No, you don’t need to check your calendars– today is February 9, not January 1.
Maybe you’re thinking: she’s on one of those inspirational jags, urging us to see our lives afresh each day.
No, that’s not it.
Or, you think, oh, she’s using one of those implicit New Year’s resolutions gone awry memes to make a point about resolutions and habits.
My late start to 2020 is more practical in nature. January was a complete blur of a month this year. I was sick as a dog with a virus/sinus infection all month, I had 19 tenure committee meeting to prepare for, attend and then to write six letters for, I started classes January 23, and finally, I was finishing up my job as co-warden of my church. Today is our church annual meeting, where we elect new wardens.
This means that as of today, Feb 9, I am DONE with my church leadership job. I am DONE with my university tenure committee, I am DONE with this wretched virus/sinus thing, and I am READY to get going on my year. But what does that mean?
Mainly it means moving. January was exhausting. All I could do was work and sleep, and very occasionally do a little yoga and walking. I miss movement. I miss strength training. I miss cycling (albeit on the trainer these days). I miss daily yoga. But my new year is starting today, so I can get back to those things, starting with a vengeance!
Wait— hold on a minute. What was true on Jan 1 is still true on Feb 9. It’s not like Feb 9 resolutions are any less prone to over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations than Jan 1 resolutions. I mean, my head is filled with all the new year’s advice we have to manage and make sense of:
Just do it.
Be in the moment.
Forget the past.
Today is a new day.
Focus on the process, not the product.
Failure is not an option.
Failure is your friend.
So what should I do and how should I do it?
I’m starting by walking to yoga class this afternoon. I’m setting up my bike trainer in my study, too. My yoga mat and some weights are in the living room. It’s time to move, one day at a time. Also, it’s time to make plans to do physical activities with friends, and put together a weekly doable schedule. I’ll check in next month to report on how things are going.
What about you, dear readers? How is your new year going? We can declare restarts any time we want. Or we can just restart every day. This whole dedicated habit structure thing is not my forte, but I’d welcome your thoughts or ideas about what works for you.
Here at FFI I’m one of the “bike bloggers”; along with Cate, Sam, and Susan, I get jazzed about the riding. We all have different styles and prefer different kinds of riding-based holidays, but the bike is our collective thing.
As a committed (and pretty darn talented) road rider, usually my yearly wellness goals revolve around bike training, club riding, and trip planning. This year I still have some of these – I hope to go to my regular South Carolina training camp in March, and I’ll be taking my bike to the west of Ireland in July, while I’m there for a working holiday – but mostly my wellness goals this year are about other things.
Specifically, they are about long-term joint health, and about long-term mental health.
First, the joints. I have an autoimmune condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which if untreated can cause incredibly painful skeletal distortion as I age. I’m lucky to work in a town and at a university with an incredible teaching hospital network, and I have a wonderful rheumatologist, whom I trust and appreciate, following my condition.
(I’ll never forget my visit to her the day after the November 2016 presidential election. We had a brilliant chat, woman to woman, about how dreadful we were each feeling before we talked about my hips. That visit also inspired one of my very favourite FFI posts, “What Women Weigh”; if you’ve not had a chance to read it, please click here.)
Alas, this past year I’ve noticed an uptick in my symptoms. I’ve had too many instances of anterior uveitis (a correlative condition – basically the inflammation of the iris, REALLY), and my hips have been stiff and sore more than usual. I don’t want to have to shift my A.S. treatment, because the next step up is to begin taking immunosuppressant drugs, which I’m very anxious about. (I WORK WITH STUDENTS #petridish) So, instead, I’m committing this year to making more time for yoga at home, as well as at my beloved Iyengar studio, and perhaps I’ll also fold in some sports physiotherapy.
I know this will mean dialing back on “regular” workouts to fit in more joint-focused, low-intensity stuff. I find dialing back on cardio and weights hard – #endorphins – but if I want to keep doing that into my old age, I need to reprioritize.
Second, the mental health stuff.
I’ve been going to Jungian, talk-therapy based psychotherapy for about 18 years, on and off. My doctor in Toronto is covered by our provincial health insurance (YES to medicare for all, friends! It is literally life-changing!), and he more or less saved my life in the mid-2000s. But after all this time, last summer I realized that I’d learned most of what I could learn from him about the traumas of my past, and yet I was still feeling sadness and far too much unexplained rage.
I chatted with Susan about this on a long dog walk last Christmas. She agreed that I sounded like I’d plateaued in my learning with Dr A, and she suggested I give a different kind of therapy a try to see where it leads me.
(Susan, in addition to being a bike person, is our resident “why dog walks are critical fitness activities” blogger. My favourite of her posts on the topic is here. IT IS HILARIOUS AND PROFOUND.)
Thanks to Susan’s advice, I’ve now begun a course of EMDR therapy here in my home city. It’s been remarkable so far: I’m learning to revisit certain of my past traumas in safety, and to dissociate the feelings I carry about them from my traumatizing memories. Already I feel lighter, I have more compassion for those who previously enraged me, and I’m looking forward to making more discoveries in 2020. I know there’s a way to go yet, but I also see that the end can be filled with light.
This therapy is not government-covered, nor does my private work-based insurance cover it (beyond a measly 15 bucks a session. WHATEVS). And it is not cheap.
After factoring it into my working 2020 budget (I paid off my car, and redirected the money from the car payments toward it), I realized that I will also need to scale back some other fitness spending to accommodate it. So I may or may not get back to rowing, as I’d hoped, in 2020; we’ll see. And while I need a new saddle, I think I’ll also need to rely on my fantastic partner for more cycling-related presents throughout the year, rather than let myself wander into any bike shops on whims.
So, in sum from Kim:
Fitness =anything we do to help our body-minds feel better, move better, move safer, be lighter. Yes this is bikes, and weights, and runs; it’s also dog walks, and mental health work, and joint support, and rest. As we try not to fall into the badgering temptation of the proverbial “New Years resolution”, let’s keep this range of wellness options in mind!
What about you, friends? What are your wellness hopes for the new year? And a happy one to all!
A few years ago, my cross-country ski mate moved to Montana. We had developed a relaxed, yet ferocious, approach to our shared ski workouts—lots of hard work and lots of chat time. My perfect workout partner. After she left, I lost my mojo.
I almost didn’t notice. For the first couple of years I was dealing with the run up and the aftermath of surgery for a neuroma in my foot. Not that I had to take any significant time off; it was more that the pain prior to the surgery dampened my enthusiasm and then I didn’t quite trust the absence of pain. Even as I write this, I know that my diminished energy for skiing was more to do with losing my partner-in-energy-for-fierce-workouts than it was related to the surgery.
When the ski season started this year, I noticed for the first time how many moments I told myself that I wasn’t fit enough anymore to do a workout from years past. For example, I used to ski up certain gradual hills using V2 (the most powerful skate ski stroke; think of it like the hard gear in the big chain ring on a bike). Now, I was intimidated by the prospect. I told myself that I shouldn’t even try until I got in better shape. Now, that’s a vicious cycle.
Then, skiing on December 31st, I suddenly realized—what am I doing? Just try, I told myself. What’s the worst that’s going to happen? You can’t finish the effort you started? What does that even mean? I’m the one who decides when the effort is done. I’m the one who decides whether I made a good effort or a not. And, if I never make the effort, then I can definitely keep telling myself I can’t.
So, in the middle of my ski, I just tried. I alternated V2 with the moderate ski stroke I normally default to. The next day, January 1, as I was finishing my ski, I got inspired. First day of the year, more, first day of the new decade, try on a new attitude. Plus, I was buoyed by my effort the day before. As I approached the hill where I used to do V2 intervals, I decided to throw in one interval. Just one. Just try. The hill was SO hard. I almost coughed up a lung, as a friend used to say. I got to the top. My technique was a mess. I was done in. I felt that nice glow of accomplishment.
I’m starting to thread back in bits of workouts from the days with my ski pal. It feels good. Fresh. Exhilarating even, as I feel the fizz of enthusiasm returning. As always, the experience makes me question, where else in my life can I just try more? Just try feels forgiving. More about the intention than the outcome. I’m less daunted. I’m less likely to judge myself, when trying is the key to my pleasure, not accomplishing a certain speed.
On January 3, I did the whole interval workout I used to do. V2 up the gradual hill. Fast as I can around and down the other side. Double pole on the barely-discernible-uphill back to the start of the loop. Six times. Just enough energy left for some ski dancing in celebration.
I feel an uptick of overall life optimism from my new and renewed attitude on skis; a zesty feeling I wish I could bottle for the less pleasant days. But life’s operating instructions are pretty clear: Best Enjoyed Now.
CW: Discusses disordered eating habits and negative self-talk.
Continuing with my normal life.
No, seriously. The moment the celebrations are over and I feel like, “hmm, maybe it’s time to eat fewer cookies, get a little more sleep and find that gym membership card again,” then I’ll just take one thing and do what is normal for me. I’m not going to ramp up, push hard, or go strong. It is not time to atone, make up for, or negate.
I’m just going to let myself fall back naturally into my old routines. It might take a few days, or a week, or whatever, but I’ll find them again. The key is to not spend my time wallowing in guilt or blaming myself in anger. The more emotion I put behind the transition, the harder it is.
I know because I’ve been there before, and not just at the holidays. You see, for nearly as far back as I can remember, I’ve dealt with compulsive overeating. I stole food and hid it in my room as a little girl. As a teen, I would spend my allowance on donuts and pastries that I would eat while walking home from school. I managed my emotions, my sense of loneliness and isolation, depression, traumatic experiences and their aftermaths with food.
I have spent the better part of the last decade extricating myself from these patterns, and while I can’t say I will never overeat unintentionally again, I can say it occurs less and less frequently.
One of the most powerful tools that helped me was to learn to remove emotions from my observations of these patterns and to switch my internal talk to neutral observations. “Why was I so stupid and ate all that cake again?!” has become “I have eaten more cake than I planned on eating.”
I don’t immediately go into damage control mode. I don’t promise to eat only a salad for dinner that night or swear off cake for the rest of the week. I don’t immediately go out for a run or plan a brutal lifting session. I try to just notice it and move on.
I think the noticing is important, although I haven’t read this anywhere else. My friends who are chronic dieters often seem to do a “I’m eating whatever I want, I don’t care” move and then use that as a way to “ignore” what they are overeating. From what I’ve observed on the outside, this seems to backfire as shame and guilt in the long run. It looks like the act of pretending one doesn’t care builds up increased levels of emotional connection to choices rather than diminishing them.
So, the first step isn’t to pretend I am neutral, but to acknowledge the feelings and the choices and consciously rewrite the observation into a neutral statement. “I care about how much I’m eating and I’m going to eat this cookie anyway” is a much more powerful sentiment than trying to convince myself that I don’t care when I actually do.
Then, when I’m ready to make a different choice–the party is over, I’m not out to brunch with friends, I’m back from vacation, and it’s just another meal–I do whatever I would normally do. The only exception is if I really, truly, just don’t feel like it. If my “usual” is dessert after lunch and dinner, but today I’d rather start with a piece of fruit at lunch, then I eat it. But I have to be honest with myself–it doesn’t work to try to convince myself that I should only want a piece of fruit. And this goes for the other direction as well–if my “usual” is a piece of fruit and I really want dessert, I have to be honest with myself about that, too. Again, the act of trying to convince myself creates too high of stakes and too much emotion. So, I have a serving of what I really want while practicing being neutral, and then I get back to my normal routine.
This works with other habits and routines I’m trying to get back to, too. Stopped going to the gym? Letting myself stay up too late? Need to call my parents more often? I observe it. And then allow myself to do one thing that I used to do that helped me maintain that behavior in the past. I only commit to trying ONE thing. It may be as small as putting it on my calendar or packing my gym bag. I break the inertia, do that one thing and observe it without judgement. And then try again.
And before too long, it will be just another day.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found practicing neutral observations, picking up heavy things, and putting them back down again in Portland, Oregon.
Four days in, I’m still adjusting to this fresh start of a decade. We’re living in the 20’s now. A decade that makes me think my word for the year should be … ROAR.
My cousin introduced me to this word of the year practice about 10 years ago. Our guest blogger, Anne Simpson, wrote about her Word of the Year a few days ago. The idea is to distill your hopes, dreams, ambitions and challenges for the coming year into a word. What’s the one word you choose today to describe the year you are aiming for? A word that aspires to something greater, but doesn’t set you up for disappointment. A personal word that captures both who you are already (and you are just dandy the way you are!) and how you can refine that existing excellence. A word that will inspire you for the 364 days to come.
Last year, I had some pretty definitive plans for 2019 related to one of my plays and my book that was publishing in July. I wanted to remind myself not to get too caught up in expectations. I also challenged myself to meditate every day. My word was PRESENCE. In 2018, I was immersed in book writing and my personal challenge was to not shop for clothes or shoes for the whole year. My word was ATTENTION.
A quick note about these challenges I mention. I’m not one for resolutions. Or maybe I just don’t like the word, in the context of the New Year. There’s something about resolutions that always feels like someone/something is chastising me to do better. And I was never very good at sticking to resolutions. But I have developed a habit of setting myself a challenge for the year. And, weirdly, I generally manage to stick to my challenges. Could just be that the word is more motivating. My challenges are usually ways of being that I want to try on for size, with no commitment to extend after the year is over. You can bet I’ve shopped for some new clothes since 2018 finished.
This year feels largely unknown and fluid. Scary. I have some specific events I’m looking forward to–talks I’m giving in Princeton at The Present Day Club and San Francisco at The Battery; another reading of my play at Missouri State University; plus a new workshop series I’m planning with a friend of mine. I don’t know what any of these will lead to. I don’t know what my big project for the year will be. A new book? Another play? Rolling out the workshops? Plus, there’s my challenge for the year—no buying anything (except books/tv/film) on amazon. I may also go back to an alternate month no-shopping practice, because the prospect is peaceful to contemplate.
All in all, I feel open. Excited. Super daunted. And sometimes a little frustrated, because shouldn’t a woman in her 50’s be looking forward to a steadier, more settled year? That’s my voice of insecurity having her say. But she does not get to decide my word! So, given all that, what is my word?
I think we’re finally seeing a shift in the landscape about health and new year’s resolutions. There are far fewer articles in my various social media newsfeeds about dire diets and impossible plans. Instead, I’m seeing some reflective reporting on evidence based plans for how to make your life better, if that’s what you’re after this January. Now maybe that’s just better news algorithms but whatever, I’ll take it.
For example, the BBC this week ran a great list of health tips that weren’t about restricting foods, running unhappily on a treadmill, and weighing yourself. Instead, they made recommendations like smile more, get enough sleep, and get a dog. I can’t find the link for you! (Sorry about that. It’s been a busy week back to work.) (Edit/update: It’s here. Thanks Keri for helping out!) My favourite though was a 30 food challenge. Not the dreaded Whole 30 challenge which restricts foods, this challenge is to eat 30 different plant based foods in a week:
According to Megan Rossi, “We should aim for at least 30 different plant-based foods per week, she says. That is because plant-based diversity is thought to have a key role in good gut health. The bacteria in our gut – collectively known as the microbiome – have a profound role in our health. Allergies, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s, and even depression have all been linked to the bacteria in our gut. One way we can get more plant-based diversity in our diets easily is by being a little savvier about some of the foods we purchase, says Dr Rossi. “Instead of just buying chickpeas go for the four-bean mix. Instead of buying one type of seed buy the four-seed mix,” she says.”
Now Matt Fitzgerald wonders if we ought to strive to eat different foods everyday. In his Is Dietary Variety Overrated? he looks at the advantages of eating the same healthy foods everyday. And there are some advantages. Planning and meal prep is easier and you can choose healthy meals you like and stick with them. That said, when it comes to fruits and vegetables there are nutritional reasons for striving for variety.
He writes, ” For example, in one study researchers from the University of Colorado divided 106 women into two groups and placed them on different diets. Both groups consumed 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, but one group ate 18 different varieties of fruits and vegetables while the other ate only five varieties. Blood tests taken after two weeks revealed that while both groups showed a reduction in lipid peroxidation (due to increased antioxidant intake), only the wide-variety group exhibited a reduction of DNA damage caused by free radicals.”
Do you eat 30 different plant based foods in a week? Looking at my food log (yes, I track, I like it, still!) I’ve got a ways to go. So far I’ve had apples, onions, celery, mushrooms, spinach, and broccoli.
How about you? How many different plant based foods do you eat in a week?
But if you decide “yes” and go ahead and make resolutions, there’s lots of good advice about making them stick. Lots of it is even the kind of advice we like to give around here. Here’s 5 things that I find make a difference.
2. Pick things you can control (habits, not outcomes). My fave app for habit tracking is called 7 Weeks (thanks TT!) but there are lots of good ones out there. Here’s a list of 24 best habit tracking apps.
3. Don’t overwhelm yourself. As tempting as it is to think “whole new me!” it’s probably best not to set out to learn to meditate, improve your French, quit smoking, make your bed everyday, pack your own lunch, read a novel a week etc etc all in one year.
4. Don’t aim for perfection. It’s not all over if you miss a day, or even a week. People like all or nothing thinking and tend to say “well, that’s over.” But you can keep on going.
5. Reach out! Lots of us like some kind of accountability. Find other people who share your goal and check in with them.
Also I think it’s worth reading Gretchen Rubin’s piece on resolutions, those of us who hate them, and how to do better by lightening up. I also like this article on resolutions recommended by therapists.