fitness · habits · health

Anchoring myself for December

I do December the same way most people who celebrate Christmas do – a rush of preparations combined with extra social events, with a hearty attempt to fit in all of the things that I meant to get done during the rest of the year. 

Image features two small blond children with white skin, the one on the left is wearing a green shirt and looking downward. The one on the right is wearing a yellow shirt and looking at the camera while they eat a sandwich made with white bread.  The text in the image is a Douglas Adams quote from the book 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' and it reads 'Time is an illusion, lunchtime, doubly so. '  The image comes from a site called brightdrops,com

Of course, I also get the bonus of having ADHD so, like Dirk Gently in the photo below, I laugh at the concept of time. I have to put a lot of mental effort into calculating how much time something will take. If I try to just ‘wing it’ with my estimations, I end up trying to cram 50 things into an hour or I give myself so much time to do a task that my brain refuses to get into gear because there is no urgency. 

A still shot of the character Dirk Gently from the BBC America series 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' - a young white man with reddish hair, wearing a yellow jacket, a blue tie and a white shirt - is in sharp focus against a blurred background of a park. The closed captioning below him reads 'time, I laugh at the concept.'
I’m pretty sure that Dirk Gently means this in a much more metaphysical way than I do…but it was a weird show, so perhaps not.

And, as a life coach, I end up observing my own behaviour so I can use it as an example when I am explaining things to clients.

So, over the past few years, I have been making incremental changes in my December plans. I have been trying not to get caught up in the rush and, instead, be conscious of what I am choosing to do each day and how those choices makes me feel. 

A snow covered porch rail is decorated with a string of large white plastic stars that are outlined with white lights.
Soft piles of snow and some star lights – that’s the feeling I’m trying to invoke for myself this December.

This year, I have the benefit of data from having made similar types of choices about September.

Previously, I used to just give myself a break in September and not try to add anything new beyond what had to be there (i.e. an arts festival and two kids starting school.) This year, however, I added a short yoga practice and a drawing exercise to my busy September days. 

Instead of feeling rushed and resenting the extra tasks, those two things became my personal anchor every day. Most days, I did them first thing. And I found that creating that little space of personal focus early in the day gave me a sense of accomplishment and a sense of peace. 

A sense of accomplishment and a sense of peace is exactly what I am looking for in December, too. 

So, I’m adopting a similar practice for the month ahead. 

Since I know that one good way to add a new habit is to ‘anchor’ it to something you already routinely do, I am going to add a short ‘warm-up’ to my day right after my yoga practice.

This YouTube warm-up from Fitness Blender is pretty easy on my brain since it is just one person featured against a white background and they give a preview of the next movement before they begin.

And, to stick with the formula from September, I’m going to write or draw on an index card every day, too.

An index card sits on a dark brown wooden surface. The card has a light blue background and features the gold outline of a large star that contains multiple smaller gold stars. The star outline is open on the point on the right hand side and some of the smaller stars are escaping outwards.
A drawing I did two summers ago as part of the Index Card A Day challenge hosted by Tammy Garcia at Daisy Yellow. As you can tell, I am a fan of stars.

I’ll check in a couple of times in December to let you know how things are going.

PS – I didn’t realize that my post was going to have two themes today but when I want to talk about how time is a slippery concept, Douglas Adams just springs to mind and when I want to talk about a feeling of accomplishment then I am all about stars. 🙂

habits · time

On balance: finding time for new things

What is one to do when one enjoys too many things? The largest chunk of my day is usually spent working, anywhere between 8 to 10 hours on a given day (lately, I’ve been working a lot). I try to exercise as much as possible. Swimming, bouldering, cycling, running… running has been falling off my plate a bit lately, after my not-half-marathon. The weather got worse and it gets dark early now, so running in the evenings isn’t an option for me as I don’t like running in the dark very much. I like to spend some time each day lounging on the couch, too – reading, watching stuff on Netflix, and relaxing.

Now I’ve discovered a new thing. Bear with me: it’s role playing games. My partner has been an avid player since before I even knew him. He plays Dungeons & Dragons (aka D&D) regularly once a week with his friends over Discord, a Skype-like app. They go on for hours and seem to have a lot of fun adventuring and fighting all sorts of fantastic creatures. I used to make fun of him a lot. He has accused me of being a hobby snob and I admit he’s not wrong. I don’t much care for dragons and the glorification of the medieval (there was little in the way of education for most people and no healthcare worth speaking of, women were persecuted as witches, it must have been very smelly – need I go on?), of which there is a lot in D&D. Fantasy is not my genre; I haven’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones.

Role-playing dice on a table.
A bunch of role-playing dice on a table. These dice are very fancy, they range from four sides to twenty and are used to determine different outcomes during a game, for example how well a character performed a spell.
Photo credit: Jaime Ochoa (Creative Commons licence)

Then I came across this article about how the author got hooked on D&D from a queer storytelling perspective, and I got intrigued. Very intrigued. Long story short, I now have two sessions under my belt and, despite myself, I must admit I enjoyed myself very much – so much so that I could see myself doing more of this in future. It’s fun to immerse yourself in a story and assume the identity of a character that can be essentially whatever you want it to be.

But my days are already packed! After the session on Wednesday, my partner and I immediately got into an argument because I got stressed as the laundry wasn’t done, the place was a mess, etc. etc. – even though I’d had a really, really good time. It feels like if I want to accommodate this new thing, something else will have to give. And I really, really don’t want that something to be my exercise routine. I’m going to have to find ways to adjust, and maybe it’ll turn out that I won’t be playing D&D regularly after all. I don’t want to exclude the option of making room for this new interest right away, either. I know I’m a serial overcommitter, but there are so many things out there to be tried!

I also wonder to what extent the fact that I am even asking myself these questions is influenced by my gender. I have a tendency to place duty above all other things, and unfortunately “duty” tends to be things like housework. I don’t know if this would be any different if I was a man, but the fact is that part of my argument with my partner revolved around my inability to let some things go. He has a much easier time of it than I do. By this I don’t mean that he skirts his duties in any way; by all accounts we have quite an even split of things like housework (he does more) and life admin (I do more). But he also finds it much easier to just ignore these things while he’s having fun.

So I wanted to raise this question to the community here: how do you balance different interests, especially when they come on top of an already busy daily workload? Also, what are you into aside from fitness-related activities? I’m curious, hit me with your favourite non-exercise pastimes!

fall · family · fitness · habits · Martha's Musings · motivation

Keeping fitness a priority when winter hibernation calls

by MarthaFitat55

It’s turning into a lovely fall here in the far east of Canada. The cold crisp air is a nice complement against the crunchy leaves and the gorgeous fall colours. When the sun shines, brisk walks are great, but already I can feel the desire to burrow, to get cozy under the quilt, and to ponder the virtue of hot tea or hot chocolate on swiftly darkening afternoons.

A line of leaves changing from green to red. Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

It’s the time of year that I find the most challenging in maintaining my fitness routine. This fall seems exceptional — my local pool has been closed since the end of August and won’t reopen until November; my work schedule is a little wonkier than usual; and I am managing some home repairs that will be most appreciated when we are in the deep of winter.

To keep myself on track, I have booked out my training time in my calendar. I know it might get moved around, but at least this way I won’t book something else by accident. When I see the weekly schedule, I know I have made fitness a priority.

I have started slotting out time for other things as well. I’ve always enjoyed doing handwork (although I am an atrocious knitter) and this summer, while on a car trip, I crocheted a whole dish cloth. I signed up for a quilt course in September and to keep on top of the project, I slotted out a chunk of time during the week and on the weekend.

A friend of mine told me years ago she found chunking up projects to be really helpful. Breaking things down into smaller bits makes large things seem achievable. As my schedule grew more challenging, I found chunking my time into slots reserved for fun things not only got me through various projects but also offered a welcome distraction.

I got my Fitbit involved as well. I have a timer set off to go at ten to the hour. This alarm reminds me to get up and move, because all too often I am likely to stay in my chair writing one more paragraph so I can call it done. I’ve already incorporated little tricks like parking at the far end of the lot, going up the stairs whenever I can, or timing myself to see how fast I can get up the hill.

When I was younger, I looked at scheduling as something rather regimented and limiting. Now that I am older, and have way more on my plate, I find scheduling is really helpful on several fronts: fitness, food/grocery planning , family fun, and me time. Balance is what I am aiming for here; not perfection.

Image shows a calendar opened to September. Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Scheduling helps with consistency and for me, if I want to keep on track with my fitness goals, creating routines is what works for me. I know there will be days when the snooze button calls and the duvet wraps itself even closer around me. I also know by choosing optimal times for training and building in the time for the things that matter, I will be able to keep getting my fitness on.

How about you? What tips or tricks have worked for you to keep your momentum going when fall moves in?

MarthaFitat55 is a writer who likes to get her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.

habits · martial arts · motivation

Day 4.5 – A little bit of a kick

I feel almost completely human today.

However, I know from experience that the first day of feeling better is a trap!

You think you feel like yourself but it’s only in comparison to how bad you felt before. With that false sense of security, you jump right back into the swing of things and find yourself feeling awful again.

So I did not want to fall for that ruse again.

On the other hand, all of this sitting and lying around has left me with a very stiff back and hips. I also knew from experience that movement is the only thing that will help.

So, I figured out a plan that would let me move, do a few kicks and still take things very slowly.

I looked at the exercises for today and realized that they wouldn’t be very intense if I did them separately.

With that in mind, I decided to do a small warm up (mostly to warm up my muscles rather than to get my heart rate up), then do one stretch and one drill. Then, I would wait 30 minutes (you know I used my timer, of course) and try another warm up, another stretch and another drill.

I also decided to make the following rules for myself:

1) If I felt bad at all, I would stop immediately

2) I wouldn’t do the exact exercise that caused the crunch

3) I would modify anything that seemed very hard or required me to move fast

And it worked out fine!

A white woman wearing a green bandana over her light brown hair gives a slight smirk for the camera. The walls behind her are two different colours of green and feature family photos hanging on a frame shaped like a tree.
Small smirk of victory for me today.

I did four ‘sets’ of the warm up/stretch/drill combination over the course of two hours and it felt great.

I had no pain, no dizziness, no weird feelings.

My back and hip stiffness is gone.

I feel really great about it. I had to adjust a few of the planned exercises but I could feel a real difference in my hip mobility during every exercise that I did.

I’m not sure my kicks are much higher yet but they are BETTER and they feel more effective. I feel like I am executing them with more skill.

And, now that my hip mobility is improving, I can clearly see how I need to increase my leg strength to add a different type of improvement.

Bonus: My wall splits* have definitely improved since Sunday! Not a huge amount but enough for me to see and feel a difference.

I’m calling Day 4.5 a victory!

A top-down view of a medium-sized dog with light brown and white fur resting on a green yoga mat that is sitting on a dark brown floor.  A person’s right foot can be seen next to the dog and part of their left foot is visible on the left side of the photo.
In case you were worried that I was exercising unsupervised, Khalee stayed close by the whole time.

*The exercise I’m referring to is lying on the floor with your legs up a wall and then doing a sort of split by letting your legs fall open to either side while they are still touching the wall.

fitness · habits · motivation · planning

Facing Forward to Find More Fitness

Despite fitness triumphs in some areas in the past few years (hello, 3rd degree blackbelt), it’s been a while since I have been really happy with my overall fitness level.

I’ll develop some good habits for a while and then life will take another curve. That new factor/time management challenge will team up with my ADHD and I’ll have trouble fitting more than the bare minimum of exercise into my schedule.

And, then, I’ll find myself sliding a little bit further away from how I want to feel, further away from what I want to be able to do.

I’ve been saying for ages that I want to ‘get back’ to how I used to feel and I want to ‘get back’ to  the way my body was. (To be clear, I’m not trying to get back to the body of my youth, just to the one I had a few years ago.)  

Then, this week, I read Cate‘s and Tracy’s terrific posts about acknowledging and appreciating the body you have and about how, when it comes to our bodies, we can’t go back, we can only go forward.

Their posts hit me hard.

In many ways, I am very accepting of my body as it is – I don’t wish that I looked different, for instance – but I have been spending a lot of time wishing I could go back to my strength and fitness level from a few years ago (which still wasn’t where I wanted to be but it was closer than where I am now)

All that ruminating made me think of this quote from Mary Engelbreit.

Image of a mountain road with rocks and trees on the right hand side and blue sky above. White centre text reads 'Don't look back. You're not going that way.' Mary Engelbreit  White text in the bottom right corner reads 'University of Liverpool Online Programmes'
Sure, it’s obvious but it’s not untrue.

And that, in turn, reminded me about how often I have joked that I never want to be like one of those stupid people in movies who always look back when they are being chased and end up falling on their faces (and usually getting caught).

This was all on my mind as we were working on our patterns in taekwondo on this week and Master Downey reminded us to look where we were striking because ‘Where your eyes go, your energy goes.’

That’s when everything kind of came together in my mind.

I’ve been wasting a lot of energy looking back.

I keep looking back at my old self while I move forward. I haven’t fallen on my face, not yet, but it’s a definite risk.

I need to look ahead. I need to send my energy in the direction that I am going.

I need to move my fitness forward, not backward.

I can’t go back to where I was. I can, however, figure out what I want to work TOWARD.

I’m going to stop looking back. I’m not going that way.

A multicoloured background with white text that reads 'Do something today that your future self will thank you for. (from slickwords.com)
This is my new plan.


*They aren’t my stories to tell so I won’t get into details but in the past 3-4 years, several family members have had major health issues and required my help. I am happy to have the flexibility to be able to help them and I am glad to be there for people who need me. Even though I am quite willing to  help (and grateful to be able to), providing this support does take time and something has had to give – my exercise time/energy has often been the thing to go. Thanks to my ADHD, once I get off track a lot of time can pass before I realize what is missing from my schedule.

habits · motivation · training

Is Grit Good or Bad?

It’s Monday. Even though I don’t work a Monday-to-Friday job, nor do I have children on a school schedule, Monday morning always feels like a moment to re-up my commitment to … well to pretty much everything, from work to sports. Monday is for grit. For courage and resolve. And I think of that as a good thing.

So when Samantha shared The Case Against Grit with us on Facebook the other day, I thought: What? Grit is in the doghouse now? Being a quitter is cool? Great. I don’t have to persevere anymore. So much more relaxing. I’ll just stay in bed on Mondays.

Turns out, the article was not actually anti-grit, but pro-quit. No surprise, the piece argued that laser focus on one pursuit to the exclusion of all others and against all odds may not be the best decision. 

I agree. Sticking to something just because we’ve invested a lot of resources in it already is not a good reason. I quit being a lawyer after investing years of my life in school and practice. Nothing I do now even remotely requires a law degree. On my worst days, I’ll wonder why I wasted so much time. Most days though, I don’t regret those years. I recognize them as building blocks in the life I’ve constructed. I credit law school with teaching me how to be organized and complete projects, how to think structurally.  

The problem with the never-quit motivational-speak is that it forgets about discernment. We have to choose wisely what to get gritty about. We have to try different things, to know what to stick with. If we don’t delete, then we will never have the resources (time/space/money) to invest in trying new things. 

We have to check in with ourselves regularly about why we stick with a pursuit:  

·     Why am I doing this activity? 

·     What am I trying to prove and to whom? 

·     Why do I want to quit? 

·     Does this pursuit align with my values?

·     How will I feel if I quit? 

·     Where would I rather spend my grit?

With law, I was trying to prove I was smart and capable, to myself and others. But the whole endeavor was a performance of those qualities, not rooted in any fundamental desire to be a lawyer. I also wanted to be useful in the world. I wanted my life to have some of that elusive meaning, so many of us look for. Eventually, I realized that I could find meaning elsewhere and be more fulfilled. Quitting law wasn’t proof in a case against grit (nor did it prove I was a quitter). 

The topic is tangled. Samantha wrote about grit and her Aikido practice: Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle.  As Kenny sings, we need to know when to fold ‘em. And Tracy shared thoughts on grit, too: “Why am I doing this?” On wanting to quit but not quitting. Both posts are about the organic, ongoing need to assess the balance between sticking with something and strategic quitting. 

I also wrote about grit in my new book. Quick background, Run Like A Girl 365 Days A Year is structured as a book of days. After all, that’s how we live; cyclically, seasonally, in loops that come back around again. I’m injured. I’m recovered. I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m peaking. I’m flatlining. All of which takes grit to get through. 

May 12-15 in the book look at grit from various angles. Here’s May 13:  

. . . what’s right for you

Just because everybody is doing high-intensity interval training, or boxing, or long slow distance, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. The only way you can figure out what sports your body loves and responds to is to try them on. See how an athletic pursuit fits. And quit when it’s not right for you. 

I pursued aerial arts for about a year. I learned how to climb a silk, wind myself up in the strong, stretchy fabric that hangs from high rafters, then flip and spin my way out. One day, just as I was starting to feel comfortable in the practice, I almost ripped my arm off grabbing at the silk in a moment of fear. Once my shoulder healed, I started back at the practice, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. I kept forcing myself to go, because I thought, Well I’ve already invested a year on a steep learning curve. I can’t quit now. Yet I’d known, even before the injury, that I would never make the time to become as good as I’d like. I would have had to give up other sports I loved (such as running), not to mention that after the shoulder incident I better understood that I risked an injury, which could sideline my true passions. 

Still, I’m glad I tried. The experience of learning something radically different from anything I had ever done before was mind-bending. 

But I’m glad I quit. Soon after I was introduced to aerial yoga, which fulfilled my craving to fly. 

In addition to law and aerial arts, I have quit: triathlons, road marathons, downhill skiing, rock climbing. The list could go on. Sports are easier for me to quit. What I value is movement and diversity in how I engage my body, so there’s no one sport that demands I stick with it. 

I have also stuck with a lot of things, the things that matter most to me in my life. I’ve stuck with building a life around writing. I keep waiting for it to get easier, but nope, takes a lot of grit, pretty much every day. And I’ve stuck with moving my body a whole lot. The sports change, the commitment to getting out on the road or into a studio stays the same. 

Hand holding a pink sign with white lettering that says, “Practice Kindness”
from Unplash, by Sandrachile

We have to balance our grit with the grace of knowing when enough is enough.Tracy thought about quitting because of a mean and discouraging voice in her head. She didn’t listen to that voice in the end. The voice that should guide us in our decisions is the one of kindness. Kindness isn’t going to let us get away with being half-assed. That’s not kind. Kindness wants to hold us to our own highest standard. 

Grit is for the pursuits that nourish us! 

What’s gritty and what’s the voice of kindness suggesting you quit these days?

#deanslife · cycling · fitness · habits · motivation

“How’s the #writeandride goal going?” Sam is glad you asked.

Image description: Puppy Cheddar, with surprised look on his face. White text over image says, “Shouldn’t you be writing?”

So last week I pledged to write 30 minutes and ride 20 km everyday (except Fridays when I can write for an hour and weekends when I can ride more). I didn’t make it everyday. Life got in the way of writing one day, riding another, and one particularly busy work day neither happened.

In general I’m not someone who throws daily habit goals away if I don’t make them work every day. Maybe I’m too easy on myself. Tracy and I noticed we have different approaches to the corporate step counting challenge that way. Me, I happily get up the next day and try again. Still, I rode 120 km in a week and that’s not too shabby. I finished one book review and two abstracts.

Still on the overdue list: one update of an older encyclopedia piece, one book review, and one companion chapter. Due June 1st, another abstract, 1000 words. Due June 2-4, two contributions to panels at Congress.

I did some of each, writing and riding, at Susan’s cottage on the long weekend. I loved writing on her comfy sofa, curled up with my laptop in front of the fire, surrounded by friends who were also reading, writing, napping, and cooking. It felt so good to finally be outside riding with friends. And best of all, after a weekend of riding hills my knee felt better not worse. Yay!

By the way, in case you think there’s too much talk about academic life here on the blog. Deep breaths. Don’t worry. I’m starting a Dean’s blog over the summer and some of this talk will likely land there. My first post is “Yes, I work at the university. No, I don’t get summers off.”

Image description: A group of young white women with white helmets in matching black and white stripey team kit. They’re riding road bikes, in a close pack, and smiling at the camera, making thumbs up and peace signs.