Doing a little more

Getting a bit of physical activity is often hard for hackers.  We don’t want to sit around sweating in gyms, we often work late and hack later, and we may even be afraid of that old Rugby Jock image that has tyrannised some of us.  But as mentioned in the HowTo, doing some physical work often makes it much easier to sleep and run our bodies normally.  Here are a bunch of ideas that you can use to get a bit more exercise without making it a chore.

  • Climb the stairs to work.  If you work up fairly high in a building, see if you can get the lift from the third floor or get off two levels before your own.
  • Walk around the block or the building at lunchtime.
  • If you catch the train or bus, try getting off one stop before your work or home and walking the rest of the way.
  • If you have one, take your music player and listen to some good podcasts while walking to make good use of the time.
  • Some of us live close enough to work to cycle in – try to make one day a week when you cycle in.  That way you can plan ahead for it.
  • If you live too far out to ride all the way, see if you can take your bike part of the way, in a car or on a train.
  • I used to take my rollerblades in to work in my bag and then change and blade home.  This way I didn’t have to shower and change at work and still got some good exercise.
  • See if there’s anyone else that you work with that wants to go for walks; it also gives you a good chance to talk about hacking and other fun stuff.
  • Try standing up in the bus or train to work rather than sitting all the way.
  • Try geocaching – it’s a great way to explore your area and places you visit, it gets you out and walking around, you get to traded neat small stuff with other people, and there’s the thrill of discovery and secret knowledge.
  • Offer to do some gardening for a friend – you don’t have to have a green thumb if they do.
  • If you do some kind of regular exercise, start tracking it.  Set yourself regular goals – something you can achieve every week or so – and reward yourself when you get there.
  • Grab a Chore Wars account for you and anyone you share with and see how many levels you can achieve.

I’d be really interested to hear other ideas on how to get a bit more activity in your day.  The key lessons I’ve found are that it doesn’t have to be a lot of work or something that looks like ‘regular exercise’ to still stay active, that making small increments and keeping to them is more fun than trying for big goals, and that fitting things into your existing routine almost always works and changing your routine is much harder.

A single word

Sometimes, even a single sentence or thought can make us feel depressed.  Suddenly we’re reminded of some black incident in our past, and it can seem like we’re going through the same awful process another time around.  Even a totally inoccuous thing can set us off at times; sometimes even the realisation that we feel that way about something can get us back into the rut again.

I find one way to deal with that is to try and separate the trigger from the memories.  There’s always some difference between this time and last time, even if it’s just that we’re older and wiser and remember the pain from before.  I try to think about the difference between the two events and focus on why it might be different this time.  That recently helped me realise that even though my partner said something that made me depressed, that she wasn’t doing it to depress me.  I still felt depressed, but now it was my own feelings that I was dealing with rather than feeling like someone else was weighing me down.  Then I could reflect that in fact she meant to try and encourage and support me, even though she might have approached it the wrong way just then.

By seeing the differences between what had gone before and what was happening now, I could reorient my thinking slightly so I didn’t have to go down the same path.

Getting to sleep

A friend taught me a very useful trick to use when you really want to get to sleep but your brain can’t stop bouncing around randomly.  Start counting and visualise each number, tracing it out in your visual space.  Replace each number with the word ‘sleep’ before going on to the next.  Or imagine it like a count-down strip in an old film reel, with the number 1 being surrounded by a clock face sweeping out the time to the next number.  Slow that time down between numbers.  Or write the words out in your head.  Or count in a foreign language, again tracing the words out in your head.  Try binary or trinary.

The key detail here is to not just think of the number but to visually map it out in your visual space, so it involves more of your brain to trace each number.  If you also involve a picture or a word that you have to put between each iteration, it forces your brain to concentrate on one thing.  And that’s really the key to that ‘brain pinball’ feeling – stopping every bit of your brain firing randomly.

The other technique I’ve used is to count up in series.  Powers of two or three, the Fibonacci series – there are plenty of other arithmetic (and a few simple geometric) progressions that you can use to focus your mind.  Now that I can count up to 2^24 from memory it becomes more of a challenge, but it’s a good way of concentrating to stop your thoughts randomly running all over the place.

Why me?

Depression takes many forms and comes at different times.  One thing that I took a while to learn was that depression also has many reasons.  I thought that ‘real depression’ would only apply to people that had lost everything, or had everything go wrong, or had no prospects.  It took me a while to realise that everything could seem fine but I could still feel depressed – and that this was normal.  Sometimes even the fact that you theoretically have so much going for you can exacerbate the feeling of depression, making you feel even more out of touch.

My first step to dealing with these bouts of depression was to realise that I’m not unusual or abnormal for feeling depressed when other people aren’t.  It’s perfectly acceptable to feel differently from other people, and to feel sad, or scared, or uneasy, at something that other people seem to take as normal.  Accepting my feelings as normal has been a good way for me to move on from them.

because we're not just geeks – we're humans.