the light streaming through the trees in the Barbour Woods;
Okay, I know this one is a little weird. But lately my body and mind have been craving functional forms of fitness and shoveling snow will give me that fix every single time.
I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying walking Annie through the snow-covered woods for the same reason. It’s such a great, blood-pumping, muscle-engaging workout to walk through the ankle-deep snow.
And last, but not least, these mashed potatoes:
I made a low fodmap vegetable stock recipe the other day. You throw a bunch of vegetables like leeks, the green parts of scallions, carrots, parsnips, parsley, and potatoes in a big pot with water and let it simmer for an hour. Then the recipe says to strain the liquid and discard the vegetables. Heath questioned the part about discarding the vegetables. I told him, “that’s what the recipe says.”
Yet, when the time came to actually discard them I looked at the wonderfully soft potatoes and thought, surely I should mash these instead of throw them out. Which is exactly what I did. And, oh, my, potatoes! They are the most delicious mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten, a sentiment also shared by Heath.
So that’s where I am these days. My sleep is improved enough that I find mashed potatoes marvelous. Life is good.
BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: I actually achieved my goal of creating a cardio exercise habit!
As someone who spent fifteen years mistakenly believing I was lazy when, in fact, I had undiagnosed narcolepsy, I carry around a lot of baggage about setting goals and whether I achieve them.
Reaching my cardio goal is exciting, although I understand this news may not be as exciting as being offered a book contract (although this is a possibility that could happen any day now), planning a trip to Glacier National Park (if you have any recommendations, send them my way), or meeting a bulldog puppy at the Iron National Bank (I nicknamed her Potato, but I think the bank tellers are more spot-on that her name should be Meatball).
If you remember, I read a book over the summer that I now consider the best book I’ve ever read on mindfulness, time management, and productivity: The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter.
Truthfully, I haven’t read that many books on time management and productivity. However, I have bought a quite a few over the years and checked some out from the library. Funnily enough, I could never find the time to read them.
Not only did I read The Sweet Spot in its entirety, I then followed through on Dr. Carter’s advice. This accomplishment is the highest possible recommendation I could ever give a self-help book.
Here’s how my cardio goal went down:
Week of September 15th, 2017 – formulate a 20-week plan to build an exercise habit which would result in 20 minutes of cardio every day except Sunday using the advice Dr. Christine Carter lays out in, The Sweet Spot.
Follow through on plan.
27 weeks later write a blog post celebrating my success!
Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, which is why I highly encourage anyone who is serious about changing how they manage their time or even just thinking about it to read Dr. Carter’s book.
I would have written about my success sooner, but, you know. Life. And now I can further celebrate my success with an additional seven weeks of cardio.
Yes, I’m still jumping around for 20 minutes every day (for the most part). It feels good!
I credit Dr. Carter with a big chunk of my success, because her advice really went a long way towards my self-defeating tendencies such as procrastination and excuse making. I also need to give myself some of the credit, too, because I’m the one who actually had to show up every day and exercise. If I didn’t want my health to be a top priority in my life, it would have been easy to scrap the whole cardio plan since I already had established a daily 20-minute strength training regime that is working out nicely for me.
What really helped was being mindful of the process and that’s something Dr. Carter encourages throughout her book.
I already knew what would happen on days when I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise because of a poor night’s sleep, or a feeling of inertia that comes from winter, or lack of time because I had to be somewhere by 9:00am. For four minutes, I would do something related to cardio, such as plank and squats, jumping jacks, or dancing around. That’s what Dr. Carter refers to as a Better Than Nothing plan.
I also did everything possible ahead of time to ensure my success. This process involved thinking about why I wanted to establish a cardio routine and what would be the best way for me to exercise.
There were several whys, such as not getting out of breath while playing with dogs and losing even more of the weight that I gained in my first year of marriage, but the biggest reason is because I really believe consistent cardio is the best way for me to get a good night’s sleep.
For someone with narcolepsy, good sleep is the brass ring on the carousel of life we’re all hoping to grab. One of the most common misconceptions about narcolepsy is that you can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, such as into a bowl of soup when you’re at dinner. While in extreme cases that could happen, it’s not likely for the average narcoleptic.
What’s more likely with narcolepsy is one of the disease’s defining features– we can’t sleep at night, and when we do, we don’t get as much deep sleep as we need and we spend more time in REM having incredibly vivid, often disturbing or even terrifying dreams. So, we wake up exhausted and then have a tendency to fall asleep in a situation where we’d rather be awake.
You’d think I would have wanted to make cardio a habit in my life sooner. It’s not like I hadn’t tried. In retrospect, I believe I was missing one key piece of the cardio habit puzzle – I never considered how my choice of cardio relates to my core life values. Again, thank you to Dr. Carter for helping me realize this point.
At the top of my life values list are freedom and joy. When going down a cardio path in the past, I’ve enjoyed ice skating, hula hooping, Bikram Yoga, Daily Method, Pure Barre, and dance fitness classes. Throughout my life, I have committed to several months of these activities, sometimes even years. But these options do not promote freedom. They all require you to spend time driving to somewhere, then you have to spend time in the actual class, and then drive home again. Also, a lot of these activities require equipment and/or special clothing.
As someone who now values my time more than anything else and who also has a goal of getting all my belongings down to a single backpack, I just can’t make those types of commitments anymore.
I also have no desire to make a commitment to anything that does not bring me joy. There have been times in my life when I committed to going to a gym for 30 minutes a day to use boring (in my opinion) cardio machines such as treadmills or elliptical trainers. I hated exercising on those machines, and it’s hard to sustain a relationship rooted in hate.
Also, cardio machines cannot fit in a backpack and unless you have them in your home, you have to go somewhere else to use them. So again, that takes up more time that I don’t want to give up.
When I thought about my past failed attempts and what I wanted to achieve, it became obvious I needed to do something that I could literally do anywhere and that also would require no special equipment, including sneakers. I don’t own a pair anymore (I wore through my last pair in May, 2017) and I sure as heck am not going to buy a pair just so I can exercise. That would then make exercise dependent on an external circumstance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.
I also realized I needed a form of exercise that I could do in my jammies.
Okay, yes, this one is weird. But, when you have narcolepsy sometimes even the act of changing your clothes in the morning can seem like a lot of work. I also knew from past experiences that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t do it all. Add to that a drafty house in Connecticut, and you’ll understand why this became an acceptable form of exercise attire:
Taken all these insights together, here were my cardio requirements:
Can be done anywhere
Requires no special equipment or clothing
Brings me joy
Works if you’re wearing jammies
Ready to know what it is?
Drumroll, please … DANCING!
Not only does dancing meet all my requirements, but you can get pretty wild with jumping around, or if you’re having a less motivated day, you can bop around, or if you’re having a narcolepsy day, you can simply sway to the music.
You can also alternate the amount of effort you put into your dance moves, thus creating a nice interval flow to the workout. And if you don’t believe me, check out the Norfolk Library’s Corner Club kids breaking it down for Black History Month last month when the library brought in a hip hop dancer.
Twenty-seven weeks ago I wasn’t doing any cardio. And now I am. Even better, that’s 20 minutes nearly every day that brings me joy – both in the process and in the sense of accomplishment. That time would have gone by no matter. I am so grateful to have found a way that works for me, and I am even more grateful to Dr. Christine Carter for sharing her wisdom.
Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car. This photo is from November 12th, 2015:
And here’s today’s photos:
I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down! Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude. I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.
There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?). It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners. She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation. I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.
I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication. Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again. So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.
In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece. I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.
I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal. Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime. For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.
Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling. I dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.
Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly. I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.
Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine. Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.
Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.
With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.
One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.
I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart. Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted. If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner. Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.
This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed. I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy. So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed. I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby. That way I can also meditate before getting up.
Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.
I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed. But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.
If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can. Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point. Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.
I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch. Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.
But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future. It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best. That’s all I can ask.
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week! I am so grateful for your love and support.
We are officially back in Connecticut! One of the best parts of housesitting in a small town is how easy it is to run into people. When my husband and I went for a walk around town center our second day back, we saw a few people we know and I got to meet two new dogs. Technically, I already knew one of the dogs. But, I hadn’t formally met him, so I felt thrilled to learn the dog I had nicknamed “Giant Cocoa Puff” is really named Tucker. I now refer to him as Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff, which I think suits him.
3,000 + miles are a lot to drive in two months and many of my (supposed) habits fell by the wayside by the lack of consistency in my daily routine. For the most part, I did manage to keep up with daily meditation (sometimes even twice a day!), since I’m a big believer that meditation is the single greatest action that can change one’s life (feel free to ask me for advice on how to start). I also kept up with 20-minutes of strength training every day except Sundays; again, for the most part.
I can’t remember when I started the 20-minutes of strength training. I believe it was January, but I’m not very good at keeping track of things, even when I try. Case in point: On July 10th, after I finished reading Gretchen Reuben’s The Happiness Project, I typed 13 daily tasks to promote my happiness and well being in a spreadsheet and started marking “X” when I completed the activity or “O” when I didn’t do it. The last marks I have are on August 6th.
I’m not sure why I stopped keeping track, but I have to seriously consider that somedays I am too lazy to turn on my computer and/or open a specific file. This failure on my part makes me marvel even more at one of my former students, who I caught up with while in the Chicago area. As of August 22nd, he was on DAY 127 of 50 daily push-ups. This student is currently working as an OT aide, while applying to OT schools. Even more remarkable, this student suffered a traumatic brain event in 2009. Considering everything this student has been through and what he’s accomplished since (bachelor’s degree, finding work in his desired field, being a generally upbeat and positive person), I should be able to turn on my computer to make X’s and O’s.
Except, I know that if there is an extra step that doesn’t have to be there it makes me more likely not to do something.
In her book, Dr. Carter detailed how having more productive and efficient daily habits related to your life goals can increase happiness and wellbeing. Yes, I know, this is essentially a duh finding, yet I am still not living the fully productive and efficient life I desire, so I clearly have more work to do.
Dr. Carter wrote about taking “tiny steps” to establish our habits. She states the key is to find a trigger for the habit and then start the habit with the least amount of effort possible. For example, if you want to establish a daily meditation habit, link meditation to something you do daily, like brushing your teeth in the morning (this is the trigger) and then immediately after your morning brush, go sit on a meditation cushion for 30 seconds. And that’s it. You don’t even meditate at first. You increase the time of sitting there on a weekly basis and then you start with the meditation, again which is something you would build up to (meditate for one minute and sit there for another nine minutes).
So, I took a page out of The Sweet Spot (haha, pun totally intended) and started taking tiny steps with the least amount of effort possible in establishing new habits. For me, least amount of effort means: 1) I am not going to record my daily progress because that’s extra effort I don’t really want to do (and apparently am not good at); and 2) I am only going to focus on one habitat a time.
Since every single aspect in my life is infinitely better when I get a good night’s sleep, and I know I sleep much better the more exercise I get, my new habit is to increase my amount of daily exercise. The 20-minutes of strength training is going well, and to it I’m adding 20-minutes of high-intensity interval training.
Here’s how establishing my new habit is broken down with The Sweet Spot method:
FIND A TRIGGER – Easy! I’m already exercising 20-minutes every morning after I meditate.
LEAST AMOUNT OF EFFORT – 30 seconds of a high-intensity cardio move (this week I selected mountain climber), 30 seconds of rest, and 30 more seconds of cardio, then DONE! Seriously. No more, even if I feel good and want to keep going. Though now that I’m almost a week in, holy bananas is my butt already getting kicked and I don’t think I could continue much longer anyway.
REWARD – In addition to the natural high that comes from exercise, I play a fun pop song from one of the already created playlists in Amazon Music while I complete the interval. So far this week I’ve listened to Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Firework by Katy Perry, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, all which can be found in the 50 Great Songs from the Last 10 Years playlist. In case you’re interested, I usually listen to an audiobook during my strength training and right now I’m finishing up the Sookie Stackhouse series (for probably the 4th time), which the HBO show True Blood is based on.
PROGRESS – On Monday, I will increase another minute of exercise/rest. And that’s it for the rest of the week! Each Monday, I will increase by only one-minute intervals.
HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN – In the event I cannot complete my target time for whatever reason, I will do 1.5 minutes of interval cardio. In the event I am sick, I will visualize my exercise. These options are the “better than nothing,” approach that Dr. Carter writes about and because they are so easy, I can’t imagine not being able to complete them on any given day.
Yes, I realize that it will take me 20 weeks to establish just ONE of my desired habits. But I would much rather build towards one high-priority habit, then go all in right away on multiple habits, burn out, and completely stop exercising or writing or eating healthy or whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish because they all get lumped together with too high expectations. I am investing in my health and sleep for the long haul and I think this is the best way to do it. I will certainly give updates in the future, and in the meantime, if anyone has recommendations for some fun cardio exercises, please let me know.
We are back in Norfolk, CT! My husband I enjoyed it so much here that when our next pet and housesitting job ended up being canceled, we accepted an offer to return for the holidays. But now that we’re back it’s time to set some new goals based on what I learned the last time we were here.
One of the things I’m trying with these goals is to make them S.M.A.R.T.(er) than my previous ones. For those of you who don’t know, I spent several years conducting program evaluation research. One of the keys for measuring success is that objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1) Write 6,000 words per week specifically for one of my novels
Rationale: I want 2016 to be the year I start and finish a novel. If I stay on track with this goal, that gives me an additional 36,000 words. Since I already have 35,000 words written for my middle grade novel, this should be more than enough to finish and make substantial progress on some of my other unfinished writing.
2) Attend a weekly writer’s group
Rationale: Writers’ groups are invaluable for providing feedback and connection to other writers. I cannot say enough good things about them and I’ve been blessed to belong to some outstanding ones (Durham Writers’ Group, Schenectady Public Library, United Church of Christ Congregational Norfolk, and SCBWI Eastern CT). Attending a writers’ group on a weekly basis will also keep me writing a variety of projects.
3) Listen to at least one Brandon Sanderson lecture on writing each week
Rationale: From my 8 years of teaching research writing, I have good technical writing skills. Imagination and creativity are also two of my greatest strengths. But after reading Libbie Hawker’s Take Your Pants Off: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better, Writing, I realized I still have a lot to learn about fiction to take my writing to the next level. One of my good friends highly recommends Brandon Sanderson’s lectures and my husband reads his books. Since I write a lot of fantasy, I thought this would be a good fit for me. Plus, he’s got a lot of material freely available on the internet.
4) Read at least five chapters of a novel every week
Rationale: It’s simple – if you want to be a better writer, you need to read. A LOT. This is something I don’t always prioritize, especially when I’m reading a book that has slow pacing. If I can learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses of others’ writing, though, I think this will make me a stronger writer in the long-term.
5) Complete 3 sets of PT exercises every day
Rationale: My right hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are much weaker than other muscles in my body. I know, weird, because my left hamstrings, hip, and quadriceps are doing just fine. What these weaknesses amount to is, however, is pain. As a big believer in prevention, these exercises should help me stave off any long-term issues.
6) Spend 20 minutes every day on physical exercise
Rationale: I’ve gotten blobby both physically and cardiovascularly. I’m only 39. I should be able to walk up a hill without getting winded. Last November, I LOVED how I looked and felt. I even kept up with my workout routine when I spent two weeks at the UN climate change conference in Paris. I have no excuses. I let myself go by making choices that did not honor my health and body on a regular basis. I will always love myself unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hold myself accountable for risking my health in this way.
7) Eat one salad every day that contains at least four colors of the rainbow
Rationale: See points above. We cannot do it better than nature and that includes food choices. I love rainbows, so I might as well start eating them.
8) Meditate twice daily for 20 minutes each time
Rationale: Nothing has improved my life as much as meditating on a regular basis. It started in November 2013 with Oprah Winfrey’s and Deepak Chopra’s Desire and Destiny Meditation series. I started making some real life changes after I started meditating and I can honestly say I’ve never been happier.
9) Spend 20 minutes every day reading or listening to spiritual material
Rationale: With my meditation time, this gives me approximately one hour per day devoted to spiritual health and my relationship with God. In all honesty, I don’t think seven hours a week is actually enough and there have been times when I devoted two hours a day to spirituality. Once I am successful with recreating these life goals as habits over these next two months, I’ll check in to see if I can amp up my spiritual time because time spent reflecting and connecting with God and the Divine is never wasted.
10) Explore someplace new every week with my husband
Rationale: My husband and I like to go on adventures and we especially like to be out in nature. This will ensure that we actually do the things we say we’re going to do. As an added bonus, I get to spend time with my husband and he’s super fun and cute.
So there you go – 10 goals and two months. You may be thinking oh my goodness, that’s a lot! I thought the same thing when I typed the list out, which is why I limited it to only 10 goals (believe me, I could have come up with a lot more). The truth is I do a lot of these activities on a regular basis already; the only difference is now I’m trying to measure and quantify them to help me manage and be more productive with my time. I am confident I can do it! I will keep you posted and in the meantime, please send me all the love and support you can.