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”.)

Challenge 10 – 30 days of more sleep

At the start of this year, or at the end of last year – sometime a few months ago anyway, I did that thing where you choose three words for 2017 to guide you over the course of the year.

I’ve seen several people do this. I don’t know where the idea originated, but here’s a post that explains what the concept is all about.

Some people choose one word rather than three, and there’s a nice project that Ali Edwards does over the year, called One Little Word, that sets prompts for you to creatively explore your word over the year.

I signed up for this class once, but in true non-completer fashion, it got too much for me and I gave up after a few weeks. I do have a nice title page of my album though.

I got inspired to choose three words for 2017 after reading Kylie Dunn’s post on her three words. It occurred to me that I had taken on rather a lot in my Stepping on the Cracks project, that I was rushing through some ideas, and not getting very far with others, and not really learning from either. The word “consolidate” kept coming into my head over and over. Reflecting on what I’ve learned and putting it into practise, instead of chasing after the next shiny object that comes along. Seeing something through to the end.

The next word fell out of that one – “simplify”. Focus on one thing at a time. Release what doesn’t serve me. Don’t come up with complicated plans when all I need to do is take the next step. This can be applied in so many ways: getting rid of stuff I don’t  use or need any more, making space to do the things I want to do and doing them, saying no to things unless I am prepared to give something else up.

The final word “nourish” works on a couple of different levels. It could be about food, and certainly one of the things I am interested in learning this year is more about fermentation and about improving my diet. But it’s also about taking care myself on a broader level.

  • Nourishing my body by eating better, moving more, resting more.
  • Nourishing my mind by staying calm when things are spiralling out of control, doing things that scare and excite me, and by finding the opportunities for growth presented by challenges.
  • Nourishing my soul by surrounding myself with beauty, and by creating things for the sake of doing them, and by giving myself time for rest and relaxation.

That doesn’t look very simple when it’s written down like that does it!

So, rather than take on everything at once, I’m combining two very similar pieces advice that I’ve seen over the last couple of days to come up with a new 30-day challenge.

This article from Lisa Grace Byrne of WellGrounded Life came up in my Facebook feed yesterday. Here Lisa invites us to choose three self-care practices based on what we most need for our own well-being, to set a daily goal for each one and to see how many days in the next 30 we can accomplish the goal. She give some examples in this post, and a creative way to record progress at the end.

Simplifying this even further, Kendra from Hey Kendra! asked me if I could just choose one area that I want to make progress in, and then choose just one thing to help me in that area, what would it be? And her advice was to then focus on doing just that one thing for the next week. It might be different thing every day, or the same thing, but just to focus on that one area.

The title of this post probably gives away what my choice is. I realised the other day as I almost fell asleep on my feet while I was out walking, that lack of sleep is the key issue for me, and that I urgently need to do something about this.

So I’ve set myself a challenge for the next seven days (to start with) to go to bed as early as I can. To do what I have to do after dinner as efficiently as possible, turn my screens off as soon as I’ve finished what I need to do (rather than getting lost in a YouTube rabbit hole or checking my social media feed just one more time), take some time to relax, and go to bed  by no later than 10pm.

As a way to keep track of this, I’m going to use this little flower, which I believe was originally designed by one of the women in the WellGrounded Life community. It was a way for her to see her progress in the open-ended challenge, by colouring in one section each day she reached her goals. (It’s explained more in the post I linked to above.)


Obviously this is designed for 30 days rather than seven days, so I hope that seeing seven filled in petals will inspire me to continue for the rest of the month.

 

Evening routines (Challenge 3): Day 24

The evening routine challenge is going well. Moving on with it, Day 4 of the Asian Efficiency Evening Routine Challenge is to make improvements to your sleep environment to help you get a better night’s sleep when you do get to bed.

There are a tonne of resources out there on how to get to sleep and stay asleep. I’ve had problems in the past, but right now I only rarely have trouble getting to sleep, so I’m very grateful for this.

Some of the common suggestions I’ve already written about in this series, such as having a set bedtime every night, putting a wind-down routine in place and dimming the lights around the house (easier said than done when you live with other people who stay up later than you do).

Other recommendations include:

Getting all devices out of your bedroom – including phones, TVs and e-readers, not only for the blue light that keeps your brain stimulated, but also because they are too easy to pick up and distract yourself with instead of going to sleep.

I once heard Arianna Huffington (founder of the Huffington Post, who has recently put out a book about sleep) say that when she’s getting ready for bed, she “escorts” her devices out of her bedroom, which I think is a nice way of putting it – she has 12 tips on her website for better sleep that you can download here.

I turn my phone to airplane mode when I shut down my other devices but I need the progressive alarm on the phone to wake me in the morning. This is a series of chimes that start off very quietly and get louder over the interval that I set (it’s about 6 minutes) – intended not to disturb anyone else, because I wake up before they get too loud and turn it off. I’ve tried to find something like a progressive alarm that’s a standalone clock but have had no luck, so until I can find something like that the phone has to stay!

Having a completely dark bedroom – which means blackout curtains and/or a sleep mask, and even going as far as no LED displays like clock-radios. We’re lucky to live in a relatively dark and quiet street, so haven’t needed blackout curtains, though they might come in handy in summer when it gets light earlier. It’s on the house improvement list.

Keeping the temperature relatively cool – apparently you need to drop your core body temperature slightly before you go to sleep; this is why a lot of people recommend a bath or a shower as part of their evening routine. There are several different recommendations out there as to what the optimal sleeproom temperature is, but I suppose it would vary between different people – they key is to having a lower temperature than your normal living environment.

The reason is apparently this (according to science):

Over a 24 hour period, our body temperatures naturally peak and decline. Our internal temperature is usually at its highest in the early afternoon and lowest around 5am. When we fall asleep, our bodies naturally cool off. Helping keep your body get to that lower temperature faster can encourage deeper sleep.

(http://www.simplemost.com/science-says-sleeping-cold-room-better-health-because-body-heat/)

I didn’t need to make a lot of changes to complete this challenge, but I’m still on the lookout for a progressive alarm clock that isn’t a phone app, so I can get the phone totally out of the bedroom. So if you know of such a thing, please let me know!

Challenge 3: Evening rituals – day 22

Day three of the Asian Efficiency Evening Rituals Challenge  is to track your rituals.

Gretchen Rubin discusses habit tracking in what she calls the Strategy of Monitoring  in her book Better than Before. She says: “Monitoring has an almost uncanny power. It 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.” This can apply both to monitoring how well you’re doing something now, to see where you need to make changes (for example, tracking your sleep, or how much you eat or exercise will give you a better indication of your actual performance than just estimating it), and also when you start to make changes, to show you how well you’re doing.

One of the tools I’m using at the moment is a website and app called Ritualize, where you can list all the habits you want to do and how many times a week you want to do it. Each habit has a check box that you can check off when you’ve done it each day and you get points every times you check something off. When I first signed up it was through work, and people were able to join “tribes” to compete against each other – the idea being that if other people were doing the same thing you’d be encouraged to keep up your good habits too. I think this would work better if there were more people I knew that were using it regularly, but there is a nice little community of users that I connect with in my feed, which keeps it interesting. There’s heaps of other apps out there that do similar things, including Habitica, which is a habit tracking role playing game that I started to use but never really got into. I’m told it works really well.

Or you can use good old fashioned pen and paper, a calendar, an Excel spreadsheet or even a whiteboard and check things off when you do them.

Why would you do this?

According to Asian Efficiency, tracking your habits is important because:

  • First,  it holds you accountable. You only really know if you’ve been following through with your intentions if you have the data to back you up.
  • Second, it motivates. By drawing a fat X on a calendar, checking a box off of your paper tracker, clicking a button in your app, or entering another day in your Excel sheet, you make the invisible visible. You’ll see your progress. And that’s motivating.

I’ve decided, for a bit of extra encouragement, to track my evening routine on paper as well for a couple of weeks to try and get the routine ingrained, or see if anything needs to shift around, be dropped out or added in. That way if I have my notebook with me, not only do I have the routine somewhere I can see it, I can see how much progress I’m making.

20160806 Bedtime routine

12 of 12 March 2016 – Part 2

Part 1 of this post, in which I try to get into the habit of an earlier bedtime, is here.

The story continues . . .

I decided that, even though I wasn’t feeling so good, I’d get up and go for a walk this morning. Slabs suggested I sleep in and walk later in the day. While the idea sounded good, I didn’t think this was going to work because it’s cooler earlier in the day and walking in the heat* is likely to have tired me out more. And that’s assuming I’d be able to muster up the energy to get out of the house later. I find it much easier to get my walks out of the way first thing, before I get caught up in everything else I’m doing during the day.

2 of 12: I did sleep in. A bit. For me. By the time I got up and out of the house it was light, so I decided to wander along the walking track, which I can’t often do because it’s too dark most days when I get up.

20160312-02

3 of 12: I took it easy. No 16 km walks this morning. 30 minutes was about 3000 steps, and I was grateful for the park benches dotted along the walking track, as I needed a rest by this point. This meant that I’d need to do seven lots of 30 minutes to reach my target. This sounded like a lot at 7am, but I was confident it was doable if I rested up in between.

20160312-03

4 of 12: These signs are quite new. I can’t figure out if the council retro-fitted the dog poo stickers or if someone who was sick of stepping in poo go the shits and stuck the stickers onto the signs themselves.

20160312-04

5 of 12: The river looking very peaceful this morning.

20160312-05

I cut my normal route a bit short because I was getting tired and my walk was taking longer than normal. See! I’m not pushing myself.

6 of 12: I used some of my walking time to catch up on my French lessons on Duolingo, which I’d recently started again after a long absence. I followed the principle of making a new habit as easy as possible to do, so I reduced my daily goal to one lesson, which is possible to slot in almost anywhere in my day. I’ve generally tried to do it first thing after dropping Kramstable at school on my way to work. So if you see me walking along hunched over my phone in the morning I’m not on Twitter (probably). I’ll be learning French.

20160312-06

After breakfast it was time to take Kramstable to swimming. An ideal opportunity to fit in two of those 30 minute walks I need to do. While it’s not the most pleasant and relaxing walk, as it’s mainly along main roads, it’s a good way to get us both moving.

The thing that struck me, as it did last week when we had to walk because Slabs needed the car, was how many cars went past and how few people were walking anywhere – I could count them on one hand each time. Most of the people that were walking were walking dogs rather than looking like they were walking to somewhere for a purpose.

As I watched the never-ending stream of cars go past, I wondered how many people were driving because it was quicker and easier than walking. After all, most people are busy, and taking an hour out of your day to walk to somewhere you could drive to and back in ten minutes is a big chunk of your day. Unless I’ve had no car, I’ve always jumped in the car and driven to swimming. It’s so much easier, I can leave a lot later and I have more time at home to do stuff like checking Twitter. I mean vacuuming the floors.

(What followed here was a ramble about the time needed to walk, slowing down, using the time as one-on-one time with Kramstable, environmental concerns about using the car for short trips. Followed by the eventual realisation that if I get up at the same time, walk for an hour less in the morning and walk to swimming instead I’ll still have the hour I would have saved by driving, plus all the other benefits. I’ll save all that for paspresentfuture: the director’s cut.)

8 of 12: Kramstable had a good swimming lesson.

20160312-08

9 of 12: While we were up the street today we noticed someone had tried to set fire to the community notice board. Nice one.

20160312-09

Also up the street, we learned some new roundabout etiquette where you indicate you’re going left before you even get onto the roundabout, and then go straight, confusing the hell out of people who are trying to cross the road. A change from the usual “indicate right when you’re going straight” crowd.

10 of 12: Washing day for the leggings!

20160312-10

11 of 12: Today’s leggings. Today’s step count: 21,406. Two days to go. I might just make it.

20160312-11

12 of 12: I made lasagna tonight. This is one of my favourite epic dishes that takes all afternoon to prepare. So you know that I’m not overdoing things, I had a rest first. And I went to bed early.

20160312-12

 

* By heat I mean anything above about 18 degrees when the sun is shining. The sun here is burny and melty, and saps my energy every time I go outside, regardless of the actual temperature. I’m told the sun is more intense in Tasmania than in other places, and I find it to be really uncomfortable to be outside in. I hate walking in the sun.

12 of 12 March 2016 (Part 1) – all about sleep

Saturday 12 March 20126 – Day 5 of Walk in her Shoes.

**1 of 12:** According to my Fitbit I was only awake/restless for 18 minutes of the 8 hours I was in bed last night. I can assure it that its calculations are wildly inaccurate, as I was awake for most of the night. I just didn’t move enough for it to register.

20160312-01 Sleep time

I don’t know if my night time waking, which I rarely experience when I go to bed at midnight or later, is because I’m not well or because I’m going to bed before I feel fully tired.

Getting up earlier so I can walk in the mornings, which is a habit I had been working on even before Walk In Her Shoes, is something I want to keep doing. But to make sure I get enough sleep, I need to get myself to bed a lot earlier than midnight. Regularly, not just one or two days a week. Five hours a night really isn’t enough.

My past experience with going to bed earlier has been similar. I haven’t slept through the night and have ended up feeling worse than if I’d gone to bed later and slept through. I imagine that possibly my body has trained itself to go to bed at midnight and only get 5 hours sleep or thereabouts, and doesn’t know what to do when the opportunity is there for more sleep before midnight. (As opposed to more sleep after midnight, as it’s entirely possible for me to sleep in until 7 or 8 am with no problems.)

If that’s the case, then I have to unlearn it and learn a new pattern, where 10 pm (or whatever) is the new normal. I’ve read that adjusting your bedtime by 10 or 15 minutes a night helps you to do this. That makes sense, and maybe I’ve been trying for too big a change too soon. But being sick this week has meant I need more rest than normal, so the change has been forced, big and sudden rather than slowly introduced.

Having said that, one of the triggers to changing a habit that Gretchen Rubin writes about is the “lightning bolt”, where something happens that can kick start a new habit immediately. For example, when you get pregnant you might be able to kick unhealthy habits you’ve been trying to stop because there’s a sudden imperative to do so. So rather than go back to my late bedtime and wind them back gradually when I start to feel better, now might be a good time to start telling myself that the new earlier bedtime is my bedtime.

I have no idea if this will work. I hate waking in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. If that keeps happening I don’t think I’ll be able to keep it up. But . . . as I have an opportunity right now to try it out, I might as well use it.

I’ll be my own guinea pig!

(12 of 12 to be continued . . .)

P365 – Day 321 – sunrise

Juniordwarf and I stayed with Aunty Lil Sis and Uncle Mr Tall last night.

Even though we didn’t have to be up early, my body clock decided not to let me sleep in. Not cool, as I was very tired from getting over this cold/flu/virus or whatever it is that’s been making me feel terrible for the last week and from yesterday’s long road trip.

But at least I got to see a very pretty sunrise. It’s nice to see the sun rise from somewhere different once in a while.