challenge · fitness · habits

Maybe it’s not the length of streak, but the number of streaks that we should count

I’ve been thinking and writing a bunch about streaks, in particular about meditation. So have a bunch of our bloggers. I mean, we at FIFI tend to pay attention to what we are doing and also how often we are doing it. In October, I ended up missing two meditation days (not in succession) in one week. That broke my almost-150-day streak.

Oh no! This woman gets me. Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.
Oh no! This woman gets me. Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.

Okay, time to start on over again. Yes, this has happened before, and will happen again. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the moment. (Feel free to insert more platitudes here). But, when I looked at my milestones on Ten Percent Happier (yes, of course they keep track), I saw this:

But wait, there’s more.

There’s one more streak photo to show you:

1 200-day streak.
Yes, 200 days! Did it once.

Here’s what I’m seeing from all this: it may be hard to sit 200+ days in a row, but it’s really easy to sit 3 days in a row. After all, I’ve personally done it 37 times! Honestly, this gestalt shift has made me very happy– it means (to me) that I know how to start and restart at something I want to do, but am not perfect or flawless at. Yay! This bodes well for the other things in my life I’d like to do more often and more consistently.

While I’ve got you here, let me say that I’m at 172 workouts in 2022, That means 50 to go. I can do it!

And it bodes well for you too, dear readers. I’m just a girl, standing in front of an app, asking it to help her love whatever activity it’s promoting. Who knew counting would be so much fun?

Readers, how do you feel about short-repeated streaks? Do you take them in stride? I’d like to know what you think.

challenge · fall · fitness · Seasonal sadness · snow · winter

Sam’s November Plan 2022

From 24 inspiring November quotes.

You’ll see that there aren’t actually 24 here. That’s because most of the 24 were about the fall but they seemed more September and October to me. By November most of our coloured leaves have fallen. It’s all stick trees against the grey sky with cold rain here. I’ve never been to Norway but I like the idea of visiting Norway. I’m intrigued by the idea that November reminds someone of Norway.

As you likely are sick of hearing about, I’m no fan of November. See Is there a way to redeem November? and 10 things to make it through November  and November is my toughest fitness month: Here’s why. Way back in 2014 I wrote November goals.

Here’s my ten item list of things that will help me make it through November. This year I started early with the lights, the daily gratitude practise and pretty much the rest of it too.

Each year it seems I start my new year’s resolutions earlier and earlier. This year it’s November 1.

All the bright lights!

Books and a anti-SAD lamp on Sam’s desk at work

Exercise with cheerful music

Grover’s Monster Workout Video

Furry blankets to go with all of my knee pillows

Brown and white dog wearing pink fur coat, sunglasses, sitting on a bright pink sofa

Hot tub/sauna

Treat yourself, Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash

Gratitude

Fashion

Food

I baked this!

Fiction

I read this while recovering from knee replacement surgery and loved it. Looking for more ….

November 1 is the new January 1

Resolutions

Friends and family

So those are my ten tools to combat November sadness and gloom. What would you add to the list?

I guess an obvious one is getting outside when it is sunny but I’m not even sure there are sunny days in November. If there are I promise that I’ll get out and bask in it.

Any others?

ADHD · challenge · fitness · habits · martial arts · motivation

October Challenges – in a good way

I wanted to add a little extra to my daily routine in October so I’ve taken up two challenges for the month – the Action for Happiness Optimism challenge and the Darebee Daily Kicks challenge.

I like following short term challenges because 1) they set out a plan in advance so my brain doesn’t get stuck buffering about decisions 2) they aren’t making me commit to something in a future that is too far ahead for my ADHD brain to grasp.

A calendar of optimism tips for October
This is just a jpeg of the calendar, you can print or download one at the Action for Happiness site. Image description: a multi-coloured October calendar full of daily optimism tips, decorated with small cartoon images of people walking, drawing and holding event tickets.

These specific challenges should be straightforward additions to my day because any day’s actions are big enough to matter to me but small enough to fit into nooks and crannies in my still-developing schedule.

And it helps that I am naturally inclined to optimism (this may be a good feature of my ADHD – I’m usually convinced that things are about to get better) and that kicks are not only good exercise but practicing them will have added benefits for Taekwon-do.

A screen capture of the calendar for the first week of the challenge.
Print your own Daily Kicks challenge calendar/tracker and use the timer at the Darebee site. Image description: a screen capture of the header and first few days of the Darebee Daily Kicks challenge sheet which has the words Daily Kicks in large letters on the top right, multiple drawings of people kicking on the right and 5 days of kicks in listed in individual boxes at the bottom.

Will I get to both of these every day? I’m planning on it and I hope those plans work out.

But even my optimistic self knows that sometimes things go awry so I have a backup plan as well:

If I miss a day, I can do two the next day…if that feels doable. If doing two items feels like too much, or if I have missed several days, I’ll skip to the item for the current day.

The key here is to follow the practices for as many days as possible this month – aiming for more days on than off.

The only thing I *don’t* want is to follow the challenge for a few days, miss a couple, and then scrap the whole thing because I didn’t do it perfectly.

As long as the end of October still finds me working away at these, in any form or fashion, I’ll be successful.

Any movement in a positive direction counts. 🙂

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.

aging · challenge · cycling · fitness

Bike rally reflections: Fittest by fifty eight?

In a recent chat Tracy reminded me that the bike rally was my main fittest by fifty challenge. That’s along with getting stronger, thanks CrossFit, and trying something new, thanks rowing.

“Fittest by fifty”is the challenge that started the blog (now coming up on 10 years ago) and the book Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey.

Tracy said she was impressed that I could still do the thing that was my challenge as we approached the big 5-0.

After all, we’re both turning 58 this summer.

At first I kind of dismissed the praise. I’m a road cyclist, adding distance isn’t a big deal really. But then I recognized that dismissal of a thing I’d achieved as a thing lots of women do, and had second thoughts.

It is remarkable.

What’s remarkable is that through the pandemic and through the first few years of my very demanding job, I’d kept that distance up. It was a remarkable thing to do at 50 and it’s still remarkable that I can do it.

I can still do it because I kept doing it.

We did our big Newfoundland cycling adventure. We went riding in Florida twice and in Illinois once. We did the Simcoe County Loop Trail and lots of bits and pieces of the Guelph to Goderich trail.

When it wasn’t possible to ride outside on road bikes we played in the snow on our fat bikes and we Zwifted. So much Zwifting.

So against my instincts I’m not going to dismiss it. I’m going to say “Yay me.”

Thanks Tracy for the reminder.

Yay me
camping · challenge · charity · cycling · fitness

The bike rally day 3 is a slow roll into Kingston, also red dress day!

It’s the shortest day on the rally, just 60 km into Kingston. Now that’s not nothing but it’s less than half of what we did yesterday. It’s also Red Dress day or Dress in Red day, your choice.

Here’s Sarah and me at the start. Or as Sarah and I like to call it, the hurry up and wait, part of the morning. You rush to have breakfast, get dressed, take down tents, pack bins and load bins on the truck, but then you can you can’t leave until all of the trucks and loaded and have left.

But the weather was good this morning and so we sat in the grass pretty happily. It is overcast and in the low 20s. No bright sun, no rain, just perfect riding weather.

We also took the time to take team photos in all of our red dress finery.

Rally’s Angels

Here’s our ride on Strava.

Ride on Strava

Why the slow roll approach? Well we’re staying in the residences at Queen’s tonight. Thanks Queens! And while there are hot showers, laundry, real beds, and air conditioning, we don’t have access to our rooms until 1. So if we leave camp at 9 that’s 4 hours to do 60 km.

Our team decided it was a good morning to stop for coffee en route. Sarah and I were also slowed down by our first flat of the rally.

Here are all the bins in the courtyard of the residence at Queen’s

Here’s some video from the day

And our team at the Kingston sign.

Rally’s Angels

Tonight it’s team dinner plus a drag show in the park after. If you’re around, stop by.

“DRAG IN THE PARK: Trellis HIV & Community Care, Tourism Kingston, and the greater Kingston community invites The Friends For Life Bike Rally to DRAG IN THE PARK, a showcase of fantastic (and slightly naughty) entertainment under the open sky in Confederation Park (that’s the big park between Kingston City Hall and Lake Ontario). The show will start at 7:30pm on the veranda of the Kingston Visitor Information Centre.”

Tomorrow we ride Kingston to Johnstown, about 110 km.

We’re now halfway to Montreal and I think about $30,000 away from our 1.5 million dollar fundraising goal. If you’ve been thinking about donating, every bit helps, and here’s the link.

challenge · fitness

Considering pointless fitness goals

Recently, the Atlantic featured an article on the notion of “pointless goals”– challenges that don’t seem to make sense. Their canonical case is the guy who decided to walk all the way from Los Angeles to New York– wearing a bear suit. Which he did.

Jessy Larios, alias @iambearsun, walking in his bear suit along a US highway somewhere.

Larios said he did it sort of on impulse, although he ended up raising money for charities. It was quite hot inside the suit. But he said he met a lot of very nice people.

People do variations on this theme all the time. While riding the NYC Century (I did the 75-mile route), there were folks riding it on single speed bikes, folding bikes and even unicycles. One guy did the New York City triathlon on a BMX bike. And for the annual Halloween bike ride in Boston, there’s always that person riding the route in wheelie position.

This got me thinking: maybe Larios is on to something here. We are definitely in a challenge-oriented epoch. Many challenges confer a semblance of purpose: write a novel in a month, or try one new recipe or yoga pose or language lesson or book chapter every day for a month.

There are also the infamous 30-day fitness challenges. They seem to be focused on some (possibly bogus or even downright unhealthy) so-called wellness or fitness goal. We’ve all seen the plank, squat, abs, strength and other challenges. They tend to come in graphic box form with teeny-weeny print.

In a way, lots of goals we set are pointless. After all, what does it matter if we visit every state or province, or climb all the 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire (a popular one where I live)? Or (as my niece seems on her way to doing), collecting all of the Squishmallow stuffed animals? Warning: clicking on the link may make you want to buy one. They’re totally adorable.

And yet. It feels kind of cool and fun to set and complete a pointless goal. I once (accidentally, it wasn’t a planned goal) rode a rental bike on the beach at the Atlantic Ocean and also the Pacific Ocean (different bikes, obvs) in the same week. Yeah!

Now that I’m on sabbatical and have more time to be out and about and also travel some, I’m shopping around for pointless fitness challenges. Here are some I have in mind:

1. Swim (or at least immerse myself) in all of the Great Lakes this fall. The hard ones are Superior and Michigan, but I *could* do the drive to Mackinaw, Michigan, and then up to Sault St. Marie. Why? Who knows. It just seems like a fun thing to do.

Uh oh. I just found this site by swimmers who dipped in all five great lakes in 24 hours. See? Once you get started, you have no sense of where to stop, and before you know it, you’re walking in a bear suit outside Iowa City, looking for a gas station restroom.

Maybe there’s a way to do this in a controlled manner. How about this pointless fitness goal., which I actually want to do:

2. Ride all of the Rail Trails in the Rail Trail Hall of Fame. Yes, this seems like a lot of fun. I’ve already ridden five of them. Only 31 to go. Honestly, some of these trails I’ve been salivating over for a while.

I’m in no hurry to complete this pointless goal; it seems too nice a goal to rush. And I want to include as many of my friends on bikes as possible on my quest.

3. Another swimming goal that lots of folks have done, but I haven’t (yet): swim in open water (fresh or salty) outside in nature every month starting, well, now (August). During the pandemic, loads of folks started wild swimming. Yes, some of our bloggers have been swimming wild and swimming cold for a long time. But it’s okay to come late to the party, right? The reason is simple: use this pointless act as a way to get me out in nature, really immersed in it (no pun intended).

By the way, I’m going to count January ocean swimming in South Carolina or Florida as having fulfilled that month’s immersion quota. Consider yourself notified.

Readers: I’m in need of inspirational suggestions. What sorts of pointless fitness goals are you actively involved in, or tried and completed, or want to do, or rejected after one day? I’d love to hear from you.

challenge · clothing · family

Sam’s first few days of not shopping

In my blog post A year without buying clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry…Can Sam do it? I declared that I was going to go a year without buying clothes, shoes, jewelry, and purses. That’s July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

I’m two days in and thought I’d report on how things are going. Lol.

Mostly I’ve been responding–deleting emails from Fluevog and text messages from TomboyX, my favorite shoe and underwear companies respectively. I’ve unsubscribed from mailing lists. I’ve taken the Poshmark app off my phone.

Friends have been asking if I stocked up at all. I did make offers on a bunch of stuff I liked at Poshmark and had some of those offers accepted. I did buy a number of good quality black and white t-shirts, some new underwear, and bras. In the bra case I was replacing the underwire version I’ve rejected during the pandemic.

Have I been tempted to buy anything?

Not really. I went on autopilot registering for an upcoming cycling event and put the event jersey in my shipping cart. But by the time I checked out, I remembered, and took it out. Bike jerseys are among the last thing I need. I think I own about 30. Last I counted that was 31. See Old shorts, thinning lycra, and too many bike jerseys.

Tour de Norfolk bike jerseys

We parked outside my favorite consignment store in Guelph today and I did consider the sale rack. But I resisted. I didn’t even go in and see if any of my stuff had sold.

I’m still undecided about a friend’s upcoming wedding. I said I’d make an exception for unexpected big events. I think though there must be something I already own that I can wear. Time to try on all the dresses that I reject as being too dressed up for work.

For those of you who are doing this challenge with me, how are you finding it so far?

challenge · clothing · fashion · fitness

A year without buying clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry…Can Sam do it?

I’m going to take the plunge and quit shopping for clothes (also shoes, purses, jewelry) for one year, July 1, 2022-June 30, 2023.

Why?

Well, I’ve been inspired by Mina Samuels’ account of her one year no shopping challenge. See Making Room in My Mind: A Year of No Shopping.

Not having much stuff with me is one of the things I loved about my sabbatical years in other countries. I arrived with a suitcase of clothes and wore them for the year. I had a few work outfits, a few hanging out at home outfits, some bike clothes, a bathing suit (not 7!) and a raincoat. That was about it. I spent a lot less time deciding what to wear and since I only brought clothes I really liked with me, I was pretty much always happy with my choices.

Simpler life on sabbaticals suits me and while I haven’t been able to make that work at home, I’d like to try.

I’ve also been stress shopping in pandemic times and I’d like to stop that. In terms of pandemic stress bad habits, it’s not the worst but who really needs a nap dress or a #workfromhome llama onesie! I also now own Pride Hunter rainboots AND bright pink UGG rainboots, and leopard print crocs with fur inside. Really, that’s enough frivolous footwear for a lifetime.

Sam’s frivolous footwear
Animated Sam in her llama jammies onesie

Regular readers know that I’m a critic of fast fashion and I used to teach about the ethics of consumption in the context of fashion. While I mostly buy made in Canada clothes, not fast or inexpensive, there’s still not much good in owning as much clothing as I do.

I also hope to get rid of stuff I don’t actually wear. Possibly that might include the nap dress. Lol.

Finally, I’d like to put some money away for travel once the pandemic travel panic eases a bit and I feel like, for me, the bother/pleasure is right again.

Why not?

I get a lot of pleasure out of clothes, and clothes shopping, and putting outfits together. Why quit one of things that makes me happy? The thing is I’m curious. Can I get a different sort of pleasure working with what I’ve got? That’s its own sort of sartorial challenge, right? I confess I was tempted by Nicole’s challenge, wearing the same dress for 100 days, but when I went to the website that sells the wool dresses connected to the challenge, I somehow ended up with three different styles and colours in my cart. I don’t think moderation is the path for me here!

Why blog about this here?

Well, mental health is health and we write about well-being broadly construed here on the blog. I like Mina’s description of making room in her head for thoughts other than shopping. Also, there are some fitness implications. See exceptions below! Most importantly thought putting it out here makes it real, makes it more likely that I will stick with it. I’m also taking all shopping apps off my phone. Do you have any other advice to make this easier? Wish me luck!

Any exceptions?

I will make exceptions–say if my cycling shoes break–or if I need a new pair of cycling shorts. I’ve been shopping for a new non-underwire bra for work clothes and while I am hoping to snag one before the 1st of July. If I don’t, then that too will be an exception. I am not putting off the challenge for the sake of finding a decent bra.

A cute cat waving goodbye

Goodbye Luc Fontaine, goodbye Lesley Evers, goodbye Fluevog and Poshmark too (used clothes are still clothes…)!

Sam’s #OOTD Instagram
More #OOTD instagram
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.