Tag Archives: Gretchen Rubin

168 hours

Some weeks ago, I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours. Actually, I borrowed 3 of her books from the library but read 168 hours first because it was written first. Which was a good decision, because the other two I borrowed (I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) are essentially the principles of 168 hours applied in subtly different contexts. I must confess I skipped the latter and returned it to the library unread.

I had mixed (but mostly positive) feelings about what she had to say. Essentially, the basic message of the book is that we aren’t as busy as we think we are and we have more time than we think we do (168 hours per week, to be precise). That’s a lot of time. Even if you work 50 hours a week and get 8 hours sleep a night, that’s still 62 hours a week to do other things. Which, regardless of how you look at it, is a lot of time. I guess many “busy” people will say “Oh but you still have to factor in your commute, cooking, cleaning, showering, down time (ie TV and internet in most cases), it’s amazing how it all fills up!” Yes, it is amazing, that’s part of Vanderkam’s point. We fritter away all this time and then complain that we have no time to do the things we “really want to” do.

She recommends keeping a time log for a week, recording every 15 or 30 minutes what you’re doing. I managed this for about 2 days. I found that, rather than make me to realise how much time I waste on Facebook (I don’t need a time log to tell me that!) it made me more productive as I was conscious of not wanting to write “checking FB” in my log. Which is one of Gretchen’s big things for habit change- the strategy of monitoring, whereby recording your actions has the effect of automatically improving your performance, even without any analysis or conscious attempt to change.

At first I started to think that what Vanderkam had to say was contradictory to the slow-living/mindfulness philosophy I’ve been working gradually into our lives lately. “Making the most” of an idle 5 or 15 minutes here or there seemed like a recipe for being overwrought. But much of her approach is very much in line with slow living. She says, in the introduction:

Like everything else, living intentionally becomes easier over time.

Another of the strategies the book advocates for creating time to do more enjoyable things and fewer chores is outsourcing. Vanderkam cites multiple examples of people (albeit mainly single men) who pay a cleaner, someone to do their laundry, their ironing and even their cooking. She suggests buying ready or partly-made meals. I have to admit she started to lose me here. We’ve had a cleaner before and while, in some respects, I do agree to paying someone to do the things I don’t want to do myself (she seems to assume money is no issue for most of us), I can’t pay someone to do all the things I don’t want to do all the time. For example, the most we would ever have a cleaner is once a week. Before they come I would tidy up and put things away, because I want them to clean the shower and mop the floors (jobs I hate), not tidy up (which I don’t have a huge problem doing). I think probably almost 50% of the benefit of having the cleaner comes from the tidying up you do before they come. Another 20% is the “Wow” factor when you walk into your spotless house. This lasts maybe half a day and then it’s all undone again. Chances are the vacuuming will need doing again before they come again next week. A maximally useful cleaner to me would probably come and clean for an hour every second day, then a bit longer once a fortnight or once a month. But what cleaner wants to do that? And who wants to be tidying up for a cleaner every other day?

Many of her other outsourcing suggestions conflict with our zero-waste/environmental aspirations. I don’t want to buy “partly made” (read processed) meals. I don’t really want to drive anywhere to drop off my washing and even if someone drives to me to pick it up, I still have to be home to give it to them. And they’ve used petrol to drive to my house. Taking Mr L’s shirts to the dry cleaners to be washed and ironed is nice from time to time, but they return then wrapped in plastic and then you have to remember to get him to take the hangers back…. So, I wasn’t sold on that.

What I did like was her suggestion that you make a “list of 100 dreams” (I got to about 20) of things you’d like to do. Then, instead of letting your week fill up with all the wishy washy, chore-like, non-specific busyness of life, you take a 2 or 3 of those dreams (she suggests one is physical exercise) and you schedule time for them.

She’s also a big advocate for working mothers getting on with it and I like that. Lately I’ve become a little bored of the constant whine of the mummy blogger- “I’m so busy, I do everything for my kids, I’m burnt out, I’m so stressed, I’m anxious, I have no time for myself, I’m having a nervous breakdown”… these women stressing about housework and cooking and getting their kids to 100 different activities, all while working from home, where “work” seems to consist of posting articles on immaculately designed blogs about how to make these activities more efficient, more rewarding or more beautiful. So it’s actually quite refreshing to hear someone say “You can work a full time job and have children, but you might have to decide what it is in your and your kids lives that really matter and be a bit innovative with your routine in order to fit it all in. Oh and you’ll probably need to organise some childcare.” While the mummy blogger cries into her kombucha because she chose to be a SAHM (which I sometimes think ought to be renamed BAHM- Blog at Home Mum) but she actually finds it a bit unfulfilling at the end of the day. I’m being a bit harsh, they’re not all like that, but there are definitely a lot of martyrish overtones out there that wear a little thin after a while.

She sums up perfectly how I’d like to describe my attitude to being a working mother:

…Motherhood did not ruin my career, and my work has not detracted from how much I love being a mom, particularly the small moments the universe grants in abundance when you choose to pay attention.

All in all, this was quite a motivating book which encouraged me to look at how much time I have, how much time I waste, and re-think how I go about deciding what to do with my time. I also realised it’s actually nice to have a bit of time to do nothing, but it’s much nicer doing nothing when you do it intentionally. The book was easy to read and satisfying to finish. Thank you Laura!

Podcasts 101

I’ve recently got into podcasts. Despite my relatively new-found simple living enthusiasm, (and therefore new-found guilt over anything that vaguely resembles multitasking,) I really love listening to them when I’m walking the dog, or preparing something long and slightly tedious in the kitchen. Actually at the moment, everything in the kitchen seems long and very tedious but never mind…. I find them far more rewarding to listen to than reading a blog post, which I only ever seem to skim through. I’ve also discovered I really enjoy listening to them when I run. I recently did the Coatesville Classic Half Marathon and my “training” runs (such was they were) were less painful with some interesting subject matter to listen to, rather than just a somewhat clichéd playlist.

I’ve found three that I regularly follow so thought I’d give them a plug…

  1. Happier with Gretchen Rubin

No surprises here, Gretchen groupie that I am. I loved this podcast from the first episode. She hosts it with her sister, who she talks about in her books. They seem genuinely quite close, although they live on opposite sides of the US and have very different lives, careers and, seemingly, personalities. Their discussions are very much based around the themes of Gretchen’s books about happiness (obviously) and habits, so a lot of the content is familiar to me. Despite this, and what I find quite impressive, it doesn’t get boring. Each episode is divided into well-defined segments and those segments appear each episode. This may not seem like such a bit deal but several of the podcasts I’ve tried and given up on really fall down for their lack of structure. They pretty much consist of two people wittering on for an hour about a subject they consider themselves qualified to talk about, but really, it’s just like eavesdropping on a conversation you’re not able to join in, and most of the time, don’t really want to anyway. So, “Happier”, I’m hooked!

  1. The Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary

I wasn’t too sure about this one when I started but it’s grown on me. Australian slow living enthusiast Brooke McAlary (who I’d never heard of before I found her blog and then podcast) hosts a weekly discussion that usually consists of an interview with a guest. The guests vary in their degree of interest, relevance (to me anyway) and notoriety- they have been as mundane as a self-proclaimed “normal” person, who was simply a narcissistic podcast listener who put herself forward to be interviewed under the misapprehension that other people might be interested in her “story”- groan…. and as well-known as (can you guess?) Gretchen Rubin and Bea Johnson. When I first started listening I was a little irritated by the casual colloquialism of the podcast- I thought it made it sound a bit amateurish. The 5-10 minute intro she does with her husband, which generally includes a bit of giggling and silly couple’s jokes as well as occasional interruptions from their kids only exacerbates that. But as I’ve stuck with it I’ve got used to the (?over-) familiar introductory chit-chat and besides, the real meat of the podcast is in the people she talks to and most of the interviews (narcissistic listener aside) have been really interesting. She actually does a pretty good job (not that I’m exactly qualified to say!) as an interviewer, and I think (without wanting to sound patronising) she’s really improved since I started listening. So for now I’ll keep it on my playlist!

  1. Eliza Starting at 16

Ok so the ONLY reason I started following this one is because she’s (I’m really sorry) Gretchen Rubin’s daughter! Yep, and she’s 16, so I feel even more tragic. I didn’t sign up for this one straight away but I gave it a go and I’ve kind of been drawn in. Partly because it’s short but also because I’m actually quite impressed by how articulate and intelligent she appears to be, without sounding too precocious. Her venting over 16 year old “issues” in some ways reminds me of my own 16 year old angst (well to be perfectly honest, it resembles more the 16 year old I wish I had been). Occasionally she even hits the nail right on the head and articulates, very eloquently, grievances I still share. For instance, her vent about pop-music snobbery and how everyone’s too cool and too intellectual listening to alternative indie music to admit they find Top 40 cheese quite catchy. As soon as she said it I thought “Yes! That’s exactly how I felt all through uni and sometimes even now!!” Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s not for everyone (the podcast, not just Top 40 music), but I like it.

And that’s it, I’ve tried and tossed about 10 others but I can’t be bothered moaning about those!

Reflections on 2015

And so we near the end of another year. That’s 2 (and a bit) years I’ve been (very sporadically) blogging!

My views on New Year’s Resolutions have varied from year to year but what I always enjoy is looking back on the year that was. The Facebook gimmick “Your Year in Review” has already appeared and people are beginning to share their yearly summaries. If this replaces the annual “Christmas newsletter” a lot of people send out, I think there’d be a sigh of relief from many reluctant recipients, but weirdly, I don’t actually mind getting those letters, I even like reading the details that really don’t concern me, about people I barely know.

(What always impresses me, though, is that people have enough self-confidence to send these things out, knowing how they are received by the majority of people, which is one reason it’s not something I do.)

So, 2015- what sticks in my mind?

More travel- this year we explored Marlborough at the top of the South Island and beautiful Martinborough at the bottom of the North, catching the ferry in between. I think we only managed 3 trips to our beloved Queenstown, once in March for Mr L’s off-road marathon, the Motatapu Classic, once in August to ski and then we’ll be back there next week for Christmas. I made several trips across the ditch- 2 to Melbourne for work and 2 to Sydney. We did a couple of local weekends away too- to Russell & Northland, Waitomo caves (twice) and just last weekend to Waiheke Island. Our list of places to visit and revisit seems to be ever-expanding, and if 2016 is to be our last year living here, we’d like to make some headway into that list!

Of course, our beautiful Baby L arrived in May and he has been a delight and a privilege to have completing our family. In many ways, seeing him change so fast has made both Mr L and myself all the more aware of the idiosyncrasies (amusing and not-so) of Master and Miss L, as we see them change and realise just how fleeting their stages of growth and development are.

This year has been a big year for me in terms of mindset, with determined forays into mindfulness (my favourite champion of this cause so far being Dan Harris) and happiness (I’ve become something of a Gretchen groupie). I feel that my/our Zero Waste dabblings (inspired largely by Bea Johnson) are, in many ways, an extension (or perhaps combination) of these two ways of thinking. I’ve become so much more aware of our impact on the earth and of the earth’s impact on us and I suppose you could say I’ve spent some time getting to know my inner hippie and seeing just how a simpler way of living, spending, thinking and doing frees up so much time for taking notice of what matters and what lasts.

On that note, as I look back through my calendar I’m surprise to see there aren’t a lot of scheduled events, for a year that has felt so full and formative. I think that’s because you don’t write down the little things- cherry picking with Master and Miss L in January, losing Miss L (ok only very briefly) on a plane in August, someone walking off with Baby L in the supermarket trolley (hmmm, maybe I need to start paying attention to my children more!), Master L astounding us one day by casually announcing he was going to write his name- and then doing it! Me falling off the side of a cliff while skiing, drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon in the Fork and Tap in Arrowtown (Miss L developing quite a taste for it too!), the feeling I had opening a box of macarons and a spa voucher as a “thank you” present from Mr L, playing Calon Lan to try and get Baby L back to sleep at 3am, getting both feet off the floor (not for long!) in crow pose…. And so on.

A few weeks ago we watched “Inside Out”. Since then, Mr L has talked about generating “core memories” for our kids. I agree, that’s important, but from a slighty more selfish point of view, I’m very happy to look after them in my own memory bank for now!

Here’s to 2015…. x

Happier at Home

I’ve become quite fond of Gretchen. Since reading The Happiness Project and attempting my own (and therein gaining a newfound respect for her diligence to such a project) I’ve been listening to her podcast Happier and I’ve read (and really enjoyed) Better Than Before.

I was wandering around my local library the other day (not quite deliberately enough to call it browsing) when I came across her book Happier At Home. I’ve never really had a great urge to read this one- for a while I thought it was the same as The Happiness Project but with a different cover or title, as some books seem to have for various international versions. But after seeing it there in front of me and reading the back to make sure it wasn’t the same as The Happiness Project, I thought “Let’s give it a whirl!” so I borrowed it. (I love libraries, they satisfy my penchant for zero waste, frugal, clutter-free living.)

Although I’d had my reservations about The Happiness Project, I enjoyed Happier At Home from page 1. Gretchen’s writing voice is different to her podcast voice. When I first tuned into her podcasts, I remember being quite surprised to hear the way she spoke. I’m not sure why…. Reading another of her books then reminded me of that slightly awkward, nerdy, slightly neurotic type A persona that I found difficult to fully warm to in The Happiness Project. But this time, instead of finding it disconcerting, I actually found it quite comforting to hear it again.

And so, I read about what is, essentially, her second happiness project, this one on a slightly smaller scale, set in and around her home. And, just as with The Happiness Project, I was inspired to take away from it some “Try this at home”s (find out what this is on her podcast- although it’s pretty self-explanatory!)

Specifically,

  • Go shelf by shelf (declutter- a constant mission of mine)
  • Kiss in the morning, kiss at night (Give proofs of love)
  • Give gold stars (Acknowledge others’ good deeds verbally not just mentally)
  • Go on adventures (Big and small, with both Mr L and the little Ls)
  • Give warm greetings and farewells (a kiss at least, hello and goodbye)
  • Dig Deep (My personal commandments need revisiting I think)
  • Suffer for fifteen minutes (Get a potentially tedious and large scale chore done little by little each day- mine, as Gretchen’s was, is collating some family photo albums.)
  • Follow a threshold ritual (Literally, cross the threshold of your house with gratitude)
  • Eat like a yogi (I added this one myself- more on this later, it’s a work in progress)

I wonder if I’d have been better off reading Happier At Home before The Happiness Project. Despite coming first, The Happiness Project is on a much bigger scale and was a bit full on for me. Mine kind of fizzled. This one’s much less rigid. It’s just going to aim to incorporate these habits into my day, rather than ticking off resolution charts or writing time lines.

We’ll see how we go!

 

 

Weighty issues part 1: Michelle, meet Gretchen

I specifically have not talked about weight or dieting (in detail anyway) on this blog- I wanted to keep it a weight-free zone. For most of my life I have had a preoccupation with my weight, diet, eating etc (I kept my first food log when I was 9 years old) and I didn’t want it to take over my blog.

However, Baby L is approaching the 4 month mark and I still have 8kg of baby weight to lose…

As part of my general ruminations about weight loss over the past few months I have vascillated wildly between two main strategies I might use to shift these stubbon kgs.

The first (and the diet I’ve been most successful with in the past, losing my baby weight after Miss L was born) essentially revolves around calorie counting. Specifically, the Michelle Bridges 12 week body transformation. It’s surprisingly simple: you eat fewer calories than you expend and voila, you lose weight. More specifically, 1200 calories a day for women- this allowed me to lose about 10kg in 12 weeks. It even permitted me a few slip-ups along the way. Michelle is big on exercise but emphasises that the calories you burn from exercise are far exceeded by the calories you save by sticking to the diet, however, I’m a big proponent of the other benefits of exercise (link to running post) even if calories burning is not number 1. You get a meal plan, which is essentially 7 new recipes a week, most of which were tasty and surprisingly quick to prepare. I found the diet quite easy to stick to for most of the 12 weeks. You keep a log of the food you eat (just for your own records) and you post your weight online once a week. She advocates weighing in on a Wednesday, which unofficially allows you to relax a bit on the weekend and be really strict on a Monday and Tuesday. You also get a treat meal once a week. She sends you weekly or twice weekly “motivational” emails and video links and you have access to the online 12WBT “community” where you can be encouraged and motivated (I must confess I was largely discouraged by the overwhelming stupidity of the general population and their failure to comprehend basic concepts but that’s another story.) This for the fairly reasonable price (I thought) of $200, which is less than $20 per week.

I finished that diet very pleased with the results, smaller than I’ve ever been (as an adult) and rather smug about how “easy” I’d found the whole thing. “I really have very little sympathy for people who say they can’t lose weight” I recall saying (despite the fact that I’d been struggling with it for 25 odd years). However, I felt a bit lost at the end of it, I kind of wondered “Well what do I do now?” Do I keep counting calories, do I start eating “normally” again? MB recommends you gradually increase your daily calorie allowance until you find your set point. She herself, apparently, doesn’t count calories or log her food but is (obviously) pretty in tune with how much she’s consuming and tends to stick to a fairly strict diet in the week and relaxes a “bit” on weekends. And so I started eating some of the things I’d given up- mainly cheese and cakes- started baking again, got a bit lazy…. And gradually 3kg crept back on. It wasn’t a huge deal, that was me back at the lower end of my comfortable adult weight range, so no big deal, right?

When I got pregnant with Baby L, I was determined not to gain 25kg again as I had done with the other two. But it became obvious I was stacking it on again so I tried to do MB to maintain my weight and limit my pregnancy gain. Hmmm…. Not so easy when nauseated and tired. So I ended up 25kg heavier again with Baby L.

Since giving birth I’ve said “Right, this is it, time to start!” a couple of times but I’ve just found it so bloody hard. I can’t help feeling that signing up online, paying the money, all of that seems key in sticking to it, but I find it ridiculous that handing over $20 a week makes you stick to a diet when you could spend that $20 on something else… like a yoga class, an exercise class, a pedicure (well not every week obviously).

It was timely then that I read Gretchen Rubin’s “Better Than Before”, which is a book about habits- forming good ones mainly. Early in the book she encourages you to identify what sort of personality you are- the options are Obliger, Upholder, Rebel and Questioner. I didn’t even need to read the descriptions of the personality types to know that I am an Obliger. Obligers essentially are motivated to follow through with things if they are accountable to someone else. We don’t like to let other people down but are less motivated by keeping promises we make to ourselves (Upholders on the other hand, are motivated to keep their promises to both other people and themselves). This kind of explained a lot, paying money (and not just my money but mine and Mr L’s money) means if I didn’t get results on this diet I would be wasting our money. And, somehow, posting my weight online for all to see (even people I didn’t know) also motivated me. So how can I substitute that external accountability?

The other thing I had last time was a wedding to go to at the end of the 12 weeks- one of Mr L’s friends- I’m not sure why that made a difference except for the fact that I knew that a lot of the girls there would be fit and skinny as well as younger than me and I suppose I didn’t want to be the fat dumpy wife (not that any of them would have thought that, it’s just how I would have felt).

I’m also trying this time to note how beneficial being a few kgs lighter would be for things like my newly trialled yoga hobby, running, SUPing, etc, rather thn just doing it for the sake of looking good.

So I’ve planned my meals, tried to substitute paying Michelle Bridges with paying my unofficial yoga fund and printed out some skinny pics of myself for motivation. I’ve also written out a week by week countdown and declared my 15 year uni reunion as the official 12 week milestone to get in shape for. (Interestingly, Gretchen warns against using a “finishing line” when trying to achieve goals or start habits, as they generally lead people to stop their new habit, after which they often find the second time round even harder. As I have proven…)

And if it all falls apart this week, there’s an “official” round of 12WBT starting September 14th

April Happiness Project- Kikki K Happiness workshop*

Ok so I could pretend that I had always intended for this to be my scheduled activity for April when I outlined my happiness project in January. But that would be dishonest. I didn’t have the workshop scheduled until about a fortnight ago, although I received the voucher for Christmas so it was definitely well and truly on my list of things to do.

The truth is, the first two months haven’t gone exactly to plan and a combination of running out of steam (ie time, energy, motivation) and being disorganised had part of me thinking “screw this” but then another part of me saying “no hang on, why not just make the workshop your Happiness activity for this month?”.

So on Thursday last week, Mr L made sure he got home a bit early from work and I ventured into Auckland’s shopping district to attend my Kikki K Happiness workshop.

Kikki K run a series of workshops with various themes- including Organisation, Goals, Happiness and a new one, Mindfulness. They run for an hour and cost $50 (in NZ) and there’s the lure of a free (well, an included) gift and a discount on all items in store on the night. You know what the gift is ahead of time so if you wanted to, you could go into it with an idea of the content although I must admit, I didn’t bother doing any research and just went off the description of the workshop and also the fact that one of my themes/interests for this year is Happiness.

So at the start of the workshop were given our own Kikki K Happiness journal to take home and this formed the basis for most of the points of discussion. The session was led by Michelle, who leads all the workshops in Auckland and Hamilton and started doing so (I think) just this year. She was a graphic designer in a former life until deciding she was unhappy in her job and needed to do something different. I’m unsure if she has any formal training in Life Coaching or motivational speaking (or in fact, if you necessarily need any) but she certainly had the makings of a good facilitator for this kind of session. I felt she was a little nervous, although maybe if I hadn’t known she was new to the job I wouldn’t have picked up on this.

The other workshop participants were all female and all appeared to be twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings, with the exception of two high school girls, (who were very sweet!)

The basic concepts discussed were not new to me, which didn’t actually matter, it was good to have them reinforced. Interestingly, Kikki K sell Gretchen Rubin’s books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, and a large part of the workshop (and in fact the diary) seemed to be inspired by her own Happiness Project. I found this a little distracting, partly because I’d already made my own impression of her book, partly because I wondered if she was receiving any commission and also because I would have liked to add a couple more references and resources to my happiness bibliography. But it didn’t take over the workshop and given that much of my own Happiness inspiration has been derived from her writing, I didn’t really feel I could complain too much.

The main themes/messages were:

  1.  Being happy is an active choice we make on a day-to-day basis
  2. Taking pleasure in the (often simple) things already present in your life is far more effective than dreaming of how future big goals are going to make you happy
  3. Reflecting on what makes you happy, what has made you happy in the past and being grateful for those things is vital for Happiness
  4. Accepting yourself and your own likes & dislikes in also crucial, rather than trying to conform to others’ ideas of what should make you happy

The diary is essentially in two sections- the first covers general reflective exercises covering mainly what I’ve mentioned above, the second is a more specific tool for analysing what would make your life happier and coming up with some steps to achieve those things, with a month-by-month plan. In other words, your own happiness project.

I left the workshop feeling relaxed and, happily, happy. It was hard to say if the workshop and the reminders it provided me re my own happiness project were the main reason for that, or if I just felt like I’d had a mental break after a particularly taxing few days with the kids. Probably a bit of both.

So my April happiness project has become to complete the diary exercises and take another look at my own happiness project and see if I can do a bit of a better job than I managed in February and March!

*Much as I would love to be endorsed by a company like Kikki K, I attended this workshop as a paying customer

Lions & Lambs

Growing up in England, there was much preoccupation with the weather, as there seems to be in general, but more so, apparently, in countries whose weather is either predictably bad or predictably unpredictable. There was always a saying “March roars in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” meaning that it was supposed to be some kind of critical weather month which magically transitioned from winter to spring. True, early March in England is generally pretty grim weather-wise, but I certainly have memories of many an April, May and June wondering when exactly the nice weather would arrive.

Today is the penultimate day of March and, whilst the weather in Auckland has gradually become a little cooler but still remained generally very pleasant, I’d say in terms of Happiness and Vitality, March is definitely ending on a more leonine note than it started. [Actually all the lions I’ve ever seen have been very cool, calm and collected, mostly asleep but even the awake ones have been sedately pacing or meticulously stalking prey- but never mind, let’s not wreck the analogy.]

Quite what I was thinking making “Vitality” the theme for March, at 7 months pregnant with a fairly hectic work schedule for both myself and Mr L, I have no idea. Today I find myself completely exhausted and emotionally overwrought as I gear up for my last rostered shift at work this evening (still leaving a few loose ends to tidy up before no 3 arrives) and at home I find myself increasingly disorganised and at the end of my tether with Miss L, who seems to have firmly embraced the terrible twos at the age of only 21 months. Carrying an extra 20kg, sleeping poorly (thanks to big tummy, pregnancy-induced snoring, crying children), I don’t think I’ve ever felt less full of vitality in my life. I keep saying “when I’m on maternity leave…” but in fact work accounts for less than 20 hours of my week so I’m not entirely sure how much difference stopping will make. At least there won’t be any more super-late (3am) nights. At least, not work-related ones.

Anyway here’s a summary of March Happiness:

Go to sleep earlier– I did ok with this one for a couple of weeks, but it required a surprising amount of discipline. I looked around for a clock to use as a time-keeping substitute for my phone (not a prolonged search, I admit) and then kind of forgot about it, and as my sleep became more frequently interrupted by other the other factors mentioned above, I found myself turning to my phone and its cyber-entertainment during bouts of insomnia. I have found showering before bed fairly relaxing however, and have got into a bit of a habit of doing this. Plus showering at night means I can do it at leisure without fear of a child killing themselves/their sibling while I’m at it.

Exercise– did badly on this one, coming nowhere close to 3 times a week (although I didn’t keep my resolution chart either- another fail- so I couldn’t say how many times I did manage it). It did reiterate to me, though, how much better I feel after some fresh air, even if it’s just a 20 minute stroll through the park with the dog.

Act energetic– this was perhaps the most ridiculous of my ideas so far. For someone who finds it hard to fake “energetic” at the best of times, this was never going to happen given my current size, my sleep-debt and everything else at the moment. Might have to re-try this one at a later date.

Toss, restore, organise was moderately successful. We managed to get the spare room sorted out, the cot in the baby’s room up, a few more pictures on the walls and a couple of other odd jobs done. I haven’t done a lot of tossing, but I’ve made the bed a bit more often than usual and been a bit more diligent about putting the laundry away. The evening tidy up happens properly about 50% of the time, and in a modified format most nights.

Similarly for the nagging tasks– when I reviewed my to-do list last night I was pleasantly surprised to see how short it was. True to my word, I have crossed off an item without doing it once a week and managed to get through a couple of other items a week from it and amazingly have managed not to add too many other things to it.  To be honest I didn’t give a lot of thought to doing smaller than 1 minute jobs right away, maybe I already do them without thinking, I don’t know, there just didn’t seem to be that many….

Eat better, however was also a complete fail…. But I have mapped out a rough outline of my post-baby diet which (perversely) I am planning to start after Easter- yes, before the baby is born!! Really keen to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight in time for our ski trip in August, 3 months post baby, so I thought I’d get started early as 3 months isn’t a lot of time to shift all the kgs I’ve gained.

All in all, I’m kind of wondering how Gretchen fit all this in on top of real life. I suppose the idea is that it’s supposed to enhance and improve your real life. It probably helped that she was writing a book about it but she must have had a job and a life going on while it was in progress, it’s not like a book pays the bills before it’s written (well, not many bills). Anyway she seems to be quite popular these days, with another book, a podcast series and also speaking at some Happiness convention in Sydney we saw an ad for….

I, meanwhile, feel like I just have to survive this evening/this week/this pregnancy/who knows how long… I’m hanging out for the day I don’t go to bed dreading being woken up and to waking up most mornings feeling reliably relaxed and refreshed. Maybe in another 10 years!

March Happiness Project- Vitality

It’s autumn! I love a change of season and I especially love the first day of autumn. So my plan for March: Vitality.

Gretchen does this one first up. I guess she figured it’d stand her in good stead for the rest of the year. Which is partly why I chose to do it early as well (and also because, getting late in my pregnancy, I figured I might need it the most about now!)

I think I’ve pretty much lifted my resolutions directly from her. They are:

1. Go to sleep earlier– I really need to do this! Since giving birth to Master L, when everyone seemed to be full of the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!!” I’ve resisted having a nap when the kids have theirs, or going to bed as soon as they do. It helped that as tiny babies, both my kids were good sleepers so I seemed to have less of that new-baby sleep deprivation than other mums do, I think. Apart from the fact that, even at my most tired, 7pm is generally too early to go to bed (and I need to have dinner), I’ve always valued my child-free/child-asleep time so much, that to sleep it away myself seems like a waste. I welcome the opportunity to do my own thing, whether it’s getting dinner ready, tidying up, watching TV or surfing the net. However, now that I have 2 kids and am 30 weeks pregnant, I’ve come to realize that staying up being an adult is all well and good, but if you’re so tired the next day that you act like a child (and a tired one at that), it’s better for everyone that you sleep. For me, I need to not just go to sleep earlier, but go to sleep “cleaner”. Sleep hygiene is something I’ve never been great at, and now that we have mobiles and laptops and i pads to keep our minds buzzing right up (and even after) we turn off the light, I’m even worse. So I’m going to try the following to sleep longer and better:

  • Start the bedtime routine at 9.30- laptop off, last cup of tea, start getting kids’ milk ready, make sure kitchen either tidied to my liking or make conscious decision to leave it till the next morning (and be happy with that decision!)
  •  Upstairs at 10- no more checking phone for emails or FB updates
  • Read for up to half an hour before lights out at 10.30
  • Get a bedside clock ASAP so I can leave my phone charging downstairs and am not tempted to check it at 4am!

2. Exercise- I’m limited by what I can do at the moment (yes, I know, excuses, but really, I have horrible varicose veins that start in my groin and ache when I try and do too much on my feet) but I’d really like to swim or walk (well, stroll/waddle) 3 times a week. The dog will be happy about that too (not me swimming, but the strolling part). I’m conscious of being VERY unfit in this pregnancy, which I’m sure I’ll regret in labour, if not before

3. Act energetic– ok so being the size of a baby whale is not really conducive to this but the theme of this month is “Vitality”, after all! I came across a man called Richard Wiseman last night, a psychologist and author of 59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (I have asked the library to reserve me a copy). One of his basic theories about behavioural change is that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will be. So pretend to be more energetic, and you will be! Same goes for happy, powerful, calm blah blah… (Maybe I could save myself this whole Happiness project series here!)

4. Toss, restore, organise– This is generally something I find fairly easy although we have still not got on top of things 100% since moving house. This weekend’s task is to get 2 more of our remaining rooms sorted out. I’ve also become a bit slack with tidying the kids’ toys in the evening- “Do an evening tidy up” is actually one of Gretchen’s daily resolutions for her vitality month. It needs to be reintroduced in our house! I’ve also been intrigued lately by a blog called Zero Waste Home– but more on that later.

5. Tackle that nagging task– oh my perpetual to do list!!! Gretchen’s rule- if you can do it in less than a minute, do it now (actually she got that from someone else, I’m not sure who though). To whittle my To-Do list away I’m going to try:

  • Once a week, cross an item off without doing it (ie just get rid of one non-essential task)
  • Schedule 2 items per week
  • Anything less than a minute- do it now!

6. Eat better– I debated about including this as it probably falls more in the domain of “Health and Fitness”, which I have planned for July. However I can’t help but feeling that my terrible diet (too much food and of the wrong type) probably also plays a part in my lack of vitality, not just through excessive pregnancy pounds gained, but in the general malaise and sluggishness that comes from feeling constantly full and never hungry. So although I think the motivation to really lose my baby weight won’t kick in until after the baby’s born, I’m going to try making some small changes now so that a) I feel better and b) I don’t have as much weight to lose come May. Starting with 3 meals & 2 snacks a day, instead of the constant grazing and mindless eating I’ve been allowing myself to do.

 That seems like a lot of resolutions for one chart. Let’s see how I go….

 Commandments

  1. Let it go
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Do it now
  4. Enjoy the process

February summed up

Well, I feel as though I am ending February with a spectacular FAIL. I got as far as printing my resolution chart out but neglected to actually put it up anywhere visible (in fact I’d go so far as to say I lost it) let alone fill it in.

I limped through last weekend at work, thinking “I just have to make it to Tuesday”. Well I made it, and then struggled through Tuesday tired and preoccupied instead of enjoying being at home. Wednesday was better but then yesterday fell hopelessly apart by bedtime with Master L, Miss L and mummy all tired (Master L after preschool, Miss L mysteriously having refused her daytime sleep and mummy having stayed up too late the night before doing nothing constructive).

I feel like I am constantly making excuses for myself- yes I’m pregnant, yes I’m tired, so what? So go to bed earlier! It was MY decision to have a third baby (and a first, and a second), no one else’s (well except Mr L I suppose!) and it’s not fair that I take out being tired and pregnant and fat (not just pregnant fat- too much food fat!) on the kids.

When Master L sobs back at me “Mummy why do you have to shout at us?” and Miss L goes and hides in the spare room…. I feel like the worst mother in the world. Especially when I answer his question in my head “I have no reason, bubba, except that I’m just being a shitty mother this evening”.

Maybe I should have followed Gretchen’s lead and worked on Vitality first rather than Attitude. Some fresh air and more quality sleep might have put me in a better frame of mind….

So, overall, as far as the resolutions went:

 

No negative FB posts- B+ This was easier than I thought
Use your kind voice C- Started off ok and got worse. This is really a conscious decision. I can choose what I use!
Area of refuge C+ I got better at this, but didn’t feel it had a huge impact
Use your kind voice FAIL I was terrible at this!! But it sort of reappears in March, so I’ll give it another crack.

 

Anyway there are just under 48 hours left of Feb… probably not enough time to redeem myself but I can at least improve on the past 48 hours!

February Happiness project- Attitude

And so (given that I finished her book at the very end of January), I decided February would be the start of my Gretchen Rubin-inspired Happiness project. Not long to plan, exactly, I know, but I thought I’d ride the motivational wave and get stuck in.

More t/f on the rest of the project (assuming I keep at it!) but it’s fairly closely modelled on Gretchen’s: essentially, tackling one area a month with some more specific goals laid out. I thought I’d start with “Attitude”. Interestingly, she leaves this one until November, which didn’t make much sense to me when I read the book. I thought if I worked on this first, the remaining 11 months might be a bit easier.

So my mini-goals/tasks/resolutions were:

1) No negative FB updates

2) Use your kind voice– funnily enough as soon as I started this I got an email from The Parenting Place– some NZ parenting support group I’ve had almost nothing to do with except signing up for their newsletter in a moment of weakness. They don’t send a lot of useful stuff, but I found this timely:

“As parents it’s easy to forget that how we say something often matters as much as what we say. If you have a child who can be resistant, keep the fight out of your voice and try using charm instead. It’s amazing what can be achieved when our tone of voice lets our kids know that we expect them to make a good choice. Making a decision to sound calm and happy often has the added benefit of making you feel calm and happy – a win/win for everyone.”

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Along with it went a resolution to try and say “Yes” as much as possible. “Yes I’ll play with you. Yes we can go to the park. Yes you can help me make your breakfast”. What no one has told me is how you’re meant to respond when they throw it back in your face- when, after a morning of speaking kindly and saying “yes”, Master L has a meltdown because you say (kindly) “Yes we can build sandcastles on the beach…. Another day. Now we have to go home and have lunch and put Miss L down for a sleep”. And suddenly your sweet obliging child turns into an ungrateful, entitled monster and you’re almost sorry you bothered indulging him in the first place.

3) Find an area of refuge– “when people’s minds are unoccupied,” Gretchen says, “they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. And rumination- dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters and sad events- leads to bad feelings”. I’ve found this hard as it’s a bit vague. Apart from the argument with my sister, which has taken up more of my headspace than it should, what I’ve been trying to do is think of nice things- the new baby, holidays etc, before I go to sleep at night.

4) Smile more– especially when you feel negative or anxious

Gretchen recommends keeping a resolution chart, ticking off each day which resolutions you pretty much stuck to and reviewing it to see how you are going.

Now that we’re half way through February, I wonder if the reason she left this one till last is that it’s so bloody hard! Apart from the fact that it’s a bit more abstract in nature than, say, eating healthily, it requires an incredible amount of determination, resolve and energy to maintain a good attitude towards life in general. As Gretchen her self says,

“It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, easier to be demanding than be satisfied.”

Especially when you are moderately heavily pregnant with your third child… (Don’t make excuses, fortunately, is not on the chart).

February’s been an up and down month anyway. It started with a solo night away in Melbourne for me at a work meeting. I finished the book the night before I left and was all fired up to plan my project and start! I found 2 days (and one, blissful night in a comfortable bed in a cool, dark, quiet hotel room) unbelievably refreshing. I came back relaxed and energised and feeling like I’d had a holiday. Maybe something to do with the fact that we did, then, go on holiday for a week, back to Sydney, which was also a really enjoyable week.

Since coming home though, I’ve really struggled with work, especially, but also the day to day routine in general. I’m tired, annoyed with the annoying bits (of work) and desensitised to the good bits. Maternity leave is within view but before it lie 2 more night shifts and another weekend. Plus a number of work things I need to get done before I go on leave. And it seems like every week for the next month or so either Mr L is away or I am either away or working a weekend. Other things, like petty arguments with my sister, a slight change in routine for the kids and a ton of things on my to-do list that I never seem to get on top of, have allowed a negative attitude to stomp all over my resolutions and February happiness goals.

So I’m finding it hard! But half of Feb is left. The last couple of days I have been angry Mummy and I don’t like it at all, so I’m going to do and print my chart out right now and hopefully add some more ticks to it…