Health, Minimalism, Philosophy

How I Became a Mockstar

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I have to be honest.  I have gone back and forth in my mind over whether I should write a post on this topic.

I am a minimalist.  Or at least I try my best to live intentionally.  For nearly a decade, I have blogged, on and off, about my efforts to keep only the things that add meaning to my life and increase my happiness and ability to contribute to the world.  I have gotten rid of many things that have not added value to my life.

I enjoyed telling people that we had no television.  Their shock and questions were absolutely hilarious, and I enjoyed answering them.

We have no microwave.  I don’t even think about that, but I have no problem mentioning it.

There have been times when I have given up meat, and I always eat a relatively low-carb diet.  I don’t feel self-conscious bringing my own salad dressing to a restaurant.

I haven’t lived in a house in nearly 6 years.  I have given up Facebook on and off, and I even used a flip phone for awhile.

I don’t worry about being judged if I share any of these things.  In fact, I find other people’s reactions to be funny when I share these.  I don’t worry that the listener will think something is “wrong” with me, or that my choice to live simply is due to traumatic experiences.

My name is Bethany, and I am a recovering house-aholic.

So why is it so different with alcohol?

I don’t drink.  I quit drinking 16 days ago, and don’t plan on starting again anytime in the foreseeable future.

And somehow, this requires more explanation than giving up my house?

No, I am not an alcoholic.  Nor was I a “house-aholic.”  No, I didn’t hit rock bottom.  Nor did I hit rock bottom with my microwave.

I stopped drinking, because drinking does not add value to my life.

Oh, I thought it added value.  But when I took a long, hard look at it, I could see that it did not.  Here are some examples:

“Wine helps relieve stress.”

When I was at my old job, I saw my nightly wine as “portable ‘me’ time.”  I was too busy to take care of myself during the day, so I would “enjoy” a glass and unwind.

But did it really relieve stress?  It temporarily numbed my emotions, or at least made me forget about them.  But it did not solve the larger issue, that I was stressed and unhappy. And numbing the emotions only made them bubble up after I had too much wine.  I would often become “crabby” and negative.  The joy I experienced was also very limited.

In the end, learning to sit with difficult emotions and process them, and gaining the courage to change my situation, made the portable pseudo-stress relief unnecessary.  I don’t need to relieve stress.  I need to take care of myself on daily basis, sit with difficult emotions, and allow myself to process it all.  In fact, I have found that my emotions are much more stable (and I experience peace and joy much more frequently) since I have stopped drinking.  Self-care, such as eating a healthy diet, setting boundaries and staying away from alcohol, does a lot to stop the fight-or-flight response of stress.

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“Parties are no fun without alcohol.”

At first, I wanted to moderate for this reason.  Who could imagine a party without alcohol?  It would be…boring!

But then I tried it.

Yes, there were some odd looks and, “Oh, come on!  Just one shot!” type comments.  But then the music started, and I was dancing along with everyone else.  I found that I did not need a glass in my hand, to act goofy and let loose.  In fact, my mood was better, and I actually made it past midnight without falling asleep!

And then, I grabbed my keys and DROVE home!  I slept well and woke up without a hangover.  And I didn’t wonder if I had made a fool of myself the night before.  It was so much less stressful.

At my next party, I split a bottle of sparkling grape juice with Iliana, and only one person noticed that I wasn’t drinking.

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“My friends will think I’m weird.”

Remember DARE in sixth grade (in the US)?  What they didn’t tell you was that the real peer pressure would happen when you were an adult.

When I first quit drinking, I was so sure my friends would judge me.  I kind of had a reputation for loving my wine, so my change in behavior did not go unnoticed.  I was certain that my friends would decide that I was an alcoholic and had hit rock bottom.  In fact, I told them that I was laying off the booze in order to lose weight, because I thought I would be judged if I told the truth.

So one morning, I was early for yoga class, and I explained all of this to my yoga teacher.

“I hate telling people,” I told her.  “Everyone just assumes that I am an alcoholic and that I have hit rock bottom.”

My teacher just gave me a skeptical sideways look that said, “Oh, really?”

“Fine,” I said.  “Maybe nobody has actually said that, but I’m afraid that is what they are thinking!”

Of course, it is not what they were thinking.  And what they are thinking is none of my business.  If a friendship is only as strong as a commitment to booze, then it really isn’t much of a friendship.  So far, I have lost zero friends after deciding not to drink.

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“Wine won’t make me gain weight!”

I remember reading once, that wine was the most commonly tracked food on the Weight Watchers app.  And sure enough, when I first joined, I always made sure that I saved enough points for alcohol.

I tried having a half ounce of vodka in soda.  I counted one bottle of wine as three servings–12 points!  (It is actually much more than that).  I kept my meals small, so that I had room in my points budget for alcohol.  Sure, I usually ended the week with -50 weekly points, but I was losing weight.

At least I was for awhile.

Then, the wine started increasing and I stopped tracking.  Then PBJ sandwiches started happening when I was drinking.  If I woke up in the morning and the peanut butter jar was out, I knew I was in trouble!

What surprised me, when I cut out the booze, was how much I could EAT!  I’ve had full meals, snacks and treats. And I am losing weight faster than ever.  I have more energy, and my moods are much better.

Today, I went shopping and found out that I wear a single-digit size now!  Can’t beat that!

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I am not telling you not to drink.

My aim is not to be preachy.  But as minimalists, we know to question so much of what we are told by consumer culture.  Alcohol is a product too.  It is being strongly marketed toward women, especially, right now.  And it is so engrained in our culture.

Drink it or don’t.  But make sure that you are making a thoughtful decision, rather than just doing it because it is what we do.

 

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Health, Philosophy

Mental Health “Awareness” Memes: Stop the Insanity!

Hello friends.  It’s been awhile!

I’ve been doing well, just out living life and waiting to find more inspiration.  And during my time away, I rejoined Facebook!  There were many reasons for my decision, the most important being that I am in a lot of groups that communicate information through Facebook.  So I have rejoined, while seriously limiting the time I spend on the site.  It doesn’t seem to pull me in like it used to.

But there is one trend I have noticed on Facebook, that I want to talk about, because I have found that it makes me angry.  And that is mental health memes.

I have made no secret out of the fact that I have faced emotional challenges.  I’ve dealt with panic attacks, self harm, and a whole variety pack of issues.  And yet I find that the spreading of “awareness” can do more harm than good.  And the memes and popular messages have spread a view of mental illness that has led people away from recovery and healing.

Here are some reasons why I am not a fan of mental health “awareness” memes:

1. They present mental illness and emotional issues as purely physical problems.

Um, not exactly.

First off, mental illness is not always caused by a chemical deficiency.  And secondly, while psychiatric medication have worked miracles for some people, studies have shown that they are not effective in many cases.  And whether or not someone takes medication, studies have shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy, yoga, exercise, dietary changes, and other non-medical approaches can be helpful for depression and anxiety.

It is not simply a physical issue that is corrected by taking medication.

The worst example I have, of this misunderstanding, happened when I was in a very traumatic situation.  I was starting to have physical symptoms whenever I had to re-enter this situation.  I would get muscle aches, a fever, and anxiety symptoms.  Some of my acquaintenances urged me to get medication, rather than leaving the situation.  I said that I did not want to take a pill that would make me like being treated the way that I was.

When I left the situation, my symptoms disappeared.

While it is important to take emotional issues seriously, saying that depression is “like diabetes” is an oversimplification.

2.  Normal emotions get pathologized.

If you read enough memes, you will have an easy time diagnosing yourself with mental illness, whether you have one or not.  There has been so much labeling and pathologizing, that we have forgotten that every human being faces struggles.  Everyone feels sad at times.  Everyone gets anxious.

This has been harmful, because we have no tolerance for those emotions in others.  It is like the friends who told me to go on medication when I was in a disturbing situation.  The anxiety and fear I was experiencing were a very reasonable response to being in that situation.

Once I was out of the situation, I temporarily had a reaction to having been through the trauma.  My startle response was heightened significantly, and I had very low energy.  While a number of friends told me that this was PTSD or anxiety (and insisted that I get medication), my therapist had other ideas.  She said this was simply my response to having been through trauma, and that it would lessen and eventually go away once my mind was feeling safe again.  And she was correct.

While we need to be supportive of those who are legitimately facing anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses, we need to stop diagnosing (and thereby dismissing) our friends who are actually going through upsetting situations.

3.  They promote hopelessness.

The most disturbing trend in mental health memes are the ones that are intended to be funny.  They are designed to make light of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, by illustrating some of the experiences and showing the reader that they are not alone.

However, these memes (like nearly all mental health memes) always focus on the problems, rather than the solutions.  Their humor value lies on hopelessness about the situation.  Would they be as funny, if there were a chance to learn tools and recover from the depression or anxiety?

The meme pictured above wouldn’t be as funny if it mentioned that it was possible to redefine the thoughts causing the unwanted “visitor.”  It wouldn’t be as funny if there were self-help measures that made it possible to send that cat right back out the door.  It wouldn’t be funny if the visitor were only stopping by temporarily, until processing past trauma and finding resolution and acceptance caused him to stop his visits.

I used to have panic attacks.  It tooks YEARS of work for me to recover, but, in the end, I did recover.  I went from having multiple panic attacks a day, to having none.  It wasn’t easy, and it required a lot of persistance and patience.  And it was HOPE that kept me going.  Had I been convinced that it was hopeless, I would still be suffering today.

The popular thinking, that depression and anxiety are untreatable, leads a lot of people into hopelessness.  It leads people to avoid treatment and self-help measures, and it keeps people on “treatment plans” that don’t work.

Spreading awareness of the problem is only half of the equation.  It is time to start spreading awareness of the solutions as well.

4.  They discourage non-medical approaches.

While I understand that this meme is saying that you should not give unsolicited advice, it would not have gone as viral if the girl in the wheelchair had said, “Have you tried medication?”

And yet, as mentioned above, yoga has been proven–just as scientifically as medication–to be helpful with mental health issues.  Memes like this promote the same hopelessness as the meme shown above.

There are a lot of roads to recovery, and few people recover with medication alone.  Bombarding people with the message that so-called “alternative” treatments don’t work, is not promoting awareness.  It is promoting misinformation.

5.  They discourage personal responsibility and healthy boundary-setting.

A number of memes explain why people with depression and anxiety act the way they do, while saying (either explicitly or implicitly) that they are excused for acting this way.  Yes, when a person is suffering, it is hard to be kind to others.  And yes, when someone is depresssed or otherwise suffering, they may slip up and say the wrong thing.

But that doesn’t mean anyone has the green light to do that indiscriminately.

Mentally ill or not, we all say hurtful things at times.  And mentally ill or not, we all have the responsibility to apologize and make amends when we do that.

Along the same lines, a number of the memes also discourage setting any boundaries with friends who are suffering.  And yet it is okay for to set boundaries with those around us, mentally ill or not.  Just because someone has depression or anxiety, does not mean that it is okay to be on call for them 24/7.  It does not mean that it is okay for them to act abusive toward us.

If there were no possibility of recovery, things would be different.  Then having fewer boundaries would make sense.

But in my case, it was boudaries and personal responsibility that led me toward recovery.  Two very dear friends of mine pulled me aside (on separate occasions, unbeknownst to each other!) and told me that I needed to get professional help, that they were not my therapists, and that it was not acceptable for me to constantly be texting them everytime I felt panicked.

Does this sound harsh?  It would be, if there were no such thing as recovery.

But those conversations led me to my therapist, who taught me tools to work through those panicked emotions and helped me to maintain healthier friendships.  I am much closer to those two friends, now that our friendship is a two-way street, and I have learned to manage my emotions and thoughts, so that I no longer feel panicked and desperate.

6.  “I am here to listen” memes miss the mark.

There are countless memes and copied statuses about how the person is there to listen.  And yet, that person is probably not getting bombarded with texts from friends who are struggling.

Posting these memes is the easy way out.  It’s slacktivism.

Being there for people involves forming relationships.  Someone is not likely to spill their guts to someone they don’t have a relationship with.

Being there involves truly listening to those around us.  It means listening to their words and asking questions, rather than just waiting for our turn to talk.

It you want to be there for someone, start being there–in real life–right now.

7.  Suicide hotline memes are not enough.

There are a lot of suicide hotline memes and copied statuses.  And they are marginally helpful.  Calling the hotline could help someone in crisis.

But something is missing from the suicide discussion.  And that something is hope.

The solution does not lie is repeatedly calling the hotline.  It lies in finding healing.  It lies in finding recovery.

At my previous job, we had a training on “mental health first aid.”  We were asked a series of questions on suicide and similar issues, and we were supposed to walk to the front of the room if we thought the answer was “yes,” and the back of the room if we thought the answer was “no.”

One of the questions was, “If someone attempts suicide, will they continue to struggle with suicidal thoughts for the rest of their life?”

The classroom was full.  And two other people were standing with me in the back of the room.

Our culture believes that there is no recovery from suicidal thoughts.  And yet I have not struggled with them, since my attempt over 20 years ago.

And I am not the exception to the rule.  Martin Luther King Jr, Johnny Cash, Elton John, Billy Joel, and Oprah all tried to end their lives, before finding recovery and going on the accomplish amazing things.

Tragedy and hopelessness make interesting stories, but if we really want to spread awareness, we need to spread the TRUTH.  It is time to start spreading the message of recovery.

 

 

About Us, Family Fun

Day 4: Celebrate a Family Tradition

This is Day 4 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to celebrate existing family traditions and consider starting some new ones.

One Thanksgiving, when Iliana was a toddler, we ended up with no family to visit.  We had seen my parents the day before, and Rob’s parents were staying in Florida that year.  We decided to go to his family’s home on Lake Huron and have our own Thanksgiving.  We made all the traditional food and created a beautiful table.

It was very, very, very depressing.

It’s not the food that makes the holiday, it’s the people you spend it with.  It felt so empty to be going through the same motions, without the same fun we were used to having with everyone.

We thought of that Thanksgiving often when we first moved to Texas.  We realized this was a new chapter for us, and we would need to create some new holiday traditions, to keep them from becoming empty and lonely.

We spent our first Thanksgiving at a Yogi Bear Campground, and our subsequent traditions have been equally as non-traditional, at times.

Here are some Christmas traditions that our family enjoys:

Pancakes With Santa

When we lived in Michigan, there was a magical little house downtown, where you could go and visit Santa.  Ili loved the decorations, and the emphasis was on the experience, not on ordering photos.

When we moved to Texas, I could not find such a Santa House.  Our first Christmas, I took Iliana to the mall.  That was a big mistake.  After waiting in line for over an hour, she had a visit that barely lasted 2 minutes, tops.  There had to be a better way.

The next year we moved to the boat, and I became involved with a parenting group on Facebook.  This group hosted a Winterfest in November, and you could reserve a timeslot with Santa, for a price.  We did that.  It was more pricey than I would like, but it was much better than the mall.

Then, when I was driving past the Kemah Community Center, walkable from where we live, I saw an advertisement for “Pancakes With Santa.”  This was a free event, so of course I took Iliana that year.

There were elves, Santa visits with a tiny line (and free photos), photo opps with the mayor and other VIP’s, and, most importantly, Miss Kemah.

Iliana has participated in the Texas Miss Amazing pageant twice, and although she does not want to compete again next year, she always looks forward to talking shop with the reigning queens!  In fact, we refer to this event as “Pancakes with Miss Kemah.”

Advent Calendars

We love advent calendars!  When we first moved to Texas, we made Iliana a calendar that involved socks pulled through a cardboard board.  She would open a sock each day, and receive a toy or trinket.  We even drove to Michigan with this calendar, so she could continue the fun during that visit.

Nowadays, Iliana has discovered the cardboard calendars with the chocolates.  She chose her favorite design and helps herself to a candy every morning.

Additionally, for our craft tonight, we made a Christmas chain, and Iliana and I both wrote down activities for each day.

Christmas Eve

To prepare for the main event, we first make “Reindeer Feed,” with oats and glitter.  Then, before bed, we spread it on the bow, so Santa’s reindeer can find our boat.

As she is falling asleep, Iliana hears the “thud” as the sleigh lands on the boat.  Then she hears sleigh bells, fading off into the distance.

Christmas Morning!

Well, as soon as we all are up, it’s mimosa time!  This is a tradition we carried over from Rob’s family.  Iliana drinks orange juice and sparkling grape juice.

We open stockings first, then do gifts one at a time.

There may be a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, if we did not visit them Christmas eve.

Then it is time to enjoy all the snacks that we prepared the day before.  With Rob’s family, Christmas involved no meals, just a huge snack table.  We enjoy ham roll-ups, dips, rum balls (adults only!), baked brie, and other treats.  It is a day of eating, lounging, and watching movies.

Now It’s Your Turn!

What traditions do you enjoy?  What would you like to add?

 

About Us, Family Fun

Day 3: Deck the Halls and Decorate

This is Day 3 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to “deck the halls and decorate.”

Our Christmas decorating fluctuates.  There have been years where we have gone all out, and years where we have kept it simple.  We always have a tree and stockings, but the rest will vary.

I know what I did not want to do, was allow Christmas decorating to become stressful.  Rob and I both have known people who have been so particular about the decorating of their tree, and so concerned with decorating their homes perfectly, that it took the fun out of the process.

When we moved to Texas, we did not have room to bring our ornaments and Christmas decorations.  So that first year, in the apartment, we made new ornaments for our tree.  The ornaments we have now are all either hand made or acquired since we made the move nearly 6 years ago.

While boat have ample room for lights, finding room for a Christmas tree was challenging when we lived on a sailboat.  On our first boat, we removed a cushion from the settee.

On Loco Lobo, however, we have room for a full-sized tree!

Iliana still placed the star.

Rob enjoyed some coffee.

And we played the fireplace video on the TV!

We chose to forego lights this year, but we did put a wreath on the bow.  I’ve set up a decorating activity for Iliana each evening.  Last night she made snowflakes.

And, noticing that our larger tree could use some more ornaments, I had Iliana make sandpaper ornaments tonight!

We will continue making decorations in the evenings, and I still need to pick up some more stockings from the dollar store.  Otherwise, our halls are decked!

Now It’s Your Turn

How are you decking the halls this Christmas season?

Philosophy

Day 2: Celebrate Friendships

This is Day 2 of the writing prompts on Sue at Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond’s advent calendar.  Today we are to examine and celebrate friendships, and come up with small ways to connect with our friends.

While I have pared down on social engagements, friendship are still an important part of my life.  I have two friends who have moved from Michigan to Texas, many friends from my yoga class and Iliana’s special needs activities, and online friends whom I have met through blogging.

First, here are some ways that I connect with my friends:

 1.  Through Texting

While I am no longer on Facebook, I do connect with a number of friends through text.  The nature of the interactions varies from friend to friend.  I have a couple of friends where we will share random thoughts, a few days a week.  With other friends, it has been more down-to-business.  Texting is great for keeping in touch with the friends that I would like to see more, but it hasn’t been feasible in our schedule.

2.  Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!

The coffee (or wine!) date is a wonderful thing.  I could write a whole blog post on this topic.  It can be as long or as short as you want it, and there are no hurt feelings if you have to cut it short one day.  Getting together for coffee has been the backbone of most of my friendships.

There was the friend who asked me to coffee as a peace gesture, after she had set a (very necessary, in hindsight) boundary with me.

There was the friend who asked me to coffee “or something stronger” after she saw that I was having a horrible day at work.  She ended up being a strong ally last year.

There have been the coffee and lunch dates with my friend who recently moved here from Michigan, where we catch up amidst the craziness.

 3.  In the Moment Conversations

I have had more intimate conversations with friends in the parking lot after yoga class, or even while we are still in the studio.  Some of the most needed interactions seem to happen impromptu.

4.  The Marina Wine Evening

Sometimes I will be walking back from the bath house, and a neighbor will invite us over to share a glass of wine.  Usually pizza is ordered, or a cheese tray appears.  And then I go out for more wine.  Our marina friends come and go, so our interactions are always in the moment.

My Friendship Goals

So how would I like to improve my friendships in the new year?  Here are some goals that I have:

  1.  Meet up with all of my close friends at least once a month.
  2. Respond to texts within 24 hours.
  3. Do more to foster community within the marina (ie setting up a bonfire).
  4. Reconnect with my special needs parent friends.
  5. Possibly re-establish a Facebook account, being very selective with people I add as friends.

So Now It’s Your Turn

How do you plan to reconnect with your friends during and after the holidays?

Minimalism, Philosophy

25 Day Countdown to a Happy 2019

I have always loved Advent calendars!  In the past, I have collaborated with other bloggers, to write a series of posts to countdown through the holidays (our “calendar” always counted down until New Year’s).  Maybe next year, I will bring back Simplify the Season.

In the meantime, I was very excited this year to see that Sue from Sizzling Toward 60 & Beyond  is doing her own advent calendar, a “25 Day Countdown to a Happy Christmas.”  Every day she will post a writing prompt from her own advent calendar.

I do realize that I am over a week behind, but I have never been one to do things on their exact dates.  My last Christmas in Michigan, Santa came to our house on the 27th, so we would have more time to prepare.  And so it will be with my advent calendar!  I am calling mine a “Countdown to a Happy 2019,” and it will take us somewhere into January.

I will post a prompt everyday, interrupting occasionally for posts about our family and other such things.

So let us begin with Day 1…

“Re-assess to Reduce the Stress”

This prompt is about reducing committments, so that the holidays (and the rest of the year) are less stressful.  This is a practice that I have been doing continually, so I thought that I would share some of the ways that I have pared down my committments.

 1.  Working Part-Time

I have written about my choice to quit my full-time teaching job and switch to substitute teaching.  This has allowed me to spend more time with my family, spend more time on my home, and even spend more time getting ready for the holidays!  I rarely have to drive in rush hour anymore, so my stress level is significantly reduced.

2.  Working Four Days a Week

I immediately realized that working five days a week was more stressful than I wanted it to be.  I did not have the time to keep our home, and I felt like my self-care was suffering.  I realize that a four day work week is not an option for everyone, but since it is for me, why not do it?  Our budget can handle it, and we are able to be self-sufficient, now that I am receiving regular paychecks.

3.  Paring Down on Close Friendships

Over the summer, I made the difficult realization that I had grown apart from my closest friends, with whom I was spending most of my time.  It was hard and painful for us to go in our separate directions, but doing so did allow me to focus on self-care and nurturing some of my other relationships.

4.  Being Mindful about Where I Work

When I first began substitute teaching, I worked in two school districts and at a two-campus charter school.  I absolutely loved the charter school and felt very energized when I worked there.  I loved one of the school districts as well, except for one campus.

I went to that campus one time, and immediately felt a negative vibe.  It looked…tired.  And so did the staff members.  I decided to keep an open mind and set forth to teach my math classes.  My last period of the day, I had a very challenging group of students, with a ringleader who was using inappropriate language and being very disrespectful.  I knew he needed to be removed from the room, so I called the number that the office had given me for disciplinary issues.

The students watched as I called, received no answer, and left a voice mail message.  I tried calling the principal and was also directed to voice mail.  At that point, I had lost the students.  They knew there would be no follow-through with their behavior.

I mulled it over and thought, “I could learn to be successful here.”  And then I wondered why I would want to, when I have the choice to work somewhere else.  So I stopped accepting assignments at that campus.

When I started working at the other school district, I immediately noticed the tired look at many of their schools.  And again, working on those campuses was always a battle.  Even when I worked at nice schools, the drive home had road construction, and I always got home later than I wanted.  I came home in a negative mood.  Eventually, I decided to stop working in that district.

5.  I Don’t Do Everything I Want to Do

This has been the hardest one for me.  It’s become easy for me to say “no” to things I don’t want to do, but what about the things I do want to do?  There are so many opportunities for fun, especially during the holidays, but doing them all will simply become too stressful.

So I don’t meet up with my friends as much as I would like to, but when we do get together, it is very special.

Yoga is a priority for me, but I do miss class if I already have something going on that afternoon or evening.

Sometimes we decline an invitation to get together with friends, if we would rather spend a night at home.

And while I sometimes feel guilty for saying “no” to something I would like to do, I have found that my saying “no,” has allowed my friends to do the same, without worrying that I will judge them.

Now It’s Your Turn

What ways have you found, to re-assess and reduce the stress?  Are there some things you would like to say “no” to?

Health

Preparing for Those Resolutions

I am the queen of setting goals.

The higher I can aim, the better.  I remember one year, when I blogged at Journey to Ithaca, my resolutions were: eat less poison, get completely off the grid, produce no more than one grocery bag or garbage per month, put together a 12-piece wardrobe, and have my Christmas shopping done by December 1.

I did eat less poison and put together a 12-piece wardrobe.  And with the other goals, I learned a lot about goal setting.

Another case in point?  My efforts to exercise consistently and lose weight.

I tried to start exercising my senior year of high school, when I was still thin.  After a year of therapy and medication, I had successfully quit my meds and was sitting in my last therapy session.  My therapist was not stellar (in fact, I had to go to therapy as an adult to unlearn a lot of things that I learned from the professionals I worked with during that time of my life!), but she did have one nugget of advice to give me.  When I asked her what I could do to help maintain my mental health, she was adamant that I start an exercise program.

I set out to do some research, and I learned that our local community center offered a free step class for high school students.  I eagerly attended and felt comfortable amongst the teens of various shapes, sizes, and ability levels in the class.  Our instructor was a cheerful 20-something named Jodi, with a bouncy pony tail.  We all really liked her.

I went to that class for about 6 months, until I graduated.  It was a few months until I got brave enough to attend my first class as an adult.

I started at the community center, since it was familiar.  But I noticed that the adult classes lacked community.  I also noticed that my heart rate often got too high during class, so I had to use less support under my step and smaller weights.  I became very self-conscious about this.

In the brochure for the community center, was an ad for a new women’s fitness center.  I went there and immediately loved the community!

What I did not love, were the large mirrors.  I was skinny and weak.  I could noticably do less than everyone else.  I paid for 28 classes, but stopped attending before I used them all.  When I thought about going back, the center had gone out of business.

When I first got married, I visited a local health club.  They offered me a great deal and a trainer put me on a program.  However, I looked so weak compared to the teenage athletes who were also working out, that I only went there twice.

I did a couch-to-5k plan from Prevention magazine. I followed it until I was running 5 miles…Until I ran past some redneck teenagers in our neighborhood, who followed me, mocking my slow running.

It was 10 years before I tried working out again.

I have told my hit and miss yoga story here, but the short version is that I did not stick with a work-out  until I found a tight-knit, small yoga studio with a teacher who was patient enough to work with anybody.  And only then, did I notice the benefits I was gaining from yoga, to the point where I experience physical pain and noticable mental differences if I miss more than 2 classes in a week.

Diet is the same pattern.  I tried diet after diet, giving up when I “slipped up” or “fell off the wagon.”  Weight Watchers, in the end, left me with no excuses.  It was only acceptable to speak of your journey in positive terms, and it became easy for me to see how much happier I am when I am eating well.

Recently, I regained 9 pounds.  But when I finally weighed myself, I also noted that I have kept 19 pounds off.  It’s not even a matter of the glass being half full, versus half empty.

So I am getting back on track.

So are you planning on making any New Year’s Resolutions?  If you are, here are some lessons I have learned from my experience in setting (and achieving!) goals:

 1.  When (not if) you “slip up,” first look at the reasons for your “lack of motivation.”

Why are you not motivated to stick with your changes?  Is there a good reason?  Before you judge or muscle your way through, look at your reasons for quitting.  I quit the step classes because I was self-conscious and needed a close-knit community without mirrors.  I quit the yoga classes at the gyms, because I did not feel like I belonged.  Once I found an exercise program that met my needs, motivation was no longer an issue.

2.  Look at your reasons “why.”

After you look at your reasons for slipping up, look at your reasons for making the changes.  Are you doing it just because someone told you to do it, or you think it is what you are supposed to do?  Is this what you really want?

3.  Try not to compare.

We are all different, and everyone struggles with something.  If you are struggling with making a positive change, then the thing you are trying to change is not easy for you.  So don’t compare yourself to the people who have it easy!  Close your eyes, and make your best the only thing that you need!

4.  Look at the big picture.

Slip-ups are a part of making changes.  Growth is not a straight line, but it is a general trend.  I regained 9 pounds, but I have still kept 19 off.  Focus on the 19, not the 9.  You are going to fall on and off the wagon.  That is life.

5.  Find supportive friends.

When you are frustrated, don’t talk to just anybody.  Some friends will help you focus on the positive, and others will discourage you further.  Learn to tell the difference.

What positive changes are you working on in the upcoming new year?  What strategies have you found to be helpful when making changes?