Category Archives: quitting sugar

Back to the future part 2

Continued from part 1, in which I write about the origins of this blog in 2011.

After blogging every day in 2011 and then limping through 2012, I tried to reignite the blog in 2013 because I did enjoy blogging and interacting with the people who read it and took the time to leave comments. So I was keen to get back into blogging more regularly. I realised that daily blogging wasn’t for me so I set myself a goal to blog at least three times a week in 2013. I intended to set some regular things to blog about to make it a bit easier. For example, Monday was going to be the day I was going to write about my journey to quitting sugar, and as the year went on, to improving my diet in general. Sunday was going to be scrapbooking/memory keeping post day.

And I had this list of 100 things to do in 2013 that I was going to review at the end of each month.

I also thought it would be fun to participate in weekly blog linkups like “Wordless Wednesday”, “Thankful Thursday” and “FFS Friday” that I’d seen on various blogs around the place. I don’t recall that lasting very long either.

Later in 2013, I started a 12 of 12 project, which was to take 12 photos of your life on the 12th day of every month.

A random 12 of 12 photo from 12 August 2013

I blogged about trips away, unusual things and challenges I was doing, more scrapbook layouts and random issues like dealing with imperfection (that was a good one). I ran a semi-regular feature for a while called Find Me Friday, where I would post a photo of part of a building in Hobart that I would challenge my readers to identify. I also did a 30 days of lists challenge, which foreshadowed a much bigger project I’d take on a few years later. The blog was still alive, but it wasn’t a regular part of my life any more. And I never did those 100 things in 2013. Or in 2014. Or in 2015 . . .

You can read about where my thinking was around this time, my initial idea for the blog and then the revamped one, here, which is on Blogger, the original platform I used. I moved over to WordPress in September 2013, which is why the formatting of the early posts on here is all over the shop.

In 2016, after having read the book Do Share Inspire: The year I changed my life through TED talks by Kylie Dunn (my post here), in which she pent a year applying the ideas from some of the TED talks she had listened to over recent years through a series of 30-day activities, I decided to start my own series of 30-day challenges that I’d blog about. These included going alcohol-free for 30 days, drawing every day, doing something that scared me every day, and doing cryptic crosswords every day for 30 days.

This was around the time I renamed the blog to stepping on the cracks. As I explained in this post.

“The 30-days project” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. So thinking about some activities I did and some a-ha moments I had at a retreat a couple of weeks ago, I came up with the title “stepping on the cracks”. I realised that whenever I try to draw something, it tends to be straight lines, and that I colour within within the lines and that this art could be seen as a reflection of my personality. I once, when asked to do a doodle drawing, observed the following:

The idea was to draw a shape and split it into sections and doodle or make our mark. I noticed everyone else did round shapes – spirals, circles, ovals, abstracts. I did a triangle. Perhaps that says a lot about me – straight lines and angles. Left brain rules. It also included the words “Don’t step on the cracks” and “Stay within the lines”.

I think I was very dryly reflecting on myself with those two phrases rather than seriously instructing myself to comply with those rules. Anyway, very long story short, being straightlinesgirl is all perfectly OK and isn’t something I need to “fix” BUT there’s nothing stopping me drawing curves or swirls or colouring outside the lines or making a mess. So I think what the project is all about is being who I am, but not letting that prevent me from doing anything else – and seeing what happens when I step on the cracks and colour outside the lines.

This project 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. 30 days of clarity, for example. WTF?! I didn’t have a plan or anything to measure my progress by in those ones. And I think I took way too much on for the time I actually had to work on these things. As a result, things were very stop-start over this time and I didn’t stick with several of the challenges I had initially intended to do. So that part of the project was less successful.

After that project ground to a halt, I tried a few other things over the next year or two, including using the blog as accountability for making healthy habit changes by making commitments to a healthier lifestyle and posting weekly updates, but even that didn’t last very long. I also wrote about taking part in Care Australia’s Walk In Her Shoes challenge for a couple of years.

Walk in Her Shoes 2016

Finally, at the end of 2018, I decided to take on the 19 for 2019 challenge, which was a list of 19 things I wanted to accomplish in 2019. (Not 100, which I’d aimed for in 2013). I got the idea from Gretchen Rubin and Liz Craft’s Happier podcast, as they were doing 18 for 2018. Finally, some success! I had an achievable list of 19 things to do, of which I did 14 and I updated the blog a lot more consistently, which kept me on track with the list. I carried it over into 20 for 2020 (and now 21 for 2021) and over time have gradually expanded it to include keeping up to date on habits I want to develop and little things I want to improve.

I’m feeling comfortable with where it’s at now and I have a nice little routine for writing the posts each week and keeping track of everything I’ve done.

It’s been an interesting process to look back on where I was ten years ago and to see how, in relation to some things, not much has changed at all. I thought I’d share my favourite post from each month over the next few weeks, to commemorate the tenth anniversary, beginning with this one

  • 8 January 2011: Tweetup, in which I overcome my fear of meeting people and bravely turn up to a BBQ with People From Twitter Who I Don’t Actually Know In Real Life.

Now on my blog’s tenth anniversary, I’ve been starting to wonder whether its format and title is really what it’s all about or if it needs a bit of a reboot, given the last reboot was in 2016. In particular, acknowledging that there’s nothing stopping me drawing curves or swirls or colouring outside the lines or making a mess but that, when I think about it, I don’t actually want to make that type of art.

There’s a lot going on in my head at the moment!

more coffee, please

I am a coffee lover. I think it’s fair to say that coffee was one of the things that got me through my first attempt at quitting sugar in 2013. Back then, I had coffee with milk and it wouldn’t have been unusual for me to have five or six coffees a day.

I know!

At one point, I don’t remember when, I decided that this was just too much caffeine and, to help me cut back, I switched to black coffee. I now only have two coffees a day, one first thing in the morning and the other one from my plunger when I get to work, or sometimes at a coffee shop before I go to work.

My March energy experiment, which is based on chapter 4 of Chris Bailey’s book The Productivity Project and is intended to help me identify the times during the day when I have the most energy, involves cutting out alcohol, increasing the amount of sleep I get and tracking my energy over the month. In the book, Chris suggests cutting out all stimulants, especially sugar, coffee and alcohol, to give you a more accurate picture of your body’s natural cycles.

Cut out coffee!?

Um, no. No freaking way.

You’d have to wrench my morning coffee out of my cold, dead hands.

Okay, not exactly true. I’ve had in the back of my mind for maybe 12 months the idea of cutting out coffee for 30 days just to see what happened but I had no real interest in actually doing it. It didn’t even make the “potential 19 for 2019” list. Quitting alcohol was going to be much easier.

One of the first books I read this year was Dr Libby Weaver’s Exhausted to Energised. It’s one of my go-to references for finding strategies to give me more energy so that I can do the things I want to do this year. Dr Libby talks about caffeine in the book.

Caffeine sends a message to the pituitary gland in your brain that it needs to send a message to the adrenal glands to make stress hormones: adrenaline and/or cortisol.

Basically, these hormones prepare your body for action so that you can deal with the “threat” that has triggered the release of the stress hormones, and the functions that aren’t necessary for ensuring your immediate survival start to slow down. They also make you crave sugar for getting fast energy, rather than taking energy from your fat stores.

I’ve been reading a lot about the effects of chronically high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream due to stress as part of the wellbeing work I’ve been doing this year. A lot of the calming strategies I’ve been putting into place (thing 6 of 19 for 2019) have been to address this issue, so now I know that consuming caffeine may also be contributing to me being not-calm, perhaps it’s time to rethink my reluctance to at least experiment with not having it.

Dr Libby recommends taking a break from coffee for four weeks just to see if there is any change in your energy levels.

Still reluctant to stop completely, last week I decided to cut back from two to one coffee a day, with the idea that once my coffee supply at work ran out I wouldn’t replenish it. That happened on Thursday so Friday was my first one-coffee day.

I made sure I had a substitute ready to go so I at least had the ritual of having a drink when I got to work, even if it wasn’t the same thing. No problems.

20190307 Last coffee at work edit

Last coffee at work

I think I would have been happy with that until this morning when I read chapter 23 of Chris Bailey’s book and I started to rethink things. Chris says that drinking caffeine is a way of borrowing energy from later in the day.

He explains

Eight to 14 hours after you consume caffeine, your body metabolises it out of your system, which causes an energy crash (the exact number varies from person to person). There is a chemical in your body and brain called adenosine, which tells your brain when it’s tired. Caffeine prevents your brain from absorbing this chemical, which prevents your brain from knowing it’s tired. But . . . while caffeine prevents your brain from absorbing adenosine [it] continues to build up until caffeine eventually lets your brain absorb it again. Your body and brain then absorb a whole whack of this tired chemical at once, which causes your energy levels to plummet.

I didn’t know this but it makes a lot of sense. Basically, caffeine attaches to the same receptors in your brain that adenosine attaches to and once the caffeine wears off you get a massive hit of adenosine, feel exhausted, so you grab another coffee to wake yourself up. Apparently, this is why people who drink coffee late in the day can feel exhausted the next morning because the drowsy-causing adenosine is still in their system, so they head straight for the coffee first thing in the morning.

I don’t drink coffee in the afternoon but I certainly get a huge energy crash after lunch that lasts well into the late afternoon and sometimes early evening. I put it down to my body needing to rest after a meal, but the duration of my low energy spell in the afternoon seemed to be excessive so, having learned about adenosine, I wondered if there was more to it.

All factors were pointing to the coffee experiment needing to take place.

Thinking about this, I figured the worst that could happen is that I felt a whole lot better and had more energy in the afternoon and felt less anxious. The best would be that it had absolutely no effect on me whatsoever and I could continue drinking coffee.

I still wasn’t sure. I mean, it was a four-week experiment. If I can quit alcohol for a month, surely I can quit coffee.

But coffee!!

I went to get my second coffee of the day.

The coffee machine made a weird noise and stopped working.

I am not making this up.

If ever there was a sign, that was it.

It seems as though the decision has been made for me and I will be abstaining from coffee for the foreseeable future.

I’ll be interested to see how this pans out in the energy tracker over the next couple of weeks.

19 for 2019: more sleep, less booze

Quite some time ago, I don’t remember when, I heard about Chris Bailey’s Productivity Project, in which Chris set out to conduct a year-long series of productivity experiments on himself to find out how different strategies and tips affected his work. He wrote a blog about his experiences and followed that up with a book in 2016, which I’m currently reading.

20190302 Productivity Project edit

Who wouldn’t want to become more awesome?!

I’m a big fan of experiments like this and even tried it out myself in 2016, inspired by Kylie Dunn’s Year of TED project, though I wasn’t quite as successful as Kylie in sticking with it for a year and it all rather fizzled out in the end.

I’ve decided to try my own experiment in March that combines the idea of Kylie’s 30-day experiments; one of Chris’ experiments, my 19 for 2019 thing 13 (an alcohol-free month); my ongoing wellbeing work that will give me the energy to be able to do all the things on my list (thing 6), in particular getting more sleep; and an increased level of exercise.

I wrote in Wednesday’s post about my goal for March being to move my hours of sleep from six (probably less) closer to seven a night and how one of the main things that will help me do this is to quit drinking for the month.

The second thing I’m going to do is try and move my bedtime from after 11pm to somewhere closer to 10pm.

A key reason I want to get more sleep is to improve my energy levels throughout the day and to become more aware of when I naturally have more and less energy. I’ve been reading about ultradian rhythms, the gist of which is that our bodies have natural cycles of energy and rest (or high energy and low energy) that last about 90-120 minutes. The theory is that we have a period of about 90 minutes of high energy, which is followed by a period of low energy of about 20 minutes (similar to sleep cycles of 90 minutes of non-REM sleep and 20 minutes of REM sleep)  and that this continues throughout the day.

This is where Chris Bailey’s experiment comes in. In chapter 4 of The Productivity Project he writes about how, if you know the times when you have the most energy, you can schedule your day to work on the things that are most important to you at those times and take breaks and work on things that require less energy and focus at times when your energy levels are lower.

To get familiar with his natural cycle, Chris kept a log every hour of every day for three weeks of what he had been working on and how much energy he had during that hour. To make it as accurate as this kind of thing can be, Chris cut out all alcohol and coffee, ate as little sugar as possible and tried to wake up and fall asleep naturally, without setting an alarm.

I won’t be following Chris’ experiment to the letter. I’m already good with the no sugar thing, so I don’t have to worry about making any changes there, and am committed to the no alcohol month. But there is no way I am giving up my first coffee of the day, at least not at the start. (My second, I have plans for, but that can wait.) And I can’t sleep in on weekdays mornings and do all the things I want to do (and need to do) and still get to work on time. I know, I’ve done it a couple of times accidentally. So I have to set an alarm. But this is an experiment, not a regiment, so I’m just trying it out. The first week of March will be my adjustment period—Chris recommends cutting out the three stimulants (sugar alcohol and caffeine) a week before you start tracking.

The main thing I’ll be focusing on in the first week will be to have a shutdown for the evening routine that will make sure I’m in bed by 10.45. If I move this back by 15 minutes a week, I should achieve the goal of a 10pm bedtime before the end of the month.

Sounds easy, right?!

The final piece of the puzzle is increased exercise. I am taking part in the Cancer Council’s March Charge, and have committed to walking 300 km in March to raise funds for this very worthy cause, which is the equivalent of about 15,000 steps a day. My daily goal up to now has been 12,000 steps, which I’ve been meeting on most days but not every day. So I’ll have some extra work to do there.

Of course, I just made it all the more difficult for myself by falling down my front stairs on Tuesday and hurting my back, which has made walking (and moving in general) an uncomfortable exercise. Fortunately, it seems like nothing is seriously damaged. My doctor said that I’m still walking around is a good sign and I haven’t broken anything (since confirmed by the x-ray). I keep thinking how much worse it could have been if I’d tumbled rather than slid!

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!

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!)

 

 

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.

 

 

Channelling (10-12 July 2015) – Day 1

One of the good things about living so far away* from where I grew up is that a lot of the nearby places that Slabs and Juniordwarf haven’t been to are places I’m also not familiar with.

One of these areas is the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which is the stretch of water between mainland Tasmania and Bruny Island. The Channel region is the area south of Hobart between the Huon Valley and the water. It includes the towns of Margate, Sung, Kettering and Woodbridge, and it’s from Kettering that you get the ferry to Bruny, as we did on one of our mini-breaks last year.

We thought that school holidays would be a good time to go away for a couple of days. I wanted to go to the beach (I’m not a beach fan, but I like them in winter), and Slabs wanted to go somewhere relatively close. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we agreed Kettering would be a good base for the weekend.

We had a few options for accommodation, and finally settled on Herons Rise Vineyard, about 1 km out of Kettering. It has 3 self-contained cottages, which you can book with or without breakfast. There is also the option of including a 2 course dinner and a bottle of wine.

Herons Rise Vineyard

Herons Rise Vineyard

I wanted to be able to see the water, so we chose the Wine Loft cottage, which is above the wine cellar. It has two bedrooms and can accommodate up to 5 people. The thought of having a home-cooked dinner rather than having to cater ourselves or go out somewhere appealed, so we booked dinner for both nights.

The Wine Loft

The Wine Loft

The Wine Loft

The Wine Loft

Kettering is actually a lot closer to Hobart than I remembered, and it took us just over half an hour to get there. Heron’s Rise is about 1 km out of the town, up the hill, and we could just see the water through the trees. Criterion satisfied!

I can see the water!

I can see the water!

Juniordwarf decided he’d have the main bedroom, which had a queen bed and a single, leaving us the other bedroom, which also had a queen bed. I’m not sure how that even happened, he did it so smoothly.

Bedrooms and loungeroom

Bedrooms and loungeroom

This trip we finally remembered the board games, and decided to teach Juniordwarf the game of Qwirkle, which Lil Sis had introduced us to several years ago. She’s so good at the game that people who play against her call her “The Cheater”, which Juniordwarf found hilarious. He came out with this classic line, which cracked me up: “Lil Sis is a cheater. We have to defeat her.” (She says it’s all lies. I believe her.)

Thanks, in at least some part, to a double Qwirkle, Slabs won the game, and Juniordwarf didn’t disgrace himself coming second. I, on the other hand, deserve a place in the hall of shame for setting up the double Qwirkle without realising it, and not even the bonus points for using all my tiles first could lift me out of last place.

Lucky I’m not competitive isn’t it.

Juniordwarf's first Qwirkle game

Juniordwarf’s first Qwirkle game

Ordering dinner turned out to be an excellent decision. Our host Gerry brought down a big box holding our meals – tonight it was chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto, a potato gratin and steamed veggies – and laid it all out on the table for us. Dessert (because it was a 2-course dinner) was a divine chocolate cake with a berry compote, or whatever it is you call a sauce that includes the whole berries, and whipped cream. I decided to let my sugar-free lifestyle have a very small break, mainly because I know I’m now capable of having dessert every now and then without letting the whole thing go.

Dinner at Herons Rise

Dinner at Herons Rise

We topped it off with a bottle of one of our favourite wines, the 2003 cabernet sauvignon from Derwent Estate, that we apparently bought the very last bottles of a couple of years ago.

2003 Derwent Estate Cab Sav. Glorious!

2003 Derwent Estate Cab Sav. Glorious!

It was a lovely way to end our first night away.

* By Tasmanian standards