Accountability – Week 7

Here are last week’s results.

8 glasses of water 4/7
12,000 steps 7/7
10 min morning walk 7/7
Meditate 7/7
Breathing (3x a day) 2/7
No sugar 6/7
No alcohol (M-T) 3/4
Screens off 9.30 (M-T) 3/4
Bed by 10.00 (M-T) 3/4
Bed by 11.00 (F-S) 1/3
Daily gratitude 7/7

This is okay. It’s looking a lot better than this week’s table is going to look. I don’t think I’ll say any more!

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More accountability

After saying I was going to post my habit tracker once a week, I promptly forgot the next week.

Tsk.

So here are the next two weeks of my faltering progress:

21-Aug 28-Aug
8 glasses of water 7/7 7/7
12,000 steps 7/7 7/7
10 min morning walk 6/7 7/7
Meditate 7/7 7/7
Breathing (3x a day) 5/7 7/7
No sugar 7/7 7/7
No alcohol (M-T) 3/4 4/4
Screens off 9.30 (M-T) 3/4 4/4
Bed by 10.00 (M-T) 3/4 4/4
Bed by 11.00 (F-S) 3/3
Daily gratitude 7/7 7/7

See how drinking on a school night led to staying up late on a school night? (They were the same night.) But it was only one night and I got back on track the next night.

I’m also trying to go to bed a bit earlier on weekends so that I don’t lose too much sleep. The Sunday night one should probably be 10 pm rather than 11 pm because Mondays are the days I’m most tired. So that’s my next goal. I just have to remind Sunday evening me what Monday morning me feels like when I’ve stayed up too late.

Accountability

Since my last post seven weeks ago – I can’t believe it’s been that long – I’ve been quietly plugging away at maintaining some habits that are slightly healthy.

The no sugar plan is going well. Apart from a dash of maple syrup on my Sunday morning pancakes, which I had to make to use up the excess sourdough starter from my bread-making experiments, I’ve been added-sugar-free for over two months now. (*applause*)

I’ve also been doing well on the “I don’t drink alcohol on a school night” and “I go to bed by 10 pm on a school night” habits too. I’ve built these habits by using Gretchen Rubin’s “Strategy of Identity”, which I talked about in this post.

(If you don’t want to go back and read it, the TL:DR version is, “Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, rethink your identity”. Thus: I am a person who doesn’t drink alcohol on a school night and goes to bed by 10 pm. Hooray!)

I finally got back into walking in the mornings. About two months ago I got a cold, followed by a sinus infection and I was out of action for almost two weeks. It was horrible. I can’t remember the last time I was that unwell. I spent most of those two weeks in bed, so going out for my morning walks was out of the question. By the time I felt better, the idea of getting out of bed at 5 am to go for a walk didn’t appeal one little bit. It was cold, my bed was warm and I needed to make sure I was completely recovered, so I’d better not start getting up for a walk until summer right?

Yeah, nah.

By the end of July, I was starting to feel like I needed to wrench myself out of the comfortable rut I was in before I got so comfortable I undid everything I’d achieved before I got sick. I drew a line under the previous six weeks and gave myself permission to start again.

My first port of call was (not surprisingly) Gretchen Rubin again and, specifically, her “strategy of monitoring“. She says, “Monitoring . . . doesn’t require change, but it often leads to change, because people who keep close track of just about anything tend to do a better job of managing it.” The theory goes that if you measure what you’re doing, you’ll become more aware of what you’re doing and, if you’re more aware of what you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to control yourself.

So I sat down and thought about the habits I wanted to re-establish: morning walks, regular bedtime, alcohol-free school nights, taking breathing breaks during the day and hitting my 12,000 daily step target (which was easy enough on workdays, but some on some weekends I’d not even been reaching 5,000 steps), as well as some non-fitness related habits. I set up a nifty spreadsheet to track my progress over the month of August and started tracking.

After four weeks, it looked like this:

Habit 24 July 31 July 7 Aug 14 Aug
8 glasses of water 7/7 7/7 7/7 7/7
12,000 steps 4/7 5/7 6/7 7/7
10 min morning walk 6/7 7/7 7/7 7/7
Meditate 7/7 7/7 7/7 7/7
Breathing (3x a day) 7/7 5/7 7/7
No sugar 7/7 6/7 6/7 7/7
No alcohol (M-T) 4/4 4/4 4/4 4/4
Screens off 9.30 (M-T) 0/4 4/4 4/4 4/4
Bed by 10.00 (M-T) 3/4 4/4 4/4 4/4
Daily gratitude 7/7 7/7 7/7 7/7

So this is working well.

I’ve decided that to keep myself accountable I’ll post each week’s chart on here. Then, if you feel so inclined, you can call me out when I miss a day. Or, perhaps more to the point, I’ll feel less inclined to skip a day if I know I have to admit I didn’t stick to a habit.

The second part of the monitoring I’ve been doing is keeping a food log. Ms Rubin observes that we tend to underestimate how much we eat, and I’ve found this to be true in the four weeks I’ve been doing this. I’ve also found that, despite my no sugar regimen, my diet isn’t as healthy as I thought it was.  Sigh.

Because I feel a whole lot more awkward about sharing a food log than I do about sharing my habit tracker, I think I should do it, just because knowing I’m making myself publicly accountable might be enough to reduce the likelihood of me making an unhealthy choice.  Also, it’s a bit of a comfort zone challenge. Remember them? Actually, it’s been just over a year since I did a 30-day comfort day challenge. Maybe that’s something I can dig out and do again too.

Some planning is in order! Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

Spreading our wings

Until this year, I had taken Kramstable in to school every day that I went to work. In his early days at school, I’d stay until the bell went and we’d read stories, look at work he’d been doing, and talk to his classmates, their parents and his teacher.

As the years passed, the time I stayed with him decreased, until by the end of last year I was seeing him to the door of his classroom, and he’d be off. I think by Grade 4, I was one of not many parents who would actually go into the school with their child, but I really liked it. I liked seeing his classroom, looking at what he’d been doing, and catching up with his teacher.

But it was time for a change, and at the end of last year Kramstable said he didn’t want me to come with him to school any more. I knew this was coming, because most of the other kids weren’t being walked into school, but I still felt I like I was losing something that had been a big part of my life for six years.

He said I could walk him to the school gate, so that was OK; I’d still have a chance to go in if I needed to, but I had a feeling that as this year moved on, his drop-off point would get further and further away.

It did, but it happened so suddenly – only two weeks into term – that I’d not had time to recover from not going in with him, before he asked me to leave him at the end of the street.

Ok. That was unexpected.

And last week we’re walking from the bus stop, and we get to the place where Slabs had dropped Kramstable off the day before.

He says, “I got dropped off here yesterday. Bye.”
That’s even more unexpected. I say, “I think I’ll walk with you a bit further.”
We walk on a bit to the next intersection, him skipping ahead as always. We stop and look for cars. I say, “Don’t you want to be seen with me?”
“No,” he says, and starts to cross the road. “Bye.”
“See you this afternoon,” I say, feeling incredibly sad, but also slightly amused.
I watch him cross the road safely, and he’s on his way.
“Bye,” I say to myself.

I know that he has to become independent. I know it’s my job to equip him so that he does become independent. I know I’m not going to walk him to school forever. I’ve always known this, but it’s never been real until now.

Of course he’s not going to want to be around me forever. He’s growing up and, as he grows, he’ll need me less intensely than he has done. And that’s the way it has to be; the same way I needed my mother less as I grew up; the same way every child does.

But he’s been the main focus of my life for so long – over ten years – and it’s hard to accept that this is changing, and changing fast. He has depended on me, and I’ve given as much of myself to him as I’ve had to give.

I feel like I’m bonded to him in a way I can’t imagine being bonded to any other person, because he’s my son. He has made me laugh, made me cry, made me so very grateful and feel so very blessed. I can’t imagine life without him.

It strikes me now as I’m writing this that I’ve spent his whole life making him ready for when he’ll be able to leave me and make his own way in the world, but that I’ve done nothing to make myself ready. It’s a minor thing, leaving him to walk a bit further to school. It’s such a small thing, but it symbolises so much more than that. I wasn’t prepared for how much this would hurt.

The worst thing in the world would be for me to be clingy and to deny him the freedom he needs. To try and stifle his growing independence. He needs to grow his own wings and fly. And while I’m so proud of the young man he is becoming and I love watching him learn and grow, I am also feeling deeply, intensely, painfully his gradual transformation away from the boy he has been. The boy that called me “Mummy”, the boy that would always hold my hand, the boy that was happy for me to come into school so he could show me what he’d been working on.

I cannot, will not deny myself this pain. I acknowledge it. It is real. I accept it as part of the transformation that I too must go through over the next phase of his life from being his provider and his care-giver into a role of adviser, supporter and (I hope) positive role model. Perhaps it hurts so much because it’s such a slow transition that will continue over many years to come. I can’t just rip the bandaid off and have a fully functioning adult before my eyes. I wouldn’t want to be able to do that. We have a wonderful journey still ahead of us.

He’ll still need me, even if he thinks he doesn’t. I treasure every moment he wants to involve me in what he’s doing, perhaps even more so now than when he was younger, because there are fewer of those moments these days, so they start to mean more.

And it occurs to me that, while he is still the centre of my universe, his decreasing reliance on me gives me my own freedom to focus on becoming the person I want to be outside of being “Mum”. So while this awareness doesn’t lessen the pain I feel, at the same time it inspires me and fills me with enthusiasm for how I might create my own future. In loosening the apron strings, I’m making room for my own wings to grow.

As I’m trying to figure out how to end this post without rambling on uncontrollably, I scroll through Twitter. This quote from Maya Angelou appears in my feed:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty”.

It seems highly relevant right now. The destruction of the old, the massive upheaval and transformation, and the eventual recreation into something new and beautiful.

2011 FOLIO 19 Butterfly

Even though there’s no actual end to this transformation – Kramstable won’t wake up one morning and be a butterfly, any more than I will – this quote still rings true in relation to the changes I’m going through. People say that it’s heartbreaking and difficult to let go, but it’s hard to convey to someone else how much it hurts until they experience it for themselves.

I’ve laughed and made jokes about how this has affected me, and have tried to carry on. I think that mostly we’re expected to accept this type of change, because our job is to prepare our children for the “real world”. There isn’t anything in the job description about taking time to reflect on different stages as our children move through them and to acknowledge how we feel.

I know it’s part of the job, but I’m not an automaton, I’m not a position number. I’m a person, I have feelings, and the process of letting go is upsetting me.

I think there’s value in acknowledging any kind of transition like this, rather just sucking it up and pretending we’re ok when we aren’t. This is the first time I’ve sat down and acknowledged how I really feel about it, and I’ve been surprised to find out how much it’s deeply affecting me.

It’s not the first time that a transformation has been painful, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I’m ok with this. I’m grateful to have had an experience in my life that has meant so much to me, that moving on from it hurts this much.

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”.)

I’m struggling

I thought I was doing well in healthy eating and taking care of myself a few months ago. But I’ve slowly slipped back into bad habits that are sabotaging all of that, and I don’t like it.

It seems like every healthy habit I have is hanging there by a thread. After three attempts at quitting sugar, I hadn’t eaten it for months, and I thought I’d kicked the habit for good. But then, after a couple of “just this once” desserts, now I have a cake or sugary snack almost every day after lunch and I don’t know how to stop myself. I look forward to it. If I can get through the morning, I can have a treat. Eating crap was a habit that was disturbingly easy to pick back up.

I get up stupidly early in the morning and walk 20-30 minutes and meditate. I’ve been doing this every morning for over 18 months, but I still struggle to do it every single day. It takes a huge effort to do this – it’s not something I can “set and forget”. To maintain the habit, I refuse to let myself skip a day unless there’s a genuine reason not to do it, because it would be too easy to stop. I’d just miss one day, then another, then another, and the habit that I’ve spent so long to develop would be gone within a week.

I don’t love doing this. I think I’d love to sleep in more. Yet somehow I can hold myself to this obligation, but not the obligation to eat healthily. Why?

I know that a big factor in people’s success in achieving what they want to achieve is having a strong “why”.  A really meaningful and powerful reason for doing it that’s strong enough to override their impulse to not do it.

I can’t find any why stronger than that I want to be an active presence and positive influence in my child’s life for as long as I possibly can. I want to set a good example for him so that he can grow up fit and healthy and not have to battle his weight like I have.

But it’s not all about him. I want to be active and healthy for as long as I can be so that I can keep doing the things I want to do when I’m older, not be confined to a lounge chair full of regrets.

And if these two things don’t  motivate me I don’t know what will.

Yet I still feel like I did when I was 20 and feel like I have this air of immortality.

Logically I know that I don’t have all the time in the world to make the changes I know I need to to maintain my health into the future. I don’t want to be one of those people who ends up on their death bed regretting the things they didn’t do and the opportunities they didn’t take.

I want to turn things around because I’m making a lot of unhealthy choices and I don’t want to do that any more. But the unhealthy choice is usually the easier one.

Why don’t I want to make unhealthy choices any more?

Because making the types of unhealthy choices I am making will be bad for me  in the long term. I don’t want my health to deteriorate when I get older because of choices I’m making now. And I want to give myself the best chance of getting older in the first place!

Why don’t I want my health to deteriorate as I get older?

Because I want to be around for as long as I can be. I want to be physically and mentally able to do exciting things when I retire from work. I want to be around to see my son grow up. And if he has kids, I want to be able to do things with them.

Someone recently described this to me as wanting to be “a rocking Grandma” – if I become a Grandma. Great concept! And if I don’t become a Grandma I want to be a rocking old lady who is active, healthy, energetic, brave, fun and full of adventure for as long as I can.

Actually I want to be that person right now – I don’t want to wait until I’m old. I want to live a life where I can be the best version of me that I can be. I want to be healthy, active and creative. I want to learn and explore, have adventures, and create beauty. I want to be brave, calm and kind. I can’t be that person if I feel tired and uninspired from lack of sleep and sluggish from eating the wrong foods.

IMG_1032

My motivation

I also want to set a good example for my son so that he grows up fit and healthy, not like me with a poor body image and unhealthy relationship with food.

I recently realised that I most likely have had more yesterdays than I have tomorrows – unless I am incredibly lucky – and, unless I make some lifestyle changes now, my number of tomorrows might be even smaller than I think I have.

That means that I’m running out of days where I can say “I’ll start tomorrow”. As I get older, time moves faster and faster, the years all start to blend into one, and the next thing I know it’s another January 1st and I am exactly where I was at January 1st the year before. Yet I still persist in believing that I have time to turn things around, so I don’t have to start just yet. Next week will be OK, because we all know that next week, just like tomorrow, never comes.

I’ve had periods where I’ve thought I’d succeeded. I’ve been able to run 7 km and have weighed 56 kg. I kicked the sugar habit, once, twice and finally (or so I thought) a third time. I know all of this is possible to do because I’ve done it before. But what I have really learned is that we never really succeed – we don’t reach a point where  all of a sudden we are the person that we set out to be. Life is a journey, not a destination. We reach milestones along the journey, and we might know the general direction we are heading in, but we don’t ever get to what we might consider our final destination. Because we don’t become the person we want to be and then stop. We have to keep on being that person, and doing the things that make us that person.

We don’t “become” healthy and then stop. We only remain healthy because we continue to make healthy choices. We don’t “become” creative and then stop. We are creative because we continue to create.

So it’s up to me – to know that if I want to be a rocking old lady with an active and positive presence in my son’s life, I need to put the foundations in place now. If I don’t, one day I will wake up in that lounge chair full of regrets instead of being the rocking old lady I wanted to be.

I have to go back to basics. Again. And what better time to start then now?

Next time: Baby steps towards restarting.

 

 

Looking

I have walked past this tree hundreds of times on  my way to and from work, and I’ve never looked at it.

20170331 Tree in St David's Park 2 IG

Today I was in a go-slow mode and it caught my eye.

I noticed how it wraps around itself, whereas the surrounding trees are straight up and down. I had no idea that trees can be structured so differently. I always thought a tree was a tree was a tree.

It made me wonder how many other things I walk past without ever noticing them or looking at them.

I want to notice things. I want to pay more attention.

While I was walking with Kramstable to school this morning, some workers were in the process of cutting down a very large tree on a street corner. By the time we walked past that corner this afternoon, all evidence of the tree’s existence had gone, apart from the wood chipper and the roadworks signs. Looking across the road, it looked empty, and not quite right, but I couldn’t tell you what sort of tree it was, how big it was or anything about it, or even that there had actually been a tree there. Just that something was missing.

If we hadn’t walked that way this morning and I hadn’t seen the tree being removed, I wonder if I would have even noticed it had gone the next time I went past.

That scares me.

I want to notice things. I want to pay more attention.