2014-02 Drop Caring What Others Think (1)/Add Daily Creative Writing

I’ve had a few “add” ideas this month, but a drought of “drop” inspiration. In usual Zaiene fashion, I’ve suddenly come up with a flurry of ideas for things in my life to drop! So, once more you find me here in Lifestyle Experiment Land. I’ve been considering expanding things regularly to a fortnight or a month, but, as my first for the year, I will start with a week and see how things go. This whole Life thing is pretty much trial and error, you know.

This week, I am going to drop caring what other people think (1). Yep, just like that. Ok, so moving on…

No, no, I’m not silly enough to really think it’s that simple, or I would have achieved this years ago and been a thouroughlly happier and more obnoxious person! If I manage to keep DO/AO up (at least semi-regularly) this year, I’m planning to revisit this particular one a few times, so this has the (1) next to it as it is my first step!

Obviously, I’m not planning to stop caring about other people’s feelings or considering other people. I don’t think I could ever be truly arrogant (although probably a teeny bit of arrogance would actually be good for me). What I’d like is to spend less time checking my own behaviour and worrying what other people are thinking of me. I’d like to spend less time reviewing interactions and worrying that the other person didn’t find them as positive as I did. I’d like to spend less time worrying that someone is unhappy with my work or performance or behaviour, even though nothing negative has been said or indicated.

I’ve decided that the easiest way to start might be with the people that already supposedly really like me. No, I’ll say that again: …The people who already really like me. This week, I’m going to try not to worry about what my friends are thinking of me. They already like me, generally think positive things about me and don’t mind (and even enjoy) my normal behaviour. These are people who actually say to me things like “I miss you!” or “Let’s catch up!” or “I had fun today!” or “I love it when we hang out!” and other nice, personally-complimentary things. Despite lovely comments like these, I often find myself wondering if I was being too annoying or if they really like me as much as I thought, or if they were judging me in some way etc. So, this week I will try to check those thoughts and just enjoy spending time with friends or communicating with friends; I will try to relax and be myself and let my friends think whatever it is they always think without trying to guess and worry about it.

This week, more practically, I’m going to add daily creative writing.

I’ve been having a bit of a hiatus from work recently, as one of my jobs has finished and I have felt that I needed some time to try to work my health and wellbeing back up from about 30% to something more sustainable (it’s probably up to about 65-70% now). I’ve eventually got to the stage, however, where “resting” is driving me insane. I’m feeling a little aimless at home, but don’t quite have the energy to constantly be out and about; I still need to make sure I’m taking time to nurse and nurture myself. I will very soon feel ready pick up some teaching or find some new work, but in the meantime I just don’t really like this feeling of not working or studying (uni starts in two weeks) or doing anything that is purposeful for my Life.

It suddenly struck me that normally I long for periods when I have nothing to do except work on my creative projects. In a really ideal world, I would probably work a few days a week in some kind of helping job (for instance, psychology or education) and the rest of my time I would write stories and blog and do other creative things. Normally, though, I expend so much mental energy on work and study that I give up trying to have any left over for a sustained creative writing effort. Recent issues with my eyes and migraines don’t help much, either. Yet, here I’ve been, sitting around feeling dissatisfied and bored, when I could have been making the most of precious obligation-free time!

Sometimes I’m baffled at how long it takes me to realise things like this!!

So, my goal this week is to do at least fifteen minutes of any kind of creative writing each day. More is great, of course, but at least fifteen minutes (or five minutes + ten minutes, or any other combination) will mean I’ve sat down and started to get back into the swing of things.

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A Quote to Keep You Going

I haven’t quite manage to complete a publishable DO/AO blog post, but I keep intending to post one!

In the meantime, here’s a quote that tickled me from a book I’m re-reading:

Socrates used to spend his whole time finding rare and special exceptions to anything anyone said. He must have been most annoying.

From Simplicity by Edward De Bono.

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2013 Summary

I had a few simple goals for 2013:

1. Prioritise regular exercise to manage stress during Honours, increase energy and generally stay healthy.
2. Prioritise regular journally to manage stress during Honours.
3. Complete my Honours coursework brilliantly and produce a kick-arse Honours Research Thesis.

What actually happened in 2013:

1. I caught every cold within a 30km radius.
2. I had chronic, persistent headaches and migraines (and then migraine medication that made me feel dopey).
3. I got part-way through my coursework then realised I needed to repeat first semester in 2014 to have any chance of making up for time lost through illness, I barely managed to complete my research thesis (even with a long extension because of all my illness).

No, 2013 did not go to plan!


1. Completed research thesis: Hoorah!
2. Weaned myself off sweet things (even with a major thesis-writing aberration)!
3. Gained a lot of research skills and experiences, a lot of confidence and some good contacts.

I have found out just recently that my migraines are at least partly due to a condition called idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH), although I will have an MRI in two months to rule out anything other cause (both the eye specialist and the neurologist seem fairly unconcerned about my MRI). IIH can be pretty serious, but in my case the optometrist noticed it very early and the neurologist had already recently started me on the correct medication (because of my migraines), so hopefully the MRI will go well, the treatment will go well, the migraines will improve and this year will begin to be easier than last year!

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Reasons for the Fat Shame

Why do we feel ashamed of our weight?

Week in, week out, my work involves visiting teenagers to take their measurements as part of a research project about healthy weight management for adolescents. All the participants in our project are technically overweight, and so am I. In fact, since I was a teenager there has only been a very short period of my life when I haven’t felt that I was at least a bit overweight.

The adolescents I visit are all lovely. Many of them don’t look more than squishy (as opposed to toned), but even the ones who are more obviously overweight are lovely. It is amazing how swiftly my attention shifts from someone’s weight to their personality, and how easy it is for their personality to shine through and enhance their appearance further.

So I find myself wondering why we feel ashamed of our weight, regardless of whether we are fifteen or thirty-two.

I think that there are two main reasons and I don’t think that either of them are very much to do with the real problem with being overweight (i.e. that it’s unhealthy).

The first is that we feel ugly – more importantly, we feel that other people think we’re ugly. Perhaps there are are some evolutionary psychological reasons for us preferring people who are not too overweight (perhaps we want people who look fitter and more able to hunt, run (or protect us) from predators or bear children), but on this premise it would be counter-intuitive to be attracted to people who are very skinny (as they might be weak and would probably not have enough fat stored to survive harsher conditions where perhaps food is scarce). So we can’t blame much on evolution.

I think it is pretty widely acknowledged that the idea we currently have of what is attractive and what is unattractive is an unrealistic construct of society and the media. It is something that many people are trying to shake, but it is persistent and will not change easily. In the meantime, we are all battling to reconcile how we actually look with a skinny ideal. The teenagers I visit struggle with feeling ugly because they are overweight – and often with being told outright by people at school (and even sometimes by family) that they are ugly because they are overweight.

Appalling as this is, it is possible (although difficult) to detatch ourselves from this. It is possible to be comfortable with how we look and to be confident that we ourselves are people worth knowing. I think the second reason we feel ashamed of our weight is less obvious, but somehow worse, because it strikes overweight people at a less superficial level: We feel ashamed of our weight because we feel that people judge who we are by our weight.

How often have you heard jokes about the fat person sitting in front of the TV eating too much chocolate, cake, fried chicken, pizza etc? Even now, people can’t help feeling it’s a little funny because we believe we recognise some grain of truth in there: overweight people are lazy, overweight people have no self-control, overweight people are unhealthy and food-obsessed.

Overweight people often do have a somewhat (at least) unhealthy relationship with food and some do struggle to be as active as they ideally should. The problem is that people who are not overweight also often eat unhealthily and are more inactive than they should be. Genetics and life circumstances (such as having had children or a medical condition) play a role in how much fat our body stores, which means that some people are “lucky” and their body doesn’t give them away when they have any unhealthy habits.

My point here is not with actual healthy habits, it’s with the perception that overweight people are more lazy, gluttonous, undisciplined etc. than people who are not overweight – and peole who are not overweight have more self-control, success, organisation, energy etc. than overweight people. People look at us and they judge who we are by our appearance – or, at least, it feels like people judge us – and soon we start to believe the negative perception of ourselves and others. We believe that the thinner people have better qualities than us. The reality may be that an overweight person is no worse in their habits than anyone else – in fact, they may even be more mindful of being healthy than some because they are overweight. Nobody can actually tell from the outside the true merit of a person.

Yet, if we are obviously overweight (or if we think we are obviously overweight), then we feel a shame about who we are beyond our attractiveness to others.

The one and only problem with being overweight should be our health and, in reality, we should be measuring our health by much more than just weight. We should be measuring it by our fitness, our nutrition and the resilience of our bodies (e.g. immunity) and many not-overweight people would fail those measures. It is just sad that we feel our weight cancels out all of the educational degrees we have earned, the job skills we have gained, the relationships we have forged, the positive attributes we possess and reduces us to: lazy, undisciplined, gluttonous…

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September Challenge: Drop Sweet Treats/Add Positive Health Activities

Spring has sprung a day early in Melbourne* and it seems like the perfect time after a long break to begin a new challenge: a challenge to add more healthy activities and drop the sweet treats. Not just for a week, mind you, but for a whoooole month!

I had big plans for my health in 2013, but have failed dramatically. Although I’ve tried very hard for the past few years to be healthier, fitter, more confident, less stressed, I’ve really struggled to maintain any of it**. This year I felt more optimistic – until I started getting migraines all the time and catching every cold that went around. Being ill so much has put me far behind in my Honours thesis that I have little time and energy for anything else.

In February, still motivated, I forked out more money than I could really afford on buying myself a gym membership for my birthday. Two days later I caught a summer cold and have just been piling on the weight ever since – and I mean stacking it on!

I have never gained so much weight in such a short amount of time – and I have never weighed near this much in all my life!

I think that I have spent the past four or five years feeling self-conscious about being a overweight, but this is the first time I that I just feel undeniably fat. There is nothing I own and nothing I can buy to wear that can cleverly hide this anymore. I had thought I was unconfident about my body before, but it’s amazing just how embarassing and shameful it feels to have everyone able to see clearly how much weight I have gained.

Considering the year so far, I am not confident that I will be able to turn this around any time soon. Oh, and I’m currently struggling through yet another cold!

Yet something in my bones is telling me that now is the time to set myself a new challenge. A challenge that is strict and slightly ambitious while being realistic and very manageable – even if I get sick again or have to go into a thesis-writing cocoon.

This month I am going to add 20 minutes of some positively healthy activity each day. I wanted to just commit to exercise, but I realise that I am destined to fail that one. I know that there will be days when I am at uni and work from so early to so late that I will come home with barely enough engery left to make dinner. I hope that I will stay well, but I also have to prepare for catching the next cold that floats around (and the one after that and the one after that).

I have to take into account what I can still positively achieve even when I am exhausted, time-poor or ill. Even on those days, I want there to be something positive that I have done for my health. “Positively healthy activity” will include anything from aerobics and walking to meditating and yoga. It can be doing my physio back stretches or dancing around my bedroom. It is anything where I am spending 20 minutes (and perhaps not even 20 minutes all at once) focusing on my body and my wellbeing. (Although admittedly, I hope that for many of the days I will manage to do some exercise.)

This month, I am going to drop those indidious “sweet treats” from my diet. Lollies, ice cream, cookies…and especially chocolate, which I have consumed ridiculously callously this year! I’m in a toxic relationship with chocolate. It makes me feel so good and yet so bad at the same time. I feel horrible after eating it and I know it’s bad for me, and yet I just keep coming back for more!

So I’m allowing myself two “sweet cheats” this month: (homemade) chocolate milk and hot chocolate (cocoa). I don’t find that sweet drinks make me want more sweet things, as sweet food always does. I feel I need to build in a back-up plan for the danger times when I begin to crave chocolate, such as when I have migraine.

When I was kid, I loved playing with old business diaries or school worksheets and pretending to work in an office or as a teacher. The joy came from playing with the stationery and pretending to do official stationeryish things. I don’t think there should be any new project started without some kind of pretty organisational chart to mark off! (Mine will be in Excel, and the month will gradually change to pretty colours as I mark off each successful day.)

It will be so nice to feel good about my habits again rather than ashamed. Tomorrow will be the first of 30 days of feeling good about my healthy habits!

*Although it’ll probably descend into Winter again multiple times before finally setlling on just being hot around the end of November. And then it will rain at Christmastime.

** I’m proud to say, though, that I have felt more organised while doing my Honours studies this year and feel that all my DO/AO efforts in the past have helped me.

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Drop One/Add One for 2013

2013 will be a Big Year for me and so I do not know how I will use DO/AO. After a year away from study, I am returning to complete my Honours year of my Bachelor of Psychological Science. For those who don’t know, Honours is a bonus year of a three-year undergraduate bachelor degree. I had to get pretty good marks to be accepted into it (I’m still pretty proud). For the first time since returning to university (at age 27, I’m now 32-and-four-days) I will be properly full-time, and I will be responsible for a research project of my own.

I will be continuing to work at my research job, as the hours are fairly flexible and usually outside school hours (as I am mostly visiting our adolescent participants at their homes). I may continue some of my relief teaching, but this will be much harder to fit into my uni schedule.

I am expecting a busy and stressful year!

I suspect that I won’t have mental space to really focus on weekly DO/AO challenges. I’ve been learning a lot while doing DO/AO and one thing I now know is that I’m better when I don’t split my attention among too many projects because I flit from one to the other and don’t do any of them properly. I do intend to try to keep blogging, because another thing I’ve learned is that blogging keeps my mind less cluttered and stressed, but I don’t know how much of the blogging will be here. I do also intend to try to put into practise a lot of the things I have learned about managing my time, my stress, my tasks and my fitness. If I can get through this year without being completely overwhelmed then I think I will have come a long way!

For now, you can expect an occasional post about anything related to DO/AO challenges, health, organisation, fitness, weight loss, positivity, emotional wellbeing, psychology and general lifestyle.

By the way, some of you may be interested to know that my Honours research project this year will be in the area of Autism. I will help out with a larger PhD project following a cohort of toddlers at high risk for Autism (because they have an older sibling with Autism) and will carve myself a smaller research question from this data.

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Week 44 Review: Crashing and hiding – and what I’ve learned.

Hello Readers (if there are still any of you reading)!

I would like to apologise for disappearing last year. I stopped writing for a few weeks because I got a bit sick, but really I found it hard to get started again once I’d stopped.

This was particularly the case because my last DO/AO challenge was such a positive, ambitious one for me (focusing on really getting lots and lots of exercise) and, although it started well, it ended up with me crashing and burning. I didn’t push myself hard at all by the standards of fit people, but I definitely pushed myself too hard for my own level. It happened to coincide with an unexpected and inexplicable bout of insomnia, and the combination meant that I ended up succumbing to the virus of the moment and I’ve struggled to get myself back on track ever since.

Once I had the energy back to write, I didn’t really know what to write about that week. I had wanted it to be such a positive week and I ended up falling back into old, bad health habits directly after it. I don’t think I wanted to be negative and I don’t think I really wanted to admit that all of my DO/AO efforts that year had resulted in nothing much. I always try to be very honest here, and I didn’t really know what to say about that week.

I still don’t really know what to say! It was a set-back, a big set-back. On reflection, it probably didn’t need to be as big a set-back as it was. If I’d written about it fairly soon, I think I could have refocused on returning to healthier habits. I don’t think I’d realised how much this blog was keeping me accountable. I also find it far too easy to forget how much this blog helps me work things out in my head. Even when I think I know what I’m going to type here, the process of thinking out how to write it seems to help me reflect and realise things.

As I’m typing this, I’m realising that, by not acknowledging here that my healthy habits were slipping, I was giving myself permission to let them slip. Even if nobody reads this, the act of writing it and publishing it means that I have to explicitly acknowledge it to myself.

It also means that I can forgive myself and stop making it a shameful thing. Isn’t this the problem that a lot of us who struggle with our weight have? We slip, almost inevitably we slip. It could be because we get sick or for some other reason – perhaps we suddenly get very busy, or get a bit of an emotional battering. Once we slip, though, something seems to happen in our psyche that switches on all of the old habits and we quietly, secretly, shamefully give ourselves permission to once more ignore the treadmill and buy chocolate.

I need something that helps me to bounce back once I slip and to keep the slippage to a minimum. It’s not enough to know that I would feel better if I was doing healthier things and it doesn’t help for me to hide that I slipped or pretend to myself that it’s alright to stop trying.

I do feel ashamed that I slipped for so long and that I’m still in that mode. I also feel ashamed that I did not write this when I was in the middle of the worst and really struggling. Then, I would have been doing something positive when everything about my body and my circumstances was against me. Now, although getting back to healthier habits will be a struggle, I feel that I’ve already taken a few steps back up that hill. It’s a long climb, but the air’s fresher and view better already.

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