The Health Resolution & How to Keep It

As the New Year nears, we become more reflective on our lives and see changes we want to make in the year to come. Most commonly we resolve to lose weight, to get back in shape, clean up our eating habits, and live a healthier lifestyle. A month or two goes by and we often find that we have lost focus and given up on our resolution.

I struggle just like everyone else to keep my goals on track, but here are a few things that have helped me achieve some success.

What’s your motivation?
What is the driving force behind your desire to lose weight or get in shape? Is it something you want for yourself, or is it something you think you should want for yourself because of yoga1social and societal influences?

Have a heart to heart talk with yourself. Make sure you are choosing this resolution for you and no one else. Don’t try to lose weight because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Do what makes you happy.

If it is something you want, add visual cues to your space that remind you of why.   I wanted to fit into an old pair of jeans, so I hung them on the door to my closet so I’d see them every day. Put up photos, sticky notes, anything to help you keep your focus on why you decided to do this in the first place.

Set SMART goals.
We need to break our resolution into smaller, easier, more measureable pieces.
SMART = Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely (though there are a few variations out there)

Specific: How are you going to improve your health? By exercising? When? Where? How often? What kind of exercise? Are you going to eat healthier? By eating less sugar? By eating more vegetables? When? For what meals? The more specifics you have, the clearer your goals will be and the easier they will be to reach.

Measureable: Create a method for tracking your progress. Keep in mind that weight is not always the best indicator of health and fitness goals. When I started a new fitness program last year, I gained weight but my clothes fit better because I was burning fat and gaining muscle. Measure your waist, legs, arms, and bust, and track those inches. Take note of your how your clothes fit as well as your energy levels.   A great indicator of health is simply how you feel on a daily basis.

Achievable: Ask yourself if this is a goal that you can attain. Losing thirty pounds in two weeks is not likely to happen. Consider the time commitments, the deadlines, and all of things you will need to do to achieve this goal, and then decide if it is too ambitious.salad-791891_1920

Make it easy on yourself! Start small. The key to making lifestyle changes is to make them habitual, and you do that by incorporating them bit-by-bit into your current routine. If you want to cut out sugar from your diet, rather than deciding to never eat dessert again, start with eating it only three times a week instead of five. Consume smaller dessert portions or only eat your favorites.

I have a serious sweet tooth, and my office is a minefield of temptation, but I only indulge when there are donuts from my favorite place or if someone brings something homemade. I skip everything else. Don’t waste calories on foods that just aren’t that good!

Realistic: Be honest with yourself about what is truly going to work for you. What does your goal entail in regards to your adjusting current routine and daily flow? If you are planning to get up at 5am to workout, but you are not a morning person, are you being realistic? You work out zero days now but you plan to work out five days a week after the New Year. Are you being realistic?

We have a tendency to take on more than we can handle, especially when it comes to New Year resolutions. We have a whole year to accomplish all of these things, right? Ideally, it’s best to focus on just one or two small goals at a time. Otherwise we risk burning out or getting frustrated and losing our focus and motivation.

Timely: New Year resolutions tend to have finish lines that are too far away. Set goals with timelines that make sense. If I want to lose ten pounds by summertime, that gives me six months, which is a weight loss goal of two pounds a month. That is a reasonable expectation for me given my lifestyle and fitness plan. Goals with shorter timelines will help keep you on track and keep you focused, giving you opportunities for wins along the way to achieving your big-picture resolution.

Prepare for success.
Get ready to put your plan into action by gathering up all of the things that you need.

run1If you are starting a new exercise plan, set up your workout space at home. Secure that new gym membership. Map your jogging route. Buy some new workout gear. Make sure you have the proper shoes!

If you are starting a new healthier eating plan, find some cookbooks or recipes online that support the changes you plan to make. Plan a few meals in advance. Make grocery lists ahead of time. Remove all of the tempting snack food from your home so it’s easier to stay on track.

Create some contingency plans.
What if you have to work late on the evening you are supposed to go for a run? What if someone brings donuts to your team meeting? Think about how you are going to handle these situations. Just remember, if you decide to skip your workout or eat some donuts, embrace your decision. Do NOT feel guilty about it! Life is too short to make yourself feel bad about things that are perfectly okay.

Reward yourself.
Losing weight is hard. Getting in shape is hard. Eating healthy is hard. Find ways to reward yourself for all of your efforts. Consider refraining from using food as a reward, but do some good things for yourself that you enjoy. Also, make sure you spend a few moments congratulating yourself with positive and encouraging thoughts.

Give yourself a break.
This is the hardest part for me, but I can’t stress this enough. Let go of that all-or-nothing coffeeheartmindset. So you ate a lot of ice cream while watching a movie last night. Did you enjoy it? If so, great! If not, think about why and how to do better next time. Just don’t be mean to yourself. We are never going to be perfect. It’s okay to stray from your goals. Just don’t give up. Do the best you can and keep moving forward. Strive for progress, not perfection.

Good luck and happy New Year!

48, 95, and Counting

This has been a year of self-discovery for me. I started a new job, celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary, and have been exploring new interests in an effort to meet new people and expand my horizons. One of my renewed interests through all of this has been my love of stories.

The opportunity to practice writing and tell some of my own stories via blogging has been exciting and liberating. While there is still much work to do, I am slowly finding my voice. Through writing the world around me is beginning to make more sense and I see now that it holds so much more meaning than I realized. This is my 48th post (and counting).

I have found a lot of inspiration through the stories of others, in their styles of storytelling and in the stories they choose to tell, whether true or fictional. I discovered a few captivating podcasts this year that I highly recommend: This American Life, The Moth, and TED Radio Hour. Additionally, I am astounded to say that I have read 95 books this year (and counting). In all fairness more than half of those were audiobooks consumed while commuting, walking the dogs, or doing chores. But yes, 95!

A handful stood out from all the rest, so in celebration of a successful year of writing and reading, here are a few recommendations:

justmercy
Just Mercy (Nonfiction, Memoir) – This book changed me. It awakened in me a deep sense of compassion that I was unaware had grown dormant. I cried through every case story in which author Bryan Stevenson struggles to free the criminally convicted from death row. I laid awake thinking about each chapter as I finished them. Everyone should read it. Everyone.

boneclocks

The Bone Clocks (Fantasy) – David Mitchell’s writing talent is off the charts. It is rare that I find myself in pure awe at the skill of storytelling alone, but he is a master of his craft. The story starts with a teenage girl who has psychic abilities but weaves us through encounters with other complex characters all interconnected by a supernatural struggle for control.

 

circlingsun

Circling the Sun (Historical Fiction) – I love a strong female protagonist, especially one that fights for what she wants in life rather than giving in to what society expects of her. It’s a story of an English raised in Kenya trying to make her way in the world while staying true to herself. (Author Paula McClain also wrote Paris Wife, another favorite of mine about Hemmingway’s first wife.)

 

replay

Replay (Sci-Fi) – This one was a surprise lent to me by a friend. The main character dies only to repeatedly wake up at an earlier point in his life, retaining the memories of the lives he has already lived. It’s like Groundhog Day, only with much more interesting twists and challenges. I expected to be bored with all the repetition, but I was engaged and interested through the end. As a time travel story first published in 1986, there are a lot of fun throwback experiences in previous decades.

obstacle

The Obstacle is the Way (Nonfiction, Personal Development) – Ryan Holiday adapts the philosophies of Stoicism to modern day life. He discusses how not to simply overcome obstacles in your life but how to see them as opportunities. It’s easy to read, understand, and follow, and supplied me with some great advice that I actually use.

 

birdbox

Bird Box (Horror) – I read some seriously creepy books this year, but the creativity of this one is the best. Something outside makes people turn crazy and violent when they look at it. No one knows what “it” is, but the community in which Malorie and her children live is no longer safe, and for a better chance at survival, they must travel to a new place, completely blindfolded. So good.

For additional recommendations from earlier this year, check out For the Love of Books.

What books stood out for you this year and why? Please share!

Happy Reading!

A Wish List

We have a tendency to get lost in the hype of the Christmas holiday. We stress about all the gifts we have to buy, the money we have to spend, the obligatory office parties and family gatherings. In all of the chaos and commercialism, we sometimes forget to appreciate this time of year and the opportunities we have to bring joy to others through the act of giving.

It’s the season of giving and it’s the season of getting, and this year my husband and I decided to do something a little different.

At the beginning of December, my dad called me for quick chat and asked if K and I knew yet what we wanted for Christmas. The hubs and I started talking about our wish list last year in fact, so I was ready with an answer.

K and I feel happy and satisfied with all that we have. If there is something we want or need, we buy it ourselves, and we realize that we are truly fortunate in that regard. Our situation may not always be this way, but this year we felt like we would be asking for things just to ask for them, and that didn’t feel right.

This year we have one thing on our wish list: donations to the Humane Society. Our local chapter is nonprofit and rescues and rehabilitates not just cats and dogs but also horses, donkeys, bunnies, guinea pigs, etc. It is where I adopted my dog Cora six years ago, and she has been my shadow ever since. (You can read about her here: A Rescue and a Birthday) This rescue organization and the animals they save have a holiday wish list that is much more dire than ours.

When I shared our wish list with my dad, he seemed disappointed at first. Many of us enjoy looking for and finding that perfect gift to give to a loved one. My intention was not to take the fun out of giving for him or for anyone else. I explained to my dad that we would of course be grateful for any gift he gave us but since he was asking, we felt like we have more than enough “things” and what we want this year is a donation to the Humane Society. He is a dog lover as well and understood my point. I later emailed him instructions for how to donate money as well as how to buy specific items from the organization’s Amazon wish list, like food and supplies, and have them shipped directly to the shelter.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my friend N shared the sad news that her dog had passed away. Anyone who has lost an animal best friend knows what that kind of grief is like, the feelings of loss it entails. N is a big supporter of adopting rescue dogs, as am I, so I decided to donate to the Humane Society on her behalf. On the website, I pressed the “donate” button and got a surge of energy! I have dropped off donations to the shelter but have never made a contribution online. It was so incredibly easy and felt so satisfying that I decided to keep going and donate more on behalf of others and of myself. I have gotten myself a few gifts this holiday, but I believe this is the best one.

It’s easy to get lost in the craziness of the holidays, but perhaps one way to keep things in perspective is to donate to those in need. While the Humane Society is my pick as it is near and dear to my heart, there are many other organizations out there that welcome anything we can give.   Spend some time at the homeless shelter or food bank. Participate in the angel tree adoptions at the office. Donate children’s books via Barnes and Noble’s local giving initiatives. It’s a simple way to give back and stay in touch with the spirit of the season.

Happy giving and happy holidays!

Photo credit: Aaron Jacobs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-SA

 

Free for All

Everything costs money: transportation, food and water, education, convenience. The cost of living continues to rise, insurance premiums are up, people are out of work, and there is an affordable rental housing crisis. It can be difficult to get the things you want and need and actually be able to afford them in the process, but knowledge, stories, entertainment, and insight in the form of books?  Those are free. Every town across the U.S. has a library, and they are free. (Okay, they aren’t technically free because your tax dollars pay for their upkeep, but you get what I’m saying.)

When Netflix was in its heyday and everyone who was anyone was signing up for the service, I had an amazing idea. “What if,” I said to my friend, “there was a mass inventory of books, and you could go online, check one out, read it, and return it? It would be Netflix but with books!” She looked at me in silence for a moment, digesting this proposal, and then said, “Isn’t that called a library?”

In all fairness the library does not mail books to you, so it’s not exactly like Netflix, and I still think my idea had some merit… But the library! How could I have forgotten that this existed?

I grew up in a town with an impressive local library. I loved going there with my mom for book sales or to pick up books she had put on hold. In junior high my best friends and I spent evenings there working on research papers and studying for tests. We reserved a private study room on the second floor and spent half our time goofing around, knocking on the adjoining walls of the other study rooms occupied by boys from another school, and laughing until we couldn’t breathe and were desperately trying to shush each other so we didn’t get in trouble.

In high school and college, however, the library became something I associated only with textbooks and 2am cramming sessions. I no longer read books recreationally, and once I graduated, the library became a thing of the past for me and I forgot about it.

Now, however, the library is a saving grace of mine. It’s because of the library that I can indulge in my reading habit without handing over my credit card. I am a heavy consumer of books, primarily audiobooks, and they are expensive!

More than ever the library is quite like Netflix and its instant access model. Most libraries continue to move further into the digital world and now offer audiobooks and ebooks via digital download. You find the book you want in the online catalog, check it out online, download it, and get started. And yes, it’s still free.

Physical libraries still serve an important purpose though. They are quiet places where you can seek refuge, where you can relax or get some work done without distractions. Some of my local libraries also have museums and art galleries inside them. They are also part of the Safe Place initiative that provides places where youth can go when they are in need of immediate safety and help. Many libraries offer free events for children and other outreach programs. They are crucial to our communities.

I urge you to check out your local library, both in person and online. It is an abundant resource for knowledge, enjoyment, stories, and humanity, and it is already available to us – all at our fingertips for free.

Photo credit: ginnerobot via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

Social Scene

It’s a Saturday night. What’s on the social calendar? The hubs and I can opt to go to a party, go over to a friend’s house and hang out, or spend the evening with just the two of us. We choose the latter. We almost always choose the latter.

Social scenes set the stage for all the various versions of ourselves to surface. We show different sides of our personalities depending on the situation. When K and I were first dating, we socialized with others frequently. We were getting to know each other, and spending time in a group is a guaranteed way to get a stronger line on someone’s character and personality.

However, a friend once told me that one of the biggest challenges in a relationship is other people. They influence your interactions with each other. Just like the atoms that make up our world and everything in it, when under observation by others, we have a tendency to change. We’re susceptible to our environment and who is around us.

I remember the first time I saw another girl openly flirt with K in front of me. I heard a rushing sound in my ears and my heart started to pound. I got mad. I was apparently a little jealous and possessive of K as I learned in that moment, and it influenced my social interactions the rest of the evening.

After the initial stages of dating and getting to know each other, K and I found ourselves spending most of our free time with just the two of us, and we have continued that habit since moving in together and getting married, not simply because it is convenient, but because we enjoy each other’s company. We are best friends. We are also both introverts. We like spending time alone, and we like spending time alone together. So why hang out with other people?

There are quite a few reasons actually, reasons that I have discovered as K and I have recently been slowly but actively seeking out new friendships and better nurturing our current ones as a couple.

There are many opportunities to learn from other people, but those opportunities only present themselves when we actively engage with them. Every conversation I have with someone leaves me a bit wiser in some way, whether it’s in regards to newfound facts or in the art of reading people or making successful small talk. Every interaction is beneficial. Social interactions open our minds to new things, new ideas, and we experience that as a couple. Our discussions with others add to the topics of conversations we later have just amongst ourselves.

In social situations we also learn to read each other’s body language and facial cues. I become hyper aware of K when he and I are with other people. I feel even more conscious of his presence and find myself watching him and his mannerisms, looking for any indications that he is uncomfortable or bored. It’s important that we make sure our partners are included in the conversation and that we remain aware of each other’s feelings and comfort levels in the situation. We have to work together to stay united, to not embarrass each other, play off of each other’s discussion points, joke casually and easily without giving too much away. These situations allow us to practice and become better at looking out for each other, reading each other, and being better partners overall.

We also see different sides of each other’s character as part of social interactions.   When at dinner with my longtime friend who K was meeting for the first time, he asked questions and cracked witty jokes. I could tell he was trying hard to make a good impression, and make a good impression on her, and his efforts meant a lot to me. When we spend time with our friends with kids, K plays with the little ones and makes them laugh so much they can hardly breathe. It’s a light and silly side of him that warms my heart.

I know that when we walk into a room, we are in it together.   Social scenes have become adventures on which we embark together, and we are letting more of the world in a little at a time. We are growing and learning and having a great time. But I think my favorite nights will forever be the ones we spend with just the two of us.