challenge · fitness

Seeking Comfort

This Girl Can recently asked what exercises have taken you out of your comfort zone and made you feel empowered. Sam posted some of the FIFI group responses in a recent post.

Screenshot of social media post from This Girl Can that reads: It can be easy to feel comfortable with an exercise or activity we know, but sometimes taking it one step further or trying something you never thought you could do can make you feel like a badass! What activities have taken them out of your comfort zone and loved them?

When I saw the question pop up from This Girl Can I immediately started thinking about comfort zones and what they mean. For me, a comfort zone is a place where I feel safe and cared for, either by myself or by others. Many factors go in to creating that zone of comfort, including comfort clothing (no more hard pants!), comfort foods, and even comfort weather – I’m a big fan of peak fall weather when it is chilly enough for sweaters but not coats, socks but not boots, and colorful leafy views.

When I think about fitness through this lens I realize that what feels empowering to me is to stay IN my comfort zone. We tend to think of comfort as something that is easy or unchallenging, but when I dive deeper I realize that if I don’t feel safe or if I don’t feel like I am caring for myself in a smart way I do not feel empowered.

I’ve taken up a lot of different fitness activities. I was not raised to enjoy or do physical movement – instead it was something to dread, and to feel shame about how my body looked attempting such feats. I started to encounter minor mobility issues in my late 30s, a twinge here, a pain there. Various treatment pathways, traditional and holistic, brought me to walking. Just simple walking. I felt safe in my neighborhood. I felt cared for, by myself and by my health practitioners. I felt empowered. I started adding short jogs into my walks – the the next telephone pole, to the yellow house, to the street corner. I was testing my limits, but I was still protecting my body and my soul, making sure it felt safe.

I do not respond well to being pushed or pushing myself beyond “limits.” Sometimes those limits are arbitrary, and sometimes they shift with the given moment. Some days are “beast mode” and some days aren’t. I’ve taken all sorts of clinics, workshops, and classes for things like yoga, swimming, cycling, running, TRX, zumba, water aerobics, pilates, and strength training. Some felt empowering while others felt defeating. Coaches who pushed often found that I was slower, more uncoordinated, and crankier when they insisted I do something a particular way or aim for a goal that felt unattainable. Coaches who asked “can you add/do more/focus on…” and allowed me the time to think about the answer got more favorable results. I was able to ask myself “does adding/doing/focusing feel safe, does it feel right for my body?” Folks who ignored me when I said “no, that doesn’t feel safe” quickly became untrustworthy and people whom I distanced myself from going forward.

Here’s the rub with that plan though – I have to really listen to myself. To give myself space to say “no, that doesn’t feel safe.” To ask myself, and listen to the answer all the time, not just sometimes. I love to try new things and can get easily excited about a new activity, hobby, or project. I do feel empowered when I try something new, but I need to stay in my “comfort zone” more often than not to feel good about something.

Amy ziplining.
Amy’s first ziplining experience

Maybe others view their comfort zones differently and are able to leave them more freely, to take bigger risks, or at least to engage in things that feel riskier for themselves. I’m okay with that! My comfort zone lets me try all sorts of new activities in ways that work for my heart, my head, and my body.

See you on our next adventure!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


Here Comes the Boom!

Here in the Boston area we have a championship football team. They are highly-skilled and they are fierce, offering a demonstration of athletics and collegiality with every game. Maybe you’ve heard of them?

Boston Renegades logo
Boston Renegades logo

The Boston Renegades (did you think I was going to say The Patriots? Nah!) are a team in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). They are four-time back-to-back winners of the WFA Pro National championship game, with an earlier win making them 5x champions. In addition to the “big wins” the Renegades have a 31 game winning streak going, with their last losing game dating back to April 2018.

The team consists of individual record-holders in their specialty sub-fields, and several players recently competed in the 2022 IFAF Women’s World Championship games. Eight Renegades and their coach brought home the gold for Team USA this month. With a wealth of diversity, the Renegades are a well-rounded team of athletes that deserve kudos and celebrations like their male counterparts.

WFA logo
WFA logo

I first found out about the team a few years ago when I became acquainted with one of the players. Despite the home games being played just a few miles from my house, I had never heard of them until I met this player. At the time she was working a full-time job, a part-time job, and growing her family, while also being a supportive teammate and strong competitor. She invited folks in our shared network to come to a game and support the team, and my spouse and I have been going every season since then.

Having been to many professional sports games in the past, I wasn’t sure what to expect given that the stadium where they play was much smaller. When I arrived I quickly noted that fans could bring in food and drinks, seating was not reserved and informal, and most fans in attendance sported team apparel. The relaxed atmosphere felt incredibly welcoming, and it was easy to see how much easier it would be for families with young children to attend and not have to limit their belongings to the bare necessities or what would fit in a clear, small backpack (a requirement at most major league stadiums these days). My group quickly honed in on what we think of as “our seats” and set about supporting the on-site vendors. The ticket prices are reasonable, the food vendors on-site don’t increase their regular prices for “stadium fare” and the games are fun! They even have the “End Zone Militia” at every game, ready to fire off their muskets at each Renegade point scored, prompting the announcer to whoop “here comes the boom” before they unload. Many in my group knit or crochet, so some of us often have a project going, along with a good bit of conversation, while also watching the game. Some of us (that would be me) don’t really understand the rules of football very well, but are happy to be in the environment having a nice time with friends and supporting a great team.

What makes this team great? I already mentioned their winning streak and championships, which I think speaks to their football skills and abilities. But from the first game I attended, it was easy to see how this team, this environment, was different from other professional games I have seen. The team camaraderie, the way these players care for one another, is so easy to see. The players connect with their fans in the stadium, and you can see them looking for their loved ones in the seats throughout the game. In 2019 a player from an opposing team got injured during a Renegades home game. Her injuries required her to stay in a Boston hospital for several weeks. While the player’s team set up a gofundme page to help with expenses, members of the Renegades shared that link with their fans and on their team page. A team member with an empty rental unit offered the injured player’s family use of the rental, and Renegades players reached out to their networks to furnish the unit with linens, cookware, and furniture for the family to be as comfortable as possible while they were caring for their loved one.

One thing that stands out in the story above, aside from a community banding together to support one of their members, is that the injured player (and family) was reliant upon gofundme donations and other types of financial support. While this is a professional football league, the players do not earn anything close to a living wage playing the sport, let alone the mega salaries we see reflected in the National Football League. Most of the WFA players work outside jobs. The teams do have corporate sponsors, but they are often local businesses rather than national corporations. When players travel to away games, championships, and even the IFAF World Championship they set up fundraisers to offset the travel expenses. The team holds a 50/50 raffle at every home game, and the person selling the tickets is usually one of the team owners. It is an “all hands on deck” situation, and everyone does their part to make it work. Despite that, it is easy to see the differences in financial and community support between the Renegades and the Patriots!

Do these differences matter? No one team or league can be exactly like each other, right?! Right! The mega salaries that NFL players make are not the same as the mega salaries that NBA players make… they’re just very similar. Obviously a critical difference between the NFL and the WFA is the gender of the players. This impacts how much media attention, funding, and other crucial support the WFA teams get versus the NFL. A neighbor recently decorated their boat with all the local sports teams for our local boat parade – Celtics, Patriots, Bruins… but no Renegades. When I suggested they needed an addition to their “boat costume” they weren’t sure who the Renegades were. In other discussions about why I enjoy watching the Renegades play I’ve had men tell me they would rather watch the “lingerie league” football games.

A Wilson-brand football on a white line on the field.
A Wilson-brand football on a white line on the field. Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

Representation matters! Diversity, equality, and equity in sport are all needed. It is easy to see this if you have ever been at a Renegades game, watching the players excitedly sign autographs for kids after the game, posing for pictures with their exhausted bodies and beaming smiles. These teams and leagues need our support just as much as we need their spirit and passion while we all push the limitations imposed on women’s sports.

Want to know more about women’s tackle football? Born To Play is a great documentary featuring the Renegades:

Do you have a favorite WFA team? Another women’s sport that you love? Please share in the comments!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


Trying and Failing; Or, When to Quit

A couple weeks ago I wrote about purchasing a stand up paddle board (SUP). When I wrote the post I was still waiting for it to arrive. My SUP experience is very limited, having only been one time several years ago, but watching a few of my neighbors on their SUPs this summer renewed my interest.

Photo of a rocky area above the water with a sign in the foreground that says “Danger Risk of Falling”

Photo by Chanel Chomse on Unsplash
Photo of a rocky area above the water with a sign in the foreground that says “Danger Risk of Falling”

My SUP arrived and my partner helped me get everything set up. It is an inflatable, so it required a little bit of work, but it came together pretty quickly in the backyard. Having an extra set of hands was helpful for the initial unboxing, and I am always grateful when he is willing to carry stuff down to the dock for me, as it is steep and even with grippy shoes I sometimes feel like I’m skating down it.

The last time I used a SUP I was able to step right off the dock onto the board. That didn’t go so well this time, even with having an extra human to offer a steadying shoulder. I just couldn’t get the balance right, and the water is too shallow in that area to risk falling straight in from dock height. I was able to get onto the board on my knees straight off the dock, but then I got a little stuck and couldn’t go anywhere.

Next I tried stepping onto the board in the shallow area. That worked a bit better, but I only got a very short cruise off the shore before I fell into the water. I didn’t injure myself, but it was still too shallow there for a “safe” fall, so I picked up a couple of scrapes and scratches along the rocky bottom.

All of this trying and falling happened about 30 minutes before the neighborhood July 4th boat parade started, so I had a bit of an audience. Several neighbors were setting up chairs and making their way down to their docks to get ready for the show. I don’t think watching me fall off my SUP was quite the show they had planned! When my partner tried the SUP (he made it to standing before losing his balance and falling in) I heard one of the neighborhood children giggle and say “momma, he just fell right in!” After enough attempts to tire myself out I sat on the board and paddled around a bit, just to get a sense of balance and paddling, and then we watched the boat parade while floating in the water, cheering on our neighbors and their decorated boats. I had been prepared to fail, to be bad at something new, but I wasn’t as prepared to fail quite so publicly.

So where does that leave the SUP and I? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. A friend has expressed interest in buying it from me if I decide to turn in my paddle, and I’ve been considering the offer. I definitely have a few more practice sessions in me to see if I can make my way to standing before I decide. I’ve watched countless videos on how to successfully stand and balance, and I’m hoping that trying some of the advice offered there will get me up to standing. One of the reasons I would prefer to start from standing is that, like many people, I have some knee mobility concerns that make paddling on the knees and rising from a kneeling position on a wobbly board more difficult.

Photo of a man trying to do a headstand on a paddleboard, about to fall into the water.

Photo by Jonas Denil on Unsplash
Photo of a man trying to do a headstand on a paddleboard, about to fall into the water.

Practice may make perfect, or at least possible, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about when it is time to quit. I know I’m not ready to give up yet, but I also know I’m unwilling to keep at something that is painful (beyond normal acclimation to a new thing), overly difficult, or makes me feel bad about myself and my abilities. I’m unwilling to “tough it out” for something that is supposed to be a fun hobby/activity. But knowing how much effort is enough, how many attempts are too many, and second guessing myself that I didn’t “try hard enough” are thoughts I’ve experienced in the past when making the decision to let something go. The only thing I know to do is to keep trying, keep researching different techniques for getting into a standing position, and keep having an attitude of being willing to be bad at something (even if the neighbor children are pointing and laughing). Most of all, to keep trusting myself.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


SUP Newbie

My first, and only, stand up paddle-board (SUP) experience was a few (okay, 8!) years ago while visiting friends. They were members of a premier sports & fitness club that had a quarry on the property which they used for a few different water sports. Our friends had recently taken up SUP’ing as part of their regular gym-going routine, and we (my spouse and I) were excited to try something new. It didn’t hurt that it was October and the water temperature was in the high 70s, whereas it was already turning cold at my house.

Blue and white paddle-board at the edge of a lake, with trees and mountains in the background (photo by Will Smith on Unsplash)

I am not the most coordinated person. That is to say I have a serious lack of coordination and occasionally just tilt over while walking in a way that confuses most other people. I’m also in a larger body and despite my efforts to pick things up and put them down, I have never had a lot of upper body strength. So I felt like my best chance for getting on and staying on the board was to step onto it right off the dock, and then don’t get off of it until I was done. I did not kneel. I did not sit down. I stood. I paddled. I jumped off and enjoyed a refreshing swim, and then pushed my board back to the dock while I remained in the water. I don’t know if I could have pulled myself back onto the board because I never tried.

Despite feeling uncoordinated and generally suspicious of new things, I really enjoyed the adventure. We tried to go again on our trip but other activities in the new-to-me city won out, and we ran out of time. Fast forward four years, and I now live near a small body of water. Our community calls it a pond, but it would be described as a small lake in most other places. Within a month of moving in we had purchased two kayaks and began enjoying the water. As soon as it was warm enough to swim in the pond, I pulled on my wetsuit and hopped right in. In the summer I will often grab a pool noodle and a beverage and go “float” near the dock, relaxing in the water and chatting with neighbors as they boat or paddle by. In those early days I searched for a SUP that met our needs and our budget. The hard boards were often heavy and carried a lower maximum weight than what we preferred. The inflatables had a wide range of ratings and user experiences, and most of them were a bit above our price range. I still kept an eye out on community “for sale” pages and summer sales flyers, but it wasn’t a priority.

Until this past weekend. The universe worked to remind me of how much I wanted to SUP on our little pond by sending a couple of paddle-boarders by as we were enjoying breakfast. Later that morning I was on a page for a community group I am in and saw that someone had posted a link to their new inflatable SUP, which happened to be on sale for a very reasonable price. I knew it had to be mine, but let it percolate for a few more hours before pushing the “buy” button.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to do a headstand, but maybe a little Warrior II someday. Image: woman doing a headstand on a paddle board (photo by Tower Paddle Boards on Unsplash)

And now, friends, my new SUP is on the way to me, reported to arrive before next weekend when I can try it out and get familiar with our combined quirks. The kit comes with everything but a life jacket, which I already have. Although I can step onto the board right off the dock, I know I am going to need to get proficient at pulling myself back onto the board, and at getting to a standing position from sitting or kneeling. I’m sure there will be a host of other things I need to figure out, including sun protection for longer paddles. I’m excited to try something new and open to doing it poorly for a while while I work on these new skills. Please share any SUP tips you have in the comments!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

challenge · fitness

On Challenges

I’ve been thinking about challenges lately. The kind we encounter, yes, but also the kind of challenges we issue ourselves or the ones issued by others that we choose to take up. In the fitness world there is no shortage of challenges available – do x activity for y days, run/ride/move xx miles in yy amount of time, etc.

When I learn about a challenge that gets my interest I often have good intentions. I’m a planner and a procrastinator, so give me an opportunity to create a “challenge plan” in my calendar or excel spreadsheet and I’m a happy human. My enthusiasm for these types of challenges often wanes quickly once I’ve finished mapping it out though. I do best with more flexible challenges where I get to do different activities, but I think the bottom line is that I don’t really like to be told what to do or what I “should” be doing. I also do better with long-term challenges where I can take a (sometimes lengthy) break and still reach my goal.

June calendar showing dates 22 through 26
June calendar showing dates 22 through 26. Photo by Behnam Norouzi on Unsplash

I recently learned that Robin Arzon, a Peloton fitness instructor, posted a “31 day challenge” to move 30 minutes every day in June. Honestly, what caught my attention about this is that there are only 30 days in June… Admittedly, I did not see her original post and received 2nd hand information about it, but when I looked it up I noted that it did extend into July 1 to get that final day in there. I’ve been looking for something to “motivate” me to move a bit more, having just wrapped up a busy season at work and coming back from a short vacation where I noticed my energy level and willingness to explore on foot were both flagging. Figuring if Robin can stretch into the next month I could just go ahead and start on May 31, I jumped right in with a bike ride and yoga class. I was enthusiastic. I was excited. And then came day 2. I didn’t sleep well. It was rainy. My house is under construction and the noise is deafening. My dogs are a nervous mess because of the noise. By 2pm the workers had called it on account of the weather and the dogs and I were in a napping heap on the couch.

Amy’s two dogs resting on a gray couch with gray blankets. One dog is brown with an orange collar, the other dog is white with lots of black spots.

I could have let myself feel guilty about that decision. In actuality, I did have a small twinge of guilt. But I’ve been doing a lot of work on my internal monologue about listening to my body without letting thoughts about what I “should” be doing overtake what I need in a given situation. I know I can push through and do a 30 min tired, cranky workout but it may make me enjoy movement less (and resist it more) the next time if I don’t listen to what my body is really saying.

Looking at my journal I note that I have several “challenges” that I am tracking for the year. I’m part of the FIFI “222 in 2022” group and I’ve set a personal bike mileage goal for the year. I have also challenged myself to meditate daily and to read more books this year than last. I’m trying to get a research manuscript off to the publisher by year’s end, and dang if that isn’t both a challenge and challenging!

I know my success rate at challenges is often influenced by how challenging life is throughout the duration and I try to stay attuned to the rhythms and cycles of my schedule. I try to be compassionate with myself and to examine why I wasn’t able to complete a challenge from a neutral place, not from one of “failure” or good/bad judgements.

As for today, I write this on day 3 of my (and Robin’s) 30 in 31 challenge. I have the energy and the time to work some movement in while the pups and I retreat from the noise and mess in our upstairs cocoon. As for the rest of the month, we’ll see how the challenge and the challenges fare.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · Guest Post

Workout Selfies: Yay or Nay?

Woman wearing olive green leggings and matching sports bra doing a yoga pose. A shelf with yoga props is in the background.

A few weeks ago Virginia Sole-Smith at Burnt Toast wrote about posting workout selfies. The internet did what it does, which is have a variety of opinions. I posted a link to the article on my personal Facebook page… some folks messaged me privately to say it was an interesting article and they were thinking more about it after reading. Other friends commented publicly to say they agreed or understood the point of the article. One friend said “I’m sure I don’t agree – not sure on the why,” and there were additional “disagree” or “agree, but that isn’t why I do it” comments.

The article also got posted in the FIFI Facebook feed, and received multiple responses. After going back and reading through the responses I noticed that a lot of them are in favor of workout selfies and felt the article was out of bounds in saying that they were unnecessary. A few folks said they were interested in sitting with the why behind the selfies, as Sole-Smith suggests: “we should sit quietly for a while with why we do it. And name its potential for harm.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this article since my first read of it, and have revisited it a few times. I like the nuance Sole-Smith brings to the piece, and the fact that it isn’t presented as an all or nothing argument. I follow many “influencers” on social media who document their athletic movement, most of them doing so in larger bodies. I follow them specifically because I want to see larger bodies doing joyful movement, and my feed is carefully curated to avoid weight loss and diet influencers. If someone I follow is interested in changing their body I support that goal, but I’m likely to unfollow them if they talk about intentional weight loss as a virtuous endeavor, because that isn’t something I’m interested in reading about. There are a few folks that I think manage a good balance between discussing weight loss and activity because they understand the potential harm of weight loss discussions that aren’t contextualized. For me, Sam is a great example of this where she has chronicled her path to knee replacement surgery over the years (sorry that it still hasn’t happened, Sam!)

Image of a sports watch surrounded by a partial pair of running shoes, earbuds, and a jump rope.

Influencers aside, I have several friends who post workout selfies on their social media accounts. Some do it to keep themselves motivated and share their movement journey with friends. They get “likes” or favorable comments which helps them feel supported. One friend runs a monthly marathon for local charities and her daily run selfie includes images of local scenery, social justice-orientated signs/murals, and related social commentary. Another friend is a sociologist studying race in running spaces. She posts her daily running selfie to show a Black woman in our local, white-dominated running environment. I’m so used to seeing these posts that I rarely stop to think about them and what they mean or convey about workout/diet/selfie culture, if they mean anything at all. But I often notice when friends who don’t normally post workout selfies start posting them, especially when they also post about intentional weight loss. Sometimes their commentary comes with statements like “been inactive for too long, gotta get myself back in shape” or other similar sentiments. Those posts always make me a little sad because I don’t feel like they are moving for movement’s sake or for joyous purpose, but rather to try and punish their body for being “bad” or “too big.” And once I start thinking about those types of comments I start to wonder what they think about the “bigness” of other bodies, and how that shapes their perspectives and interactions with folks who have those bigger bodies.

Overall I’m in agreement with Sole-Smith’s perspective on workout selfies. I don’t think they are needed very often. I love being in supportive movement-specific groups and that is where I expect to see, and sometimes share my own, movement updates or sweaty selfies. And I’m not here to tell anyone else what they can or should post on their social media accounts. We’re all different and we all enjoying posting and viewing different types of things. But I think it is worth some self-reflection to understand why we are or are not posting that workout selfie, what the goal is for sharing, and how it might be received.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · Guest Post · habits

10 a.m. only comes once a day

10 a.m. is my window of greatness. All things are possible at 10 a.m in my world. I’m not an early riser, nor am I a great sleeper, so no matter what time I get up I never really hit my groove until around 10 in the morning.

Image description: A small portable alarm clock showing the time as 10:13. Image titled “Clock” by Simon Shek.

Even though I have a semi-flexible work schedule, I still like to have some structure to my days. And with a lot of meetings and a fair amount of appointments each week, I have to keep a good eye on my calendar to avoid missing something or scheduling over another commitment.

It turns out though, unfortunately for me, that 10 a.m. only rolls around one time each day. Why does that matter? I can usually only do one task during that “greatness” window. If I’m home and don’t have any meetings I will often opt to get some movement in during that time. I typically have my best/peak movement sessions when I can complete them in the 10 o’clock window. And I’ve noticed that if it doesn’t happen during that time the odds of getting movement in later in the day diminish as the clock ticks toward evening.

It turns out that movement isn’t my only 10 a.m. activity though. I live in an area where traffic can be very heavy during the morning and evening commute, and afternoon traffic worsens with the school/bus transit schedule. So when I need to schedule an appointment I often find myself asking for the 10 o’clock hour. It is early enough that doctors and other service providers aren’t behind and running late, and places like the post office aren’t overly crowded.

Appointments and movement time aside, I also find that 10 a.m. is my ideal time to write. Yes, I am writing this at 10 a.m., and since I started writing have received a text reminding me of a 10 a.m. appointment later in the week. As a professor, research and writing are a part of my job responsibilities. While I find that I research and outline best at other times of day, writing comes easiest during my personal golden hour.

This preference for doing all the things in the 10 o’clock hour is something that I’ve noticed since the pandemic shifted my schedule in the spring of 2020. Prior to that I had a less flexible work schedule and typically only tried to hold that morning window for tasks related to writing, or other work obligations. As my schedule shifted and settled into the current configuration I started to wonder why there were days I felt like giving up before I even got started. It took some time to sort out that my brain was saying I couldn’t write because I spent the magic hour biking or at an appointment. Or it was saying that I should plan to skip the bike ride because the afternoon would be too busy and I had already squandered my movement time by spending it writing.

Several years ago when I was really struggling with meeting my writing goals I started looking into schedule blocking, and learned that many people have this time in their schedule that they feel all things are possible. I’ve seen it referred to as tiger time, magic hour, golden hour, drive time, and a few other names. The gist is always similar in these descriptions – it is the time in which you feel most productive and focused. For some people it is a specific time of day (10 a.m. for me) while for others it is a range, such as 10 a.m. to noon or 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The duration of the window will also very from person to person, or even from day to day. There are days when my window of deep focus only lasts 45 minutes, while other days I get into a flow and realize it is well past lunchtime and my stomach is growling.

Since learning about time blocking and schedule management I’ve started following some habit change experts, particularly ones who work from a base of self-compassion and not from a “hustle” or “grind” framework. One thing I’ve learned is that having awareness about my own scheduling preferences is more than half the battle. Once I realized that I was scheduling all of these things over top of each other in my mind, I was able to figure out how to best prioritize them to ensure there was something left for all my commitments, even if they couldn’t get done at 10 a.m. I’m much better at telling myself that a bike ride is possible at 3 p.m., and it is okay if it isn’t peak performance because the events of the day have used up more energy than if I had ridden at 10 a.m.

Do you have a “golden hour” or “magic window” where you feel most productive? What types of activities do you hope to complete during that time, and how do you adjust when it isn’t possible? I’d love to hear more strategies and tips for those really hard or busy days.

Image description: An older style green bike with a spedometer attached to the handlebars. Image titled “Spedometer” by Alexandra Guerson.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

Guest Post

Pen or Pencil?: Some thoughts on mistakes (Guest post)

My friend recently showed me a set of beautiful pencils she was buying. We’re both proponents of nice writing instruments, and I was glad she had found a new set that made her heart sing. During this conversation I mentioned that I a) did not care to use pencils very often, and b) dreaded using an eraser. The eraser is really more of a practical bit – I just don’t like all those little tiny eraser shreds after use. But I started to really think about my preference for pens over pencils, my preference for permanency.

I make a lot of mistakes. I’m sure most people do, but some days it feels like I make more than the average bear. Despite this, I’m still willing to do the crossword puzzles in pen, with little scratch-outs and letters that have been written over several times. My errors are plainly visible to anyone looking over my shoulder or coming behind me (yes, I even start the crosswords at the doctor’s office in pen.)

My lifelong movement journey has been filled with mistakes. Some of them are permanently written on my brain, while others are more visible on my body. A limp here, a grimace at a particular movement there. The days when my brain says moving will not make me feel better, despite years of that being untrue. The flashbacks to an adolescent gym class when I was told I was too slow, too fat, or too much of a girl to do a particular activity or sport. Some of these mistakes aren’t mine, but they are indelibly stained onto my body.

After years of ignoring my body and believing it needed to look a certain way or do certain things, I sometimes still struggle to align my body and brain. This isn’t about celebrating all the things I can do – I’ve become very good at that. It’s more about the actual link between movement and thought. I’m not very coordinated, and my brain and my muscles don’t always connect together. If someone tells me to swim down the lane like Katie Ledecky my brain is sure that I am doing just that. I am sleek, I am strong, and I am fast. When I come back to the edge I can’t help but notice I’m not nearly as fast as Katie (who is!?) and when I watch video of my swim I see I’m not following any of the swim instructions my brain was sure I was excelling at. I look more like a fish out of water, not the graceful mermaid I had imagined. The disconnection between brain and muscle can feel overwhelming some days.

I’m not saying my pen over pencil preference is the perfect metaphor here. On some level I just prefer a pen. I like the weight of a heavier pen and the feel of the ink scratching onto the page. I prefer a blue or a purple ink. I truly do dislike the feel and the mess of those little eraser shavings after an edit has been made. These are just my preferences, of course, and I’ll gladly support yours for something different.

Although there have been disagreements between my body and brain over the years I’ve been proud of the things my body (and my brain) have accomplished. There has been a lot of joy in movement. And still, after all this time of putting my mistakes out there (in pen!) for everyone to see I’ve started to appreciate the openness of that. It feels good to have a record of what worked and what needed correction as my body and brain find more alignment with one another. Last month I found myself “riding to the beat of the music,” moving my legs in the same 1-2, 1-2 pattern as the cycling instructor was calling out. The sense of accomplishment in that small act was enormous, scratching out and writing over some of the old words I’d written on my body.

Amy in a blue sweater staring into the distance and squinting in the sun

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.