Saturday, September 26, 2015

Startup Roller Coaster: Like "Quirky" Another One Bites the Dust

ShopTOS TOS Logo
April 10, 2013 was my last blog post here. I return with a new post one year after leaving a startup where I spent a year and a half working with a team to build a digital presence and customer experience for The Outdoor Shopper (ShopTOS), an outdoor shopping television show. We experienced rapid growth with a small team and an even smaller investment. In that short time we accomplished the following:
  • 840 percent website traffic growth and 1,365 percent e-commerce sales growth in six months
  • 618 percent Facebook fan growth and 1,546 percent Twitter follower growth in nine months
  • 2,556 percent product catalogue growth in one year
  • Daily, sometimes multiple times a day, show airings on notable channels like Pursuit Channel (amazing people with whom to work), the Outdoor Channel, and the Sportsman Channel
  • Implemented a digital content, advertising, and video production strategy that showcased outdoor product inventors and their products (fantastic people like Shawn Malloy of Altera Alpaca), created a direct manufacturer to customer relationship, and connected people to outdoor experts and celebrities like Jimmy Houston (who is absolutely delightful), Bruce "The Alligator Man" Mitchell (who is as genuine and sweet as they come), Kinion Bankston (who's raw voice, candor, and big personality make him a favorite among many), Nancy Jo Adams (who is a talented, innovative female presence in a space that still underserves women), Jay Ducote (who is just as fun and "hugable" off screen as he is on), and Tom Buck (who is whip smart, kindhearted, and has a great literary voice) 
jimmy houston, alison sigmon
Author on the production set with Jimmy Houston
The concept was good with its production, television broadcast, and drop shipment commerce model, but alas, TV broadcast and production costs, among other things, proved too much for the business. LOTS of people -- employees, vendors, and contractors -- did NOT get paid and investors lost money in the end. Some of us employees and contractors worked over seven months for NO pay or a third pay rate. Let me emphasize: This is not a complaint; we made the decision with eyes wide open. It was our choice. We did it because we were deeply committed to the concept, devoted to the people and manufacturers involved, and profoundly loyal to each other, but more about that at the end of this post...

Although we didn't come close to the $185M raised by Quirky, a crowdsourced invention start-up company that filed for bankruptcy last week, size, valuation, etc don't really matter when company fails. It's painful for all involved.

For the life of the venture, we moved fast and furiously to build and migrate to a new e-commerce platform and CMS platform, implement a business strategy roadmap, establish a digital presence, and connect inventors and customers. It all seems a bit like a blur from platform migration, content publishing, process creation, team building, and rebranding to marketing, advertisement, vendor management, and product sales.

recycling electronic trash
As I emerge from the startup haze (you know exactly what I mean if you've done it), I'm reminded of the pitfalls to avoid and process steps one should never skip. Looking back on the experience, I can see we were in the midst of an entertainment and viewing evolution. Television remains the 800 lbs gorilla, but it was clear during the operation of ShopTOS that a viewing and interaction shift was firmly underway. We were working feverishly to get ahead of the trend by offering the show online, changing the show format to better accommodate viewer interests, and aligning broadcasting with seasonal experiences. We were also working to upgrade and refine the product catalogue to support niche, innovative, hard to find items that would take us out of the no-contest, margin draining competition with Cabela's, Bass Pro Shop, and Amazon. Basically, we were working to pivot the business, but we ran out of money in the process. It's a familiar tale - like Quirky and so many others.

Everyone says startups are exciting, gut wrenching, and unforgiving which is absolutely true - this was my third startup so it's a well-worn path by now. Each time I think I know what I'm getting into only to be surprised (again). It's not unlike being in war, which I experienced during the first Gulf War. It's a roller coaster of issues, situations, and events that pummel scrappy but devoted little teams who somehow find a way to get up each day only to do it all over again in the face of these things:
roller coaster
  • Tons of ambiguity
  • Emotional ups and downs
  • False starts
  • Fast planning and even faster crashes
  • Lack of information
  • Risky decisions
  • Never enough communication
  • Uncertainty about what the pigs and the bears are (Read The Mission, the Men, and Me for more about that)
  • Never ending list of "high priority" things to do
  • Limited funds
I was reminded that some things stay the same no matter the type of startup you join. You'll always need:
  • Talent to get the work done
  • Discipline to work on a lot of things a little bit everyday
  • Wisdom to make changes rapidly in response to issues, insights, and situations 
  • Patience to work the plan (and stick to it)
  • Awareness to know when to get out of your own way (thank you, Wendy Lea for that touchstone reminder)
  • Trust the people you hired and listen to them
  • Understanding of margins and operational costs (budgets matter even in the beginning!) 
  • Analysis of the numbers early and often
  • Processes for the repeatable activities in your business (recreating is a time suck) 
  • Vision to build a narrative the team can get behind
  • A very thick skin
  • Ability to pivot 
  • Recognize when tenacity is a mask for denial
Each startup reveals something. Every time I go in wondering what will be different. I wonder what we will learn or be reminded of as the team moves through the startup process. Well, this time was no different. The slippery slope of the business began in February 2014. During that time we tried everything we could to save the business, but deep down we knew we were treading water if we didn't get a serious infusion of cash. In the meantime, it was the people and the relationships that kept the business afloat probably too long past what was fair to all involved.

After this experience, I am again reminded that people truly are the greatest asset of any business. At ShopTOS we all were quite different as individuals, but underneath we had the shared values that served the business in the best and worst times: devotion, commitment, tenacity, adaptability, and fierce loyalty. The people behind the scenes in any business are the real heroes. 

We've all moved on. Some of us are still working together on new, exciting projects that will no doubt yield more colorful war stories. In our new business we are looking at resurrecting a software concept for human capital development and management for which I had a provisional patent back in 2007. The time seems right with the new tech out there to circle back to it.

Would I do it all over again? You a heartbeat. Roller coasters fun. ;)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Delivering bad news in good ways: The "magic" of your mind

In the previous section of the book I'm writing called Delivering Bad News in Good Ways on Projects that is posted here, we considered how to define the situation in front of us as part of the Separate step of SED the process. The next part of the chapter explains what's happening in the background of our mind as the first impression of the situation takes shape.

The thinking (and feeling) process explained

Many years ago I was curious about how our mind can react so instantly to people and things around us. At the time, it seemed to me impressions and thoughts came out of nowhere like magic, but I knew that didn't make sense. So I started doing a bit of research to understand the process. My hunch was if we better understood this seemingly magical process we might have an opportunity to respond more thoughtfully and intentionally when communicating with and responding to others.

So, how long does it take to form an impression of someone? Well, if you believe recent research, it takes between 100 and 150 milliseconds. To give you a sense of just how brief that is, we can use an example from language. All languages have phonemes which are sounds unique within that language. In English, we have the phoneme "cha" which takes about 250 milliseconds to say. Yep, that’s fast, but how is possible that impressions can pop up so quickly?!?

The brain has three major parts - the brainstem, the limbic area, and the cortical area.  The brainstem is the oldest part of our brain, and it is the bit we share with the lower ordered creatures on the planet like snakes and other reptiles. This is the part of our brain that takes care of autonomic functions like breathing, digestive processing, eliminating waste, etc. The brainstem regulates all those functions and keeps them in check which simply means we don't have to chew up our awareness with saying, "Come on, heart, pump" or "Breathe, lungs, breathe..."

The limbic brain is what one of my children affectionately refers to as the “feeling” brain. This section is the seat of our memories. When events occur, it is this part of our brain that tells our mind and our body how to feel in response. So when we encounter a long lost friend, see tear-jerking commercial on television, or hear someone crying or screaming, it's this part of our brain that calls up a memory which then triggers the chemicals inside of us to flood our body with emotion.

The cortical brain is the newest part of our brain, and it is considered to be our “thinking” brain. This is the part that uses logic to sort information and give it some order. It allows us to assess what we’re experiencing in our environment and then respond which is obviously critical to survival. The rub here is that it’s slower than the limbic brain. Remember that 100 to 150 milliseconds stat? Well, it’s the limbic brain that’s quick on the trigger. The cortical brain needs a bit more time - about 3.6 seconds to be exact.

I think you know where I’m going with this...

Flowing out the 100 millisecond to 3.6 second process

Just like most things in life there is a process and first impression response is no exception. There's a lot of science to this process, but to keep it simple, I’ve clustered the thinking/feeling process into three groups:

- Collect
- Respond
- Filter

Collect, Respond, and Filter have lots of things going on in each. What's interesting about the process is how it gets developed, and what's even more interesting is it doesn't just get created and stop. It actually grows, changes, and evolves over your lifetime. Your experiences, the people in your life, the things you do all inform this process. What does that mean to you and someone with whom you are working on a project?

Well, when you sit down to have a conversation with that person, you might think you and the other person are the only two people there, but actually that’s not the case. The reality is that you BOTH are bringing loads of people and experiences into the conversation. It’s these past experiences that help you make sense of the current experience.

In the next installment, we'll take a deeper look how these three groups work to deliver such a "magically" quick response. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Delivering bad news in good ways: Get a handle on yourself first

Almost everyone wants to write a book until they really start writing it. That's me - I'm actually writing two: A nonfiction and a novel. 

For many years I've had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people in corporations and government agencies around the world. They have shared their stories and concerns with me in a search of solutions to very real problems. Interestingly, the problems they face are less about the mechanics of work and more about the human side of getting work done. In response I've made a concerted effort to learn and share as many facts, best practices, and processes as possible in a effort to address the behavioral aspects of their work that chew up much of their day. 

Now I'm finally doing it, and it is just as daunting, tedious, and scary as I thought it would be. I'm soldiering on despite knowing I'll have scores of revisions before the final product is finished.

The title of the nonfiction book is Delivering Bad News in Good Ways on Projects. Being the bearer of bad news is never fun whether it's in your professional or personal life. Some people don't have an issue with delivering bad news, and that's fantastic. I'd love to hear about your approach and technique. But there are those of us who do have a harder time sharing and responding to bad news. These are the people I hope this book will help.

Over the years I've experimented with an approach that is the foundation of this book. In an effort to get your response and feedback, I thought I'd start publishing pieces of the book chapters here. Writing can be a lonely endeavor so I'm looking forward to sharing the journey with you. 

Here's a segment of Chapter 5 which addresses the "Separate" step in a model I call SED.  SED stands for Separate, Evaluate, and Deliver. I look forward to your comments either here or via email.

Separate: How you do it

Maybe you’ve experienced a situation like one of the following:

Your project sponsor has significantly reduced your funding but still expects the same scope.

A major issue discovered during testing will require an additional three months work which will impact the critical due date. Oh, and by the way, in anticipation that project would wrap up on time, you’ve already started ramping up management of a new and even larger project!

Two primary project stakeholders can’t seem to get aligned on a solution for a crucial part of system build. The situation has eroded quickly and now they are refusing to work together.

You’ve just found out your resources have been slashed by 30 percent, but the sponsor won’t budge on the workload. More with less is the mandate.

Change is a reality on projects. I’ve always said I would love for a plan to be etched in stone right out of the gate, but we all know that’s not possible. There are simply too many variables and unknowns so in the spirit of Rolling Wave Planning we lay out the plan to the best of our ability and then respond and make adjustments to new information along the way.

The management part of this is using processes to collect, integrate, and distribute information and work requirements. There are are many fine publications that illustrate in detail the processes that support this. I’ve listed recommendations for these publications in the Appendix section of this book should you like to explore them further.

What is not necessarily covered in equivalent detail is how to assess, respond, and manage the emotional experience of change on the stakeholders (and you). Because bad news is likely the result of a change, we’ll break down the parts of the SED model to help you be more effective with assessing, responding, and managing the emotional experience of it.

Step 1 of Separate: Define the situation/event
Bad news is on the table: Now what?

To put a new spin on an old quote, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) said, "To err is human; to forgive, divine," but for the sake of project management let’s make a slight adjustment:

To err is human; to separate and sort before responding, divine.

When we first become aware of a situation or event, it’s natural to jump right into a bunch of assumptions.  It is even more natural to make one of those assumptions your conclusion before you’ve fully assessed the situation. This is just the way the mind works - we use mental models to quickly assess and respond to the situation at hand.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, our mind is constantly sifting through tons of information in an effort to make sense of the environment and experiences around us. The human brain likes order and will work very hard to create it as soon as possible. It’s important to understand the following:

"Context is the reality of the situation around us. Without context, our minds have a tendency to take shortcuts & recognize patterns that aren't really there. We connect the dots without first collecting the dots." From the book The Mission, the Men, and Me

The upside of this is that it enables us to rapidly respond to a variety of situations, to innovate, and to create. The downside of this is we make a ton of assumptions that miss the mark. As a matter of fact, research shows 40 to 50 percent of the time our assumptions are correct, but here’s the rub: 50 to 60 percent of the time those assumptions are NOT correct.

Hmmm...time for a reality check, you say? Yep, you’re a quick one. :)

Let’s take a look at how that process works.

Making sense of information

Maybe you’re standing around the airport gate waiting to board your plane and a interesting person catches your eye.

Perhaps you’ve just been named project manager of a project that’s been in progress for several months. You steal a quick glance at the team before getting down to business.

You’re at a networking event and you see someone who looks like a person you met before. You walk up and introduce yourself, but suddenly realize this isn’t the same person.

What’s happening in your head during the initial moment of those situations? In what seems like an instant, thoughts creep up into your consciousness. You might reflexively make a statement about the person in your head, and then counter that thought with an “Oh, where did that impression come from?” Possibly you simply react without any forethought. Hopefully there’s no fallout from that potential “uh-oh” moment which is where you act on the thought without thinking about it.

So, how long do you think an instant is if you quantified it? Perhaps you’re thinking it is only a few minutes or several seconds.

What’s going on with your reflexive response? Maybe your response is that you “just know” or it’s “intuition.”

How can you form an impression of someone else so quickly? Where does it come from? Perhaps you simply assume that being on the planet and having a variety of experiences just gives you license to make quick decisions and conclusions without vetting them.

If any of those responses rolled through your head you’re not far off, but as with most things, there is a process we naturally follow.

In the next post, I'll address The thinking (and feeling) process explained which will address the process we following.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Quote to recalibrate

When I saw this quote earlier today, it felt very appropriate and timely. 

Helping others be successful and feel loved helps us get out of our own way and deepen our experience of living life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What life expects from us

This slightly modified quote from Viktor Frankl by me seems very appropriate today. really [does not] matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expect[s] from us. We need to stop asking the meaning of life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in RIGHT action and RIGHT conduct [at the RIGHT time]. ~ Viktor Frankl  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Beyond productivity - leveraging the spaces in between

Having OPTIONS is not the problem.

Sometimes the shifts in focus that I experience astound me. One day I’m full of ideas and energy and feel intensely focused and highly productive. Another day I’ll find myself feeling like an ineffectual child hovering in a paralytic state bumping around in between activity-filled spaces despite the clearly marked path nestled among the many arteries of options.

There’s NEVER a shortage of things to do.

To my left is my journal. Because I tend to write my book chapters by hand before typing them up, the pages are filled with small, tight cursive writing that continues the fictional tale of Elia, Guzmon, and Robbie. Twelve chapters in with five chapters waiting to be typed up, and yet I sit between spaces.

Only ONE STEP away and yet...

To my right are Post-It Notes filled in and laid out in a Work Breakdown Structure that supports my nonfiction book Delivering Bad News in Good Ways on Projects. In my mind, the already composed next section of chapter five patiently waits for me to simply transfer it to paper. A friend in the film business once told me that content generation was never a problem for Alfred Hitchcock. For him, the story was already complete in his head. It was just a matter of getting resources and laying it down on film. Again, as in the case of Hitchcock, it’s just a matter of laying it down on paper, and yet I continue to linger in between spaces.

Busy work that looks like PRODUCTIVITY.

Sitting in a web browser page, the article called Emmanuelle and the Seductive Power of Words, which rekindled my deep interest in the process of anticipation, is ready for a second read in preparation to write a blog post I plan to title The Art of Anticipation and Why Porn Gets It Wrong. Because it's not content that fits with my blog, yesterday I contacted the owner of the property where I’d like to have it published. She enthusiastically said she’d post it whenever I can get it to her. I was so excited about it yesterday that I wrote a friend the following:

“The key to many experiences, I believe, is in the anticipation that builds as the result of the stories we write in our heads in advance of an event. It's a kind of rehearsal that primes, emboldens, and spurs into action even the shyest and most timorous of lovers, writers, artists, and novices. Really good writers hold the key to this delicious secret. I've thought about the concept of anticipation and how it relates to process off and on for more than 20 years. I've researched it, written about it, and experimented with it through observing myself and others. It's a fascinating subject that deserves more attention as it applies to one's life.”

Excited by the subject, I abandoned all my other projects and dove into researching it, but even as inspired as I felt, I still find myself sitting in between spaces. It's in between spaces of productivity that thoughts, ideas, and memories bump into each other. 

They are not really looking for attention per se, but instead need only be present. The cool presentation on print making from earlier in the week. My trip to LA next week and people I want to see. My poor showing in the Scrabble and Words With Friends games I currently have going. Keeping up with social media postings and dialogues. Starting a drawing class that I’ve longed to do for a number of years. Running six miles and then doing hot yoga today. Deciding what to make for dinner. Mulling over the desk I want to make out of reclaimed wood but feel reluctant to do because I’ve never done such things.

Hearing VOICES? Yep, they're really yours.

All these things shift across my field of vision as I write, type, and play. It’s like going into one of those dreadful stores so jammed packed with overwhelming options one only wants to back away from it as quickly as possible in fear of being eaten by the tchotchke monsters that no doubt inhabit it. My fear then hears voices of others who surely have it more together than me. With a view from the outside, everyone else seems to have productivity well in hand. They seem to have a clear finish line when I can't even find the start.

Fully AWAKE in and out of spaces.

Distractions, options, opportunities - however activities in a day are defined, consider a few things:

- Pick with awareness. Whether leaning over to make your Scrabble or Words With Friends move, working on a project plan, typing an email response, or making your grocery list, pay attention to your choice. We don't have to be "on" all the time. Watching three episodes of Homeland last night doesn't make me any less productive. With mindfulness, that was how I chose to spend my time in between spaces. The immersion, the experience goes with me when I dive into the next space. It gives me a chance to unplug from a current challenge so my subconscious can process. Ironically, I woke up this morning very focused and ready to write.

- It's okay to say no. It's not my nature to say no for two reasons. I want and need to feel helpful to others. Also, I don't want to disappoint, and yet when I always say "yes," I'm often doing so out of ego. Saying "yes" also conveniently allows me to avoid the "spaces" that are connected to deeper, more meaningful but definitely harder and more challenging things I want to do in life.

- When a comment is less a judgement and more a reflection of your fear. Someone said to me recently, "You mean you haven't finished those books yet???" There was a smile behind those words, but my fear (and ego) ignored it. The nerve is raw because that's how I feel -- it's taking too long!!! My reaction was a reflection of a deep feeling of ineffectiveness I feel when in between spaces. To make up for it, I tend to find busy work with quick returns that sooth my ego and make me feel productive again. Ironically, the short term gain only seems to lengthen the distance to the long term goal, and serves to make me feel worse in the end.

- Just do it however brief. Whatever your passion, goal, or desire in life, practice it everyday as noted in 8 Essential Habits for Effective Writers. Five minutes or five hours doesn't matter. What matters is engaging with it.

- Path to your beach head is rarely a straight line. Although it would be nice to be able to get from A to B without any detours, it's rare in more complex, strategic work. Understanding this and being patient with it is crucial to realizing B. What's important is to define markers much like when you're traveling. Defining markers helps us gauge progress and make course corrections.

Magic of sitting in BETWEEN spaces

That's an odd way to title the close, but I'm just realizing as I wrap up that this is what the post is truly about. Sitting in between activities, events, and projects can feel unproductive and well, lazy, but I want to challenge that.

Being in between activity spaces offers a reflection point for what we've done to date and what we need to do next. Like Leo Babauta reminds us in The Little Trick to Make Any Moment Better, our attitude about the space will determine how we experience it. Acknowledging what you are feeling during those times in between and letting go of the judgment, ego, and labeling of it creates an open space to pick and choose the next activity space with mindfulness. Embracing the uncertainty of the spaces in between can lead us to ANTICIPATING them because those moments can tell us so much if we are open to it.

Of course, I just had to work in that bit about anticipation. Until next time... :)

Monday, October 29, 2012

When austerity is a choice

"You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough." ~ Mae West

Walking down the aisles in the Halloween candy section of Target your mouth starts to involuntarily water as the walls of creamy, yummy, melt-in-our-mouth candy envelops you. It wraps you in a blanket of psychological comfort like few other things. 

Based on the number of candy grabbers that hit up your door last year, you toss the exact amount you need for the cute but borderline aggressive Trick or Treaters. As you walk away, you decide to grab one more bag "just in case." Never mind that extra bag is your absolute favorite type of candy -- if you're REALLY going to eat it! 

Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge -- say no more... Okay, yes, this happened to me yesterday. I admit it.

Everyday we are bombarded with visual cues like this. We run through each hour of each day with very good intentions, but research already knows those good intentions will likely be abandoned as our day wears on. We then blame ourselves and call ourselves weak and lazy when really it's less about that and more about the internal cycle we ride and even perpetuate (and exaggerate) with our choices and actions.

At the moment I'm reading Alain de Botton's book Status Anxiety. In it he mentions then vice president Nixon's 1959 visit to the USSR when he showcased the USA's industrial achievements through an exhibit of the average home of a working class family. During a speech he gave on Soviet radio, de Botton notes that Nixon accurately recounts, much to Khrushchev's chagrin, the following:
" just a few hundred years, Western countries had managed, through enterprise and industry, to overcome the poverty and famine that had gripped the world until the middle of the eighteenth century...Americans had purchased 56 million television sets and 143 million radios."
To the Soviet listeners this was astounding and to Khrushchev painfully embarrassing. Political tension aside, what was more important about this moment was how far we'd traveled as a people. de Botton continues:
"The majority of the population of medieval and early modern Europe had belonged to the peasant class. Impoverished, undernourished, cold and fearful while alive, they were usually dead -- following some further agony -- before their fortieth birthday. After a life time of work, their most valuable possession might have been a cow, a goat or a pot. Famine was never far off, and disease was rife..."
In just a matter of a few hundred years thanks to new industry and farming techniques, people went from a questionable existence in desperate conditions to a state were luxuries were commonplace and even seen as "necessities." This prosperity was reflected in annual styles in fashion to multiple types of processed foods, machines, and clothing. 

Suddenly people -- NOT just the exclusive minority -- had options and A LOT of them. During this time marketing as a discipline was born and the idea of "have to have" and "nice to have" was turned on its ear.

Examining your habits through their austerity
A friend of mine is in the process of going through a 14-day cleanse which involves a lemonade concoction and no solid foods. Other friends of mine have gone through the same experience, and I have done a variation on the theme myself from time to time over the years. All of us had different reasons for participating in such an extreme experience, and all of us seemed to get something out of it.

I find it curious, however, that while we live in the most prosperous time in human history, we choose to practice austerity. Why? 

People in less prosperous nations would love to have half of what we have in the western world and yet we consciously practice NOT enjoying it (or we go to the other extreme and lose ourselves in it).

Could it be that we can actively practice austerity to "return" to ourselves because we know it will end? 

I think it's true we can do most anything thing unpleasant as long as there's hope it will end. My time in the military and in war taught me this. At that level, it's just a game, a puzzle to be solved.

Immersion in "have not" becomes...
When you're hungry, priorities shift. Things that seemed important in your everyday life are less so as your body adjusts to its new current state. As the body is shifts into survival mode, your metabolism slows while your insides try to be as efficient as possible with limited resources. 

Then your chemistry alters which influences how you think and what you feel. Awareness is raised as you experience more direct interaction between mind and body because the "clutter" of your day is forgotten. You have the opportunity to observe ego - your internal chatter. In time even that grows quiet. You begin to experience the ebb and flow of focus that follows the rhythm of your body's response to deprivation. The experience makes us ask ourselves why we do what we do day in and day out.

Countless people have voluntarily fasted for long periods of time. It's been used for radical behavior change, political protest, and military discipline. Austerity was and still is considered a right of passage for religious practice. Even the Buddha practiced austerity, but interestingly Enlightenment didn't live in austerity as he and others eventually discovered.

The more we have the less we feel...
Caloric restriction reminds me of the dying process or any other type of event we personally deem critical. Suddenly what was so important becomes less so. The things we did to fill our days are now unappealing and in some cases seem indulgent or infantile. Caloric restriction makes us really feel again.

My first experience with this was way back in undergrad school. I was a sophomore with the classic "freshman 15." In my first year or so of adjusting to adulthood I did too much of somethings and not enough of others. As a result, I gained weight, felt sluggish, and wondered if I'd ever climb out of the rut in which I'd taken up residence.

One day I ran across an article in a magazine that asked a simple question: Do you remember what it feels like to feel hungry?

"Well, no, as a matter of fact, I don't," I thought. It was right then I resolved to rediscover it. I fasted, and oh boy, it didn't take long to remember. This and subsequent health issues of important people in my life kicked off a long journey of experimentation with my relationship to food, drink, and exercise. 

The light and the dark sides of austerity
Challenge and change are beautiful things. It's deeply empowering to take charge of yourself and your behavior. But as people who don't have as we do would tell you, it's not all that it's cracked up to be. After living and/or working in many third world countries, I know this first hand.

I'm not trying to be a killjoy for anyone wanting to experiment, change habits, or test themselves. I just want to share what I've learned over the many years I've practiced caloric restriction. I feel great when I do it - no doubt. I need less sleep, I'm more focused, and I feel lighter which consequently makes my workouts better, my relationships happier, and my production greater, but there's a dark side.

I've learned when I don't get enough calories, my experience of life and being in life are severely impacted. I grow dark, irritable, and depressed. I cut people off and feel less giving and caring for others. At first I feel more control only to have very little control in the end. 

Using a diet like this to radically change habits can be helpful, but it should include  some raw fruits and vegetables and be limited it to a few days especially when exercising intensely. Austerity raises awareness of so much, but it can also generate some nasty results as noted in the WebMD article The Lemonade Diet (Master Cleanse Diet).

Ride on the edge of discomfort. Challenge yourself everyday. But don't do it to the point of losing yourself and even others in the process.