New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

So, first things first. I will not make resolutions like “Every day I will…” or “I will never”. Those are just asking to fail. My resolutions need to be something I want to achieve by year-end, that I need to do regularly – but not every day. Last year’s list is a good example…

Resolutions 2014 – Update

  • Cut out caffeine – DONE. I’ve broken my caffeine habit. Better still, since my Whole 30, I can now drink caffeine occasionally without it triggering my habit again!
  • Cut out sugar – DONE. One Whole 30 completed, another one underway. I’ve got my weight down to the lowest it’s been since I had my son, and my BMI is “normal” (started the year as “obese”).
  • Exercise – DONE. I’ve started running a few times a week, and even better, I’m enjoying it and get cross when I can’t. I haven’t quite figured out school holidays yet though – I’ll need to sort that before summer.
  • Tidy, simplify – GOOD PROGRESS. I’ve done quite a lot, but there’s more to do to build the solid habits that I want.
  • Relaxation time scheduled – NOT DONE.
  • Get enough sleep – NOT DONE. Improvement, but I haven’t got solid sleep habits yet.

So, mixed. I achieved some of the key health goals that I set myself, but haven’t made a couple of the lifestyle changes that I wanted to make to destress. I can live with that. It’s solid progress, if not perfect.

Resolutions 2015

These will get tweaked a bit during the year to set more concrete targets for the ones that are still vague, but I’m going to put down what I have so far.

Health and Fitness

  • Learn more healthy recipes, so my meals are more varied.
  • Get my son into healthy eating habits – and eat at the dining table not in front of the TV!
  • Regular cardio and strength workouts – strength at least 2x a week, and get to running half-marathon distance.

Lifestyle

  • Tidy, simplify. This is a carry-over from last year: I’ve made progress, and it’s improved my life. Do more (or less).
  • Plan my time better so I have relaxation time rather than a permanent to-do list.
  • Sort out my finances and cut my spending down (I’m a student now!)

Study

  • Make a study schedule and stick to it regularly: break the at-the-last-minute habit.
  • Get distinction-level marks in my study assignments. Don’t settle for less.

This seems like a reasonable list of my priorities right now, but if I’ve forgotten anything, I’ll tweak. I don’t want to fail because I didn’t put the effort in, but life can mean that re-prioritization sometimes makes sense. Let’s see how it goes.

Happy 2015, everyone!

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Christmas recipes

I’m posting these partly to share them, mostly so that I can find them again next year. I’ve tried them all, and they’re all delicious!

Veggies
http://www.abelandcole.co.uk/recipes/gingered-roast-carrots
http://www.abelandcole.co.uk/recipes/mulled-red-cabbage
http://www.abelandcole.co.uk/recipes/best-ever-roast-potatoes

Stuffing
(If you leave out the meat, this is delicious as a veggie option too!)
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/72614/sage-leek-and-onion-balls

As well as those three, I had Brussels with lemon and thyme, and sweet potatoes roasted with salt and black pepper. Plus turkey obviously!

Yum!

Spa Day

Today I went for a spa treatment. This is very much “not me”. I’m a cynic about these sort of things. “Will give you younger, more radiant skin”, “Will leave you full of energy and refreshed”… These sort of claims make me sceptical. Good food, exercise, sleep and a win on the genetic lucky dip are what give you these qualities, not a mud wrap.

Nevertheless, I’ve just lost two stone (14kg) and I have two more to lose, and I’m at that stage where I look thinner but my skin is sort of saggy, which is a bit depressing, and I thought… What the fuck.

The place I went to is part of a chain, and the spa was very nicely decorated. Also very badly lit, in a deliberate, candlelight sort of way. I’d paid for a body wrap, but found when I got there that it included a facial and scalp massage as well. I suppose you’ve got to have something to do while you lie there covered in seaweed, clay and cling film.

The whole experience was a bit surreal, but I liked it. I’m not the sort of person who’s generally comfortable being naked (except for a pair of disposable pants) in front of a stranger, but it turned out to be fine. You get privacy to get undressed, and it’s so dark anyway that you don’t feel exposed at all.

Basically, you get someone making a fuss of you for an hour and a half. Body brush, rub, wrap, shower, another wrap, another shower, and then firming cream. While the wraps are going on, facemasks and scalp massage. It’s appealing in a primate grooming sense. There’s something very relaxing about another person fussing around taking care of you.

Do I look better? Not sure really. I feel better. I feel slightly pampered, in a good sort of way. I also feel very clean. Of course, that could be the fact that I’ve now had three showers today. But I think the cumulative effect has definitely done something to cleanse/exfoliate. I don’t really think anyone else would notice though, to be honest. Plus my sinuses cleared – I think one of the facials had a eucalyptus smell.

Do I believe the claims now? Did it work magic on my appearance? No, not really. Will I go again? Yes, I think so. When I’ve lost that next two stone, and I want a treat.

Resolution Updates

Back on March 1st, I posted my resolutions for 2014. It’s now the end of November, and I’m running out of time. How am I doing?

Health

  • Cut out caffeine. Done. So done. I’m even at the stage that I can have an occasional coffee, in a restaurant for instance, without it triggering cravings again. I think this is down to…
  • Cut out sugar. Done – tentatively. I’ve completed a Whole 30, and I’m on my second. I’m loving it, and I feel so much better. But I would be lying if I said all my sugar cravings are gone, or that I can have sugar without it leading to more sugar. So for now – tentative, but still proud of the achievement.
  • Exercise. Nope. Got to work on this one. I’ve been doing some exercise here and there – more than I used to – but it’s not a solid habit yet. I’m doing P90 right now, hopefully when I get to the end of that the habit will be bedded in.

Lifestyle

  • Tidy, simplify. Good progress. A bit of a cheat here: I moved house, and just didn’t take a lot of the junk with me. I was fairly ruthless about it. And in the new house, I’m making sure I have regular clearouts so that the junk doesn’t build up. But I’ve still got a few bits to sort out, so… Good progress. Maybe give myself 70-80% on this one.
  • Relaxation time. Hmm, it’s hard to call this one. I got made redundant back in July, and I’m going to be studying for a couple of years, so I have more time to relax. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to make time for relaxation, and treat it as a priority in my ‘ToDo’ list. And I still slightly tend to fill up my time. So I think I’ll call this one Not Done.
  • Get enough sleep. Mostly done. The Whole 30 is helping me sleep a lot better, as is installing f.lux and Twilight on my computer/tablet to avoid blue light in the evening. Again, I need to make sure this is a solid habit rather than just a feature of having some free time at the moment.

So overall, I’m not doing too badly. A few things I need to keep focusing on in December and into the New Year, but I feel fairly proud of myself. Of course, it’s important to mention that this all got helped massively by being made redundant and starting to study again, which means that I have much less stress and much more free time. Still at least I’ve used some of that time constructively to make some good changes.

Roll on December, and 2015!

Eating right, eating wrong

I’ve just spent 30 days on a diet, trying to eat more healthily. All the grizzly details are here, but talking about this stuff starts a lot of fights. A few thoughts…

There are so many conflicting pieces of diet advice. The diet I followed (Whole 30) is working for me, but excludes things like whole grains that many people think are healthy. Whole 30 is based on paleo principles, but many people who follow paleo diets eat a lot of meat and saturated fats, which are also considered unhealthy by others.

There’s an interesting debate here, between three doctors, about what is the healthiest diet. I watched this, and I came to this conclusion – we can’t tell.

So many of us, me included (except for the last 30 days), eat so very very badly. Our diets are loaded with processed food, filler, and carbs. We eat more calories than we need, and don’t exercise enough. ANY of the diets these three doctors recommend is likely much better than how we currently eat. If we all switch to one of these diets, maybe there will be enough data to pick which is best. For now, we’re all eating badly and getting ill from it.

What do we know? What does everyone agree on?
* Eat less processed food.
* Eat a LOT more vegetables.
* Eat roughly the right amount of calories, not too much.
* Avoid lots of sugary food and drinks.
* Do exercise regularly – cardio and strength.
* Get enough sleep.

If you find a diet that hits all of those, and which works for you, stick with it. Don’t worry about which diet is best. Don’t listen to people who tell you that another diet is better.

That’s where I’m going. The Whole 30 may or may not be perfect, but it has rules I can stick to, and it has forced me to eat lots of vegs with every meal. I’m eating a lot less meat than you probably imagine for a paleo diet (though I’d like to reduce it more on environmental grounds). And I feel better, and look better.

So: I just finished my first Whole 30, and I’m having a “treat day” and then trying it again, to get even more used to my new veg-based lifestyle. And I’m loving it.

If I Had Free Time

I’ve been thinking recently about what I’d do with the time if I had six months off work, no income problems, and could just do what I wanted. It’s kind of like the “if I won the lottery” game, but much more interesting.

I don’t know if this is likely to happen in the near future, but it’s nice to have a plan in case the chance ever comes up.

Every so often I hear someone say “If I wasn’t doing , I just know what I’d do with my time”. It’s usually a coded way of saying “I’m really busy and an achiever”, but it shows an astonishing lack of imagination. I can always find way more things than I have time to do, no matter what.

Here’s my current top 15, no particular order. I didn’t want to bring it down to 10, but it’s already way more than I could do even in six months.

  • Finish the DIY tasks around the house: nailing up wires, painting over scratches, putting up shelves, etc.
  • Sorting out my paperwork, filing, and getting my office tidied.
  • Clearing the garden, making space to play, and planting some veg.
  • Upskilling myself jobwise – catching up with the latest tech.
  • Get fitter, do exercise at least 6 days a week. (Have you read “Younger Next Year”? You really should).
  • Improve my cooking skills, learn to plan and menu and shop economically.
  • Drop my son off at school every day, and pick him up every day. Right now that’s too often done by someone else.
  • Adopt another cat. (I can’t find the time to be at home to settle a cat in right now). And if I were going to be at home permanently, get a dog. But I don’t see that happening unless I win the lottery.
  • Learn some new stuff, take some interesting-looking MOOCs.
  • Start writing that novel I’ve planned but never have time to write.
  • Learn to sing, maybe play an instrument. Take my son too.
  • Brush up my French, make sure I stay fluent. Continue learning Spanish and German and try to become fluent.
  • Meditate regularly. Do meditation with my son. Make it into a habit, rather than something I do for a few days then forget.
  • Take time to plan fun things to do with my son: weekend trips, days out, things to do or learn together. Think about what we’re already doing and what we’re missing out on.
  • Learn to draw. Make some stories for my son, and draw the pictures to go with them. Be able to add illustrations to my blog when it helps. It would help with data visualisation too.
  • Create a children’s history book for my son that tells him the bits that I think are important. Tell him about rights, and habeas corpus, and the Levellers, and trade unions, and emancipation. Same again for the moral stuff that I think is important.

I’m sure someone is going to say “These are too big, you’ll never get anything done unless you make small, manageable tasks and prioritise”. Yes, that’s mostly true. But it misses the point.

When you think big, you can think about what’s important to you. Think about what’s missing from your life. Think about what regrets pop up regularly, but you’ve assumed you can’t do anything about. Think about that dream you’ve always had, but that you think less about each year. These things are important, even if we can’t achieve them straight away.

UPDATED: One important thing I forgot in my list. Watching the entirety of Buffy (all seven seasons), as I haven’t had a boxset marathon since my son gave up daytime naps…

Resolution Updates

So, on March 1st I posted my six resolutions for 2013. It’s now mid-May, 2.5 months on, so time for a check-in on my progress. To be on target to achieve my goals by the end of the year, I should have achieved 1.5 of them. How am I actually doing?

Health

  • Cut out caffeine: done! I don’t drink diet coke, coffee or tea day-to-day now: not even on days when I feel tired. +1.
  • Eat less sugar: not done (yet). This is my next top priority to work on.
  • Exercise at least 3 times a week: not done (yet). Pick this up later this year, as cutting out excess sugar first will make it much easier to find the energy.

Lifestyle

  • Tidy and simplify my stuff: good progress. I’ve cleared out lots of stuff, but there’s more junk I could get rid of. I’m giving myself a 0.5 on this one.
  • Plan my relaxation time (to make sure I get some): not done (yet).
  • Get enough sleep: not done (yet). This is the other thing I’m focusing on right now, as it will also help me find the energy to achieve the other goals.

Total: 1.5 / 6 – on track!

Conclusion

It would be easy to think I’ve failed if I’d just expected to do all of these resolutions from day one. But actually, I’m doing well. If I carry on making improvements at the same rate, I’ll have achieved my goals by the end of the year. Go me!

NB. This post might sound a bit self-congratulatory – but that’s the point! One of the biggest things to help you change is congratulating yourself when you make progress. Don’t just look at where you are, look at how far you’ve come and reward yourself for moving in the right direction.

Resolutions for 2013

FAQ: Why am I posting my resolutions on the 1st of March? Isn’t it too late? 

A: Well, there are still 10 months left in the year to get stuff done. Why would I not want to think about what to do with them?

My idea of resolutions is that they’re things to achieve by the end of the year, not things to do every day from day 1. It’s just not realistic to make an overnight change, nor to do everything at once. Planning to start all your good intentions on Jan 1st seems foolish.

So this is my plan for what I’d like to achieve by the end of 2013. In December, I’ll come back and review what I’ve done and not done, and hopefully I’ll have made good progress.

That being cleared up, what are my goals for 2013? This year, my overall focus is on cleaning up my life and making the little stuff easier. So my focuses are health and fitness, and lifestyle.

Health

Cut out caffeine. No ifs, no buts. When I drink caffeine, everything else goes wrong. I get sugar crashes, eat junk food, don’t sleep properly, feel tired and cross, get headaches… It’s not good for me. I rarely drink caffeine now, but I need to stop the occasional lapses. That’s really a pre-requisite for everything else on this list.

Eat less sugar. LOTS less sugar. Sugar is very, very bad for us. There’s some evidence that it is sugar, not saturated fat, that gives us high cholesterol in our bloodstream. It’s on a par with having a smoking habit. I personally know this, but still eat too much sugar – generally when I’m tired or have had caffeine. I’m aiming to cut that, too. The occasional piece of dark 80% chocolate is okay, but sweets, cakes and biscuits can go. That’ll make a huge difference to my health, my weight, my energy levels, and my moods. Again, if I don’t manage this one, I won’t manage the next one.

Exercise – strength and cardio, at least 3 times a week. If you want to know why, “Younger Next Year” is a great read explaining this. But essentially, exercise makes me feel better, makes me younger, makes me healthier, makes me happier. I know this, and still I skip it when I’m tired. I want to improve. Will I reach perfection? Unlikely. But I want to be better by the end of the year.

Lifestyle

Tidy and simplify my stuff. Get rid of things I don’t need. Have less junk. Contrary to what the IKEA adverts say, the key to organisation is NOT “having more storage”. It’s having less stuff. We have a problem in the West that we have access to lots of stuff, cheap. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we need it – and then it clutters up our houses and gets in our way. Okay, I’m generalising again, maybe it’s just me. But I bet it’s not. Anyway, the key to having a clean, tidy house AND spending less time tidying – clear out the junk!

Plan my relaxation time (to make sure I get some). I tend to over-schedule myself. If I have a day free, I’ve generally already planned at least 3 different things to do with the time. Unless I make sure that relaxing is on my to-do list, it may never happen. Ditto for clothes shopping, exercise, and sleep.

Get enough sleep. As above. This is in turn a pre-requisite to avoiding caffeine and sugar, since those are my ways of staying awake when I haven’t had enough sleep.

NaNoWriMo

It’s nearly November, and this year I’m finally going to have a try at NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month. It’s a great idea; but very badly named given that it’s international.

The last two or three years I’ve been reminded about NaNoWriMo part-way through the month after seeing comments on Twitter, but it’s been too late for me to start. This year, I saw something ahead of time and I’m getting prepared, one step at a time.

Step 1 was donating some money to the organisation, since I think they’re doing a great job. That’s not compulsory to join in, by the way – I just wanted to.

Step 2 was thinking of what I wanted to write. There’s a story I really want to write, but it’s also important to me and I don’t want to mess it up. It didn’t feel like the right story to start with – but I didn’t have a better idea. I was stuck – until a dream came to my rescue. Now I have a strange and wonderful story ready to tell. At least, it’ll be wonderful as long as I don’t mess it up.

Step 3 was making notes on the characters and locations, and filling out the plot a bit. A dream will give you a great idea, but it doesn’t do the hard work for you.

At this point, I discovered that The Guardian is running a series on writing a novel in 30 days. I’d say it’s a wonderful coincidence, but I should think they’re aware of NaNoWriMo, so it may well not be a coincidence at all. It is wonderful though, take a look.

It’s T-7 days and I feel like I’m on track – let’s see how it goes.

Getting Fit: T-4

So I’ve just re-read Younger Next Year and I’m determined to get fit. So I’ve done something kind of silly. I’ve bought myself P90X. And I’m starting on Monday.

Partly for motivation, partly for historical curiosity, and mostly to shame myself into not quitting, I’m intending to blog about it. However, I realise that this could get very boring to everyone else. So, dedicated fitness blog at http://notagymgoer.com (or @NotAGymGoer), and this page will continue on its usual course of periodic random rants.