fitness · habits · motivation

Go Team! Bonus Gold Stars

Hey Team!

My birthday is on Thursday and I thought it would be fun to celebrate here on the blog today by offering some bonus gold stars.

Celebrating effort rather than results is always my MO but I’ve decided that, from now on, I’m going to lean into that idea even harder.

Especially where my own efforts are concerned. After all, just like most people, I’m really good at seeing how hard others are working but I’m not quite as observant when it comes to myself.

So, I going to consciously, deliberately, choose to notice even my smallest amount of work whether in fitness, well-being, or any of my projects.

That’s my gift to *me* for my birthday – I’m going to notice my efforts and I’m going to do what I can to ‘smooth the path’ for those efforts to be most effective. (More on that later.)

Now, as much as I would like to invite you all to a party where we could share a giant cake, the logistics on that are just impossible so, I’m going to invite you to do these two things instead.

1) Please consider joining me in noticing your own effort. This could range from making a mental note to a full toddler-parent-style reaction “Look at you doing squats! Aren’t you terrific? I’m so proud of you!”

2) Please comment below and tell me what you are claiming a bonus star (or stars) for today. This could range from ‘I remembered to look away from my computer and blink a few times so my eyes didn’t go wonky’ to ‘I stretched my neck while I was on the phone’ to ‘I meditated’ to ‘I wrote in my journal’ to ‘I biked to work.’ Or, to go in a different direction ‘I chose to rest because I’m not feeling well.’ Or ‘I walked instead of running because that’s what my body needs today.’

It’s all good work, Team, and your efforts deserve to be celebrated.

Here are 5 different stars for you to enjoy. Step right up and claim them!

And, as always, please be kind to yourself today and always.

I wish you ease.

And cake. I also wish you cake (or an equivalent delightful treat of your choice.)

A photo of a gold star shaped ornament made of wire
Image description: a photo of a 3D geometric gold star shaped ornament made from metal wire. The ornament is on a wooden surface and the sun is shining, casting a shadow on the black background behind the star. Photo credit: J Drodge
A cartoon style drawing of a yellow star with rounded points
Image description: a cartoonish drawing of mine – a yellow star with rounded ‘points’, the outer edges of the star have an orange accent. The background of the image is a series of thing black lines and the drawing itself is resting on lined paper.
Image description: a photo of a glitter covered gold star or​nament against a white background
Image description: a photo of a glitter covered gold star ornament against a white background
A drawing of a gold star with a happy face.
I love when my stars turn out looking like they have their arms in the air – I always have to add a face when that happens and make the gold star look exuberant . Image description: a photo of a drawing of a happy looking gold star with a background of green dots and with a green frame around the edge of the small piece of paper. The paper itself is resting on a dark green surface.
A statuette of a gold starfish with various embellishments
My most garish, tacky, and fun gold star. Image description: a statuette of a gold starfish embellished with metallic decorations and a fake white gem in the its centre. The base of the statuette is covered with fake shells and coral painted in various metallic shades.
fitness · habits · motivation

Go Team: Some reminders

Hey Team!

I’ve been talking to a lot of kinda-burnt-out, feeling-kinda-meh, not-very-motivated people lately (and I’ve been one of them sometimes.)

Just in case you’ve been feeling that way too, I thought it was a good time to remind us all about a few things:

1) You don’t have anything to prove to anyone (fitness-wise or otherwise)

2) Doing the thing you like doing in the way you like doing it (fitness-wise or otherwise) is totally cool

3) You don’t have to go hard or go home, you can set your own pace in any damn direction you want (including towards home)

4) You don’t need to feel motivated to do the thing you want to do. Sure, it’s easier to get started when motivation is there but if you make a little list and take some teeny steps you’ll be able to move toward your goal no matter if motivation shows up or not.

(Starting when unengaged or unmotivated is even harder for us neurodivergents than it is for neurotypicals but I find that reminding myself that I can proceed without motivation is sometimes helpful. You might find it helpful, too, but please be kind to yourself about it either way.)

5) If you find yourself avoiding your fitness routine (or even just one exercise in your routine), you don’t have to force yourself to do it. You can find another way to work those muscles or build strength in that area.

No matter how meh you are feeling these days, I wish you ease and I hope you can be kind to yourself as you make your way along.

And, as always, here’s your star for your efforts.

Image description: a wire-framed 3-D star ornament sits on a wooden surface in the sunshine. Its shadow is falling on the grey surface in the background.
Photo credit: J.Drodge. Image description: a wire-framed 3-D star ornament sits on a wooden surface in the sunshine. Its shadow is falling on the grey surface in the background.
fitness · goals · play · season transitions

Go Team: View Your Highlight Reel

So, Team, here we are at the end of August, being our marvellous selves.

We had BIG plans for the summer and we got some of them done.

We managed to do some cool stuff that wasn’t on our lists.

We also dealt with unexpected (and likely very challenging) stuff.

While we *could* sit here and list all of the things that didn’t go as planned, the stuff we hoped to get to but never did, the obstacles we faced, I’m going to vote no on that sort of deliberate review for us right now.

I am especially voting no on anything that might lead us to be harsh to ourselves about the whole thing.

(Yes, there’s a time and a place to review what went awry and to adjust future plans accordingly but it doesn’t have to be right now. And there might be a time and a place to decide to make different choices and take different actions but there is never a time when we have to be hard on ourselves about that sort of stuff.)

Instead, I’m inviting us to view our summer highlight reels – the fun stuff, the shiny bits, the hard work that paid off, the times we relaxed, the summer-specific moments and memories that feel great when we roll them around in our minds.

Take a minute when you can and sink into those highlights.

Relive how you felt, the sensory details, the work and the fun.

Give yourself the chance to celebrate the effort you put in, the good choices you made, the fun that happened even if things didn’t go according to plan.

I know that the end of summer can bring a sort of melancholy and, obviously, it’s totally ok to feel however you feel about the change in season, but you don’t have to get mired in that feeling.

You can be present for your melancholy moments AND you can enjoy the memories of the highlights of your summer. You don’t have to choose.

You can have some regrets about things undone AND be happy about the fun you had. this isn’t an either/or situation.

However, given the human brain’s negativity bias, we might have to consciously choose to fully remember the highlights of summer as the season comes to an end.

So, Team, here are some stars for your efforts to celebrate the good and create your summer highlight reel.

A GIF of cartoon stars dropping from the top of the image, each with a trail of sparkles
Okay, so these stars aren’t gold per se but they are super fun so they totally count. Image description: a GIF of a series of stars dropping from the top of the image trailing sparkles behind them.

And, truth be told, summer doesn’t officially end until sometime in September. So, once you have that mental highlight reel in place, you can spend a little time planning another adventure or two even as your schedule moves into Autumn mode.

Go on, I dare you to add more fun to your next few weeks.

PS – If a mental highlight reel isn’t enough for you, create an album of photos on your phone, make a list, create a visual journal, doodle some memories, or make a video for future you to watch.

PPS – My summer highlight reel includes swimming with Trudy and Michelle, sitting on my patio in the evening, a backyard fire with a small group of friends, getting my tiny spiral garden planted, a couple of day trips with Steve, and watching Khalee sniff the same patch of flowers each day on our walk.

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.
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 · 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.

fitness · habits · motivation · self care

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

Note: Get a cup of tea or a glass of water before reading, this is an especially long one.

What kind of stories do you tell yourself on a regular basis?

I’m not talking about the fairy tales or TV episodes or mystery novels you might read or watch on a regular basis, although those stories are useful, too. I’m referring to the ways you create a story about who you are and what you are like. How you make things make sense for yourself when things happen to you. How you explain to yourself why you did certain things or why you did them in a certain way.

You may not think of those types of thoughts as stories but framing them that way can help you see them more clearly AND it can help you learn to reshape the ones that don’t serve you well.*

A lot of the time, these stories are automatic and almost subconscious. And they are usually a mix of things people told us, things we picked up for ourselves, and little bits of information we stitched together to explain something. We throw all of that stuff together, often uncritically, and then use it as a guideline to proceed – choosing our actions and activities based on that information.

My (old) Internal Story

I am not a naturally sporty person and my family is not particularly sporty so while I did lots of climbing and running and other little kid things when I was small, I didn’t get a lot of practice playing sports or doing things that would train my body and mind to work well together. I wasn’t always the last one to be picked in gym class but I was definitely in the last few. I struggled with understanding the rules of games in gym and I often took them too literally so it frequently seemed to me that the rules were unevenly applied. My efforts to try and figure out what was going on tended to lead to me being told that I wasn’t a good sport, that I was uptight, and that I really needed to learn to ‘roll with the punches.’**

I was often told not to worry about my physical skills, or lack thereof, because I was smart so I didn’t need to be good at sports. (Let’s all just roll our eyes right here at yet another pointless binary in our world) I began to think of my body as just a carrying case for my brain.

My internal story was that I wasn’t good at sports or ‘things like that,’ I wasn’t coordinated, and I was a bad sport. So, I definitely didn’t try to get involved in any sort of group sports where I would be letting the team down with my lack of skill and causing a disruption by being a bad sport. And even when I wanted to try a new fitness practice on my own, I struggled because when I hit one of the setbacks that are inevitable with learning a new thing I didn’t have the experience to know that it was part of the process. Instead, I would fall back on my internal story that I just wasn’t good at these things.

I didn’t realize that I was dealing with an internal story. I thought I was dealing in facts.

I did keep trying fitness things that appealed to me but when things went awry I added more details to the story of ‘Christine isn’t good at this.’

My internal story started to change when I read Carol Dweck’s book ‘Mindset‘ and realized that part of the issue was how I was approaching learning new things.

Then, I started Taekwon-do with my son. I felt like I was terrible at it but my instructors didn’t seem to think so and I trusted them. (Now I can see that I wasn’t terrible, I was just doing my techniques with an appropriate level of skill for a white belt.)

And, eventually, I was diagnosed with ADHD and realized how it had been affecting me my whole life. Including things like struggling to understand rules and how to put them into practice. And finding it challenging to start and continue new practices.

And because I was learning about storytelling at the same time as all of this, I realized that my internal information was a story I was telling myself.

And as every writer and storyteller knows, stories can be revised.

I’m not going to pretend that that realization wiped away all of the challenges and everything has been easy ever since. However, recognizing that I was working with a story helped me to proceed differently.

I was open to learning that my ADHD made it challenging for me to pick up on the skills for various sports by just playing. And because my lack of skill kept me from playing often, I didn’t get enough experience to get any better. And learning that that led me to the fact that coordination can be learned.

So, all along, I was telling myself a story based on bits of information, some facts, and some opinions (from myself and others) and I was shaping my approach to physical activities based on a faulty story. I was using inaccurate information to make decisions and subconsciously creating limits for myself.

Letting go of the idea that the story was a fact meant that I could expand my idea of what I was capable of.

It didn’t make me more coordinated but it changed my thoughts from ‘I’m just not coordinated’ to ‘How can I become more coordinated?’ And it changed my perspective from ‘I’m just not good at physical things’ to ‘What physical things are important to me? What do I need to learn to get better?’

Recognizing the story you are telling yourself won’t give you immediate access to skills or abilities. We all have different bodies, capacities, and physical capabilities and those factors will affect how we move through the world. However, identifying your internal story (or stories) will help you ask questions about your own skills and practices and help you start to discern when your beliefs about yourself are based on incorrect information.

Now, Back To You

I wish I could wave a wand and show you the stories that you have been telling yourself. I would love to be able to wipe away all of the old tangles and give you a fresh new brain approach to your habit-building.

But since I can’t do that, I’m inviting you to gently poke at your own assumptions to help you find the stories you are telling yourself. If those stories are serving you, please hold them tight. If they are obstructing you, please question them, talk back to them, or get stubborn with them until you can shape them into something else.

And please, please, please, don’t be hard on yourself because these stories were in there in there in the first place. Our brains love stories. They want everything to make sense. And they will be so sneaky about weaving everything into a narrative and we won’t even realize it is happening. You can’t blame yourself for an automatic brain function like that one but you can work to reframe and reshape that function so it tells you a more useful story.

Here are some questions to help you recognize some of your stories:

What do you tell yourself when stuff goes right?

When things go the way you have planned, do you see that as just lucky? Or do you recognize that your planning ability, your choice to scale things to the time you had available, your combination of skill and experience also played a role?

If you think of it just as lucky, consider what that thought is based in. Is there a reason why you don’t acknowledge the effort you put in toward that result?

No matter what the answers are, see if you can start to coax yourself to recognize the skills you employed in making things go well. At the beginning, that might mean having the ‘it was luck’ thought and then adding to it by saying something like ‘Yes, it was lucky AND I was well prepared to make the most of that luck.’ Gradually, you can begin to include other aspects of your skill and preparation as you celebrate things going right.

What do you tell yourself when stuff goes wrong?

When things don’t go as planned, are you quick to blame yourself and/or some inherent aspect of your personality? (seeing yourself as ‘just unlucky’ counts here) Or do you recognize that while you may not have been as prepared as you thought, sometimes things just go awry?

Obviously, we aren’t equally skilled in everything we attempt. Sometimes, we don’t have the skill we need to do what we are trying to do. Sometimes, we think we have the resources but we don’t. Sometimes we underestimate the effort required, sometimes we overestimate the time we have. These things happen to everyone on occasion.

If they are happening to you on a regular basis, that’s not a sign that you are flawed or unlucky or bad or undeserving. It’s a just an indication that there was a mismatch in your plan and your process. It means that you need to have another look at your approach and your techniques, it doesn’t mean that YOU are a problem or that YOU are broken.

If your brain is telling you a story about things going wrong that is based on the idea that there is something wrong with you, I hope you can question that story. If your brain is telling you that you can’t build this habit because you never get anything right or because you always fail or whatever, definitely question that story. See if you can figure out where it came from and why it has stuck with you. It’s definitely untrue but you’ll want to make sure you pull out its roots not just cut off the top. Note: While we’re on this topic, I love this post from Karen Walrond that offers a great way push back against internal stories about never and always.

You are a unique combination of skills and experiences and you are doing your best to apply them to the task at hand. If they can’t help you complete the task, you can ask for help, you can change your approach/thought process, or you can change the task.

When that self-blaming story pops up, try to counter it with evidence as Karen Walrond suggests in the post I linked above, or try to say something like ‘Oh, I have struggled with this is in the past and I am going to give it another try.’ or ‘Yes, this has gone wrong before but there were extenuating circumstances, this time I have a new plan.’ Acknowledging the current story and taking it in a new direction can be a great way of creating a whole new tale.

How do you see yourself in the story?

(This could be a detailed and complicated post in itself but I’ll just touch on a few things here so this post doesn’t become a novel.)

When you have those automatic response to things going wrong or things going right, what role do you see yourself playing in the story that pops up for you?

Do you have agency? Are you in charge of anything? Or do you see yourself as the hapless person who needs rescuing because they are buffeted by fate?

In reality, we play all kinds of different roles in different situations at different times in our lives. Those roles may serve us well sometimes and they may impede us at other times. But, overall, it’s good to know which role we feel like we are playing at any given time.

I know that I have sometimes gotten overwhelmed and felt like I was a victim of circumstance. And sometimes it was true and just trudging along to the other side was the best approach. Other times, even though I felt like that, it was the overwhelm talking, and once I recognized that, I could take action and start to feel more in charge.

Other times, I have thought I was in charge of things but I had misunderstood the scope of the situation or the contributing factors. When things went wrong, I blamed myself and I felt terrible. When someone was able to gently inform me that I was taking responsibility for a situation that was far beyond my control, I felt better and I was able to reset my brain to focus on the things I was able to act on.

What does this have to do with your habit-building?

Well, if you are seeing yourself as the victim of circumstance, unable to take charge of anything, it is going to be hard for you to establish a new habit and make the changes you want to make. If you notice yourself telling that story, try to reframe it as something like ‘Yes, all of this crap is going on AND I am going to take 5 minutes to meditate in the car before I go into the office.’ Or, if things are too challenging for that, reframe it as a choice, ‘There is so much crap going on right now that adding something new would be too stressful so I am going to let that go for right now and come back to it another time.’ Making statements like that can help you to reshape the story and give you a better sense of your own power.

And if you are seeing yourself as the person in charge, responsible for everything, who is to blame if things go wrong, you will be too hard on yourself when you make mistakes, have to start over, or if you can’t follow through on your plans. You can reshape the story of you as invulnerable superhero into a story of you as an ordinary person by reminding yourself that you are not in charge of everything and that some things are beyond your control. Even something like: “Yes, I can get a lot of things done in a day but I don’t have to do everything. It is ok for me to do something for myself or for me to choose to sleep instead of doing my practice.” can be helpful in letting go of the sense that you are responsible for everything.

What story are you telling yourself about your practice?

Another way that your internal stories could be affecting your habit-building involves the story you tell yourself about your practice.

Do you see your practice as enhancing your life? As part of your self-care?

Do you see it as worth the effort? Do you consider it energizing?

Do you feel that your practice is making you stronger? Or giving you ease? Or adding calm to your life?

Do you see it as something you should (shudder!) do? Do you see it as another obligation?

Do you see your practice as too hard for you? As impossible? As energy-draining?

Do you see it as pointless? A waste of time?

If the story of adding your practice into your life is a positive one, it will be a lot easier to incorporate it into your schedule. If the story of your practice is negative, you will find it hard to include it in your day to day.

I’m not suggesting that you ‘just’ need to be positive about your practice and everything will be easy. I’m suggesting that recognizing the story you have around your practice will be a factor in how you incorporate it into your life.

Identifying the ‘mood’ of the story of your practice gives you information that you can use to make it easier to build your habit. Maybe you need to change some aspect of your practice, maybe you have started too big, maybe you have started too small, maybe you need a different practice, or, maybe you need more time to get used to it. And, in some cases, you may need to find ways to adjust your attitude towards it but that does not need to be your default assumption, not everything is an attitude problem.

Today’s Invitation

This whole post is a long invitation to think about your internal stories and consider how they are contributing to your habit-building process. Ideally, you want to find ways to practice self-kindness and to reshape your stories to support the changes you want to make. You are not responsible for the initial formation of your stories but you can take action to reshape them to serve you better.

And, as always, here is your gold star for your efforts, whatever they may be.

The emotional labour described in this post is hard work. It counts toward your practice.

And anything you do can count toward your practice if you say it does.

You know what you need today and I celebrate your efforts as you seek to meet those needs.

a drawing of a gold star atop a tall green stem with leaves on it.
Gold stars you grow for yourself might not be perfect but they are still delightful. Image description: A drawing of a gold star atop a long green stem with leaves on it with blue dots in the background. The stem starts at the bottom of the page and extends almost all the way to the top of the page before reaching the star.

*Again, I want to stress here that my advice in this post is about the sorts of day-to-day struggles that crop up again and again, ones that are frustrating and challenging but are fairly limited in scope and intensity. Guiding you through the process of identifying and navigating internal stories that result from trauma or other life-altering events is far beyond my expertise. I’m not trying to abandon you to your fate here, I am trying to make sure that I don’t cause any further harm.

** For the record, I love that as a martial artist I have learned to evade punches and I have learned to block them but I am never told to roll with them. Do I know that ‘roll with the punches’ is metaphorical? Yes. Do I find it irritating all the same? Also yes.

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.