goals

2013: The Year of Giving Up

It’s taken me over a month of reflection to feel like I have any real insight into what 2013 was like for me. Even now, in the middle of February, I don’t think I’ve got the full picture. But that’s life. Can you ever really make lasting sense of it?

Looking back, 2013 seems a little bit empty. It wasn’t a bad year and it wasn’t a good year, it was just sort of there, you know? I didn’t race much, I didn’t run much, I didn’t really do anything big or significant. 2013 doesn’t have any distinguishing features…except that I kind of gave up on stuff.

I don't normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

I don’t normally go for these quote memes, but this one seemed appropriate

Giving up has such a negative sound to it, like you’re just kind of accepting that you can’t win and walking away. There’s resignation, and maybe even some resentment, involved. The giving up I’m talking about wasn’t all bad. I mean, it wasn’t meant to be. It was actually meant to be positive, more letting go than giving up: letting go of things that I thought were holding me back, of things that were too much, of things that were damaging. But at some point, I think I lost track of the things I was shedding, and now I feel a little bit naked.

If life is a balance of holding on and letting go, how do we decide which is more appropriate at any given time? I think my biggest fault this past year was telling myself that giving things up would be healthy and helpful, when in reality all I was doing in some cases was justifying the fact that I was throwing in the towel and no longer making an effort for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, the healthy part comes from the effort, while the act of giving up ends up being more damaging. At other times, it really is time to give yourself a break and try to connect with doing less in order to get more out of something.

I find myself thinking about this balance a lot. I don’t want 2014 to be a repeat of 2013. Instead, I want to push myself while still respecting and understanding my limits. I want to do new things without beating myself up if I fail or fumble. I don’t want to give up just to avoid the discomfort that might come from an imperfect outcome, but I don’t want to keep holding on when I no longer stand to gain anything positive from a situation, either.

I guess that as in all cases that require some kind of balance, finding what works will take a lot of trial and error. Maybe that’s what 2014 will be for.

What Kind of Month is February?

Why, it’s a Health Month!

Generally, I find February the most depressing and drawn-out month of the year, which is always strange to me given that it’s actually the shortest month of them all. If it’s so short, why does it feel like lasts forever? Why doesn’t it just fly by?

This February, I’m trying to turn things around a bit and not get caught up in my usual slump. To do this, I’m making a concerted effort to stay positive (vague!), run regularly (slightly less vague!), and chart my progress toward specific goals through this website/online game called Health Month. I started playing around with the site toward the end of last month, and decided I would play with it some more this month, in order to get the full effect.

Image via Health Month

Here’s how it works. At the beginning of the month, you choose a series of rules, and set parameters for yourself. The rules you choose can be selected from pre-entered ones, or customized to suit your goals. You get to determine how often you do/don’t do something, and what kind of reward or punishment will be meted out at the end of the month. To the left, I’ve provided a screen cap of the rules I set for myself.

Once you’ve chosen your rules, you’re ready to play. You can set things up so that the site sends you a reminder to check in (or “play your turn”) once a day, and there are different metrics you can use to track your weight, body fat percentage, energy level, mood, and stress level. You can provide as much or as little information as you want.

The game is meant to have a social aspect to it, but so far I haven’t really interacted with anyone, which is fine with me. I think (although I’m not sure) that it’s currently in beta, but I was able to sign up without having to request an account, so I’m not sure that access is limited in any way.

Admittedly, I haven’t been a user of Health Month for a very long period of time. But that hasn’t stopped me from formulating an opinion on it, naturally! As far as I’m concerned, there are things about it that are positive, and there are things about it that are less positive. Here’s my assessment (and I should point out that a) these opinions are entirely my own and b) I wasn’t asked by anyone from Health Month to post about it, mention it, or even use it. I just thought it  might be kind of interesting to check out):

Pro:

  • A lot of options to customize. You really can select a variety of things to focus on, and there’s a lot of freedom when it comes to determining how important your goals are, how hard they will be to accomplish, etc.
  • Playing can add an element of fun or interest to goals that might be hard for you to achieve otherwise. When you fail to meet your goals, you lose points. No one likes to lose points, even if the points have no value outside of the game. I lost one recently and I feel really guilty and kind of ashamed of myself.
  • The social aspect of the game potentially puts you in touch with others who are looking to accomplish similar things.
  • The site analyzes the information you put in and tracks progress for you in a variety of ways. I always find it fun and interesting to track my own progress in different areas, and I like the fact that I don’t have to generate summaries and analyses myself.

Con:

  • A general lack of information when it comes to many aspects of the game. For instance, you can set up to three rules for free. If you want to add more rules on top of those, you have to pay. I’m sure that’s fine for some people (depending, of course, on how much you value your rules), but the site doesn’t make it very clear.
  • A few things seem kind of buggy. I set up a profile, and to the best of my knowledge, I completed it. But the site is still prompting me to complete my profile.
  • Support doesn’t seem great. I sent in an email about a few problems I was having early on (ie back in January) and never heard back. This struck me as strange because there are a lot of places on the site where users are encouraged to submit feedback and interact with the Health Month team (which, as far as I can tell, consists principally of one person).
  • I really had to work out for myself how things were supposed to be done. There are guidelines, but their location wasn’t immediately obvious, and I didn’t get a sense that there was anything equivalent to a quick setup resource. Everything I know about Health Month, I figured out on my own. For that reason, everything I’ve said in this post could be 100% wrong.

Basically, the concept is a good once, but the execution still has a few kinks that need to be worked out. I think a bit more transparency when it comes to policies, procedures, and user guidelines could really help make this into a fun, enjoyable way for people to work toward achieving something. I definitely prefer it to Social Workout which, in spite of its potential, just doesn’t really go anywhere if you ask me. And because sites like these are becoming more and more common, they really need to set themselves apart in order to avoid fading into obscurity or never getting off the ground.

Starting from Here

Has anyone else picked up on the anti-resolution movement that seems to have formed over the past few days? It seems like everywhere I look I’m reading posts and tweets (well, I guess I’m only looking on the Internet, honestly) about how resolutions are out and 2012 is the year that you should just live your life. Maybe this happens every year and I just never noticed it before? I don’t know.

Resolution

Image by sneeu via Flickr

Well, I don’t really have any resolutions, but I do (as usual) have some changes I want to make and goals I’d like to meet. Is the difference here just a question of semantics? Maybe. Does it matter? Not really. I alluded to some of the things I’d like to be doing differently in a couple posts last week, and I’ve been thinking about those things since writing about them. But it wasn’t until I read Flying Yogini‘s post about her approach to the new year that I realized that maybe the foundation for getting things done this year should be trying to look at things from the perspective of a beginner. All too often, I get caught up thinking about where I should be with my achievements, and in the process I miss being part of where I am. In adopting the mentality of a beginner, I’m hoping to discard the expectations, the comparisons, and all the annoying little thoughts that prevent me from being fully present in what it is I’m actually doing. I’m hoping, essentially, to avoid falling into the same traps that tend to trip me up–taking on too much, trying to move too fast, and burning out before I really manage to get anywhere. As a beginner, I will give myself permission to take things slowly, make adjustments when I need to, and have a deep appreciation for what I accomplish.

A part of this process will entail switching things around a little bit when it comes to blogging. In the past, I’ve done a run-down of the week’s workouts on Sundays; moving forward I am going to follow Jill‘s model of doing a review/preview, which will involve setting mini-goals for the week ahead. Since I didn’t do all that much running last week, I’ll just do a preview this time around!

I did manage to get in about 12 miles last week, so this week I am going to set my goal at 15. Here is how I envision things:

Monday: rest

Tuesday: 3 miles

Wednesday: 4 miles

Thursday: rest/yoga

Friday: 3 miles

Saturday: 5 miles

Sunday: bootcamp/yoga

Writing out a schedule like this is weird. I’ve run marathons, half-marathons, and weeks with much higher mileage, but that’s not where things are for me right now. Instead of focusing on the past or the future, I need to focus on the present, and this is the sort of training I need right now. I need to work from where I am, and not where I wish I were. This is how I’ll be able to build up to something more.

As for my 30-day challenge for January (which I might elaborate on in a separate post), my goal is just to follow through with the goals I’ll be setting for myself in these Monday posts. I’m excited to be starting the new year with this fresh perspective, and I’m hoping 2012 will be a good time!

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Be More Like Her

I’ll admit it, I may have a bit of an addiction to Pinterest, although not in the sense that I am constantly scouring the internet to find pretty pictures to “pin”. Nope. Instead, I find myself scouring the ‘fitness’ category on Pinterest and kind of obsessing over the pictures of bodies. Thin bodies, muscular bodies, bodies I find myself wanting my body to look like…it’s probably not the best way for me to use my time (even though I am planning a post on the whole thinspo phenomenon). Sometimes, though, it does result in positive things, like this:

Image via LauraMustLoseWeight.com

I found this picture earlier this evening, and I was drawn in by it. This is someone who is proud of her accomplishments, who worked hard to earn something, and is happy to have done so. I looked at this picture and, sadly, realized I hadn’t felt that way in a pretty long time.

I’ve spent a lot of the past few years making sure that I don’t really accomplish much of anything. It keeps me in a familiar state of comfort, and it means I don’t have to work too hard at anything. I don’t risk failing, because I don’t really take any risks and try. None of this is news; I’ve been pretty up front in my posts about being afraid of both failure and success. But I don’t think the full effect of how much I’ve held myself back really hit home until I saw this picture and felt a surge of jealousy. I want to work hard, and I want to be proud of myself. I want to set goals, and accomplish them. I want to feel as good as Laura obviously does, and I want to put pictures of myself feeling that way all over the place.

I want to be more like her. I might never place second in my age group in a 5k, or in any race. But at least I’ll know that I tried, and I’ll be proud that I did.

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Looking Back on 2011

A blank slate

2012: a blank slate. Image by Tojosan via Flickr.

I’ve started, stopped, and erased this post 3 times today. This is attempt #4. I’m determined to make it the one that sticks. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m having a hard time writing a year-end post (especially considering I’m under absolutely no obligation to do so) and I think it’s because overall 2011 kind of sucked. I mean, it had its highs, but for the most part it’s full of a lot of stuff I want to leave behind me.

More than anything, when I think about the past year, I think about how much I was floundering. A lot of my blog posts ended up being declarations about starting new challenges, changing habits, improving this, no longer doing that…none of it stuck, and it leaves me wondering why I kept returning to the idea of overhauling something in spite of an overall lack of success in doing so.

Looking toward 2012, I still feel like something has to change. I need to shake things up somehow; I’ve been doing the exact same things for the past several years, and just sort of coasting along without doing much to break out of my routine (or more appropriately, rut). And clearly, it’s not really working. I mean, right? If it were, I think I’d probably not be sitting here writing this!

I’m not really sure where to start, to be honest. But I guess the best place is by identifying some of the things I would like to do, and then determine what, among those things, is reasonable. And so:

  1. Follow through on more things, i.e. run the races I’m registered for, follow my training plans, etc.
  2. Take more control over the way I deal with food, because even though things have gotten a lot better, there is still a lot of room for improvement
  3. Blog more often, and put more time into it overall
  4. Spend more time working on other written material to submit to other sites
  5. Get a job (I’m not a fan of unemployment, really)
  6. Do more yoga (and more running, too, since 2011 didn’t see much of that)
  7. Develop a cross-training (slash strength-training) routine.
Did I miss anything? Is that all? Probably not. But it’s a good start, and that’s what I was looking for anyway, so that’s that. And now, to let those things sit a while, and see what (if any) insights develop in the next day or so.

In the meantime, can we get to 2012 already?

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For the Next 30 Days: December

This morning, I rather serendipitously came across a Facebook post from Thais about a 25-day “yogathon” she’s doing. In spite of its name, it’s not all about yoga. The main goal is to cleanse the mind, body, and soul. That was part of my focus with the 30-day project I had in mind for November, which was basically to do as much Bikram yoga as possible. Well, that fell through (you may have noticed. And by the way, thanks to Bikram Yoga Grand Central, for having non-existent customer service). So I thought this month might be a good time to try again (or at least try a variation).

A yoga class.

Image via Wikipedia

Everyone has their own concept when it comes to cleansing the mind, body, and soul, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time today thinking about what this sort of challenge would consist of. As I thought about it, I began to realize how much my anxiety has flared up over the past few weeks. The holidays are a stressful time, and rather than find effective ways to deal with difficult situations, I’ve been trying to ignore them. Guess what? It’s not a very good coping strategy! In fact, it just makes you more anxious. Deep down, I know that the best way to deal with anxiety is to face up to it, and have a toolbox of coping strategies that you can turn to in order to keep it from getting really bad. So my December yogathon is going to be working to put some things in that toolbox, and hopefully managing my anxiety a bit more effectively as a result.

The tools:

  • Yoga, obvs. Along with running, it’s one of the best defenses I have against everyday anxiety
  • Meditation. A new thing for me, but something that other people have used (for hundreds of years!) with great success. Why not give it a try?
  • Journaling. Also a new thing, but an effective way to deal with difficult situations. I find that when I am able to articulate what it is I’m anxious about, it really helps defuse everything that’s building up. Not only that, but often when I actually express it, it becomes a lot less scary than it was.

What I’m aiming to do is use one of these tools every day, and get into the practice of doing something about the things that are getting to me instead of just letting them sit there and build up until they become too big for me to keep ignoring. Nothing good ever comes from that. 

What would you do to cleanse your mind, body, and soul?

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Embrace: the Bad

This past weekend was a doozie. We had a nasty storm hit on Saturday, and with its arrival came an equally nasty wave of depression for me. It doesn’t seem to matter how many days, weeks, or months I spend feeling depressed–I never manage to get used to how much it makes me dislike myself.

Obviously it’s hard to feel great about much of anything, let alone yourself, when you’re going through a depression. But on top of the regular depression-induced self-loathing comes a particular hatred of the depression, and the idea that there’s something wrong with you for experiencing it in the first place. In my case, the feeling is oppressive, and I often get stuck in a feedback loop, thinking that if I were a better person, I wouldn’t get depressed, and I would be a better person if I weren’t so often depressed. In addition to that, there’s an unshakable sense of how unpleasant the depression is, and the fear that it makes you as unbearable to others as you suspect you actually are. Pile that on to the rest: I’m going to drive everyone away, and there’s nothing I can do about it, and I have no control over feeling this way. After a while you start to feel like it’s inevitable: the depression is just going to eat away at your life, everything you’ve tried to build up over time as a reminder that there is more to you than feelings of sadness, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.

At one point yesterday I came to the realization that as angry, frustrated, and (ultimately) sad as my depression may make me, it’s still a valid part of who I am. As such, it’s something I need to embrace and accept. It feels like a scary thing, sort of a slippery slope; if I embrace my depression, am I essentially just inviting it to settle in and stay for the rest of my life? As I’ve spent more time thinking about this idea, I’ve realized that embracing depression doesn’t have to mean getting lost in it. Rather, I can embrace it in the same way I might embrace the fact that I have freckles on my skin. This is part of what makes me who I am, for better or for worse. It’s something I struggle with, and something that has been a source of difficulty and pain in my life. But it doesn’t negate what I view as my good qualities; suffering from depression doesn’t make me less intelligent, compassionate, hard-working, or loving.

Trying to wish my depression away is not the most productive use of my time. And so I’m going to try, from now on, to take the good with the bad. There are things about all of us that we’d rather not deal with; maybe in trying harder to embrace rather than reject or suppress those things, we’ll get closer to finding the peace we’re looking for.

Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?

Marine Corps Marathon

Image via Wikipedia

This past Sunday I got all my long run gear together and headed out to Central Park in an attempt to conquer 18 miles.  I got through one, and then I gave up.  I was already drenched, nothing felt right, and mentally I think I’d given up before I even got to the top of my first hill.  The humidity was between 75 and 80%, and the temperature, while not super high, was probably in the low to mid 80s, maybe the high 70s.  It was miserable, and so was I.

By the time I got back home, I’d made up my mind: I would not be running the Marine Corps Marathon.  A week ago, I’d decided that I could actually do it, that I wouldn’t have to drop out of the race after all, and that even though I would do it slowly, I would still run those 26.2 miles.  At this point, I have no idea where I stand.

I originally registered for the MCM in 2010, but decided to defer my entry when I realized that running both the Marine Corps and the Philadelphia marathons was a bit ambitious.  I’ve wanted to run this course for a long time: I grew up right outside of Washington, D.C., and running through that area means a lot to me.  The idea of it makes me feel connected to my family, including my maternal grandparents, both of whom passed away in recent years.  At this point, I’d say the race is more sentimentally significant to me than it is an athletic goal or achievement.

Between now and the marathon, I could potentially do long runs of 18, 20, and 18 again before beginning my taper.  But none of that changes the fact that I’m probably pretty severely undertrained at this point.  I know people who’ve gone into marathons without doing more than a 13-mile long run, but do I want to be one of those people?  Could I be one of those people?  Just because they exist doesn’t mean that my body can do the same thing.

I keep wondering what it is that made my training go south (and why it’s gone south more than once in the past few years), and I think that while part of it has to do with approaching the whole thing in the wrong way, a big part of it has to do with how much I am still struggling to fuel myself well and treat my body with the respect it deserves.  Recognizing the role my eating disorder has played in the process of preparing for this and previous races makes me want to show it up by doing the marathon.  Deep down, though, I know that that’s not really the way the problem needs to be addressed, let alone solved.  At least I can take comfort in the fact that I have finally managed to identify how much of a negative effect my ED has on my running.

I guess what it boils down to is the fact that I have no idea what to do.  Do I let myself off the hook, lay the idea of running the marathon to rest, and start focusing on training for the Philadelphia half-marathon in November?  Or do I do what I can in the next few weeks, and show up at the starting line of the MCM fully understanding that I can always DNF if I have to, and that anything could happen?  I don’t expect to PR, and I don’t even know that I’d expect not to take walking breaks.  But I’d be putting myself at risk for injury, and possibly stressing myself out more than necessary.  Honestly, I’m stumped.

Have you ever faced a situation like this?  If you haven’t, what do you think you would do in this case?

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Embrace: Turning 30

birthday cake

Image by freakgirl via Flickr

Well, happy birthday to me.  The big day has finally arrived and I’m now 30 years old.  I’ve been waiting for this day with a combination of dread and anticipation, and now that it’s here I’m not really sure how I feel.

It hasn’t been a good day.  Nat and I celebrated on Saturday by going out for dinner at Candle 79 and then heading to Radio City Music Hall for Cirque du Soleil.  We had a great night!  And everything (mood-wise) went downhill from there.  It’s really hard when you spend a long time thinking about and/or preparing for a specific event; once that event has come and gone, you can’t help but feel a bit let down.

Compounding that feeling in my case is the nagging feeling I have that I’m here, at 30 years old, and still experiencing the same ruts and trying to overcome the same obstacles I’ve been dealing with for the better part of the last five years (if not longer).

I had plans to accomplish things by this time–improve my running, be in the best shape of my life, and other things that I’ve been striving for for a long time.  I can say with complete honesty that I didn’t come close to reaching any of the goals I’d set for myself.  And now I’m at a bit of a crossroads: do I set new goals?  Commit to a new project?  Try to work harder to make my life into something that makes me happier than it currently does?  Or do I stop worrying about goals and accomplishments and just try to go with the flow a little bit more?  I think there must be something in between those two, because the thought of either of those options makes me feel lost.

My hope is that over the course of this year, I’ll be able to find a bit more direction, either by exploring some well-worn routes in a different way, or by trying something altogether new.  I’ve been told by a lot of people that your thirties can be really great, and I hope that as I move forward into mine, I can start to believe that as well.

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For the Next 30 Days

Nat and I don’t own a television so most of the TV watching that we do is of stuff that’s either streamed from Netflix, or available on Hulu.  Recently, we’ve been burning through episodes of a documentary/reality show that Morgan Spurlock did for three seasons a few years ago called “30 Days“.  The premise is pretty interesting: essentially, someone spends 30 days living the life of another person.  Every episode offers some kind of social commentary or challenges the viewer’s beliefs in some way.  It’s a pretty interesting show based on an interesting concept.

Given the fact that I will be turning 30 in a mere four days, I thought it might be interesting to adapt the idea behind “30 Days” and see if I might be able to do a bit of a year-long challenge.  The challenge would entail me working on some habit or behavior, or trying something new, for 30 days straight.  I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately, so I thought this might be a good way to do some of the things that fall into the category of “stuff I need to do that I’ll definitely start doing at some point, just not now”.  For the most part, I tend to avoid the things in that category because I’m just sort of lazy.  But now that I’m nearing a landmark year of my life, I’m starting to wonder what it might be like to face them head on.  If I like something, I can incorporate into my daily life.  If I don’t, well, at least I can say with certainty that it’s not for me.

Since September is my birth month and traditionally a time of new beginnings (at least for people, like me, who are still pretty closely connected to the school year schedule), I figure there’s no better time to start my Year of 30 Days.  My first project?  Work on my sleep hygiene.

Comfy cozy!

I have always been a pretty bad sleeper.  It takes me a very long time to fall asleep, and I have a hard time sleeping anywhere that isn’t a bed.  I’m bad at napping because I don’t fall asleep quickly, and I wake up feeling very groggy.  I can’t really choose my bedtime very well, because even though I may get into bed exhausted, it could take me a couple hours to doze off.  Those are things I’m not sure I have much control over.

There are many things, though, that I do have control over when it comes to sleep, and those are the things I want to work on over the next month.  I’m awful when it comes to limiting activities I do in bed to sleep–I knit in bed, I read, I watch stuff on my laptop, I play around on the Internet, and right now I’m blogging from bed.  If you know anything about good sleep hygiene, you also know that those things are all cardinal sins.

So, my goals?

  • Shut the computer down by 9 pm on weeknights, and 10 pm on weekends (ahem.  There’s no need to mention the fact that it’s past 9 and I’m blogging.  From bed.  I’ll explain that in a second).
  • Be in bed by 10 pm on weeknights, and 11:00 pm on weekends.
  • Keep a consistent wake-up time.
  • Limit activities in the hour between shutting the computer down and getting in to bed to quiet things, like reading, knitting, meditation, possibly some restorative yoga.  I’m going to permit TV watching, as long as it’s not done in bed.
  • Try some natural products that are supposed to promote sleep, like Valerian root tea, or lavender scented candles or essential oils.
I’m hoping that these adjustments (all of which are pretty easy) will help me to feel more rested and energized.  Lately I feel exhausted most of the time, and I’m sure poor sleep has something to do with it!  And as far as the 30 days are concerned for this first round–given that it’s currently 9:12 pm and will be later by the time I finish this post, I’m going to do this from September 2 to October 1.  Since October has 31 days, it all evens out.  I’ll report on my progress weekly, most likely in my Sunday Run-Down post.  Wish me luck!
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