How to do cold showers

Turn on the cold water – duh!

Nahh – this is not going to be some long explanation of why cold showers is a good idea and not some crazy way to make them easy. It’s just going to be a few easy points on how to make them more bearable and therefore enabling you to stay a bit longer under the cold fountain of iron forging hell that cold showers can feel like.

Optimally you would have a nice ice bath to lower yourself into, but if you are somewhat normal you probably do not have that option. The layman edition of cold showers include such advanced remedies as this long exhausting list:

  • Shower
  • Cold water

So I do not expect to have lost anyone so far.

As with anything that is labelled beneficial or optimal from food to training programs, it is not as much about finding the optimal food or program but what works optimal for exactly your situation. As this blogs mantra “keep it simple” underlines – we are looking to get as much bang for the buck as possible – not trying to coach elite Olympic athletes into shaving of hundreds of a second.

So how to approach the cold shower? First of; it is not supposed to be easy. You can ease into it by starting warm and gradually going colder, but eventually you should just find yourself standing under the cold water as it gently caresses, or as you would probably describe it; sharply stings and freezes your body.

Cold showers are as much an exercise in toughness and mental strength as a way to improve your health. Suck it up!

But there are a few key points to make them more bearable. If you keep your face and your hands outside of the water you will last way longer. This may be a problem if you have a very fancy shower that totally covers your body, but if you live somewhat ordinarily with the water coming either directly down from the top or at an angle from the wall, you will have options to try this out. I have a shower where the water comes at an angle and I usually switch between having it hit my chest and down and the upper part of my back and down. Not having my face and hands directly in the stream of cold water greatly increases the amount of time I am able to spend underneath it. And as the “goal” of cold showers is lowering body temperature, then this is not even “cheating” or taking anything away from that.

The other key point is keeping track of your breath and relaxing. If you tense up entirely and start almost hyperventilating even before hitting the water, you are not going to last many seconds underneath it. Take some deep breaths and try to relax. I really think meditation has helped me with this part, but I can help myself by focusing on some thought or maybe even just a point on the wall and then just sticking with it almost “ignoring” the cold water on my body.

Try to tell yourself that it is okay, rather than fill your body with fear of this all-conquering force trying to freeze you to death. You are going to be okay and you can anytime you want abort mission.

If you try these to little tricks I am sure that your cold showers will last longer. Not promising that they will be pleasant or that you will go from having hated them to loving them – but it should enhance the effect of them by enabling you to stay under for longer. Good luck!

Downsides of bodyweight routines: back muscles

I originally planned to write a single post on some of the downsides of bodyweight routines, but as I started collecting notes and writing I realised that it was probably better to write individual posts, each focusing on areas where bodyweight routines seems to be inferior or at least needs some attention to compete with good ol’ weight training.

Having done individually exclusive bodyweight, bodybuilding and to some extend strength routines – I feel I have gained some quite useful knowledge on the strength and weaknesses of each. In this post I will focus on areas where bodyweight routines can fall short on back training. They are little tweaks but can really make a big difference.

On paper bodyweight routines can look like they give pretty good bang for the buck as far as back training goes. There is usually quite a lot of pull-up variations and for the advanced bodyweight athlete there may additionally be levers and strict muscle-ups. But in my experience there are two areas where they seem to fall short.

First is horizontal rowing to get some good volume for your upper back. I know you can do feet supported rows in rings, on bars etc. but my experience is that your arms seems to get tired before your back muscles gets a real good beating. If you’re more advanced you can even try your luck with front lever-rows. They are incredibly hard, but again they seem to activate more supportive muscles that gets tired before your back really gives up. You’ll end up breaking good form before you really hit the back muscles.

Your lats can certainly get a good workout with bodyweight exercises, but your upper back will most certainly be underdeveloped. So in order to pull(pun intended) yourself out of this compromised state add some heavy rowing to your routine. This can be bent over rows, cable rows, dumbbell rows or whatever – just go heavy on those and high volume to make up for what most bodyweight routines ends up being; rather front dominant.

The second area where bodyweight routines fall kind of short is your lower back. You can do hypers and in a lot of the static levers you need to keep your entire core tight, but if you want a bulletproof back I would seriously consider doing some deadlifts. Deadlifts should in my opinion be a stable of just about any bodyweight routine. They tick so many of the boxes where bodyweight routines seems to fall short. They hit the upper back, as I mentioned as a weak-point earlier. They hit the lower back and they hit your legs once you start pulling some serious weights. They won’t hit your legs as squats, but if you’re seriously into bodyweight training and want to do advanced stuff – then the last thing you want is really heavy legs. But this is not the same as to say that you should not work them at all. Get a knowledgeable individual to show you the right technique and then start pulling from the ground!

Deadlifts can further more act as a measuring tool for something that can be a bit hard with bodyweight – a measure of progress. You can add good old progression on the deadlift to measure whether you are going in the right direction or not. I know it won’t say anything about your ability to perform bodyweight exercises but it will tell you whether you are getting stronger, are close to a burnout or are stagnating. Just program it with something real simple as Wendlers 5/3/1 for instance.

From my own experience the upper back is certainly the place where I lost most of my muscle mass when I did exclusive bodyweight routines. It is one of the things I keep telling people when they ask me for input on their bodyweight routines. And generally people needs to up their pulling whether we talk bodyweight or old school weights. There is a clear tendency to focus more on the front – which of course you can see more easily in the mirror – than the rear. The average lifter would probably be better off with a 2:1 ratio on exercise selection, in favor of pulling instead of pushing.

There are way more impressive fronts than rears – be the guy/girl who stands out in the crowd.

How to be creative and get new ideas

If only I had the right idea.

Where do people get all those ideas from!?

A few of the statements that gets thrown around a lot by people who can’t seem to get their creative mind flowing. They would love to start a new business, find a new way of doing something they love or perhaps find a creative way of re-decorating their house.

They just don’t have any ideas.

The easiest way to keep getting the results you have always got is keep doing what you have always done. Meaning that if you’ve never feel like getting any new ideas, then the easiest way to keep it this way, is keep doing whatever you are doing.

Okay, that is what you are NOT supposed to do. But then the $100 question is – what ARE you supposed to do?

First of, make changes. If you have always driven the same road home from work – try taking another every once in a while. Start reading articles on topics you perhaps otherwise would have avoided. Take up a new hobby, meet new people. Do just about anything differently.

Of course the obvious answer is; that if you are looking to start a new business – start following news about start-ups – see what others are doing. And try not to think of only completely new inventions as possible business ventures. Most innovations are actually spin-offs of something already in existence or knowledge transferred from one domain to another.

But ideas can flourish from just about anything. I have read a great number of business books, but perhaps half of the great business related ideas I have had, came to me while reading fiction or something completely unrelated to business. But if your mind is used to transferring knowledge from one domain to another then your ideas can spawn from just about anything.

Then get into the habit of writing ideas down – whether physical in a book, dictating and recording onto your phone or whatever you’re comfortable with. At first perhaps your ideas are not that great – no matter – you have to start somewhere. What matters is that you get into the habit of recording them.

This has two effects. One obvious of course is that once you get a good idea, you won’t end up forgetting it. But the other perhaps even more important is that ideas form on basis of things you perceive. The more different inputs the more data for your brain to connect and form new ideas upon. When looking through your recorded ideas, what might 2 weeks ago, seem like a totally silly idea, will now with new eyes and knowledge, seem like the best idea if only applied to another domain. So record your ideas – even the shitty ones.

Then finally. Give yourself time to think. Give your mind room to process all the data and connect the dots. If you always keep your mind distracted by watching TV, reading, playing with your phone and never just go for a walk, leaving your phone behind or just sit and let your mind do whatever it wants, then your mind will only react to incoming information and never really have the time to process what’s already there.

Following these steps won’t guarantee that you get your million dollar idea. But as stated previously. If you keep doing what you have always done – you will keep getting what you have always got. Therefore use this as a kick in the butt to start doing things differently, whether this means a new hobby, new travel route or anything in between. Creativity is about connecting impressions, information and experiences – so get out there in the world and experience!

Law of small numbers in statistics

I’m in the midst of reading “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. An extremely interesting book, if you have any interest in how you and others form their decisions. I will not discuss the entire book here, as obviously I haven’t finished it yet, but I would like to write a thing or two about a recent chapter I read, since it really resonated with me as something I, first of all; should have known – but certainly should remember moving forward. And one of the best ways of remembering, for me, seems to be trying to explain it to others.

As the title suggests, this has to do with something called the “law of small numbers”. Most people seem to acknowledge that statistics based on large samples produce more accurate results, but fail to recognise that statistics based on smaller samples not only are more inaccurate, but also produce more extreme outcomes.

Why is this important? I thought I was fully aware of the pitfalls, at least the inaccuracy part  – but having read this chapter I realized I wasn’t.

My reasoning, and probably a lot of other people’s, recognise that if you take a small sample of a larger whole, then the small sample of course won’t be as accurate – but it will show a tendency. This CAN be absolutely false. Danish media even slipped big time, failing to recognise this, during a recent election, when their early exit poll claimed the wrong victor.

But why is this? How can statistics on small numbers show the complete opposite as statistics performed on the full sample? It has to do with the fact that small samples produce more extreme outcomes. I will use Daniel Kahneman’s example as it made it really clear for me to understand.

From the same urn, two very patient marble counters take turns. Jack draws 4 marbles on each trial, Jill draws 7. They both record each time they observe a homogeneous sample – all white or all red. If they go on long enough, Jack will observe such extreme outcomes more often than Jill – by a factor of 8 (the expected percentages are 12.5% and 1.56%) Again no hammer, no causation, but a mathematical fact: samples of 4 marbles yield extreme results more often than samples of 7 marbles do.

This really made it “click” for me. Of course they do. Small samples are not only more inaccurate but – and this is the very important part – they yield more extreme outcomes.

But as the book so beautifully describes, almost everyone can miss this fact. The Gates foundation made a huge $1.7 billion investment, based on findings that had tried to pinpoint which schools produced the best grades. One of the findings was that the small schools seemed to outperform the larger by a factor of 4. This lead to splitting of larger schools into smaller units. The only problem was that the size of the school had nothing to do with the grades. If they had asked which schools produced the lowest grades – once again it would have been the small schools. But the size of the school had nothing to do with the grades. The larger schools produced more “average” results, simply by the fact that they had more students – thereby larger sample sizes. Small schools on the other hand had fewer students – thereby smaller sample, which as we have learned can produce more extreme outcomes.

Correlation does not equal causation.

This knowledge has given me a whole new perspective on statistics. I am amazed at how often media, marketing or even politicians use statistics based on very small samples as “proof” for their claims. And for the most part they totally get away with it. But moving forward I hope to be more observant and aware of this fallacy, to keep me from making bad decisions, on what I, in the past, might have considered good valid information.

Taking notes while reading

This is just going to be a rather short post on reading or to be precise; note-keeping whilst reading. I have covered this a little bit before, but it seems to be an area where I keep refining my technique. Some techniques stay with me, others drift away – but these following points have stayed with me for some time, and seems to be a good mix of effort and reward.

To be clear; I only use these techniques for non-fiction books, or perhaps even more precisely; books I read in order to gain some knowledge or insight. This is not applied to leisure-reading. Of course you may use it as you please.

Photo 31-05-14 20.16.24First of; I mark paragraphs in the book as I am reading along. This is nothing new and I even think I have written about it before, but just to show an example(here from Ryan Holidays, The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph)

This does a fine job of highlighting passages that I find valuable or things I would like to remember afterwards. The downside of this, is that in order to find all the marked passages afterwards, you have to go through the entire book.

What I started doing then, was every time I made a mark in the book, I would write the page-number in one of the last blank pages in the book. To simplify it a bit further I would only write the number of the left page, if I made marks on both sides and if I hadn’t made any notes on the left, I of course would write the page number of the right one, given that it had any content I marked.

This made me a personal index at the back of the book with everything that I found valuable from the content. But in some cases there might be content I found extra valuable. So I needed a way to distinguish “regular” notes from “extra important”.

Photo 31-05-14 20.21.55The simple solution to this was just to underline the page number in my personal index. Then what I end up with, is an index I can use if I have relatively good time to read through the valuable notes, or if I am in a hurry, I can just browse through the underlined page numbers, containing the extra valuable content. In practice this looks like the following(here from Marcus Aurelius’, Meditations: A New Translation)

In retrospect, I would have loved to have this technique a bit earlier. There are quite a few books I need to go back through – some only needing the index others does not even have marks in them. But to help others that might gain from these techniques, they are now shared.

Happy reading folks!

To-Do’s and Did-Do’s

Like probably a lot of you, I keep looking for tips and systems on how to increase my productivity. Some of them help, some are too complicated to be operational in a just mildly changing environment and others are downright foolish.

I have successfully incorporated a few, which helped me get more of the important things done. Tips like write the most important task of the day on a piece of paper, the one task that at the end of the day, will make you feel like you have accomplished a good days work – and then give this your full attention until it is finished. And as a lot of you know, these are often characterized by being the tasks we feel the most uncomfortable about.

But what I personally found missing from a lot of these systems, was the ever changing environment of running a start-up. If I kept the notes and looked at them by the end of the week, I would always end of thinking – was that all I accomplished during the week? How could I have spent so many hours on those?

Of course I hadn’t spent all my time on those tasks that were written down. I had been programming/writing/preparing something, that at the time was the most important task, but while doing so; something more important had come up; I had figured that this new feature led to a re-think and re-design of some existing components; or something of the like. I hadn’t been procrastinating or unproductive, the things I had on my to-do list at the start of the week just did not cover all the work they had brought me during the execution.

What I needed was a way to track not only what I wanted or needed to do, but also what I actually ended up doing.

The reason why this is important – at least for my part – is that when working on something like a start-up, writing a book or anything where the gratification(launch, release, etc.) is quite far into the horizon, you won’t receive any pads on the back or acknowledgements during everyday work. This means that your biggest critic – yourself – has to have a way of seeing results along the way, for it to get of your back and praise you for whatever small improvements you have made.

This is where TO-DO’s and DID-DO’s come into play. They are actually quite simple, as most of you probably already figured out, the basic premise, but I will nevertheless share my way of organizing them.

I personally use Evernote to store these and therefore the following screenshots will be from there. I have basically created a note which I call “Week template” – this is almost static. Almost in the sense, that if I have long-running tasks that are not top-priority, they can make their way to this template. This template is then each week copied and used to fill out the week. And example could be as follows:
Skærmbillede 2014-03-23 kl. 20.37.42

What I then do is each week, I make a rough sketch of what I want to accomplish, add those tasks to that week and I am ready to go. Then each day I can add things that spawned from doing other tasks, so that everything I do ends up being on that list as seen below:

Skærmbillede 2014-03-23 kl. 20.41.26This enables me to keep track of not only what I have to do, but also what I DID do, which for me makes work much more satisfying. The level of detail in these are totally up to you – just keep in mind that it should be operational and keep your productivity high – if you end up breaking each tasks into to small pieces, just to get more items checked, then you are certainly doing it wrong.

 

If you lack motivation and don’t feel like you are getting anything done, then try this system. The self rewarding effect of seeing how much you accomplished should not be underestimated!

Standing for sleep, faces for mood and self-experimentation

If you want to skip through this piece quickly, read the parts that are bold and then determine whether you want to read the entirety of this or the article I discuss. The link to the article is in the bottom.

As probably a lot of you do, I find myself reading through a lot of articles about productivity, tips on what to eat, how to train, rest, sleep etc. If you keep yourself a little up to speed on these things, you very rarely stumble upon something you haven’t heard before. Most are spin off’s on each other and the new and groundbreaking discoveries are far apart.

But after having read this publication I actually found myself in possession of theories I haven’t heard before. It also shed some quite interesting light, on the whole field of self-experimentation. And a good philosophical discussion of both pros and cons.

The author starts his article with a discussion about how clear defined theories, in the field of research, can cause you to miss interesting correlations, that you weren’t looking for. He talks about how he had looked for ways to get rid of his type of insomnia, that is called early awakening. He had experimented with all the theories he could think of to get rid of this, but his list of possible solutions/factors, had not produced any significant results. In the field of big scientific research, this would probably have meant that the research would have been shut down. But since he was self-experimenting, he has the same advantages as small start-ups have over larger corporations – agility and the ability to quickly shift attention and direction.

When trying something apparently unrelated, like eating foods with more water content, to lose weight, he suddenly found himself waking even earlier, when replacing his morning oatmeal with fruit. He went back to oatmeal, the early awakening reset to its “normal” level – back to fruit and again he had even earlier awakenings. Suddenly he had made a breakthrough, though in the wrong direction, it was still a breakthrough. Without looking for it, he had found something that impacted his early awakenings. You can read the whole article, yourself if interested, it contains quite a bit of self-experimentation and after the article some professors makes some good comments about the whole self-experimentation.

But what struck me, was that he experimented with standing up and walking as means of losing weight. He couldn’t measure any significant changes to his weight, but what he found was, that his early awakenings started disappearing. I have struggled quite a bit with falling asleep at night, so possible solutions to that problem is always welcome. Since I actually also wanted to get back into a rhythm of standing more, it was a pretty obvious choice to try it out.

From falling into a quite bad rhythm of sitting working during most of my day, I then switched to standing the majority of the day. It was and still can be a bit tiring, but just focusing on my work instead, of on the slight discomfort, at times, seems to keep it at bay.  And somehow, it works. I honestly feel like I fall asleep easier at night. It is not like I lay my head on the pillow and then – BANG – I sleep. But it seems to have drastically reduced the time it takes for me to fall asleep. I just feel much more tired when I lay in bed at night. Like my body really feels like it needs the rest. An interesting side effect for me, has been that my productivity has gone up. It simply feels like I have an easier time concentrating on hard tasks, when standing up. So it might help battle procrastination as well. Nevertheless I really want to stand more, it is way healthier for the body, and this positive side effect of improving my sleep, will surely make it easier for me to keep.

Some other quite interesting findings from that article, is the alertness 3 hours before mealtime. Apparently it is very well known that animals are much more awake and alert 3 hours before meals. This should be so apparent that the author thinks the same behavior should translate to humans. He uses it to explain some of his early awakenings – whether he is right or not, I am not to tell, but interesting theory. As I follow intermittent fasting I might consider timing my awakening and meals with this, just to try it out.

The last rather fun finding I will share, is his connection between seeing faces upon waking up and next day happiness. Somehow he measures his mood improve, the day after having spent the first hour after waking, on looking at faces. He does not even use real people, but faces on television – quite a fun read.

Read through the entire article if I somehow sparkled your interest. I find it quite interesting and if you like self-experimentation, I am sure you will as well.

Here is the link to the full article: Surprises from self-experimentation: Sleep, mood, and weight