New Year, Same Me

Back in October, I started reflecting on 2019. The planner sat empty, except for my name on the page at the front where I promise a reward if someone finds it, until this week. Uncertainty loomed large. Planners seem orthogonal to ambiguity.

Remember the Be/Do/Have questions?

  • I want to be a national-level powerlifter in my age group.
  • I want to be a better clinician for my kiddos.
  • I want to be a grounded partner, mother, and friend.
  • I want to travel at least once this year.
  • I want to spend more time at the beach.
  • I want to bike more, walk more
  • I want to have a peaceful porch
  • I want to have a productive office space
  • I want to have a tidy home

Take a look at my lists. I am very “BE” driven. Each of the “DO” and “HAVE” items feeds at least one “BE”. Let’s re-arrange these slightly by function.

I want to be a national-level powerlifter in my age group. To make this happen, there is a lot of lifting. There is also active recovery and stress management, which means consistent quality time on the bike and in the park. I meditate on my porch and like to do yoga there most of the year, which is easier when the porch is peaceful and thus inviting. Travel to a larger-scale meet with an extra day or two for a vacation would support this goal.

I want to be a better clinician for my kiddos. Becoming a better clinician involves actively seeking supervision, taking time to reflect on my practice, and continuing education. A productive office space, a peaceful porch, and a tidy home can give me the mental and physical spaces to support intellectual and emotional effort. Conferences and trainings away from home are a great way to break out of routine and wake up my beginner’s mind. Conference on the beach? I’m there.

I want to be a grounded partner, mother, and friend. Reflection, meditation, activities like lifting, biking, yoga, swimming, and reading re-fill my cup and make space for everyone else. No one comes to my house for my housekeeping, but having a comfortable space to share with others is important to me.

What goes in the planner? Like most goals, these break down into a mix of one-off to-dos and habits/processes and not everything can go in the planner at once. Lord have mercy, my head would explode and I’d be a sobbing heap of failure by February. Some people can and have done everything, cold turkey. Fix the eating, hit the gym, clean the house, repaint the kids, do it all! However, most of us aren’t like that. The human animal has an enormous drive to return to the familiar and too much change tends to rebound with a nasty bounce.

What’s familiar right now? Lifting four days a week. Meditation three days a week. Eating well 60% of the time. Erratic housekeeping around my erratic “staff” [read teenagers]. Watching Netflix at night with my husband. Reading 70% of the books I mean to read. Tossing and turning at night because I haven’t left work at work. Hot soaks nearly nightly with epsom salts.

Where are my anchors? Lifting is solid. Going to work is solid.

Which existing habits can be a little better? Eating well consistently. This takes at least 90% adherence to be successful and 60% is frustrating. Housekeeping consistently. There are a few things I currently do sometimes, like start laundry and take care of the dishwasher in the morning, that I could do more often and make a big difference in the state of my world. Meditate consistently. More is better, and fifteen minutes daily instead of 15 minutes on three seemingly random days a week might smooth out a bunch of stuff.

There’s January. Three habits. No one-offs. Anything else that happens is bonus and not tracked, like getting to the local yoga studio I tried last week or to the park on a chance warm evening. Let’s see what happens.

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Transitions

The Shapely Ass Project is in full swing. We are now eight weeks deep into the Precision Nutrition curriculum, through the first round of hypertrophy and into a small strength cycle. My coach moved, so I lost my training space and joined a commercial gym this week. Losing the training space has been jarring for several reasons. First, the garage was the crazy safe space. Second, my routine was disrupted. Third, contact with my coach has changed. How do you handle mental, emotional, and physical disruption? His dog vomits every morning at the new house. I whine like a four-year-old. It isn’t pretty and some days I can’t tolerate myself, but the whining is slowing down as I settle in to our new reality. There is hope for the dog, too.

Why should the disruption of a routine be so disruptive to an adult? I don’t have any diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which would indicate a clinical difficulty with transitions.

Motivation is what gets you started

Making changes stick has several elements. First, we “harness the elephant,” or our limbic system, by appealing to emotion and creating a motivating feeling. Most people don’t overhaul their eating and movement patterns because they looked at a set of lab results, evaluated how far out of lab limits their various levels were, and decided those levels just wouldn’t do. It even sounds silly. The changes come after you look at a sky-high A1C and you react to the vision of not being able to play with your children or grow old with your spouse. Maybe you’re inspired by how you think you would feel completing an Ironman triathlon. Emotion gets us started. In my case, about a year ago I realized I needed to get back into the gym for stress management. I felt terrible and knew the gym made me feel better.

Next, we “direct the rider,” also known as the prefrontal cortex, by creating support systems and conditions that make the path as smooth as possible. The rider is what makes plans and choices and will take the easiest path possible. If our desired path is smooth enough, the rider will use the energy of motivating emotion to get us where we want to go. I made my path smooth by creating a set schedule and booking time with a trainer. There were no choices to be made on first two, and then three mornings a week. I was meeting AO at the gym. In fact, when we made the transition to three mornings a week, I paid for six months of training up front. This removed even more decisions from the queue and allowed each of us to not worry about our side of the relationship and focus on training for six months.

Imagine the strength of the habit created by the stress/anxiety – lifting – relief habit loop. For six months, three times per week and then five times per week for the last six weeks of the program, I knew I would start my day by generating enough endorphins to relieve my anxiety. In six months we missed three workouts.

In the new set-up, I lift alone in a commercial gym four times a week by following a spreadsheet shared in a Google drive. We meet for metabolic conditioning, or “metcon”, in a local park a few times per week. Because of the nature of the work, we chat less and are physically farther apart. It feels strangely lonely. The schedule is still variable, I’m constantly making decisions about when to work out and how to implement the workout once I’m in the gym, and even went to the wrong location to train one day. Before we were able to even structure this much, the ambiguity surrounding the transition was brutal because none of it was mine to resolve. The elephant is skittish and the rider is picking his way down a cliff face during an earthquake. All of my most functional cue-action-reward loops are blown to hell.

So, I whine like a four-year-old about discomfort and wet grass and ego challenges. His dog vomits every morning. Today was better than the first day and as we find our stride, the path will smooth and the elephant can keep charging ahead.

 

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