The Straight Dope Ongoing Self-Improvement Thread

I didn’t see a thread for this, so I decided to create one.

I am on spring break this week. The campus was closed on my last day last week due to a water main break, so I have very little to do over break as far as assignments go.

I’ve decided to use this week to self-improve and introduce some new good habits. Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day reading instead of playing video games. Thursday I plan to pack up my bike, head down to Washington, D.C., and do my own little self-guided bike tour.

Any other ideas/suggestions? I thought maybe this thread could be used as a home for various self-improvement tips, tricks, and lifehacks.

Good thread topic. I don’t have suggestions for you but I’ll use this as an opportunity to put down what I’ve been up to and am about to start. Maybe you or someone else will see/hear themselves in this and help them too. For me, this is more about just putting it out there to make it more real.

Me: 44 (B-day is in April so almost 45) years old, 5’9", and 239lbs. I’m mostly sedentary and work from a home office and travel for business. I do enjoy physical activities, snowboarding in the winter being the dominant one. I used to play volleyball from spring through fall in a league. Now, I’m just fat and out of shape and with little motivation for physical exercise.

What I’ve done:

My wife and I had to change our eating habits. Not a diet, just eating healthier, cooking at home and not eating out for dinner almost every night of the week. We could afford it but I’d also be lying if I didn’t say it was becoming a ridiculous unneeded expense. Eating at home was always a challenge. My wife is cooking-impaired. I can cook but would easily fall into a habit of making the same 5-7 items over and over with little variety. Digging into cookbooks and picking dinner menus for the week, collating a shopping list, etc., seemed far too much work for our very busy life and it was too easy to say “Fuck-it, let’s go out!”. Or we’d buy a bunch of food at the grocery store with no real plan for what we are going to make each night and end up wasting half of it.

A friend told us about The Fresh 20 ( over 6 months ago and we gave it a try. We love it and have been fairly consistent in using it for our dinner planning/cooking Monday through Friday of the week. We’ve not made the same meal for dinner in over 6 months! On the weekends we still eat out a lot but at least 5 days a week for dinner we are cooking amazing food at home made of healthy organic ingredients. I feel good about this. Really good. We still get a bit giddy sometimes that we are making meals that we previously would have thought neither of us could ever pull off. There is still room for improvement on our diet for breakfast and lunch but this was a huge step for us.

What else I’ve done:

I started going to yoga once a week, beginning about 6 weeks ago. As I mentioned above, I’m 5’9" and 239 lbs and not exactly very flexible and have little core-strength. So I’ve been going to a slow-flow class that is probably still very much “yoga 101” to anyone who has been practicing for awhile. For me, it is challenging at times and also very relaxing/centering when I can get out of my own head. 99% of the time, I love it. I do get frustrated when my limitations are exposed in the harsh light of reality but overall I try to use it as a first step towards better fitness. With the extra weight, I do have some lower back problems and feet/ankle problems and this is helping in a small way. Starting tonight, I’m going to begin going 2x a week.

What I’m about to do:

I’m starting cross-fit next week. To be specific, I start my on-ramp period - 4 weeks of introductory 2x a week work-outs and training on the exercises, proper form, and evaluation. After that, then I’ll start actual cross-fit workouts. My wife just finished her on-ramp and is in her first week of regular cross-fit workouts. To be honest, I’m intimidated. My wife is 9 years my junior and although not particularly athletic she was not overweight. Sexy but not “in shape”. I’m 44 and way, way overweight for my height but in the past have always been fairly athletic. Now, I get winded over the littlest physical exertion. My feet and ankles hurt every day. My lower back too. I’m positive this is from carrying this beer-keg where my stomach used to be. I think those things will resolve themselves with conditioning and weight loss. I can accept I’m going to be sore after the work-outs, that they’re going to be hard. I’m more concerned/discouraged before I even start that I’ll physically be unable to do it and be embarrassed/frustrated. I’m afraid of looking weak in front of my wife (after all, I’m her “Big strong man!” to her but I feel fat, weak, and like crap most of the time). I’m also afraid of being this fat, lazy guy sitting on the couch as she is getting motivated and physically fit. I need change, I’m so disgusted with myself. I’m going all-in with cross-fit because I feel at this point something this intense is going to be necessary to shake me out of this rut. I don’t want to be this guy anymore. I want to be the guy who I see in my head as me.

What I still need to do:

Quit smoking for good. I used to be a heavy smoker. I’m now one of those continually quitting smokers. I cheat, a lot. I go a few days and then sneak ciggies when no one is around. To be honest, I just did it this morning - ran out to the store and bought a pack. I’ll have to toss them by 5PM and shower again because that is when my wife will be leaving work and heading home. Yes, I feel like crap for doing this. In a way I’m lying to her, although I do believe she knows I cheat. I also feel like crap because the smoking is making me physically feel that way.

So there ya’ go… I got a LOT of work to do. I’ve tried to motivate myself in the past to make these changes but always put it off, made an excuse, or half-assed it for a few weeks and then quit. I’m 44, overweight, and probably a prime candidate at this point for a very early death due to heart disease, lung cancer, or a host of other medical problems from my neglect of my own health. I love my wife, my friends, and living - I want to be around for a lot longer than I’m currently on target for. I just got to start and not quit.


I’ve been noticing recently how much I focus on myself in conversation. So while it might initially sound counter-intuitive, I’d like to work on improving myself by not being so focused on myself and taking more of an interest in other people, how they’re doing, what they’re feeling, and what’s going on in their lives.

I’d also like to focus on relaxing. Sometimes I get worked up about things that don’t really matter in the long run, and I’d like to stop doing that.

Wow, MeanJoe! I completely see myself as you in 10 years (I’m 34, almost 35, 5’10", 225 lbs.). I also need to gain the good habits you’re working on acquiring. I’m definitely going to give your link a try, as one of the pitfalls of me eating at home is I get bored with cooking the same things over and over. I also struggle with quitting smoking. I quit for a year and a half a couple of years ago, but being in a stressful relationship brought be right back. No excuses for me now. I loved being a non-smoker again, but I also love the act of smoking.

You’re quite the inspiration. Please check back and let us know how things are going with your new lifestyle. :slight_smile:

Thank you! I’m honestly not trying to rep The Fresh20 and I don’t make any money by anyone else signing up but if you have the same challenges my wife and I had then I cannot recommend it enough. Not sure if you are single or married with or without kids but they have several plans. We do the classic which assumes a serving of 4. For us, without kids, it works as we just use the leftovers for lunch the next day. They also have a “single” option, same menu but scaled down from a 4 serving meal. If you’re in need of gluten-free or vegetarian, they have those options too.

Good luck and don’t be me! Haha

Two big things have happened to me so far this year. First, I went pseudo-paleo. Second, I began to write.

I’ve got a borderline case of PCOS with insulin resistance–and also thyroid disease–and my weight has always been a problem. I couldn’t figure out a way to run a calorie deficit without getting unbearably ravenous. On January 7 I cut grains, legumes, white potatoes, and refined sugar out of my everyday diet. I’ve lost 9 pounds and my hunger is under control, which is awesome. Best thing that’s ever happened to me in that area. It’s hard not to be an annoying evangelical about it, the difference is that big.

I’ve been going to the gym too, which probably has a little to do with the weight loss, but mostly just makes me feel like a badass on strength training days.

And then I started to write a novel. I used to write stories when I was a kid, then lost the drive when my real life got interesting. I kept trying to think up plots and map books out and it just seemed boring. Then one night in early February I sat down and just started to write. And the story came and has kept on coming. I’ve got 70k words now which is about halfway through my first story… and I’ve got rough shapes for two sequels. I’m having a crapload of fun with it. When each one is done I’ll format it and throw it on Amazon’s Kindle store. If a dozen suckers buy it, then yay fun money. If not, I’m still having a crapload of fun.

Agent Foxtrot, thanks for starting this awesome thread.

MeanJoe, you’re inspiring with your holistic approach to fitness and nutrition. You’ve taken a lot on, and I wish you the best.

Wind of my soul, I aspire to the same goals as you, relax more, worry less.

Sattua, I think we must be related. Like you, I have just started to write fiction. It is a slow process but so rewarding.

I’m 55, and took early retirement because I had the opportunity to. Not regretting it at all! I do have some health goals, such as lose 30 lbs and get my cholesterol under control and manage my hypothyroidism. I found a great app called Caloriecount that helps me track my eating. My goal is to lose 1-2 lbs per week.

My husband has some heart problems and so we are eating more healthy, lots,of veggies and fruits. Our 16 year old is a handful, and is another reason I wanted to be home more.

Kudos to all! Will be checking back in soon!

About a month ago, I tried lactose-free milk. I used to drink almond milk. But I made the mistake of going back to cows milk. I quickly became addicted to the creamy yumminess I had been missing. But I’ve become lactose-intolerant in my adult years and all that bloated stomach is NOT cute. So I decided to compromise and switched to lactose-free milk. What a difference! I am no longer “bubbly” all day long (except when I eat broccoli :slight_smile: and my stomach is a million times flatter. And I really like the taste!

I also created myself a standing desk at work so that I can get off my arse more. I was skeptical that I’d have the discipline to use it, but I have found myself standing for two, three hours at a time without really noticing it. And what’s really surprising is how much better I feel. My energy is up and my muscles are toned. I even think my gastrointestinal tract appreciates it. So no more tooting because of lactose and no more constipation because of sedentariness!

Monstro, how do you create a standing desk?

I duct taped two cardboard boxes together and then I decorated with contact paper. It’s more of a “platform” that I place on my real desk so that I can raise the height of my keyboard and mouse.

Here’s my creation.

Looks great. Can’t even tell it’s cardboard after you put the contact paper on.

Also, a question: Do you shift your feet a lot or do your legs pretty much remain planted?

I have applied to attend a residential mental health rehabilitation unit. It is a pilot project and only opened in January. I feel like I have been stuck for so long now and am hopeful that this may be the start of some real change mentally and physically. It is an 8 week program that covers sleep issues, medication issues, coping, education, exercise, healthy eating, access to stuff like counselling, psychiatrists etc. They believe that it takes 6 weeks to develop good habits/routines hence the 8 weeks. I will see my shrink here on Friday and hopefully I will have some idea of the if and when after that. So far everybody has said I am an ideal candidate. Fingers crossed

Crossing my fingers for you, too! If accepted, will you have access to the internet/SDMB while there?

I move all around. I’ll even do lunges while I type!

I’ve started a diet of healthier eating and my stomach feels so much better! I’m just having the worst time trying to exercise. I would like to get some walking in, but the weather has been just horrible this winter. So I’m fifty-fifty.

Thanks. I’m thinking of building one @ home…

I have two self improvement projects. One is to get in better shape and lose weight; to that end, I’m riding the exercise bike for half an hour a day.

My other big project is to use my computer time more efficiently - it’s cutting into my practice time, and I can’t go on like that. I can’t go on an internet fast, much as I’d like to - I need e-mail and Facebook to stay in touch with colleagues and engagers. Since I left my agent and went to representing myself, I’ve found out just how much work it is to stay in the loop.
Some general advice for myself and everyone else in this thread - "My recipe for gentle self improvement. Every day, say to yourself “I’m doing better than yesterday, but not as well as I will do tomorrow.”

And when that doesn’t work out, (as is bound to happen from time to time because we’re none of us perfect), you forgive yourself and say “That’s okay; this makes it easier to do better tomorrow.”

Now tell yourself the same thing about weeks, months, years - you can’t control the results, but you can control your efforts."

Here’s to hoping this thread doesn’t die just yet.

Last week was great. Got a lot of reading in (and admittedly, some video game playing did happen), started working on a script for a play I’ve had an idea about, but never got around to, and actually lived out a dream I had earlier in the week about bicycling around Washington, D.C.

This week I’m eating more vegetables than I used to and expanding my musical tastes to include jazz. Right now I’m listing to Miles Davis and thoroughly enjoying it.

How are things coming for you guys?

I need to do this too. My energy needs all the boosting it can get.