Silence

Today I picked up a copy of the free magazine published by Penguin Books, underline, which had a feature on a book called Silence: In the Age of Noise by the Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge. I had never heard of Mr Kagge before today, but according to the magazine, he is the first person to walk to the South Pole alone and has also climbed Mt Everest and travelled to the North Pole.

20171126 SilenceI was most fascinated to read that he had explored the underground sewers of New York and he had walked from one end of Los Angeles to the other in four days – slowly, staying in hotels along the way – attracting the attention of the police as he went. In another article I read, he said that the police thought it was really suspicious for someone to be walking around because the only people they saw walking were “crackheads, prostitutes, and crazy people”.

That really blew me away. I cannot imagine a place where walking around was so unusual that the cops would think you were up to something. I love walking and exploring on foot. It’s what I do. It’s part of my identity. A journey like that would have been fascinating. To have taken four days to explore 35 kilometres.

The magazine had an extract from Mr Kagge’s book, which had me captivated from the first word. I need to read this book. I will be going to the bookshop on Monday to see if they have it. The whole extract spoke to me, but two passages really stood out.

“The secret to walking to the South Pole is to put one foot in front of the other, and to do this enough times. On a purely technical scale this is quite simple. Even a mouse can eat an elephant if it takes small enough bites. The challenge lies in the desire.”

As I was reading, I thought that this summed up exactly the struggle I have every day to try and ingrain the good habits I want to have in my life. Technically, it’s simple. Do the thing enough times, day after day, consistently and you build a habit that sticks. But until you’ve done it enough times to make it stick (and the 21-days theory is complete bullshit in my experience) you have to have the desire. And when the desire for another whisky outweighs the desire for a 10pm bedtime, you’re (I’m) in trouble, and the bad habit, rather than the good one, is reinforced.

“On the 27th day I wrote: ‘Antarctica is still distance and unknown for most people. As I walk along I hope it will remain so. Not because I begrudge many people experiencing it, but because Antartica has a mission as an unknown land.’ I believe that we need places that have not been fully explored and normalised. There is still a continent that is mysterious and practically untouched, ‘that can be a state within one’s fantasy’. This may be the greatest value of Antarctica for my three daughters and generations to come.”

This made me think of the desire within Tasmania to “unlock” more of this precious state to commercial ventures that would allow more people to experience our wild places but at the cost of the pristineness of those places. It’s a practical example of the observer principle. Observing something changes its nature. To open up these places to more people changes the fundamental thing that makes them worth seeing in the first place.

(You know I gave in to the desire for another whisky, right?)

I can’t wait to read the book. Silence is something that I crave, and learning to find it as Mr Kagge did “beneath the cacophony of traffic noise and thoughts, music and machinery, iPhones and snowploughs” (maybe not snowploughs) is something I would love to explore more.

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Catching up

So this blog-as-accountability-partner thing isn’t working out as well as I’d hoped and I’ve missed several weeks. The several weeks don’t have much going for them. All those 6/7 and 7/7 weeks seem like a lifetime away, and most of the healthy habits I’ve been trying so hard to put in place are back at 0/7 or 1/7 (on a good week).

There are a few reasons for this, and the thing is that now’s been the time I really should have been looking after myself, going to bed on time, drinking more water and less beer and pausing to breathe. But I can’t change any of that. What’s done is done, and it’s time to move forward again.

Something I’ve been neglecting for a long time has been making stuff. Arty stuff, journally stuff, scrapbooky stuff, writey stuff – just giving myself time to muck around in my room and make something.

A few weeks ago I signed up for a mini class called Creative Sandbox 101, which is a 7-day kickstarter to get people creating. I thought I’d whip through it in seven days. Turns out I was wrong and here I am six weeks later still on Day 4. The story of my life. Sign up for something, begin with enthusiasm, don’t make time for it, don’t finish, feel guilty forever about it. Yep. I can’t even finish a course that is seven days of 15-minute exercises.

This morning I felt better than I have for a long time, physically and mentally. I decided I was going to go for a walk (for the first time in at least three weeks), watch the sunrise and spend the time I would have otherwise spent moping in bed making something.

I did, and it was beautiful. I had breakfast with the boy and then it was time to make something.

201701008 Sunrise 2 IG

After clearing off my desk, it was time to make something.

After dusting up some cobwebs, it was time to make something.

I had a painting stuck to my craft mat. It had been stuck to the mat for months waiting for me to finish it and, at the same time, being an excuse for me not making anything else. It was time to call it done and go make something new. I didn’t want to waste another moment of the day shuffling stuff around my desk and not actually making anything. Action creates more action. Or something like that.

20171008 Taking the picture off the mat

Once I’d removed the picture, it was time to make something. After I’d removed the adhesive residue from the masking tape that had been on the mat, of course.

Ahem. Action creates action.

I started (yes, you read that right, I started) by making a really crappy painting based on an exercise from Flora Bowley’s lovely book Bold Intuitive Painting, which you can find on my Instagram feed if you really want to see it.

Then I went over to the Creative Sandbox 101 website and read up on Day 4’s activity. The activity I chose to do was to make photos of one person (or object) for 15 minutes. To capture different moods and angles. I decided I’d go out and photograph a tree for 15 minutes. I probably could have found one in my backyard, but I decided to make it a bit more challenging and go to the park where there would be people. I feel very uncomfortable

I feel very uncomfortable making photos when there are people around and it’s something I want to get more comfortable doing. I know most people don’t give a toss whether someone is photographing stuff around them (unless they’re photographing the person in question, I guess), and even if they do, what other people think of me is none of my business – but it still feels awkward. So today’s exercise was a two-part challenge. Excellent value for money.

I was sure I’d be safe anyway because the weather was crappy and no one would be at the park, right?

Nice try.

I tried talking myself out of doing it. I couldn’t find a tree I liked. The one I did like was too difficult to access. Wouldn’t people get worried about someone standing round a tree in a park for 15 minutes snapping pictures on their phone? Wouldn’t I be that weird woman who makes photos of trees? (I’m not sure why this bothers me. I’m probably already that weird woman who obsessively photographs 10 Murray Street, so over-photographing a tree is no big deal, right?)

No, no, no, no. You are not getting out of this.

I eventually found one away from the people, though they would have seen me if they’d looked, set the timer and started snapping.

It was an interesting exercise. The tree had lots of cool features and I was interested to see how the bark changed several times moving up the tree. There were little critters in there, things stuck between the bark and the trunk, spider webs, blackberry vines, new growth, lots of bark, some black bits, some interesting shapes. I saw faces! The 15 minutes went quickly and I only made 55 photos in that time. I was expecting more. I don’t know if any of them are any good. I wasn’t thinking much about composition and it was that glary middle-of-the-day light, so probably not. That wasn’t the point of the exercise. The point was to do something and to notice how I felt when I was doing it.

And I felt mixed things. Part of me wanted the timer to go off so I could stop. Part of me wondered if anyone could see me. Part of me enjoyed finding different parts of the tree to photograph, and wondered how old it was and if anyone had ever looked at it closely before. Part of me made me lie down on a log and look at it from that angle. That was actually one of the coolest angles. 15 minutes isn’t a long time, and I didn’t get bored. I enjoyed doing it. I’d do it again.

Maybe next time I will do this exercise with a person. Though getting up close and personal with a person might be somewhat more challenging than with a tree! (Any volunteers?)

 

 

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!

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.

 

 

 

 

No sugar update – day 29

Today is Day 29 of my 30-day reset of not eating sugary snacks and treats. It’s gone surprisingly well.

When I started my mission get back into my no sugar lifestyle, I imagined that I’d slowly cut out one day’s treat over a period of several weeks and that by the end of it I’d be back on track. My first steps were to make sure I had something else to eat in place of my Monday afternoon snack, to remove any cash from my wallet that might make it easy to buy something I didn’t want, should I accidentally wander into a bakery or coffee shop.

After a couple of weeks of this I found that, even on the days I was allowed to have an unhealthy snack, I didn’t want to, so the 30-day reset began. In contrast to previous attempts at this, I’ve found the last 29 days to be quite easy and I haven’t really missed the cakes and chocolate.

I wondered why this was, because in the past it’s been really hard and I’ve struggled.

I think that because I’ve had several long periods where I haven’t eaten sugar, my body knows that this is my “normal”, so once I made the decision to go back to this and started to not eat cakes and chocolate, my body accepted it quite easily. I guess it knows that I am someone who doesn’t eat refined sugar, which is exactly the person I want to be.

I know some people think that cutting out something is a bit extreme and that most things in moderation are okay. The theory goes that if you completely deny yourself something, you’ll feel like you’re missing out and you’ll end up binging on the [forbidden thing], which would be worse for you than allowing yourself to have it occasionally.

Gretchen Rubin discusses this in Better Than Before. She says that some people do better by completely abstaining, because they find this easier than having the [forbidden thing] in moderation – for “abstainers”, having just a bit is almost impossible. Once they have opened the biscuit packet they’ll eat the whole lot. They won’t have one, and put the packet away until tomorrow.

As an abstainer herself, Ms Rubin notes that when abstainers deprive themselves of the [forbidden thing], they “conserve energy and will-power because there are no decisions to make and no self-control to muster”. They don’t have to decide whether to have (or do) the thing, then decide how much of the thing they will have (or do) and finally make themselves stop consuming (or doing) the thing. The decision is already made, and they can go on with their day.

She notes that someone can be an abstainer in relation to some things, but can be a “moderator” – someone for whom “everything in moderation” works well – for others. I might be an abstainer in relation to sugar, but a moderator in relation to alcohol, for example. So I’ll eat the whole block of chocolate, but I can have one glass of wine at lunch time and not spend the rest of the afternoon drinking. Unless I make a conscious choice to.

Ms Rubin notes that successful habit changes involve coordinating multiple strategies, and she gives an example of how she combined abstaining with other strategies to change her eating habits. For me, I can see how I have combined the strategy of abstaining (from sugar) with the strategy of identity (I am a person who doesn’t eat sugar) to change this particular habit. (I mentioned this strategy in this post.)

So this was an easy 30-day challenge for me – but it was only easy because of earlier work I’d done. I imagine that I’ll have more slip-ups in the future, but I hope that this experience of quite easily falling back into a healthy pattern will mean that the slip-ups aren’t frequent and aren’t as long-lived as this one was.

And here’s an unrelated picture of one of my chickens, as I contemplate what my next 30-day challenge will be.

20170701 Chook

30 days – let’s keep going!

About this time last year I started the ambitious project of undertaking a series of 30-day challenges. It kind of worked and kind of didn’t.

Some of the challenges were ideally suited to a 30-day format: 30 days of no alcohol, for example. This was because I had a clear idea in my head of what I’d be doing (or not doing in this case) over the 30 days, and my progress was easy to track. I either had 30 days free of alcohol or I didn’t.

Some of the other challenges were more vague and I didn’t have much of an idea what I needed to do over the 30 days. I didn’t have a plan or anything to measure my progress by. So that part of the project was less successful.

I’ve decided to revisit the idea now. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might remember some of my earlier attempts to quit sugar. I had some success with this, but this year have found my old habits of unhealthy snacking on sweet things have been creeping back in to the extent that resisting sweet snacks and desserts has become almost impossible for me.

I wasn’t feeling very happy about this, or some other elements of my life, so a few weeks ago I sat down and asked myself what sort of a person I wanted to be. (You can read about that here if you missed it.)

Among other things, I decided I wanted to be someone who doesn’t regularly eat refined sugar. I set about gradually weaning myself off it, by replacing one sweet treat a week with a healthier alternative, and taking the cash out of my wallet when I went out, so that if I did happen to wander past a store selling sweet temptations it would be more difficult for me to get it.

After a couple of weeks of this, I extended one day a week to two days a week, which was no big deal and I was quite happy with my progress. I imagined it might take a couple more months to wean myself off the sweet stuff completely.

On Friday the week before last (which wasn’t a designated no-sugar day), I thought about getting a peppermint slice after lunch. I knew where I was going to go and I had the cash on me. Then to my great surprise I said, “Actually no I won’t. I don’t want one.”

Quite the mindset shift. Very unexpected. “What do you mean you don’t want one? Today’s not a sugar-free day. Go ahead and have it!”

I will confess at this point that I did, and I really didn’t want it and I regretted it. So the next day I decided that if I was now at the point where I genuinely didn’t want a sweet treat, but was still prepared to have one, it was time to move to the next level, and to become that person who doesn’t eat refined sugar.

And that’s how the 30 days sugar-free challenge (2017 edition) came about. Today is Day 10.

(If you read the previous post, an update on the replacing alcohol with herbal tea on Mondays challenge is that I have now extended this to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It’s going well. The 10.00pm bedtime is going less well. It needs some more work and a bit more commitment on my part. I’ll get there!)