Julie’s Spring Break Special: A Week of Habits, Rebooted

So, if there’s one thing I know, it’s myself. And knowing myself, I knew it would come to this. Behind on the blog. Behind in life/work. Habits abandoned, or only practiced sporadically. Seems about right for mid-March, where I left off. When I get derailed with anything positive that I’m doing, I pretty much always wallow in unhealthy behaviors for a little while instead of trying to get back up.

For the last two weeks I was frantically trying to get ready for CCCC, and then attending CCCC. I had to prepare a week’s worth of virtual classwork for my two classes. Once I got to CCCC and thanks to my Overeager Young Scholar Syndrome (OYSS, as in “OH YASSSSS I’ll do that!”—currently being evaluated for inclusion in the DSM V) I found myself with a metric shit-ton of ideas and opportunities and obligations. I got home two days ago with my usual travel migraine. Good news: this week is spring break. Bad news: my migraine and general malaise have lasted until today. Tuesday, mid-afternoon of break. There are only three days and a weekend left. My inboxes are overflowing, and my to-do list is so scary I don’t even want to open the app.

Then this appeared on Lifehacker: http://lifehacker.com/how-to-overcome-workload-paralysis-and-get-back-into-ac-169316979 It’s great advice. After thinking about it for a while. I’m going to use it to knock myself out of my work paralysis and reboot. Here’s my plan (I reordered the original list):

  • Take Small Steps: My small step today is to make a list of the things I want to accomplish in the next five days. Listing is something my mom always recommended I do whenever I got overwhelmed, and I still rely on it.
  • Prioritize Like Mad: I don’t do this in any formal way, but I think I need to. Not every passive-aggressive work email needs to be dealt with right away.
  • Pick One Thing and Finish It: Today I will finish my grading backlog. That’s daunting, but if I break it down into steps, I can do it.
  • Make Health a Priority: For the last…I don’t know, twelve years? I’ve not done this, and my body has suffered horribly. How can I work effectively when I feel so awful?
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In future posts this week (I’m going to try for one per day) I’ll be reflecting on my priority matrix and highlighting what I’ve completed.
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Julie’s Week 3: Morning Is Broken

So, let me be clear on my attitude toward mornings. I like being up. There’s something about being up early that makes me feel like I have purpose and control in my life. I like the quietness of early morning, and the feeling of possibility. That being said, I hate getting up. I’m at that stage in my life/career where I’m always tired, and for many years I lived in a climate where for five months out of the year, all I had to look forward to in the morning was brushing snow off of my frozen-shut car doors.

I’ve also discovered that I have a pretty serious sleep problem. I often set an alarm and go to sleep, only to wake up and discover that the alarm went off at the appointed time, and was then calmly shut off…by me. I don’t sleepwalk. I sleep-sabotage. Once I discovered that I was doing this, I started setting more alarms. I would set my clock, then set an alarm (or two or three or four) on my phone. Then I bought another clock. Then I set my stereo to wake me up as well. I think the most alarms I set to go off was six: two alarm clocks (one of which was the “Sonic Alert” clock meant for the hearing-impaired) three different alarm clock apps on my iPhone, and my FitBit, set to vibrate on my arm at 6:15am. That morning, I vaguely remember a few sounds, and my body moving around, then tumbling back in bed. I slept peacefully until 8:46. I need to train my dog to jump on my face or something, because I’m not sure any kind of machine will be able to help me.

It looks so encouraging.

It looks so encouraging.

Maybe getting to the source of the problem is the next step. My bedtime routine is hardly serene; it usually consists of working on the couch until I’m too exhausted to continue typing, then dragging myself toward the bathroom to swallow my pills and, if I’m lucky, wash my face and brush my teeth (yes, I just admitted that I don’t always do that before I go to bed. Yes, it’s gross. Yes, I’m gross). Then I lay in bed and shut the lights out only to tap away at my phone until I pass out with it in my hand, which usually leads to me having to search though the blankets to find it in the morning, which leads me to that routine. My mornings are usually me stumbling out of my bedroom to make coffee and feed my dog, then sitting in my pajamas with my computer in my lap, aimlessly kind-of-working while the wasted time ticks away, and then it’s 12:30pm and oh god not again and what the hell is am I doing with my life?

I want my bedtime routine to be restful and conducive to quality sleep, while my mornings are reflective and productive, without me rushing around or being a sloth. In short, I want my sleeping and waking life to look and feel like it came out of Real Simple magazine. Enter Little Green Dot’s 28-day How to Become a Morning Person online course. I received the first “lesson” in my inbox a few hours ago; I’m planning on reading it once I’m done with this post, as I lie here on my bed in a posture-destroying position, various screens flickering and too-creepy-for-restful-sleep music playing. I get the feeling that I won’t be able to do the same tomorrow.

Habit Tracking

Week 1: Still haven’t broken the chain on two hours of distraction-free work daily, but I need to be careful not to look at my phone or get up and start putzing around in the kitchen while I’m doing it.

Week 2: More or less, a complete failure. I kind of broke down early upon hearing some bad professional news (yes, I eat my feelings), and some of my paleo recipes didn’t turn out to be as good as I had hoped, so I wasn’t all that into eating them. I’m going to redouble my efforts, though, and add three restrictions this week to make sure I stay on the wagon: no skipping breakfast, no junk (it’s really embarrassing to be 34 years old and still indulging in cheese puffs on the regular), no eating after 8pm. I’m going to put all of these into Way of Life and track them that way. Try again. Paleo again. Paleo better.

Julie’s Week 2: Slouching Toward Paleo

When it comes to my health, I’m not where I want to be. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been where I want to be.

Beachside elegance.

Beachside elegance.

Every year of my childhood I grew at least two or three inches, and by the time I was 14 I was at my full adult height of 5′ 10″. The thing about tall people is that they’re just bigger all over, and as a 170 lb. teenage giantess in 1994, it was incredibly hard to find stylish clothing that fit. Flood pants and shapeless rock band t-shirts were my staples, and I paired them with glitter-painted Chuck Taylors and a nondescript bob haircut, which I constantly dyed an off-putting shade of drugstore auburn. Though I hid it, I desperately wanted to be beautiful and glamorous, but in reality I was plain and, as a childhood frienemy passive-aggressively said, “plump.” Around this time I began to experience the clinical depression that would follow me for life, and commenced my abusive relationship with food.

I think I started my first “diet” when I was 13 or 14. The longest period of weight loss I was able to sustain was in the 14 months after I graduated from college and worked as a legal assistant at a firm that paid for employees’ gym memberships. I had nothing to do in the evenings (no school!) so I worked out, then cooked adventurous dinners from whatever ingredients I could afford to buy at Whole Foods that week. I spent the rest of my disposable income on magazines and kitten heels from Banana Republic, and for the first time in my life felt that being a hot babe was within my reach.

Cue grad school. Cue 60-hour workweeks and $10,000 9-month stipends with no summer support. Cue stacks of papers, to write and to grade. Cue endless anxiety. Cue a lot of beer, and an increasingly heavy smoking habit. Cue a bunch of dead-end relationships and imploding friendships. Cue ten years straight of that, actually. Then, cue waking up at age 33–with a decent academic job and a loving partner, thank god–but with a reconstructed left knee, five new prescriptions I’ll likely have to keep taking for the rest of my life, and a weight gain of about 170 lbs. (yes, you read that right). I got engaged the day after I turned 34, and with a wedding (and a marriage, and a family) on the horizon, I realized that I really, really needed to think seriously about my health and my weight (I completely agree that “thin” does not equal health and beauty and that one can be healthy at any size, but I honestly do not feel healthy at the size I am at. No disrespect meant to anyone else).

Tracking in Evernote.

Tracking in Evernote.

So, here I am, ready to transition–slowly–into a paleo diet. I have been experimenting with paleo for about a year and a half. I attempted a Whole30 last year and it wasn’t a success, mostly because it ended up being too restrictive. But even in my failure, I saw some progress: I wasn’t starving, and my blood sugar didn’t plummet and make me feel nauseous and lightheaded. This week I’m going to do a 50/50 paleo, meaning 50 percent of my food intake will be from non-paleo sources such as grains and dairy. I’m hoping to move up to 60/40, then 70/30, and finally to 80/20, which seems to be a manageable lifestyle for many.

I have a fair number of paleo cookbooks, but this week I’ve mainly been reading Ciarra Hannah‘s The Frugal Paleo Cookbook, and taking her advice to cook with a “theme.” This evening my dinner was paleo zuppa toscana with paleo breadsticks and salad. The rest of the week is more Italian: spaghetti and meatball stew, zucchini carbonara, and paleo Italian beef. I’m filling in with some decidedly non-paleo overnight steel cut oats and strawberry yogurt smoothies.

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When you’re here, you’re family.

And no, I don’t actually believe that this is how “cave people” ate. I have no idea how cave people ate. Nobody really does (in fact, I think “cave people” is a pretty condescending way to describe our human ancestors). I like paleo because it cuts sugar and simple carbs, and it’s hard to argue that this is a bad thing. At one point in our history, humans did massive amounts of running, hunting, farming, and other physical labor and thus consuming diets filled with grains and starches wasn’t really a problem. Not so anymore. I’d guess I spend at least 12 to 16 hours of my day sitting on my ass.

That reminds me–my FitBit Charge arrives tomorrow.

Here goes nothing.


Habit Tracking

Week 1: Successfully did 2 hours of distraction-free work each day! Instead of Chains, I’m now tracking with a fairly powerful iOS app called Way of Life (free, or premium version for $4.99). It’s the same principle as Don’t Break the Chain, but with a sleeker interface and lots of data visualization.

See you next week!