Groundwork *or* 5 Tips for Making Exercise a Habit

15 11 2010

Current Habit: Meditation/Yoga Day 1

Sophie: Well, we finally finished our three weeks of working out, and we survived!  I can tell a few differences in my body – my abs are tighter, calf muscles are a little more defined, and my endurance has definitely improved.  On the other hand, the fat is all still there.  I know, realistically, that I can’t expect to lose much weight in 3 weeks, I guess I just didn’t realize how much work I had ahead of me.  But that’s ok!  Because I am NOT on a diet, I am making healthy, permanent lifestyle changes (Deryn, this phrase is not to be turned into a new drinking game).

Despite knowing that my the 3 weeks are up, and I don’t HAVE to exercise every day, I still have the desire to do it.  I’ve come up with a few tips for this habit to stick:

1. Figure out the routine that works for you. I’m not going to expect much more than 30 minutes a day out of myself if this is going to be a permanent habit.  Because of this, I want to use those 30 minutes as wisely as possible.  There are a TON of workouts out there: I tried lifting weights and hurt myself (unfortunately in the groin, which made for a mildly entertaining “post-rough-sex”-type walk for a few days)…I don’t want to bulk up, so I decided not to try this again. I experimented with exercise videos from Verizon OnDemand/ExerciseTV – I like these, but my attention span is apparently 10 minutes, and 3 10 minute videos do not a good workout make. I did 20 minutes of various crunches one time, but my abs weren’t at all sore the next day – not effective.  I tried a kickboxing class – very effective, and everyone there was very.very.very friendly…personally, I don’t want to have to pretend to be social when I’m sweating from every pore and just trying not to vomit.  I also attempted to pass off 30 minutes of a ‘brisk walk’ with Rufus as a workout, but I couldn’t fool myself into thinking that was legitimate.  Ultimately, it came down to running.  There’s a TV in front of the treadmill, it works every muscle in my body, and I can easily measure exactly how many calories burned.  Done.

2. Nix the unrealistic expectations – It’s basic math: One pound = 3,500 calories; One pound/week loss = burning 500 calories a day.  This can be done by a combination of cutting calories in and burning calories by exercising.  I only eat between 1,500 – 2,000 calories a day, so the cut isn’t gonna be there unless you take my alcohol away….boo.  As a good rough estimate for myself – according to my treadmill – Every 1 mile I walk/jog = 100 calories, and I can do 2 -2.5 miles in 30 minutes.   So now that we have the math down, it’s ridiculous for me, personally, to think that I could lose any more than a pound a week unless I cut out the wine and run like 10 miles a day, which I will not.  So, if I’m dedicated, I might hit my goal weight in like 4-5 months.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?

Anyways, there’s no miracle cure.  If you find one, it’s probably just a laxative in disguise (been there, done that; no.thank.you.)  It took years to put the pounds on, it’s going to take time to take them off.

(My first attempt at drawing stick figures)

3.  Prepare answers to your excuses – if you don’t want to go straight to the gym after work because you’re always hungry by 5, then bring an extra snack.  If your feet hurt, get better shoes or inserts.  If you find your workout boring, bring a book.  If you don’t like working out the way you usually do, find another activity.  If you don’t have time, figure out how you can make time.  If you’re tired, realize that you’re gonna be tired whether you workout or not, so get over it.  Don’t let the excuses take over, because all you’re doing is getting in the way of your own wants and needs.

4. Tell people about what you’re doing – Yes, this it’s nuts coming from super-private-Sophie, but if I hadn’t had Deryn and Boyfriend’s support on this, it would have been a lot harder.  Boyfriend has to understand that his demands for my time need to be adjusted.  I may be OK with disappointing myself, but I certainly don’t want to fail when people are watching.  Maybe it’s superficial, but it drives me, so oh well.

5. Figure out your motivation – Mine is two fold, and (again) partly superficial –

A. I’m poor, and I have nothing to wear.  I have a closet full of clothes that don’t fit me anymore because I put on 10 lbs, but I can’t afford to buy any new clothes.  I started thinking about getting a part-time job, and then my logical side kicked in: Seriously?  A part time job is what, like 10 hours a week?  It would take half that amount of time per week to lose the weight necessary to fit into all these badass clothes I have hanging around.  Am I that lazy?  I’d like to think not….plus I’d be cuter. It’s purely logical.

B. My Grandmother and Mother both failed to stay active throughout their lives, and lost their marbles around the age of 60.  Grandma’s completely nuts at 83, but my mother is still a fairly normal woman.  I feel like she can still turn this process around (and has a long list of excuses why she doesn’t) but at 63, she struggles to remember words and finish her sentences in a normal conversation.  I can tell that her mind is going due to lack of upkeep, and I don’t want to end up like that.  I want to be one of those 90 year-olds that can still debate the crap out of you, and exercise is what makes the difference.  (I could go off on another Brain Rules sales pitch here – as the book expands on this subject, but I’ll spare you 🙂 )

One random tip we picked up along the way: people who smell peppermint every two hours eat an average of 2,700 calories less per week.  We haven’t tried it yet, but it’s worth checking out (since we have already been experimenting with Aromatherapy).  Merry Christmas.

So there you have it, Sophie’s Guide to Starting an Exercise Program.  You’re welcome.  On to meditation…

Readers: What has worked for you that you think could be added to this list?

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Revival *or* And for you, Tin Man, a heart!

9 11 2010

Current Habit: Exercising, Day 15

Deryn: This weekend I slept at least 36 hours between Friday night and Monday morning, and I haven’t shown much life in the last week.  Even after a dye job went a bit awry, my reaction was a mere “Eh.  I’ll figure it out later.”  (I did.  I no longer have girl-who-listens-to-too-much-Seattle-rock-in-1994 hair).  To sum it up, I was apathetic.  As has been mentioned before, my tendency is to be dead inside, and that’s something this blog is helping (and hoping) to change.

Tonight, I mentioned to Sophie that I was tired of all the upkeep necessary in life.  I have a job so I have a place to live, I work out because I want to stay alive and healthy, I bathe regularly for basic hygiene and employment purposes.  And don’t even get me started on having to eat and drink water…It’s a vicious cycle.  Sophie being Sophie – always wanting to fix the problems of others if they are dumb enough to whine about them to her – smacked me in the face with a tough question: What do you want out of life?

Think about it for a second in your life.  What do you want out of your life?

No answer came to mind for me.  The only thing I could think of was coming home and watching TV.  Acknowledging that is a pathetic way to live, I started giving it some serious thought.

What do I want out of my life?  It’s a choice, after all.  For me, the answer is a resounding “Travel!”

Then all the reasons that travel isn’t possible for me came spilling out.  I don’t have the time or the money.  I have a work culture that doesn’t allow for vacation.  It’s probably human nature to talk ourselves out of our dreams.  Shooting an idea down is easier than it is to come up with solutions.  As my dad used to say, “If you come to me with a problem and no solution, then you’re just whining.  I don’t tolerate whining.”

As the conversation continued, Sophie brought up the fact that I really enjoyed making our Halloween costumes (shown in these two pictures).  For the past few weeks I’ve been especially preoccupied with sewing Halloween costumes for Sophie and myself.  She was right.  I love sewing.  It is a positive and productive outlet for my obsessive compulsive personality, plus at the end you get something pretty!  I have a bunch of patterns and material all ready to be sewn in to some adorable outfits just sitting in my closet that I’ve been collecting for the last few years.  Sophie suggested I start sewing again and actually make some of those things.  It was brilliant!  Within about 5 minutes, I went from being apathetic to getting really excited about all the new projects in store!  We went through my sewing drawer and found that I have a skirt, a pair of pants, two shirts and three pillows just waiting to be sewn.  I have all the material, patterns and time, only needing to purchase a few zippers and some thread.  All my excuses have been effectively tossed out the window.  Now I can’t wait to come home tomorrow night and start my new projects.  That’s probably a much better thing to do than hurrying home to get in my pajamas and watch Parenthood.  That’s what a DVR is for!

More than anything, I think I’m learning that it’s going to take more than just creating some new habits to get away from my old apathetic ways.  I can make myself happy and not let the excuses prevail.  Self-reflection is an important part of the journey for me.  To really change who I am is also going to involve regularly taking stock of my emotional state and coming up with new habits so the old ones don’t resurface.  To start with, do I have an emotional state?  Maybe I’m starting from the remedial class on how to feel like other humans feel, but with regular self-reflection I may just graduate and become a full fledged human, heart and all!





Results *or* Did you know there are two 6 o’clocks every day?

13 10 2010

Current Habit: Waking Up Early, Day 10

Deryn: Waking up early has been much easier for me than reading every day.   The first two days, admittedly, I had a few violent thoughts towards Sophie at about 6:08 am when I was awake on the couch rather than happily snuggled and asleep in my bed.  By day three it wasn’t as bad, and now I’m pretty well used to it.   I even find myself waking up a few minutes before my alarm actually goes off.   I’ve had a bad cold this week and even had to stay home from work two days.  I was still up and out of bed by 6 am.  I forced myself to stay awake until 10 am before taking a nap.  I was so proud when Sophie came home and I told her all about my feat of staying awake.  That was when she reminded me that we agreed naps are allowed 3 hours after waking, meaning 10 am on weekends or 9 am on weekdays.  Math has never been my strength.

The main thing I’ve found from waking up a little earlier is that I’m actually more productive at work.  I don’t have to spend my first hour pretending to work because I’m not awake enough to actually read my emails.  I don’t cringe every time the phone rings in the morning because I’m too tired to deal with people.  Coworkers have even remarked that I seem much more peppy than I used to.

I never knew I was a morning person!





Positive Changes *or* Sophie Gets Deep

10 10 2010

Current Habit: Waking Up Early, Day 7

Sophie: So this whole habit-creating idea is having a ton of positive effects on my life and relationship that I did not expect, and it’s kind of awesome.  Apparently, if you take a little time to figure out what you want out of life, then map out a game plan to accomplish that, it makes you happier!  I know, right?  It’s like some crazy novel idea…or not.  But I, and apparently a ton of other people, have forgotten this simple concept.  I think this happens easily with the instant-gratification mindset of a lot of Americans today…along with busier lifestyles, demanding jobs, families, etc.  Or maybe people just aren’t teaching their kids the value of a little focus and determination anymore.  But to be honest, it didn’t take a whole lot of effort to make some changes.  It was thinking about making the changes that was so overwhelming.  Really, I just sat down one day and thought “Who do I wish I could be?” wrote it down, wrote down some things I needed to do to become that ideal person, and jumped right in!

Focusing on this blog is the first concerted effort I have made to really improve my life since graduating college 5 years ago.  My career hasn’t really gone anywhere, I haven’t returned to grad school, and I’ve been with the same boyfriend in a static relationship the whole time.  Quite frankly, I’ve been pretty unhappy and lost without school in my life – some sort of goal to always be working towards.  I’ve been aware of this void, but haven’t been able to figure out how to repair it.  When I set out to start this year long quest and associated blog, I didn’t think it was going to be the solution; it was just something to do.  Now that I’m 3.5 weeks in, I think this is the best thing that could have happened to me.  Well, it didn’t really happen TO me, I just took the initiative to start something.  Nevertheless, it’s had some fantastic effects, and I thought I would share.

First, and I may be completely off base here, but I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten smarter since we started this… maybe not Stephen Hawking smart, but I’m definitely a little more articulate, slightly more quick-witted, have a better memory, and am able to focus more easily.  This might be a result of the specific habits I chose (so far: reading, and waking up early), or it could just be a benefit of being happier in general.  Taking time out of every day to focus on myself, being able to tell Boyfriend that his ‘needs’ have to wait until I’m done with mine, and having a brighter, constantly improving future to look forward to is a natural mood booster, and it’s reinforced every day.  Being in a better mood just has a domino effect on every other aspect of life – I’m more fun to be around, nicer to Boyfriend, motivated to do things (like clean the apartment – which has bonus benefits),  and I’m a hell of a lot more social than I was before.

On top of all that, there are aspects of my relationship that have improved drastically (*wink*wink*….just kidding…kind of).  For example, Boyfriend said to me the other day that he really respects and admires my motivation to improve myself, and it makes him want to strive to be a better person too.  This is INCREDIBLE coming from him, as I’ve never known him to think about self-improvement, or even the future beyond the upcoming weekend for that matter.  This, in turn, has given us more topics of conversation – a huge plus, because after 4.5 years with someone, you pretty much run out of stuff to talk about.  Also, as I mentioned before, he wakes up at the ass crack of dawn.  He’s done this since he was a kid and can’t sleep in even when he tries.  This results in about a 4 hour gap between when he gets up and when I get up, which in turn results in him getting bored and resorting to “natural remedies” to entertain himself, which pisses me off, and gets the whole day off to a bad start.  It’s an endless cycle, that was only broken when I started waking up at 6.  Now, instead of what has been happening, we have the early morning time to cuddle, drink coffee, talk (with all our new conversation material!) and just spend some quality time together that we have never had before.  I never would have imagined that all the time we spent talking about what we can do to fix our relationship could have been spared if I had just made myself a priority for a minute.  I highly recommend trying it





Early-Rising *or* If You Try to Talk to Me This Morning I Might Slap You in the Face

5 10 2010

Sophie: So, as indicated by the new picture in our header, we have officially started a new habit today – waking up early: 6:00 a.m. during the week and 7:00 a.m. on weekends for 3 WHOLE WEEKS.  The characteristic I was thinking of when we came up with this portion of the list is “Early-Riser”, who (to me) is someone who starts their day with a bang, and accomplishes more before 9:00 a.m. than I normally do in an entire day.  Boyfriend is one of those people.  He is usually getting home from playing 9-18 holes of golf by the time I wake up in the morning.  I am not one of those people.  The characteristic I embody when waking up before 9:00 resembles more of an ogre/zombie hybrid than the productive go-getter of my imagination.  I sleep harder than anyone I have ever met, and absolutely love every bit of the sleeping process….except waking up.  I’m hoping to change that.

So last night Deryn and I were discussing our game plan for successfully waking up this morning, because we’ve tried this before and failed miserably.  Ultimately, we decided that each of us gets a squirt bottle, and if one person wakes up and the other doesn’t, she gets to go squirt the sleeper in the face with cold water to wake her up.  We both have a good sense of humor about these things, so I figured if/when it does happen, it will be pretty funny.  This really ended up working in my favor when 6:00 rolled around and I heard Deryn’s door open and close – I knew she had to be headed my way and hopped out of bed faster than ever.  6:00 on the dot, 12 minutes of snoozing, not a minute wasted, we were both up.  When I finally got through my morning routine and went to the living room, I saw what must have been the most miserable Deryn-face I’ve ever seen.  “You did this,” she sounded like she might actually hurt me.  I’m sorry, but I was laughing inside, probably because I was miserable myself.  I think Deryn may not care so much about being an early riser, but I appreciate having a buddy to suffer with.  I admit, I may have been more optimistic this morning because I don’t have to go into an office like Deryn does, and I do have the option of an afternoon nap.  But on the other hand, she normally wakes up at 7 every weekday for work anyways, while my body is accustomed to waking up no earlier than 9, ever, except on the rare morning-volunteering day.  Bottom line, it sucked for both of us.

The unfortunate thing about the first night/morning trying to wake up early is that my body did not want to go to bed early last night.  I had an awful night’s sleep, and was almost relieved when morning came.  Despite this, I was surprisingly energetic shortly after waking up – not to be confused with happy, but I was no where near as exhausted as I had anticipated.  It was still dark outside, and we ended up just watching TV while I cooked breakfast, so it really just seemed like a regular weeknight…only at the ass crack of dawn.  Anyways, I cooked breakfast, watched about 2 hours of TV (Deryn left for work after the first hour) made my bed, washed the dishes, cleaned up a little, got dressed and went to ‘work’ early for the first time ever.  An HOUR early.  Boyfriend didn’t seem to notice (I work for him), but this is kind of a big deal in my world.  I love sleep; I have been known to sacrifice a lot of things in the morning in order to gain another 5 minutes in bed – I’ve skipped breakfast, fought with Rufus (my dog),  traded a shower for a “white-trash” bath (which is really just a wet washcloth), canceled plans, worn hats to cover dirty hair, I’m perpetually late, and I regularly hold my pee longer than I’m sure is medically recommended.  So I was proud of this morning’s feat and running on my high of success for about 3 – 4 hours before my body said “Wait a minute, what the f*** did you to me?”

At this point, Boyfriend really started getting on my nerves.  All of a sudden the combination of a bad night’s sleep+Sophie’s excessive sleep needs+Sophie waking up at an ungodly hour morphed into someone you do not want to meet.  To save myself (and him) from an undeserved (ok, maybe a little deserved) blow-up, I just decided to get through my day in silence, and get home as soon as possible.  So I’ve bitterly finished the day, and can’t way to go to sleep by 9:00 tonight.  Hopefully, I’ll get a good full night’s sleep and will be able to function semi-appropriately tomorrow…provided I don’t wake up to a water squirt to the face…





Positive Decisions *or* The Pile of Books I was Destined to Find

3 10 2010

Current Habit: Reading, Day 21/9

Deryn: Thursday after work my mood was, in a word, crabby.   True or not, I felt like the only places I went were home and work.  Leave home, go to work, go home, go back to work, go back home… The routine was getting to me.  When Sophie came home, I suggested maybe going to the bar that is two blocks from home where a beer costs $1.75.  Sophie shut that idea down for its obvious lack of nutrition.  I then suggested we go to Half Price Books, or as some people who live in this apartment call it, Heaven.   I had a list of books that I was excited to read and had conveniently just gotten paid.  Off we went!

Sophie has mentioned previously that she has a book addiction.  She buys 5-10 at a time on most trips to Half Price Books.  I’m more of a 1-2 book at a time kind of gal.  Too many books purchased at the same time means that I have to spend a good 20 minutes making a pro and con list for what order I will be reading each of the new books.  This particular trip didn’t start out well for me.  None of the books on my list were on the shelves and nothing else was really grabbing me.  Sophie, however, had 4 books in her arms within 15 minutes of getting there.  I was bummed.  Happy for her, but bummed for me.  It is rare that I actually have any room in my budget for the luxury of buying myself a book (even at half price).  The idea that I was in the store with money in my account and no books was maddening.  I scoured the shelves and picked up books that I really felt no interest in.  Then I’d  put them back, all the while feeling a little guilty for having lead them on in the first place.  I knew that book and I would never be going home together.  This just made my mood even worse.  I’m not typically a grumpy, negative or angry person, but I was all of those things in that moment.

And then it happened.  Sophie was ready to check out so we had come back to the front of the store.  I had one book.  It looked promising, but I wasn’t super excited about it.  With a sigh, I wandered over to a cart with a few piles of books.  There was a woman already going through them who looked uncannily like my mom.  In the pile closest to me were a few books I recognized: Love in the Time of Cholera (one of my favorites), The Great Gatsby (a favorite of mine), Pride and Prejudice (a book I try to read once a year because I love it so much), A Confederacy of Dunces (yes, another favorite).  If I were a cartoon character, a light bulb would have appeared above my head with a little chiming sound.  I would pick a book from this pile.  I started to pick the books up one by one until my arms were loaded down.  I started to add books to Sophie’s already precarious pile of books.  I could barely contain my excitement.   There were so many books in that pile that I had either heard of and been interested in or had thought about getting before but had forgotten about.  It was all just so thrilling!  We replaced the books to the pile after a very stressed, but polite, employee informed us that he had organized the books in to piles already and was worried about them getting messed up.  I cheerfully replied that we had kept the books true to their piles and gleefully skipped to an empty aisle to make my final decisions.

The moral of the story is that  I could have gone to the bar, drank some beer, ate some fattening food and gone home.  Instead, reading every day meant that I needed some new books, sending me to Half Price Books which then completely turned my mood around for the rest of the night.  Success!

These are the books that I adopted that fateful evening:

There’s a (Slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble by Laurie Notaro

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

Sunday Jews by Hortense Calisher





Book Review: Brain Rules

29 09 2010

Sophie:

So while establishing our first habit (reading every day) it has become very apparent that we’re going to be getting through quite a few books!  We’re both already half-way through our third.  So, as long as we’re reading them, we may as well let you know how they are.

Brain Rules by John Medina.

Brain Rules is an in depth look at the basic rules of optimal brain function.  It was written by a molecular biologist who describes one Brain Rule (what scientists know for sure about how our brains work) per chapter, and then offers ideas as to how we could potentially incorporate these ideas in our lives.

It’s basically my new bible, in a nutshell.  Poor Deryn and Boyfriend can’t get through a conversation without me spouting out “That’s just like this part in Brain Rules….”  But seriously, I love this book.  It’s so useful in every day life; I feel like everyone just NEEDS to know this stuff.  ESPECIALLY parents (even though I’m not one…); it just seems that it would be hard to raise a child without knowing the basic biology behind brain development, learning and wiring.  In fact, I just saw that this author is about to come out with a new book called Brain Rules for Baby in October.  I can honestly say that I have been able to apply every chapter of this book to my life.

I already included a few tidbits of info from Brain Rules in the “Science Behind Habitual Me” page, but there’s one thing in particular that I definitely want to apply to our little “adventure” over the next year – Scent.  Apparently, the more senses you stimulate, the more ‘ingrained’ a memory/experience will be in your wiring, because the information is stored in more areas of your brain.  Smell is the strongest sense to stimulate (other than vision, of course) because it is processed near areas of the brain responsible for creating emotions as well as memories.  That’s why a very specific memory may pop into your head when you are exposed to a certain scent.  So I’m thinking (and have actually already started this) that we need to have certain scents to associate with each habit that we’re doing.  So I took a trip to Wal-Mart to get a little high on essential oils.  After spending about an hour smelling every single scent they had at least 4 times each, I found a cool diffuser for $3 and settled on a citrus smell for waking up early, a rosemary-mint for meditation and yoga, cherry-blossom-something-or-other for reading and a cinnamon-apple just because it smells like Christmas :).  In theory, whipping out a certain scent on days I’m not very motivated may make these habits come a little easier. I’ll let you know how that works out, but in the meantime, you should read this book!








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