Focus

Inspired by a newsletter email from the folks at RescueTime, I’ve decided to give single-tasking another shot. Hopefully my meditation training will help. In recent months, I’ve noticed an increasing tendency to get distracted while – wait for it – multitasking. Despite having known this was a bad practice for years, I still find myself doing it. Well, I’m going to work on fixing this – again. The last time I did so was quite some time ago. Here are some tricks I’ll be trying.

  1. Less playing of podcasts in the background for “background noise.”
  2. Fewer windows open at once. So much for those investments in all those big flat panel displays.
  3. Taking one on one calls with my reports on my phone as opposed to on a computer, and insisting they do the same.
  4. Closing all those extra tabs and getting back to checking email on a schedule (except of course if I’m on call and need to be responsive in a more timely fashion).

Got any other tips or tricks? Let me know!

180 Steps Per Minute

On my last two 10k runs, I experimented with upping my cadence (steps per minute). My normal cadence has been in the 155-165 steps per minute, and my normal pace has usually been in the high 9 to low 10 minutes per mile. This is mainly because I haven’t really cared to address my speed, so I would just ramble on at whatever pace I felt like running at, unless I was in a hurry or with someone else.

While I had heard that my pace “should be 180 steps per minute,” it was never clear to me as to why this was important. Additionally, given my training in yoga and anatomy, in which a recurring theme was “ever body is different,” how could it be that these two guys should be expected to have the same cadence?

Game of Thrones: Tyrion Lannister (Season 7) | 1:6 Scale Peter Dinklage |  Three Zero 903959
Tyrion
Gregor Clegane - Wikipedia
The Mountain

No, really. How can that make any sense? It should not be a surprise that there is some room for variation here, as with all things anatomy, and 180 is likely just an average. That said, I figured “what the heck? Why not give it a try.” After a little digging I found a website that suggested working your way up to 180 by starting with a playlist that runs around 10 bpm faster than your current average cadence. So I found a playlist on Apple Music that ran at 165 bpm, and I hit the road.

I immediately felt like I was moving faster – and I was. At first it was definitely more work, but after a while, I got into a rhythm. On a funny note, I found out after I finished my run that I had averaged 182 steps per minute! I knew that I was not keeping time with the beat of the music, but I didn’t realize it was because I was going too fast. Given that, I picked another playlist, this time running at 180 bpm. On my second attempt at keeping this cadence, I actually was a bit slower, coming down to the mid 170s on average. That said, it was still one of my fastest – if not the fastest – 10k I’ve done, coming in with an average of 8’59”.

In short, I’m sold. I’m going to try to keep up with the 180 steps per minute cadence. Supposedly this is universal, and applies to all forms of terrain. Time will tell as I experiment. Watch this space for an update!

Running Update – Half Marathon

Wow. Over a year between blog posts. I’m on a roll! I forgot to brag that, in March, I ran 13.1 miles. That’s the equivalent of running from Athens to Kifisia, Greece. For those of you who are cartographically-challenged, Kifisia is halfway between Athens and Maration, which is 26.2 miles away. Is it starting to make sense now?

In February, I started adding one mile to my runs. Every week, I would run two or three times, adding a mile each week. When I started this, I had been doing my semi-regular 5 miles per run. The first week, starting on February 2, I ran 7 miles three times. The next week I ran 8 miles twice. The next week was 9, twice, followed by a 10 miler (my first since 2019), then 11 miles, then 12, and then finally, on March 4 I hit 13.21 miles. My average pace was 10’23”, which is on my higher end of pavement running these days, so I am still pretty happy with the numbers.

Since then, I’ve done a couple of 8 mile runs, but pretty have much standardized on 6.25 (10k) every other day. The heat definitely affects me, and when it’s in the high 80s or more, I generally skip it or go trail riding. Trail riding has also cut into my running routine somewhat, but it’s also fun, good exercise, and gets me outside, so no foul!

How I Went From Couch to 5k, then 5 Miles 10k, then 10 Miles

In the fall of 2017 I had a roommate. He’s a runner. Like, a serious runner. You know, the kind who goes out for a 5 mile run on one of his rest days? The kind who’s training for a 50 miler? The kind who has to eat 8,000 calories a day to maintain his weight? That kind.

One day (October 27, to be precise) he asked if I’d like to go out for a “recovery run” with him.

“How long?” I asked.

Just 2 miles,” he replied.

“Sure,” I answered, expecting it would suck, but being in relatively decent shape to begin with, why not?

It sucked, that’s why not! Ugh. It was grueling. I managed to maintain an average pace of 8’55”, which I thought was pretty decent.

A couple of days later, I decided to try again, only I would start smaller – say, half a mile. I did .43 miles in 9’10”. Not great! But I was alone and didn’t have my coach kicking me every step of the way.

The next day I did it again. .42 miles at 8’57”.

The next day I did it again. 1.01 miles at 0’03”.

From there I dabbled, going back and forth with a half mile some days, 2 miles the next. I didn’t have a plan, other than “run a mile,” which I did every couple of days. I continued that until June, when I decided I’d just start adding a little each day. Each time I ran, I added .1 or so miles until I hit 3.74 in July (and that day was a hot, sweaty, doozy).

I’d looked at formal plans in the past, and never really had much luck with making them stick. I even tried to go onto the “couch to 5k plan” to see how that would help me, until I realized that 5k is just 3.1 miles, and I was already there, so…

On April 6, 2019, I decided to kick it up a notch and shoot for 5 miles. Again, I decided to just add a little every time I ran. Since I was averaging a run every other day, I’d add .2 miles each time. I went from 3.1, to 3.2, to 3.3, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8, 4.0, 4.2, 4.4, 4.6, and finally 5.0 exactly 30 days later.

Since then, I’ve set 5 miles as my standard, shooting for a run every 2 days. I’ve done four of them so far and today will be my fifth.

Nike may not like it, but in summary, my plan is “just do it.” Add a little bit each day, making slow and steady progress. If you backslide, don’t worry about it! Just get out and do it again. Before you know it, a 5 k run will be just a warmup, and it taking supreme effort will be just a memory.

Update: On Saturday, May 25, 2019 I took the next step and upped my run to 10k. I’ve done it twice and plan on making this a regular workout a 2-3 times a week, work and weather permitting.

Update: On Saturday, June 1, 2019 I took the next step and upped my run to 10 miles.

Why I'm Quitting Facebook

Let me put it in a way that will resonate with many of my friends: are you sick of the two-faced lies coming out of Washington these days? Facebook does the exact same thing to you, i.e., lying.
Here are a few examples I turned up in literally 1 minute of searching. Note that almost all of them are from the last few months – and this behavior has been going on for over ten years.

Seriously, if you care at all about integrity or privacy, do your own Google (or Duckduckgo.com) search for “facebook lies,” “zuckerberg lies,” or “facebook is bad for you” and see for yourself. I’m not talking about crazy conspiracy theories here – these are plain as day lies that are out in the open for anyone who cares to set aside the dopamine hit they get from all the Facebook and Instagram “likes” from their online friends.
You could say it all comes down to the fact that I just do not appreciate being lied to constantly.
Friends will still be able to find me here, on Twitter, and LinkedIn, on Signal, by email, by phone, and at home.

Yoga Update

Since 2015, I’ve been practicing yoga regularly at the Corner Studio in Medford. My favorite classes and teacher are Yin Yoga with Holland Sweeney. I like them so much, that earlier this year, I decided to take a teacher training with Josh Summers (Holland’s Yin teacher). After the first class, I immediately signed up for the second one, and after that, I formally enrolled in the Summers School of Yin Yoga to pursue my RYT-500 yoga teacher certification. As of last week’s retreat, I now have 220 of the 500 hours required, the balance of which will be obtained with one more class with the Summers School, and a 200 hour course with Jenna Palm.
So yeah, yoga has become a significant part of my life, and I’m loving it. Krav Maga, mountain biking, and running are still big as well, but for 2018, yoga is my focus. In fact, I’ve been teaching Yin Yoga at Alpha Krav Maga Boston, and will soon be teaching at Karma Yoga Studio in Cambridge. Want to follow my yoga pursuits? You can do so over at Yoga With Peter!
In case you’re wondering (because people love to jump to conclusions), no, I am not quitting my day jobs in information security, and Paradigm Consulting Co LLC is not going away.

Retreat! Retreeeat!!!

Last week, I went to a 5 day silent retreat in Western Massachusetts with Josh Summers as part of my enrollment in the Summers School of Yin Yoga. I am still digesting the experience. When I was on the road home, my girlfriend asked “am I talking to Peter 2.0?” I said it was less like the difference between these two guys:
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and more like the difference between these two:
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In other words, while it was a significant event, it wasn’t a dramatic, life-changer for me. I didn’t come back and immediately quit my job, break up with my girlfriend, stop smoking, etc. (No, I haven’t started smoking, and therefore I haven’t stopped, either. (Nor have I stopped beating my wife.)) That said, there are subtle improvements, new tools and techniques, and knowledge was gained.
The retreat was in the vipassana style, although more relaxed in most ways. We woke every morning at 6AM, sat in meditation 6 times a day for 30 minutes, broken up by 30 minute walking meditation sessions, recollective journaling, meals, dharma talks, chores, and more reflection.
On the first night there, I felt intense pain between my shoulder blades. I first thought that this was caused by the 200 kettle bell swings I’d done two days prior in the morning Krav Maga practice. After downing painkillers and sleep aids, I slept it off and the next day it was fine. The next day, my teacher noted this sort of phenomenon was common, and he himself often experienced it. “Hah!” I thought to myself. “Already checked?that?box!” Little did I Know that my mind wasn’t done trying to torture me, because two days later, when the weather had finally cooled and the conditions were optimal for a run, it returned. This time, it came back on the right side, and manifested as a searing blade that stabbed with every step I took. I didn’t get 0.10 miles before I had to stop and try to massage the knot out against a telephone poll, which didn’t work. I sheepishly limped back to the retreat center and stewed, all the time repeating “this is pain, and it’s like this. This is pain, and it’s like this. his is pain, and it F***ING SUCKS!” After discussing this in a small group during our afternoon session, the pain vanished and I was again able to do a 2 mile run uphill with no pain.
Similarly, other pains manifested in almost all sitting sessions, normally in the knees and hips. Depending on how I sat, my whole right leg would fall asleep from the hip down to the toes. Over time, I ended up sitting in seiza, which proved to be most sustainable. In seiza, I was usually able to sit for around 25 minutes before discomfort began to settle in. Coincidentally, this is when the meditation sessions would usually start to “get good.” Go figure – the mindbody was trying to distract me just when the good stuff began. Huh.
So what is the “good stuff?” Apparently it’s different, yet similar, for everyone. In my experience, I feel more relaxed, calm, and able to focus after a good session. Other people report stories similar to dreams, conversations with family, friends, and coworkers, and lots of other stuff. If you’re interested in a number of different accounts, I recommend reading Jason Siff’s book, Unlearning Meditation.
The technique I usually used is best described in the aforementioned text, although I often reverted to tagging/noting, metta (loving kindness), and body scans when I felt the need to. As the week progressed, the sessions became easier, with the final session Sunday morning flying by with zero discomfort.
I’ve managed to wake up, caffeinate, and meditate every day since the retreat, and will continue to do so. I also plan to try doubling a normal sit time (to an hour) once a week. Wish me luck.

2018 – It's Been Eventful!

What have I been up to since my last blog post? A lot, actually. I’m going to break them up into different posts.

So, yeah, lotsa stuff.

How I saved $8,000 by being nice

On March 27,?I made an offer on a new condominium across town. It was priced just on the edge of what I could afford, but the location is great, and I really love the unit, so I decided to stretch myself a bit and make an offer. Across town, there was another very attractive condo?with a lot of pluses going for it, and it was priced significantly lower. However, it was clearly my second choice.
I really wanted to hedge my bets by submitting offers on both units, just in case one would be rejected, because?given how competitive the Boston housing market is, this was a high likelihood. However, since both sellers?wanted offers to be submitted by Tuesday morning, I didn’t really have any wiggle room. Also, there was a chance that the?offer on my second?choice would be accepted before my first one, that I would have to accept their?deal to lock it in, and then have my offer on my first choice to be ?accepted, causing me to lose my deposit or be stuck with?my second choice. Not cool!
Rather than taking this risk, I decided to put my energy into my primary choice. ?I sharpened my pencil, calculated what I could afford, and made my offer, settling at?5% over asking price. ?Finally, I wrote a short letter of introduction. As I said to my real estate agent, it wasn’t my best work, but I hope to that it would make a difference. What I wrote is below:

Dear <Seller's Name>,
I had the pleasure of visiting your condo yesterday during the open house, and I?m very interested in purchasing it. I love the layout and the location, and can easily see myself happily living there for some time ? especially if I have a private space to do my morning yoga routine in that awesome third floor space!
I understand you would need to find suitable housing before you could depart. To help you with this, you could continue to live there through July - which should give you ample time to find your new home ? as long as my basic costs for the property (mortgage, taxes, insurance, and HOA fee) are covered.
If there?s anything we can do to help come to a mutually-beneficial agreement, please let me know!
Sincerely,
Peter?Nikolaidis

Since?I had noticed that the seller practices yoga – as was evidenced by several yoga books throughout the condo, I decided to reference that, as I didn’t have much else by which to form a connection. Given how quickly the Boston real estate market moves, it’s not like I could say “let’s get together for coffee next week and go over what you want to get out of this transaction,” so I had to go with what little info I could gather. Also, since I the sale was contingent on the seller finding her own location, and I was not in a hurry to move, I decided to offer her an extended stay if she was not able to find housing prior to closing.
It worked! My agent called me ?in the afternoon to tell me that they had narrowed selection down to three offers, and that they wanted our “best and final.” This is a common tactic to squeeze a little more money out of the buyers, and why not? It works, doesn’t it? (Note, the last time I had bid on a condo, and ?was asked for my best and final, my response was “you already have it.”) I went back to the drawing board, sharpened my pencil? again,?and offered $2,000 more. ?Several hours crawled by?from that point. ?My agent called me back that evening to tell me that my offer had been accepted, even though someone else had offered $8,000 more than my final bid! ?I was told that the seller’s agent liked my agent the best, and that the seller really liked my letter of introduction.
The moral of the story is “pay attention,?communicate clearly, use every resource at your disposal, and be nice to people.”