This post is a group of loosely connected thoughts in a blogpost-shaped trench coat but let’s just roll with it.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a lawn chair on my front lawn awaiting trick or treaters – Khalee is too much of a chaos agent for me to easily answer the door over and over so I take the treats outside and drink tea while waiting for the kids.
Tomorrow, or today by the time you read this, is November 1, just a little over a week away from my 50th birthday.
A few months ago, I thought I would have a good fitness routine by now. I thought I had a solid, low key plan.
Turns out, I was still trying to do too much at once and I have basically been kind of ambling along trying to figure out my how and when, exercising more some times and less other times.
At the beginning of October, I thought I would have a straightforward month with two challenges to work on, but I was plagued with migraines and frustration and never really found my groove.
One tiny part of my brain is telling me ‘You should be more disappointed in yourself, don’t you think?’
But another part is reminding me that the word should is at least 90% evil and that, at almost 50 years old, I don’t have to put up with people being mean to me – especially if that person is me.
So, instead, I’m thinking that I must not have found the easy thing. I must have had too many steps or too many decisions, I must not have smoothed the path, I must not have included enough fun. Oh well! Too late to worry about those past plans now.
I’m not trying to revamp them, though, I’m just focused on what’s ahead of me.
I’m looking forward to my birthday month with the goal(s) of finding more ease, seeking more fun, and looking for ways to move more often on any given day.
There’s no overarching plan, there’s no big idea, there’s just me experimenting with trusting myself in the moment. Let’s just hope my brain will cooperate.
It took me a couple of Halloweens of trying different things before I figured out that I could circumvent the stress of the dog-related chaos by taking the treats out to the kids but I was making little changes in my approach the whole time.
I’m hoping the same is true for this whole figuring-out-routines thing, that I *am* making adjustments and learning as I go, even if it’s hard to see while I’m still in the middle of it.
PS – In case you have a tendency to worry: I am completely ok, by the way. I’m mostly just interested in how and why I feel so at ease with not having done what I had set out to do. And why I don’t feel the need to poke into what went “wrong.” I like the fact that instead of my brain leaning into the meanness, I veered off into the ‘try this’ of taking things moment by moment. I’m observational and reflective, perhaps a little melancholy, but I’m not sad, not upset, and there’s nothing wrong.
But we are all thinking about vacation as time that is not non-vacation time. If you’re normally very active, on vacation you can relax. If you are normally too busy for activities, then on vacation you have that time. Vacation is choice: a time to do more (or less) than what you do when you are not vacationing (unless you are retired, but that’s another scenario from which I am still woefully far away).
This past summer vacation, I wrote out a list of physical and social activities I wanted to do on my own or with friends and family: hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, etc. Then, on the next page (likely your previous page, as I am left-handed) I drew a wobbly boxes and slotted list items into my hand-drawn calendar—spreading the activities out but also ensuring I got them all into my vacation time.
So, each vacation day I had at least one activity to look forward to, and thinking back I had a blast: two weeks of a high-energy days that were filled with lots of fun and plenty of exercise in my local area.
Now, I am back to my regular work week. Back to the office. And I am kinda down about it.
Even though I still have most nights and weekends for summer exercise, I feel not nearly as motivated and encouraged to be active as I did when I was on my two weeks of holidays. Activity-wise, I peaked during my summer vacation time, then valleyed right after on my non-vacation time. And I am finding that it is not helpful to be this unmotivated, considering that now I am needing exercise more than ever after sitting in an office all day.
What’s the learning here, and what’s next for me? It’s a long time away my next two-week vacation!
My vacation activities seemed galvanized by choice. Now that I am back to work, I feel less freedom in how I spend my time. Would making another list and wobbly, hand-drawn calendar give me back that “vacation feeling” that would nudge me back to want to be more active?
Or, perhaps I should try to mentally de-coupling my physical activities from my vacation time altogether. Perhaps exercise is the vacation from work.
Do you notice a difference in your levels of activity transitioning between vacation to work time? How do you manage that transition? What works for you?
“All riders are expected to complete two back-to-back minimum 100km rides over two consecutive days (e.g. Saturday and Sunday) by this date.” By what date? By July 17.
The Friends for Life Bike Rally has its rules. I am sure they are good rules and they have them for a reason.
But here’s my reaction:
And truth be told I haven’t yet ridden 100 km in one go this year.
Yes, I’ve ridden 97 km and I was tempted to go all Cate-completist about it. and make it an even 100 but I didn’t. I wasn’t even exhausted but I was, as usual, done with Toronto traffic and all the red lights.
I have been doing back to back rides. This past long weekend I did 46 km on one day (Canada Day at Niagara Falls with Sarah) and 77 (with David) on another and then another 49 km (in Southampton with Sarah and her very speedy ZSUN teammate Nats).
But the astute mathematicians among you will note that that’s not 200 km over two days.
You can see my Strava profile here if you want to check up on me. Lol.
So what’s my plan?
I’m riding this Friday with Jeff, had planned on 70 km or so. I might ride with some GCAT folks on Saturday but that’s more like 60 km. Sunday there’s a wedding. So I don’t think it will be this weekend.
Next weekend looks good though. Sunday, July 17 is the Tour de Norfolk. We’ve committed to the 100 km.
I think I have a plan. We could ride 100 km in Guelph on Saturday and then the Tour de Norfolk on Sunday. Let’s hope for good weather and all going well we should be able to sneak in our back to back 100 km rides just under the wire.
Shortly after coming home from my work commute the other day, I found that my partner (and cat) could barely stand to be around me. I was being a total grump—tired and irritable. Why?
I had spent the last two days commuting by car (an hour each way, plus more travel between sites), then sitting for hours at desks that were not my own. Being vehicle- and desk-bound used to be my work-a-day norm. But, after only a few days back at work, and despite all the travel, I felt unusually sedentary and yuck.
I have worked from home during most of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means I’ve had the luxury of walking or exercising before or after work (most days!), and taking short stretch breaks anytime I’ve needed to in a private and comfortable space of my own. More control over how, where, and how much I sit.
You may be thinking—with all this privilege, 5 hours in the car over 2 days is not, relatively speaking, a big deal. Boo hoo, Elan. (At first I thought that too.)
Yet, because I am trying to be mindful and notice things more, I realized maybe I hadn’t prepared myself sufficiently for what back to work would feel like for my body.
Reminders are for people who need reminding. Here is a brief list of reminders for how I might show up more prepared for my return-to-work days a (and be less of a grump around those I love afterwards).
Leave 15 minutes earlier than I need to and park at the far end of the parking lot to have time to walk and stretch before sitting in the office.
Bring more water and veggie snacks than I think I will need in order to stay hydrated (and avoid the snack machine).
Schedule in-person meetings to end 10 minutes before the hour, and use that time to get up and move around, perhaps reacquainting myself with the buildings and their outdoor spaces.
Assess the ergonomics of my seated position in my car and in my hoteling office work spaces—try to notice my posture and pack what I need to adjust myself.
Make time to stretch before getting back into my car near the end of the day.
What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those posts about how your hard work now will pay off later.
In fact, this is a post about trying to schedule LESS work for yourself.
I just got back from my first work conference in many, many years. The event was held in British Columbia and I live all the way on the other side of the country in Newfoundland and Labrador.
I have a lot of stress around travelling under normal circumstances (I’m not afraid of flying, I find being at the whims of the airline schedules nerve-wracking) and that stress was intensified by concerns about Covid.
And, of course, flying across the country, across multiple time zones (there is a 4.5 hour difference between home and BC), added another layer of trickiness to the whole process. My flights to BC found me getting up at 2am to be at the airport form my 5am flight, and after complications, delays, and waiting for flights, I had been up for 26 hours by the time I got to bed that night. My flights home were less complex but I took off in Nanaimo at 3pm Sunday and got home at 11am on Monday – a schedule that included a 5 hour wait in Toronto airport in the middle of the night.
I’m home as I sleepily write this on Monday night and I am finding myself grateful for something my past self did for me.
When I booked those flights, I thought about how I would probably be extra tired right now from traveling, time zones, and from several days of peopling, and I put a note in my calendar to protect myself this week.
It might not seem like much but that note to ‘keep schedule light’ made me mindful of taking good care of myself. Every time I turned to add something to this week in my calendar, I had a reminder that my capacity was going to be reduced right now and that it would be a good idea to schedule accordingly.
Obviously I have certain commitments and obligations this week, and I have to keep preparing for my black belt test on the 19th, but I managed to avoid adding very much extra to my schedule and I feel very relieved about that.
So, Team, I would like to invite you to help your future selves a little.
If you have busy or stressful times ahead, how can you give yourself some extra space in your schedule?
Can you avoid taking on extra things at that point?
Is there anything you can drop or reschedule?
If you don’t have a lot of control over your schedule, can you give yourself permission to take some things a bit slower or do them in a easier or more straightforward way? (i.e. Even if you can’t take a break, can you cut yourself some slack?)
Sometimes, giving yourself a little extra space can be as straightforward as reminding yourself after a long weekend that you can’t get as much done in a 4 day workweek as you can in a 5 day week and to consider that fact when you make that week’s schedule.
This may take some practice. We’re all very used to pretending that we work at the same capacity all of the time and then just gritting our teeth and struggling through our low-capacity weeks.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for the fact that my flights home were on two separate dates, I probably wouldn’t have thought to cut myself some slack this week. But I am so very glad that I did.
And no matter whether you manage to cut yourself a few moments’ slack, to go easy with your self-talk in a busy time, or if you can organize your schedule to accommodate your lower-capacity times, I think you deserve a gold star for your efforts.
Taking good care of ourselves in this cult-of-productivity world is a challenging thing and your efforts count.
PS – Your future self will thank you for anything you do to make their life easier.
I saw a tweet a while ago about how one of the disappointing parts of adulthood is the fact that no one asks you about your favourite dinosaur.
And that is sad (mine’s triceratops, by the way) but you know what else is sad about adulthood?
Hardly any grown ups add a fraction to their ages.
We all just go for the whole number. That’s kind of dull, don’t you think?
I mean, what’s more fun?
Christine is 49
Christine is 49 and A HALF!
I think the answer is clear.
49 and A HALF has way more pizazz.
Now, as you probably know, Sam and Tracy started this blog because they wanted to talk about the Fittest by 50 challenge that they were both working on. They took a long term approach to it (2 years), had a solid plan, and tracked their progress.
I’m a bit late and a bit too me-ish for that sort of long-term, methodical approach (even six months is a bit too far into the ‘not-now’ for my ADHD self, frankly) but it’s not too late for me to become fitter by 50. And that’s what I plan to do.
Just to be clear, I’m not really viewing my 50th birthday as a deadline. I’m not planning to get fitter and then give up once my birthday rolls around. And I am not labouring under the assumption that it is now or never.
I’m just taking advantage of a milestone birthday to give me some focus, to help me direct a little more time and energy into my fitness plans.
I’m not entirely sure what those plans are yet but I have some thoughts:
Six months is too long for me to think of all at once so I have to break it down into 6 week sections and just think about one of those at a time.
My first six weeks will be focused on my preparations for my belt test, so that’s a good start.
My second six weeks will be during the summer, so that gives me lots of different movement options.
My word of the year for 2022 is spaciousness and last year’s was consistency. I think both of those concepts can be useful for my plans – I want more room for fitness, I don’t want to feel like I am adding yet another thing to my to-do list. And I know that going for the consistency is the only way that I will make progress. After all, if there was a way to make erratic exercise session pay off, I would be the fittest person on earth right now.
I need to keep the bar low to encourage consistency and I need to keep my intensity high to maximize my interest in the project. I don’t know how to balance those things yet.
And, finally, I need to figure out what ‘Fitter by 50’ actually means for me: What criteria will I use? What will I measure? What aspects of fitness feel tangible for me? What do I care enough about, fitness-wise to stick with for the next 6 months?
Anyway, stay tuned while I fine tune my plans and make my way from 49 and ½ to 50.
I can do 5 minute practices of a pattern that I already know or I can practice one specific technique for 5 minutes but my brain refuses to believe that 5 minutes of learning a new pattern will add up to me being able to do it.
I have it a good try for the first 10 days of my plan, though.
I would practice a few moves one day and really feel like I was getting it. But, by the next afternoon, it was like I had wiped my mind clear of the previous movements entirely. It was taking me almost the whole five minutes to remind myself of what I had been doing the day before and it was so awkward and frustrating that I was getting really discouraged.
I know, of course, that learning takes time and that I have to be patient with myself and with the process.
BUT, on the other hand, I know what I am like and I know what my brain is like. And, I know that that specific kind of frustration can lead to me unconsciously putting something aside for later – and not a specific time later but that murky ambiguous time that I refer to as the ‘the not-now.’*
Change in Plans
In order to protect my pattern practice from falling into the not-now, I had to course-correct.
I changed my daily practices to focus on patterns I already knew, cycling through them one at a time.
As for learning Yoo-Sin, here’s what happened:
Luckily, we went back to having classes in person so I had the chance to work with Ms. Reid and Mr. Dyer a couple of times. That really helped. It’s great to have two very different people to work with – they both help me to understand different parts of the movements and understand how to bring the pieces together.
And, at home, I dedicated longer periods of time to learning my new pattern so I had time to get into more of the movements in each practice.
I started by writing out the 68 movements in my own words so I could reference them more easily. I’m sure official instructions will never include phrases like “X punch down, X knives up, then sneaky punch” but I make it work.
Then I broke the movements into sections that made sense to me – separating sections when I had to change directions or when a set of similar movements were completed and another set was starting.
I worked on the first section until the movements had a bit of flow to them and then moved to the next section, adding a little bit at a time. This is what I was hoping to do with my 5 minute practices but 5 minutes wasn’t long enough to make things stick.
I could feel that I was starting to grasp my pattern** but I couldn’t always bring my knowledge with me to class. It always takes a while before my home practice shows up at class with me but at least my brain was more willing to focus on the details of the in-class practice because the movements were at least vaguely familiar. That let me retain more information about the details of the pattern because I had a mental ‘container’ to put them in.
Let’s Call It A Success
I’m going to call my February plan a success even though I had to change it part way through. (Hmm, does it count as changing it if part of the plan was that I could change it if I wanted? Ha! )
Trying to work for 5 minutes a day wasn’t a direct path to learning my pattern but it did set me on the right path. Realizing that 5 minutes a day wasn’t going to work led me to find something that would and now I am doing pretty well with my pattern overall.
I’m pretty confident with the first 50 of the 68 movements and I am feeling ok about the last 18. And I’d be feeling more confident about that last 18 if I could magically face the right direction for each movement instead of having to remind myself each time.
When I started this plan for practice I wasn’t sure if I *could* learn my pattern in a month but apparently, the answer is yes – as long as I was working with my inclinations instead of against them.
I think I just coached myself into a corner with that last bit, hey? 😉
*Long before I was diagnosed with ADHD, I would tell people that, for me, time only came in two forms ‘now’ and ‘not-now’ and if I put something into the not-now it might never resurface. It took me years to find out that dividing time like that is common among people with ADHD. I don’t know how many people use the definite article though – ‘the not-now’ has a certain gravitas to it that works for me.
** I have a very specific feeling when I know a pattern is starting to come together. It’s not exactly visual but it is the mental equivalent of watching film develop or watching something move toward you through fog – I can ‘see’ it there, recognize its shape, even if I can’t quite identify/describe it yet.
Today, I’d like to invite you to go easy on yourself.
We live with a cultural narrative that tells us to Go Big or Go Home, one that stresses that we have to push, push, push, and be tough and disciplined, and work hard all the time.
I vote no.
There can be a time and a place for all of those sorts of feelings and that type of effort but the first days of building a new habit is definitely not that time or place.
This is a time to be gentle with yourself, to work with the feelings of reluctance and discomfort that often surround making any sort of change.
After all, our brains like to stick with established routines – those routines use less brainpower, less energy, and they feel more efficient – and introducing new habits will require work.
That’s why we need to go easy.
We need to know that we might start later than we intended or that we might miss some days in our plan.
We need to acknowledge that we will have ups and downs in the process of developing our new habits. We need to recognize that things going awry doesn’t mean we have failed, it means we are following a perfectly normal pattern of developing a new habit.
If you are in the honeymoon phase of your new habit, when everything is going smoothly, this may seem like a weird time to bring all of this up, but I think it’s useful to consider that there will be challenges ahead. Maybe you’ll want to make some encouraging notes for your future self about how you feel right now or about how you could choose a streamlined version of your habit to use on a challenging day.
If you are still struggling to get started, then going easy is definitely going to help. I know that in the past, I have set a date to start something new but when that day arrived, something was in my way – a work project, a migraine, a missing piece for the routine- and I didn’t start the way I meant to. Sometimes, I abandoned the plan right there and then because I only had one vision of my new habit – things going perfectly – and I didn’t know how to work with anything less. Other times, I started anyway but the plan felt somehow tainted because I hadn’t managed to start as I had planned.*
Instead of planning to be our most perfect selves on our most perfect day, it would be better for us to go easy. Learning to take small steps and to do things like creating a version of our new habit that we can do even on the hardest of days will serve us better in the long run.
I know that we all approach new habits in different ways. Some of us like to start with a huge workout or a long meditation and some of us like to work our way up. And, obviously, I want you to do what works best for you. However, it’s a good idea for us to all have a ‘go easy’ plan to use on days when we struggle.
On any given day, go easy might mean doing a low-key version of our plan or it might mean taking a break, but going easy will never be a sign of failure. It’s a sign of self-compassion. It’s us recognizing that we are human and that our days will vary. Being prepared to for all kinds of days and all kinds of energy levels will help us stick with our new habits until they become routine.
And now, since I like to have an example as an anchor, here’s how my yoga plan for this month will go.
I’m signed up for Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Day ‘Move’ program for January but I am going to do it on my own terms. Ideally, I will do the video for a given day at 10pm. However, there will no doubt be days when I will have a family obligation or an online meeting with someone in a different time zone at 10pm. On those days, I will plan to do the video at 2pm. BUT, if that doesn’t work, I will do a very short practice on my own and I have decided that even one asana will count as a practice. So, even on my most difficult day, I can lie on the floor in Savasana (corpse pose) for couple of minutes and consider my yoga done for the day.
When you are building a habit, having what I call a placeholder practice – like me doing Savasana – is an important way to go easy while still keeping your momentum.
You aren’t slacking off, you aren’t letting yourself off the hook, you are being responsive to your own needs in the moment.
Your efforts count, whether you are meditating for an hour or a minute. Everything you do to build your habit matters, whether you do one squat or a hundred. Trust yourself to know whether you need to go easy or push hard.
And here’s your gold star for today’s efforts – even if the only thing you can manage today is reading this post – or even part of it, there are a lot of words up there!
*This might be a being-too-literal-sometimes ADHD thing or it might just be a being-too-literal-sometimes Christine thing but I have always hated the sayings ‘Start as you mean to go on.’ and ‘Start as you mean to finish.’ I understand that the spirit those sayings are trying to foster but, to me, they always seemed impossible. How am I supposed to know at the beginning how things are going to go later on? What about if I start strong and can’t sustain it? What about if I don’t have enough information at the beginning to know how things need to be later? This is more evidence of my expert-level overthinking.
Whether you are just finishing up the end of the year or you are getting ready for the holidays you celebrate, you probably have some extra items on your to do list this month.
When you combine that with the ambient time pressure that December generates, you end up not only having more to do but you feel like you have way less time than you need to do it.
When that kind of pressure happens and something’s got to give, we usually sacrifice something personal like our fitness activities, our meditation, or any breaks we might take to look after ourselves.
I wonder if you can avoid that trap this year (or at least not get caught so firmly) by making some space for yourself in your own head…and hopefully in your own schedule.
Maybe you won’t have time for your usual fitness routine but perhaps you could make space for some stretches.
Perhaps there will be too many people around for you to meditate, perhaps you could take a short walk, or do some doodling, or anything else that will put you firmly in the moment, for a moment.
Or maybe you can even go the other way and instead of shortening your time for yourself, you can find a way to create space to add extra personal time to your schedule. Committing to some yoga first thing in the morning or some meditative colouring right before bed might help you feel more at ease during the rest of the day.
I know some of you are reading this and despairing that there is no way for you to keep up any sort of a routine and you definitely can’t add anything to your day.
If that’s how you are feeling, then I’d like you to create space by letting yourself off the hook. Try to avoid telling yourself what you *should* be doing or feeling this month and embrace the feeling of running around. Sometimes it’s the disconnect between what you think you should be doing and what you actually are doing that causes the most distress.
If you can say ‘December is utter madness and I am just rolling with it.’ things may go more smoothly.
Really, I just want you to be kind to yourself, whatever form that might take this month, or at any time.
Ever since I wrote about doing yoga on my writing retreat last week, I’ve been considering my retreat state of mind.
It’s easier to write when I am on retreat, of course, that was pretty much a given. What always surprises me, however, is how much easier it is to do yoga, practice my TKD patterns, and to get out for a walk when I am on retreat.
I mean, obviously, it’s easier to do anything that I want to do when my schedule is fully under my control and I am the only person I need to take into account when deciding when or how to do something.
(In theory, it should be similar when I am home. Given that I work for myself, I have a fair amount of control over my schedule. My kids are practically adults so they don’t exactly need my supervision anymore. But I am part of a family, a household, so our choices do affect each other, at least to some degree. And given my personality/my ADHD, I will overthink (at least subconsciously) all the possibilities of how I might be disturbing someone else.)
And, aside from the schedule thing, when I’m on retreat, I only have so many activity options available to me. I can write, I can read, I can chat with my friends, or I can exercise. Having fewer choices makes it easier to rotate through them throughout the day.
When I’m home, I have so many things that I *could* be doing at any given time that I often have trouble figuring out what to do when. (Another personality tendency that is exacerbated by ADHD.)
If the above picture of Khalee is my retreat brain, my at-home brain could often be depicted like this:
It would be pretty hard to make my home like our retreat space. I’m always going to have to factor in other people’s schedules and I’m always going to have different priorities competing for my time.
I wonder how I could move my at-home mindset closer to my retreat mindset and help make it easier to get into exercise mode?
I guess I could deliberate reduce the number of choices available to me at any given time of the day.
And I could probably set firmer schedule boundaries for myself so I don’t spend so much time factoring in the possible effects I might have on other people’s schedules.
And I could definitely put fewer things on my to do list each day, to help me have more of that retreat-style focus.
I’m going to give it a whirl and see if these things help make it easier to break out of decision mode and into exercise mode.
How would YOU go about bringing a retreat mindset home with you?