Optimal

Part of an answer may be that by occasionally taking PLANNED breaks from routine to explore something new we can FIND an even better practice that leads towards a more OPTIMAL performance, a better us, a better capacity to enjoy life.

If we don't test options, deliberately break our routines, how do we know what better is?
Lift Weights usually? How about swapping in some field work?
We may find, for instance, that if we go a bit more towards less gluten we feel better; we may find if we have liver once a week, we feel better; we may find that having a bit more bread in the morning we feel thick, but if we have some at night we sleep better. It may be that if we add fish oil into our diet for a couple weeks to a month we see our weight change a little more easily, or we don't creak as much, or we're feeling sharper at work.

We may also find that being on a bike or playing football once a week instead of just lifting weights opens up a whole new feeling of joy and physicality to us.

Strategies For Exploration: What are Expected Changes?

we can measure effect of change
Different practices are associated with different benefits. For instance practicing breathing is supposed to help us feel more calm, reduce certain stress hormones, improve focus and potentially sleep as well.  One could find a breathing practice description online and just do that for two weeks, as many times per day as the program says, and just check in gosh i feel a difference no i don't feel a difference.

 Or one could look for targets to check: if the claim is better sleep, there are smart phone aps that let us measure how disturbed or not our sleep is, how many hours we get, just by putting the phone on the mattress. That's one way to see if two weeks without the habit vs two weeks with the practice makes a difference.

If gluten free or paleo is supposed to help shed fat and improve energy, well we have measures for fat shedding like waist, hips, neck. Measurements for energy can be checked by tests like stroop tests and general feel or alertness. Blood work is good here, but we'll skip that as out of most of our reach. Main thing is: have a reason to run the test and some way to check if there's a difference there.

Or perhaps there's a surprise unanticipated difference.
For instance, a couple of years ago, after a blood work assessment, it was recommended that i add essential amino acids and greens to the start of my day. I did. Within a month i felt a lot calmer. People commented. Now that may be because of other changes i can't put a finger on, but i'm pretty sure that ingest facilitated those changes. And considering how much amino acids have to do with hormone performance, i'm not surprised, and considering how much greens have co-factors for metabolic reactions, again, not surprised. Disappointed that my diet wasn't quite as dialed in as a i thought. (Here's an overview of some other surprises from change in my experience in terms of cholesterol)

So have a target for the change - what do we expect to see from the break?  What are we surprised to see from the break that maybe wasn't planned? This can be really fun - and can help bulletproof us should an unexpected routine break happen.

PLAN for Taking a Break

While it's likely awesome to break a routine deliberately and spontaneously from time to time, it may also be useful actually to PLAN a break to a routine.

To try to leap into change suddenly is fun for some of us; threatening for others. Make the break safe. Lack of planning can sometimes just doom something.

If the change is to explore intermittent fasting twice in the coming month to get that two week experience, this one may mean preparing some practice time to reduce the threat to the system and make it successful. This shift may mean that it takes some practice to get to the full test

If the idea is to explore endurance work rather than resistance work for awhile, what's the plan in terms of the activity and where it can fit in to complement what you're doing already and not fatigue you out? If you're not sure how to execute your plan, reach out to a coach. We're here!

Why Breaks Usually Happen: IT is broke
Most of us only break our routines if something else breaks and we have to figure out what's going on. Like i'm seeing my weight crawl up - what's with that. Oh heck, it's the dam desert that's been getting a little bigger or longer each night from the wonderful summer market. I have to pull back. And that's going to hurt. Dam. How do i make this valuable to me change to my current routine so i can succeed and not break myself in the process.

Why Breaks CAN happen: a little better here can have lots better effects everywhere else
If we do take the leap to explore something different - to break our routine to try something new, not because we have to but because we're curious to find better, it's important to get that a SMALL change/break in one place can have much larger side effects elsewhere. A little better sleep - slightly more sleep - can lead to completing an entire sleep cycle - it may be just 15 more minutes and you'll be able to wake up without the alarm - and that apparently has HUGE benefits for performance throughout the day.

It's amazing however how much energy it takes for us to think about exploring even a small change to routine like that - a change to our beliefs and practices of Good Enough to find out if we can be Even Better and if Even Better is closer to Optimal.

But sometimes, if we initiate the exploration rather than waiting till something breaks, we can get ahead of the curve, and add real delight to our lives.


  1. A little Better can Go a Long Way None of our routines may be broken and so may not demand a fix, but most of us could likely explore a deliberate change in a routine to see if that enhances our lives - can we go from Good Enough to Really Great?
  2. We can choose the size of break: We can explore these changes in small ways (add fish oil and sufficient vitamin d pills daily for a month) or more challenging ways (learn to swim)
  3. We can measure effects: No matter the size of the exploration/tweak we can look for the effects: this is supposed to make me sleep better and help me lose weight - i'll measure now for two weeks; then measure doing it for two weeks.
  4. We can target what we want to optimize and choose where we want to explore: for instance, if we want more energy, we could explore changes in food or movement or sleep or social engagement or cognitive engagement.  We are complex systems: there are many paths that interrelate and can get us closer to Optimal.
  5. WE can plan our routine break and limit it: one month from now i mark on the calendar i'm going to try a whole day fast and then do it again a week or two later. To prep for that, in two weeks i'm going to do a half day fast next week, then a 3/4 day fast the week later. To prep for all that i'm going to read eat stop eat or check out other trusted people's experience of different approaches to IF
With a little easy but continually exploration of pushing our own boundaries, we'll get to know ourselves better - maybe exploration/challenge becomes a new routine in itself.

It's really awful to meet folks who are not well, not healthy and you ask "have you ever felt better than you do now" - and they say "no not really" - and you know that they could. How do i know i'm not in exactly the same place? What haven't i checked? And why would i? If i can find a tactic to make it easier to perform better, have more joy, then i can be more present to my life, and to the people in it, and perhaps to the great people who could be in it if i were more effective, open, energized, present, etc.  And that's a good thing, right?

Have a great weekend.

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