I wrote about it last month and I did have a very mindful March, even though I didn’t do every activity on the calendar. I’m always happy to add more focused moments in my day so every activity I did was bonus.
If you didn’t hear about Mindful March until now, you can do the last two activities today and tomorrow. Today’s activity is “Mentally scan your body and see how it is feeling” and tomorrow, March 31, is “Discover the joy in the simple things in life.” That last one is a tall order for a single day but perhaps you can think of one simple thing you really enjoy and take a moment to do that.
For example, I really love when my tea mug is the perfect temperature for me to hold it in both hands and enjoy the warmth radiating from it. I’m going to take an extra moment or two to enjoy that feeling in the next couple of days.
And, of course, you can always do the Mindful March activities at any time. It’s a good list of small ways to take a breather in your day.
And, of course, the daily tips from Action for Happiness switch up every month so, as Mindful March ends, we move right into Active April. If you click on the link in the previous sentence and scroll down to the bottom of the calendar, you have the option of downloading an ics file of the April calendar or viewing it on Google calendar – you can even add their calendar to your calendar list so you see the daily tips in your own calendar.
Here’s a copy of April’s calendar in case you want to do a little planning before Active April starts.
After a couple of months of external stresses, I’ve been feeling extra worn-out lately.
Not an incredibly serious type of worn-out, not burnt-out or done-in, just an ordinary sort of worn-out. Maybe frayed at the edges but still functional and repairable.
Everything I have to do is not staying done (more details and questions pop up after decisions have been made), or it’s more complicated than it seems, or I need information/resources that aren’t available yet.
And on top of that, some of the stuff my past-self scheduled for the not-now turns out to be happening in my now.
Even though it is only March 14, I kind of feel like I am Ron in this episode of Parks and Recreation:
My ADHD instinct is to put my head down and keep trudging through task after task until stuff gets done. My brain tries to convince me that if I just work hard enough – no breaks, extra effort, work all the time – I can do AllOfTheThings and then I can have a nice long break.
Of course, if I fall for my brain’s nonsense I will be working extra hard for an extra long time on this stuff and then other things will pile up.
By the time I get thorough this stuff, those other things will have become urgent and my brain will be telling me to ‘just’ get those things done and THEN I can take a real break.
You can see the pattern, right?
Instead of getting a long break, I’ll just be in an endless cycle of working hard to catch up.*
I’m getting tired just writing about it.
So, instead of trying to work extra hard, I’ve decided to be extra kind to myself.
I wrote down everything I could think of that I felt like I needed to do.
I took out everything that could be done by someone else or be done later.
I scaled down as many things as I could.
And then I added in extra kindness for myself.
I have been choosing to pause for an extra cup of tea.
I have been setting my timer to remind me to stretch.
I have been taking time to journal.
I’m choosing to meditate a few minutes at a time throughout my day.
I’m taking time for exercise, for yoga, and for lying on my mat staring at the ceiling.
And choosing the path of extra self-kindness is making a difference in how I feel overall.
I no longer feel like bedtime is me skidding to a stop.
My shoulders have moved down a little from my ears.
I’m seeing spaces in my day that are about taking care of myself instead of getting stuff done.
I know, you’d think I’d be better at this by now.
After all, I am fully aware of the dangers of overscheduling, and of the way that all the things I need to do get in the way of the things I want to do.
I am a cheerleader for self-kindness but, still, I forget.
And I bet you do, too.
I think it’s because sometimes we all have extra-busy weeks, or times when things are complicated, and we do just need to push through, put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, and forge ahead. In those weeks, we might put aside some of our usual self-kindnesses in favour of getting through a rough spot.
But, if we have a few weeks like that in a row, it starts to feel like ‘this is my life now’ and it is tricky to take a step back and reassess. It’s way easier to put those self-kindnesses into the not-now and assume we will get to them when we have more time.
We don’t need to blame ourselves for falling into the busy trap – our whole society is set up to lure us into that one – instead, we need to notice when we have fallen in and be extra kind to ourselves as we make our way out.
So, Team, if you are feeling worn out and frayed at the edges, I invite you to think about these two questions:
1) How do you *want* to feel right now?
2) What self-kindnesses can help you feel that way?
I know, there may be lots of things in your life that you can’t change right now. There are probably all kinds of difficult things that you can’t avoid.
I’m not saying that self-kindness is a magic cure that will make those things go away.
However, if you can do a few things that help you feel better, that help you feel more like yourself, whether that is exercise, rest, time with a friend, writing in your journal, watching a favourite show, listening to a novel while you drive, it will be at least a little helpful.
You will take up more space in your own life, you’ll remind yourself that you matter, and you will feel a little more prepared to take charge of the other things that you have going on.
So, Team, even when time is tight, please go ahead and set up your mat, boil the kettle, put on your sneakers, find your knitting, or whatever the hell else you like doing. You don’t need to wait until you have everything else done and you don’t need hours of time.
Even a few extra minutes of self-kindness can make a big difference.
Here’s your gold star for your efforts:
*that presumes that there is actually such a thing as being ‘caught up’ but that’s a whole other discussion.
Note: I am reserving judgment on April though. Who knows what might come after March? Could be anything, really. It’s the very distant future, extremely Not Now.
Before we dive into super-real, and definitely happening right now, March, let’s roll back to the very distant and hazy past and see how the ancient month of February went. (ADHD time is a bizarre and fluid thing, no?)
My plan for the month was to extend my walks a little, to follow my meditation program, and to do at least one hip mobility exercise before bed.
I didn’t extend every walk but I extended as many as I could. We had some especially erratic weather in February – lots of snow storms, some warm(ish) temperatures and some ridiculously cold temperatures. The pathways and sidewalks and streets have varied from clear and easily-traveled to hellish landscapes of lumpy ice and deep patches of softer snow. Between temperatures that were too cold for the dog’s safety and terrain that was too uneven for my safety, it was tricky to be consistent with longer walks. But, that being said, when things were safe for me and for Khalee, we added a little extra time to our adventures.
I managed to meditate fairly regularly but I didn’t follow the program of daily meditation I had planned. BUT because my plan was short-term, it felt easier to keep course-correcting towards meditating daily and, as a result, I meditated more often than I have in the past. Also, I became more aware of when stress was making me breathe shallowly and took conscious, slow, ribcage-expanding breaths to help myself feel better. Those breaths aren’t meditation per se but it is a mindful style of breathing so I’m counting them as part of my meditation practice overall.
The hip mobility exercises are where I really shone in February. I didn’t use a tracker but since I stacked the exercises into my bedtime routine I was able to do them at least 20/28 evenings. I found a big difference in my hips and lower back as a result.
So, as I think back on the ancient history of February 2023 I am comfortable with declaring it a success. And I think I owe that success to two things: 1) only planning one month at a time 2) reflective journaling.
A Short Reflection on Reflective Fitness Journaling in February
I wrote in it for the first two Sundays but then I had two busy Sundays in a row. Logically, I should have moved my journaling plan to a different day but I didn’t.
Because the first two weeks were so helpful, I was in reflective mode even though I didn’t always write things in my journal. So, I was still getting some of the benefits even with a less structured version of the practice.
And being in reflective mode really helped me to be kinder to myself about how I approached my other practices and it guided me to spend a little extra time figuring out how to fit movement and meditation into my daily or weekly schedule.
My conclusion? Even imperfect reflection practices are extremely beneficial.
So, obviously I am going to keep up my reflective journaling plans but I am going to aim for 4 written reflections – one each Monday.
I’m keeping my evening hip mobility exercise but I am going to add in a shoulder mobility exercise every morning when I take my meds (or at least when I get my reminder to take my meds.)
I already get at least 20 minutes of movement every day but for (the rest of) March, I’m going to aim to do that movement before noon each day. Might be yoga, might be a walk with Khalee, might be strength training, but the goal is to have it happen earlier in the day.
And I’m going to keep working on that daily meditation practice – even if it is ‘just’ that mindful breathing I described above.
I am in Alvarenga, Portugal, a small town of just over 1000 people, about an hour and a half outside of Porto. It’s in the hilly countryside, filled with vineyards and orange and almond trees. I am with 5 other women, traveling on holidays.
There’s a big, award-winning tourist attraction nearby in the town of Arouca, which was developed in 2020. After traversing the world’s largest pedestrian suspension bridge (516 metres), there’s a hikeout out on the Paiva Walkways. It’s about 8 kilometres, almost entirely downhill, on a series of wooden staircases and boardwalks that follow rocky faults on the left bank of a rushing river.
We are 6 relatively healthy middle-age women, wearing multiple merino layers and carrying full water bottles. We are traveling with 40 litre backpacks rather than suitcases. The day we went to Arouca, it was overcast but warm for an average February day in Portugal—perfect for a vigorous hike.
We crossed the bridge just after 11:00am and started out on the downward hike, enjoying the green and rocky scenery. Used to day hikes of greater distance, many of us expected to refresh briefly at the end, then walk back up. As long as we arrived in time the final bridge tours that day, at 2:00 or 3:30pm, once back at the top we were free to recross the bridge at no extra charge. What a fun challenge!
We took our time on the way down, stopping to take photos and to watch rafters and kayakers navigate the white waters below. We nodded at the hikers who passed us going back up the walkway: that would soon be us! Then, suddenly, we were within a kilometre of the hike out exit, and noticed it was nearly 1:45pm.
Would we reverse course and start back up the hilly hike, returning to our start point? Would we shift gears from our leisurely pace and “hoof it” to make sure we would arrive on time to re-cross during the last bridge tour?
We did not, because we knew that we have nothing to prove—to the trail or to each other. Instead of turning around to ascend, we continued downhill at our enjoyable pace, then had a celebratory beverage at the end. Rather than hiking back up, which we probably *could* have done, we took a cab back to our residence to celebrate our achievement—a beautiful day out walking in the Portuguese countryside.
Some days, you can hike downhill all the way and still have a great day.
But, seeing as I have decided that February is self-contained (and is the only real month at the moment), I felt free to just write whatever the hell came to mind (a.k.a. freewriting!) and to not worry about whether I was gathering useful information for my future self.
I just set a timer (to free my ADHD brain from the worry that I would end up writing forever) and got started.
I wrote about how I was surprised that my evening hip exercises have revealed that my left hip is tighter than my right one, even though my right hip is the one that I have to be careful with.
And I wrote about how I accidentally left my watch timer going on Friday so it seemed like I had done more yoga than I had, which was annoying but which prompted me to take off my watch and do several shorter sessions of yoga and stretching on Saturday so the exercise tracked would match the exercise I had actually done.
That, in turn, prompted me to write about which of those sessions I had found most useful and which ones I would do again.
That made me wonder about the yoga sessions in Apple Fitness + and whether I wanted to try those which reminded me that I chose a longer rowing session in the program the other day. That session was great but I did have to pause a few times – that felt like an important note for my future self.
Writing everything down helped me to feel that all of my efforts were, indeed, part of the biggest picture – my own well-being – even if they weren’t all stepping stones towards a specific outcome.
And, intriguingly, I had no self-judgment crop up at all in the process – it just felt like a celebration of what I had done rather than a measurement of what I did against what I had planned.
Note: I am always aiming for that celebration feeling but the questions of ‘Was that enough? Why didn’t I do more? Why can’t I stick to a plan?’ still crop up for me sometimes even though I have lots of practice in self-kindness.
Even though I didn’t have any specific questions in mind when I started, my first foray into reflective fitness journaling worked out marvellously.
I have everything I need for future reference – a few notes about what I did last week and how I felt about it – and – bonus!- I feel gently inspired for the week ahead.
Realistically, I only plan to write in my journal once a week, while continuing to give myself the freedom to follow my train of thought wherever it leads.
However, now that I have established a ‘container’ for that kind of thinking, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up putting a few thoughts into it more often.
Until I received this month’s email and calendar from Action for Happiness, I had never heard of social fitness but I just love the idea of making a conscious habit of strengthening our relationships for our own well-being (and the well-being of those around us.)
And you know I’m going to be all over any system that gives you clear steps for building a habit a little bit at a time while helping you to notice (and celebrate) your efforts.
So, if you want to give yourself a happiness boost by strengthening your relationships, give some (or all) of these tips a whirl.
Remember: you don’t have to take on everything at once and you don’t have to overwhelm yourself. (You don’t have to sacrifice self-kindness in order to reach out to other people!)
Just like with your physical fitness, or any other type of practice for your well-being, every effort to increase your social fitness counts.
Every tip you try is an opportunity to add a little bit of happiness, a little bit of fun, or a little more connection to your life.
Well, Team, like the title implies, the single most important thing I want you to have gotten out of these posts is the idea that being kind to yourself is the only way forward.
When you are building a habit you are trying to teach yourself something new. Perhaps you’re learning something entirely new or you are practicing a new way of behaving in a familiar situation. Either way, you are exploring new personal territory and that has a lot of inherent challenges build right in.
The only way to meet those challenges is to be kind to yourself about the process.
Think back to teachers you have had in the past.
Which ones really helped you learn?
Was it the cruel ones with the sharp tongue and the impossible standards?
Or was it the kind ones who showed you how to proceed, supported you as you went along, helped you to correct mistakes, and encouraged you to keep going?
Sure, the cruel one may have spurred you into working hard out of spite but your learning and growth was your own doing in that case. You developed discipline and worked hard *despite* them, not because of them.
The kind teacher may not have been your favourite at the time – their standards were probably high too. They were probably the one who kept after you when you slacked off, the one who knew what you were capable of even when you didn’t.
Kindness isn’t necessarily being ‘nice.’ It’s not about making things unnecessarily easy. It’s not about having no standards or no expectations.
The kind teacher knew when to push you and when to give you a break. The kind teacher had realistic expectations based on who you were and how you moved through the world. The kind teacher tried to be fair.
And that’s the sort of thing I am talking about when I remind you to be kind to yourself.
Today, being kind to yourself might involve resting from physical or emotional exertion.
Tomorrow, being kind to yourself might involve pushing yourself a little harder in your workout just to see if you can.
Being kinder to yourself isn’t based on what you ‘should’ want or what you ‘should’ be able to do.
It’s about meeting yourself where you are today and making the choice that will serve you best now and in the long run.
Being kind to yourself is about being self-compassionate, about recognizing that your needs are important – even when they change from day to day- and about supporting yourself as you expand your comfort zone to encompass new things and improve your sense of well-being.
Being kind to yourself is a key element in making those types of lasting change.
After all, like those memes say – if being mean to ourselves worked, we all would be perfect by now.
So, Team, even if self-kindness is still a work-in-progress for you, please keep working at it.
You are worth that effort.
And speaking of effort, here is your final gold star for this January series.
Congratulations on your efforts this month, please be kind to yourself as we roll into February.
Despite my best intentions, I never quite got a grip on Planuary.
At the end of December, I really thought that I would be able to take my time throughout January and slowly build a plan for my year. Alas, life got in the way and I ended up taking January pretty much day by day.
That was ok, especially since it was the only possible way for me to proceed at that point.
Basically, I spent January puttering along in all areas of my life.
On the well-being side of things, I did yoga when it felt right, meditated when it felt right, took walks, did some stretches, and, last week, I did some rowing. Those things were all pretty good and I am happy about trusting myself to do what I needed to do on any given day but it did feel a bit aimless.
I’m not judging myself there, aimless worked for me this month but, of course, being aimless didn’t give me the cumulative-work-toward-a-goal feeling that I was looking for.
I really wanted January to feel like I was solving a puzzle, like I was figuring out what I wanted to do and creating a plan for doing it. Instead, metaphorically, I gathered a bunch of jigsaw puzzle pieces, sorted a few of them and then went on to a logic puzzle before dropping that in favour of a riddle. All of those are good things, all of them are useful and enjoyable, but they didn’t come to any sort of satisfactory conclusion.
So, here I am at the end of January without a plan for the rest of my year.
And I know that I still can’t wrap my brain around ‘things I want to do in 2023.’
I also know that I don’t want to just keep wandering aimlessly.
So, I’m picking a middle ground and looking at February as a self-contained unit in which I can work on things that will add up throughout that month but that may not extend into March and may not even be part of a bigger project.
Sidenote: In my current approach, March doesn’t even exist yet so I can’t possibly plan fitness things to do in a possibly fictional month.
A month is really tangible for my ADHD brain, I can see how things might play out in that period of time and, barring a catastrophe, I usually have a good sense of what is coming up for me in the next month. A year, on the other hand, feels like forever and like no time, all at once and my brain gets lost in the simultaneous limits and possibilities.
So, while I usually have a good sense of things I want to have in my life in ‘the future’, I struggle to scale things and plan them out over a year. I end up either creating a plan that is too rigid or too flexible and I end up spending waaaaaaay too much time recalibrating.
(In retrospect, I guess I have always thought that this issue was one of imprecise planning (hence the Planuary plan) but now I’m wondering how much time-perception factors in.)
So, instead of thinking of something I want from this year and then breaking that down into monthly pieces, I am approaching this year from the opposite direction.
I’m going to choose some appealing activities to work on during February and I’ll keep track of how much I do and how I feel about them.
Once March feels a little less fictional (I mean, assuming it ever does 😉 ), I’ll see if I want to keep going with those activities or if I want to move on to something else.
Right now, my thinking is going a bit like this, “I want to meditate regularly so, for February, I’m going to follow the program in the journal I got for Christmas.” “I want to go on longer walks so, for February, I am going to take a slightly longer route.” “I want more hip flexibility so, for February, I am going to do a hip exercise before bed.”
I’m not trying to work up to a certain level. I’m not trying to accumulate a certain number of steps, a certain number of meditation minutes or days, I’m not trying to be able to measure up to a certain level of hip-flexibility. I am not considering this the groundwork for doing the next stage of anything.
I am taking February as a self-contained, measurable, tangible period of time in which to try some specific things. I don’t have to wonder about the next steps. I don’t have to think about how those things fit into the greater context of my year. I just have to focus on February and trust that what I need in March will become apparent as time goes on.
Again, assuming that March actually becomes real at some point. 😉
This is my second-last post for this January series so I am continuing with my plan to reiterate the messages I hope I stressed throughout the month. Yesterday, I reminded you to check your systems. Today, I’m reminding you to focus on your efforts instead of your results.
Yes, I know it is really fun to notice and celebrate results. I’m definitely not arguing otherwise. However, results take time, they are not always within your control, and results happen after a series of efforts. If you only focus on results, you can end up frustrated and annoyed -especially if you realize that the result you originally sought isn’t the same as the one you want to seek now.
Soooooo, if you focus on your efforts instead, you can enjoy more regular feelings of competence and accomplishment. You can check something important off your list every single time you are working towards your goal or moving forward with your habit.
This doesn’t mean that you need to put in a Herculean effort every time.
It means that all of your efforts count.
The day that you do a single squat or a minute of meditation? That counts!
The day that you do an hour long dance workout or sit in meditation for hours? That counts too!
Focusing on your efforts makes everything part of the big picture (your habit/goal/practice) and of the biggest picture (your well-being.)
I’m not saying that you’ll never be frustrated or disappointed – those things are just part of life (and of habit-building)- but focusing on your efforts can help you have a realistic perspective on things.
And when you notice the efforts that you regularly have time and energy for, you’ll have more reasonable expectations for your eventual results.*
So, Team, as you move forward with your habit-building practice, please consider keeping the focus on your efforts instead of just on your results.
Caveat: If you are the type of person who is completely fueled and energized by the idea of your future results and you can easily shake off disappointment and frustration about day-to-day activities, please just carry on doing what you are doing. Different brains enjoy different approaches and I just want everyone to have the freedom to work in a way that makes sense to them.
Here’s your gold star for today’s efforts, whether you focus is just on the work of today or if you also have one eye on that distant prize. Please be kind to yourself, either way.
*To use a non-fitness example, if I want to write a novel I can focus on that end result – a finished first draft. Compared to my imagined future manuscript, 5 minutes of daily writing will seem paltry and it will feel like a very long time before I can celebrate an accomplishment. However, if I focus on my efforts – building a regular writing habit that will eventually lead to a manuscript- I can enjoy the process more, I can celebrate more often, and I can see every writing session as part of the bigger project. AND, because my focus on my efforts will show me just how much I can get done in a day, a week, a month, I won’t be creating the unreasonable (and definitely disappointing) idea of finishing my novel in a very short period of time.
I only have three more posts in this January series so I wanted to reiterate three important things for you to carry with you as you forge ahead with your habit-building.
First up: a systems check!
Whether you are cruising happily along with your habit building, you are finding each day a struggle, or you are somewhere in between, it’s a good idea to check your systems from time to time.
Note: Doing a systems check is especially important if you are struggling. In my experience, people who are struggling with habit-building are awfully quick to attribute their struggles to some ‘flaw’ they perceive in themselves.
I don’t want that to happen to anyone but I especially don’t want that for you, dear Team members. Instead of defaulting to self-blame, please get curious about your systems instead.
Do you have systems in place to support the plans that you have made and the tasks you need to do to bring those plans to fruition?
If you haven’t consciously chosen a system for adding this habit to your life, you are probably unconsciously defaulting to a system you have used for something else. And a system designed (consciously or unconsciously) for a different project is unlikely to support you in building your current habit and will probably cause you a lot of frustration as you go along.
Your system doesn’t have to be complex or elaborate, it can be a straightforward as selecting a time and a place when you can be reasonably certain that you can do your habit-building tasks on a regular basis.
For example: If you are trying to build a habit of daily meditation, your system could involve choosing to meditate first thing in the morning because you get up before everyone else and you are rarely interrupted. It could also involve things like l putting a blanket in your meditation location every night, setting your coffee pot timer a little later so your coffee is ready when your meditation is done instead of when you first get up, or requesting support from your partner or roommates to take care of anything that arises during your meditation session.
Are your systems doing what you need them to do?
Maybe you have systems in place but they are designed for an ideal day rather than your regular life.
Perhaps the system elements you thought you needed at the beginning don’t actually meet your needs.
Or maybe you the system you created was perfect at the beginning but you quickly outgrew it.
It’s possible that the system you created is more complex than you realized and it’s too hard to follow. (This happens to me a fair bit. I often don’t realize how many steps I have put in place until I try to follow them on a regular basis. Then I end up trying to meet the requirements of the system instead of the system serving me.)
It’s ok to adjust a system that isn’t working.
Taking time, even mid-project, to assess how your systems are working is probably time well-spent.
Identifying the friction in your system now will help you reduce frustration overall and help you refine your habit-building process more quickly. Reducing that friction will let you spend more time on your habit-related tasks and less time fighting with yourself and your own system.
What do you need to add or remove to get your system working for you?
This is not the time to be hard on yourself about what you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ need.
If you think of something to add to or remove from your system that will help you move forward with your habit building, please do what you need to do.
If you find it easier to exercise with a ribbon tied around your left wrist, tie a ribbon around your left wrist. And have a system for keeping track of the ribbon and one for cleaning it when it gets grubby.
You don’t have to get precious about the ribbon – you know you *can* exercise without it, it’s just feels better when you do – but you also don’t have to atop using it just to prove a point.
Go ahead and adjust your system until it meets your needs.
After all, supporting you is the whole point of the system – it might as well do a thorough job.
All Systems Go
So, Team, as you move forward with your habit-building practices and tasks, please do the occasional systems check.
You will always be doing the best you can do with resources you have in a given moment.
There’s no need to let a mismatched system cause you any stress or, worse, to cause you to doubt yourself.
With the right system, and the right match between your expectations and your efforts, you can build the habit you want to build.
And, speaking of efforts, here’s a gold star for your efforts today – whatever those efforts might entail.