Private Tutoring *or* I Made Out With a Monk Last Night

22 11 2010

Current Habit: Meditation/Yoga Day 4

Deryn: Well technically, a former monk, but we’ll get to that in a minute.  We have officially started practicing yoga and/or meditating every day. I’ve really enjoyed the reaction my body has to yoga in the past (sleeping well, feeling blood flow throughout my body, the loosening of my muscles) and was looking forward to practicing both yoga and meditation more often. In other news, I have recently started dating someone that I’m actually really excited about.  As Sophie so aptly put it, “Yay! You’re not dead inside!” When Zen* asked what I was up to the first night of this habit, I told him that I was trying to meditate for 30 minutes – the longest amount of time I’ve ever attempted to meditate. He texted back, “Did I tell you I used to be a monk?” My first thought: Oh god. I recommended a monk read The Tao of Pooh! My second thought: Score! Private tutor! We began the first of many conversations about his 3 weeks as a monk (it’s a coming-of-age, cultural thing).

Last night, Zen and I meditated together and the only word to describe it was amazing. I have never experienced calm like I did while following his directions on breathing and releasing my thoughts. Previously, I thought that meditation had come naturally for me. It hasn’t been too much of a struggle to breathe slowly and stop thinking, but now I know that I hadn’t been meditating correctly. I learned last night that meditation isn’t about turning your brain off – it’s allowing your brain the quiet it needs to listen to your body. The way I understand it is that your brain only has so much bandwidth, kind of like an internet connection. When there are so many thoughts and sensations happening at once, your brain doesn’t have the space it needs to focus on what’s happening internally.  As a white girl from Texas, I never would have thought that I’d be spending time on a date meditating with a former monk! 

The combination of learning to meditate while slowly but surely coming alive inside again feels amazing. Today I woke up refreshed after very little sleep, relaxed during a very stressful week, and ready to take on what I know will be a very long day.  I think meditation has been the first habit that feels like the results are almost instant.  I know there is still a lot to learn, but it’s really exciting to be seeing and feeling the results!



*No, his name is not really Zen.





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?





Grief *or* Pushing Through When Life Gets Hard

4 11 2010

Current Habit: Exercising, Day 11

Sophie: I have found that there is an excuse for everything.  The most common reason that our good-intentions aren’t enough is that life got in the way somehow.  “I got sick”, “I was really busy at work”, “I’m just too tired” blah blah blah.  I even, for the first time in my life, established a pretty solid workout routine last summer: Do whatever I want to workout, but my minimum was to run/walk 2 miles every other day.  And it worked!  For 6 weeks….except that week my best friend came in town to visit….AND that week I got sick…which ended it altogether, because I didn’t really “get better” for another 2 weeks (you know, the residual sick).

The point is, there is always something, and the excuses are only going to hurt me.  This is what I had to repeat when, on Day 1 of exercising, I found out that Boyfriend’s grandmother was dying (we really only had about one week’s notice that she was even sick – stage 4 breast cancer).  I’ve been with Boyfriend for 4 1/2 years…his family is pretty much my family, and I love his grandmother very much.  It hit me really hard.  On top of that, this meant we would be dropping everything to make the 4 hour drive to her hospice the next day, and spent who-knows-how-many days out of town.  Of course, at this time, I’m overcome with grief.  I’m also jumping into my game plan – “I’ll work out before we leave tomorrow, bring workout clothes and weights with me for Wednesday’s workout, and we’ll probably be back by Thursday.”  Admittedly, if it weren’t for the blog, that thought would have been “So much for working out, I’ll start it next week.”  But that’s the point – making room for it, because life is ALWAYS happening, you just have to plan ahead to enable follow-through with this stuff.

So I worked out Tuesday morning, we drove to the hospice, and we spent Tuesday evening and Wednesday with her.  She passed away at 3:00 Wednesday afternoon.  We drove back to Dallas shortly after.  Correction – I drove.  I held it together through driving 4 hours, dropping Boyfriend off at home, going to my parent’s house to pick up Rufus, driving BACK to Boyfriend’s place, and suffering through a 30 minute workout that seemed like torture, before I finally got to sit down and grieve at 9:30 on Wednesday night.  I haven’t experienced the death of a loved one as an adult, so it was exceptionally hard on me.  It’s been over a week and I’m still depressed…and (of course) now I’m sick too.  I could just make that another excuse, or I can be reminded why we are doing this: To live the best life possible, and be the person I want to be.  Losing a loved one only reinforces that.  At the end of the day, I would rather have a list of accomplishments than one of excuses.  So I’d like to end this post with a toast to Grandma:

To the woman who:

  • Graduated from clown school at age 63
  • Took her grandson to Cancun at 64 (We have a wonderful picture of her at Senor Frogs)
  • Went skydiving at 69
  • Went to the Glenn Beck rally in D.C. at 73, just 2 months before passing away
  • Never cared what anyone else thought about her
  • Went dancing every week until she went into the hospital
  • Was surrounded by a ton of loved ones until the very last day

You lived an inspirational life, and I am lucky to have known you.

Cheers.





Exhaustion *or* 5 Things That Really Get on My Nerves When I’m Short on Sleep

23 10 2010

Current Habit:  Waking Up Early, Day 18

Sophie: So I have learned that I really enjoy waking up earlier – the morning is a whole new time of day that I never knew existed.  It’s peaceful, quiet, relaxing, and dark, and my days are finally not starting off with the immediate rush of being late.   I have also learned that it’s hard to go to bed early enough to get 9 hours of sleep when waking up at 6 A.M.  I’ve ALSO learned that when I don’t get 9 hours of sleep, I get a little cranky, and some things just really get on my nerves…Here are the top 5:

1.    Wal-Mart – I angrily swore off Wal-Mart 3 times in the first week of my waking up early.  Why 3 times, you say?  Because I was so tired, that I repeatedly forgot I had sworn it off until I went back and was unnerved all over again.  Seriously, and I swear by this mantra – Wal-Mart never fails to disappoint.  Whether one cart wheel is pulling severely to the right, some woman’s 5 screaming kids are running around unattended, they’ve discontinued my organic whole grain waffles to make room for the 18th variety of Eggo, some mysterious sticky substance has found its way onto my hands, or 15 employees are standing around doing nothing while I wait in line for 30 minutes, it’s ALWAYS a miserable experience.  Target, I’m all yours.

2.    Poor Timing of Stop Lights – There are companies out there that you can pay to take care of this for you, Dallas.  I should never hit all 10 stop lights on my way to work. Ever. You fail.

3.   Kids in My Apartment Complex – Dear Parents: Yes, I know my apartment is uber-awesome with its view of the pool and enormous grass area just outside the patio.  This does not mean you should come hang out there with your screaming kids every single day.  How about I come sit outside your window and sound a Vuvuzela at 7 A.M. on Saturday?  Because that’s how annoying I find your kids.  You’re lucky I’m already awake, or your kid would be learning some new words.  And just because they’re outside does not make it ok for them to scream.  If they were being bludgeoned to death, I wouldn’t know, because it sounds exactly the same as your Saturday morning Frisbee game.  ITS.NOT.OK.  If you don’t go away, I will “forget” to pick up my dog poop for the next few days.  Good luck with that.

4.    Boyfriend’s short attention span – And I’m not exaggerating, he can barely let me finish my sentence before he’s spurting out his next, completely unrelated thought without even attempting to engage in the conversation that I was having.  I officially have no more patience for this and have begun calling him out on it.  This is probably good for our communication, but in the meantime I’m just annoyed.

5.    Stupid People – I know, they’re everywhere, they’re taking over, and we really just need to come to terms with this inevitability.  But there’s still a part of me that wishes my favorite TV shows weren’t repeatedly canceled because they’re too “high brow” for the majority, and Jennifer Aniston’s dates weren’t considered front-page news.  But alas, it appeals to the masses, and the masses are stupid.

End Rant.





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





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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