Winter Status Update in Bullet Points

  • January and February are not my favorite months.
  • I go into hibernation mode.
  • I run less.
  • I stretch less.
  • My hamstrings tighten up.
  • I eat comfy foods more.
  • My love handles bulk up.
  • My belly looks like Baby Roo has taken up residence.
  • My back aches.
  • The number on the scale increases.
  • I don’t walk as much.
  • I don’t get as much fresh air.
  • I don’t get as much sunlight.
  • My mind is not as sharp.
  • I am reduced to writing in bullet points.
  • My emotions are not as stable.
  • I make the scary discovery that the state of my mind really does influence how well I land planes on Flight Control HD on the iPad.
  • I decide that putting my fate into the hands of an air traffic controller who has been running less, eating comfy foods, not getting enough fresh air and sunshine, and feeling a bit out of it may not be such a great idea.

But there’s hope.

  • The days are getting longer.
  • They’re also getting warmer.
  • I’ve had just about all I can handle of comfy foods.
  • My tight, aching body actually is beginning to crave exercise and fresh air again.
  • I have a gift certificate for a massage waiting to be redeemed.
  • The Chopra Center is sponsoring a 21-Day Meditation Challenge, which begins on Monday, February 20th.
  • My life coach buddy has invited me to her 3-day Soulful Cleanse.
  • I’ve made some progress on the novel.
  • March is right around the corner.
  • History indicates I do this every year and always spring back.

How are you surviving the winter?

From Intention to Action: Turning resolutions into reality

It’s that time of year again. You’re either rolled up in fetal position on the floor or writing a list of New Year’s resolutions. Some of you writing resolutions might prefer to be rolled up in fetal position, and those of you on the floor wouldn’t change places with the resolution writers for a million dollars.

What is this compulsion that drives us every January 1st? How predictable are we that gyms do much of their advertising in January and then again a few months later when our bright, shiny beginnings have tarnished and crusted over and there is empty floor space to be filled.

For me, writing resolutions has always been a fun ritual. There’s something about writing a thought down on paper that makes it more attainable. That’s been true in many areas of my life. However, we all have those things that are especially difficult to achieve. Sometimes the writing of the goal isn’t enough to get us there. And our good intentions, no matter how strong, can’t motivate us to “Just Do It.”

That dilemma led me to think about how I had approached other goals in my life—ones that had been attained. For example, I hadn’t just thought about working for myself and ended up with a successful business. It was accomplished by breaking the goal into manageable chunks. Of course, I didn’t realize I was doing that 19 years ago, but in hindsight it’s obvious. So, why not do the same to finally achieve the goals that have been regulars on too many of my annual lists?

Writing “I will eat healthier, write regularly, and work out more” hasn’t been enough on its own to make those dreams a reality. But taking intermediate actions to bridge the gap between intention and action has proved to be successful.

For example, I’ve become quite regular with my exercise, following the “don’t skip more than 2 days in a row” rule. But sometimes, even though I know I’m going to feel great once I do it, I just don’t feel like working out. I’ve found a trick—something very simple—that gets great results for me. What do I do when exercise apathy hits?

I put on my workout clothes.

Yup.

That’s it.

There’s something about the act of getting dressed to work out that begins the momentum. Once I’m dressed, I’m going to feel like crap if I take off my workout clothes without having exercised. I know it sounds crazy, but follow the logic. The act of putting on those clothes is a prerequisite to working out, so it gets me one step further along the path to actually performing the desired action.

I decided to try out this trick in another area of my life. After thinking for the umpteenth time that I needed to get to the library to do some writing, I packed up my Neo, a printout of my manuscript, and my supply case in a bag and left it by the stairs leading down to my front door. Every time I walked through the living room, I saw that bag. Eventually, I put on my coat, grabbed my bag, and WALKED to the library. How’s that for killing two birds with one stone? 😉

Which leads me to my “eating better” resolution. If you studied my eating habits on paper, you’d think you were looking at the records of two different people. From dawn till dusk, I am the model of good paleo nutrition. After the sun sets, it’s like my inner Carb vampire emerges. I want Cookies, or Cake, or ice Cream, or Chocolate. The letter “C” is evil, isn’t it? 🙂

So, I began questioning why it’s so easy to stay on track during the day. And I realized it’s because my breakfast and lunch are prepared in advance and carted to work and dinner is planned out as well. If I’ve carried meals with me, it’s unlikely that I’ll get something else at the cafeteria. And in fact, I don’t. So, the answer may be to plan and pack up a healthy snack for each evening so I don’t indulge by whim. Whim is a very bad thing when combined with food. At least for me it is.

If you happen to enjoy experimenting with yourself as the guinea pig, let me know how these ideas work out for you. Most important, keep it positive. Don’t focus on what you won’t do. Rather stay focused on what you will do. There’s a theory that your subconscious mind doesn’t recognize a negative. So, for example, if you say I will not eat cookies at night, all your mind hears is I will eat cookies at night. That minor design flaw has been wrecking diets around the world. Just to be on the safe side, focus on what you will do. “I will eat berries and Greek yogurt at snack time.” Or whatever your intention is.

Last but not least, be gentle with yourself. Life is a process. We get to grand places by taking little steps.

Happy New Year.

Feel free to share your tips and successes.

Hat-tipping Angel

I did the sound effects on Billy Joel's "Sometimes a Fantasy."

About two years ago, I decided to add running to my fitness routine. This was a big move for me. I had tried running in the past, but each attempt lasted exactly as long as it took me to be overcome by gasping, sputtering, and a severe stitch in my right side.

One day, having a particularly difficult time of it, I came upon an elderly gentleman out for a stroll.  I use that term loosely because his physical state left him leading with his right foot and dragging his left foot forward to meet the right. Although it was summer and I was sweating bullets, he was dressed in a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, pants, and suspenders. He was also wearing a beige- and white-checked walking hat (perhaps called a stingy brim hat, though I’m no expert).

As I approached him, he smiled at me, raised his hat off his head, and set it back down again. I melted. It was like something out of an American Movie Classics film before that channel decided that classic movies originated in the 1990s. Then he said not “hello” or “hi” or “hey,” but “good afternoon.” He followed that with “be careful.” (I probably looked like I was on the verge of a massive coronary by that point.) I couldn’t help grinning as I ran past him with a bit more spring to my step. If he was out there taking one slow step after another, I could jog a few more blocks. And I did.

Over the course of that summer and fall, I saw him several times. I found myself looking forward to our exchange of formal greetings and became aware of how many people grunt at each other in passing. His presence always perked me up and I came to think of him as my jogging angel.

This past winter brought all outdoor running to an end. Snow, sleet, ice, repeat. When I finally got back out there in late March, I started off walking to get back in the swing but soon decided I needed to kick it up a notch and opted to try an interval training program, called Couch to 5K.

The beginning runner's dream.

The first week of the program, which seemed so deceptively simple I almost jumped ahead, had me huffing and puffing after months of being a couch spud dud. Imagine my delight when I rounded the corner and saw my friend for the first time this season making his way up the block. 

Then this past week, he was there again. I was starting to lose steam, but the sight of him instantly energized me. As I ran by, I called out, “You’re my angel. You keep me going.” He smiled, tipped his hat, and continued on his way.

What keeps you going?

Note: If you’re interested in the Couch to 5K program, check out Robert Ullrey’s podcasts, which provide music and verbal cues that indicate when to switch from running to walking and back again. He has one for each week of the Couch to 5K program.

Let’s talk about PORTION SIZE.

Some people are born with silver spoons in their mouths. I was born with a stainless steel spoon being repeatedly forced into mine. It seems my family received some faulty data indicating an imminent famine. They decided the appropriate action was to feed me constantly and build up my baby-fat stores to withstand the coming hardship. My grandmother was the commander of this mission. No amount of food I ate was enough. “You eat like a bird,” she’d say.

Have you ever seen a sparrow chow down on a sparerib?

Imagine my surprise when I didn’t die of starvation back in the winter of 2008 after coming down with what I now half-jokingly refer to as “the first but undocumented case of swine flu,” which left me unable to eat for two straight weeks.

After noticing something resembling hip bones jutting through my skin, I crawled out of bed and dragged my weakened body to the scale. I’d forgotten I had bones in that part of my body. I was shocked when the scale said, “Who are you and what have you done with my owner?” and an 11-pound weight loss registered on the screen. Lighter, but still alive. Hmmmmm. There was definitely something wrong with my grandmother’s philosophy on portion size.

Truth be told, I needed to lose those eleven pounds. With the exception of my pregnancy, that winter in 2008 was the heaviest I had ever been, weighing in at 156 pounds. I’d always been up and down with my weight, but somehow I had let it get away from me. Too much snacking and zero exercise were the likely suspects. But now I was beginning to wonder if I was overeating even the healthy foods in my diet.

Motivated at my new weight of 145, I decided to take advantage of my near-death experience and continued lack of appetite. I nibbled at small portions of food to get my tummy used to eating again. When my appetite returned, I decided to forge ahead in the pursuit of health and wellness and a trimmer body. The first thing I did was cut all of my meals to half their former size. I told myself I could eat more if I were still hungry a half hour later. By giving myself that permission, I eliminated the anxiety and sense of deprivation I would have felt. I rarely had to go back for seconds.

The weight continued to come off at a steady pace. It seemed my metabolism had increased. Even if I overindulged at a special occasion, I did not gain weight. My set point had readjusted. As I watched the number on the scale drop and inches disappear, I decided to add in a bit of exercise. I grabbed my iPod and walked a 2-mile route I had mapped out with my car. Back at home, I did a few hundred crunches and stretched.

Those walks did as much for my mind as they did for my body, maybe more. I became addicted to that time away from it all. Soon I added jogging to my routine. Nothing crazy. I worked my way up to two miles and alternated with walking so I didn’t put too much stress on my knees. I promised myself I’d never go more than two days without exercising. My record turned out to be much better than that, in fact.

Six months after the flu, I was down 28 pounds and weighed 128. Some people [don’t pay any attention to my internal critic waving over there in the corner] might say I should be a bit lighter for my height of 5’4” and a half. (Don’t forget the half.) But at 128 lbs., my BMI was within normal range and I was in better shape than I’d been for quite a long time. My head was in better shape, too.

I managed to keep the weight off until today. This morning, I got on the scale and saw that I was creeping up into the mid-130s. I know the reason. It’s this damned winter. I’ve been cooped up, unable to do my beloved exercise routine due to snow and ice on the roads just about every week for the past month. So I’ve been going through the motions along with the too-perky trainer on one of my annoying exercise DVDs. (I want to smack her.) I’m also feeling a bit low from lack of sunshine, and I’ve been filling the void with sinful treats. I eat when I’m emotional. Happy, sad, angry, bored, or anything in between—I don’t discriminate. Sue me, I’m Italian. Sometimes I think those old habits are embedded in my cells.

But enough is enough already, right? It’s been about a month and a half since I’ve been in the groove, and it’s time to return. Reduce portion size that has crept up, eliminate sinful snacks (for me that’s anything that includes flour and/or added sugar), and exercise regularly. Anyone want to join me?

Manifesto

A talented artist I know, Jon L. Adams, includes a personal manifesto on his website. It got me thinking about what I believe and how I want to live. I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list, but for now, here it is:

Love is a renewable energy source. Keep giving it away. You’ll never run out.

Ask questions. People love to talk about themselves.

Listen like you don’t have another thing to do.

Words can be lethal weapons. Choose them wisely. Once spoken, they can never be taken back.

Give away the last dollar in your pocket. It will come back to you tenfold.

Protect those who can’t protect themselves.

Live, work, and love with passion.

If you hate your life, stop complaining and make a new one.

Unstick those tight muscles, work that jaw, and smile.

When you’re outside, really breathe.

Daydream often. What can be visualized can become reality.

Believe in a force greater than yourself. Call it what you will.

Find the gem in everyone you meet, even if you have to dig through a ton of coal.

Believe people when they tell you who they are. But then look beyond their faulty self-vision.

Never mistake a thin, sheetrock wall for an impenetrable fortress. If there’s a moat and the drawbridge isn’t lowered, swim across. Most people want to be found.

Watch a child sleep. There’s no greater peace.

When a friend can’t stand on his own, carry him on your back.

Giving is its own reward.

Show appreciation always.

Tell/show people you love them always.

Respect yourself and others.

Sit still in nature every day and appreciate the miracle around you.

Try new things and meet new people.

Read, read, read, and learn.

Write, write, write. There is nothing that can’t be worked through once it’s written on a piece of paper.

Fight injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.

Laugh.

Laugh some more.

Apologize sooner rather than later. Less time wasted.

Eat really good food and work those muscles.

Grow old gracefully.

Procrastination

Happy Birthday to my Mom, a woman who never procrastinates.

Friend and fellow writer Deborah Atherton recently blogged about procrastination. I filed my nails for four days and finally read her blog. I’d been in a rut—nothing going on except the worrying that nothing was going on. In case you’re wondering, not writing was the nothing going on.

It’s quite odd to not get started on something you really want to get started on. It got me thinking about the cause, and it was at this point that I read Deborah’s blog and the article she refers to, which puts forth several good theories. When none of them resulted in an aha moment for me, I continued my pondering until some surprising conclusions surfaced.

For many years, I’ve fought the idea that a writer must write every day. As an unstructured person, I never did and it didn’t seem to be an issue. I chalked it up to personal preference and never understood why others made such a fuss. But suddenly, I’m rethinking that. I realize that for me it’s all about momentum, and that procrastination is a symptom of the loss of momentum, stemming, I think, from the dread of the effort it’s going to take to get back on track.

Case in point, last year I was in a regular exercise routine when August arrived and I jetted off to Scotland for two weeks. When I returned, I never resumed exercising. Just. Stopped. Completely. There were some attempts to restart but nothing took hold. Then, in April of this year, I decided to take the advice of Olympic Gold Medalist Jennifer Azzi, who recommends never letting two days pass without doing some kind of exercise. Almost seven months later, I have stuck to that. I exercise every day or every other day. Missing two days has happened only on rare occasions. Last month, I went on a two-week holiday to Italy. When I returned, and let me admit that re-entry was difficult, I realized that I wasn’t getting back to the routine and recommitted to Azzi’s principle.

I think we can all relate to how difficult it is to start an exercise routine when you’re not in shape. Writing is no different. When I’m engaged, the ideas are flowing along with the ink. Even if I miss a day, my mind is still simmering and “writing” in thoughts that will later be committed to paper. But when I’ve let it all go mid-novel, when I haven’t worked in weeks or months (or, dare I say, a year) and can’t remember where I left off, the thought of picking up the pieces is torture. I can’t just start writing at that point. I need to first find the novel on my cluttered desk, and reread it to figure out what the heck I was thinking, consult my notes about the various thoughts I had as I was writing, and then resume the work. Contemplating how much has to happen before I can dig in again is draining. It would have been so much easier to stay in the groove. I think it’s time for me to apply Azzi’s rule of exercise to writing. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

There was one more point that nagged at me. What is it exactly that takes me out of a task? I love to write, why would I stop? I feel great when I exercise, why would I stop? In the absence of a commitment to a principle such as Azzi’s, it comes down to something as simple as my personality type. I am a “putterer,” easily distracted. I jump from one task to the next. My friend Richard Lamb, who writes a regular movie blog (and even had posts ready to run while he was away on vacation…sigh) says I’m like a magpie, a bird prone to thievery, according to folklore, because of its penchant for shiny things. I can be in the middle of one task, when “something shiny,” as he says, catches my attention and I’m off on another adventure. He’s right. And so, it’s not the lack of desire for the task at hand, but the promise of something new that gets me every time and usually distracts me long enough to break my much needed momentum.

Lucky for me, the shiny bits this week were Deborah’s blog, Rich’s good example, and the memory of Jennifer’s sage advice. Let the writing begin anew.

Update 1/25/2011: See my new blog series Magpie’s Shiny Things.