Exercise motivations and blocks

I’m over halfway through my week of fitness madness and have found some positive things happening as well as some challenges.

In Australia, some of the free-to-air networks have recently added an extra, shopping channel each. I generally just delete these so they don’t annoy me as I flick, but I one of them also shows a few proper programs in between all the selling. This week, I tried out their yoga TV program and I found I loved it. It’s an American program called Yoga For Life. The guy who hosts it seems a little corny at times, but I actually really like the way he runs the class. It begins with an introduction to the featured moves, before the proper class begins. He always has one of his demonstrators modelling “modified” version for beginners and constantly reminds the viewers about good form and not to push themselves if they can’t do everything. I certainly can’t do everything they do!!

I’ve now got three recorded. The one I’ve tried (twice) so far is a yoga flow class, which means it’s a bit more dynamic and flows through the moves more quickly than a more meditative kind. I found it got me sweating very quickly and was a great way to combine some moderate movement with strength and stretching (I loooove the stretching). I don’t get enough strength in. I enjoy the more meditative, slower kind of yoga too – it’s great for flexibility and vitality – but it was nice to feel that I’d also done a bit of a workout.

So I’ve managed for the past two days to go through that yoga class and so some form of more cardio-focused exercise.

I’m challenged today, though. Despite my wonderful exercising and healthier eating, I’ve slept really badly this week. Today, it has all caught up with me. I was going to have a day off the more strenuous type of yoga anyway, but all day I’ve felt just too exhausted for anything. Added to this, I had work in the morning and it’s got quite hot in the afternoon.

In general, I’m happy to give myself a day off sometimes, but these three things (tiredness, work and heat/weather) are things that are often blocks to my exercise. With Summer approaching (and a typical Melbourne Spring seems to involve jumping from Winter to Summer to Winter to Summer, so in a way it’s already here), I’m going to have more situations like this. I’m not really sure yet how to overcome these blocks.

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Week 43 Review: Not as pathetic as I think I am.

When I started DO/AO, one of my first challenges was to drop negativity. This wasn’t very successful, but I did learn a few things. I learned that it’s good to have a plan for new thoughts to focus on instead of the negatives and I learned that changing negative thought patterns is tricky.

So I didn’t go into last week expecting to cure myself of the “Poor Me”s. What I hoped was that I could catch myself thinking this way and focus more on appreciating the moment in particular and the good things about my life in general. In this way, I think the week was mostly successful. I was actually surprised at how often I was feeling sorry for myself, even in little ways. I found that, even when I was doing exactly what I wanted, there was always a part of me feeling sorry for how unfortunate I was. I’m struggling to explain exactly what I feel, as this isn’t exactly a conscious thought process.

It’s like right now. I slept moderately well, I got up early, I have already done some exercise, I have had some healthy snacks and I’ve done a bit of tidying. I’m now enjoying a little bit of peace alone in the house while I sit down and blog. So far, this is my perfect day. Yet I have been feeling that all sorts of things are wrong – I’m dependent on other people going out for some peace, I haven’t been out of the house today, my back is a bit painful, I’m not doing anything important with my day, I am too poor and worry about affording the more expensive healthy food, I don’t like enough healthy food etc. etc. Poor me, my life is such a struggle. I only caught myself doing this about a paragraph into this blog entry. Of course my life has challenges, stresses and pains and of course I have goals for my life that I have not yet achieved, but it is actually not a bad life right now.

So I spent the week trying to catch myself out thinking “Poor Me”. I managed to increase my awareness of the negative thoughts and pause to appreciate a little more. It is a beginning. (Of course, everything did come crashing down around me on the weekend. But I at least made a start and now have something to build on.)

Allowing myself to do things whenever I felt like it was a big risk. I’ve been working very hard to sustain some habits over the past month or so, particularly with regular exercise, and I was honestly quite worried that I’d just sink into a slump again because I wouldn’t feel like ever doing anything.

I think I was right to be worried about that. There were definitely a few days when I did nothing despite some lovely opportunities. I think this knowledge that I was still shirking despite all my focus and efforts recently contributed my mini-crisis on the weekend. To merely let myself wait until I feel like doing something is clearly not the most effective way for me to do things.

Yet I think I was also right to take the risk for the week. I discovered that maintaining a genuine intention to do something without trying to force myself to get it done straight away was often just enough. Knowing that I was going to something – a chore, exercise, a shopping trip, post a letter – meant that a part of me was on the lookout for a good, comfortabe time to do it. It meants I was ready to go when the feeling finally came around. For once, I didn’t spend every day last week feeling bad because I’d spent the first four hours of the day doing anything but the thing I’d planned to do. I didn’t feel bad for doing my relaxing first because I had the intention to do the chore and no longer felt pressure to get it done by a certain time of the morning. In fact, I realised that I had been putting a deadline on my chores that meant I had just given up if they weren’t done by a certain time.

So, I need more than just the a loose “I’ll do it when I feel like it”. I need to be prepared to do whatever it is I intend. I need to have things ready and to still arrange my day to give myself the best chance to do it. What I don’t need to do is to always tie myself down to a certain time and feel guilty and discouraged for not getting it done as early as possible.

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Week 44: Weightloss Special

This weekend I became really discouraged. In particular, I became discouraged about my weight loss goal.

Although I know I mention health-and-fitness-related goals in this blog, I try not to focus too much on weight loss itself. I try to make goals more about attitude, habits and lifestyle and feel that a healthier weight will come about naturally if I have those things working for me. (I do abhor this obsession with losing weight.) But I do really need to lose weight and perhaps it’s time I stopped pretending (I suppose to myself as much as anyone else) that I’m not obsessing about my weight as much as the next person.

For the past few years my weight, which is always hard to keep at a properly healthy level, has been slowly increasing. This year, despite being the Year of Sunshine and Birdies Singing, I seem to have put on weight more rapidly than ever before. I even weighed myself with the special scales I use for my research job, which to fancy computer software, and discovered I’m well and truly in the obese section (even though I think look just overweight).

Finally, though, things seemed to come together and for the past six weeks I’ve been really good at cutting out all but the occasional bit junk food (usually due to birthdays or anniversaries) and exercising at least three times a week. I know this is just a beginning, but I felt that surely dropping so much of the junk food I had been eating (particularly chocolate!) and sustaining so much more activity would have made some difference.

In the past six weeks I’ve put on almost a kilo and a half (3 pounds).

I know that weight isn’t the only measure of getting fitter (although I’m currently too scared to measure my waist circumference) and that weight fluctuates, but I really believed that I had at least halted my weight gain. Instead, I seem to have put on weight even faster than before! Even my clothes can no longer cleverly hide my increasing stomach and rolls of fat.

People, I spent all of yesterday wallowing in giant muddy puddle of despair, despondancy, discouragement and self pity! It made everything in my life feel pitiful and unsatisfactory. I felt that I had no control over anything. I felt like just giving up and going back to not caring – like eating what I liked and not worrying about exercising, because it hadn’t made any difference anyway, had it? I had made a batch of macadamia butter toffee crunch for a family do and was tempted to just sit down and start scoffing it. By the end of the day, I desperately  wished I had more control over things, I started to feel discouraged about feeling discouraged! (Yes, Zaiene’s over-introspection strikes again!) I hated feeling so down and couldn’t seem to shift my mood, which made me more discouraged.

But there was a moment when I felt just a little bit of hope. Staring at the butter toffees, there was a little part of me that decided I just didn’t need them. I walked past them and instead stared out the window and watched the rain. I still felt blue, I still felt discouraged, but I realised that I had moved forward. I was managing to change my habits. Perhaps it is going to be harder than I had thought, but perhaps I just need one week of really feeling that I’ve pulled out all the stops.

So, this week, I am having a Super Weight Loss Week! In other words, I am going to draw together all of the things I have tried in the past. I am going to add everything that I’ve found helpful and drop everything that I’ve found beneficial to drop. I am going to try to have one week of really great exercise and healthy eating. I am going to have one week where all my focus is on weight loss strategies. I won’t judge my success by the scales. I just want to really feel that I’m doing everything I can. I want to turn my week upside down and shake myself up. I want to make this week only about weight loss. I want to remind myself that I do have control and I am making progress.

I am going to add meditative stretching.
I am going to add organising myself at night for the following day.
I am going to add bragging and statements of greatness.
I am going to drop idle snacking and eat proper, filling meals.
I am going to drop wearing slippers and start the day in my sports shoes.
I am going to drop morning procrastination and start my day doing something, even if it just some stretches.
I am going to add permission to fail and focus on just having a try.
I am going to drop worrying about the path and focus on the next step, wherever it takes me (better wander aimlessly than to stand still and experience nothing new).
I am going to add a schedule for the week.
I am going to drop electronic entertainment and add gym visits.
I am going to add rising early.
I am going to drop “Poor Me”s and arrange my circumstances to suit how I roll, which means primarily that I won’t schedule exercise first thing in the morning!

I want to exercise every day. I want to eat even more healthily than I already am. I want to be aware of new opportunities to exercise or new ways of exercising. I want to think of exercising and eating healthily as a whole-day activity (when I can), not just something to squish in around other pursuits. I want to utilise apps and websites that help to keep me accountable and motivated.

I am  very scared that I will set myself up for all of this activity and, when it comes down to it, I will just choose to do something sedentry. But this week there will be less work as it is school holidays, so it is my best opportunity to be really devoted to one thing all week. This is my week to show that I can pick myself up after feeling desperately discouraged.

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Week 43: Drop “Poor Me”s/Add doing things when I feel like it.

If someone asks me how I am and I answer completely truthfully, the reply is always “Fine, but…” There is always some reason that I feel life is a little bit hard. Often it’s because I haven’t had enough sleep or have a slight headache. It could be that money is particularly tight, my back is aching, I’m exhausted from my daily activities, I have not enough work, or I have too much work!

Without being a particularly negative person, there is usually a little part of me that is feeling sorry for myself. I can’t help feeling that my life could be better if circumstances were different. I even feel that things are a little harder for me than other people. I don’t consciouly think this, but I’ve realised that this feeling underlies a lot of my background thoughts. I suppose it seems that other people always look as if they’re coping with things so much better, even though I know not everyone really is. “Poor me,” I think as I sit around being a blob, “My life isn’t how I want it to be”.

The other morning I woke very early, not having slept very well and still with a migraine that I’d gone to bed with. So I got up and did the quizzes and puzzles in the newspaper while listening to some music and eating breakfast. Gradually, my migrainereceded a little. Obviously, little sleep and migraines are nasty! But I spent about half the morning feeling sorry for myself because all of my circumstances weren’t different. “Poor me, if I’d slept better I’d be out doing productive stuff.” “Poor me…”

I do this when teaching, I do this at my research job, I do this at uni, I do this when I’m out doing chores, I do this when I’m at home not doing chores. There’s a constant, whispering stream of “poor me” in the background. I think a part of it is a way of preparing excuses for failure – poor me, things are hard – but, mostly, it’s a habit of feeling dissatisfied when I don’t have to be. I have only realised this week how much I do this, and I think it is time to drop it.

That morning I should have been thinking “Lucky me, I can nurse my migraine quietly.” “Lucky me, I don’t have to work today.” “Lucky me, I have the luxury of doing puzzles until I feel better.” “Lucky me, it’s a mild, sunny morning.”

Not unusually, one of my challenges this week is related to productivity. It’s just a little different from usual. I am going to add doing things only when I feel like them.

This probably seems counter-productive, considering I’ve been focusing so much on getting things done at the start of the day and blocking in times to do things. It seems that I am constantly fretting about how hard it is for me to get myself going, how difficult it is to get out the house, and so I’ve been trying very hard to change that.

However, in my last review, I was reminded of the idea that I shouldn’t work so hard to change my natural self. Of course things have to change if I want to improve my life. I can’t spend all of my time being a blob. However, a lot of my focus has been on forcing me to ignore my natural inclinations and bludgeon my habits into a better direction. It’s like when they used to force left-handed people to do things right-handed, it’s a skill that can be learned, but the naturally left-handed brain still functions slightly differently to a natural right-hander. It’s much simpler just to turn the paper and let people write with the left-hand.

So the question is in what circumstances do I naturally want to go out and do things, or be productive at home? I will hopefully begin to figure this out this week. Then, if I know I need to do something, I can arrange circumstances so that it is less effort and I feel more naturally inclined to do it.

Here’s an example of how this has worked for me in the past: A few years ago I had to problems. The first was that I struggled to plonk myself down and do my reading for uni. The second was that I tended to always be a little late for my Saturday afternoon choir rehearsals. But then I figured out a different routine. I got ready for choir about an hour earlier and drove myself to the river or beach near our rehearsal venue. There, I’d sit and eat my lunch and do my readings, before driving the last few minutes to rehearsal. Even if I ran late (which I invariably did), I was so much earlier that I was never late for choir and I usually got at least fifteen minutes of reading in (better than none at all). I had stopped trying to force myself to sit in my bedroom and study. I had stopped trying to be ready just at the right time to make it to rehearsal. I stopped trying to make myself into a punctual person or someone who could ignore all the home distractions from study. And it became a pleasure, a little oasis of peacefulness, nature and purpose.

Back then, I wasn’t consciously changing the circumstances to suit my nature, but it shows the value of trying a different approach!

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Week 42 Review: Early yawns and workplace surprises

The aim of getting up extra early this week was to give myself more chance to get out and about instead of slouching around at home. I was completely successful at getting up early. I even found that it helped me get to bed a little earlier most nights. I enjoyed the feeling of not having lazed half the morning away in bed.

However, I forgot that depriving myself of a few hours of sleep at the start of the day is not conducive to producing a day full of energetic activity! I was sooooo tired all week! It was such a struggle to feel like doing anything very much and, when I did, it was usually in the afternoon. There was one day when I got myself out for an unusual morning walk, which is supposed to make one feel amazingly energised and positive, right? Well, I found that everything was stiffer in the morning, that the walk was so much harder than my normal afternoon walks, that the sun kept getting higher and warmer as I kept getting warmer from walking. By the time I got home, I felt exhuasted and stiff and hot and grumpy!

Last year I considered the idea that I should stop trying so hard to change myself and instead change my circumstances to suit me. While I still see huge benefit in getting up early (not least because Daylight Saving Time is approaching and I’ll be forced to rise an hour earlier, anyway!), this week has forced me to realise that I truly am no longer an early morning person. The idea of getting things done at the start of the day and relaxing for the rest of the day is appealing. If I really am better at getting things done from the middle of the day onwards, though, then it’s time to stop expecting things of myself in the morning but failing and start planning my day around later productivity.

I forgot about not negatively comparing myself to others at work! While I wasn’t obsessively drawing comparisons, I wasn’t on guard against those fleeting thoughts. (The ones where I wonder if colleagues think others are better at the same job than I am, or whether they think they would do it better themselves. The ones where I simply wonder if I’m far below par.) I was a little lucky, I think, that I wasn’t having bad days and those thoughts weren’t very prominent.

Yet something amazing happened, something that I really wasn’t expecting! I found other people positively comparing me to others! Even when it was about a small thing, it was such a surprising and reassuring feeling. Yes, it made me feel proud. I am usually too self-conscious to unashamedly share my proud moments, so for once I will indulge myself here.

Occasion #1 was at the school where I usually do casual relief teaching. I was talking with two teachers and the newer of them commented that I was apparently the Super-CRT. I demurred, not really sure that everyone thought very much of my teaching. The other teacher jumped in, though, with immediate agreement. “Whenever there are a lot of us away,” she told the younger teacher, “We always fight over who gets to have Zaiene take their class!” The discussion then moved on to the bad CRTs that they had experienced.

Occasion #2 was at my research job. Recently, one of the other research assistants and I have been calling secondary schools to tell them of our study and recruit participants. We’ve had long lists of schools to get through. I hate making phonecalls. I always feel awkward and silly and anxious. Luckily, I’m a good actor, and a good speaker (fairly essential in a teacher!) and have managed to plough through. I always felt pressured, however, because the other research assistant is so calm, so pleasant, so efficient, so unphased by things like this.

But then, last week, my boss gave me the other research assistant’s list and asked me to contact some of the people he hadn’t managed to reach or get a response from. (Not in itself unusual, as we generally help each other out.) However, my boss made a fleeting comment that perhaps I would be more successful with those than he was. I responded jokingly with a quip about using some of my Zaiene magic on them, but immediately felt that I’d perhaps sounded too cocky. I was by no means very confident about the success I’d had with my own list.

My boss surprised me by agreeing! She even referred gently to the trouble the other research assistant had been having with positive responses. I was so relieved that I wasn’t inadequate in my role! Even more, it felt amazing to know that my boss had such confidence in me and that she even felt I could be the more successful worker. (I must note here that our roles are not in any way competitive and neither I nor my boss actually think the other research assistant is anything but capable and nice. It’s just unusual for me not to negatively compare myself, let alone positively compare!)

I think what I liked best was that I felt it was my other traits – not efficiency or capability – that really made me more successful. I often worry that I lack quite the level of organisation, detail-orientation and proactiveness needed to be successful. I feel that my strengths are things like being friendly, caring about people or being thoughtful, and I have usually felt that these are the less-useful strengths in most work. Now I feel as if those qualities were the key to my success. My genuine friendliness, my warmth, even at times my ability to sympathise are the only things I can think of that could have made any difference. Perhaps I have dismissed them largely because I take them for granted. They are not skills I have had to acquire and so I have not felt that they could count towards tangible success.

Now I’m beginning to feel that, perhaps, I don’t have to spend so much time wishing I was naturally more efficient, more adventurous, more precise, more confident. Others who have these traits naturally may not be more successful than I will. The traits I have naturally will count for at least as much!

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Week 41 Review: Out with the television and in with the treadmill

There’s never enough time! It always seems to disappear. I often feel as if I’ve been constantly occupied and yet nothing has been done. Nothing gets done, but somehow I don’t feel as if I’ve been relaxing, either!

Enter electronic entertainment. Or, rather, exit electronic entertainment!

There’s something insidiously ongoing about using things like the internet or television as a way of relaxing. Somehow, by simply replacing electronic entertainment with a hobby such as reading, I gained time!

I seemed to actually notice time passing, rather than looking dazedly around and discovering half my day has disappeared. I would have thought that passively watching television was more relaxing than reading, but I actually found things where I had to be a little more interactive, whether it was reading or writing or doing puzzles, actually left me feeling more relaxed and refreshed. An hour of reading feels like an hour of putting in rest and relaxation and entertainment. An hour of the internet somehow merely feels like a hour lost.

I also felt less tied down with these hobbies. It seems easier to put a book down for twenty minutes in order to do a chore, or even to take it with me. I often didn’t even want to spend three hours straight on any non-electronic hobby. Time seemed to open up before me with many options for how to fill it. Even the evenings felt less like being on Death Row, with bed time drawing ever closer (not that I dislike going to bed, but it means falling asleep and then the next conscious moment it is time to get up and go to work). Three hours in the evening felt like a long time until bedtime.

Going to the gym was an interesting challenge, because it seemed to be a challenge about fitness, but was actually more about other things. I’ve been really proud of how, since I began Drop One/Add One, I’ve improved at tackling things that might not go perfectly. It is still a big challenge, though. Add to this my love of sedentry pursuits and a genuinely small reserve of energy, and it is sometimes so hard to get myself out of the door.

So, my first challenge with adding even two little visits to the gym was to overcome my doubts and worries. These are basically the voices in my head that go through all of the possible negative and embarassing things that could happen (What if I say something stupid? What if the gym is full? What if it’s really intimidating? What if I break some unknown gym etiquette? What if I can’t use the treadmill for as long as I want to?). I really had to work at reminding myself to accept that things might not go perfectly and to feel comfortable with that. I didn’t need to figure out how to avoid every possible negative scenario before it was safe to leave the house because I knew the answer to those What if? worries: Things would still be OK.

My second challenge was to not be lulled by the comfort of the armchair and the interest in my more sedentry hobbies. At the moment, I genuinely find it rare that I feel fully awake and energised (which, of course, is one of the reasons I want to exercise more), so it’s easy to find myself lured to the computer to write or read blogs and then gently overcome with a sense of tired contentment. Even getting out of the chair to get ready seems like hard work. This is a huge challenge for me, always inextricably combined with all of my thoughts about how things mightn’t be perfect (which is an intense and tiring mental activity in itself). If I hadn’t committed to the two visits to the gym this week, I genuinely wouldn’t have got there.

But I did! I made it to my two visits! Of course, everyone at the gym was lovely and friendly, the technologically nifty treadmills were great fun, the gym etiquette was spelled out and there was a reserving system for the treadmills. I also found walking on treadmills much less of a strain on my body’s niggles than walking the streets, and was able to maintain quite a fast pace for most of the time.

The second visit was just as successful, but – despite my positive experience the first time – I had to overcome the same challenges all over again to get myself there! (In fact, I was so focused on exercising but reluctant to go to the gym again that I did more home exercising/neighbourhood walking as the lesser of two efforts!) Of course, I was glad I went and left wondering why I’d made such a big deal about it!

So, I’m fixed, right? I will never again avoid going to the gym?

Of course not! This inability to get things done is so deeply entrenched that I expect it will be a battle to get the gym or anywhere else for a long time to come. But I wouldn’t even have got this far without Drop One/Add One.

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Week 42: Drop Negative Self-Comparison/Add Rising Early

I’m feeling somewhat competent – even confident – with work at the moment. It seems now is an advantageous time to really try to drop those negative self-comparisons with which my brain likes to oppress me. Not the task of only a week, I know, but if I can manage a week it will make a big difference.

I will have at least two days of teaching, some research-related work at the hospital and a research home visit or two. Work is one of the main places where I fall prey to these negative comparisons. Even when I’ve had a good day, I see others at work or even imagine others at work and worry that I’m not as good.

This week, I am going to strengthen the self-believe I’ve been working so hard to build recently. It is not a week where I anticipate having any extremely stressful or challenging work tasks, and so it is a good chance for me to completely drop any thoughts that I am not as capable as others. In fact, I may even be able to just enjoy being myself!

I used to feel that morning was my most productive time of the day, but somehow that has changed. When I attended First Uni (my Arts/Teaching degree) ten years ago and had an assignment due, I would wake early and lie in bed mulling over my assignment. After a while, I’d just have to get out of bed and make a start while all my thoughts were fresh. And so, in the quiet freshness of the morning I’d work away solidly for many hours. Pulling “all-nighters” never worked, as my brain seemed to switch off after 9 or 10pm.

These days, my brain is still no good for things like essay writing after about 9pm, but it also seems to hate to get going in the morning. I noticed that particularly this week, when I really wanted to get out and be active, but instead consistently chose a sedate, indulgent start to my day.

So, this week, I want to get up early every day. The days that I am working in the morning I’ll be forced to rise very early anyway. It’s those other mornings when I’d love to lie in bed and then slouch around the house for a few hours that I’d like to force myself up. I know this might be a bit unpleasant, but I’m not going to try for unreasonably early. I want to be up around 8am, 8:20am at the latest. If I can get into the habit of rising early, then I can perhaps take the hour or that I seem to need at the moment to get going and still start doing something with my day before lunchtime rolls around!

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