A few months before I finished grad school in 1997, I ran the L.A. Marathon. For two and a half years leading up to it, I ran anywhere from three to eight miles each day, 6 days a week with a small group of other grad students. It was a nice break from all the days and late nights spent in a chemistry lab. I was into exercising, but I didn’t totally love running. I ran six days a week because of social pressure. I knew any day I blew off running, five friends would be standing around a parking lot at 6am or after 7pm steaming and wondering when it was ok to leave and where the hell was I and why was I a deadbeat and why wasn’t I running with them?
In 2003, I moved up to the wilds of Oregon and left most of my close friends behind in the Bay Area. Working from home, I quickly gained about 20 pounds and it wasn’t until I discovered cycling a couple years later that I started to stabilize my weight. Part of what helped me keep riding largely by myself was posting all my ride data online, at We Endure and later, my Strava profile.
Friends, fans, and followers can see every ride I take and I get a nice feed of all their recent rides as well. It keeps everyone honest and there are occasional challenges that pit you against your friends even if you’re on separate sides of the planet. It’s been a nice digital approximation of my grad school runners group pressure.
Fast Food Nation
A few months ago, I got into two bad habits that involve inserting hot garbage into various holes in my body. One is my ears, whenever I continuously listen to today’s hottest pop music on the “Pure Pop” channel in iTunes radio. The other is my mouth, when I started eating fast food fairly regularly. I’m not proud of the results of either bad habit — I actually have a favorite One Direction song (it’s Story of My Life, I’m not some sort of monster), and I’ve recently put on about ten pounds of extra fat.
It started innocently enough, as I avoided junk food for the last two decades while being mostly a vegetarian, but I would have an occasional Egg McMuffin if I was stuck at an airport in the morning. I know fast food is bad for me, but I used to ask myself “How can McDonalds fuck up an egg, slice of cheese, piece of ham or sausage, and some bread?” Eventually the habit grew to grabbing breakfast most days from a fast food chain and that became almost every morning along with the occasional lunch and dinner. I try to go to local, better than average places (Burgerville, Five Guys) when I can, but I end up at McDonalds more often than not. One morning I found myself actually interested in knowing what Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu was like, and just the thought alone lead to me asking myself some hard questions.
I’ve been an avid user of Foursquare for years now, and I’m always looking for interesting ways to use the app. Lately I’ve taken to checking into anywhere I spend money so that I always have a log of where I was whenever dropped some coin. This has been a handy utility whenever I check my bank account and wonder why I spent $15 in a weird part of Portland one day, because I now have a digital sort of “receipt” from my travels. Part of always checking in to places I spend money meant checking into fast food joints. At first I was kind of embarrassed to do it. Friends would see me in the Foursquare feed eating a pile of hot garbage each morning. I even became mayor of several places. I started leaving self-deprecating comments in my check-ins in case friends saw them.
IFTTT to the rescue
My favorite Swiss-Army-Knife-with-a-thousand-blades utility is IF This Then That (IFTTT). It works by simply wiring up the APIs from one service to another, whenever actions are triggered. I’ve been a happy user of IFTTT recipes for the past year or so, using the service to automatically back up photos across services, log my travels in various spreadsheets and maps, and overall help make sense of all the data gathering in my life.
Today I realized my recent love affair with fast food needs to stop, and the social pressure of broadcasting my whereabouts in Foursquare wasn’t enough. Only so many friends look at the worldwide feed or scroll through all their friends’ checkins. I needed to make it more painful, and expose my bad eating habits to more people, so I created a IFTTT recipe, which I call “Shame Eats Earn Shame Tweets.” You can use my recipe directly via that link, or you can build your own and make an exact copy that fits for you.
Watch the looping animation below to the see the entire process from the IFTTT site:
The steps are, select Foursquare as the first action, click New Check-in At Category, select Fast Food from Restaurants, then Twitter for the action, and Post A Tweet, then edit it to say whatever you want and finally hit Create Recipe.
Ever since my Twitter account passed 10,000 followers a year or two ago, I’ve been keenly aware of how many eyeballs might be reading my tweets. I know how valuable my time is, so I try and only post significant or funny (or both) tweets and every time I hover over the Send button I ask myself if what I wrote is really worth wasting the time of over 15k people. So I’ve enabled the recipe and if you follow me on Twitter, you might have caught me eating at one last fast food place to make sure it all works as intended (shown below), but suffice it to say I don’t want to fill my stream with shameful foursquare check-ins, and I hope this never gets triggered in the future.
I need to stop putting hot garbage into my body, and this is looking like the best technical solution to get me there. I share this story today in hopes that if there’s something you’d like to change about yourself, perhaps embarrassing yourself in front of thousands of people with some shameful auto-tweets is the way to do it. I’m pretty sure it’s going to work for me.
(Want to be notified via email when I post new Medium articles? Use this IFTTT recipe)