fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 28: Your Internal Story (Part 2 of 3)

Note: Get a cup of tea or a glass of water before reading, this is an especially long one.

What kind of stories do you tell yourself on a regular basis?

I’m not talking about the fairy tales or TV episodes or mystery novels you might read or watch on a regular basis, although those stories are useful, too. I’m referring to the ways you create a story about who you are and what you are like. How you make things make sense for yourself when things happen to you. How you explain to yourself why you did certain things or why you did them in a certain way.

You may not think of those types of thoughts as stories but framing them that way can help you see them more clearly AND it can help you learn to reshape the ones that don’t serve you well.*

A lot of the time, these stories are automatic and almost subconscious. And they are usually a mix of things people told us, things we picked up for ourselves, and little bits of information we stitched together to explain something. We throw all of that stuff together, often uncritically, and then use it as a guideline to proceed – choosing our actions and activities based on that information.

My (old) Internal Story

I am not a naturally sporty person and my family is not particularly sporty so while I did lots of climbing and running and other little kid things when I was small, I didn’t get a lot of practice playing sports or doing things that would train my body and mind to work well together. I wasn’t always the last one to be picked in gym class but I was definitely in the last few. I struggled with understanding the rules of games in gym and I often took them too literally so it frequently seemed to me that the rules were unevenly applied. My efforts to try and figure out what was going on tended to lead to me being told that I wasn’t a good sport, that I was uptight, and that I really needed to learn to ‘roll with the punches.’**

I was often told not to worry about my physical skills, or lack thereof, because I was smart so I didn’t need to be good at sports. (Let’s all just roll our eyes right here at yet another pointless binary in our world) I began to think of my body as just a carrying case for my brain.

My internal story was that I wasn’t good at sports or ‘things like that,’ I wasn’t coordinated, and I was a bad sport. So, I definitely didn’t try to get involved in any sort of group sports where I would be letting the team down with my lack of skill and causing a disruption by being a bad sport. And even when I wanted to try a new fitness practice on my own, I struggled because when I hit one of the setbacks that are inevitable with learning a new thing I didn’t have the experience to know that it was part of the process. Instead, I would fall back on my internal story that I just wasn’t good at these things.

I didn’t realize that I was dealing with an internal story. I thought I was dealing in facts.

I did keep trying fitness things that appealed to me but when things went awry I added more details to the story of ‘Christine isn’t good at this.’

My internal story started to change when I read Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset‘ and realized that part of the issue was how I was approaching learning new things.

Then, I started Taekwon-do with my son. I felt like I was terrible at it but my instructors didn’t seem to think so and I trusted them. (Now I can see that I wasn’t terrible, I was just doing my techniques with an appropriate level of skill for a white belt.)

And, eventually, I was diagnosed with ADHD and realized how it had been affecting me my whole life. Including things like struggling to understand rules and how to put them into practice. And finding it challenging to start and continue new practices.

And because I was learning about storytelling at the same time as all of this, I realized that my internal information was a story I was telling myself.

And as every writer and storyteller knows, stories can be revised.

I’m not going to pretend that that realization wiped away all of the challenges and everything has been easy ever since. However, recognizing that I was working with a story helped me to proceed differently.

I was open to learning that my ADHD made it challenging for me to pick up on the skills for various sports by just playing. And because my lack of skill kept me from playing often, I didn’t get enough experience to get any better. And learning that that led me to the fact that coordination can be learned.

So, all along, I was telling myself a story based on bits of information, some facts, and some opinions (from myself and others) and I was shaping my approach to physical activities based on a faulty story. I was using inaccurate information to make decisions and subconsciously creating limits for myself.

Letting go of the idea that the story was a fact meant that I could expand my idea of what I was capable of.

It didn’t make me more coordinated but it changed my thoughts from ‘I’m just not coordinated’ to ‘How can I become more coordinated?’ And it changed my perspective from ‘I’m just not good at physical things’ to ‘What physical things are important to me? What do I need to learn to get better?’

Recognizing the story you are telling yourself won’t give you immediate access to skills or abilities. We all have different bodies, capacities, and physical capabilities and those factors will affect how we move through the world. However, identifying your internal story (or stories) will help you ask questions about your own skills and practices and help you start to discern when your beliefs about yourself are based on incorrect information.

Now, Back To You

I wish I could wave a wand and show you the stories that you have been telling yourself. I would love to be able to wipe away all of the old tangles and give you a fresh new brain approach to your habit-building.

But since I can’t do that, I’m inviting you to gently poke at your own assumptions to help you find the stories you are telling yourself. If those stories are serving you, please hold them tight. If they are obstructing you, please question them, talk back to them, or get stubborn with them until you can shape them into something else.

And please, please, please, don’t be hard on yourself because these stories were in there in there in the first place. Our brains love stories. They want everything to make sense. And they will be so sneaky about weaving everything into a narrative and we won’t even realize it is happening. You can’t blame yourself for an automatic brain function like that one but you can work to reframe and reshape that function so it tells you a more useful story.

Here are some questions to help you recognize some of your stories:

What do you tell yourself when stuff goes right?

When things go the way you have planned, do you see that as just lucky? Or do you recognize that your planning ability, your choice to scale things to the time you had available, your combination of skill and experience also played a role?

If you think of it just as lucky, consider what that thought is based in. Is there a reason why you don’t acknowledge the effort you put in toward that result?

No matter what the answers are, see if you can start to coax yourself to recognize the skills you employed in making things go well. At the beginning, that might mean having the ‘it was luck’ thought and then adding to it by saying something like ‘Yes, it was lucky AND I was well prepared to make the most of that luck.’ Gradually, you can begin to include other aspects of your skill and preparation as you celebrate things going right.

What do you tell yourself when stuff goes wrong?

When things don’t go as planned, are you quick to blame yourself and/or some inherent aspect of your personality? (seeing yourself as ‘just unlucky’ counts here) Or do you recognize that while you may not have been as prepared as you thought, sometimes things just go awry?

Obviously, we aren’t equally skilled in everything we attempt. Sometimes, we don’t have the skill we need to do what we are trying to do. Sometimes, we think we have the resources but we don’t. Sometimes we underestimate the effort required, sometimes we overestimate the time we have. These things happen to everyone on occasion.

If they are happening to you on a regular basis, that’s not a sign that you are flawed or unlucky or bad or undeserving. It’s a just an indication that there was a mismatch in your plan and your process. It means that you need to have another look at your approach and your techniques, it doesn’t mean that YOU are a problem or that YOU are broken.

If your brain is telling you a story about things going wrong that is based on the idea that there is something wrong with you, I hope you can question that story. If your brain is telling you that you can’t build this habit because you never get anything right or because you always fail or whatever, definitely question that story. See if you can figure out where it came from and why it has stuck with you. It’s definitely untrue but you’ll want to make sure you pull out its roots not just cut off the top. Note: While we’re on this topic, I love this post from Karen Walrond that offers a great way push back against internal stories about never and always.

You are a unique combination of skills and experiences and you are doing your best to apply them to the task at hand. If they can’t help you complete the task, you can ask for help, you can change your approach/thought process, or you can change the task.

When that self-blaming story pops up, try to counter it with evidence as Karen Walrond suggests in the post I linked above, or try to say something like ‘Oh, I have struggled with this is in the past and I am going to give it another try.’ or ‘Yes, this has gone wrong before but there were extenuating circumstances, this time I have a new plan.’ Acknowledging the current story and taking it in a new direction can be a great way of creating a whole new tale.

How do you see yourself in the story?

(This could be a detailed and complicated post in itself but I’ll just touch on a few things here so this post doesn’t become a novel.)

When you have those automatic response to things going wrong or things going right, what role do you see yourself playing in the story that pops up for you?

Do you have agency? Are you in charge of anything? Or do you see yourself as the hapless person who needs rescuing because they are buffeted by fate?

In reality, we play all kinds of different roles in different situations at different times in our lives. Those roles may serve us well sometimes and they may impede us at other times. But, overall, it’s good to know which role we feel like we are playing at any given time.

I know that I have sometimes gotten overwhelmed and felt like I was a victim of circumstance. And sometimes it was true and just trudging along to the other side was the best approach. Other times, even though I felt like that, it was the overwhelm talking, and once I recognized that, I could take action and start to feel more in charge.

Other times, I have thought I was in charge of things but I had misunderstood the scope of the situation or the contributing factors. When things went wrong, I blamed myself and I felt terrible. When someone was able to gently inform me that I was taking responsibility for a situation that was far beyond my control, I felt better and I was able to reset my brain to focus on the things I was able to act on.

What does this have to do with your habit-building?

Well, if you are seeing yourself as the victim of circumstance, unable to take charge of anything, it is going to be hard for you to establish a new habit and make the changes you want to make. If you notice yourself telling that story, try to reframe it as something like ‘Yes, all of this crap is going on AND I am going to take 5 minutes to meditate in the car before I go into the office.’ Or, if things are too challenging for that, reframe it as a choice, ‘There is so much crap going on right now that adding something new would be too stressful so I am going to let that go for right now and come back to it another time.’ Making statements like that can help you to reshape the story and give you a better sense of your own power.

And if you are seeing yourself as the person in charge, responsible for everything, who is to blame if things go wrong, you will be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes, have to start over, or if you can’t follow through on your plans. You can reshape the story of you as invulnerable superhero into a story of you as an ordinary person by reminding yourself that you are not in charge of everything and that some things are beyond your control. Even something like: “Yes, I can get a lot of things done in a day but I don’t have to do everything. It is ok for me to do something for myself or for me to choose to sleep instead of doing my practice.” can be helpful in letting go of the sense that you are responsible for everything.

What story are you telling yourself about your practice?

Another way that your internal stories could be affecting your habit-building involves the story you tell yourself about your practice.

Do you see your practice as enhancing your life? As part of your self-care?

Do you see it as worth the effort? Do you consider it energizing?

Do you feel that your practice is making you stronger? Or giving you ease? Or adding calm to your life?

Do you see it as something you should (shudder!) do? Do you see it as another obligation?

Do you see your practice as too hard for you? As impossible? As energy-draining?

Do you see it as pointless? A waste of time?

If the story of adding your practice into your life is a positive one, it will be a lot easier to incorporate it into your schedule. If the story of your practice is negative, you will find it hard to include it in your day to day.

I’m not suggesting that you ‘just’ need to be positive about your practice and everything will be easy. I’m suggesting that recognizing the story you have around your practice will be a factor in how you incorporate it into your life.

Identifying the ‘mood’ of the story of your practice gives you information that you can use to make it easier to build your habit. Maybe you need to change some aspect of your practice, maybe you have started too big, maybe you have started too small, maybe you need a different practice, or, maybe you need more time to get used to it. And, in some cases, you may need to find ways to adjust your attitude towards it but that does not need to be your default assumption, not everything is an attitude problem.

Today’s Invitation

This whole post is a long invitation to think about your internal stories and consider how they are contributing to your habit-building process. Ideally, you want to find ways to practice self-kindness and to reshape your stories to support the changes you want to make. You are not responsible for the initial formation of your stories but you can take action to reshape them to serve you better.

And, as always, here is your gold star for your efforts, whatever they may be.

The emotional labour described in this post is hard work. It counts toward your practice.

And anything you do can count toward your practice if you say it does.

You know what you need today and I celebrate your efforts as you seek to meet those needs.

a drawing of a gold star atop a tall green stem with leaves on it.
Gold stars you grow for yourself might not be perfect but they are still delightful. Image description: A drawing of a gold star atop a long green stem with leaves on it with blue dots in the background. The stem starts at the bottom of the page and extends almost all the way to the top of the page before reaching the star.

*Again, I want to stress here that my advice in this post is about the sorts of day-to-day struggles that crop up again and again, ones that are frustrating and challenging but are fairly limited in scope and intensity. Guiding you through the process of identifying and navigating internal stories that result from trauma or other life-altering events is far beyond my expertise. I’m not trying to abandon you to your fate here, I am trying to make sure that I don’t cause any further harm.

** For the record, I love that as a martial artist I have learned to evade punches and I have learned to block them but I am never told to roll with them. Do I know that ‘roll with the punches’ is metaphorical? Yes. Do I find it irritating all the same? Also yes.

About the Go Team! posts:

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.

fitness

Adieu My Friends, It’s Been Grand

It’s my last regular post! I’m letting that lead me. Endings are something I’ve been exploring lately, letting go, allowing change to flow through me instead of resisting, struggling, raging.

It started with the pandemic, so much started with this goddamn pandemic. Everything I understood to be true about my world was up for debate. Isolation, constriction, struggle and then a refocus on what was really important. I started to let go. I began to understand that I couldn’t play the same character of me in my life under these different circumstances. It wasn’t that I wasn’t me, but rather that how I showed up and what I had with me changed. Social exercise, the bike rides, the group classes, all faded away. I was left with just me and what I wanted to do with my body, and my heart. It turns out, I still really dig the one on one interactions, even over video. Once I settled down, my therapy practice stabilized and zoom work became just fine. My supervision practice (supervising other therapists in their work and mentoring them) blossomed. Being a mentor fuelled me and I leaned in to that new and thriving space of connection.

Physically, it turns out, I really only want to walk my dog and do yoga. I patiently found ways to get to my mat, trying to be gentle and not push. I hurt my shoulder but I didn’t give up on practicing. It just got softer and softer, only as far as I could swim out and make it back alive.

All around me the world pulsed and convulsed. There was still a lot of struggle. There was a struggle to teach in group online. I still hate that, hate it with the passion of a thousand suns. We had a glorious in person masked term in the fall and having it ripped away from me again by the latest crisis has put my body in a raging uproar. I’m on fire in my spine. I know this to be my grief and struggle to connect with my family of students and colleagues through square boxes. I will never be okay with a group thing online. There just isn’t enough energy in the world to hold all those souls sufficiently to do what I need to do with them.

But back to letting go. I had been practicing and meditating and feeling into all the corners and I was so excited to do Adriene’s 30 days in January. But when I began that movement project, that should have been exactly what I needed, I collapsed. She was tumbling ahead of my body and I couldn’t keep up. There was something frantic about it. The words were right but the feel was wrong. I stopped after 7 days, went on an Adriene strike and I haven’t gone back. I’m staying true to my insides. It wasn’t right for me, danger, danger, danger. I’m on the mat still with others, staying true to what my body needs and says. I feel confident, and sad. I loved her and she’s gone.

Then there is this blogging practice. I’ve only ever blogged for my own good, hardly thinking about you, audience (sorry, not sorry, just how I do things). I would hit nerves or not but it was just about what comes out of my fingers. The more me I could be, the more true I could be to the exact moment of my writing, the better I felt about it. I wonder sometimes how it made you feel, to read mundane or very personal or very rant-y posts. In the end, that wasn’t why I did it. I just like to write. But now I am in some process, moving into a liminal space that is reforming something again. I don’t know what it will be yet, shadows just out of reach, but it feels important. I think it has to do with my teaching and an explication of the magic I’m finding there. I still want to write, I’m scared of letting go of this monthly practice, but I need to. I’ve said what I need to say for now.

So Adieu my friends, my dear fellow bloggers and the people who looked forward to what I had to say, or happened upon it and said “hmmm, cool” or however you were while reading. I have appreciated this space and your eyes and hearts that have been moved here and there. I may come back when I really need to say a thing in this community but until I do, keep moving your beautiful bodies and keep your precious hearts open as much as you can bear.

A somewhat barren tree covered in paper red hearts. A symbol of hope and loneliness both.
fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 27: Stories (Part 1 of 3: the story of these posts)

I’ve been planning to write a post about our internal stories all month but, despite trying several times, I couldn’t quite make it work.

This morning I decided to try again and realized that the problem was that I was trying to accomplish two things at once. I was attempting to write a post that incorporated two separate sets of information and I was moving back and forth between the two and getting annoyed because I wasn’t getting the post written.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you’re not a writer but I’ll bet you’ve done something similar in the past while trying to build a habit.

I know that have. I’ve set a goal that was too big and had too many parts and I’ve tried working on all them at once without realizing that’s what I was doing. And then I found myself annoyed because I wasn’t making any progress, because I couldn’t figure out what to be doing at any given time, and because I felt like I was making a mess of things.

Now, that’s not to say that your practice can’t have multiple parts. And I am not suggesting that your practice can’t serve multiple purposes. BUT I am saying that you need to be aware of what you are doing and create a structure that will support your plans. And, finally, to avoid frustration, you need to be able to set expectations that match your efforts.

Just as I had to realize that if I wanted to write about our internal stories, I would have to choose a method to deliver the information effectively or I would end up with a frustrating jumble of words that I might not be helpful. In fact, if the jumble was too big, I might not even be able to share it at all.

So, I’ve been through the part where I sort of knew what I wanted and I just worked in any old way for a while, coming back over and over to the topic but making no tangible progress. Then I reached the point (today) where all of my repeated actions helped me to see the obstacle in my way.* Once I could see the obstacle, I could figure out a solution.

And the solution is to write 3 posts. This first one tells the story of writing these posts and how my approach might apply to your habit-building process. The second one will be about figuring out your existing internal story about you and your habit and how you might begin to revise it. And the third will be about figuring out which part of your habit-building story that you are currently living and how accepting that might help you keep the plot moving forward.

See why I couldn’t get that all in one post? That would be like you trying to make a single practice session be a Taekwon-Do practice, a yoga practice, and and do strength training cardio all at once.

Sure, it could be done but there would be a lot of extra work involved as you tried to fit everything in and get just the right balance. You would probably be very tired and sore afterwards and you probably wouldn’t be looking forward to your next workout.

I could have put hours and hours of extra work into crafting an enormous draft post about internal stories and then spent even more time revising it into something readable. That would have been exhausting and frustrating and I definitely wouldn’t have been looking forward to writing my next post. And, to top it off, writing that post would require more time than I have to dedicate to writing for the Fit is a Feminist Issue blog so I probably wouldn’t have finished it. So, I wouldn’t have accomplished what I set out to accomplish because I didn’t match my expectations to my capacity.

Or, I could have chosen to shorten my post dramatically and just mention a few key things. That would have been a smaller step toward my goal but would still be useful. If I was going to be writing a blog post daily for the rest of the year, I might have chosen that route because I could return to add to the ideas later.

But, given that I am only doing daily posts for another few days and since these story-related ideas are specially important to me, it makes more sense for me to break down my ideas into three posts and focus on each one separately.

And, to go back to the example above, if doing all the bits of your huge practice would be exhausting, it would make sense for you to either separate your different types of practices or to design a practice that incorporates all three but for less time and/or at a lower intensity.

Once you’ve figured out what the obstacle in your current practice might be, you can make a choice that serves you best.

Today’s Invitation

Today, I’m inviting you to consider how my challenges with writing this series of posts might apply to your own habit-building practice.

Are you feeling like you are practicing over and over but not making any progress?

Are you trying to do too much at once or maybe hoping that a multi-purpose practice will pay off in all areas at once?

Is it possible that your work so far is not just about making progress in your habit but also about helping you to learn to see how to identify obstacles or adjust your methods/techniques? (like how all my attempts to write ended up showing me that I was trying to incorporate too much at once)

Can you see any ways to encourage yourself to break your practice into sections, approach it in a different way, or scale it to fit your schedule?

No matter how you answer the above questions, and now matter how you are doing with your practice, I would like to offer you these gold stars to celebrate your efforts.

Your hard work counts. Your efforts matter. And, most importantly, you matter.

a drawing of 7 gold stars against a background of overlapping lines
Image description: A small drawing of 7 gold stars against a background of overlapping lines. The drawing laid on black computer keyboard on a white surface.

*So, from this perspective, all of my fumbling around with earlier versions didn’t mean I wasn’t make progress. I didn’t FINISH what I was doing but I was, unknowingly, working my way toward today when all of my wordy fumbles brought me to the point where I could see the obstacle. And while it would have been great to have known that I was on this path and it would have been terrific to have reached this point earlier, I guess this is another damn lesson in trusting myself and trusting my process. It’s a shame we can’t just learn that lesson once, isn’t it?

About the Go Team! posts:

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.

inclusiveness · nature · self care · yoga

Yoga Outside

When it’s cold outside, and I’m lying on my couch in a Wordsworthian mood, I think about my summer fitness activities. Doing yoga outside for the first time was one!

Over the years I’ve done yoga almost exclusively inside (including stretching in my bathroom). What I remember about inside yoga:

  • Get there early to get a spot where you want to be–the mirrors or the walls, the back or the front, near or away from the door.
  • Can be a tight fit. Tape on the floors so you know where to park your mat.
  • People half ignoring you, half checking you out.
  • Water bottles, quick dry towels, and stretchy outfits outside of my price range.
  • Bells and bowls and Buddha statues and instrumental flute playlists.

This is a broad brush. I am certain yoga studios have a range of vibes. But the juiced-up versions of inside yoga seem to encourage focusing on all the wrong things about yoga. When Sam sent around this link, US-based yoga studio popular with celebrities opening first Toronto location, I could only imagine this chain’s next level of bougie. (As the lead image suggests, it’s teal-only yoga wear there).

Trying Yoga Outside

This past summer, when the studios were closed due to COVID, a few friends and I signed up for a morning outside yoga class. And when I say outside I mean we were on the grass next to the parking lot of a local craft brewpub.

A woman is meditating in a half-nose pose with her arms above her head - Sanjali padmasana. Back view
“A woman is meditating in a half-nose pose with her arms above her head – Sanjali padmasana. Back view” by wuestenigel is licensed under CC BY 2.0. So, not me.

Yoga outside immediately felt different from yoga inside. Sunshine, grass, trees, sky, breeze. A smallish group, there was friendly eye contact and slightly sheepish smiles. No floor tape–my choice of mat placement was shade or sun. Folks brought water, but registration also came with a beer, which you could drink after the session–or during, as our yoga instructor did.

When I stretched to the sky, I reached for tree branches. When I rolled a bit off my mat, soft grass cushioned my body. When I relaxed in savasana pose, the sun warmed my face. The traffic, bugs, and uneven ground were all noticeable, but they somehow made me feel more connected to my place and space. I didn’t need or want bells or a flute playlist.

Yoga in North America

I am far from the first to note that North Americans culturally appropriate yoga. As Yoga International’s Arundhati Baitmangalkar says, “Yoga is a spiritual practice. It is a way of living. It’s a practice of self-study and mind management. It is a way of thinking, speaking, being—and more. Yoga is a part of Indian culture and heritage.”

Doing what I will call “middle-class white person yoga at 11 in the morning, beer in hand” was definitely NOT reflecting the culture and heritage of India.

But being outside meant no appropriated or commercialized artefacts or symbols. The instructor was inclusive and supportive in her instructions. She was not South Asian, but her shape and size was that of a regular person, not someone who stepped out of a Lululemon yoga ad. No teal.

Baitmangalkar goes on to note that in many studios the goal is a workout, not yoga. I fully accept that the outside yoga was more of a workout. But my friends and I were also looking for some mind management and self-care after having struggled with supporting others during the COVID pandemic. We wanted to reconnect with our spirits and the world that day.

I am not recusing myself of participating in cultural appropriation by doing craft beer yoga, but being outside the inside studio made me consider how I might further educate myself and engage with yoga living. I’m going to start with some of the recommendations in Baitmangalkar’s article.

For those who practice outside yoga regularly, please share your experiences in the comments!

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 26: Remember the Basics

Some days are just a slog, aren’t they?

You know the kind I mean.

There’s nothing in particular that’s wrong but everything seems to be a little more challenging that it needs to be. You probably have time to do the things you need to do but you aren’t particularly enthused about them. Your energy is a bit low and nothing is really appealing to you at the moment.

You feel like you are trudging through mud and that the day is going to go on forever.

This is an excellent time to choose extra self-kindness, to take breaks when you can, to remove any unnecessary items on your to do list, and to go easy when it comes to your practice session today.

It’s a good time to go back to basics, to pare down you practice and any other work to the bare essentials, the things that will meet your most fundamental requirements without adding any additional weight to your day.

If I have to write on a sloggy day, I start by freewriting or brainstorming. (Sometimes my first sentences is ‘Ugh, I don’t want to write today…)

If I need to draw, I’ll start with a basket of stars – an easy and recurring drawing for me.

If I’m practicing Taekwon-Do, I’ll do front punches and sidekicks – two movements that require muscle memory but not a lot of brainpower at this point.

If I’m trying to do yoga, I’ll do downward dog and warrior II – two of my favourite poses that let me pay attention to some of the areas of my body that need it most often.

And, if I am trying to write a blog post, I’ll talk about how it is ok to feel like you are slogging through your day, and then I’ll remind my readers about the importance of self-kindness, the value going easy on yourself, and how going back to the basics is useful and still counts as a practice session.

Maybe going back to basics will give you a burst of energy that lifts that slog feeling and you’ll go on to do more. Maybe your very basic practice will be all you can manage today. Either of those things are perfectly ok.

And you know what else is ok? Realizing that even the basics aren’t possible today and you just need to rest.

Go ahead and experiment by giving the basics a whirl but trust yourself to know what you need today and every day. Most of the time you’ll be able to tell the difference between when you feel like ‘I just need to push myself a little’ and when you feel like (to borrow a Dorothy Parker quote) ‘What fresh hell is this?’

Today’s Invitation

So, as you can tell, if your day feels like a slog, you aren’t alone. My metaphorical boots are covered in mud and I swear that I am getting a twinge in my wrist from checking my watch over and over. *

Today, I’m inviting you to meet yourself where you are – go easy if you need or want to, challenge yourself that feels good to you, or grab a blanket and take a nap if that’s the right option for you right now. All of those approaches are part of the big picture of building a habit that serves you well.

Here’s my ‘back to basics’ basket of stars that I am offering to you for your efforts today, no matter what those efforts are.

Your hard work counts.

a small drawing of a black and white patterned basket filled with gold stars
Image description: a small drawing of a black and white patterned basket filled with gold stars. The background of the drawing is covered in gold speckles. The drawing itself is resting on a black computer keyboard.

*For the record, I am perfectly fine, it’s just one of those days that feel like a slog. I’m taking good care of myself and sticking with the basics for every task I have on my list, including this post. 💚

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.

fitness · Wordless

Mostly-wordless Wednesday

For immediate release: Cat impatient for winter to be over so she can go kayaking

Meet Della, a fluffy part-Persian kitty. She’s ready to go kayaking (except for her kitty PFD). Or not.

Gray-and-white Persian kitty Della, comfortably ensconced in the cockpit of her owner’s whitewater kayak. Ready for the water? You make the call.
fitness

Christine Sinclair and Women in Sport

Last week, FIFA, the international soccer federation, recognized Christine Sinclair as the greatest goal scorer ever. Period. Male or Female.

Astonishingly, although she has been shortlisted as FIFA player of the year seven times, she has never won that recognition, despite playing in five World Cups and four Olympics (bringing home two bronze medals and a gold). This year, she didn’t even make the final cut.

It was almost two years after she broke the record. She scored her 185th goal in international play back in January 2020. She now has 308, along with 53 assists. She scored her first goal in her second game as a member of the Canadian national team, when she was just sixteen.

Almost every photo of Christine Sinclair shows her with that huge smile of joy. This photo is by Daniela Porcelli/Canada Soccer

Over twenty years later, she is still going strong, playing with both her Portland professional team and the Canadian team. And she is not done. In addition to plans to play at the next Women’s World Cup in 2023, and committing to another two years with Portland, she is pushing for a professional women’s soccer league in Canada. Canada is the only FIFA top 10 ranked country without a professional women’s soccer league.

A pro league wouldn’t solve all the disparities between the men’s and women’s games. But as Sinclair explained just after that gold medal win “We’re hoping that this platform will give us the opportunity to start that change and plead to Canadians that have the ability to make the difference to invest in women. The young little kids, they deserve to be able to go watch their heroes on a week-to-week basis and not [just] every four years.”

Starting a league, or even a team, takes a lot of resources. I get that. But I also note that soccer is the most popular team sport in Canada, with over 750,000 participants in organized programs. It ranks among the most popular sports for girls, and as long ago as 2012, more than 360,000 females played the game (41% of all players).

Approximately 4.4 million Canadians tuned in to watch that gold medal game in Tokyo, making it the most watched event of the Games. It seems to me that there is an audience. I, for one, would love to follow teams regularly, instead of a World Cup of Olympics tournament every few years.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is an enthusiastic watcher of World Cup and Olympic soccer, and looks forward to catching a live game when the Men’s World Cup comes to Canada in 2026. She still regrets missing the Women’s World Cup sole Ottawa game in 2015.

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 25: Who (else) is on your team?

One of the things that I love about a heist movie is that every person on the team has a specific expertise. They may not be needed for every heist or they may only be needed for a short time, but they’re ready to do their part at any point in the caper. And the person in charge knows everyone’s role and knows when to call any specific person into action.

What does this have to do with you and your practice?

Well, your practice is a heist, of course, and YOU are the person in charge.

You are seeking a specific result whether that result is incorporating something into your daily life or achieving a specific end goal. You need information in order to make that happen. You may need specific equipment. You need a way to track your progress. AND you need people beside you – literally, virtually, or metaphorically – to make that happen.

So, who is on your team?

Actually, to echo the title of this post, who ELSE is on your team?

After all, you are on your own team.

And I am obviously on your team – I’ve been writing you every day since January 1 to remind of that.

So, that makes two of us who want you to pull off this caper.

Now you can figure out some more people who belong in this ragtag group of misfits who will rally together to make this happen…sorry, maybe I’m running with this metaphor a bit too much. 😉

Do you have specific friends who have either the expertise or enthusiasm to offer you support when you need it?

I specifically recommend including at least one friend who you can complain to, one who can boost your spirits /coax you into working on things when you are a bit meh, one who will say something like “Oh, come on, we’ll try this together.” and one who will have fun but odd solutions to your dilemmas. You may even find that one person can fill all of those roles?

Do you have someone who can trade expertise with you?

I’m good at creative solutions and troubleshooting. I have a good friend who is rocks at creating systems and tracking things. We trade expertise on the regular so neither of us has to spend a lot of time in the dregs of work that frustrates us. Someone like that makes an excellent team member.

Do you watch specific exercise videos on YouTube?

Why not consider those instructors to be on your team? Sure, it’s para-social and you probably can’t invite them to your birthday party but I’m pretty sure that anyone making fitness or meditation videos is wishing all of their viewers well, so that counts.

Are you part of a fitness class or program?

If so, that’s another group of team members. When I posted on Facebook this morning about my plans for Taekwon-Do practice, I tagged three people from my classes (who are definitely on my team) and moments later I had a response and an offer of support.

Many members of the blogging team here at Fit is a Feminist Issue are part of a group that is aiming for 222 workouts in 2022. They check in when they have done a workout and get encouragement and support. They don’t know everyone in the group but the whole group is on their team.

How about family members? Your doctor? Your therapist? The person you always see on your daily walk? The person on Instagram who posts about their workouts? The person on TikTok with the pep talks that you love? Your connections on social media?

Any and all of those people can be on your team*, even if they don’t know it. 😉

Unlike in a heist movie, you don’t have to literally recruit all of the members of your team.

If someone you encounter on a regular basis brightens your day, helps you feel inspired, or reminds you to focus, you can consider them part of your team.

In fact, you don’t even have to limit yourself to human team members. Your dog, your cat, your lizard, or the crow you see on the mailbox on the corner can all be part of your team, if you want them to be.

Today’s Invitation

This whole post is kind of an invitation but let me be even more specific here:

Today, I invite you to consider the team that’s working with you to help you establish your practice.

These might be people you have asked for help or they might be people (or animals) that you encounter regularly as you build your habit. They can be directly offering help and support or they can be motivational or inspiring in some other way.

Even if you are working on something on your own, you are not alone.

Creating a list of team members can really help you to see who is cheering you on.

Here’s your gold star for today, whether you are listing your team or happily flying solo.

Your efforts count, your work matters, and you will find your way forward.

A cartoon drawing of a happy gold star holding purple pompoms in the air and saying ‘Go Team!’
This gold star is definitely on your team. They even brought pompoms to cheer you on. Image description: a cartoon drawing of a happy gold star who appears to have jumped into the air to wave their purple pompoms. The words ‘Go Team!’ are at the upper right of the image. The drawing is propped up against a black computer keyboard on a white surface.

*I realize that not everyone you know is on your team and that’s ok. While it would be great to have universal support, you don’t actually need it. You can proceed without their approval. Even though it can really suck if someone close to you is creating obstacles, I hope you can find ways to ignore them, to work around them, or to build your practice in spite of their opposition. Personally, I have had a fair bit of success with spite-fueled missions so don’t worry if you have to use that tactic.

About the Go Team! posts:

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.

goals · habits · martial arts

Christine H is trying to (TKD) practice what she preaches

If all goes well, I’m hoping to test for my 4th degree black belt in ITF Taekwon-Do sometime later this year but I have a lot of work to do in order to be fully prepared.

All through the fall, my practice was restricted because I was having trouble with my leg and my foot but things are improving and I have been able to resume my regular home practice.

I’m fairly confident about the patterns I have learned for previous black belt tests.* And I feel good about one of the three I need to learn for this test but I haven’t yet fully grasped the second pattern that I need to learn.

So, I am taking my own advice from my Go Team! posts and creating a plan for a small, specific practice to really get this pattern, Yoo Sin, into my brain and into my muscle memory:

I’m going to practice Yoo Sin for at least 5 minutes a day, every day, from now until the end of February, or until I can perform it without hesitation, whichever comes first.

This is what Yoo Sin looks like:

A YouTube video of Patricia Pacero performing the ITF Takekwon-Do pattern Yoo Sin in a practice space with white walls and with blue mats on the floor. She is wearing a white TKD uniform (dobok) and her black belt.

I have been through the whole pattern step-by-step a couple of times with guided instruction but at this point I can only get about 1/3 of the way through the pattern without stopping to check the next move.

I’m not sure if 5 minutes of daily practice will get me where I want to go with the pattern in a month but it will definitely move me in the right direction.

And, as I know from my own Go Team! pep talks, I can reassess and do some course correction at any point in the process.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

For the record, this isn’t the only TKD practice I will do in February, it’s just how I plan to add this pattern to my repertoire.

*If you aren’t familiar with how things work in the martial arts, getting your black belt is not your end point, it’s the point at which you know enough of the basics to start deepening and strengthening your practice. I earned my first degree black belt in 2014. I learned 3 new patterns for my second degree belt in 2016, another 3 new patterns for my third degree belt in 2019, and I have to learn 3 new patterns for my 4th degree test. This is on top of the 9 patterns that I learned for the various belts leading to my first degree black belt.

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 24: What if you always dread your practice?

I’ve had a lot to say over the past 23 days about all of the things you can encounter as you build your practice. You’ll have ups and downs, there will be obstacles, things might feel weird, you might be grumpy. All of those things are part of the process. It’s ok to feel how you feel and you don’t have to assign any particular meaning to those feelings, unless it serves you well to do so.

But what about if the only thing you feel about your practice is dread?

What if the idea of your session never feels good or even neutral?

Let’s be clear, feeling psyched about your practice session isn’t a requirement for building a habit. You don’t have to be excited or even want to do your practice. If you can go ahead and meditate or move without any motivation or enthusiasm. – you can be fueled by stubbornness, anger, or you can have no discernable feelings about it at. If your feelings on the matter are irrelevant to you, or if you can make a practice so routine that you can do it on autopilot, have at it. You don’t need my advice on the matter.

However, if you dread your practice, constantly look for ways to avoid it, or if you feel like you have to climb a metaphorical mountain every single time you consider practicing, it might be time to review why you have chosen this practice and whether it is actually serving that purpose.

If, for example, your practice is about recovering from an injury or dealing with an ongoing issue, you might want to stick with it, even if you dread it, because it will serve you well down the road. You might be able to make it less awful by choosing music or a podcast or show to entertain yourself while you do it, or by getting a friend to join you -in person or online- while you do your dreaded thing and they do something that they dread. You are the only one who can make the call about whether the dread is worth the results.

But, if this practice is something you have chosen with the idea of expanding your life in some way and you are hating every part of it?

RECONSIDER!

Pretty please.

Why did I choose the word reconsider instead of just telling you to stop?

Because there is probably a complex thought involved in choosing your practice and in choosing whether to change it. Being told to just drop it doesn’t honour that process.

That being said, it may not be that complex for you. So, if you hate your practice, you wish you had never started, the mere thought of it ruins your day and you have no real reason to continue it, consider this is your official permission to drop it and carry on with your life.

If it is more complex than that, please read on.

Why did you choose this practice?

So, there was a reason you chose this practice in the first place.

Maybe you want something that this practice will bring.

Maybe you started this practice to keep someone else company.

Maybe you’ve been given a medical reason for this practice.

Maybe you just thought you should do this.*

Maybe it was a whim, something you thought you would try.

Those are all valid reasons for starting a practice. (Yes, even the word should. Should is a trap but it catches us all sometimes.) But they may not be reason enough to continue.

And we all dread our practice sometimes, especially at the beginning when our brains are keen on sticking with the old pathways instead of putting energy into building new ones.

But now we are a few weeks into our practices and it’s worth taking some time to evaluate how we feel about them.

And if you are still dreading your sessions all the time (or if you haven’t been able to do them at all), this is your chance to take a close look at your intended practice and the reasons behind it.

Things to (re)consider

1) If you want something that your practice will bring, peace of mind, greater strength, additional flexibility, increased endurance, but you dread your practice so much that it ruins your day or that you can’t make yourself do it, your practice is not serving its purpose. There are very few things that can only be achieved in one way. You don’t have to stay on this path because you have already started walking it. Research different ways to reach the same destination.

If you feel weird about starting over or if you are worried that you ‘wasted’ this time so far, remember that your efforts so far count – even if all of your energy went into avoiding your practice. And you are not starting from the same place you were weeks ago. Now you have more information and you know some things to avoid.

2) If you started this practice to keep someone else company, perhaps you can change your side of things. If they are doing yoga and you can’t stand getting on the mat, perhaps you renegotiate. If you are working together in person, perhaps you can do strength training or regular stretches or meditation or read or write or colour while they get bendy. Or perhaps you can find another way to keep them company and cheer them on while you undertake a different challenge.

3) If there is a medical reason for your practice, you may not have the option to stop trying to do it. I’m sorry about that, I know it sucks.

If you can’t escape your practice, you’ll need to find a way to live with it. This might be a good time to engage for full stubbornness abilities and go for angry self-care, or it might be a good time to pay some attention to the issue as a whole.

You may want to start with exploring your feelings around the whole situation. Sometimes our resentment or frustration around medical issues can show up as our brains refusing to cooperate with the very things that will help us most. I find that freewriting in my journal or recording my thoughts as I complain aloud often helps me to figure out the emotions that are getting in my way.

If you start to wade into your feelings around this and you get overwhelmed in any way, please speak to a mental health professional. Not only is it outside of the scope of these post but I am not trained in guiding people through intense emotional reactions. I don’t want to ignore the fact that there may be deep-seated emotions involved in these things and I don’t want to appear cavalier about how to address them.

If the problem doesn’t seem to be based in your feelings about the medical situation, it will be helpful to get specific about your dread. If the practice painful? Is it boring? Are you annoyed about a lack of progress? And then try to figure out what you can do to address those issues. Can you do a different practice and still help your medical situation? Can you do something to make it more interesting? Do you have a realistic sense of how long it will take to make progress? Can you measure progress in a different way? Can you develop a wildly disproportional reward system (i.e. every set of reps earns you 30 minutes of reading your novel)?

4) If this practice was something you thought you should try for some reason but it is not serving you it is definitely ok to stop.

You can take some time to explore why you thought you should try it and if those reasons are important to you, you can figure out a different way to accomplish the same thing.

There is no reason to feel guilty or bad about not doing something that doesn’t work for you.

Yes, even if you announced it to everyone and asked people to ensure that you stick with it.

You are allowed to change your mind and if someone gets uppity with you about it, try adopting a shocked, haughty tone of voice as you respond with something like, “Surely you wouldn’t expect me to continue a practice that didn’t meet my needs? That would be ridiculous! Maybe you like getting trapped in that sort of thing but I refuse to treat myself that way.” Usually that baffles people so much that they back off.

5) If you started this on a whim but you hate it? The experiment is complete. You have your results. You hate it. Feel free to move on.

Changing your mind doesn’t mean that you give up too easily. It doesn’t mean that you can’t stick with things. It has no meaning at all unless you give it one.

If you get any grief about it, respond that you think life is a buffet and that you have no intention of having seconds of a dish you didn’t enjoy.

Today’s Invitation

Today, I invite you to either recommit to your practice, to change it, or to ditch it, whichever serves you best.

You don’t owe anyone else an explanation about which one you choose and you are the only person who knows what is right for you.

I wish you ease as you figure it out.

And here are your gold stars for today. There are lots of them in the photo because the process in this post may require lots of different little bits of hard work.

Your hard work counts. Your efforts matter.

And, what you WANT and what you LIKE matters.

a small rectangular drawing of a tree made of curling lines with a spiral at the end. Gold stars hang from each spiral.
After I finished this drawing, I considered redoing it because the tree was so tangled but I decided it was a metaphor for the fact that even when circumstances are tangled we can earn a gold star. Image description: A drawing of a tree covered in gold stars, the drawing is on a small white card that is resting against a green notebook on my ink-speckled white desk. The tree is drawn near the right edge of the card and it is made of black lines that stretch upward before looping at the end. Each loop has at least one gold star hanging from it. There is a pile of gold stars at the base of the tree and the ground is green and slopes upward to the left. The sky is light blue.

*There’s that damn word again. *shudder*

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.