Seth Godin on Anxiety

Seth Godin had an interesting post on anxiety this morning. I'll just quote the whole thing here, because it's really short:

Anxiety is nothing…

but repeatedly re-experiencing failure in advance. What a waste.

Seth is right.

I'm living under a crushing anxiety right now. It's making my insides hurt. It's pretty bad. I'll be honest and say that I'm not far from calling the doctor. I don't know what he could actually do about it.

But Seth's blog post added some perspective. That's what I was going to write about today. I might post on that later. I haven't failed yet. Failure is coming, but it's not here yet. I'm experiencing it in advance over and over ever minute of the day.

I guess I should stop though. It's definitely not getting me anywhere. But how do you stop being anxious?

Water: A Simple Energy Pick-up

I'm currently on travel. When I got back to my hotel room this afternoon, I was wiped out. All I wanted to do was turn the air conditioning on and flop on the bed and just lay there. But that could not be the course of my night. I still needed to get dinner, I had some work to do, and I had tons of email and RSS feeds to catch up on. Since I'm starting vacation tomorrow, I know if I don't get these caught up now, I'll be buried when we get back. Yes, I'm taking my iPhone and netbook with me, but I am trying to keep my expectations realistic.

I had to get myself off that hotel bed and get moving again. I had an idea. I keep forgetting that being dehydrated can often affect my energy level. I also figured an extra dose of vitamins couldn't hurt at this point. I took my vitamins this morning, but OTC (Over the counter) vitamins can be taken at increased doses.

Turns out, that gave me enough energy to get m oving. Not enough to run a marathon or anything, but enough to get my laptop out of my bag and hooked up to the hotel's network. It also gave me enough motivation to call Applebee's for dinner, and walk over there to pick it up.

When your energy is too low, try water. Seriously, it does help in a lot of cases.

So, Like, Do I have ADD?

I’m not sure how best to put this. Several years ago, my wife suggested that I have myself checked for ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). I took an online test and ended up somehow subscribing from email updates from Statera. At the time, I was also going through my Kevin Trudeau phase and I was distrustful of the pharmaceutical industry. To a point, I still am, as far as I still wonder when I hear about something, does the financial interest of the person or industry that is trying to get me to buy into something outweigh my own interests in purchasing the product or service?

In any case, any time I have ever taken an ADD test, within a book or online, I always come out very high as having it. Not ADHD, I don’t find myself hyperactive, at least not at my current weight and level (or lack of) physical activity, but I definitely come out high on having ADD.

Many bloggers joke about ADD. I stopped doing it for many years. For some reason, personality types like me tend to gravitate toward careers in computers, engineering, or programming and such. We like new, shiny things, we enjoy being able to hyperfocus on some tasks, and switch what we do from time to time. I still can’t help but wonder what life would be like if I could actually stick to something long enough to to do a decent job on it.

For those of you geeks who think you might have ADD, did you get checked out? Have you taken any medication or supplements for it? Do they help, or do you just wish you’d left things alone? For those of you who know me, do you think I might benefit from a professional analysis for this condition? Or is my currently level of interest and distraction a good match for me?

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Weight Watchers Update

I figured I’d post an update on my Weight Watcher’s progress. From my original blog post, I joined on May 12. Since that time, I’ve taken a couple of trips, been through Memorial Day, spent a couple of weekends at my in-laws’ to save gas on the 14 mile drive back and forth, and have been through some other situations that led me to slip up. So, how am I doing?
Honestly, I’m doing better than I thought. I went on the Flex plan, which allows points for everything you eat. I haven’t been very good at bothering to calculate my points, but I have been trying to pay more attention to portion sizes and avoid snacks. Since my wife is on Weight Watcher’s Core plan, she does the cooking. For the most part, she’s been making some pretty interesting foods and I normally take my lunch from our leftovers, although she did buy a few frozen Weight Watcher’s dinners for those days when I have no leftover, which is the easiest time for me to slip.
I’ve lost about 8.5 pounds over the last month. That’s not bad considering that I haven’t been trying all that hard. I’ve slipped several times. I still enjoy treats like ice cream and cold beer occasionally. I’ve had burgers, pizza, and cheesesteaks. However, since I’ve started to see results, I’ve starting taking things much more seriously. There is nothing like a result to encourage you to work harder.

Weight Watchers, Day 2

I technically started Weight Watchers yesterday afternoon, but even by a 24 hour standard, I’m on my second day. I’m hungry. I know that I’ll be heading home soon, and my wife usually has dinner waiting when I get home. Since she recently started Weight Watchers, she’s not likely to want to eat out.   
This is always the hard part for me, being hungry. I also get sluggish sometimes, and tired. I’m a little fidgety. I was playing around with some of the tools on the Weight Watchers Online for Men site, and found that my ideal weight is somewhere between 135 and 162. I’m like 238 right now. That’s scary. The least I’ve been since I was about 15 is 175, and that was about the time I got out of the Navy when I was running 3-4 miles a day.   
I’ll keep posting. I’m just trying not to think about the vending machine. This isn’t quite as hard as quitting smoking, but it’s not far off the mark.

I Joined Weight Watchers

My wife started going to Weight Watchers meetings a couple of weeks ago. I gave it some thought, and my doctor has even recommended it a few times. I was poking around on the website today, and found that they have a new program: Weight Watchers Online for Men. It didn’t take much more to get me to sign up. I’ve been challenged by weight most of my adult life, and I have tried many different plans from deprivation to excessive working out to Atkins to restricted calories to inpatient treatment (Navy provided) with Overeaters Anonymous. I probably had my best short term gains under Atkins, but I could only stick with it for three weeks the first time. I tried many times to get back on. Weight Watchers Flex plan promises me that I can eat what I want (although obviously not the portions I want), so I figure I’ll give it a shot. The men’s site talks about beer and pizza and "man stuff", which I could get to enjoy. As I said in a previous entry, men and women are different and especially in areas of physiology, we are far from similar. I guess in the interest of accountability, I might post a few things here on my blog about past weight loss attempts. I’m going to shoot for a 10% loss, which will put my weight under what it was when we conceived Joshua, our first born.

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Darn It Jim: Attention to Detail in the Health Care Industry

A while back, I wrote a series of posts about how it took two years to get a single pediatrician’s bill settled with Aetna. I spent two years and many hours on the phone. I titled my series "Darn It Jim, I’m a Computer Geek, Not A Medical Billing Specialist". I based that, of course, on Dr. McCoy’s famous "I’m a doctor not a…" lines from the original Star Trek series.

When I was in boot camp (United States Naval Recruit Training), I was introduced to the phrase "attention to detail". I did a lot of push-ups over the concept of attention to detail, both for my failure to pay attention to detail and for other members of my company failing to pay attention. In the military, failing to pay attention to detail can cost lives.

What happens while lives aren’t exactly at stake? What about livelihoods that are at stake? What about a family budget? I’ve ranted before about my run-ins with health care. This is a very vital industry, yet it does cause a lot of hate and discontent in society.

Last week, my two year old decided to stick his hand in the car door as it was being closed. This resulted in an emergency room visit. Don’t worry, the ER did fine. He broke one of his little fingers. The ER put a splint on him, wrapped his hand, and referred him to a doctor. My wife went straight to the pediatrician, who has an office close to the hospital, to get a referral. She then called to set an appointment. When she called to set the appointment, the staff went through the typical questions including PATIENT’S DATE OF BIRTH.

My wife showed up for the appointment, and when the doctor came in, guess what the first thing out of his mouth was (as reported by my wife)?

"I don’t work on children this young."

Sure, AFTER his office collected a copay and billed our insurance for the visit, he lets my wife know that he doesn’t deal with two year olds. Anyone care to guess where the attention to detail broke down? At least he rewrapped the hand and referred my wife to another doctor who *might* work with two year olds (which he does).

I think doctors and their staffs should have to do push-ups for every attention to detail error that they commit.



Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe

I came across this article about Medical Myths Even Doctors Believe. I thought it was interesting reading. That common belief in particular about "we only use 10% of our brains" always seemed like bovine fecal matter to me, and this article specifically mentions that belief. Just like my previous post on "Does Watching TV Really Cause Short Attention Spans?", I’ve always figured that statement about unused brain capacity has never really been put through the wringer of critical thinking. It’s just been parroted throughout the years, even by doctors on PBS and Discovery Channel shows.


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Does Watching TV Really Cause Short Attention Spans?

On the news, in the media, on commentary pages, and among friends, many of us hear the same mantras repeated. Call them conventional wisdom, call them common knowledge, call them what you will. But can you call them true? In November 2006, Steve Olson posted a blog entry titled "10 Things I wish I had Never Believed". In this post, he touched on such common beliefs as "money is the root of all evil" (the actual Bible verse says the love of money is the root of all evil; huge difference), "a job is the best way to earn money", and "school is the best place for kids to learn". That last one is particularly anchored into public belief. When my wife and I tell people that we plan on home schooling our children, even people who are highly educated often gasp in fear and shock.

In any case, the other night I was watching an episode of Cranky Geeks. John C. Dvorak had a panel on specifically to talk about video podcasting. While they talked about the appropriate length of a video podcast, the discussion inevitably came around to attention spans. Sure, most video podcasts or YouTube videos do best when under 10 minutes (Cranky Geeks runs about 30). The comment came up that television and computers have shortened our attention spans. I suddenly found myself wondering if this is really true. Although most people would automatically agree with the statement without any thought, I suddenly wondered how this conclusion was arrived at. Did a group of scientists take a group of latchkey children and a control group of Amish and observe them growing up in a controlled scientific study? Or is this statement merely conventional wisdom arrived at by societal observation with a little bit of wishful thinking because the blame for a perceived problem has to fall somewhere?

I’ve recently begun to study philosophy. Philosophy is a subject that I have always avoided primarily due to stereotypes. Seriously, how many of you, if I invited you to my church, would refuse because you have a stereotypical image of evangelical Christians? I had the same thing about philosophers. When I thought about philosophy, I always saw an aging hippy professor sitting in the lotus position going "It’s like we’re totally not really here, man. Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?" I also had the image of the 18 year old wasting daddy’s money on philosophy classes rather than a more "practical" subject. I’ve found those stereotypes to be exactly what a stereotype is: mostly wrong. I’m finding philosophy to be a vibrant and fascinating study applicable to all areas of life. I’m also learning that a philosopher is a professional thinker. A philosopher asks questions, often with child-like wonder. We often lose our wonder as we grow up. Philosophers often don’t have the answers, but their exploration of the questions can make for an interesting study. That’s all I will say for now as I have a long way to go in reading about philosophy, not to mention reading some of the "great" philosophers.

With this interest in philosophy, I would like to ask the question: does watching TV really cause short attention spans? Obviously, I have not been successful in getting a grant, much less a group of latchkey children and another group of Amish children set aside from birth (by the way, I love the Amish and Lancaster County, PA is one of my favorite places on Earth). All I have to go on is my own observation. Before I continue, let me lay one last bit of foundation.

In October, Newsweek ran a story titled Why Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness. One statement from that article which really stood out to me is about choice. The statement is below:

The trouble is, choice is not all it’s cracked up to be. Studies show that people like selecting from among maybe half a dozen kinds of pasta at the grocery store but find 27 choices overwhelming, leaving them chronically on edge that they could have chosen a better one than they did. And wants, which are nice to be able to afford, have a bad habit of becoming needs (iPod, anyone?), of which an advertising- and media-saturated culture create endless numbers. Satisfying needs brings less emotional well-being than satisfying wants.

OK, from my own experience and observation will come the rest of this post/essay. I was born in 1974. I’m a product of the original MTV generation. I can remember watching about 5 or 6 hours of TV on a school night as early as the age of 11 or 12. We lived in Germany from 1980 to 1985 and had only one English channel, AFRTS, and one radio station, but people in "the states" would send us video tapes which my brother and I watched endlessly. In 1986 and 1987, I would come home from school to watch GI Joe and Transformers, followed by Star Trek and shows like the Facts of Life in syndication on the Fox affiliate (Fox was brand new at the time). Prime time brought programming like the A-Team and MacGuyver among others. By high school I often had better things to do than watch TV, but I still made sure to catch my favorite shows like Star Trek, The Next Generation. In the Navy, my television watching dropped off dramatically, but picked up after I got married in 2001. Currently, my family does watch a lot of TV. My wife keeps PBS and Nickelodian on for the kids all day. We’ll often put on The Wiggles or Thomas the Tank Engine to keep the kids happy while we get things done. When I go to bed, I usually watch the History Channel, or Discovery Channel, or shows like Law and Order, or House. Lately, thanks to TV on DVD, and of course my WinTV and video iPod and programs like iPodifier, I can watch TV anytime and anywhere that I want. I’m just trying to establish that I have paid my dues in front of the television, and keep my membership active. I never really watched MTV though.

I do not believe, from my own experience and observation, that watching television decreases my attention span, nor the attention span of my children, whatever an acceptable attention span for two and three year old boys should be.

Apparently there is an attention span problem in our country, but if that attention span problem is not caused by TV, then what could be causing it? I’m obviously not a scientist or sociologist or psychologist, but I do have a blog, so that alone qualifies me to put forth a few observations on this subject. Here are some of the reasons that I suspect cause a short attention span:

  • Expectations set too high- seriously, to say that the attention span today is short we must have some kind of quantifiable data from times past. Did school children in ancient Babylon sit for eight hours on end (boys especially) through such exciting subjects as poetry and pottery? Honestly, I think a lot of complaints about attention spans are because we have our expectations set too high for ourselves and our nation’s school children. We’re trying to expect and force ourselves and our children to sit for long periods of time doing tasks that frankly aren’t all that interesting or exciting, or in many cases, meaningful. I used to think that I had a short attention span until I realized that like many other computer geeks, I had the ability to hyper-focus on some tedious tasks like playing video games or straightening out file system issues. I can’t tell you how many blog posts I was able to crank out while I was supposed to be working on a paper for one of my University of Phoenix classes.
  • One word: sugar. We can’t deny that the American diet consists of way too much sugar. I notice when I’m not eating very well that I can’t focus for anything. When I’m eating better, I have an easier time at work because my bloo
    d sugar levels aren’t crashing.
  • Another word: choices. There is a reason why web videos are short: because when we’re sitting at our computers, there are a lot of other things we could be doing so we’re not going to sit still for one thing. I listen to a lot of podcasts on my iPod. In fact, right now as I’m typing this I’m listening to Cyberspeak. I wouldn’t be willing to stop what I’m doing for an hour while I finish this podcast. Frankly, it’s not all that exciting, so I pick up a little bit here and there while I’m doing something else. I notice when I’m laying in bed late at night and I have no other choices I can sit through an hour long TV show. When I transcode that show to my iPod and I’m trying to watch it sitting at my computer, I tend to want to do other things. I have email to sort through and Google Reader feeds to read. When I have too many choices, I often can’t settle on just one or two and I float because no matter what I’m doing, I’m constantly afraid that I could be doing something "better". When I have fewer choices, I am able to sit still and focus better. This goes back to the blockquote earlier from Newsweek about how happiness doesn’t necessarily come from having too many choices.

I could probably keep going, but these are only observations. Critical thinking involves never taking anything you read or hear for granted. I’m sure I could turn on CNN or FoxNews and hear commentators say at least 10 times today that TV causes shorter attention spans. Rather than accepting that I’m asking questions, because my own experience doesn’t seem to match up to conventional wisdom. What about you, reader? Does TV shorten your attention span? If you believe it does, are you willing to cut down or cut out TV in order to regain an attention span?

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Darn it Jim III: Why Do I Have To Do Aetna’s Job For Them?

The saga of my battle to get Aetna to perform the service that I’m paying them for continues. On Thursday, I realized that the seven to ten business days have long since passed from August 2 when I was told that my claim would be resubmitted. I wanted to find out if the claim would be approved or denied. If denied, I guess I’m stuck paying a bill by the crappy medical system (no, I don’t advocate a socialized system, but this corporatized system has got to STOP!)

After giving the customer service representative several minutes to review the notes on my claim (they are getting very extensive) I waited on hold for several more minutes while she tried to track down the status of the claim. Here is what happened this time:

The claims department sent the claim back to the representative that I talked to last time to add some more data. She added the data, AND THEN DID NOT SEND IT BACK TO CLAIMS! It has been sitting in her cue for weeks! The representative that I talked to on Thursday said that she would route it back to claims.

This is getting ridiculous. Here is a large, national billion dollar company and yet a simple claim can’t go through unless I have to keep calling and calling and calling to stand over the shoulders of the call center every step of the way.

Have you ever had a customer service issue that didn’t seem to go anywhere without your direct and constant intervention?

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