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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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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