Monday, February 8, 2016

Excuses?

Ugh. Guys I got really sick this weekend. I haven't been that sick in a few years, where I really couldn't manage my parenting or household duties. I have to hand it to my husband, he REALLY pulled through and did all of my chores & his own, all while wrangling the kids. He went grocery shopping with BOTH KIDS which is deserving of a medal in my book!

I did make it to my clinic Saturday morning and saw patients for a few hours. And Sunday I was delusional and thought I was better so I dragged the kids to a children's theater show (we have season tickets). They didn't want to go, and it honestly wasn't that good and I was spent by the time we got home. There was more screen time for the kids than usual, and WAY more screen time for myself.

I managed to finish two books, both of which I hated, on Saturday (a book club book which was TERRIBLE and I'd been slowly reading for a couple weeks, and I started & finished Go Set a Watchman...snooze). So Sunday I did relax the Unplugged rules a bit and caught up on all your blog posts (and comments sections), plus I watched 2 episodes of Gilmore Girls when G took the boys swimming.  I'm not one for just following rules without understanding the rationale behind them. I decided to do the challenge because I wanted to be more present with my family at home & more productive at work and to see if staying away from the instant gratification of constant clicking & scrolling could improve my focus. On a day when I was just lolling in bed and couldn't spend time with my family or do work and certainly was not able to truly focus, what was the point of staying off the internet? I know it sounds like an excuse, and maybe it is, but to me its more about "questioning" and ensuring there is logic and reason behind my actions.

I'm not feeling 100% today, either, but I'm on consult service & the thought of trying to arrange coverage on Monday morning sounded worse than trudging into work, so I'm here. But instead of dutifully writing my paper between rounding sessions, I've just spent a solid hour on the internet (oops).  On the plus side, I had finally made all the BuyNothingProject drop off and pickups I had planned so I deleted the Facebook app from my phone! I plan to go back to my rules tomorrow (I'm assuming I'll feel better?)

What I've learned so far:
  • I don't really miss anything (facebook, random blogs I sometimes read)
  • it is hard to really comment on blogs (and keep up with comments threads in general) in 20 minutes
  • I don't suddenly stop procrastinating; but my procrastination can actually be useful. For example, I spent a lot of time last week reading through a backlog of articles (clinical & research related) instead of working on my paper. Some of those articles helped inform clinical decision-making, and others led to some thought on new avenues for my research. 
  • It is really an ingrained habit to pull my phone out when waiting for the elevator or the light to change. I did it several times without even noticing what I was doing.
  • Perfect really is the enemy of good. I was not perfect. But if I checked my phone 5 times instead of 10 times a day, THAT'S STILL A LOT BETTER. I'd be ecstatic about a 50% change in a parameter in my research, why do I expect 100% of myself and consider it failure otherwise? The old me would flog myself, declare "well, it didn't work, I can't do it. I give up" and go back to 10 times a day because fuck it. The new improved me is trying to see this as a success----a step in the right direction---in fact, something to feel GOOD about. Lets get to 5 times a day consisently now. Maybe in the future I'll try for 2, or even zero.
You really can never be too kind, even to yourself.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Low Carb Experiment, What I Learned

I'm so glad I finally bit the bullet and did this experiment. I did lose some pounds--and that was with eating unholy amounts of cheese, nuts, booze and bacon (like a plate of fancy cheeses & nuts at 9pm most nights). But more importantly, I learned that I do not need carbs to function or feel well. After the first couple of days of headache/foggy brain, I felt perfectly normal. In fact, I felt so normal that I upped the intensity, and starting week 2, cut out all legumes, too. And..still normal.

What I didn't feel was any increased energy or focus, nor was I less hungry than when I eat balanced, carb-containing, whole foods. Sure I didn't get as ravenous as I got when I binged on crackers or cheese puffs, though, and not being able to do that was a plus!

I did have a few "cheats". I ate a piece of homemade toffee a friend brought over, and had carbs at 2 restaurant meals. And I quit early, Saturday instead of Sunday last weekend because everyone else in the family really really wanted pizza for dinner and I didn't want to sit on the side and eat my sad non-pizza meal (pretty much any meal is sad compared to pizza, right?)

So am I swimming in a barrel of sugar and crackers now that the challenge is over? Nope. I grew to love my carb-free breakfasts and lunches, and I have no desire to allow myself to eat chips & crackers again---so all snacks are low carb, other than the one piece of chocolate daily that I love to have after lunch or dinner. I am eating a small, measured serving of carbs with dinner if its part of the meal and something I really love, so that I can partake in our family dinners (this was really the only hard part, and I think the resultant unsatisfied feeling led to the need for cheese later in the evening). 

Mondays food, for example:
Breakfast: coffee, 2 eggs scrambled with tomatos, jalepenos, green onions and 2 slices bacon
Lunch: salad (Trader Joe's "8 healthy chopped veggies" mix, plus extra carrots & green bell peppers), with grilled chicken, feta, toasted walnuts & TJ's jalepeno yogurt dip as a dressing), raspberries
Snack (4pm): one string cheese stick
Dinner: 3 homemade Indian curries: chicken tikka masala, spinach with daal, green bean/eggplant/sweet potato/tomato curry in coconut milk, with 1/3 cup basmati rice and one strip of naan (1 X 3 inch)

While I felt fine without carbs, this actually feels better and way more sustainable. I honestly could eat like this forever, which was always the ultimate goal. I never, however, would have gotten here by just trying to "eat less carbs"---the more drastic experiment cut through all my excuses: "I need carbs", "I don't know what I'll eat" and "I'll be too tired/unsatisfied/etc..."

I also learned some interesting things about habit change that are more universally applicable (and that I'm using for the Unplugged challenge)

1) Tiny changes aren't motivating for me
2) But its OK to start smaller and build up (like with the legumes)
3) Slip ups are expected and allowed (this is huge. I could easily have eaten the toffee and then said, fuck it, its over, I can't do this and its stupid anyways. Its tempting, and it comes from perfectionism. Its harder for me to forgive myself and keep going). "planning to fail" is also helpful. I knew I was going to eat carbs at the restaurant, but that I would go back to the plan in the morning. There was no "now what?" moment and that moment is when the whole thing can fall off the wagon!
4) Specific but flexible---I had a list of what I was/wasn't eating, but I could change it based on how I felt)
5) I cannot follow other people's rules (and they make me angry). I have no desire to do a Whole30 (or even follow the rules of the Unplugged30) because I have very specific goals in mind and have thought through how to address my specific problem areas. This is also a Questioner thing. Why would I stop eating fruit when I'm trying to quit crackers? Or give up my morning blog check when its the evening internetting that is interfering with family life and sleep?)

Back with a recap of how the unplugged challenge is going soon!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Creating Space

I started the low-internet challenge today. I'll play along with SHU's challenge, though my rules are different and may evolve over the month. For now: 
  • limiting social media time to 2 20 minute breaks during the day
  • cut down significantly on the blogs I'm following (about 10 total now) and only marking really interesting posts to come back to comment on
  • unjoined several facebook groups (but didn't deactivate because I'm still getting rid of a bunch of stuff I've been purging)
  • no phone while waiting for short periods of time (bus stop, elevator, stop light)
  • no phone in evenings with kids or G 
  • NEVER on social media after 10 pm
  • weekends: limit to 15 minutes
I've tried this kind of thing before and I usually fail spectacularly within the first few days. Why? 1) I never got specific with rules. 2) never told anyone or had any kind of accountability. 3) I had unrealistic expectations.

#3 may be the most important barrier to my success in the past. I had this belief that I would stop checking blogs & facebook and suddenly become super motivated, hyperfocused and productive at work. And more present and relaxed at home. But on the first day, my mind would wander and I wouldn't get everything done, and I'd be distracted and annoyed by my family and I'd declare it a failure and go back to my old ways.

I've had to talk myself down from these expectations. I'm not suddenly going to rewire my brain (if ever), and sometimes work IS boring and that first draft will always take forever to get going. My kids and husband will never cease to (occasionally) irritate me and minds are made to wander.

What I'm doing by removing the constant chatter is creating space for...whatever. Productivity or creativity or daydreams or even boredom.

I'm excited to see how this goes.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Habit Cycle

Coincidentally, I was doing an online "healthy habits" thing my employer offers (with a modest cash incentive to complete) and I chose the one about Managing Stress. A lot of the little slideshows & articles associated with that were about mindfulness and habit change. And it was shockingly helpful! There was a lot about the "habit cycle" phenomenon, and how habits are comprised of the Cue-Response-Reward cycle.

The cue is the trigger that sets you off toward your bad habit---it can be: location, people, emotion, situation, time. And the response is, of course, the habit. The reward, also obvious, is how you feel after, the benefit you get. Like when you its 3 pm and you think "snack time" so you head to the vending machine for a candy bar and you get a nice break in your afternoon and some energy. Or you go to a restaurant with friends and always order fries and nachos and get social interaction.  Or when you are stressed out by your kids fighting bedtime and you eat a bowl of ice cream and feel comforted. So to break the habit cycle you have to find another way to respond to said cue, but it has to be something of similar benefit. You can't just IGNORE the 3pm internal alarm and power through. You need to create a new ritual that gives you the same feeling of energy & relaxation. You need another coping mechanism for your bickering kids and another way to socialize with your friends that isn't unhealthy food. You know, the usual. There is nothing new here.

But I think directly applying this thought process to my current habit-change challenge may prove useful.  What triggers me to jump onto facebook or blogs? And what benefit does it give me.

Triggers: boredom, wanting connection, feeling stressed/anxious/sad, brain needing break
Reward: feeling connected, entertainment, numbing/distracting from negative emotion, mental break

Lets explore these triggers a little. Boredom is self-explanatory on the surface but there is complexity in its depths. When did I become so uncomfortable with just my own thoughts? Why do I feel the drive to pick up my phone even while waiting 30 seconds for the light to change? Connection is something I seek a LOT at work and fairly often at home. I am in my office many days for 8-9 hours with no real connection to anyone. Sure I may have go to a lecture or attend a conference call and I call patients back most days but there is no actual social interaction with peers. Sometimes you just want to laugh, commiserate, tell someone about your day, ask someone about theirs, share a cup of coffee and get out of your own head. I have no one to do that with in my current situation, so I hop on the internet for that. And yes, my brain does need a break. I can't keep intensely focused on a task for hours at a time, its good to step away and refresh.

So how can I meet those needs in other ways? I haven't completely figured this out. Things I'm going to try: daydreaming, just BEING bored and letting my mind wander. Sending emails to friends and family during my breaks rather than just clicking through facebook or reading blogs, and at home, texting or calling  (nope not a phone caller anymore). Taking an actual break from the computer altogether. Going for a little stroll to run a work-errand (drop off forms, talk to someone in person instead of email), or just to clear my head. Doing 5 minute of meditation. Productive procrastination---clean my office, submit FSA reimbursements, figure out what's on those 10 flash drives I found in my bag. Go to the break room and make myself a cup of tea and drink it there, enjoying the view from the wall-length window rather than back in my office on the computer.

Another point the tutorial made was that it was fundamentally important to understand WHY you wanted to make a change in your habits, or you were unlikely to succeed. The answer to the question you will ask yourself a million times as you white-knuckle your way through the day without cigarettes, or junk food, or facebook: "Why the F am I doing this again?". "Because its good for me" isn't good enough.

The answer to this has changed for me, and become more honest and (hopefully) more motivating. Its not just that I'll be more productive and more present to my family. I'll also actually enjoy my work and home life more. I LOVE those times at work when I can be deeply focused, in the coveted "flow state", and same at home with a project or task. I am so happy when I can lose myself in play with my kids (or even better, just watching them play, and reveling in the cuteness!) or conversations with my husband. I also love blogging and reading blogs and keeping up with friends & family on FB; its a hobby that I'm not planning to quit anytime soon. But instead of keeping it confined into certain periods of my day like I do with my other hobbies, I'm letting this bleed over into all aspects of my life. Spending so much time checking on facebook posts, blog comments, and emails is preventing me from enjoying my life! 

 I'm gathering up strategies and debating how drastic I want to be with this challenge. I'll post my action plan on Monday!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

No more excuses or...The Good Girl's Guide to a Mid-Life Crisis

I'm a little freaked out about turning 40 in a few months. This surprises me; no other milestone birthday has affected me in any way. On the contrary, I was really excited to turn 30---I had just gotten married a year ago, and was finishing up residency (my last overnight call was on my 30th birthday actually). G and I were ready to set off on our grand adventure, moving 1000s of miles away and starting fresh for my fellowship. We were making plans to get a dog, and discussing (more vague and long-term) plans to acquire human dependents. The birthday only confirmed the new stage in life I was entering. I no longer felt like a person "in my 20s" and had no qualms about leaving that decade behind.

This feels different somehow. 40 might be the new 30, but its still forty, you know? It just seems...different. I think of 40 in the age range of 40-59, and that is way way different than 20-39, right? I don't feel 40. I feel like a 40-year old woman should be wiser, more mature, more self-assured, calm and centered. Not constantly second-guessing herself, suffering from acute imposter syndrome in every facet of life, wondering how anybody could really be fooled into thinking she's an adult. Not irritable, still prone to episodes of anger & yelling & pouting and numbing & distracting when life doesn't go her away.

I know its ridiculous. A birthday is just a date, not a magic gateway into a more enlightened state. Just like children, adults develop at different paces and many sadly plateau somewhere in the middle. It is and will continue to be a constant work in progress, my strive to be more zen, more confident, more grounded.

The other part bringing me down is of course the more obvious one...I'm getting old. Half of my life is behind me, and not all of what is ahead really seems all that appealing. Time is coursing by so quickly. I'm feeling an urgency, a kick in the pants and an insistent voice in my ear "if not now, then when?"

If I'm not happy with something in my life, gritting my teeth and waiting it out is no longer acceptable to me as the default option. How much more of my life do I need to sacrifice to unhappiness, simply because I was too lazy or afraid to try to make it better? No. If something is truly bothering me, I need to A) change it or B) accept it and (if possible) embrace it as my reality.

I'm trying to get some practice on option A, starting with the little things. I recently wrote about bad habits in my life. These are the things that I keep half-heartedly trying to change, giving up, making excuses, feeling guilty and ultimately ending up back where I started. My goal for the next few months is to tackle them. I know I can do. In fact, I've already done one---I've virtually eliminated clothes shopping from my life aside from a few planned purchases. The shopping ban method really works for me. I've got the exercise thing locked down. I even made it through a month of a low-carb diet (4 more days!)

All of these things? They were things I'd told myself I could never do. I could NEVER just not shop for clothes every few months. I could NEVER wake up at 5:30 to work out. I could NEVER give up carbs and breakfast & dinner or my precious precious crackers. And of course I could! I just...decided to do it and I did it.

We all know people who want to make changes in their life, yet come up with a million excuses for why they can't do any of the things proven to work, right? Its incredibly annoying when you're listening to it from the outside. Yet most of us make excuses for our own behavior, and it feels justified to us because no one else understands, and we really CAN'T do this or that, like give up cable or stop eating fast food or walk for 20 minutes a day.

What has worked for me is pushing back against those excuses. The more I tell myself I "can't" do something in service of a goal that is important to me, the more I need to challenge it. And then just F'ING DO IT for a set period of time. If I was right, and I really can't keep it up? Great, I tried it, I can quit. Move onto the next strategy (or recognize that this is the time to employ option B and just let that goal go) But sometimes...my excuses were just my laziness and fear getting in my own way. The thing I "couldn't" do? That I just did? It wasn't even that bad.

I'm reading posts about it all over your blogs lately, and its obviously something I want to change, so my first "No Excuses" challenge is going to be limiting social media. I'm gathering up strategies (and the more I feel "I can't" do those things, the higher on my list they need to go!) I'll still read your blogs and the sites that I find inspiring and educational, but I don't want to lose more of my life to mindless scrolling and constant intake of information that doesn't enhance my life, and actively keeps me away from the activities that do.

Hit me with your strategies for limiting social media. Anybody want to join me for accountability?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snowy Weekend

We got a pretty good dumping, about 2 feet. The snow-weekend madness began Friday when G & I, after an unsettling appointment with B's therapist, skipped our planned sushi lunch date and went to every store in a 5-mile radius (it seems) to find snow boots for B. We completely didn't think to buy him any, and when we tried them on Thursday night (even though we KNEW about the snow for over a week), they were 3 sizes too small (they sort of fit L, though, so we were 50% in luck). Not one child-sized snow boot remained anywhere! I had already asked on the local mom's board, our neighborhood Buy Nothing group, texted several friends, and even desperately posted to my Facebook wall, to no avail. Too-small rain boots were our only option.

The snow began Friday night. It was beautiful. There was a foot and a half Saturday morning all clean & fluffy and it kept coming down on & off all day. I couldn't help grinning like a kid and frolicking in it when I took the dog out for her morning walk. There is something about the first snow fall of the season that will never fail to amaze this southern girl. I walked for a long time. The city is so uncharacteristically CLEAN and quiet and peaceful. It just sounds & feels different covered in snow. Everything is equal---the streets and sidewalks blend together and you just walk wherever. People are friendly, no one in a hurry to get anywhere.

The boys wanted to get out there before they even finished their breakfasts! We played in our back yard, built a little snowguy that B promptly kicked over, then headed indoors for hide-and-seek, legos, book reading, skyping with grandparents, etc... before heading out again, to the park with the lid of a giant plastic bin as a "sled". We decided to go to the bar across the street for dinner, just for fun and because no one wanted to cook or clean. Road block opiate? Maybe. But I'm not against strategically utilized pain medication when warranted.

It was wonderful to have an entire day without any chores to do, or anywhere we needed to be. Even the gym was closed, so no workout or swim lessons. Just playing together, all day, indoors and out.

Sunday was more of the same, but I did do laundry, grocery shopped, and prepped a bit for the week. We watched a movie with the kids in the afternoon---another anomaly, since we usually take advantage of their movie time to get chores done. I didn't feel like cooking again so I ate nuts & cheese for dinner (7 more days of low carb, and I'm sticking to it, though I did have some nachos & chicken bites at dinner Saturday).

B's school is closed, so G has to stay home. He didn't feel like trekking across town to take L to daycare, so all the boys will hang out. When I left, they were all headed to the gym; the boys were going to the childcare while G worked out. They had plans for lunch out & library later. I'm a bit jealous, but I've got stuff to do. I really really hope school is open tomorrow or B is going to have to go to daycare with L.

The beautiful winter wonderland is on its way to becoming a disgusting muddy, dirty, trash-covered hell that will last the next 2 months. But I'm glad we got to enjoy it while it lasted!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Three Things I Wish I Didn't Enjoy

Social Media Self explanatory for most of us here, right? Imagine all the good I could do in the world if I spent even half as much time on FB or blogs. There is definitely a negative correlation between how much time I spend on social media and my mood...BUT...I haven't determined the "causation" here. I know being anxious/upset leads me to distract myself, but also spending too much time reading things that are depressing or make me feel inadequate can turn a perfectly good mood into some FOMO/what-is-the-world-coming-to bitterness. I really like Mel's strategy of asking myself WHY I'm picking up my phone (or opening up my browser). Its all about being intentional with your usage, which will hopefully limit the mindless checking. The problem is that I keep forgetting to ask myself anything until its a little too late!

Booze I do sort of envy the "oh, I just don't care for the taste" or "I maybe have a drink every few months" types. If it weren't unhealthy for me, I'd have a drink most days (but it is, so I don't, but I still always feel like I should cut back even more). I like the taste, I like the celebratory feel, and I really like the loosening in my shoulders when I have a glass of wine at the end of the day.

Clothes   Call me shallow, but I like wearing nice clothes. What I wear affects my mood. I refuse to wear dirty stained raggedy sweat pants around the house as recommended by your favorite uber-frugal bloggers. Blech.  And of course, liking clothes often does lead to buying clothes! (Yes, I am "shopping my closet", but that doesn't really eliminate the desire for new things once in a while.) I love browsing online or through catalogs and seeing all the beautiful things that could be mine (and then making them mine!) I wish I only wanted one pair of shoes & didn't mind wearing the same thing for years at a time and only bought new things when old ones wore out.

To balance this out, here are three things I'm glad I like: exercise, reading, vegetables.

What do you wish you hated?