Rows and Columns – Or – There’s A Rule For That

A Realistic Approach to Wellness

This post is in jeopardy of being another Seinfeld-ian post.  For those of you who read RTFM, you know that by Seinfeld-ian. I mean it’s a post about nothing.  I don’t mean the other potential definition of Seinfeld-ian, in that it is actually funny.

Anyway, the bottom line of this  post is that I needed to violate my Healthy Transportation algorithm today, and it wasn’t pretty.  But this post ends up with some real practical advice on healthy habit formation.  So it might be worth your reading.

But first, some background.

Davey H – Prerelease

When I was in high school and it came time to pick our classes for the next year, the school offered a new course in the math department, Computer Science.  Some friends and I decided to take it. This was in the mid 1970s when a computer filled an entire room and you “spoke” to the computer using punch cards like this (Go Blue Hens!):
Hollerith Card
Look at those pretty rows and columns.

As a generally misunderstood teen in high school, those days were a breath of fresh air.  Here was something, unlike sports or other activities requiring coordination, that I was pretty good at.  And in those days there was no better defense mechanism against the nerd-troll then carrying stacks of cards and reams of 11×17 greenbar fanfold paper.  For all they knew I had their grades and graduation dates in the palm of my hands.  One slip of the card deck and it’s summer school for the lot of them.

The programming language we used for class assignments was called Fortran; a truncated concatenation (←nerd words) of Formula Translation.  It was a highly structured language intended to convert esoteric scientific equations into the structured ones-and-zeroes that computers understand.  I had found my niche.

Davey H 1.0 – Maybe Not

When I got to college, I figured early on that Computer Science was the major for me. As the curriculum and technology progressed, the languages of choice became less and less structured.  My beloved Fortran was obsolete.  And my skills at programming declined in direct proportion to the decline of structured languages.

I was still good at some aspects of the science.  I could break down very complex problems and create “algorithms” or rules around them.  I could flow chart like nobody’s fool.  But I wasn’t a very good programmer.  One of our assignments was to create the inter-campus bus schedule based on class schedules, enrollments, and locations.  If you’ve been standing in the rain on East Campus for the last hour, it’s my fault.

After much introspection, I realized that the parts of Computer Science that I was good at involved creating order out of disorder.  Building rules where there were none.  Algorithms and flow charts fall into that category.  Programming is more of an art.

Fortunately, when it came to getting a job, there was a career path for people like me; people who when confronted with shades of gray instead see individual pixels of black-and-white.  My first job was Systems Analyst, a job in which I take customer requirements and turn them into specifications (rules) that others have to implement.  And this launched a long and fruitful career of bringing order to chaos.

My recently acquired healthcare startup was founded on this notion.  We built a technology that encodes the years of medical knowledge that a physician gets via her education and experience into an “ontology” (rows and columns).  That ontology is then used to “understand” the confusing mess of unstructured medical documentation and extract relevant data from it.  Then it can be loaded into a database (using rules to map vague concepts into rows and columns).  I’m even the proud co-inventor of the patented technology that resulted (US Patents 8,768,723 and 8,768,723).

Davey H 2.0 – There’s a Rule for That

But that relates to my professional life.  L4 is about Work-Life Balance Integration.  I don’t really lead my life with algorithms, rules, rows, and columns, do I?  I think I already answered that in my Healthy Transportation post in which I not only explained my algorithm on how I move through life but even designed a spreadsheet for people who don’t think that way.  I also answered that in my SMART Goals post in which I break down all of the factors that go into measuring your progress against desired health goals into this decision matrix:

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

And, as usual, I am the source of endless mirth for my wife and children as they watch me select the next book I’m going to read.  I have been assigned some real estate on our family bookshelf where I keep all my to-be-read books, categorized in a way that only I can understand.  From right to left:

  • Non fiction – Cycling
  • Non fiction – Business/Technical
  • Non fiction – Social Sciences (History, Sociology, Psychology, etc.)
  • Non-fiction – Heath and Wellness
  • Fiction – not further categorized; it’s not like I’m OCD or anything

I also am subscribed to a lot of magazines.   But, I am not a Luddite who eschews the value of eBooks.  I embrace them.  But I appreciate the value of the hardcopy version as well. There are certain times an e-book is just not practical. So in the cloud and not on the bookshelf is an additional collection of eBooks.  Finally, I still use the public library.

My algorithm for reading is somewhat recursive so hard to follow, but it ensures I cycle through each genre and medium without depending too heavily on one and without letting my reading backlog get out of date.  I never think about what I’m going to read next.  I just know.

I admit, sometimes my desire for rules and predictability bring me to a weird place.  In the first on-site session of Duke IHCPT, an instructor put out a bowl of dark and milk chocolates for the class to enjoy.  Late in the day, I was caught sorting the dark chocolates from the light.  I assume that most people who were watching were too afraid to ask me what I was doing.  They figured I was some kind of bigot who supported chocolate segregation.

Actually, I was looking for the rule.  I had a theory that a class full of people who are being trained how to help others achieve their optimal health may prefer the more healthful dark chocolates over the milk.  If I could assume there was an equal number of each at the outset and that those who prefer milk did not delay their consumption to the end of the day, there would be more milk left (and therefore dark consumed) at the time of my experiment.  The result of the census of the leftovers was 3:1 milk.  I win!

Partial Conclusion

There’s more to this story but if this was Seinfeld, it’d be a two-part episode.  So I am going to defer the rest to my next post.  But to wrap up this one with a practical nugget, I want to relate back to how this applies to a realistic approach to wellness (i.e.Healthy Lifestyles in the Real World).  The key to adopting a healthy lifestyle when you’re busy is to take the guess-work out of it.  By having rules on how I get from point A to point B, I’m guaranteed to build some exercise time into my day.  By having my reading queued up and ensuring my reading material is future proof and always available, I ensure that I exercise my mind.  By knowing it’s Meatless Monday, I expand my palate for plant-based dining.  By putting my gym, dog walk, meditation time in my daily calendar, I don’t skip any.

The rules I use for me, won’t necessarily integrate with your lifestyle.  But there are rules that will.  I am here to help you discover them.

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