I just started reading psychologist Dr. Julie Smith‘s book Why Has Nobody Told me this before? Everyday Tools for Life’s Ups and Downs and I’m really enjoying it. I’m not finished yet, so I can’t do a full review but I do really like her style. The book is full of low-key but helpful reminders that we can build our capacity to deal with most of our everyday challenges and that we can develop the tools to work with our emotions instead of trying to fight them.
Just FYI: She is very clear about the fact that while there are lots of cases in which people need long-term therapy there are also many people who just need access to tools and guidance to help them manage their own mental health and that she is addressing the latter group.
Anyway, as I was telling people about this book recently I was surprised to discover that many people have never heard of Dr. Julie. If you’re one of those people, here are a few of her YouTube shorts that are a pretty good introduction to her kind and encouraging approach. You can find more on her channel.
I’ve been seeing all these lists from the NY Times Well section on “how I hold it together”, written by various staff members. They started in 2021, and reflect responses to stresses and fears around the pandemic. But of course that’s not all. All the stresses and fears, I mean. But while the rest of the paper of record covers those worries from outside of us and around us, the Well list writers’ coverage is internal and personal. They’re telling us what they themselves are doing to maintain equilibrium and calm in their own lives, which may include children, family members, partners, pets, plants, etc. Here are a few of them:
Uses coffee pot as alarm clock—sets pot to start brewing so to wake up to coffee smell
Traveling “to-do” list—on sticky notes to carry with and keep track of
Therapy as lifeline—enough said
Rest for at least 10 minutes a day—maybe meditation, more often breathing and relaxing
Distress walks—dissipates negative emotions (with time and mileage)
Knitting (and not)—enjoys process around projects, relaxed about doing and finishing them
Get at least 7 hours of sleep
Limit electronic notifications
Cuddle the dog!
Update phone lock screen photo with new family photos
Go on app-guided runs
Practice 3-breath hugs—hold child or loved one for three deep breaths
Spontaneous phone calls to distant friends and family
Really slow running
Hang out with pandemic puppy
Hike with friends
I like these lists. No, I don’t have a dog, and police procedurals are not my preferred binge watching. But other peoples’ comfort techniques definitely speak to me. What do these lists have in common?
Developing and trying to stick to a routine, especially around movement and sleep/rest
Cultivating an activity that brightens the day and mood
Reminding oneself to be realistic and modest about productivity expectations
Off-the-clock or off-the grid time, in whatever ways give pleasure (binge-watching, thinking about knitting, fantasy travel planning, resting, ceramics class, etc.)
Regular human social connection, though phone calls, group texts, shared walks, long hugs with loved ones
Physical activity– either with or without dog– but without performance goals or expectations
So, what about my list? When I’m holding it together, how do I do that? I know I promised one in the title of this post.,.. Okay, here goes.
Catherine’s Hold-it-together list, version 1.0
Morning meditation every day– either while still in bed, or directly after coffee
Late afternoon quiet pause– during low-energy time, a break to rest, read, do phone puzzle, meditate
Talk to friends or family on the phone every day– real-time connection through conversation is my life blood
Spend a little time on house tidying or organizing– it makes me feel more calm and in control of my environment
Move my body– on my yoga mat, on my bike, on my two legs– preferably outside, but even inside will do in a pinch
Set phone alarms for eating, taking meds, turning off media to go to bed– reminders help me avoid falling down a rabbit hole of whatever’s got my attention at the time
I’ll revisit this later on to see how well my hold-it-together list holds up. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you– how do you hold it together? Do you craft, canoe, communicate in Morse code across continents? Let us know.
Note: this post is shamelessly stolen from Nat’s Stop Doing list posts (here and here). In just about everything (as far as I can tell), Nat is a role model for us all. In case clicking those links is just too much for you, here are her lists:
glorifying being busy
beating yourself up over missed workouts
apologizing for being a hot mess
What wise and prescient advice this is. But wait, there’s more.
letting expectations get away with yourself
comparing yourself to others
…and think before taking a new thing on
Why yes, Nat, these are very fine things to stop doing as soon as possible. These lists are great in that they are self-caring, non-self-shaming, aspirational but also doable in everyday ways. Reading her lists made me think about what’s going on in my life right now. What would a positive (as it were), useful, inspiring and practical Stop Doing list look like for me? Well, here goes nothing…
Apologizing so much: I’ve already started this project, but old habits die hard. Apologizing, for me, is all about insecurity about my own judgment, needs and boundaries. Getting clearer with myself about what I’m doing and what I’m taking responsibility for helps me feel less in need for forgiveness (or permission) from outside sources.
Buying clothes that don’t fit: It still surprises me how hard this is. Having spent years, nay decades, wearing clothes that were too close-fitting or not wearing things I bought that were too close-fitting, I am finally done. This year I’ve ordered XXL, 1X and 2X items because they feel comfortable and fit me. I even bought a pair of white jeans, in my size, that I actually wear. Imagine that.
Saying yes or maybe to things I don’t want to/am definitely not going to do: This one’s on all of our lists all the time, but it bears repeating. Even in cases where I *know* that I’m not going to do X, I’m not always clear to others or myself about my never doing X.
Mowing the lawn is a good example. Every summer, I tell my neighbors in our 3-condo house that I’ll do the lawn. Which I almost never do. I end up feeling foolish and embarrassed and beholden when my upstairs neighbor ends up doing it. Or I do it half-heartedly, late and poorly. Enough already. I can come up with other solutions when I share responsibility, or just say “no” when it’s not my responsibility. This is obviously a work in progress.
Suffering and fretting over things in isolation instead of *asking someone for help*: I help other people all the time. Doing favors or lending a hand is fun for me. I like being around others and feeling good about accomplishing goals together. Perhaps, just perhaps, other people might not mind helping me out with stuff that’s hard to do by myself, or just flat-out hard to do. One thing, though: they won’t necessarily know what I need unless I ask them. Okay. Working on that.
I’m going to stop here, because I think this list is enough for now. See, I’m stopping doing something… 🙂
Readers, what’s something you want to stop doing that you’re working on or thinking about? I’d love to hear from you. Please don’t stop commenting– we love to know what’s going on with all of you!
But we are all thinking about vacation as time that is not non-vacation time. If you’re normally very active, on vacation you can relax. If you are normally too busy for activities, then on vacation you have that time. Vacation is choice: a time to do more (or less) than what you do when you are not vacationing (unless you are retired, but that’s another scenario from which I am still woefully far away).
This past summer vacation, I wrote out a list of physical and social activities I wanted to do on my own or with friends and family: hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, etc. Then, on the next page (likely your previous page, as I am left-handed) I drew a wobbly boxes and slotted list items into my hand-drawn calendar—spreading the activities out but also ensuring I got them all into my vacation time.
So, each vacation day I had at least one activity to look forward to, and thinking back I had a blast: two weeks of a high-energy days that were filled with lots of fun and plenty of exercise in my local area.
Now, I am back to my regular work week. Back to the office. And I am kinda down about it.
Even though I still have most nights and weekends for summer exercise, I feel not nearly as motivated and encouraged to be active as I did when I was on my two weeks of holidays. Activity-wise, I peaked during my summer vacation time, then valleyed right after on my non-vacation time. And I am finding that it is not helpful to be this unmotivated, considering that now I am needing exercise more than ever after sitting in an office all day.
What’s the learning here, and what’s next for me? It’s a long time away my next two-week vacation!
My vacation activities seemed galvanized by choice. Now that I am back to work, I feel less freedom in how I spend my time. Would making another list and wobbly, hand-drawn calendar give me back that “vacation feeling” that would nudge me back to want to be more active?
Or, perhaps I should try to mentally de-coupling my physical activities from my vacation time altogether. Perhaps exercise is the vacation from work.
Do you notice a difference in your levels of activity transitioning between vacation to work time? How do you manage that transition? What works for you?
I went summer camping with 5 friends recently. We went biking, swimming, kayaking, and hiking—regular outdoor physical activities one might do while in The Nature.
During this time, I noticed how often we were up and moving around to do simple tasks and chores throughout the day, even when we weren’t out out doing the recreational exercise activities.
When we wanted to go to sleep, we had to put up a tent. When we wanted to make a fire but ran out of wood, we had to scavenge or head to the conservation office to buy more. When we wanted to brush our teeth, it was a walk or a bike down the path to the loo. Whenever I misplaced bug spray or sunscreen, I was up rummaging around to find what I needed.
Not everything was within easy reach when you are camping: there’s often a little added effort to find, get, or make whatever you need. Without all the conveniences of home, we were moving, walking, bending, and stretching in short bouts all day long.
Like most people, I often establish habits and use tools that maximize convenience and comfort when I am at home. How much more physical activity might add up in my days if I intentionally made things slightly less easy for myself? What if I chose to knead bread without the mixer, walk to my mailbox rather than stop after my commute home, use one tissue box at a time rather than plant them in many rooms of the house?
The animated Disney movie Wall-E tells a story of how, in the future, people have every luxury thanks in part to the machines they invent; consequently, they become totally inert and lazy. The moral of this cautionary tale is that excessive convenience and comfort will diminish our ability to think and act and move for ourselves.
Of course, my tent-trailer and Coleman stove camping experience was still relatively easy and convenient, but I realized that adding some purposeful inconveniences in my daily life could lead to a little more physical activity that I might not even notice.
What are some small inconveniences you maintain for a little more physical activity each day?
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.
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.
What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!
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.
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.
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 reduceyourinhibitions 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 ironicdancing, 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 danceanyway—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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.