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Are We There Yet?

I have a confession to make.  It turns out that I don’t, in fact, love the Holiday Season as much as I thought I did.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the big meal and getting to spend some time with family and friends, but it is all starting to feel like too much.  Too much eating and drinking, too much excess, too much not knowing what day it is, and dare I say it, even too much togetherness.  I find myself really looking forward to things getting back to “normal.”

I am probably in the minority of people who can genuinely say they look forward to January.  To me it feels like an enormous reset button and presents a great opportunity for a fresh start.  Few things excite me more than opening a new diary, and thinking about all of the possibility its blank pages contain.  All of the unimagined challenges, triumphs and everything in between, which will soon be jotted throughout, fill me with a sense of optimistic enthusiasm.

If you have started to think that this post is about New Years resolutions, then I can assure it is not.  In truth, my jury is still out about them.  In 20 odd years of making them, I would struggle to think of one I have managed to stick to, and I am quite sure that I am not alone in this.  Part of me believes that sitting, pen in hand, on the last day of the year, making lists of ill defined and arbitrary objectives is only setting ourselves up for failure.

As we get ready for 2017’s imminent arrival, I have decided instead to resolve only to do my best.  I know that this probably sounds trite and overly simplistic, but it feels to me like it covers all the bases.  If 2016 has taught me anything, it is that I have no idea what is going to happen next.  So, I have promised myself, that whatever I decide to undertake, I will do it with a good heart and a clear mind.

By a good heart I mean that I will be careful about the demands I let other people make of me.  Often we take on so much, because we don’t want to say no, that we end up resenting it.  We can end up feeling like everyone wants a piece of us.  I have discovered lately that when this happens, it isn’t the other person’s fault, but entirely my own.  As Matthew Kelly says

“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade.”

I have had to remind myself of this so much this week, and tell myself that “no Arwen, you can’t expect to fit months worth of catching up with people into the week long winter break!”

As for the clear mind, this is a little more straight forward.  I have been taking a leaf out of Marie Kondo’s book and clearing out the clutter.  This all started a few months back.  The girl I shared an office with was heading off on maternity leave, and there was a new guy coming it.  The office itself is about as large as a box bedroom.  I worried that a man and a woman in such tight confines might feel a little claustraphobic.  So, before he started I decided to clear as much as possible out of the office.  Years worth of boxes and files were sent to archive.  (I will admit, I was ruthless, but so far nobody has looked for anything!)

As the clutter began to be removed from my work space, I honestly could not believe how much better I felt.  The air seemed lighter somehow.  I felt like my head was clear and I could breathe easier.  It was amazing.

Since that happened, I have been trying to take the same approach in my home.  My catchphrase for the last few months has been “is it OK to throw this out?”  I have taken countless car loads to the dump and boxes to the charity shop.  The latest mini clear out included no fewer than 26 coffee mugs!  I can’t begin to tell you how cathartic and addictive it is to literally put your house in order.

Such a simple thing has had such a profound effect.  I am calmer and sleeping better.  Getting ready to meet a friend for dinner last night, in my cleared out bedroom, was an absolute pleasure.  Even being able to put our Christmas presents away was revolutionary.  Normally we would be still tripping over them until well into the New Year!  I feel like I am getting ready to welcome 2017 as I would an honoured guest, with a tidy home and an expectant heart.

As much as I can’t wait for the New Year (and I really can’t) I am tying not to wish this time away.  Before long we will be back in the routine of working, training, meal prepping etc. and longing for the next break!  A good friend of mine describes these periods as being like deserts between rivers.  I think this is particularly apt as it is almost impossible to appreciate the one, in the absence of the other.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have supported me in my endeavours this year.  I wish you all the very best for 2017.  Be well and don’t forget to have an adventure or two xxx

 

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2016: Curves, Conflicts and Context

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself reflecting on the past twelve months.  Revisiting resolutions and making judgments on goals set this time last year.  I try to look back on the year about to close as objectively as I can.  I ask myself what have I learned?  What did I achieve?  Am I closer to where I want to be than I was back in the dark days of January?

This year, for the first time, I am having trouble answering these questions.  You see, the goals at the start of this year were pretty much the same as they are every January.  I am always very interested in making improvements to my overall health and fitness, and so I set goals to work towards this.  Namely, I wanted to lose weight and I wanted to increase my fitness.

Did I achieve these goals?  The answer is, not really.  I started the year at about 62kg and I am finishing it at about 60kg.  So, nothing too note worthy there.  2kg weight loss in an entire year is slow by anyone’s standards.  What about the fitness then?  Did I make some noticeable progress in this area?  Am I able to go faster, or longer, or harder?  Again, the answer to this is not really.  If I was being completely honest, I would say I would be lucky if I have managed to maintain the level of fitness I had when I rang in 2016.

In the past, this realisation that I have “failed” to achieve my goals would have sent me spiraling into self pity, self loathing and self destruction!  I would have been lamenting and crying and declaring myself a hopeless case.  I mean, I only had two things I wanted to achieve, and I succeeded at neither.  What the hell happened?  In a word, LIFE!

I have come to understand that taking a snap shot of where you are at either end of the year can be a useful tool, but it is extremely limited.  It doesn’t take into account the other 363 days, when life is actually happening.  It doesn’t allow for any context.  Neither does it reflect the learning and growth which has occurred in other areas.  Just because you didn’t write something down as a “goal” at the beginning of the year, doesn’t make it meaningless.

Let me explain what I mean.  In January, this blog was just an idea and the YouTube channel was yet to be conceived of.  I hadn’t even contemplated giving cookery lessons.  I was blissfully unaware that I would have an injury, which would significantly restrict my training.  I had no idea that I was about to embark on two distinct and completely different courses of study.  In short, I had no idea of everything which was about to come my way.

These may all sound like excuses for not having achieved my goals, and truthfully, it is hard for me not to dismiss them as such myself.  A huge part of me wants to scold myself for allowing distractions to get in my way.  Surely if I had been truly committed, nothing could have stopped me?

In the stillness and quiet, I have spent time trying to reconcile this conflict.  How can we stay committed to our goals while remaining open to new opportunities which come our way?  How can we prevent our determination from turning into dogmatism?  The answer to this, for me, is to change the way I look at goals, and goal setting in general.  Instead of listing out thing I want to achieve, and dutifully ticking them off, I have tried instead to look at where I want to be, and use this as the litmus test when deciding to pursue a certain course of action.

In Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, he refers to this as the “celery test.”  It is the process of determining whether your actions move you closer to your overall goals or not.  So for me, I could ask if doing physio for my hip injury, and listening to the professional advice of restricting training, would ultimately help me to get fitter and stronger.  I think it will.  I could also ask myself if taking courses, writing blogs and teaching classes moves me towards my goal of helping other people to achieve their own fitness goals.  Again, I believe the answer to be yes.

Regular readers will have heard me say before that progress is often non linear.  We can often feel like we are taking one step forward and two steps back.  Putting emphasis on one aspect of life, naturally means something else may move out of focus.  Growth and improvement present learning curves, often steep ones.  But if we can try to put our goals at the centre of our actions, we won’t veer too far off course.

When I think now about the year just gone, I can’t be disappointed with my progress.  I feel like I have learned so much in the past twelve months, and that I am now far better equipped to handle whatever the future has in store for me.  So as it comes time to pen those resolutions, think hard about where you would like to be come Christmas 2017.  Choose actions through the year, which support this.  But remember, nothing is set in stone.  Life has it’s own plan, so be ready to roll with the punches.  Be well and Merry Christmas xxx

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Seasonal Sabotage!

The time to Eat, Drink and be Merry is just about upon us.  This is the time of year when we get to relax and enjoy spending time with family and friends.  A time when the diet relaxes and the training tends to wind down.  I think it is important to have this time as a psychological break.  A season of feast and plenty, before getting right back on it in the New Year.  But, how can we manage to avoid ruining an entire year’s hard work, while still having fun?  How can we avoid feeling like we are missing out, without ending up with a stocking full of regret?  This is probably the tenth Christmas I have spent in  “weight management” mode, so I have learned a few things to help me over the years.

Firstly, be realistic:  There is very little point in promising yourself that this year you absolutely WILL NOT over indulge.  Swearing to yourself that not one Quality Street will cross your lips and the Christmas Dinner will consist only of meat and veg.  In my experience, trying to be overly restrictive in the run up to Christmas only leads to me end up diving head first into a trifle and reaching for the stretchy pants.  I have found that a far better strategy is to decide, ahead of time, which of the Christmas treats I absolutely must have.  I then allow myself to have these and actively avoid the rest.  For me, this is the turkey and ham sandwich on Christmas night, made by my super sister, I look forward to it all year.  You can keep the dessert, but if I don’t get my sandwich, did Christmas even happen?

Beware of the Bargains:  Growing up, the tin of sweets at Christmas was a really big deal.  It was the only time of year you could get them.  They would be bought ahead of time, but on pain of death, we were never allowed to open them until Christmas Eve.  Since I have moved out, I never bother buying them.  Between work and our family homes, there is more than enough junk floating around to satisfy even the sweetest tooth.  This year, however, I began to wonder if this was a little churlish.  Was I a complete Grinch to not even have a single sweet in the house.  I thought to myself I will pick up one tin, sure what harm?  I went to the supermarket and saw they were 3 for €15!  Wow, what a bargain!!  In the space of about 4 seconds, I had gone from not buying any, to buying 3 whole tins.  Luckily, I came to my senses and abandoned my purchase.

I will never forget a leader in Weight Watchers talking about buy one get one free tins of Pringles.  She said when she looked at it all she saw was “44 points for the price of 22.”  It really isn’t a good deal if you end up eating more than you intended to and feeling bad about it.  Don’t let the marketers draw you in to ruining your progress.

Let work days be “normal” days:  I will admit that routine is an absolute saviour of mine.  Automating as many decisions about food as I can has made maintaining my weight so much easier than relying on will power alone.  Every work day I have the same breakfast, and one of 2-3 different homemade lunches.  I don’t deviate from this just because it is December.  It helps me a lot to feel like at least some parts of my diet can be consistent regardless of the season.  If I were to abandon this for the month, I know I would feel completely out of control.

Offices are a minefield for the diet conscious at the best of times, and Christmas is the worst.  Across the country mince pies and selection boxes are being passed around with abandon.  My advice, and something I have always had to do, is just give it a wide berth.  I would always prefer to indulge in sweets and treats consciously.  Sitting at home relaxing with a nice cuppa and the fur babies.  Not while on a conference call and trying to get a balance sheet worked out.

Practice the one bite rule:  If you take a bite of something, (especially if it’s calorie laden) and you don’t really love it, stop eating it.  If you take a slice of grannies fruit cake and it’s as dry as the Mojave desert, proclaim it delicious and yourself still full from dinner, and leave it alone.  Calories are too precious to be wasted on things which don’t make you make yummy noises.

Remember that Christmas is ONE DAY:  I have lost count of the number of times I have heard people saying that there is “no point trying to be good in December!”  This simply is not true.  When you think about it, it is one day, one dinner and maybe a party or two.  When you consider that on average in December, we will eat over 100 meals, it puts the big one into a little perspective.  There is only so much damage you can do in a day (even if you do my trifle dive) a whole month ,on the other hand, is a completely different story.  If you make a decision to abandon all your good habits in December, you can expect to have a significant backslide with your results.  If you make this decision, accept that it is a decision and own it.  Christmas did not do it to you!

Move on:  Whatever happens over Christmas, it’s not the end of the world.  Even if you eat and drink far more than you had intended and if the scales calls you out on it, it’s not terminal.  Win, lose or draw this silly season, allow yourself to move on.  The worst thing we can do is fall into the familiar negative feedback loop of self loathing.  When 2017 comes in, be mentally ready to attack it, not wasting energy worrying about what you ate last year.

Lastly, enjoy:  I for one am so ready for the break at Christmas.  Having a few days away from work, watching old movies in my pj’s sounds like just what the doctor ordered.  This is the time of year to catch up with friends and family and relax.  Reflect on the year just gone and get ready for the one to come.  However you will be spending this holiday season, enjoy it, for it comes but once a year.  Be well xxx

 

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The Gift Is In The Present!

So here we are, it is the month of December, and we are counting down the days to the biggest consumer event of the year.  The initial flush of excitement of our “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” bargains has abated and we are ready to get to the serious spending.  Let’s face it, that’s what this time of year is all about, right?  Or am I becoming cynical in my old age?

I have always loved Christmas, but this year for some reason, I find myself not wanting to get drawn into all the hustle, bustle and craziness.  Maybe it is because the frenetic pace of the past few months is relaxing a little, so I am loath to fill the void with any more busyness.  Or could it be that the flagrant consumerism, waste and excess are feeling a little out of step with the practices of moderation, gratitude and mindfulness I have been trying to embrace for the last while?

For the last few months my husband and I have been trying to get a few bits and pieces done in the house.  We have lived there for nine years and a lot of what needs to be done is long overdue.  It has been costing money to get things in order, naturally, so there isn’t as much in the piggy bank as there normally would be at this time of the year.  My husband has told me not to get him anything for Christmas in order to ease the financial stress a little.  But, I have to admit, this isn’t really sitting well with me.  He has said he doesn’t need anything, which is true.  However,  I can’t help feeling that if I don’t spoil him like I usually do, that I will be missing out more than he will be!

This realisation has made me question the whole thing.  How much of the spending and fuss we go through during the festive period is more about filling a need in us, and less about making our loved ones happy?  Every year I promise myself I won’t go mad, I won’t stress out and I won’t buy things just of the sake of buying.  Every year I break my promises before the first door on the advent calendar has been opened.  What is fueling this compulsive consumption?

Like a lot of other families, Christmas hasn’t always been easy in our house.  Regardless of how bad things got, my mother has never stopped trying to give us all the “perfect Christmas.” No matter how old we get, she always tries to make sure that it is a magical time for us.  Everyone’s pile of presents has to be the same size and Christmas pjs will never go out of style!  No detail is left to chance and the list of traditions observed is a long as the M50 (with more being added each year!)  I don’t know if she has ever really had that fairy tale Christmas she wishes for.  But the fact that she never gives up on the dream of it, no matter how tough things get, is the true miracle of the season for me.

With this in mind, I urge everyone, myself included, to put down the Visa card for a second and try to think about what is really important.  Our family and friends are the greatest gifts in our lives, and our time and attention is worth so much more than material items.  All too often we put ourselves in debt and create stress to buy things, which will be forgotten about by New Year.  Giving your time, showing love and creating memories can be stay with the person forever.

There are some really practical things we can do for people that don’t cost any money, but do take time.  Do you have a sister who would love the offer of a babysitter so she and her husband can go out?  Do you have a grandparent who would appreciate your help cleaning their house or putting up their Christmas tree.  Do you have a colleague in work who will be alone this Christmas and would love to be invited to dinner with your family?  Of course, it’s easier to just buy something.  It’s far less effort to just throw money at it, but is the path of least resistance truly the best route?  Maybe this year, we can try to remember that the gift of Christmas really is in being present.  Be well xxx