4 Podcasts that get me through the week

I never thought I would be a podcast kind of person. It’s like listening to talk radio, right? Who wants to listen to people talk about random stuff for hours on end? Well, for the past 2 years, me. I want to listen to people talk about all kinds of different topics for hours on end. It turns out, you can get a lot out of podcasts that your normal media (cable, network television, social media, etc.) will never expose to you.

Now, I have to start with a disclaimer: Not all podcasts are created equal. On a regular basis, I don’t consciously think about audio quality unless it is so bad I can’t understand what is being said. There are a lot of podcasts that are close to having these types of audio problems. Shuffling paper, heavy/labored breathing, and even loud animals in the background can ruin a podcast pretty quickly.

All of the podcasts below are available on any major podcast delivery medium. Personally, I use Spotify for convenience – it auto updates, is on my phone, and is also my source of music so most of my audio entertainment is in one place. Use what you want, but definitely seek out these podcasts!

Okay, here are the 4 podcasts that get me through my week:

1 The Daily by the New York Times – political leanings of modern day news agencies aside, this podcast is updated 5 days a week and is the first thing I listen to in the morning (it’s made available by 6 AM ET). It’s a short 20-30 minutes and usually focuses around a single topic. This morning was about illegal immigration and how it actually ties to terrorism with a short bit about President Trump’s planned address to the nation tonight. It’s informative, not commentary based (i.e. no talking heads yet) – it reminds me of the news programs I watched as a kid, just minus the visual component. You can find out more about this podcast here.

2 Project Management Happy Hour by Kim Essendrup and Kate Anderson. I listen to this while driving to the office. My 9-5 job uses a lot of project management principles to achieve success. Since I am not a certified Project Management Professional, I take in information about this subject in as many different ways as possible while working towards that particular certification. This podcast helps to break down project management concepts into real-world examples (and some Star Wars examples, thanks Kim!). It’s a motivator for me as well, helping me to learn different approaches to difficult clients, organization and tracking of projects, and interpersonal communication techniques. Oh yeah, and if you are a PMP, you can subscribe and use this podcast as your PDUs. You can find more about this podcast here.

3 Clockwise by Relay FM. Four people, four topics, and never more than 30-minutes…because they’re always watching the clock. This is my favorite tech oriented podcast. Period. The hosts, Mikah Sergeant and Dan Moren, are engaging, personable, and a joy to listen to on a regular basis. The guests contribute to the quick-fire conversation, contributing one topic a piece, and responding to the other presented topics. I like to listen to them while walking during lunch or while driving home from the office. You can find out more about this podcast here.

4 Critical Hit: A Dungeons and Dragons and Dragons Campaign by Major Spoilers Entertainment. This is the podcast that started it all for me and has become my weekend treat. This is a fun group of people playing DnD. The podcast has been going for 6 years (if I recall correctly) and is on episode #485 (75% of which has been centered around the development and adventures of a specific DnD campaign). To mix things up, the group does play other tabletop role-playing games, but it’s primarily been DnD. Such an entertaining group of people with laughs, learning, and plenty of pop-culture references (thanks Matthew!). You can learn more about this podcast here.

There you go, years worth of learning and entertainment at your fingertips (or ears, not sure if that works in this case). I recommend everyone take some time to listen to them all and make your own judgments (no, this is not a paid endorsement post, just my honest opinions). Happy listening!

Do you listen to podcasts? What are your favorites? Share to your heart’s content in the comments!

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Week 1, 2019: A good start

The first week of 2019 has come to a close. Overall, I am going to label it as a wonderful start to the new year!

Week 1, 2019 – Closed

To start, I was able to close all of my activity rings on my Apple Watch. This may seem trite to some people, but the sedentary lifestyle I have found myself in has not done much good for my concentration, motivation, mood or waste line. I know I am not the only one out there who has thought, “huh, when did these pants get so tight? The dryer must have shrunk them.” Only to order pizza delivery while binge watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

The small act of closing activity rings on the Apple Watch has positively impacted me in my day-to-day life. Instead of letting hours slowly inch by me while I binge watch television or surf social media, I get up and go for a walk or do a body-weight workout. Yesterday, I took the dog for a 45-minute walk (something she doesn’t get to do often enough) and followed it up with a solo walk around downtown Albuquerque. I had energy all day long. It doesn’t take much to make a difference in your life, but you have to start doing something for any change to occur!

A few other things have fallen into place during this first week of 2019; things I didn’t expect or consciously plan to execute. A couple of examples:

  1. The TV has remained off 95% of the time – This is probably the biggest surprise. Without any conscious decision, I haven’t tried to write, read, or work with the TV on “in the background”. Not surprisingly, returning home from work each evening, I am actually productive as I pursue my writing, reading, and making improvements around the house. Without the visual or auditory distraction of the television I don’t have the urge to sit on the couch and do nothing until it’s time to go to bed.
  2. I have read hundreds of pages – I am planning to release a “Book-a-Month Reading List for 2019” later this month as a year long challenge to read one book per month. These books are going to be unrelated to work (the 9 to 5 job or my personal pursuits) and are more to disconnect from the daily grind than anything else. I am almost done with my January book…in less than 6 days. In addition to the novel, I have been reading the news more often (depressing as that can be) which has reopened my eyes to so many of the problems (and accomplishments) of the world.
  3. Screen time has decreased – With the exception of tonight, I have purposefully turned off all screens (computer, phone, iPad, etc.) two hours before going to bed. During these final two hours, I shower, write in my journal (old school paper and pen), read, and spend time with the husband. I’m not certain, but this may be contributing to more restful sleep or, at the very least, the ability to fall asleep faster without the tossing and turning. I’ll have to keep it going through week 2 to find out.
  4. I have been drinking more water – I haven’t cut sugar out of my diet (that’s a challenge for later in the year), but I’m not drinking as much soda as I was two weeks ago. In fact, I have been drinking 8 or more 8 ounce cups of water each day. I have no doubts this is contributing to my energy levels and lack of lethargy this week. I will be keeping up this newly forming habit in week 2 as well to see what happens.

Alright, so, the first week of 2019 is over and I have (thus far) successfully maintained my progress in my January Challenge of closing all my activity rings everyday this month. Twenty-five days left in the month. Twenty-five days of closed rings. I’ll post another update at the end of week 2, stay tuned for more!

Me trying not to smile too much as The Husband snaps a pic

How are you doing with your 2019 challenges? Maintaining motivation or falling off the wagon? Sound off in the comments – I’m sure people are more than happy to help get you where you want to be!

Bataan 2019: Why we voluntarily walk 26.2 miles

On March 17, 2019, the Bataan Memorial Death March will occur. This will be the second year The Husband and I participate in this event and we are beside ourselves with excitement. To most people, it seems odd for a couple to use precious vacation time for the opportunity to walk on dirt roads through the high-desert of White Sands Missile Range for 26.2 miles. Upon finishing, we will be in pain, exhausted, and dehydrated. Our reward? A certificate of participation and aching bodies.

I wrote about this last year as well, but I still get confused, even bewildered, looks from coworkers, friends, and strangers when I describe the event so I want to touch on why we have decided to make this an annual pilgrimage.

By Ле Лой – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43326904

Let’s start by looking past the pain, heat, and dust – this event is a memorial to tens of thousands of prisoners of war who were forced to march more than 60 miles without adequate food, water, or medical care in the Philippines during World War II. If they failed to walk, they died. Those who made it showed incredible strength and a will to survive most people will never have to face in their lifetime. This is more than just a marathon, it is a salute to those who would not be defeated; it is a testament to the fortitude of human beings under immense stress; it is a payment of respect to the survivors and the hundreds who didn’t live to see Camp O’Donnell.

My own experiences in the Army motivate me to participate in these types of events. I have witnessed true courage under the most high-stress and dire conditions. It may seem weird to the uninitiated, but taking part in the Bataan Memorial Death March is more than a personal badge of honor, it is a show of respect to those who served and sacrificed before me. By showing a willingness to experience even a tenth of what they went through, I hope the survivors will see they are not forgotten and their sacrifices do not go unnoticed.

Bataan Memorial Death March

A more grounded element of my motivation is the challenge of the event itself. A majority of the route takes advantage of semi-improved dirt roads that snake through the mesquite and scrub brush of White Sands Missile Range. These roads consist of loose, deep sand churned up by thousands of people slogging along its course causing feet to sink deeper into it with each heavy step. Ankles, calves, knees, and quadriceps are pushed to the limit with steady inclines in this sandbox environment. The physical challenge is one thing, but each step drains a person’s mental commitment to finishing the course. I have always avoided the easy path, thinking of it as cheating. You can’t grow as a person by doing everything the easy way, you have to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and into new territory otherwise you’ll atrophy.

Pre-Event Selfie – 2018

Finally, this is a bonding experience for The Husband and I. Last year, we found ourselves at each other’s throats off and on, but it is understandable given the pain we found ourselves in. Despite some hostility (we still love each other very much), we managed to complete the Honorary Route (14 mile course that excludes the lollipop section that starts at checkpoint 8) without killing one another or causing serious bodily harm to each other. Between these bouts of pain and dehydration fueled fits, we talked, laughed, and enjoyed the experience together. To be honest, I think the Bataan Memorial Death March would be a great couples counseling session for anyone who wants to see their partner at their rawest.

So, that’s a glimpse into why I participate in the Bataan Memorial Death March. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should consider taking part in it at some point in their life. You can learn a lot from yourself in the middle of nowhere.

To register, head over to the official Bataan Memorial Death March site and click the “Register” button. Prices just went up at the beginning of 2019 with another planned increase in February. Don’t wait, only the first 5,000 participants are guaranteed a full race packet, it’s got some good stuff in it!

2019 – A Year of Challenges

Since 2018 didn’t work out so well for me in regards to accomplishing measurable goals, I am taking a net new approach in 2019. I will need to remain motivated to overcome the barriers we all experience when trying to improve ourselves – I have confidence this can be done.

Borrowing from my professional life as an Implementation Manager (think project manager meets sales meets operations management) of software, I need a shorter, time bound approach to my personal improvement. Over the course of a year, motivation to accomplish a long list of goals bleeds out like so much juice from a squeezed lemon. It is untenable and ultimately self-defeating to watch as one goal after another slips through my fingers resulting in failure (reference: 2018).

Another inspiration for this new approach has been the random social media challenges people take up in order to get followers, friends, and other digital accolades. Yes, even the tide pod challenge has some influence in my thought process. Now, the difference between the social media muck challenges and what I am doing is I plan on long-term personal change based on short-term, high-impact behavior modification. My Challenges are not temporary nor are they just to see if I can do something – they are meaningful and will result in real life gains.

The Modular Approach to Change

How have I decided to approach 2019? It’s simple enough, each month is a Challenge (or goal) to overcome. Each Challenge facilitates rapid behavioral change which leads to positive habit formation or results in accredited documentation (such as a certification or hard-skill). At the end of each Challenge I will devise a means of continuing the positive changes in a way that is less disruptive to my day-to-day life.

By breaking the year down into more bite-sized chunks of time (wherein a quarter is a Module and a month is a Challenge), I can accomplish several things:

  1. Regular achievement of goals which fuel future success
  2. Short-term gains that lend themselves to long-term, positive changes
  3. An easily read scoreboard or tracking system

This is what it looks like:

To measure success in any particular Module the following criteria will be used:

  1. Success in 3 Challenges equals full success in the Module
  2. Success in 2 Challenges equals average success in the Module
  3. Success in 1 or fewer Challenges equals failure in the Module

Each Challenge will consist of a 30-day block of time (with the exception of February which will only be 28-days) dedicated to overcoming the designated Challenge. In the final days of each Challenge, I will devise a plan for continued moderation of the bad habit or expansion of the good habit past the Challenge end date. This final step to each challenge is the key to actual self-improvement over the long-term.

For example, in April 2019 I have slated a “No Added Sugar Challenge” for the month. This means I will cut all sugar not naturally produced by a food item from my diet – no sugar in my coffee, no creamer, no bread, no cold cereal, no soda, no syrup, etc. Throughout the month I will update this blog with my progress as well as any physiological effects I observe. It is likely that at the end of the month I will want to reintroduce certain sugars back into my diet, however, I don’t want to return to the same level of sugar intake I was at when the challenge began. Therefore, a moderation plan will be executed to allow me to enjoy sweetened coffee without turning to a gallon of soda everyday.

This approach to change allows me to stack my successes over shorter periods of time while maintaining long-term gains. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is using this approach, but I can’t seem to find a name for it. Maybe something along the lines of “Stacked Success” or “Stacked Progress” – obviously I am stuck on the work “Stack”, but I digress.

January 2019 Challenge

For January 2019, I have challenged myself to close all three Activity Rings on my Apple Watch. I chose this challenge because it is something I have done many times in the past (though inconsistently) and is a good stepping stone into the much more difficult Challenges later in the year.

To ensure this isn’t a cake walk, I have increased my “Move Goal” to 750 calories per day. In order to achieve this elevated calorie count I will be required to purposefully do things everyday to increase my overall activity. Relying on standard daily activity at my desk job will not close these rings.

I anticipate this Challenge will require conscious effort to achieve but won’t disrupt my daily life too badly. Though people will attest to “loving change” all to often sudden or rapid change results in relapsing into bad habits or substituting new bad habits for the old ones. Human beings are resistant to change because we find comfort in complacency and routine. However, this comfort leads to sedentary lives which do not produce anything new. I am tired of buying into this approach to life.

Though this first Challenge should be accomplished easily enough, it won’t be so easy as the months pass. The Husband and I gave up sugar for 3-days last year and the effects were good and bad. Our moods shifted and our energy levels dropped initially (it was absolutely miserable) but by the end of the third day we were feeling and sleeping better. Unfortunately, 3-days wasn’t enough time to break the habit. I expect this year will be very difficult but have very positive results.

I plan to update this blog regularly with updates on my progress throughout the month – this will include my triumphs and shortcomings. Check back often for details on my progress!

What approach are you taking in 2019 to improving yourself? Status quo or are you getting organized and systematically attacking your goals? Let us all know in the comments below!

2018 – A Year of Progress But Ultimately a Failure

Like many people, I have spent time reflecting on the year as it comes to a close. Many questions have been rattling around my head trying to gauge my success this year. As usual, my answers to these questions inevitably result in an evaluation rated as “average”. Those close to me will say I am being too hard on myself or that my analysis isn’t accurate, but I feel the results are as impartial as can be expected.

To start, I only achieved 2 of the 10 goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Marching in the 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March and writing on this blog were my measurable accomplishments (i.e. documented goals at the start of the year). I failed to lose the weight, pay off as much debt as I projected, or quit smoking. Losses across the board.

However, I did manage to accomplish a lot this year that wasn’t contained within the limits of those goals which is why I don’t feel like a total failure. This is not a silver-lining moment to minimize my shortcomings of 2018, it is simply the truth. So, what did come out of 2018?

  • I was on the road for work or personal reasons 15% of the year
    • According to the airlines I spent nearly 60 hours on planes
    • I visited 8 states and 2 dozen cities (many were new to me)
    • I flew 25,000 miles on one airline (enough to circumnavigate the earth one time)
  • I was promoted at work
  • I purposefully made time for other people
  • I learned new skills
  • I took time off from work (a shocker even to me)
  • I paid off some debt
  • I read a dozen books that weren’t related to work
  • I celebrated 10 years of being out of the Army
  • I celebrated 7 years with the man I love most in this world
  • I planted a garden with my husband

Today, I am a better person than I was a year ago, this is a fact beyond dispute. Personally, professionally, financially – I made gains in all these categories throughout the year. My one regret is that these gains are not measurable, at best they are anecdotal. Fortunately, since I have identified these shortcomings I can take strides to improve next year.

I am ending this year with a smile on my face and plenty of hope for the future. Of course, to support that hope, I have already established a solid plan for the coming year and am laying the foundation for continued success beyond 2019.

How did your year end? Were you successful in your pursuits or happily enlightened to new priorities? Do you have 2019 planned out or are you flying by the seat of your pants?