Recent Read: Born To Run

I started this book today waiting for the Metro to take me home from my just-completed 13 mile point-to-point run from my apartment to the ocean. It came highly recommended by a client who also happens to be a triathlete.

I’m about halfway through it so far and I’m impressed — it’s linear insomuch that it reconstructs the chronology of particular chance encounters but also spins off into sub-chapters explaining the characteristics that each of the ultrarunners bring to the game. I’ve excerpted a few of my favorite passages below.

(Update: I’ve finished the book and it was great! I loved the storytelling aspect as the writer follows many different runners on their journey. The only part I didn’t like was that there was one small portion where the author was hypocritical: he makes a mention of an unsaid runners code of ethics, but then manages to slam another professional runner a few pages later. I wonder why the editor let that one slide by!)

Pick it up! My rating: 8/10

* * *

“Lesson two….think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooth. You don’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

* * *

Was Zatopek a great man who happen to run, or a great man because he ran? Vigil couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. Sex and speed — haven’t they been symbiotic for most of our existence, as intertwined as the strands of DNA? We wouldn’t be alive without love; we wouldn’t have survived without running; maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other.”

* * *

That fall, a photo appeared in UltraRunning Magazine. It shows Jenn finishing a 30-mile race somewhere in the backwoods of Virginia. There’s nothing amazing about her performance (third place), or her getup (basic black shorts, basic black sports bra), or even the camera work (dimly let, crudely cropped). Jenn isn’t battling a rival to the bitter end, or striding across a mountaintop with the steel-jawed majesty of a Nike model, or gasping toward glory with a grimace of heartbreaking determination. All she’s doing is…running. Running, and smiling. But that smile is strangely stirring. You can tell she’s having an absolute blast, as if there’s nothing on earth she’d rather be doing and nowhere on earth she’d rather be doing it than here, on this lost trail in the middle of the Appalachian wilderness. Even though she’s just run four miles further than a marathon, she looks light-footed and carefree, her eyes twinkling, her ponytail swinging around her head like a shirt in the fist of a triumphant Brazilian soccer player. Her naked delight is unmistakable; it forces a smile to her lips that’s so honest and unguarded, you feel she’s lost in the grip of artistic inspiration.

* * *

Ann liked to tell her friends that running huge miles in the mountains was “very romantic.” But yeah, Ann insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.

Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget that you’re moving. And once you break through that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s when the moonlight and champagne show up.

* * *

 

Back in the Saddle, Back in the Water

This was definitely a week of firsts!

 

I got on my bike three days this week — and if you count the two roundtrip courses I had to do, it was five! Even though I am still relearning a lot of the basics I thought that I’d manipulate myself into riding it a bit more seriously — so, I decided that I would ride to work on those few occasions. It was a bit tough — one of the locations I work at is only a mile or so from my apartment and the roads are relatively smooth, so the ride was fantastic. The sidewalks were wide open, there weren’t very many cars on the road, and overall it was a relatively simple ride. There is even a private lot that I get to park in so I don’t have to worry about locking it up. The other place, unfortunately, is in downtown Hollywood…and the ride there is incredibly intimidating, not to mention bumpy. The roads are poorly maintained, the drivers are pretty much insane, and pedestrians are slow, so I feel bottlenecked everywhere. I have to chain the bike to a fence on the ground level and my office is on the 9th floor, so every so often I’d have to peek out of the window to check to see if my bike was still there.

Overall I feel a little more comfortable on it. I still get pretty scared if a car gets too close to comfort. I have my instances where I just get off of my bike and walk it. Bumps in the sidewalk and street seem a little less insurmountable now that I’ve gone over them quite a few times. The starting and stopping is definitely getting better too, and I’m finally getting the hang of my handbrakes. (Thanks for the tip, Gabe!) Both days I was nervous (not to mention sweaty and icky!) as heck but in both instances I made it back safe and sound. This week I also bought a helmet and a bike pump. My next purchase will probably be a bell (although a fog horn would be pretty fun)…I’m noticing that people aren’t really getting out of the way, mainly because they don’t see or hear me…and frankly, I’d feel a bit rude saying “Hey! Get out of my way!” I’m definitely a bit sore so I stayed off my bike today, but hopefully my body will adapt to it as I ride a bit more and stay off those bumpy Hollywood streets. (It probably didn’t help that I biked in leggings on both days!)

As for swimming, it was also my first time back in the pool for awhile. A few months ago I did a late night swim with Shant but that was leisurely, so I don’t really count that. I’m trying to get over my dislike of water in my face…and up my nostrils…and into my goggles. Timing my breathing has been difficult and I seem to be gasping for air with every stroke, which I’ve calculated tires me out 3 times faster than the average person who is swimming in the pool with me at any given time. Today I was lucky enough to eavesdrop on a private swim instruction a few lanes down, so as the swimmer was being coached, I was trying to pick up on it and implement it at the same time while remaining cognizant of my abilities. For instance, today I began breathing out INTO the water…a start, I suppose. Since swimming seems to be my weakest link I think I may consider a class at UCLA, LACC, or SMC to help me become more proficient and confident. Then I can progress comfortably to open water swimming. Despite all of that, I still made it in the water twice this week so it’s a victory which ever way you slice it.

Adding bicycling and swimming to my routine has been quite interesting. Running seems so easy compared to these other two sports. In running, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. It requires very little official training, equipment, variables, and constraints. It seems natural. I feel like these other two are pulling me in different directions. I overthink every action and I’m slow as heck because of it! The more I concentrate on it, the less confident I become. But, the more I practice, the more comfortable I feel with my progression.

It’s interesting switching from one sport to the next — and although I haven’t done them in rapid sequence or anything — I can feel the muscle fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. One day this week I ran 4 miles before work, biked 4 miles to/from work, and then did a 0.2 mile swim at the gym. After my run, I felt energetic. After my first ride, I felt confident but a little tired. After my second ride I felt great but a little tense. Then, during the swim, I felt like I had weights tied to all of my extremities as I was flopping about in the water. I am sure it gets better with time and practice.

Relearning a lot of these basic skills has been an interesting journey thus far. I feel giddy every time I sharpen yet another skill set that helps me feel more comfortable on my bike or in the water. I’m trying to make it a point to switch up my routine a bit from all running to include these other sports so that I exercise all of the parts of me that’ll be needed for the triathlon. With all of the hurdles I’ve jumped through — and all of the future ones I’ll be dealing with — this is going to be one of the most challenging tasks I take on yet. In comparison to the Athens marathon I feel that the triathlon will be a lot harder, since it’s testing not only endurance but multiple skill sets and the transitions thereof. Eek!

For my marathon training class tomorrow, I have a 13 mile run that I’ve dutifully plotted this evening. I try to set courses with as little turns as possible since I tend to forget. I hate listening to instructions and most of the time I have my earphones in — bad, I know — but I am notorious for missing turns on my runs. This one is simple enough and the only road diversion I’ll have to deal with is turning south on Cloverdale in Santa Monica. It won’t be too hard to forget since it’s one of the major streets that stick out in my mind. (I think it’s because it’s the street I can take to get to my acupuncturist’s office…)

I’m still feeling relatively enthusiastic about everything. I’m definitely a smidge tired, but a few days ago I bought a foam roller and have been using it on my legs and my back. It’s been helping with loosening up any tension and keeping me relaxed and out of the acupressurist’s office. Those usually run me about $40 a session with tip included, so this has definitely helped me save some money. That, and I don’t have to do any of the travel! For those of you who are curious about the types of massages I’ve been doing, here’s a video I watched to help guide me.

All in all, the alone time has been great. It’s been nice being able to focus on something outside of my silly worries, insecurities, school, business, etc. Everything feels so cathartic. Just a few months ago I was wondering how, at the age of 27, I could ever feel so low, sluggish, chained, and drained. Now I feel like a completely different person — happier, energetic, and a ton more sociable. To you I might be the same Amara, but in between these ears is a completely new environment. I love it!

More news soon…I’ve got to get some rest for my long run tomorrow. Broke in my new shoes this morning so I’m excited to do away with sore legs and feet for the second time. (Does anyone know where to recycle running shoes?)

The ultimate/supreme catch-up blog entry

So I think the last time I *really* updated this blog on a regular basis was prior to SXSW.

In a nutshell — well, in short status updates — here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Had a great time at SXSW. Well, the last two days at least.
  • Had an awesome ChevySXSW road trip experience, despite all of the scoring drama.
  • Made some cool friends with other ChevySX teams. Looking forward to seeing them again at BlogWorldLA.
  • Went on an awesome run around Lady Bird Lake with Barce. It was my longest run to that date!
  • Came back to LA with a landslide of opportunities that availed themselves to me.
  • Took on two more-consistent-than-usual consulting gigs that have invaded my usually sacred daytime but have enjoyed every minute of it.
  • Planned the Power Walk for Dress for Success. The event was met with great reception!
  • Ran my first consistent 10-miler from home to Santa Monica. It was an awesome experience.
  • Read two awesome books by Dean Karnazes — Ultramarathon Man and 50/50. I highly recommend them for runners!
  • Have gotten a handful of friends to start using Runkeeper!
  • Have been taking my vitamins on a consistent basis. (Believe me, that’s something worth mentioning.)
  • Finally saw my parents again for the first time since February at my event on Saturday.
  • Ran my best 10K ever at the Santa Monica Classic (today!), despite having to run backwards for a bit to retrieve my dropped keys.
  • Got my brain/life organized with Evernote…it was about time I downloaded my brain into something else.
  • Finally got an eye exam. Will be scheduling acupuncture treatment, dentist appointment, etc this week. I’ve come to terms that I’m not going back to Thailand anytime soon to get my health stuff taken care of.
  • My running has helped me discern when I’m genuinely feeling a certain way versus when I’m bullshitting myself.
  • Been doing a lot more reading now that I’ve subbed out driving on weekdays with riding the Metro.
  • Shot a fun, faux short film over a weekend. It’ll probably live on a hard drive forever.
  • I’ve cycled through two pairs of running shoes…about to buy my third.
  • Racing in the Triple Crown series over the next two months. Really excited!
  • Realized that most women’s magazines are trash. Swapped out for Runners World and it’s changed my perspective on a lot of things.
  • Went to a TOMS sample sale and scored three new pairs of shoes.
  • Decided that buying jeans were not worth the hassle. Resolved to wear leggings, dresses, and skirts for all eternity.
  • Learned to equate running with “me time” and to make it non-negotiable appointments in my calendar.
  • Put together my bucket list and have been planning on how to check the items off.
  • Instead of focusing on my insecurities I’m trying to really focus on helping other people. Fretting about things I’ll never come around to is pretty worthless, whereas helping other people reach their goals is pretty awesome.
  • Taking a leave of absence from school for a bit while I get re-situated with my schedule. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. School wasn’t particularly difficult…just tedious. And, since I loathe tedious work, I found myself stressed out for no reason.
  • Signed up for the Disneyland half marathon with Jon, a friend from the ChevySX campaign. Super excited to see him again!
  • Looking forward to the 15K in Santa Barbara on July 4th. Not sure if anyone will accompany me so I’m anticipating some me-time. I should start looking for fireworks shows, hotel, etc.
  • Been debating the Athens marathon in November. The only deterrence is cost at this point. It seems like it’d be well worth it! Not sure why I keep tiptoeing around the decision. I think the fact that the word “marathon” is in it probably has something to do with it.
  • Haven’t spent a lot of time catching up with old friends. Been spending more time making new friends instead. I’m hitting ‘refresh’ on the ole’ go-to friend list.
  • “A woman is like a tea bag…you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”
  • Been trying to see how many times/ways I can get away with random acts of kindness.
  • Trying to spend less time working and more time living, even if it means cutting down or eliminating some of my material comforts…which, I must say, I’ve whittled down quite a bit over the course of the last 6 months.
  • Clearly traded my blogging habit for a running habit and feels much healthier.
  • Lost about 15 lbs. and 4 dress sizes. Found myself.

#1: Start line at the LA Big5K at Dodger Stadium…my first 5K run ever!

#2: Start line at Victory for Victims at Lake Balboa…my first 10K.

#3: Runners flying colors to raise awareness of the Wounded Warrior Project at the Santa Monica Classic. Very inspirational!

#4: The happiest I’ve looked in a long time. Was taken right before my first 10K run. Decided to throw up the #isoasian sign.

#5: Friends from Border Stylo that joined me at the power walk.

#6: Kaylee and Shant at the TOMS sample sale. Uber windy!

That’s all for now. More soon!

The Victim vs. Survivor Mentality

Depending on how closely you stalk me on the interwebs, you have have gathered that I’ve been running a lot lately. I’ve been consistently running at least 5 days a week since the first week of February. In late March I ran my first 5K and this Sunday I will be running my first 10K. I’m crazy excited about it… not to mention sore.

My first 10K holds a near and dear place to my heart for a few reasons. One, it’s my first 10K (duh!). Second, it’s a fundraiser for sexual assault victims — specifically the Center for Assault Treatment Services. (CATS) at Northridge Hospital Medical Center. This center is the only 24/7 program for victims of sexual assault and abuse in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys. CATS provides medical evidentiary exams, forensic interviews, case management and referrals to victims of all ages.

The race was aptly named “Victory for Victims.” While I appreciate the sentiment, the label “victim” wrongly shines a negative light on the person’s disposition. From someone who has fallen prey to sexual assault, I find that the label “survivor” is much more fitting — you’ve lived through it, you’ve experienced it, and it’s time to pick up the pieces and move on.

 

Throughout my childhood and into my young adult years I oscillated between positivity and negativity. I received a lot of love and care from friends and family but the most important part of my recovery was the self-healing process: learning to be comfortable with myself again, being able to look in the mirror without being hypercritical, knowing that it wasn’t my fault, and understanding that I was a thousand times a survivor than I was a victim.

I truly believe that the victim vs. survivor mentality can be applied to a host of mental and physical conditions, but whether or not you choose to heal actually comes from within. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on the psychology of change and healing and the consensus is out — it seems like if you can visualize yourself healed from whatever ails you, it’s possible to make it a reality.

How have you managed to turn your life around? When have you changed the paradigm and manifested your own version of reality?

A Little Bit of Fiction, A Little Bit of Fact

I’m working from a skewed perspective tonight, so here’s a little piece of fiction, mixed in with a little bit of fact. I’ll leave it up to you to decipher. Will I take questions? Probably not. I’m pretty sure we’re all leading mixed lives anyways. Sometimes separating truth from fiction is harder to do.

——————–

“Let’s rearrange / I wish you were a stranger I could disengage”

Those lyrics have been burned into my brain for the last 48 hours. I nervously check my phone to see if I’ve received word. Anything — a text, a tweet, an email. Damn, there are so many ways to get a message nowadays. It’s hard to deal when you be rejected on so many different levels. Yet, on the other hand, my ex has called me almost five times. He’s told me that he loves me…twice. He usually doesn’t do that unless he’s been reminiscing or something triggers it. I’m not quite sure what it is today. I sometimes wish I could disengage them both. I feel like they run me in circles with bouts of love and like and lust and hate.

I’d stopped drinking a few weeks ago but I’m starting again tonight. I have my reasons. We all do. The path of fire as it travels from my mouth to my core feels amazing. It tells me that everything will be all right. The cigarette that remains disengaged midair provides a plume of smoke and comfort all in of itself. What’s most amazing is that the little visceral comfort it takes to lift my spirits in such a temporary and fake way.

He’s asleep in my bed. It’s been a difficult evening. I don’t know what to make of it. All I can think of is the light in his eyes that I see whenever he talks to me. What comes out of his mouth — whatever downer he’s lamenting, whatever joke he’s cracking — it doesn’t matter. You couldn’t hold a match to those eyes. They get me every time. I’ve become such a love drunk. I don’t know why I ever let it get to me.

I have an old someone. He tells me that he loves me every so often. It’s probably more platonic than anything. He used to make me feel beautiful in such a way that no one else could. At least until this new one came along. He cut me down, he built me up — actually, THEY built me up — but for some reason I always put up with the changes. The less they gave, the more I craved. It’s so strange that it always worked out that way.

“Don’t think about all the things you feel / Just be glad to be here”

There’s plan B, C, D, E, and F. There always is. Doesn’t matter how content or happy I am. I know that it’s silly to believe that one person can be your everything. Putting too much expectation into one person only spells disaster. It helps to know that there is always a backup, a backup of a backup, etc. It doesn’t matter how committed I am, how far into the hole I can be, or how in love I am. I know that I love myself more. It’s been a difficult lesson to learn.

He’s snoring now. He hasn’t moved much. That’s a good sign. He usually has a lot of problems sleeping. Maybe emoting helped…maybe not. All I know is that I am up and I’m craving my next cigarette. I’m waiting to light a match and make a connection.

Dissociation is a bitch. Sometimes it happens when I least expect it. It happens on command. What’s a girl to do? A decade of abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder does that to a person. I’m only human. I’m not perfect. The world can manage without me, but my goal is to make it a little less exciting, a little less pure with my absence. I only want to share my love with the world. Not everyone wants that, apparently. It makes people suspicious, weary, jealous. Go figure. Too much of a good thing? Heaven on Earth? Someone pretending to be god-like? Unacceptable.

I think back to the what ifs, the could-have-beens. I have so many unturned stones in my past and present. It drives me nuts. I sometimes wish that I could split myself into multiple MEs so that I can live my life out on every single parallel universe I’ve ever created. Trying to be happy with the reality I’ve built myself is harder said than done.

It’s starting to all make sense. I am in a familiar place and I’m not sure if it’s comfortable. It might be best to just go with it. I have this amazing ability to see into the future but nobody knows it yet. It looks like it’ll be a lot of fun but it will be fruitless, empty, visceral. I prefer the here and now, and not in some temporary way. A mental connection is my aphrodisiac. Physical form doesn’t generally bear any weight. What really matters is what’s between the ears, not what’s between the legs.

“No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white / Just our hands clasped so tight / Waiting for the hint of a spark”

A lot of people think I have it figured out. I’m just taking things as I go. In a way I wish I could rearrange my life. Sometimes things just seem out of sync. I meet people at the wrong point in my life. Sometimes they are better suited for a different part of my life. I think maybe I’m going about it all wrong but what’s the harm in that? There’s a delicate joy in living a spontaneous life. We’re all in a phase.

I light my second cigarette and take a deep breath in. My bourbon and Coke is running out quickly. It’s nearing 5 o’clock in the morning. I’ve finished nothing and my heart has been effectively broken. What’s a girl to do at a time like this?

I’m feeling looser, a little better. Things won’t be that bad. Open is good, right? I can act on impulse. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. “Be comfortable with change.” I’m totally eating my own words at the moment. Oh, it’s so ironic. But it has the possibility to be a lot of fun. That whole conversation about parallel universes. I meet people all of the time that bring out a different side of me. Sometimes it’s programming. Sometimes it’s literature. Sometimes it’s just the power of observation. Sometimes it’s the ability to produce amazing works of art. I am human and I have impulses too. Given the freedom I’m not sure what good can really come of it. Boundaries is a good thing, for me at least. I’m insatiable. I’m a force to be reckoned with. I possess one of the most dangerous weapons in the world and it’s between my ears and between my legs. The last thing I want to do is to spark a World War III from it. I’d much prefer to leave a positive legacy and to help people. Pursuing personal interests is so yesterday. I don’t know.

Will I ever come back down to earth? I’ve have some impulses that I’ve repressed. It’s a caged monster and I’m not sure if it’s time to let her out. I kind of like things the way they are.

“Keep calm and carry on”

I’m not sure how I feel anymore. Things change. We’re humans. We’re dynamic. I don’t want to do anything that I’ll regret in the morning but hey, it’s only a few hours away. There were many times tonight where I could have left, slammed the door, conducted some sort of grand exit but I chose not to. Not sure why I’m staying. Was it the first time I met him? Every time I meet someone new I close my eyes for a split second and I see a vision. With some people I see pain. With others I see companionship. This was the first time I saw a white suit. What did it mean? I don’t know. He looked happy. His eyes lit up. He was in the sun and the Pacific Ocean was the backdrop, and he was in a white suit. That image has been burned into my mind. I can’t tell if it’s one of those instances where you try to create the reality that you want to see, versus the real image of reality. Sometimes I’m not quite sure how to tell the difference anymore.

I pour another drink.

All I know is that I love him so much. He makes me love drunk. He makes me work for it. I hate it but I love it. It’s my version of ecstasy on Earth. He’s alluded to things that have bothered him before. Was I too wrapped up in myself to take notice? I don’t know. Things are shaky. All I know is that he is asleep now…and I am awake. He is in a state of relaxation and I am up. It’s pushing 5am here and I feel like I’m just getting started.

“Don’t make a sound. Shhh — listen.”

I wish the universe would give me a sign. It’s given me plenty but perhaps I wasn’t paying attention. I think I need another cigarette before I call it a night. Here goes it…

Preventative/Reactive Healthcare (And Day 6 Progress Report)

Today’s post is a tad autobiographical. If you’d like to skip to the substance of preventative vs. reactive healthcare, scroll all of the way to the bottom of the post.

The first week in review

So I’m six days in to my healthy living challenge and I have to say…I feel great! I’ve documented as much as I could so that I could stay on track. I’ve kept a nutrition log (thanks to my eDiets account), I’ve kept measurements in Google Docs, and I’ve been tracking my exercise through RunKeeper. I’ve been making more regular visits to the grocery store and loading up on fresh produce and ingredients for simple salads and breakfasts. I’ve been pretty busy so I’ve relied a bit on prepackaged meals like Lean Cuisine or meal replacement shakes to make up for some of my meals.

All in all I feel that I am making progress. Compared to some of my old measurements, they have either stayed the same or decreased (WIN!), with exception to my hips (FAIL) but at least it’s only up by 1 inch. One more inch of lovin’, I suppose. I don’t own a scale but I don’t really like tracking progress in that way either. I suppose it’s a natural evil so eventually I’ll go get a weigh in.

So far I’ve been pretty consistent with my eating and exercising. I’ve been making my exercise a priority and non-negotiable. I like that it’s becoming more of a routine now and something I plan for in my daily schedule. I’m finding it so important that I get irked or irritated by the mere thought of possibly having to skip a day. Nevertheless I am sure I can keep this up for a while longer. Logging in my food intake is a bit of a hassle but when I get into a habit of eating better on a regular basis I am sure I won’t have to get as detailed with it. I think while I am still trying to keep myself accountable it’s an important step to keep me conscientious of what goes in to my body.

My weekly nutrition log

My measurements (progress, and otherwise)

My running stats

Some new gear to help me along

I’ve been running with the same pair of shoes for almost three years now. I finally replaced them with a new pair that arrived today from Zappos so I am very excited to get running with them. Additionally, my workout clothes have been pretty drab so I decided to get some new running shorts and pants. Proud to say I had to opt for a size smaller than usual, so I suppose that’s a good sign!

Going In To See The Doc

Most of the times I’ve gone in to see the doctor has primarily been in reaction to an illness. I dislike medicine, doctor’s visits, etc, so I try to avoid them as much as I can and put them off for as long as I can. I’ve found through past experience that it is not exactly the wisest thing to do, since illnesses can become much, much worse if you try to ignore them. Most of my illnesses have been brought on by extreme stress: working too much, not taking time off, not exercising or eating right, and allowing myself to get worked up over nothing.

Over the course of the past week, I am finding that my newly forming habits are giving me the energy I need to maintain a work-life balance. I am more energetic and am more responsive. I am finding that I am more present in the moment with friends, work, etc. I truly feel that I’ve had some sort of breakthrough, and that is good.

I’ve been thinking more and more about prevention. If we can solve our health problems before they are even problems then we will probably on the road to a much healthier life. If we can troubleshoot the real root causes of our problems, then we do a much better job at coming to long-term resolutions and benefits. Instead of addressing the symptoms, we can prevent a lot of further illness by addressing the root causes of illness. So, with that in mind, I booked a session with @DocHeather in Santa Monica for a different take on my health. I am hoping that by being proactive with my health, I will have to be less reactive to it. Instead of masking symptoms with loads of medication, I can tackle problems head on in a natural and holistic manner.

I’ll be checking in on day 13 of 21. Stay tuned!

The Rider, The Elephant, and The Path

Amara Poolswasdi - Thailand

For every instance of change in our lives, we have to deal with three things: our rational side, our emotional side, and the path in which we eventually choose to embark on. Not every change in our lives is welcomed — most of it is painful but necessary. Take, for instance, my February challenge. I am on day 5 of 21 of creating healthier habits, like running daily, taking vitamins, logging my nutrition, and watching what I eat. It’s not easy but it’s necessary. I have to address not only my rational decision for making this change in my routine (I need to live a healthier lifestyle to ensure I have the strength to carry on my daily duties) but also the emotional side as well (I want to feel better about myself and serve as a great example for others). Despite those two very important components of creating change in my life, it is impossible to make the change without setting a path for success. How would I be able to live a healthier lifestyle if I didn’t give myself the time to exercise everyday, or if I stocked my pantry full of chocolate and cotton candy? It’d be impossible for change to take place without shaping that path.

Enter Dan and Chip Heath’s Switch: How To Change When Change Is Hard. I came across this book multiple times in 2010 and kept putting off reading it. The title itself was intimidating. “How To Change When Change Is Hard” sounded…well…hard! It was one of the hardest reads I had ever completed in my life. I kept having to put the book down to just marinate the information. At the end, the book helped me embark on one of the most painful journeys in my life last September.

Switch Book

The book helped me break down this process of change. The analogy of the rider, the elephant, and the path completely resonated with me. Having been in Thailand a few years prior, I actually had the privilege of riding an elephant through a sanctuary in Surin. As the rider, you direct the elephant down a path. Similarly, when you come to a point in your life where you have to make a decision to change, you are the rider — you are the rational component — of that decision that has to guide the elephant, otherwise known as the emotional component. Note the differences in scale: a rider is a fraction of the size of the elephant. The elephant has the power to override the rider at any time and to destroy all potential. But, once a rider maintains control of the elephant, there is a powerfully symbiotic and beautiful relationship that can emerge. To that analogy, your rational side can guide the emotional side if you know where to look and what to target. Also, by thinking just a few steps ahead of yourself, you can shape the path to your definition of success. Whether that is moving on, getting healthier, maintaining a better relationship with yourself, or just making a difficult decision, understanding these three components to the decision making process will guide you on the journey to change.

How will you guide the rider and the elephant while shaping the path to change in your life?

Day 3 and Keeping Tabs On Progress

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a fitness kick, gearing up for a new semester, or trying to save more money from your paycheck. You should be documenting EVERYTHING you’re doing that puts you closer to success.

On that note…Hooray! I’ve survived Day 3 of my challenge.

I’ve found some great tools to help me stay on track…primarily to keep tabs on my own progress. Aside from blogging (obviously!) it’s also really important to keep track of the little steps I’m taking that will accumulate in to big changes. I’ve gone running a few times this week and wanted a way to accurate keep track of my distance and speed, so I joined RunKeeper to help me do that easily. It tracks my runs, calories burned, distance, time, etc…really nifty! Additionally, I’ve had a membership to eDiets that hasn’t quite seen the light of day these last few months (I joined last August), so I decided to dust it off again and sign in to take advantage of the customized workouts, meal plans, and the nutrition tracker.

One of the most important things about making a concerted effort to achieve a goal is keeping yourself accountable. I find that it is easy for me to stay true to my word if 1) I have to answer to other people and 2) I have to document my progress. What helps is that I am seeing immediate benefits — I feel great, I’m sleeping better, I’m focused on tasks at hand, and hey — I slayed my to-do list today. (I crossed off a record 18 items!)

How do you keep track of your progress?

21 Days To A New Me (And You)

After a few weeks of feeling mentally energetic but physically demotivated, I’ve decided that it’s time to flip the switch (again).

My health and I have a cyclical relationship…I usually don’t really care until I have to, which means I have a health scare or I have some big event I have to physically prepare for (also known as ‘look good for’). Pop-psychology tells me that it only takes 21 days to create a new habit, I’d have to say that I am up to the challenge. It is time to (try to) get healthy (again)! About two years ago I had a health scare — false positive on precancerous cells found in my body — and then last summer I had another bout of high cholesterol issues.Well in this case I truly am a creature of habit because have a few things coming up that I have to physically prepare for…and they’re not health related. (You’ve been warned!)

  1. My 27th birthday is a little over a month away…which means I’ll be seeing a lot of old faces again. And there will probably be pictures. On Facebook. Oh the terror of the digital footprint.
  2. SXSW is in about five or six weeks…which means I need to look good for, uhm, yfrog/twitpic/Facebook/geeks mostly.
  3. I was chosen to participate in the Chevy-sponsored SXSW roadtrip challenge for LA…which means I need to look presentable in every photo, on my blog, on other people’s blogs, on videos for YouTube, on camera for VOKLE, etc.
  4. The 5K LA run is in about seven weeks…which means I need to haul serious booty!
  5. I’m going to have to go and see my parents sometime soon…which means I’d prefer to stave off passive-aggressive comments about my holiday-induced whalishness.

Unfortunately I can get pretty shallow when it comes to my own body, but it’s nothing I’d ever project onto someone else. (Kind of like my eating habits.) So, naturally when I came across photos of myself from December 2008 I was stunned. My face was skinny! I was smiling! I actually liked being photographed! Maybe it was the two dirty martinis I had prior to these shots being taken, or the fact that my hair is a lot longer and balances out my cheekiness, but it’d be nice to get back to that point again. I don’t think I’m too far off as my weight and overall flabbiness generally only tips the scales within 10 pounds in either direction. (Wait, isn’t today GROUNDHOG DAY?)

A few years ago, when I was in college, I dropped a gadzooks amount of weight — I think 35 pounds or so in one month. I exercised twice a day and pretty much existed off of a combination of Slim-Fast and salads for about 30 days and voila, I dropped it. I was also pretty motivated since my doctor had told me that I was on the fast-track to diabetes. At that point I figured the benefits of weight loss outweighed the drastic short-term measures I took. Although this time (and all of my subsequent times) haven’t really been as drastic, I do plan on staying incredibly disciplined.

So, since it takes 21 days for me to form new habits and all of these events are more than 21 days away I should be in good shape. (Knee slapper!) I’ve done this a few times and I usually love it and hate it at the same time. It would be so much easier to just maintain good eating and exercise habits but for some reason it seems as though I enjoy these cycles. As my beau put it the other day, I really enjoy a great challenge…so this should be an interesting journey. I never believed in measuring my success through numbers so I don’t have a goal weight, running time, or dress size. I just want to be happy and healthy and serve as a great role model for people around me. Let the fun begin! You can follow my progress at RunKeeper and cheer me on. (I’d really, really appreciate it!)

What great habits do YOU plan on forming in the next 21 days?

Do You Really Need a Degree To Succeed in Graphic Design?

In short…kind of.

Bauhaus Poster

For people who are unfamiliar with the technology and processes of design — from the artistic form to the technical know-how necessary to execute ideas — going to school is one of THE best ways to learn. You have to choose your school carefully though. If you don’t, you run the risk of getting caught up in a program that doesn’t necessarily fit your goals or approaches.

I was lucky to go to a private art school for one (very short) semester. In that space of time I learned a lot about the art behind it. I spent almost ten years learning the science of it beforehand, and imitating what I saw in magazines and books. In that short period of time I was thrown in to the more artistic, ethereal challenges behind my projects. When I left that private art school and transferred in to a local state university, I was flabbergasted. Students were still learning to kern. They still tried to run RGB layouts through our four-color printer. They were designing booklets in Photoshop. They hadn’t the slightest cue about binding technologies, HTML, print production, etc…all things that I had essentially grown up with.

The traditional design school experience was very tough for me. I breezed through the coursework but quickly approached my two design professors and asked that they challenge me as hard as they could. (That they did…one drove me to tears!) In my experience it wasn’t the actual course work itself that taught me a lot, but instead my interaction with my professors and the internships with which they connected me. It was also in my dealings with my classmates, by being patient and helping them grow as designers through fair and honest feedback and critiques. It was in helping them understand that design was simply not just a pretty picture but a piece of visual communication that was to eventually be consumed by millions of people…and that it needed to be taken seriously.

What I also never expected was to deal with politics. Different professors had different teaching styles and their own philosophies about how to run their classes. When it came time to seek funding for an international project, I had to deal with the politics between departments, and getting recommendations. Some of the hardest lessons I learned in design school was knowing when to drop a design argument when it became apparent that it came down to taste; understanding that honey attracts more flies than vinegar; and that sometimes it didn’t really matter what other people thought — that if you could unequivocally defend your design, you were designing from an informed point of view. It was also really difficult for me to deal with rejection: I had applied to create my own masters degree program but was rejected on the grounds that my GPA was not high enough. (All credited to the hop-skipping of majors I did prior to switching in to design.) In retrospect that was a blessing in disguise: I would have missed out on the opportunity to work for a boutique ad agency and learn the reins of running a business from the inside out. I would have missed out on working with The Rainmaker Network. I would have missed out on starting my own company. I would have also missed out on enrolling in the degree program at Golden Gate, which has served me so well thus far.

No, it wasn’t the brand identity assignments or the poster designs or even the portfolio class that taught me a lot about the design process. It was the people. It was the patience that was required of me to finish the classes. It was learning how to follow protocol, even if I didn’t want to. It was learning that forms of expression require a process, and that there were no shortcut to success. Design school taught me that I would have to work hard, commit to goals, and set to achieving them if I were ever able to make something of myself.

Amara Poolswasdi Working
A quick snapshot of my working process while I was in Thailand. Note the Advil and sketches EVERYWHERE

So, although you don’t really need the degree itself, I believe that it will help you build the patience and understanding necessary to succeed.

(crossposted to unicornpress.net/blog)