advice · commute · covid19 · ergonomics · fitness · habits · planning · self care

Habits to Offset Being an End-of-Day Grump After Back-to-Work Commuting

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.

A woman hunched over her laptop while seated at a desk
A woman hunched over her laptop at a desk. Posture posture posture!

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.
Cats and trucks lined up on a highway
That’s me, third car on the right.

What else could help me to manage feelings sedentary and grumpy during return to work? Please share your ideas in comments below!

health · planning · schedule · self care · traveling

Go Team! May 31: Your future self will thank you.

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.

Part of a paper calendar page with notes in blue pen about returning from a conference and keeping schedule light.
My calendar entries for May 30 and 31. The dates are in grey text on the left side of the page and the days are under one another rather than next to each other going across the page. The note on Monday reads ‘Back from SCCC’ and the note on Tuesday reads ‘Keep schedule light’

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.

A drawing of a gold star with rounded points.
A photo of a drawing of a cartoonish gold star with rounded ‘points.’ The colour is darker, almost orange toward the edges of the star and the entire star is outlined in black. The background is made of thin black diagonal lines. And the drawing is resting against lined paper.
nature · self care

In her next life, Bettina wants to be a surfing hippo

That’s it. In the title right there.

I don’t know if any of you have been watching what a friend of mine described as “peak millennial”, the new Netflix documentary “Our Great National Parks”, narrated by Barack Obama. If so, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, here’s the official trailer, and right away at 0:05, you can catch a glimpse of my new favourite animal: the surfing hippo.

The official trailer of the Netflix documentary “Our Great National Parks”.

These wonderful beasts live in Loango National Park in Gabon. They hang out in freshwater lagoons during the day, but at dusk, they stroll down to the beach to catch some waves. They then drift along the shore with the current to where they know the best juicy grass to grow, and graze on that overnight.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty desirable lifestyle right now. When I was in high school in the UK, I was a lifeguard and part of our training included surfing to really get to know our local beach and its currents. I loved it, and one of the very few gripes I have with where we live right now is that it’s awfully far away from the sea. Catching those waves was always so much fun and really gets your mind off of everything going on around you, and as we know, things are hard right now.

Just watching these majestic creatures drifting through the water and playing in the waves last night made me feel infinitely more relaxed (a Yoga with Adriene session just before may have helped too). If I believed in multiple lives, I would definitely want to be a surfing hippo in Loango National Park in my next one.

I’ve only seen one episode so far, but if you need soothing, I would highly recommend “Our Great National Parks”. Stunning pictures of epic nature, animals, and Barack Obama’s calming voice, it’s a winning combo in my book.

ADHD · fitness · self care · yoga

Go Team! How are you taking care of yourself today?

Thanks to a bit of over-enthusiastic scheduling, I have three back-to-back Zoom meetings this morning and then I have a lot of routine tasks to do this afternoon.

Yesterday, when I realized what my Tuesday schedule looked like I had a moment of feeling completely overwhelmed and my brain scrambled to figure out if I could reschedule something.

Then I took a deep breath and realized that it would actually be better to get all of these things done in one day so I didn’t have meetings scattered throughout my week.

And, secondly, that the schedule was doable as long as I took good care of myself before and after that string of meetings and that list of tasks.

So, that meant making a really clear list of my planned Tuesday afternoon tasks so I could be sure I had included everything and that I had time to get them all done.

And it meant getting to bed a bit early on Monday night so this morning would be easier.

And it included taking time to do yoga first thing today so I would be starting my day calmly.

And it definitely means making a pot of tea, grabbing some snacks and setting up my notebook for doodling * before that first meeting so I could feel more relaxed all the way through.

And I’ll definitely be taking a walk with Khalee after lunch but before the admin gauntlet in the afternoon so my brain is at ease before digging into detailed work.

By the time you start reading this on Tuesday morning, I’ll be on my mat finding some ease before my day begins.

You may not have the head start I had (I am writing this on Monday evening after all) but you still have a good chunk of your Tuesday ahead of you.

How can you plan to take good care of yourself today?

When can you add some movement into your schedule?

When would you like to feel more calm? How will you help yourself relax?

When will you need a snack? How can you make sure you have one available then?

Even if you can’t make your day totally relaxing, any effort to take good care of yourself is going to help, at least a little!

Speaking of efforts, here’s a gold star to celebrate the work we put into making things a little easier on ourselves.

A gold star ornament rests on a white surface.
This gold star is covered in little bits of shredded foil, it’s not as muppety as this photo makes it seem. Image description: a gold star ornament covered in little bits of shiny gold foil is resting on a shiny white surface.

*Doodling during meetings helps me focus. 🙂

fitness · rest · self care

Go Team! March 29: Rest a little whenever you can.

How much rest have you added to your days lately?

Yeah, I know, you have all kinds of stuff that you want to get done.

And I know you are busy and that you are under a lot of pressure.

Maybe you feel like you can’t catch your breath.

I know that *I* have been dealing with a lot of these kinds of feelings in the past few weeks.

No doubt, at this point in history, it is a combination of run-of-the-mill busy feelings and the stress and strangeness of the so-called ‘return to normal’ when things are definitely not normal at all.

We’re all trying to manage a lot of different tasks, a lot of different stresses, and a bunch of competing priorities. Some of that pressure comes from the social soup in which we live, some of it comes from other people, and some of it comes from internal pressure, thinking habits we picked up without even realizing it.

The combination of all of that can leave us scrambling from one task to another, trying to cram everything in, with a plan to rest when we’re done all of the tasks on our lists.

That is not a wise plan.

One problem with it is the fact our to-do lists are pretty much self-replicating. We can’t count on reaching a clear end point when the ‘right’ rest time will be obvious.

Another problem with that approach?

It leaves us feeling like we have to totally wring ourselves out before we rest.

So, I vote no on the whole ‘rest later’ thing.

Instead, I invite you to consider sprinkling rest in whenever you can.

And while we might feel that long rests are ideal, even short ones can be helpful and restorative.

Short rests that you can enjoy are much better than long ones you can never get around to taking.

Try to plan some rest time long before you are starting to feel fatigued. (It can actually be harder to rest once you are already worn down because the energy cost of switching from the task of working to the task of resting can feel like too much work.) It you have decided on rest time in advance it will be a lot easier to actually take it.

And, if you find yourself at a natural pause in your tasks, choose not to scramble to the next one. Instead, extend that pause for a few minutes.

I realize that there are lots of life situations where rest isn’t easy to come by, when things are incredibly hectic, when you are under a lot of pressure, when your time isn’t your own. I still hope that you can take advantage of any opportunity for rest that arises or that you can create – even if it is spending an extra minute in the car, in the shower, or standing still and breathing slowly while the kettle boils.

You deserve to feel good.

You deserve to have ease.

You deserve to rest.

And your breaks don’t depend on proving how hard you worked beforehand.

Here’s a gold star for your efforts to include more rest in your day: ⭐️

Go Team! Get some rest!

And here’s a purple starfish to inspire you to, as my Dad says, “Hove off like a tourist.”

A purple starfish and a few shellfish on rocks in a touch tank
Okay, so this starfish isn’t gold but it is illustrating my point nicely. Find your own (possibly metaphorical) rock and sprawl out for a rest, mentally and/or physically, whenever you need it…maybe even before. Image description: a light purple starfish is resting on a rock in an aquatic touch tank. Ceiling lights are reflected right above the starfish on the surface of the water and there are more rocks and some shellfish in the tank.

Speaking of being a tourist, I took the photo above in the Interpretation Centre at Terra Nova National Park a few years back.

PS – No matter what you do about your rest situation, please don’t be hard on yourself for how challenging it is to fit rest into your day. Just do what you can and be kind to yourself about it, pretty please. 💚

fitness · self care

Mostly Wordless Wednesday: Flower Power!

In northern climes, March really is the cruelest month. You think it ought to be warming up a bit, but the weather often begs to differ. So what’s a feminist to do?

Answer: FLOWERS!

Apparently both Samantha and I had the same idea; we bought tulips. Tulips cheer up their environment like nobody’s business. Here are mine– yellow, peony-style tulips (new to me, but hey, I trust Trader Joe’s).

A bunch of lemon-chiffon yellow peony tulips, nodding hello to you.
A bunch of lemon-chiffon yellow peony tulips, nodding hello to you.

And then there are Samantha’s bi-color beauties; coral/orange with yellow highlights, adjusting to their new home on her table.

coral/orange tulips with yellow hints, standing up proudly on Samantha’s table.

Self-care can be and is multi-factoral, contextual, seasonal and complex. But sometimes, it can be as simple as buying tulips. Readers, what do you think? Do flowers play a role in your ongoing lives? Does flower power really work for you? Let us know.

self care · yoga

Yoga & Sadness (but in an oddly non-specific way)

I have often come away from a yoga practice feeling calm. I have occasionally come away from a yoga practice feeling frustrated.  But last week was the first time I can recall coming away from my practice feeling sad. 

I was doing a lovely hip-focused yoga practice one evening and I felt a little shift in the muscles in my hip/lower back. It was a new sensation and I felt like I had ‘unlocked’ something important.

A person leans forward, facedown on a pink yoga mat with their arms extended.
A person leans forward, facedown on a pink yoga mat, their arms extended in front of them toward the camera. The feeling is one of surrender.

But then a wave of sadness hit me.

It wasn’t overwhelming and, strangely, it wasn’t even particularly upsetting. It was kind of like the feeling you get when you remember something that made you sad a long time ago. You aren’t sad now, per se, but you are sad for your past self and looking at them with empathy.

I paused the video and breathed through the feeling, letting it wash over me and trying not to do my usual ‘search for the origin of this feeling and possibly make it worse’ routine. The feeling subsided and I went on with the practice. 

Then another wave hit me. The same kind of ‘sadness about a distant event’ feeling.

I’ve had this sort of thing happen before when I wasn’t on the mat, of course. I’ve suddenly remembered something sad or frustrating or upsetting and then temporarily re-lived the feeling but usually something has prompted me to remember it. 

This time, the feeling wasn’t related to any specific past event, and there was no memory or baggage attached to it, it was just there.

A photo of a person with their arms wrapped around themselves, as seen through a rain covered window.
A photo of a person with shoulder length hair, their arms wrapped around themselves, as seen through a rain covered window. The colour scheme is muted, blues and greys and the overall impression is of a sad moment, someone trying to hold themselves together.

It didn’t make me cry, not even those sort of leaky tears that don’t involve sobbing. It was just a quiet sort of internal, ambient, soft sadness.

It kept happening as I moved through the video and it hung around like a chill after I was finished. 

If I hadn’t heard about this happening to people during yoga (and massage), I probably would have spent a lot of time poking around in my memories to figure out what I was sad about and I definitely would have spent a lot more time feeling down. 

Instead, I was able to identify what was going on, finish my yoga practice, get myself a cup of tea and do comforting and reassuring things for the rest of the evening before heading to bed a little early.

A person touches their tea which is in a white cup and saucer that is resting on a brown table.
A person touching their cup of tea with their fingertips as if testing the temperature. Their cup and saucer are white and are resting on a brown table.

And it hasn’t happened again since even though all of my practices last week were hip-focused. 

Have you had an emotion pop up for you out of nowhere when doing yoga or another movement practice? 

Was it just a vague emotion like mine or was it connected to something specific?

To be clear, I’m definitely not asking you to revisit trauma or to bare your soul and I certainly don’t need details (unless it would help you to share them for some reason) I’m just interested to know how this experience has played out for other people.

And, of course, I hope that if or when you find yourself awash in emotion on the mat, you can find the comfort you need in that moment. 

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.