fitness · habits · motivation

How much can you do on a daily basis? #tinyhabits

On a road trip back from Montreal, Sarah’s sister Victoria sang the praises of ToDoist. Well, she repeated praises from a friend who is getting so much more done on a regular basis now she has the app.

Needless to say, we three downloaded it and began adding our daily habits, real and aspirational.

I’ve been looking for a new list maker/habit tracker since I’ve started to overwhelm Google Keep with too many lists. It’s good for notes but not so good for ticking off boxes.

Here’s my current crop of aspirational daily habits:

And it’s not a must-do, but I pretty much always Wordle.

But how to fit it all in? I Wordle very fast in the morning so Wordle plus read, write, floss, and Duolingo would be under an hour if I stuck to my ten minutes of reading and writing. I often don’t though since that’s part of the power of the tiny habit. It’s 10 minutes minimum so I tell myself, “Who doesn’t have time to write for 10 minutes?” and then often stick it out for 30.

Reading/Duolingo/Meditation are all nighttime/in bed things.

The others are all evening things and that’s where things can sort of fall apart. Last night for example, I watched Our Flag Means Death (I was drawn to finish it after reading 10 Queer Reasons You Should Be Watching Our Flag Means Death.) and didn’t make it to mobility training, flossing, or planks!

Maybe I need to pick fewer things? But which to get rid of? I could put all the daily habits in a hat and select one lottery style. Or I could count as a pass getting 6 of the 8 done?

An aside: In grad school my roommate had an unusual night time routine. She would either do sit ups or floss. It was never both. It was always a choice, “Is this a floss night or a sit ups night?”

So in search of solutions to my daily habits problem, I turned to the habit expert BJ Fogg. Fogg says to make a new habit we need three things:

  • Some level of motivation
  • The ability to do the thing
  • The trigger to do the thing

What’s missing, for me, and for most of us is the trigger. It’s a thing we can do, and we want to do it, but how to make the magic happen? That’s where the idea of “habit stacking” comes in. You have things you always do and you attach the new habit to that. Fogg gives the example of doing push ups after he pees. I used to do burpees (when I was mid burpee challenge) waiting for the microwave to finish its work. Likewise, I had great success doing shoulder physio by doing it each time I walked through my office door, en route to my desk. I had the red physio band tied to the doorknob to remind me.

He recommends setting habit intentions like this, “After I ………….., I will…………….”

Key Point: “Set the habit you want to make right after something you already do.” i.e. Do 2 pushups right after going to the bathroom or flossing just 1 tooth after brushing your teeth. What’s important is to make the habit TINY so that you will do it no matter how tired or unmotivated you are, yet you will be creating the seed for a good habit nonetheless. (Also that you should praise yourself after doing the habit. Tell yourself “I’m awesome!” or pump your fists in the air).”

Here’s the tiny habit guy himself:

Forget big change, start with a tiny habit: BJ Fogg at TEDxFremont

I’m reading his book Tiny Habits right now. I think I need to work on my post habit completion celebration. “You’re awesome” isn’t really my style. But a Muppet style happy dance just might be.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything

As usual you, dear blog reader, are under no obligation to establish new habits, however tiny. You do you. This is all offered for those of us, who want to do a thing, and struggle to get it done.

It’s okay not to want to do any of these things. Life needed be about constant improvement.

And in that spirit, here’s Dorothy Parker.

And now, having written for 10 minutes, I’m going to do a dynamic mobility routine. Having done that, I might even floss and then meditate. I’ll follow it with a happy dance.

Disco Muppets

Buenas noches!

family · fitness · habits · motivation

I had a plan – where did it go?

Well this is not the post I expected to write this month! A few months back I wrote Sam that I had been exploring and really enjoying exercise and would like to regularly blog about aquafit. At that time, I’d been going to the pool two to three times per week for a few months. It was a habit and it felt good. I also had started really enjoying the feeling of getting a good cardio workout. That itself felt like a minor miracle.  

I wrote my introductory post and looked forward to seeing what was coming on my journey of digging into exercise. It turns out what was awaiting me the last month was a lot of frustration and not getting to exercise! This is not new – many people struggle to get to their gym or their exercise. Women especially are conditioned to put our needs after others. In my case, historically it’s been really easy to distract me from exercise because honestly, I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to do it.

This is different though. I want to get there. Apparently though, wanting isn’t always enough. I’ve only been to the pool a couple of times since mid-April. And it shows. It shows in my mindset, which is more easily frustrated. It shows in my aching hips that don’t want to sit for hours while I teach and grade. It shows in my own disappointment too.

Now I have good reasons for not getting to the gym. I’m on a job search that is going s.l.o.w.l.y. (I teach college on contract and I want a permanent, student-facing job!). My husband is on sabbatical in Italy for the month of May. He’s working hard too and I’m happy to support him, but oh boy, I didn’t anticipate how many things would go sideways at home with our kids while he was away, or how much of our lives relate to getting our kids to places. I am struggling between my kids’ needs and my own, and my own have been losing out.

Selfie of a woman with greying hair and brown sunglasses in front of a blooming pink magnolia tree. She has bright sunlight on her face and is wearing a navy coloured tshirt reading "halfway between"
On my dog walk, I had to stop in front of this beautifully blooming magnolia tree

In truth, all reasons for not exercising are “good” reasons. Our reasons can be legitimate even when they are frustrating or disappointing. Canadian society seems to have a fixation with connecting fitness with guilt and judgement (as anyone who knows this blog knows). The last thing I want to do in writing today is to contribute a sense of judgment of people’s choices. What I do want to acknowledge (mainly mainly to myself) is that for the first time I really miss exercising. That makes this post another in my posts celebrating my journey toward enjoying and, I would say, reclaiming my body as my own for my own use. THAT feels pretty good to say.

So since I’m missing activity, and my growing strength and confidence as (dare I say it?) an athlete, it seems that my next challenge is to actually get back in the pool, and doing some late spring hiking. I can see I need to re-establish my routines and make space for myself in my life. I’m working on that now. So far the best I can do is get out each day to walk my dog. It’s a start – I’ll let you know in a month how it went!

fitness · Guest Post · habits

10 a.m. only comes once a day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fitness · habits · sleep

Aiming for better mornings

You don’t need to be on a self improvement quest. Neither do I. Sometimes the way we do things isn’t the best, but it works, it’s our way and that’s good enough. Not everything in our lives has to be perfect.

All that said, I’m aiming for better mornings as we emerge into warmer, brighter spring weather.

No more hitting the snooze button a half dozen times. I’ve struggled with the snooze button before. No more doom scrolling before the day even begins. Wordle, yes. But Twitter can wait until after coffee.

Morning hours are precious. They’re my best hours of the day.

I’d like to have spring and summer morning time for early writing and riding. Maybe even morning yoga.

Wish me luck!

An oppossum in bed says “me in my silly little need avoiding my silly little tasks.”

How about you? Do you have a time of day that needs a spring tune up?

habits · hiking · yoga

The beauty of bite-sized chunks

Remember how my goal this year is to undercommit? Or at least commit less? I’m pleased to report that I’ve actually had some success! Not sure if I’m really “committing” less, but at least I’m maybe committing differently, or to other things: bite-sized chunks of movement.

Last year, I got stuck in a mode where I’d not exercise because by the time the evening came around and I’d actually have time, I was too tired. So I’d crash on the couch exhausted, or pile on the MBA coursework. So far, this year, I’ve managed to integrate bite-sized chunks of yoga into my evenings a lot better. As I mentioned in the group post on this year’s Yoga with Adriene Move challenge, I’ve only done some (I’m writing this having just finished “day” 7), but I’m really enjoying them.

Part of my “overcommitment” problem is that I want to “Do Things Properly”, i.e. I’d want to go out for a run, or do some “Serious Exercise”, be too exhausted for that, and end up on the couch instead. But I’m coming around to the idea that 20 or 30 minutes of yoga are actually feasible at night. I’m quite chuffed! I actually feel like I’m getting a bit of my workout mojo back.

Bettina hiking on a forest road in a foggy winter forest with a child carrier on her back. Tiny human is in the carrier enjoying a nap.

We’ve also started going on bite-sized weekend hikes lately. Rather than overcommitting to half a day or a full day of hiking, we’ll go for an hour or two. Tiny human goes in the hiking backpack (he loves it and usually falls asleep), and since he now weighs 11kgs or so, carrying him is quite the workout, even if the hike is short. They’re also lots of fun, especially while tiny human is awake – his enthusiasm for dogs (WOOF! WOOF!) and other things we see along the way is quite contagious.

Hooray for bite-sized chunks of movement!

equality · fitness · habits · health · motivation

What if Exercise Were Free?

A person pulls the laces of their running shoes
“Running Shoes Photo” by JESHOOTS.com is licensed under CC0 1.0

Fitness has many visible and invisible costs, whether it’s for equipment, space, or training. Of course walking and running are free, but even then many folks purchase footwear specifically for those activities. (Throughout the world people run without shoes, but in Canada most need shoes, at least during below-freezing weather).

As I hiked with my friends a few weeks ago, and we chatted about topics like when to buy new hiking boots and where the money goes from the conservation area parking, I wondered to myself: What would happen if all basic fitness activities were free? Would it motivate people to exercise more, or at least try different sports and activities? How might paid-for exercise change people’s fitness habits?

In my thought experiment, I thought that exercise is free could mean that people have no-cost access to standard equipment, (like shoes and balls) and spaces (like courts) for the activities typically available in their climate and geographic location. Free also includes basic required training and/or certification for safety.

People would still have to get to and from activities at their own cost. To try to keep this idea from getting too fanciful, I figured that activities requiring expensive vehicles, like Formula 1 race cars or planes, wouldn’t count. Also excluded are the world’s most expensive mainstream sports.

How Free Fitness Might Change My Habits

I looked at this ranked list of exercise activities to see what I would do if cost was no longer a factor. Dodgeball, yes. More yoga, yes! I would try scuba diving, though I am afraid of getting “the bends.” I would definitely take dance lessons. I don’t think I’d be any good at fencing, but I would feel cool. I’ve never played cricket, but I’m not terrible at baseball, so I’d do that. I would maybe even try…cheerleading.

I feel like free fitness would change my fitness habits substantially. What would change for me is that I would diversify my activities. At the same time, I realized as I scanned the ranked list of exercise activities that many are yet untried by me not because of cost but because I don’t know where to pick up a fencing foil or who might play cricket with me. It’s time and opportunity, not affordability, that seems to be my main barriers.

It is critical to note that as a North American, middle-class, child-less white cis-woman I have the means and lifestyle to try most regular sports and fitness activities typically available in my geographic region. This is not the case for many.

Would Free Change Other People’s Habits?

I would like to think that with free access to all kinds of physical activities people’s physical and mental health would substantially improve. With a wider scope of activities in common, people could also connect more with each other. Free exercise would benefit communities and families with limited or no ability to pay for sports and fitness activities. Free could increase the diversity of folks engaging in those activities as well.

Logistics aside (i.e., who would pay for all this, how would it be coordinated), who would argue that making basic exercise free for everyone is a bad idea?

But when I consulted my friends enthusiastically about my daydream idea, they brought me back to reality by saying that free exercise would probably NOT dramatically change most people’s fitness habits. If humans are naturally energy-conserving creatures (read “lazy”), then even more readily available fitness options would not be enough to make everyone exercise, or diversify their exercise, more. Rather, free exercise would most benefit only those who already valued fitness and exercise.

Why Exercises Costs

Of course, free exercise is economically and logistically impossible. In many parts of the world, where basic necessities for remain unaffordable, free dodgeball or cheerleading is not a priority. And in reality there would have to be a hard line about where “free” ends–should the internet be free because so many exercise programs are available there?

Here in Canada, imagining how to make sports and physical activities free for everyone actually reinforced to me how deeply tied physical fitness is to money:

  • Exercise is a huge industry, and many people make their livings through exercise training, coaching, equipment sales, etc.
  • Pay-to-play gives some people real and perceived social status (e.g., celebrity-endorsed brand name gear).
  • Some people rely on the cost transaction, such as paying for a gym pass, to commit them to exercise.
  • It may be precisely the cost of a specialty sport–including the travel–that makes activities like heli-skiing or deep sea diving memorable and worthwhile.

Starting Small and With What You Value

Elan (the daydreamer) and her friends (the realists) did agree that the world might improve if we started small and everyone got at least a free pair of running shoes every few years. This idea to make basic exercise slightly more affordable could help with getting kids outside more and perhaps reduce people’s exercise-related foot and back ailments in later years.

But it seems that resources must go to not only making fitness more affordable but also continuing to shift how folks might better understand and value physical exercise activities in the first place.

And for my own situation, if I really wanted to try playing dodgeball or cricket, I just need a plan and the will to get started.

If all exercise were free, what would you try? Would your fitness habits change?

habits · yoga

Moved by Move: Christine H and yoga practice

I know that it wasn’t everyone’s cup of metaphorical tea but I thoroughly enjoyed Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day practice this past month.

The series was called Move and it was exactly what I needed to start off my year.

The sessions were short – the longest was about half an hour – and they felt very do-able for me this time, even though I couldn’t necessarily do all of the movements in any given session.

I did all 30 sessions in the 30 days but I didn’t do one every day. I had a good run but I had a migraine on Saturday night and had to skip that day’s session. So I did Saturday’s session on Sunday and then did two practices on Monday. I didn’t feel any pressure to ‘catch up’ or anything, I just tied up a lot of loose ends on Monday and I thought finishing off the 30 days of yoga would help me put a bow on the month.

A GIF of a person’s hands tying a white ribbon on a present
Obviously, in this scenario, my January is inside that box. ID: a GIF of a person’s hands tying a white bow on a present wrapped in striped paper the present is resting on a light coloured surface and there are lights and Xmas/winter decorations around it.

Meanwhile, it was a bit frustrating to realize, while doing Saturday’s session on Sunday, that it was so gentle that I could have done it the night before after the worst of my migraine had passed. It might have even helped. But don’t think that I am being hard on myself about it, resting also made sense!

I’ve been doing some thinking about why it felt pretty easy* to stick with a daily practice this time and here’s what I came up with:

  1. The sessions were short so, not only could I literally fit them into my evening, I could IMAGINE being able to fit them in. This might be an ADHD thing but around 20 minutes seemed so feasible but 30 minutes might have felt like FAR TOO MUCH TIME.
  2. I started a new level of meds at the end of November and my ability to judge my capacity has really improved so I am not as worn out in the evenings.
  3. Since my kids are older, the shape of my evenings is different so it is easier to fit yoga in.
  4. Something has clicked for me and her language around movement really resonated with me this time. I was able to tune into nuances in my movements that I haven’t noticed before and that was really encouraging for me.
  5. I have gotten a lot more comfortable with choosing to modify a movement. I used to worry that I was somehow cheating or wimping out but now I just do what makes sense in the moment.
  6. I decided to practice on my own terms. I used to try to be all focused and attuned and ‘good’ and not check the time or not interrupt myself. This time I committed to just being my often-distracted self and, shockingly, that made it easier to get on the mat.
  7. I spent all month writing about building habits and I was putting my own advice into practice on the regular.

I have done short term yoga practices lots of times and I can have long stretches (ha!) of doing a few poses every day but this time a daily 15-20 minute practices feels like something I can actually maintain for the long term.

A GIF of a dog stretching on a wooden floor
I think we have to say ‘Oh, good stretch!’ when a dog does this, right? ID: GIF of a large black and brown dog stretching to lean down toward its front paws and the leaning forward to extend its back paws as it moves along on a wooden floor. The word yoga is in white on the bottom right of the image.

But, since I know me, I know that I need to choose those sessions in advance.

I was tempted to just start this series over again but I think I’ll mix things up a bit first.

I’m going to do this morning series from Yoga with Joelle and see how her insights in these practices help me build on the lessons I found in my January practice.

*I really only had one day that I struggled to make myself do the practice. It took me a full ninety minutes of sitting on my mat, reading, drawing, and texting my friend before I could make myself do the session but I did it. It was half-assed but it was done.

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 31: Leap, Forge, or Trudge Ahead

Here we are at Day 31!

We’ve made it all the way through January and we’ve kept returning to our plan to expand our lives by building a new habit.

Maybe you have been diligently doing your practice exactly as planned.

Maybe you are still figuring out how to start or even what to start.

Maybe you are somewhere in the middle with some successes and some challenges and a few starts and stops.

All of those variations on habit-building are perfectly ok.

Yes, the person who could follow their plan diligently might be ‘ahead’ of the person who is still figuring things out but that’s only a technicality. Those two people aren’t in a race, their efforts can’t really be compared – they are two different people with two different backgrounds living two different lives.

They each have to find their own way forward and both of their efforts matter.

Sure, it is frustrating when all of your efforts are about getting to the mat and (as far as you can tell, at least) someone’s else’s efforts don’t really start until they step on to the mat. But your efforts to get to the mat count, even if they are invisible so far. Those efforts WILL pay off over time because you will be building a practice that works for you, whatever form that may take.

I’d rather see you figure out how to celebrate your efforts, to accept your gold stars, and to keep building your own practice, to recognize where you are in your own story, instead of letting frustration deter you. I know that working around the frustration requires effort in itself, it’s not easy, but it can be done and I believe that you can do it.

It seems a bit silly but one of the most powerful tools I employ when I am frustrated is the word yet. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it last year: Say Yet (that’s not a typo)

Ok, to be completely accurate, first I fume and stomp and complain a bit and when that initial annoyance has settled, then I get into my yets.

‘I can’t land the kick in that pattern…yet.’

‘I can’t keep my balance on my right foot in tree pose…yet.’

I haven’t been able to stretch after lunch…yet.’

Like I said in last year’s post linked above, the word yet adds an element of possibility, the idea that my capacity for that skill can grow, that I may be able to do it in the future.

Using ‘yet’ helps me remember that I might be in the beginning or the middle of my story instead of the end.

So, what’s next?

This is my last Go Team! post in this series and I have enjoyed showing up each day to remind you to be kind to yourself as you do your practices and build your habit. It’s been fun to explore my ideas around how to encourage you and I hope that you have been collecting your gold stars for your efforts throughout the month.

I won’t be posting daily from now on but I will create a Go Team post once a month to remind you that your efforts matter.

I have no way to know where you are in your practice and how you plan to continue from here but I want to remind you that leaping, forging, or trudging ahead are all valid ways to proceed.

And so is resting while you recover or while you figure things out. And it’s also valid to change direction based on new information, new plans, or because you want something different than you thought you did.

However you are proceeding, please default to self-kindness in the process.

You are doing the best you can with the resources you have and that is something to be celebrated.

Speaking of which, here is your gold star for today and with this star, I celebrate you – your efforts, your ideas, your plans, your detours, the things you have figured out and the things that you are still uncovering.

You matter. What you want matters. Your efforts matter.

Your hard work counts.

GO TEAM!

 A small painting of a gold star with black trim that has the words Go Team! written in black in the middle. The star is surrounded by multicoloured dots and speckles
Is this perfect? No. Did it turn out like I envisioned? Also no. Does it still do what I need it to? Hell, yes. That all seems fitting, doesn’t it? Image description: A small painting of a gold star with black trim that has the words Go Team! written in black in the middle. The star is surrounded by dots and speckles in red, orange, yellow, blue, pink, green, and black on a white background. Some of the dots and speckles are smeared. The painting is resting on a black computer keyboard.

Need a reminder to be kind to yourself while you keep building your habits?

You can see all of my Go Team! posts from this January, last January and throughout 2021 by clicking this link: Go Team! and I have linked all of this year’s posts (except this one!) below:

January 1: New Year, Same You

January 2: Go Easy

January 3: Pick a Time

January 4: Consistency Beats Perfection

January 5: Or Something Better

January 6: Beyond Compare

January 7: Focus on what you CAN do today

January 8: Powerful Attention

January 9: Feelings: Part 1

January 10: Feelings: Part 2 of 3

January 11: Feelings: Part 3 of 3

January 12: Go Ahead and Grumble

January 13: Give yourself the things you need to feel good

January 14: What can you notice?

January 15: Go easy on yourself

January 16: You’re not the problem

January 17: Keeping Perspective

January 18: Give yourself some credit

January 19: Create a ritual

January 20: You’re worth it

January 21: Support Systems

January 22: Encourage Yourself

January 23: When your some is your all

January 24: What if you always dread your practice?

January: 25: Who (else) is on your team?

January 26: Remember the basics

January 27: Stories (Part 1 of 3: the story of these posts)

January 28: Your Internal Story (Part 2 of 3)

January 29: Your Story Arc (Part 3 of 3)

January 30: Match your expectations to your capacity

About the Go Team! posts:

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 30: Match your expectations to your capacity

A lot of goal-setting advice includes a reminder to be realistic about your goals, to ensure that you are choosing something that you will actually be able to do.

That’s useful advice but it’s something I have always struggled with* because it was hard for me to figure out what is a realistic result for the practice I am trying to build.

Yet, I know that there is value in being to be able to measure your progress and to feel like your hard work is leading somewhere.

So that’s why I started advising people to match their expectations to their efforts and, later, I refined that advice to ‘Match your expectations to your capacity.’ It’s still not exactly what I want to say but it is closer.

It’s all too easy to get discouraged in the process of building a new habit. It’s even easier to get discouraged if your expectations are completely out of whack with your capacity for working on that habit.

And I think this is compounded by the fact that advice for beginners and advice for experienced exercisers often gets jumbled when you try to do some research. Add in the fact that people have different skills, abilities, schedules and capacity for adding new habits to their lives and it becomes even more of a challenge.

So, what I’m saying if you have trouble setting realistic goals or if you expectations for progress are out of proportion to your current capacity, it is completely understandable. It is not your fault.

But let’s try to bring your expectations closer to your reality so you can stay encouraged and see your progress.

Side note: You’ll see lots of advice out there about how you need to practice a certain number of minutes a day or work at a certain level in order to be healthy or fit. Leaving aside the issue of how ‘healthy’ or ‘fit’ might be defined in those cases, that advice might not be useful for you, yet. If you are starting out with fitness/meditation or if you are starting something that’s new for you, those numbers may not be relevant. Obviously, it’s ok to try it out and see if it works for you but if you find that it takes too much time/energy or that it leaves you discouraged, start waaaaaaay smaller. It makes much more sense to consistently do 2 minutes of practice twice a week and build that up over time than it does to try something intense for a week and then have to abandon it.

Connecting Capacity and Expectations

I hope that after a month of posts, I have started to convince that it is ok to start where you are and gradually expand your practice, working past obstacles and challenges, living your own story, until you have made the changes you want to make in your life.

In fact, it is more than ok, it’s literally the only possible way to do it.

That being said, if you are doing small practices and building up, then you aren’t going to get the same results as someone who can put hours into their practice.

On the one hand, that’s obvious. But on the other, it’s a comparison trap that is easy to fall into. Particularly since people may not often share the small practice stage of their progress. We’re more likely to see someone who has already built up a certain level of fitness, or someone whose schedule allows long practices start to share about their ‘fitness journey’ without realizing the difference between their capacity and ours.

The way around that comparison is not about trying to practice above your current capacity, it’s about adjusting your expectations. (And probably your timeline)

If you can exercise for 10 minutes of exercise a day right now, it wouldn’t be reasonable to sign up for an hour-long road race at the end of the month (unless you are just planning to do part of it!) It wouldn’t be fair to put that pressure on yourself and you’d probably end up frustrated and disappointed. It would be better to connect your capacity with your expectations and plan to time your speed on a shorter walk (maybe with a friend) as a measure of your progress. You can save the road race for your future self when you have a larger capacity for training.

If you are currently building your capacity for sitting up unassisted a few minutes at time, it wouldn’t be reasonable to sign yourself up for a tabletop board game tournament this weekend. Unless they have appropriate accommodations in place, you’d probably have to sit up for longer than you are ready for right now so that wouldn’t be a good measure of your progress. Instead, it might make sense to plan to play a game for a short period of time in a place where you can accommodate your need to alter your position regularly.

If you are building your habit with small practices and short sessions, it will be far more encouraging if you choose a benchmark that relates to where you are right now than if you choose a standard marker that is unrelated to your capacity.

Any practice you CAN do right now is valuable and it will lead you where you want to go.

If your capacity is limited right now, you may move slowly but you will still get there, on your own schedule.

Just be kind to yourself and align your expectations accordingly.

Today’s Invitation

Today, I invite you to consider whether you have been asking too much of yourself.

Is the progress you were hoping to see aligned with the practices you have the capacity to do?

If you find that you were using a measurement that doesn’t match your capacity, please adjust the measurement instead of judging your capacity. Your capacity will expand over time, one way or another, but there is no need to let misaligned expectations to make you feel bad about your current abilities.

And here, as always, is your gold star for your efforts today. No matter what they were.

Your efforts count. Your hard work matters.

YOU MATTER.

Please be kind to yourself.

a drawing of a gold star surrounded by a variety of patterns drawn in black ink and coloured with coloured pencils.
Image description: a drawing of a gold star surrounded by a variety of meditative drawing patterns. Each pattern is drawn in black ink and then coloured with colouring pencils. (I call colouring pencils leads but apparently that’s a regional thing and many people wouldn’t know what I was referring to. Language is weird, isn’t it?)

*I don’t know if this is an ADHD thing or just a being-a-person thing (I’ve always had ADHD so all my being-a-person things have an ADHD layer to them) but I rarely know what is a realistic result for one of my fitness plans. And that’s part of the reason that I tend to hang out in the create systems/choose a time-based practice area of habit-building and I try to trust that my practice will bring me closer to the changes I want.

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

Go Team! January 29: Your Story Arc (Part 3 of 3)

So far in this series, I’ve written about the story of me recognizing that my initial plans were a big project, not just a single post and I’ve written about how your internal stories can affect you, your practice, and your habit-building process. Today, our project is to consider the arc of your habit-building story.

I’m not going to drag us into a debate about the application/validity of hero/heroine myths and I am not going to get into all the possible variations on stories because we would be here all week. For the sake of my time, your time, and the utility of this comparison, I’m going to choose some parameters for our discussion.

The Story Parameters

When we are asked what a story is about, the knee-jerk reaction is to think of story in terms of plot – the series of events that happen. I prefer the definition that says a story is really about how the characters change in response to the events in the plot.*

Of course, those changes will only make sense if the plot follows an arc of some kind. And while there are many variations about what goes in what part, the most pervasive arc is the one we are probably most familiar with – a beginning, a middle, and an end.

In the beginning, characters and settings are introduced and the current ‘normal’ is established and then disrupted in some way. In the middle, tension rises as the characters are reacting/responding/trying to adjust to the disruption. At the end, the characters have come to terms with the disruption, they have made changes or have been changed in response to it, and they establish (or start to establish) their next normal. **

The Analogy

If you think of the habit you are building in terms of a story, you are choosing the disruption in your ‘normal’ but it can still play out in a similar way.

Beginning: Recognizing your normal and deciding that it needs to expand to include a new habit. Figuring out what your character (i.e. YOU) is like – What you will enjoy doing or be able to do to build your new habit. Identifying your setting – Where and when will your practice take place? Do you need to change anything in your ‘normal’ setting to facilitate this?

Middle: Figuring out ways to make this disruption (your practice) work for you by exploring/working through the various challenges/obstacles/setbacks/victories/self-discoveries that arise as you respond to your practice.

End: You have responded/adjusted to the disruption and now your practice is part of your next normal. Challenges may still arise with the practice (you may take on a new disruption/practice) but, even if you revisit what you learned in this habit story, those challenges/new practices will be part of a new story.

Alternatively, the story of your habit building might end when you decide that this is not the right story for you. Sometimes, the things you explore in the middle of the story help you to realize that you don’t want the ‘next normal’ that this story is leading you to. In that case, you can take the story in a different direction towards a new end or you can take the lessons of your current tale and start a new one.

The Questions

One of the first useful things about using a story as an analogy is that you can recognize that there are different stages in your process and that there will be specific situations and feelings that will arise in each one.

When you read, listen, or watch a story, you don’t expect to have the same information or the same feelings at each stage in the tale. The same is true when you are building your habits.

The way that you feel as you are discovering things at the beginning is different than how you feel as you are meeting challenges or finding victories in the middle. It’s okay to feel differently about different points in the story of your practice.

What part of your story are you in?

And I think that one of the reasons that habit-building can be so frustrating is that we often don’t realize what part of the story we are in.

For example, if you haven’t been thinking of your habit-building in terms of a story, you might be trying to rush your progress. Once you have made a plan and done some practice, you might think you have everything sorted out and things will be easy from here. If you are in that mindset and an obstacle pops up, you will be extremely frustrated and you will probably give the obstacle more meaning than it deserves. You might see it as a sign that you haven’t been working hard enough or that you chose the wrong practice.

However, if you have thought of your habit-building process as story, you’d recognize that the plan and the first part of your practice is only the beginning of the story. You’d be expecting the challenges and the required adjustments that come next. I think it would be a lot easier on your brain if instead of thinking ‘Oh, this challenge means I messed up.’ you could think ‘Oh, I’ve reached the challenge stage! How can I adapt to meet this first one?’

I don’t mean to imply that thinking of the process as a story will make every adjustment easy but knowing that challenges are an expected part of the process will make it easier to be kind to yourself as you adjust. You have no reason to blame yourself for obstacles since they crop up for everyone who is trying to create a habit-building story.

What are you feeling right now?

And, it is good to know that the feelings that you have at every part of the story are perfectly normal. While your feelings may run the gamut at any stage, and those feelings are all OK, there are specific things that are typical of different parts of your story. You’ll feel a mix of hope, confusion, anticipation, and overwhelm at the beginning, the middle will be a mix of victories, frustrations, and maybe even anger/the desire to quit, and the end will include pride, excitement, positivity, and maybe some regret.

If you are feeling very frustrated, it might be a comfort to know that that means you are probably in the middle of your story and that you are learning to adapts to the challenges. You don’t have to stay in this story, of course, but the frustration is not automatically a sign that you have chosen the wrong practice.

If you reach the end of your habit-building story and you are feeling some regret, that’s perfectly normal too. Sometimes our stories include regret that we didn’t try this earlier, regret that we took a longer path, or a feeling like regret, a kind of sadness, about finishing something that we have worked on for so long. Those feelings all make sense and we don’t have to be hard on ourselves about them. Since we know that those feelings can crop up at the end of a story, we can recognize and accept them instead of pouring energy into trying to fight them.

Are you trying to rush the story along?

It’s natural to want to rush your habit-building story along. I’m sure that’s why the training sequences in movies are almost always include a montage – we just want to zip through the challenging bits and get to the skills and the muscles.

But sadly, we can only see our own montage when we look back.

The story of how we built our habits has to happen in real time, there’s no other way to do it.

We have to figure out our beginning, address the challenges in the middle, and then enjoy our next normal at the end. It’s not possible to do things in a different order when it comes to establishing our wellness practices.

So, if you haven’t been able to figure out your practice yet, you are probably just at the beginning of your story. If you seem to be facing a bunch of challenges, you are likely in the middle. Even though it would be great to jump ahead, it’s probably easier on your brain and on your body if you don’t.

After all, you can’t face the challenges in the middle of your story until you have the information from the beginning. You can’t have the expansion you seek at the end if you haven’t gone through the changes and growth in the middle.

Your story won’t be complete if you haven’t changed in response to your experiences.

Try to remind yourself that the work you are putting in at this stage is an important part of your story and, even if you can’t see the progress yet, you are, indeed, moving toward your satisfying conclusion.

The growth you seek comes from the process of experiencing the whole story.

The Invitation

Today, I invite you to consider yourself as the main character in your own story.

You may be at the beginning of that story, somewhere in the middle, or you may have the end in sight, but all of those stages are valid and valuable and it is ok to feel however you feel about them.

Please be kind to yourself as you consider where you are now, how far you have come, and the parts of the story that lie ahead.

No matter which stage you are at, your effort counts and your hard work matters.

You matter.

Here is your gold star for your efforts today, no matter what they might be

A small painting of a gold star hanging in the window of a house with orange siding.
Hmm, I had no idea my computer keyboard was so dusty! I could edit this photo or I could start over with a new one but I’ve decided to choose progress over perfection and just go with this. Image description: a small painting of a gold star hanging in the window of a house with orange siding. The painting is sitting on my (apparently quite dusty) computer keyboard.

*I think I first encountered this approach in a Lisa Cron book but I’ve seen so many variations of it now that I can’t be sure. I do love her work though.

**I heard the phrase ‘next normal’ in a John Green podcast (possible Anthropocene Reviewed) a while ago and I just love it. Forget ‘new’ normal, NEXT normal includes a great sense that we aren’t getting back to anything, we aren’t creating a new constant state, we are part of something that will continue to change.

For the second year in a row, I’ll be posting a Go Team! message every day in January to encourage us as we build new habits or maintain existing ones. It’s cumbersome to try to include every possibility in every sentence so please assume that I am offering you kindness, understanding, and encouragement for your efforts right now. You matter, your needs matter, and your efforts count, no matter where you are applying them. You are doing the best you can, with the resources you have, in all kinds of difficult situations and I wish you ease. ⭐💚 PS – Some of the posts for this year may be similar to posts from last year but I think we can roll with it.