advice · commute · covid19 · ergonomics · fitness · habits · planning · self care

Habits to Offset Being an End-of-Day Grump After Back-to-Work Commuting

Shortly after coming home from my work commute the other day, I found that my partner (and cat) could barely stand to be around me. I was being a total grump—tired and irritable. Why?

I had spent the last two days commuting by car (an hour each way, plus more travel between sites), then sitting for hours at desks that were not my own. Being vehicle- and desk-bound used to be my work-a-day norm. But, after only a few days back at work, and despite all the travel, I felt unusually sedentary and yuck.

A woman hunched over her laptop while seated at a desk
A woman hunched over her laptop at a desk. Posture posture posture!

I have worked from home during most of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means I’ve had the luxury of walking or exercising before or after work (most days!), and taking short stretch breaks anytime I’ve needed to in a private and comfortable space of my own. More control over how, where, and how much I sit.

You may be thinking—with all this privilege, 5 hours in the car over 2 days is not, relatively speaking, a big deal. Boo hoo, Elan. (At first I thought that too.)

Yet, because I am trying to be mindful and notice things more, I realized maybe I hadn’t prepared myself sufficiently for what back to work would feel like for my body.

Reminders are for people who need reminding. Here is a brief list of reminders for how I might show up more prepared for my return-to-work days a (and be less of a grump around those I love afterwards).

  • Leave 15 minutes earlier than I need to and park at the far end of the parking lot to have time to walk and stretch before sitting in the office.
  • Bring more water and veggie snacks than I think I will need in order to stay hydrated (and avoid the snack machine).
  • Schedule in-person meetings to end 10 minutes before the hour, and use that time to get up and move around, perhaps reacquainting myself with the buildings and their outdoor spaces.
  • Assess the ergonomics of my seated position in my car and in my hoteling office work spaces—try to notice my posture and pack what I need to adjust myself.
  • Make time to stretch before getting back into my car near the end of the day.
Cats and trucks lined up on a highway
That’s me, third car on the right.

What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!

advice · Dancing · Fear · fitness · media

Bad Dancing

FIFI bloggers have shared many beautiful and uplifting posts about the aerobic, aesthetic, historical, cultural, and social aspects of their dance and dancing.

But I want to talk about bad dancing. Not defining what is bad dancing (too subjective, or in the case of trained dancing, too specialized). Rather, I want to consider how we respond to the fear of bad dancing in social situations that can creep on the edges of our minds before, during, or after we dance.

Dancing, the media, and us

If you’re of a certain age, a single one word brings to mind the epitome of “bad dancing”: Elaine.

Elaine dancing, from Seinfeld.

If you’re not quite at that age, but close, here’s second word that sums up dancing so bad it’s good: (the) Carlton.

Carlton dancing, from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Both tv sitcom clearly characters find joy and freedom in their dancing. Yet, these scenes also capture some not uncommon worries about dancing: folks laughing behind our backs without our knowledge (like Elaine), or being seen and judged when we dance (though I realize that race, class, and culture ground the joke of Carlton dancing to a Tom Jones song as well).

The media not only reflects but can also amplify our worries. Elaine’s scene reminds us that wedding and parties are places where dancing is a social expectation. We might start to compare our dancing with the many mainstream media celebs and performers who dance with more style and grace (thanks to professional training). Also, there are TikTok dancers around to remind us how much money we are not making from our own dancing.

I bet my non-existent jazz flats that—even those with actual dance training—most folks at some point have wondered whether they were a bad dancer, or if others might have thought so. Just last week, after a fun house dance night with about 12 people I avoided watching the phone videos that were shared around because I didn’t want to watch myself, or see others watching me.

Am I a bad dancer? Part I

How do we respond to fears of being regarded (or regarding ourselves) as a “bad dancer,” or at least not a very good one, when dancing in social settings?

There are lots of ways, most of which fall somewhere between the Elaine (totally surprised/defensive) and Carlton (hyperaware/embarrassed). Read on to see what strategies you have used, and let me know what I have missed.

  • You can seek out ways to reduce your inhibitions to care less about how you (or other) feel about your dancing. “Liquid courage” is a common method. There’s even a study that suggests that if you find the “platform of effective intoxication,” alcohol can actually make you a better dancer.
  • You can choose ironic dancing, an exaggerated form of dancing that is intentionally self-deprecative, as this DJ describes. (Think the Robot, the Sprinkler, or any other passé dance craze). Some may interpret your ironic dancing as making fun of not yourself but them on the dance floor.
  • You can accept that you are not a trained dancer, but dance anyway—just for fun, relaxation, or exercise. Perhaps you are someone with the congenital condition known as beat deafness, in which you cannot distinguish rhythm or move in time to it.
  • You might get constructive and practice dancing, as suggested by the advice in this Steezy blog post: take time watch online dance lessons, practice in front of a mirror or in safe places with friends, and take in-real-life dance classes.
  • You may embrace your dancing as a form of resistance or protest—to white/middle-class/ableist dance norms, the hyper-regulation of bodies, and other forms of systemic injustice. I will never forget for the first time watching Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) in his music video “This is America” (warning: violence)—his dancing had me re-thinking my assumptions about what dancing is, who dancing is for, and why dancing is such an important form of representation and resistance in BIPOC communities. (See this Atlantic article for more.)

Am I a bad dancer? Part II

Upon re-watching Elaine after her let-loose dance scene, I didn’t find myself sharing in her friends and employees’ teasing. Rather, I wished Elaine would have taken her own advice from her wedding toast: “Here’s to those who wish us well. And those who don’t can go to hell.”

In her post Bad Dancers?, dance and fitness instructor Karen Kiefer writes, “A dance floor will always have people with different styles and knowledge levels about dancing: which doesn’t mean they are good or bad dancers, just people enjoying themselves for an evening.”

This is a reminder to you (and me): when you have an Elaine and Carlton-level love of dancing, don’t ask the question—because then the answer doesn’t matter.

advice · fitness · health · hiking · meditation · nature

Hiking with a Book

I almost always go on 2 to 3-hour hikes with friends. I enjoy the great conversation topics, the companionship, and the treats we often enjoy together afterwards.

But one recent morning, and for the first time, I found myself wanting to go on a solo hike outside. Because I also enjoy the company of books, I decided to bring one with me.

The place

three trees and water (The Thames River, London, Ontario)
Spring! Photo by Elan Paulson

Hiking with a book is not exactly like reading in your backyard or on a deck. One of the best parts about hiking with a book is that you have find a spot to read. While I was outside primarily for exercise, I was also side-questing for the best place to stop. On the hill or by the water? On a rock or a log? Behind or facing the sun?

Once I hiked as far as I had wanted to go, I doubled back and settled on the best of my mentally shortlisted spots: a great, flat tree stump that was surrounded by trees but also eye-line to the river. It was perfect!

The book

On sites like Bustle and Goodreads, and on blogs like thehikinglife there are lists and lists of books to take along hiking and backpacking. But I am mostly a short-distance hiker who is not really drawn to stories about radical feats of extreme hiking.

Cover of One Story, One Song, by Richard Wagamese

Instead, I brought a book I had just bought: One Story, One Song (2015) by Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. He is one of my favourite writers, and it was a happy coincidence to read Wagamese’s reflections on what he has learned from the land while being on the land myself.

The experience

Out in the crisp spring air, on my solo hike I savoured both the hike itself and anticipation of stopping to read.

When I sat and read, I paused between chapters under the section titled “Humility,” which put into relief some of the petty challenges that had wound me up over the past week. As I looked at the water and listened to the little birds chirping and flitting around me, I thought quietly about my own humility.

When I resumed the rest of my hike, book in pocket, I set some positive intentions for the upcoming week based on what I had read and thought about. In the middle of my busy week, I plan to find some quiet time by recalling what I had read and where I was when I read it.

So, this week I discovered how outdoor reading that is “bookended” by some alone hiking time can be replenishing for both body and mind. I definitely recommend it!

Do you hike with books? What do you read, and where?

advice · fitness · motivation · training

Being willing to be bad at a thing

So whenever I’ve been interviewed about the blog or the book I co-wrote with Tracy one of the most common questions is about motivation. What do we have to say to someone who struggles with getting enough exercise, who wants to exercise but never manages to do it?

The two pieces of advice we most commonly give on the blog are START SMALL and FIND A PHYSICAL ACTIVITY YOU ENJOY.

I was happy to see a short piece this week with another bit of advice, LET YOURSELF BE BAD.

Christine Carter writes about her own experiences of planning to train for a half marathon but failing to get out the door.

Why did I skip exercise despite knowing all this?

The truth is our ability to follow through on our intentions — to get into a new habit like exercise or to change our behavior in any way — actually doesn’t depend on the reasons that we might do it or on the depth of our convictions to do it. It also doesn’t depend on our understanding of the benefits of a particular behavior, or even on the strength of our willpower.

Instead, it depends on our willingness to be badat our desired behavior.

And I hate being bad at stuff. I’m a “go big or go home” kind of gal. I like being good at things, and I quit exercising because I wasn’t willing to be bad at it.

Here’s why we need to be willing to be bad. Being good requires that our effort and our motivation need to be equivalent. In other words, the harder a thing is for us to do, the more motivation we need to do that thing. And you might have noticed that motivation isn’t something we can always muster on command. Whether we like it or not, motivation comes and motivation goes. When motivation wanes, plenty of research shows that we humans tend to follow the law of the least effort and do the easiest thing.”

For me this was true of Aikido. I’m not good at Aikido. It doesn’t play to my strengths as a fitness activity. Accepting that and recognizing that I would never have a black belt or even a brown belt, was part of what allowed me to keep going. Aikido was good for me and my satisfaction in it couldn’t come from me excelling at it. I found other things to enjoy but I accepted I’d never be an Aikido rock star.

See the full story here:

Pink hearts on black background. Unsplash.
advice · fitness · flexibility · injury · stretching

Christine Learns The Same Lesson…Again.

I was at my chiropractor last week about a problem I’m having with my heels.

I already had a working theory that my sore heels were a result of overly tight calves (I was half right) so I had been doing all kinds of different calf stretches to try and find some relief.

One of the most useful sets of stretches I found was in this short yoga video.

Her exercises helped my calves…and my heels, at least temporarily, but there was one problem.

I really hate that ‘front fold with your fingers tucked under your toes’ stretch.

I mean, I HATE IT.

I know, I know! Why don’t I tell you how I really feel.

Let’s see if this helps clarify things:

Image description: A GIF of Sophia Petrillo, an elderly character from the show Golden Girls, raises ​and lowers her hand as she vehemently says ‘I hate that!’
Image description: A GIF of Sophia Petrillo, an elderly character from the show Golden Girls, raises and lowers her hand as she vehemently says ‘I hate that!’

I forced myself to do it though because the rest of the video was so helpful (I was wary of the bouncing but I didn’t hate it) but I found myself dreading it and putting it off, and even the promised relief for my heels didn’t help.

So, anyway, I’m mentioning all of this to Ken, my chiropractor (and my cousin!) and he, clever soul that he is, sensibly said ‘You won’t stick with a stretch you hate, do something else instead.’

Glerg.

Of course!

How many times do I have to learn this lesson?

How often will I have to be reminded that the best exercise is the one I’ll do?

Why can’t I remember that hating an exercise can be a good reason not to do it?

Now, I get that sometimes there are exercises that must be done in order to heal specific things and how much you hate it may not be a factor in that case.

But, for me, it keeps happening for exercises that can easily be switched out for something else.

I need to start letting ‘I hate it!’ be a signal to find an equivalent exercises that I like instead of a signal to dig in my heels and (try to) force myself to keep doing something that feels awful.

(Besides, digging in my heels is definitely not going to help right now. 😉 )

Do you have exercise lessons that you have to learn again and again?

Please tell me that I’m not the only one!

advice · fitness

Advice from a bearded dragon

In case you missed her on Instagram or Twitter, here’s Lizzy.

My son Gavin was keen to show me how to make memes so these are actually his handiwork.

Enjoy!

Lizzy with various pieces of advice: “Lizzy says remember to rest and recuperate,” “Believe in yourself like Lizzy believes in the possibility of daily crickets,” “Lizzy says the outside world is worth interacting with,” and “Lizzy says respect your boundaries.”

advice · fitness · habits · motivation · new year's resolutions

Go Team! January 18: Respect Your Resistance

How do you respond when your brain resists the idea of moving or meditating or doing any of the other things that are challenging in the short term but beneficial in the long term?

Do you try to stubborn your way through the resistance?

(I have had moderate success with this some of the time.)

Do you give into the resistance and just avoid your wellness plans?

(I’ve done this regularly in the past. It did not make me feel any better and I did not become any fitter nor did it lower my stress levels.)

Or, do you respect your resistance and try to figure out why it is coming up right now?

(This has been my most useful approach for dealing with resistance.)

Once you get curious about the nature of your resistance, you can often address some of the challenges that tend to bring it to the forefront.

Sure, sometimes resistance is just inertia – a kind of energy-based reluctance to change from your current state to new one and that’s when stubbornly pushing ahead will probably help.

Otherwise, though, resistance could have useful information for you.

Asking yourself questions about the specific nature of your resistance will bring any frustrations about your wellness plans to your conscious mind. Once you are consciously aware of the issues, you can decide how to address them.

(Even though we are trying to find out the ‘why’ of our resistance, I haven’t actually found it all that useful to ask myself why I am resisting my own plan.

Instead, I ask myself ‘What would I need to get started?’

Either question works, of course, and so would many others. Choose one that suits *you* best.)

Perhaps you are resisting your exercise session because you find it too cold when you are getting started.

Maybe you don’t want to exercise because you hate the music in the video you follow.

Your program might be too challenging for you right now, or you may find it lonely to exercise alone, you may be trying to exercise or meditate at the ‘wrong’ time of day, or doing certain exercises may stir up a bad feeling for you.

Perhaps you’ll realize that the goal you initially set isn’t actually all that important to you. Or maybe you’ll discover that you have accidentally been following a program someone else said that you ‘should’ do.

(Personally, I always resist a should but I don’t always realize that I’m doing it until I get curious about my resistance.)

No matter what comes up for you during this process, you will probably have the information you need to go into problem-solving mode.

Once you are in problem-solving mode, you can give yourself and your resistance the respect you both deserve and find ways to make it easier to get moving.

A photo of the author’s left hand.    She  has two gold rings on her ring finger and there is a  gold star sticker on the back of her  middle finger between the second knuckle on her finger and the knuckle on the back of her hand.
Here’s a picture of my left hand with a gold star sticker on the back of my middle finger. Here’s the story that goes with it: I was looking around the main floor of my house to determine which gold star to photograph today when my dog interrupted me to ask for a treat. I reached into the cupboard to get her one and when I withdrew my hand, I noticed this sticker. I have no idea where it came from but obviously I had to include it in this post!

PS: If you’d like some help brainstorming any obstacles you uncover in this process, let me know in the comments and I’ll put my brain in your storm for a while.

advice · blogging · fitness

What will you START/STOP/CONTINUE in 2021? Part 2

Bettina

Stop: like Susan, I don’t really have anything I want to stop

Start: hopefully baby swimming classes with the little person… I just need the pools to re-open.

Continue: doing something physical almost every day even once I return to work in February. It’s going to be tricky because I’ll be busy and tired. Let’s see how it goes, I also don’t want it to become One More Thing I Have To Do (there are plenty of those already).

Bettina running down a city street

Bettina started blogging at Fit is a Feminist Issue in 2018. One of her first posts was Competitive Streak.

Mina

START. A new writing project, even if it’s picking back up an old one I abandoned for a while. And I have to add, that I thought of this answer yesterday and woke up this am thinking of how I wanted to revise my approach to a long-standing, never finished, project. As if just setting this intention in my mind, manifested a creative idea! Now to start. For real.

STOP. The negative self talk that can be like a ball and chain, preventing me from moving forward. Okay, if I’m honest, this is really just a “reduce”.

CONTINUE. The COVID habit my partner and I have developed of taking walks end of day or in the evening. It’s such a super treat to amble, something I’ve never been good at, because I’m either “working out” or “on my way somewhere”.

Mina – FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE
Mina and her Montreal rental bike

Mina joined us in 2018. Her first post was Riding over rocks and an appeal.

Martha

START incorporating a ten minute activity three times a day.


STOP allowing distractions to derail my work schedule.


CONTINUE my mindfulness practice at the end of every day.

Martha has been blogging here since 2015 and her first post was Getting my fit on my way.

Cate

START: going outside every single day for at least a 30 minute walk (I find myself doing way too much inside time during lockdown because now I have all the exercise equipment inside). Getting enough sleep. Eating more mindfully in the evenings.

STOP: ordering takeout that ends up with delivery costs that double the price of the food. Staying up too late.

CONTINUE: the writing project I started working on in the summer and lost track of during a super busy fall.

ALSO I am going to continue my quest to do every single Zwift route. That satisfies my unruly completist side lol. I have currently done 37 of the 76 available routes.

Cate, selfie, sunshine and water, with bike helmet

Cate, also known as fieldpoppy, has been blogging here since 2015. One of her first posts was The Lithe Old Lady Inside Me.

Christine

Start: My project for this year, in every area of my life, is to commit to working WITH my ADHD instead of trying to fight it. I’m tweaking everything, especially exercise plans, to make it easier to be consistent.

Stop: I’m stopping ‘exercise shopping’ – I save all these interesting-looking workouts in my bookmarks and in my FB saves but I don’t go back to them. If I am not planning to try them at a specific time, I refuse to continue to build up a ‘should’ file.

Continue: I will continue to take my dog, Khalee, out for a 20-30 minute walk each afternoon, no matter what the weather brings.

Christine started blogging here in 2017 and her first post was Training To Be Seen.

advice · fitness · motivation

How many minutes? How many workouts? So many numbers!

There’s an obsession in the fitness world with measuring and counting. Not just sets and reps and weight lifted, but also how many minutes, how many days, for how many years’ benefit.

And on the one hand, I sort of get it. I blogged 7 years ago (!) about being a data geek and it’s still true. I track heart rate and speed and distance ridden on my bike. I know my watts, watts per kilo, and number of metres I’ve climbed so far in 2020.

But, on the other hand, it feels like numbers have kind of taken over, not just in the area of sports performance (where I think they mostly belong) but in the realm of everyday exercise and health benefits. I understand the science side of this. The studies make sense to me. What makes less sense is the way the media shares these stories in a way that suggests a close tie between the study results and our behavior.

Readers, I’m guilty of this too. I share a lot of ‘health benefits of exercise’ stories over on our Facebook page and on Twitter.

And just the other day these were the headlines:

11 Minutes of Exercise a Day May Help Counter the Effects of Sitting

but also, The sweet spot for physical activity and longevity seemed to arrive at about 35 minutes a day of brisk walking or other moderate activities.

How about some larger numbers?

To Lose Weight With Exercise, Aim for 300 Minutes a Week (That’s about 43 minutes a day in case you were trying to keep track.) There’s a lot that’s problematic with that story. I’m not going to get into it here but let’s just start by noting that exercising for weight loss is neither particularly effective nor motivational.)

Also, A Single Session of Exercise Alters 9,815 Molecules in Our Blood

How about some smaller numbers? Fast fitness: How four second workouts can keep you in shape during lockdown or The 4-Second Workout – The New York Times. (Cate experimented with short bursts of movement throughout the day and blogged about it here.)

You could try to figure the exact right number of minutes of exercise that’s good for meeting your goals. Is it 11? Or 35? Or 43?

Should it come in one big chuck or in bite size 4 second pieces?

Or you could relax a bit and think, all movement is good. Everything counts. And move in ways that bring you joy.

As I said, at the outset this isn’t my natural temperament, my go to disposition. I do a lot of physio that isn’t joyful at all. I’ve stopped saying, if you don’t love it, don’t do it. It’s okay to hate exercise and just do it for the health benefits.

But most of the time, for most us, even analytically minded me, I think simple messages are better.

I’d also like us to take broader lens. Not everything we care about is easily measured. We can count years lived and pounds lost but the mental health benefits of movement are harder to measure but no less important.

Get outside! Play! All movement is good! Find a way of moving that’s joyful for you! Bring friends along and build community!

I don’t care if abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym.

Now this, this is something I care about: Where are the smiles made?

advice · covid19 · dogs · online exercise

Lessons from the Pandemic: a farewell post

As Sam mentioned a few days ago, we’re rejigging the schedule here at FIFI, and as part of that rejig I’ve decided to step away for a bit. It’s been a long few months and I’ve struggled like others; I’ve been cushioned from health and financial blows, thanks to the grace of good government and the privilege of a secure job, but emotionally this has been a roller coaster. I need some time to take stock, and I don’t do that well online.

As I was walking with my dog this afternoon, gorgeous fall colours glowing in the sunshine, the wind whipping past us with just a hint of Old Man Winter to it, I started to think about what joy simple, solitary walks give me, and how I’ll look forward to them as we all lock down, to different degrees, in the months ahead. No matter what happens I know I will still be able to leave my house with my dog three times a day, even if I must do so completely isolated from others. (And obviously: not if I’m ill myself, which I pray will not happen.)

The pandemic is no blessing, but it has had some real teachable moments for me. These crept up on me over the summer and are more and more tangible as everything churns up again now. I’m glad to have these moments with me, as reminders of the good inside the terrible, for the winter ahead, and I thought as a farewell-for-now post I’d share them with you.

Chewy the dog chilling with his toys on the sofa; now THAT is what staying in looks like. Image from Unsplash.
  1. The internet has a lot of great gyms in it. This is the most pleasant discovery COVID has brought me. I can work out multiple times a week for a very affordable rate in my very own kitchen, and I can reap the benefits of amazing feminist energy over Zoom, even if the connection is sometimes unstable. The strength I glean, both physical and emotional, from the wonderful people I’ve linked up with on the fitness web goes some way to making up for the connections I’ve lost or had to pause IRL.
  2. If your home is a safe place, it’s quite wonderful to have permission not to leave it. I always thought I was a full-on extrovert, but no; COVID has helped me realize how much I like not having to leave my house very much, or go very far. I felt a strong pressure to be social in the before times, but honestly social environments are stressors for me. I get performance anxiety. And I’m a hyper-vigilant anxiety sufferer, so the more people in a place and the more formal the event the harder it is for me to keep my eye on everything and make sure everything and everyone are doing ok. Not having to go out and perform Public Kim so often is a huge relief.
  3. If stuff goes wrong so what? It’s a pandemic. I find I learn this lesson best from my students. We’ve had to adjust to A LOT over the last couple of months and they are having to adjust to 5x as much of it as any one of their instructors. When stuff goes wrong in my wacky hybrid/Zoom classroom, I remind us all that it’s going to be fine if we just roll with it. I show them compassion and they show me some too; when the tech dies or the breakout rooms get messed up or, you know, name a thing, we try to laugh about it. Learning to laugh and then carry on imperfectly when things go wrong is also a good thing to take from university.
  4. Incidental movement matters. Boy does it ever! My first day back in my campus office and a real-life classroom last month reminded me what walking around a four-story building all day does for your step count. Finding ways to incidentally move at home is harder, but still totally doable (see dog walking above). I think I might download a step counter app because data helps in a situation like this. And the more I move, the better I feel about everything.
  5. Bodies change, sometimes because the world has changed, and that’s just fine. I’ve put on weight these last few months, though it’s not all COVID-related. Mostly I think it’s aging, the slowing metabolism that brings, and the decision I seem to have made to say to heck with the notion that certain foods are contraband, or only permitted after a killer workout. I love food and my partner cooks beautifully; I enjoy eating and also, um, it’s a pandemic. My body is changing because it is aging, because the routine ways we are usually permitted to move in the world are currently under duress, and because the stress of the situation is something else. I’m working hard on looking in the mirror and reminding myself that I am here, I am loved, and I am proud of my delightfully imperfect body. It is hard work – after a lifetime of terrible body and self-image issues, it can’t not be – but I’m really trying.
Me (in a purple fall jacket) and Emma the Dog (a Black and Tan shepherd-crossed-with-something) during a fabulous autumn walk last year. We are on a park bench (me sitting, Emma standing, ears in curious mode, mouth open in anticipation) and the ground is a blanket of orange maple leaves. I seem to be saying something like “Emma! Look at the camera!” because Emma is NOT looking at the camera. She is looking at HORSES.

So that’s me for now, then; thanks for all the reading, friends. I will be guesting in this space again sometime soonish, I wager, but until then I wish you all a very safe autumn and the very very best to those of you heading to the polls. Thank you for keeping moving.

Kim