Baby steps

So I’ve now publicly confessed that I’ve become somewhat more relaxed about sticking to some of the healthy life choices I’d been succeeding with, and have had a good hard look at why it might be a good idea to make some changes to get things back on track (she writes with a glass of wine in one hand).

Good. Recognising that there’s something not right and, very importantly, identifying why I need to fix it is a good first step. But now I actually have to do the hard work, decide what I’m going to do and (shudder) do it!

But where to start?

There are loads of areas I would like to have better habits in, but I know if I try to change everything at once, I’m not going to succeed. It will be too much in too short a time. There’s some reason out there in brain research world about why this is. It’s something to do with our caveman brain getting very agitated if things change too fast, and sabotaging our efforts because Change = Danger. So, the theories go, we have to trick caveman brain into thinking it’s safe by making only very tiny changes that don’t register with it.

If this is right, the baby steps approach is in order. And absolutely no stepping on the cracks, because caveman brain would notice that kind of dangerous behaviour and step in to try and keep me away from danger.

A concept I’ve read about in several places when you’re contemplating trying to make a change is, rather than looking at what you want to do, to ask yourself who you want to be, and then ask yourself what that person would do.

Gretchen Rubin refers to this in her book Better Than Before as “the Strategy of Identity”. The basic idea is that: “Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity”.

Ms Rubin gives an example of a way she changed her own thinking:

For years I thought of myself as someone who “hates exercise”, but at some point I realised that I hate sports . . .  I don’t mind exercise .  . .  Thinking of myself as someone who “enjoys exercise” allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.

Neat hey.

I looked at the main habits that are causing me concern – the afternoon snacking, the extra glass or two of wine every night, and the late nights – and I considered who I wanted to be in relation to those habits. This is what I came up with:

  • I am someone who doesn’t regularly eat food with refined sugar.
  • I am someone who doesn’t drink alcohol at home during the week.
  • I am someone who gets 6-7 hours of sleep a night.

Oooh! Dotpoints! This is serious.

I think that if I tried to become that person in one big swoop, caveman brain would notice and would strongly resist, and I’d fail. Again. So I’ve decided to be that person on Mondays. The rest of the week, caveman brain can stay safe with the familiar.

(Maybe I need a name for caveman brain, which is looking out for my best interests and keeping me safe by making change so damn hard, so that we can become friends. I know it’s just doing what it was programmed to do and thinks it’s acting in my best interests. I mean if I was suddenly jumpscared by a tiger, caveman brain would be right there trying to save me.)

So now, what would dotpoint person do on a Monday?

She would make sure she has a nice healthy snack on hand so that when she gets the after lunch craving, she has something else available. (*Puts almonds on shopping list.*)

She might also think about taking all the cash out of her wallet when she goes out, so it’s slightly more difficult to buy the item in question. (She has a reluctance to EFTPOS small amounts, which might turn out to be a useful thing for this situation.) She also might decide not to walk past any tempting shops when she goes out at lunch time (including a certain clothes store).

James Clear refers to the practice of setting up your environment in a way that will support your desired (healthier) habits as “choice architecture“.

Having succeeded at not indulging in the afternoon, our hero would feel pretty good when she got home. (OK, hero might be overstating things a bit. She resisted eating cake. She didn’t save someone’s life.)

Yep, today she’s someone who doesn’t eat refined sugar. The same someone also doesn’t drink on a school night, but by the time Monday evening comes around, she’s tired and would quite like to relax with an alcoholic beverage. However, she knows that one leads to two leads to three leads to staying up late and being exhausted in the morning.

Knowing the flow-on effect of one drink on her ability to be someone who gets 6-7 hours of sleep, she also has to be someone who doesn’t drink. She has learned about choice architecture, and so she thoughtfully set up her teapot, tea and cup near the kettle, which she filled up before she went to work in the morning. They’re all there, making it easier for her to make the choice to drink tea rather than beer.


She sits with her tea and writes in her journal.

And when her 9.30 pack up alarm* goes off, she doesn’t have half a glass of wine left that inevitably seems to get refilled, or the decreased will power that alcohol appears to inflict on her, and she actually packs up and gets to bed by 10pm.

A successful mission.

These are the smallest of baby steps. In isolation, this is no big achievement. It will only benefit me if I keep being this person every Monday. I’ve already noticed how much better I feel on a Tuesday when I’ve had more sleep than I get on other nights. Wednesday morning me wants to be like Tuesday me, so Tuesday me will have to have almonds instead of cake and herbal tea instead of beer, and will have to go to bed on time. And within a few weeks, I’ll be that person I want to be without caveman brain Betty having noticed.

It sounds easy. I’m sure it won’t be. So, in the spirit of trying new things out, this is an experiment to find out if thinking about who I want to be rather than what I want to do is an effective way to change a habit.

If you think this might be a helpful strategy for a habit you want to change, tell me about it in the comments, and we can cheer each other on.

Who do you want to be?

* The packup alarm is supposed to remind you that you need to be getting up in 6/7/8 hours, and that it’s time to pack up, turn your screens off and go to bed. I have several of them. I ignore every single one and carry on. (Bedtime alarms really is a thing. Google “bedtime alarm”.)

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Cold weather blues

Cold weather blues
Adelaide, Australia

Adelaide, Australia


Us, when planning the holiday: “Let’s go in winter. Then there won’t be too many people around.” Enter the worst storms in the region for 30 years. An excellent plan indeed.

We could hear the wind whistling down the corridor of the hotel last night, and the wild weather continued this morning. We hadn’t planned on driving anywhere after we arrived yesterday until it was time to go to the airport, but the weather was so bad we couldn’t face walking around all day. We drove out to Glenelg to have a look at the beach, and I wasn’t even prepared to get out of the car for a photo. If you know me, you will know this was hardcore weather.

Having very little idea of what might keep a nine year old amused (museums and art galleries were out), we took a trip to one of the visitor centres (after having recaffeinated), where the staff gave us a few ideas.

We had a wander through the Rundle Mall and I was quite taken with the four pigs. Apparently they’ve been there since 1999, and were the winning entry in a national sculpture competition when the mall was being upgraded. They are the work of South African-born and Sydney-based sculptor Marguerite Derricourt. The title of the work is “A Day Out”.

The weather had improved, so we took the car back to the hotel and grabbed beanies and rain coats before heading back out. The receptionist asked us if we were sure we wanted to go out. “Pfft,” we said, “We’re from Tasmania. This is nothing!” She was probably crossing Tasmania off her travel wish list as we bravely went outside, Kramstable in shorts as usual.

The Adelaide Central Market is in between Grote and Gouger Streets (I just wanted to write “Grote Street” somewhere. That is the best street name ever.) It was our first stop. I love the story of its first day: “On 23 January 1869 at 3.15am, a small but noisy procession of market gardeners found their way from the East End Market to the site between Gouger and Grote Streets. In only a few hours about 500 purchasers quickly bought out the entire stock of goods for sale, so that for those hurrying to the scene of activity after 6.00am, there was nothing left to buy. . . . Today the Adelaide Central Market is home to 80 stalls and is visited by more than 8 million people a year.”

We wandered round there for a while taking in the sights and smells, before heading back out onto the street. Gouger Street is home to Chinatown, but in a block full of Asian restaurants, who else but Kramstable would choose to have pizza for lunch in an Italian restaurant.

After lunch we made our way back to the Victoria Square/Tarntanyannga tram stop to catch the free tram a couple of stops closer to town. This is Adelaide’s only tram service and it runs out to Glenelg, with the main zone in the city being free to travel in. We’d seen some information about the Alpine Winter Village that was set up on the Torrens Parade Ground. The man at the visitor centre hadn’t known a lot about it, other than there was ice skating, so we thought we’d have a look. Really all that was missing was snow. And, you know, Alps. But it looked like it would be a fun little precinct to hang around in and imbibe winter beverages and eat winter food. A bit like Winterfeast. We wandered through the little market, which featured local craftspeople, and stopped for a drink in the Après Ski Lounge.

There were piles of woodchips being shovelled in all the time to try and keep the ground as dry as possible. None of us was game to try ice skating! On the way back to the city we stopped to have a look at the Boer War memorial.

Dinner tonight was at Nola, which is (among other things) “a New Orleans inspired dining bar with a focus on Creole and Cajun soul food, a curated selection of Independent and Craft Beer on our 16 taps”. We’d googled craft beer bars and this came up. It’s in a slightly hidden section of laneways off Rundle Street, so it was a bit of a walk from our hotel and ended up being a bit harder to find than we’d thought (but on the plus side, this made it one of only two days on the whole holiday I met my step target). But it was totally worth it!

Who would have thought Brussels Sprouts could be (a) a main dish and (b) edible? Everything about this place was fantastic and now I want to come back and spend a week in these laneways.

I’m looking forward to going home tomorrow. If we get there. Winds permitting. And I think I’m done with driving holidays for a while. I’d like to take some time to explore a place or two instead of rushing from town to town. I’ve loved everything we’ve seen – and I’ve really enjoyed it all – but I think next time I want a slow ride.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

Don’t go chasing waterfalls
Apollo Bay, Australia

Apollo Bay, Australia


Today the road trip began. We said goodbye to the in-laws after breakfast and hit the road for the start of the Great Ocean Road: Torquay, surfer town. We stopped at Soul Fuel Cafe for coffee and, after a quick stop at the tourist centre, drove to Bells Beach, which we felt we had to go to because it’s, like, famous.

Did I mention it was raining? Sideways? Well it was, so it was perfect beach weather.

It rained all day as we made our way along the road. We went through Anglesea and stopped in Aireys Inlet to have a look at the Split Point Lighthouse. We decided not to do the tour and didn’t get out of the car in the end. What we saw of it looked nice. The plan is to have a look at Cape Otway Lighthouse tomorrow.

We went to the Aireys Pub, home of Rogue Wave Brewery, to sample some of their products. Decided not to stay there for lunch and drove through to Lorne, where we had lunch at the Lorne Hotel.

The brochures said that Lorne had heaps of waterfalls, so we went looking for Erskine Falls after lunch. On the way we stopped at Teddy’s Lookout, which has amazing views. Zoe and I were the only ones to get out of the car, and we braved the 100 metre walk to the lower platform in gusty winds and serious rain just to get a photo.

The rain got heavier the further up the hill we got, and we all decided that no one was going to get out of the car to find a waterfall in that, so we abandoned the waterfall chase and headed back to the highway to find our accommodation, just out of Apollo Bay.

The road was very windy and it was a slow trip in the rain, but the scenery was spectacular. We went through areas where the bushfires had obviously been earlier in the year, and several roadworks.

Our accommodation is beautiful. The views out to the coast are stunning and we had the best meal tonight. I have to admit defeat in the hummous world. Mine is good, but this one was sensational, and I need to know what they put in it! If I had more time (and a lot more money) I’d love to stay here for a week. This is our extravagant night for the trip and it’s glorious!

Jousting with fire

Jousting with fire
Ballarat, Australia

Ballarat, Australia


Our plan for today was to spend the day at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. I can remember going there on my Grade 4 school trip and really enjoying it, so I imagined that Kramstable would love it. Despite him saying how much he liked History as a subject, he didn’t seem especially keen to go and find out what life was like in the actual olden days (as opposed to what he sees as the olden days – when I was a small kid, because we had black and white TV).

Aunty T had said that Sovereign Hill turned into a bit of a mud bath when it was wet, and the morning forecast was for rain, so we decided that Kryal Castle might be a better option. We told Kramstable that we’d be going to “the castle” instead of the goldfields, and he was so excited that we knew it was the right choice.

I’d been there too on my Grade 4 trip and I can remember thinking it was great. I don’t remember much about it, other than the torture chamber, so it was pretty much like going there for the first time. I think there have been a few new things added since I was there – it was built in the early 1970s and underwent a major upgrade in 2013.

First up was a walk through the Dragon’s Labrynth, which tells the story of the castle, the missing children and the dragon Ushnagh. We then wandered up to the archery range where we all attempted (with varying degrees of success) to fire some arrows. I’m not expecting a call up to the Olympic archery squad any time soon.

One of the highlights was the horse trials, which involved two knights on horseback going through their paces, including jumping over some pretty serious flames. It was pretty impressive stuff.

We also made our way through the maze, and watched one of the Wizard’s gorgeous apprentices concoct some fascinating potions from ingredients such as dragon ash, goblin eyes and pixie wings (the dragon ash comes from dragons who have died naturally and turned to ash and it’s taken with the permission of the dragons, and the pixie wings are shed like snake skins – not removed from living pixies).

It didn’t rain but it was cold. I think the max for the day was 8 degrees, so after a couple of hours we’d had enough ( we decided to give the torture dungeon a miss this time) and we headed into Ballarat for lunch. It’s a pretty town with some beautiful old buildings and apparently quite an interesting arty side, so I’d like to come back and spend some more time there wandering around, because that’s my favourite thing to do in new places. Lunch was ok, apart from having to send my meal back because it was cold in the middle. They fixed it, replaced it and were very apologetic, so I was happy with that.

After lunch and a flying visit to the tourist centre (my other favourite thing to do in new places), we took as side trip to Red Duck Brewery, a Mecca for craft beer lovers. It was very hard to limit ourselves because many of their beers are limited releases and so only available for a short time. We were very excited to see that the “Amon Ra”, one of their series of Egyptian bread ales, was there. We bought a nice little mixed stash that will see us through the first few days of the road trip.

And then we headed back to Bacchus Marsh to spend some time with the family. They treated us to a nice dinner and some board games, which was a lovely way to end the day.

30 days alcohol-free: day 30

I think I’m relatively safe in saying that I made it through the 30 days alcohol-free challenge! It’s Wednesday, and it’s yoga night, and I never follow yoga class with a glass of wine. So I can report 100% success! Woo hoo! Challenge 1 is over.

It really wasn’t that difficult to do, with very little in the way of temptation thrown at me over the past 30 days. (She says smugly, after getting through the 30 days.) 30 days of abstinence from one of my favourite things.

If you know Gretchen Rubin’s work, you might be aware of the abstainer/moderator tendencies that she identifies.

For the moderators, the “everything in moderation” theory works very well. Moderators can have one piece of chocolate cake and then stop. Abstainers find it difficult to stop at one, so if they open the bar of chocolate they won’t be able to stop until they’ve eaten all of it. So for abstaners, it’s easier to have none at all. I get the feeling that sometimes moderator types don’t understand this, and can’t figure out why someone would “deprive” themselves, when they could just have one piece. “Everything in moderation.” What people who can moderate might not get is that, while they can stop at one piece, for an abstainer one piece leads to another and another and, fuck it, the whole lot.

I relate to the abstainer tendency for most things. Especially chocolate, which I don’t eat even though I really love it. Especially the 90% cocoa chocolate – and there’s no “it’s so rich I can only have one piece” nonsense for me. I can eat a lot of it. Oh yes.

I find it easier to abstain from sweet things than to have small amounts. When I was kicking the sugar habit I fell off the wagon by having unexpected sweet things dropped into my lap and, as soon as I’d said yes once, the next opportunity (or walk past into the bakery) was easier to say yes to, and the next time was even easier, and I very quickly fell back into eating sugary treats on pretty much a daily basis again.

Now if I say yes to something chocolate or sweet, it’s usually because I’ve thought about it and I’ve made a conscious decision to eat it, enjoy it at the time, and for that to be the end of it. Not to think, “well I had chocolate yesterday, so I might as well have some today as well because I’ve already busted the no-sugar rule”. It’s become easier to regulate this the longer I’ve stayed on the no-sugar wagon.

Gretchen Rubin puts it like this:

If I never do something, it requires no self-control for me; if I do something sometimes, it requires enormous self-control. If I try to be moderate, I exhaust myself debating, “Today, tomorrow?” “Does this time ‘count’?” etc.

This is me. If I’ve made the decision that something is off-limits, that decision is made, there’s no temptation and I don’t feel deprived. (Although I can and do make a rare decision to have a dessert, which I decide deliberately and knowing that this is a one-time special.)

In the same vein, I’ve found it easier to give up alcohol entirely for a month than I think it would have been to have limited myself to one drink a day (for example). The decision was made. No booze. I didn’t have to think about it again. And that’s why I say it wasn’t really hard to do.

So where to from here?

Well I’m not quitting drinking, even though I’ve noticed benefits of giving it up. I never get a hangover, or even that seedy feeling from just one too many. I think I have more energy. I feel less weighty.

What I want to do from now on is stick with my previous intention not to drink on a school night – or at the very least not to drink after I get home on a school night, because, you know, occasional lunches and dinners out might call for a beverage or two. This might be pushing my abstainer personality to the extreme, but I’m going to see how setting limits works.

As I said in a previous post, drinking on a school night was contributing to me staying up too late, so to help me in moderating my intake on the nights I do decide to have a drink, Challenge #3 is starting on 1 July. It’s a work in progress, and I have a bit more work on what that’s going to involve before I can post about it.

But for now (well tomorrow actually, which I think will end up being Friday because no beer on a school night), I’m looking forward to a beverage that’s been sitting in the fridge waiting for me for over three weeks!

Here endeth the challenge.

30 days alcohol-free: day 21

All is well.

This is probably the longest stretch that I haven’t had alcohol since I was pregnant – in 2006. I’m quite liking feeling tired at a one-digit hour rather than keeping myself a bit wired and staying up until midnight or later. This morning I got out of bed at my normal time (this is what Slabs calls the middle of the night) unexpectedly easily because I was looking forward to the new part of my morning routine (learning a new skill – more on that later).

I read somewhere that every hour of sleep you get before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. If this is true then I’m definitely getting my 8 hours sleep now. Haha.

I’ve also noticed I sometimes feel a bit hungry when I go to bed, which I never did if I’d had a few drinks in the evening, and I’m hungry earlier in the morning than I usually am.

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic for Friday evening drinks, particularly after I’ve picked up Kramstable and we’re heading home, and I will admit to occasionally thinking how many days it is until I can have a beer. I even know what I’ll have when this challenge is over. But these thoughts have passed pretty quickly and, on the whole, I don’t feel like this has been a very big deal.

That said, June’s a quiet month and we haven’t gone out much. I wonder if it would be this easy if this was a month with lots of birthdays or social events.

Nine days to go!

30 days alcohol-free: day 11

Day 11 of my 30 days with no alcohol. (I started on 31 May, and it’s 30 days, not #noboozeJune.)

So I survived Saturday, a day I’d normally have several drinks, and Sunday, when we had a pub meal with friends. Everyone else was happy because they had a designated driver. I wondered if I’d feel like I was missing out when everyone else was drinking. I didn’t. It didn’t bother me one little bit. I didn’t pay any attention to the fact that other people were drinking and it was no problem at all. I was a bit surprised by this.

There was no Farm Bar to taunt me on Sunday, and the next day I was back to school nights. The only potential for slipping during the past week was on Thursday, when we went to the winter garden party at Willow Court that was held in conjunction with the opening night of Dark Mofo. There were several local beverage producers on site. I wasn’t super-tempted when we first got there, but then our night was unexpectedly cut short, so any opportunity for me to fail in this challenge was gone.

I’m now one-third of the way through my first challenge, and am about to start on my first more introspective challenge. I’ll be posting my thoughts on the book that has inspired this challenge over the weekend, and then a post about what I’m thinking the challenge will look like before I start it on the 15th.