The Spaghetti Approach to Achieving a Breakthrough

Let’s say you’re stuck in your progress toward a goal. Doesn’t matter what goal – it could be a physical feat or it could be getting your homework done. There are two generally accepted ways to make progress: incremental change (ideally with tracking) and jumping off a cliff (not literally).

Incremental change is the preferred method: it can be tracked, measured, and reproduced. When you make progress you know WHICH thing enabled the progress. You know that it was the fact that you started flossing your teeth right after eating that made you less likely to snack, versus putting an alarm on the fridge door. You know which behavior change you are in the middle of, and therefore you know what is working. Incremental change gets much love, partly because of how sciency it is, probably also because it is easier chunks to bite off if you’re the person making the changes.

But here’s the problem. It’s fucking slow. Sometimes you need or want the end result to happen very soon, or at a particular point in time rather than just “when it happens”. This is where jumping off a cliff becomes useful. For clarity’s sake, let’s alternatively call this method the Spaghetti Approach.

Oh, please… stick! (Thanks to cockeyed.com for this!)

In the spaghetti approach, you simply change a whole BUNCH of stuff all at once. In the snacking example, you padlock the fridge, take herbal appetite suppressants, floss after eating, drink water before meals, AND buy a dress a size too small. You throw all the spaghetti against the wall at the same time. If enough of it sticks, you have made your breakthrough in record time. The only drawback (if you can even call it a drawback – it depends on how sciency you like your life to be) is that you won’t know for sure what really worked, and which pieces of spaghetti you can ignore the next time around.

BUT, here’s why the drawback might not be a drawback. The next time around, things might be totally different. Knowing exactly what worked before might not even be useful. This is especially true with things involving the human body or even relationships. Humans are just a mess of ever-shifting potential. It’s true you can generalize, of course. If you take up weightlifting, you will almost certainly get stronger. But generalizations are for generalized results. Doing MORE weightlifting, and MORE, and MORE, will not necessarily move up your maximum squat by 20 pounds. When things get detailed, humans get slightly less reliable results.

What works today or this month or this year or this decade will not necessarily work again.

This is why my 2014 Wasatch Front 100 race is getting the spaghetti approach. I am going out for a breakthrough, and I’m going to try a lot of new things. New things that I have not tried before, or things I have not done in an ultra in awhile, but all things that I have reasonable confidence will not be utter disasters. I’m not going to just decide to go keto-adapted and eat only macadamia nuts. That would be truly nuts.I am happy to share my plans. So here is what I *am* going to do:

  1. Use music. I never, ever, run with music. But I know it helps a ton of people and has sciency research to back up its effects on performance. (See, science!)
  2. Bring back my gaiters (woo, Dirty Girl!). Haven’t worn these in several years and dust/dirt is a big issue for my feet on this course.
  3. My own hydration drink, always. Preloaded dry into bottles or baggies in drop bags. Tailwind, if you’d like to know.
  4. MOAR calories. I undereat at ultras and I suspect that it has an effect on my pace, even if I don’t feel like I’m bonking.
  5. New food (to adjunct to #4) – rice balls. Many, many rice balls.
  6. Swap hydration pack at mile 82 for bottles.

Of all of these, the one with the most potential for bad effects is #4. That will have to be monitored closely so I don’t hurl all over the trail (at least not more than once, anyway). All the rest should have minimal side effects and if they are annoying I can stop or change course in moments.

Wish me luck and sticky pasta.

spaghetti-stuck-on-wall

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

Tuesday Tribute: Gretchen Dudley Wolfmeyer

That's the smile. See what I mean?

That’s the smile. See what I mean?

In a way, this is not only a Tuesday Tribute but a “throwback thursday”, because this week’s story was one of the highlights of all of my weeks during junior year of high school. I only wish I had some photos from that era…. somewhere in a box, I suppose.

This had to have taken place junior year because pretty much everything I remember that was awesome about high school happened that year. I could drive (though I had only periodic access to vehicles); I started a new/awesome/serious relationship; I had tons of friends in the SENIOR class. Whoa. And the reason I was friends with many of them was through DRAMA – something I never took to and thus it ended for me after high school. But that fall, we did Jesus Christ Superstar and whoa was it fun. The energy of a production is crazy – frenetic and happy and stressed all at once. You’re busy for hours into the evening after every school day. Everyone is tired but excited and the camaraderie is intense – maybe even more than in sports.

That all being said, it might have been one night after rehearsal that I gave Gretchen a ride home. I recall it being cold because the car took some time to warm up. We had gotten into a conversation that I’ve long forgotten but it was VERY IMPORTANT. I only know that because it was one of those should-stop-too-tired-can’t-stop-too-interesting discussions, the ones that lead you to keep the car running because you think you can wrap it up in a few minutes, and then it’s 20, and then half an hour, and more…

Something Gretchen and I were talking about was awesome, and I wanted to keep it going. That’s all that matters.

I remember how I felt about her in high school, how she was just a bit more of everything that was cool to me. We traded back and forth with several others in the circle a stolen Heathers VHS (stealing? me? how rebellious!). We went to a pizza joint in town and had “usual” orders (spending money for prepared food? preposterous!). We bought KMFDM and Greenpeace t-shirts and wore both with equal pride. Gretchen had (and still has) a smile capable of powering a Tesla and a kindness that radiates from her pores.

So this is for Gretchen, who changed me by showing me that being a little bit of a rebel could coexist with being a happy and generous person, and that burning a little gas to keep one excellent conversation going in the dead of winter is an OK thing, too.

[this is also a sort of Tuesday Tribute to the memory of Robin Williams, and Gretchen knows why. I love you, sweetie!]

Tuesday Tribute: Edward Arroyo

Tuesday Tribute: Edward Arroyo of FloatSpace in Los Angeles

Edward Arroyo, evolving

Edward Arroyo, evolving

Though I’ve known Edward for approximately one day, he’s already helped guide the course of my journey in this cranium on my shoulders. Today, I floated. I had neither the traumatic Homer experience, nor the trippy Lisa Simpson romp, but it was a start of something good.

You see, it was at Ed’s facility, floatspace, that I had my first sensory deprivation tank session. It’s near Pasadena in a remarkably tranquil lot for greater L.A. – the only time a disturbance of a noise came through it was the trash truck on its rounds. Other than that, I lounged around reading a book, watching squirrels bark at me, and listened to the wind. Yeah, I had already floated and was waiting on my brother to emerge from his.

Floating???

Floating. It’s coming. It’s been around for a long, long time, but only had a spike in interest a few decades back that didn’t blossom into a full movement. Now, we have Joe Rogan out doing god’s work (and I’m moderately serious about that) by podcasting the shit of out things that people ought to know about. Floating is one of those things. It’s in the same price vein as massage or cheaper, and has the potential to be far more impactful than a ‘mere’ rubdown at your local day spa. No disrespect to massage therapists – there is a time and a place for massage, and my opinion is that it is of more limited scope than floating.

You can read all about floating all over the interwebs, but my own introductory testimonial came from Christopher Ryan and his Tangentially Speaking podcast. I saw him speak at Paleo(fx) this spring and adored his style. Soon after I listed to a few of his podcasts and realized that he was off on a float during that weekend in Austin – his first – only to do an impromptu recording with the owner of the float space because Dr. Ryan was so impressed with the session.

If you’d like to hear a story about Ed’s place specifically, here’s a young guy describing their first float: http://blog.ancientlasers.com/why-nothing-really-matters-my-trip-inside-an-isolation-tank/

Thanks, Edward.

Tuesday Tribute: Adele Hite, nutrition guru and badass

Today, the slow, deliberate hand clap goes to a woman who is fighting the good fight against dumb (or just ill-informed) nutrition advice.

Tuesday Tribute: ADELE HITE

Adele Hite looking sassy.

Adele Hite looking sassy.

Adele’s a Registered Dietician with a Masters in Public Health, and general all-around badass in the battle against healthy eating misinformation. She runs the website called Eathropology and has done some solid work on combating the USDA’s food pyramid (scheme).

I met Adele just before the Ancestral Health Symposium in 2012. I was looking for a shared hotel room and she was willing and able to lend some mattress room to me. During that long weekend, she and I and her good friend Anna Kelles gossiped, plotted, and learned from each other. They were already in the public health world and I was outside, looking in, dipping my toe into the idea that something (or a lot of things) we are currently doing with regard to food and activity and thinking are just kind of, well, not good. And, more importantly, how can I help?

Adele helped to ignite my ancestral health research and fueled some new ideas in this little thinking cap of a skull. A book about women’s health! A book for US! A podcast! Another conference! Articles and speeches and poster presentations, oh my!

While it is not Adele’s responsibility to make sure that I actually DO follow through on those ideas, she deserves a lot of credit for getting me thinking. And yes, the podcast is still something I think would be amazing. Is podcasting “over”? I surely hope not. At least I can tell myself that if you are GOOD, your talents are never really “over”. And that is why women like Adele are out there, doing what they do, really WELL, and having an effect in the world.

I hope I see her again soon, but even if not, her work lives on, every day.

Be a Woman: Stop Saying “Man Up” or “Grow a Pair”

I consider myself somewhat of a feminist. Women are not yet on equal footing in our society in a variety of factors, and I think that’s shitty. Women can do damn near everything men can do (and some things they cannot), but I don’t know all the answers on how to fix the disparities.

However, my own ‘feminist cred’ is tainted when I talk about being strong or bold or forward, because I use masculine terms to describe those qualities.

In self-talk to myself or others, I will say:

  • “grow a pair, Andrea, and do this thing”
  • “ok, time to man up and talk to this person I’ve been avoiding”
  • “I’m feeling cocky and confident”

So… is that a problem? I personally don’t find myself any less confident when I say those things. I feel like my confidence or boldness is inherent to ME, not inherent to my gender. I take no offense when I hear anyone else saying such things, and I’m oft to use masculine terms in a negative or sarcastic way, as well:

  • “I was so full of myself, waving my dick around like an idiot…”
  • “oof! Right in the NUTS!”
  • “ok, too much testosterone there”

I found a kindred spirit, another woman who considers herself technically a feminist but doesn’t like to use the term because it has too many connotations. She writes about the masculine compliments in a blog post, and the reverse phenomenon, too – calling someone a pussy, for example. And she comes out strong, in the end. She takes no offense and would like to think that she can say what comes to mind without others taking offense. I like that optimism.

Grow a Pair! Of Ovaries!

In the end, what does that say about me? Perhaps it is not so much that I am a feminist, or not a feminist. Perhaps it is just that I am a potty mouth.

One Almond equals 1.1 Gallons of Water

Almonds, almonds, the non-musical fruit.

Almonds, almonds, the non-musical fruit.

Almonds are yummy. Almonds have vitamins and stuff. Almonds are (horribly abused to be) made into almond milk.

But.

Almonds are actually kind of shitty for anything resembling sustainable agriculture. Not just kind of shitty. I mean really totally crappy shitty disgusting ick how-did-that-happen.

San Joaquin - soon to be NOT known for agriculture

San Joaquin – soon to be NOT known for agriculture

A recent batch of blog posts by Tom Philpott, Alex Jones and Julia Lurie in Mother Jones highlights this issue as well as other water-sucking crops like grapes, pistachios, and more.

Tom’s almond article delves into some disturbing statistics:

Why? Why the f why??? Because we (the US and Asia) love almonds. And when we love almonds, it keeps their prices high. It’s a 4.8 BILLION dollar crop. Almond milk consumption is going freaking insane.

California is potentially in a drought bigger than any in 500 years, and any rains that fall are too little, too late.

I like this Tom Philpott guy. Basically, he read about this stuff, he wrote about this stuff, and then he got pissed off enough that he started really DOING things with his knowledge, like start Maverick Farms and become a living advocate for sustainability.

Yeah, this is a little bit of a chicken little kind of post. BUT. There are things we can do. There are things we SHOULD do. Treat almonds like a treat. Stop fucking drinking almond milk. Drink pasteured kefir – it’s (so far) more sustainable and has no lactose.

And tell people. Passion is what reaches those that are interested.

Tuesday Tribute: Jamesina Simpson – engineer, mom, runner

I’m back with another Tuesday treat, your current Tribute of the week. This one comes from a close personal connection – my sister-in-law, Jamesina.

TUESDAY TRIBUTE: JAMESINA SIMPSON

Part of Jamesina's herd - the kid, the dog... all perfectly under control

Part of Jamesina’s herd – the kid, the dog… all perfectly under control

She’s a PhD in Engineering, a university professor, a sub-3 hour marathon runner, and, perhaps most potently, the wife of my brother and mom to my niece (soon to be 2nd niece!). But there’s a lot more going on – things that have taught me much about myself and how to interact better with other introverts. You see, I’m a shitty communicator, make no bones about it. I’m like Sheldon without the witty t-shirts. When I want to talk about something, I do. When I don’t want to interact on a subject, I don’t. I, in general, have not been communicationally housebroken.

When I first met Jamesina, she was hard to read – quiet, reserved, but serious. She and my brother hit it off immediately at a party we all attended and alighted off to chat alone after I tried to occupy the conversation with talk about running. I was jealous of his time, of course – he had only recently “finally” moved to New Mexico and I was enjoying getting to spend time growing our post-college sibling friendship. On the other hand, Jamesina was really exciting to me – we were both geeky, quiet, and runners. We did training runs together that proved to be key in my own brief road racing stint – easy runs to her, but crazy hard tempo pace for me. It was perfect. She also got me into Bikram yoga (which turned into hot flow yoga), a habit that lasted three years and gained me literal balance that I still retain.

Then there were her life accomplishments: the PhD, a professorial position before 27, a house before 25. Yowzers. Oh, and we both loved Greg. This couldn’t go wrong! Yeah…. well there were some bumps in that road.

In a nutshell, we’ve had some serious miscommunications over the years. However, I’ve learned a TON about being a better conversationalist and listening to other people’s emotions instead of just the words they are saying, and we’ve ironed out nearly all the remaining kinks. She’s shared knowledge with me about her own ups and downs with athletics that has proven insightful and is appreciated. This gives me the same hope that I had when we first met. I’ve only grown in my admiration for what she’s accomplished. I mean, a sub-3 hour marathon a year after your first kid? Seriously impressive.

Not much has changed in the intervening 7 years – she’s still serious, quiet, driven, and always happy to share a joke with Greg. They don’t live here in New Mexico any more, so my visits are more infrequent. But when they are both happy, that’s awesome. I hope the two of us continue to grow as people, communicators, and athletes.

Thanks, Jamesina.