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Eat Your Cake and Have It!

For many years, I was one of “those people.”  You know the type.  The ones who never taste a bite of birthday cake, because it isn’t Paleo.  Your colleagues who always pass on team lunches, because they are doing Whole 30.  The ones who think their discipline might inspire others, but in fact it makes them uncomfortable.  They sit on the sidelines, sometimes smug, always separate.

In fact, much of my professional life has been spent on these sidelines.  By the time I passed my final accountancy exams, I was already marching towards disordered eating.  I was a sad, lonely girl.  Desperately seeking connection.  Wanting so badly to belong to a tribe.  To be a part of something.  Along came “clean eating.”  Without giving much, if any thought to the ramifications, I decided that this was what I was going to be doing now.

Out the window went refined grains, sugar, most dairy and even sweetcorn.  Not only did this radically impact my diet, it also changed the way I identified myself.  I was no longer someone who ate things like cake and cookies.  I was no longer willing to be spontaneous with food.  I couldn’t afford to wing it.  Everything needed to be tightly controlled.

Before long, I had fallen into the common trap of all or nothing mentality.  I was either eating clean and doing Paleo, or I wasn’t.  There was no room for maneuver.  Absolutely zero flexibility.   It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that this did nothing for my social life.  Instead of finding connection and camaraderie with my growing team, my lifestyle choices only served to isolate me.

I stopped taking coffee breaks, and avoided eating lunch with my peers.  Partly because I was under insane pressure in work, but also because it was tough pretending to be satisfied with yet another salad.  Even when, on the rare occasion I did join the lads for a Friday trip to Subway, I dared not deviate from the plan.  For anyone who might be wondering, eating a salad in Subway, while the guys are tucking in to foot long subs, tastes like misery and despair.

I am not for a second saying that there isn’t merit in following eating plans.  But I have learned the painful lesson that it is important to have at least a degree of flexibility.  If for no other reason than to preserve your sanity.  If 80-90% of your eating is supporting your goals, you can afford to have fun with the remaining portion.

Last year I went through so much upheaval that I was forced to reevaluate everything.  It seemed like nothing was going right.  As hard as I worked to keep everything tightly controlled, it still eventually went to pot.  As difficult as 2018 was, and loathe as I would be to repeat it, it taught me a lot.  Perhaps most importantly, it taught me that even I cannot control everything.

There will be times when work is a nightmare and you are at your desk 16 hours a day.  You will have times when there is conflict in your family and just keeping yourself upright is all you can do.  There will be illnesses and injuries and all sorts of other stuff that will prevent you from getting to the gym.  No amount of neurosis can control for this.  We can however, control how we deal with it.

We have the choice to allow these occasions to derail us.  Or instead we can think of them as part of the process and move on.  Progress is never linear.  If you read the autobiography of anyone you consider to be successful, I can almost guarantee that it wasn’t all plain sailing.  Dealing with adversity and learning to make allowances is what strengthens us.  I am desperately trying to resist using a cliche here.  But it is true, flexible people can bend and sway and are resilient.  Rigid people crack under pressure.

When I came back to work last year after a thankfully brief lay off, I made a decision.  I was going to eat cake.  You see, I now manage a team of ten people.  As important as it is to provide them with supervision and training I feel it is far more crucial that my team feel supported and empowered by me.  I never want my guys to doubt that I am in their corner.  How can I hope to do that, if I won’t even celebrate their milestones with them?

When the birthdays come along, I am the one singing the loudest (and most tunelessly.)  I am first in line to dish out hugs and accept cake.  It seems crazy to me now that I ever didn’t do this.  Since I started here in December, there have been maybe 5 or 6 birthdays.  That’s 6 pieces of cake, or as my brain likes to work it out, less than 2,000 calories.  Over the course of a year or a career, I promise this will make exactly no impact on my overall health goals.

It will, however, allow me precious moments of connectedness with my team.  It will give me an opportunity to show the people reporting to me that I am a human person.  I still don’t eat cake every time I see it.  I don’t ingratiate myself into other teams birthday rituals either.  However, I am beginning to understand that loosening up a tiny bit, will harm me very little, if at all.  Furthermore, it has the power to enrich my life.  Plus, as it turns, I actually really like cake.

For 37 years I was an all or nothing girl.  Like any muscle that hasn’t been stretched in a while, flexibility is hard won.  I am still learning to be less rigid and have a long way to go.  I do know one thing for certain, I don’t want to spend another moment on the sidelines of life.  Happy birthday and be well xxx

 

 

Articles

Finding My Personal Legend

Write Right Now?

They say there’s a book inside everyone.  What they don’t comment on, however, is whether the book is any good or not.  Having spent the last number of years dabbling in blogging, with some degree of success, I decided to try writing fiction.

Short stories, I thought, would be a good place to begin.  Then when I had enough of them written, I could publish them as a book.  Super.  There was only one problem.  It turns out I am not terribly good at writing fiction.

I have made a couple of attempts, and so far the results have been fair to middling at best.  It is reminding me of the time when I first wanted to try to get fit.  I decided to try to attempt running.  Assuming that it would come naturally.  I had only made it about 50 meters, when I realised my folly.  With little choice, I swallowed my shame and returned home and back to the drawing board.

Writing, is proving to track a similar course.  I was so sure it would come easily to me.  That in a matter of months I would be on the best sellers list!  Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but you catch my drift.

Each story I have written as either been terribly generic or more auto-biographical than a short story should be.  I am beginning to wonder if I lack imagination, or creativity, or both.  Maybe it just isn’t for me?

Throughout the last few months, there has been no shortage of uncertainty in my life.  Writing, I felt, was the one thing I could rely on.  It was the one are in my life with plenty of scope.  The possibilities were endless and there was no shortage of potential.  Could I have been misguided?

The Hidden Legend

I have been listening to The Alchemist on audio book.  It is read by Jeremy Irons and his dulcet tones are so incredibly soothing.  The book itself is gorgeous.  It is a real work of art.  In it, Paulo Coelho, talks about your “personal legend.”  He counsels that when you really want something, the whole universe conspires to make it happen for you.  It is a wonderfully powerful message, but every time he repeats it, I want to scream “but what if I don’t know what I want?”  “What if I never find my personal legend.”

Surely, at the age of 37. I should have some idea of what I want to be when I grow up?  I have such envy for people I meet who have a clear purpose.  Those among us who know precisely what path they should be on.  Their personal legend might be leading them towards a certain career, a particular sporting ambition or even parenthood.  The destination is not important.  It is the sense of purpose that I crave.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up every morning knowing what you would ultimately like to achieve.  How liberating it must be not having to think about it.  Not to spend sleepless nights worrying if you are doing it right.

Or could it be that this really is all there is?  Perhaps my destiny is playing out exactly as it ought to.  With a career in accountancy and a few entertaining, if ultimately fruitless, hobbies.  Is it “normal” to experience such crises of purpose?  Is it tied in to the onset of middle age?

The Next Thing Next…

For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the “next thing.”  Always seeking out the next opportunity, the shiny new challenge.  Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me to stop.  To sit quietly.  To be still.  To allow the noise and the chaos to fall away, so that the answer might reveal itself.

It’s a strange dichotomy to be happy, yet unfulfilled.  It is something I have had a hard time reconciling myself to.  I have a good job, a loving husband, an amazing family and great friends.  Financial security appears to be within touching distance.  I have been blessed with good health and am privileged to have been born a white woman in a western country.  How dare I want more?  Who am I to seek my personal legend?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has come up several times during the course of my academic career.  I understand that is the self-actualisation need which remains unfulfilled.  I am aware that this can only present itself in the absence of all other need and as such I am grateful for it.  It is the very definition of a first world problem.

In The Achelmist, we meet a crystal merchant, who has an unfulfilled duty to make the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Although he has the money and the opportunity to go, he does not.  Understanding that should he tick that off his bucket list, he would have no reason to keep on living.  Perhaps it is that same phenomenon that keeps so many of us from achieving our ultimate goals.  (Those of us who are lucky enough to have identified them.)  How do we stay motivated to get out of bed, when there is no next thing?

As for me, I am not quite ready to give up on the idea of writing.  I am toying with the idea of taking a creative writing course, as soon as my schedule opens up a bit.  Hopefully in the second half of the year.  Until then, I will keep my eyes and my heart open.  Watching for omens and waiting for the king to direct me towards my treasure.  Be well xxx

 

 

Articles

When Nothing Goes Right, Go Lift!

Last week was one of the silliest, messiest weeks that I have had in a while.  There were no major catastrophies.  Rather a domino effect of minor irritations that all added up to a fairly “off plan” week.

The irony is that just the week before I had been busy congratulating myself on how I had it all going on.  My training plan was coming together.  My nutrition was on point.   Like it says on my pj’s I felt like the Queen of Everything!  Nothing could knock me off track.  Yeah, right!

Things started to go awry on Monday, when a half day from work due to a plumbling problem, meant I couldn’t get to the gym.  Tuesday and Wednesday I wasn’t feeling my best so no gym again.  I hadn’t planned on training Thursday anyway because I had an appointment with my therapist, which was then cancelled last minute.  By this time I was firmly in the “are you kidding me right now?” zone.

Friday eventually rolled around.  I was having the whole will I or won’t I debate with myself when it came time to head to the gym.  Rationalising that there was probably no point in going on a Friday when the rest of the week had been so bad.  Surely it was better to just start fresh on Monday?

Knowing that the much maligned double unders were in the workout did not serve to encourage me.  For those of you who might not know, double unders are when you are skipping and the rope passes around your body twice with each jump.  In my former iteration as a “Crossfitter” I cried many, many tears of frustration while trying to get to grips with them.  I didn’t think my new gym buddies were quite ready for that.

After a lot of back and forth, I eventually decided to go.  I was so glad that I did.  The workout was fun (by fun I mean it was really tough and made me feel like my lungs were on fire) and there was a super atmosphere in the gym.  Everyone seemed to have that Friday feeling and their energy was infectious.  I really enjoyed the session and I even managed to get a few double unders and there were no tears.

By the time I left the gym I had an entirely different prespective on my week.  I felt like it had ended on a positive note and that at least something good had come out of it.  I am not going to say that a workout will always do this for you.  However, if we are in a negative mindset, as I was, sitting in it is not going to help.  Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Good Vibes Only?

There’s so much talk about “positivity” and “good vibes” around these days.  To be honest, I don’t buy into it.  Nobody can go around being ridiculously happy all the time.  Bad days and bad weeks happen.  It is all part of a whole and authentic human experience.  My point is that in each bad day or crappy week, it is still possible to pick out a thing or two which was good.  Or at least better than the rest of it.

When I look back on last week, I still chalk it up as not being the best I have ever had.  Not every week can be the best after all.  But at least when I look back now, I can be happy about my Friday workout, and remember how energised I felt leaving the gym.  If I had been determined to write the week off, I would have deprived myself of that.

Perhaps more importantly for me from a mindset point of view is that I stopped the rot last week.  I am not facing into the new week with all of the carried forward negativity.  I can instead say to myself that yes, the Queen of Everything’s crown was a little crooked at the start of the week, but it was back in place before the weekend.  The gym bag is packed, the meals are prepped and I am ready to rock it.

So, if your Monday hasn’t been going according to plan, don’t worry.  Tomorrow has every chance of being a better day.  In the mean time, try to pick out something you can be happy about.  Even if it is just that you managed not to spill coffee on your white shirt.  Life is not all unicorns and rainbows, and that’s okay.  Be well xxx

 

Articles

Mining for Motivation

Motivation – The force which compels us to take action.  So often, we know what we want to do, but we feel we lack the motivation to get it done.  My clients will routinely tell me they don’t feel motivated or wish they had more motivation.  Here’s the thing, while motivation can be crucial to get you started with a new habit or behaviour, it is extremely limited.

Every morning we wake up with a certain amount of motivation.  Imagine, for the sake of argument, that your motivation score when you wake up on Monday morning is 100.  You use a few points getting up on the first ring of the alarm clock, instead of allowing it to snooze.  A couple more go towards leaving the wonderfully warm shower, although you would love to linger.  A healthy breakfast might set you back another few.  You get to the office and click straight into you Excel spreadsheet instead of social media.  Your morning might be off to a great start, but that motivation bank will be dwindling!

As the day goes on, you are faced with more and more decisions.  These gradually erode your motivation.  So, you can see how sometimes making it to that after hours spin class can seem a bridge too far.  Or, how clicking into that Just Eat app can seem a more appealing prospect than the fresh meat and veggies in the fridge!

In order for action happen three things need to be in place.

Intention:

You have to make the decision “I am going to go to the gym in the morning.”  This is a crucial first step and often where what we think of as motivation comes in.  This intention usually comes about after a Eureka moment.  When you see things clearly for the first time.  It could be that you ran upstairs after you kids and spent 10 minutes on the landing panting afterwards.  These moments of clarity can be painful when they occur.

For me, it was coming out of the shower and seeing my jeans laid out on the bed.  Until that moment I really didn’t realise how much weight I had put on.  It was like a slap and it jolted me into taking action.

Means:  

Okay great, you’re off to the gym in the morning.  But what gym?  Are you a member?  Do they take walk ins?  Do you need to be assessed by a trainer before they will let you workout?

In order for you to kick start your new habit the means have to be in place.  This will most likely mean ironing out the logistics and putting some systems in place.

Ability:  

I can be the most motivated person in the world, but if I don’t know how to swim, I won’t get across the English channel.  Don’t set yourself up to fail.  Nothing is more likely to drain your motivation than unrealistic expectations.  You know the “I’m going to lose 50lbs by next month” ones?

Once these three things are in place you are all set to start your new habit.  However, that’s not the end of the story.  Even when you have your new routine in place, there will still be little friction points, that will make you not want to do it.  Minor irritations, sometimes extremely minor, that can make your new activity seem like too much hard work.

Here is an example.  When I was getting ready to start teaching Zumba, I needed to practice a lot.  I still do.  I was in the habit of getting changed into comfy clothes, bra off, when I got home from work.  After dinner and housework, I would have a window of time when I should really be practicing.  But in order to start, I would have to go upstairs and put a sports bra on.

I knew I needed to work on my routines.   The deadline was fast approaching.  To be honest, I enjoyed it anyway.  However, the effort involved in getting undressed and dressed again, was a huge barrier, and some nights that barrier did not get crossed.  Eventually I figured this out and when I was changing after work, I just put the sports bra on!

If you find yourself in a situation where you are avoiding something that you actually want to be doing, try to figure out what it is about it that’s a pain in the ass.  I have a friend that I used to train with.  She loved the gym, but she absolutely hated packing her bag the night before.  To get around this she would pack a bag over the weekend with all the gym clothes she would need for the whole week.  Whatever that sticking point is for you, find it and destroy it.  Fighting against it is like walking around with a stone in your shoe.

Another way to save those motivation points is to automate as much as possible.  When I was arguably at my fittest, I trained every night after work.  I never had to think about whether I wanted to go or not, I just went.  It was my routine.  If you have decided to make Tuesday the morning you go swimming before work, don’t allow yourself to think about it!  There will always be a million reasons not to go, if you give yourself the opportunity to come up with them.

After a while your new habit becomes a part of how you identify yourself.  When I was training every evening, other people in the gym would say things like “wow, you’re here all the time.” I got a huge kick out of that.  I liked identifying as a fit person, as someone who never missed a session.  I found that in itself to be very motivational.

In fact, studies have shown that when people give up smoking those who say “I am not a smoker” when offered a cigarette, have a much higher success rate than those to say “I am trying to quit.”  This is because they no longer identify themselves as smokers.

Lastly, try to front load your rewards.  The trouble with adopting new health and fitness habits is that often it can take weeks or even months for the fruits of our hard work to show.  As well as this, these habits can often feel unpleasant at the start.  If you are watching what you eat, you might have cravings.  If you have started a new fitness regime, you could experience muscle soreness.  Try to come up with ways to reward yourself as early and as often as possible.

Personally, I love yoga.  Taking a bikram class used to be my reward after a tough week in the gym.  Maybe you might allow yourself a nice, long bubble bath or to binge watch your favourite show at the weekend.  Longer term goals and adherence deserve better rewards.  Maybe after a month of no missed workouts, you can treat yourself to those new bottoms you have had your eye on.  It doesn’t matter what the reward is, as long as you find it motivational.  One caveat, don’t reward yourself with food, you are not a dog.

Be well xxx