My Habit Practice Has Become a Toddler

If you have been following this blog, you know that I’ve been on a healthy habits path for a little while. In fact, one of the main reasons I started blogging was because I was doing something very different with regards to health from what most of my friends were doing, and different from what I had done my entire life. And friends started telling me “this is really interesting. You need to blog about this.”

So after a few months of hesitation, I started doing just that. I wrote about why I adopted a habits practice in the first place, and what I was doing. People asked me “how did you decide what goals to set? How do you decide on numbers? How do you track them?” So I wrote a series of posts about all that.

And now, I’ve been at this habit thing for 481 days. That’s just shy of 16 months. My habit practice has become a toddler.

And toddlers need some different approaches than babies do.  I’m starting to feel like my habit practice does too.

I’ve been tracking all my habit goals on this beautiful spreadsheet that I feel oh-so-proud of, but it’s getting a little ridiculous. There are over 20 habits on my spreadsheet now. I can’t see all the columns in one screen. And I’m wondering if I might enjoy taking some of the columns off the spreadsheet…which would mean NOT tracking all my habits.

With toddlers, you don’t need to pay as much attention to minutia.

When I had a newborn with feeding problems, we had to track every feeding and every elimination for two weeks. Once my baby had regained his birth weight and the lactation consultant had reviewed his feeding and elimination records and all was determined to be functioning well enough, we were given the green light to stop tracking these things.

Ideally, the purpose of developing healthy habits would mean that they are an automatic part of one’s routine, like brushing one’s teeth. I don’t have to track “brushing my teeth” to remember to do it every day. It is an automatic part of my day that I do morning and evening, and has been for as long as I can remember.

So, I took a look at my list of habits on my spreadsheet, and marked off the ones I that feel consistent enough that I probably COULD take them off the list and not suffer any loss of consistency. I can say that 9-10 of the behaviors have become more or less automatic. That means 12 or 13 of them I would like to improve on my consistency.

I feel about 95 percent sure that I want to take some of the more consistent habits off the spreadsheet, and I can’t say why. It’s not like tracking takes me a long time. Unlike tracking, say, calories at mealtimes, tracking my habits takes me just 2 minutes in the evening. It’s simply a checklist – at the end of the day I mark off whether I did the habit or not. I just feel like maybe I am outgrowing the need to check off 20 plus columns. The main thing holding me back from taking them off the spreadsheet is that I like feeling like I am giving myself a sticker on a chart, patting myself on the back for a job well done. I like seeing at the end of the day “wow, today I did 14 things that are good for me! Good self care, Bethany!” Maybe I need more excitement in my life.

Toddlers can have regressions.

There are some habits which go well in spurts, but on weeks when I have a lot on my plate, my consistency falters. So, the same logic that applies to new habits also applies to improving consistency with old ones: I am choosing ONE habit to really focus on improving my consistency. If I try to improve consistency on 12 or 13 habits at once (or even 2 or 3), I likely won’t have success with any of them.

Right now, I’m feeling a strong desire to improve my consistency with going to sleep early. Now that I am on CPAP and my body is actually getting the oxygen I need to sleep through the night, I feel like I can basically fly….IF I get to sleep early enough. So, why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Toddlers thrive on routine.

I am learning the value of having set routines and “habit triggers.” Habit triggers are something I see discussed in several habit based groups. It means that you attach your habit to a set item in your routine. For example, instead of saying “I will go to the gym sometime today,” you would say “when I wake up, I put on my gym clothes and do my workout.” Instead of saying “I brush my teeth when I feel like it,” you say “I brush my teeth when I wake up in the morning, and before I go to sleep at night.”

When I started working on my habits journey, I had no concept of how anything would fit into my routine. I said “I am going to do 150 strength workouts this year.” And it took me a lot of trial and error to figure out the best frequency and workout duration and intensity for me.  Kinda like when you have an infant, sleep is all over the place and you get it in when you can, and everything is trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t with each particular baby. Now that I have found a groove with what works well for me, I also have found that doing my lifting in the morning usually works best with my routine (more incentive to go to bed early!).

Recently I have read that setting a habit goal without specifying a trigger could actually be creating a habit of planning when to do the thing, instead of a habit of ACTUALLY doing the thing (I am paraphrasing, and I believe the person who wrote this was Sean Flanagan). I can see how planning when to do the thing is better than not creating any habits at all…and I can also see how creating the actual habit itself eliminates the need for planning, which is even better. Excessive planning takes up space in your brain, and takes it away from other things in life.

So, as I revisit some of the behaviors for which I would like to improve consistency, I will be looking at concrete places where I can build them into my routine, and giving them more concrete habit triggers.

Looking around, I see that I already have people in my life who are very good at habits, and they use habit triggers without realizing it. My mother always unloads the dishwasher while she makes her coffee in the morning. My father in law always goes grocery shopping on Tuesday and Friday mornings. He goes to the gym 5 days per week, and when he does, it is always at the same point in his morning routine.

Routines are only recently becoming a part of my life, now that I have a child. For years as an adult, I didn’t have set routines. There were so many changes in my life – moves, job changes, marriage. I always thought routine would feel stifling (I thought my father in law’s routine must be extremely boring!), until I realized my baby needed one, and my toddler needed one even more so. Now, I’m seeing that my habits will all be easier with more routine, and I am actually excited about building more routine into my life. I think everything will feel easier.

So, that’s where I am now, in terms of my habits practice: toddlerhood, minus the screaming and poop.

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Still Getting Better!

I had a great week. Everything keeps getting better. Last week I wrote some posts about how CPAP therapy is going for me. You can read them here, and here.

My kid had an ear infection this week, so he woke us up a lot at night for a few days, and I felt tired. But the amazing thing is, my mood was still good.  Even after 4 nights of interrupted sleep. In the months before I got my CPAP, if my kid had a bad night, my mood was terrible the next day. I found dealing with people to be too overwhelming. I felt irritable. I don’t drink coffee regularly, but I would go get coffee on those days. It didn’t help much. So, it was a big deal that this week we had four nights of interrupted sleep, and my mood was good even though I was tired.

In fact, I even did some housework after that fourth day! My kid was taking a nap, and a friend called. While I was chatting with her, I noticed that I had energy and didn’t want to sit still. So I got down on the floor and began stretching. Then I was done, and looking for something else to do. So I started cleaning off my bathroom countertop. Then the floor around the toilet. Then the baseboard. Then the sink. Then a couple spots on the walls, and the mirror. Then  dusted the bookshelf in my room, and in kiddo’s room. Then I took the trash cans out to the curb. Then I changed the cat litter. And all this was on a day I had already lifted in the morning, and after 4 days of sick-kiddo-interrupted sleep.

This was more housework than I would get done in a month or two, before. Before, I never had any motivation to do housework. The thought of it always seemed overwhelming.  I felt self conscious, thinking that everyone thought I was lazy, but I still couldn’t get myself to do it.  And I never would have done it on the same day I lifted weights. I always needed a lot of rest and recovery time afterwards. Essentially, I had to choose between lifting and housework. I always chose lifting, because it was more fun and it gave me lots of benefits, such as normalizing my blood sugar and just feeling better. It is amazing to me that now I can do BOTH sometimes.

My complexion is also improving. The photo on the left was taken a couple weeks before I started CPAP. The photo on the right was taken 12 days after I started CPAP. Look how my skin and eyes have brightened up!
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I still haven’t been able to take a nap with the machine on. I tried for the second time this week and couldn’t fall asleep. However, laying in a dark room breathing deeply for 30 minutes was refreshing enough in and of itself.

On the training front, I finished my second Wendler 5 3 1 cycle of the year. The new minimalist lifting schedule is working out great. I still feel strong, and I still have enough energy to handle my other shit. So I will be keeping that up.  Unfortunately I caught my kid’s bug, so I will be waiting a few days to start the third cycle.

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Minimalist Lifting, Week 2 Training Log

I am about halfway through my second week on a more minimal lifting program.  Here are some thoughts and observations.

If you read about the Wendler 5/3/1 program online, you will see that each day has you do 3 sets of the main lift. There are different templates you can follow for assistance work. The templates have names like “Big But Boring,” and “The Triumvirate.” The template where you do just the main lift, with no assistance work, is called “I’m Not Doing Jack Shit.”

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Easy Days, Challenging Days, and Not Reading Too Much Into Them

I love watching my kiddo at swim class. He is developing his skills and comfort level with floating on his back.

It’s interesting to observe that he has days where everything seems easy and fun for him and he makes a lot of progress (last Thursday), and days where he is having a hard time for whatever reason (today). Today he took an unexpected nap in the car on the way to the lesson, was overall droopy and tired after a busy day yesterday, and apprehensive about using the toilet. He still demonstrated the skills he’d solidified on Thursday, but didn’t work on them for as long. He was mentally ready to be done early today.

That was totally okay – I never thought to myself “oh, these setbacks means he will never learn to swim. What a waste of time and money.” Yet, we often think those things about ourselves when we have a day where we don’t practice our own new skills/habits to the extent we would like.

Just like I can observe him without judgment or apprehension, I can also learn to observe my own learning process in the same way. Skills will come in time, with consistent work, if they are meant to.

Realization: My Workouts Should Not Drive Me to Drink!

To be fair, it isn’t really my workouts that are driving me to drink. It is my three year old.

I’ll back up a little.

While the weather was warm, having a porch gym has served me well. I could lift on the porch while my kiddo played outside. If it took me an hour or two to get my warm up, lifting, and mobility and recovery work in, that was usually fine. My kid would play, eat snacks, and generally entertain himself.

Now though, it’s winter in New England. The gym has moved into my living room. My husband is injured and can’t play with my kid as much, and it’s too cold to get out much at all. Basically, my three year old is bored, and in mama-obsessed mood. He wants a lot of attention from me. And yes, he gets out of the house. He goes to his babysitter a couple days per week where he plays with other kids and goes on outings, and I take him to gymnastics class and swim class and the library and the grocery store and…..it’s still not enough. Especially since my husband and I were sick for a couple weeks on top of everything. My three year old is bored.

I’ve been trying to get back into my routine of lifting 3 times per week, for 1-2 hours start to finish.

Yesterday, I really had trouble getting going. I didn’t really want to lift. I wanted to go for a walk. It was sunny outside, and 27 degrees, which was the warmest it had been all day. I didn’t listen to myself though. I didn’t want to throw off my lifting schedule. In truth, it made me a little nervous to do it. So, I decided to lift instead.

Within the first sets, I noticed I felt irritable. I tried to get my kiddo to go upstairs and play with my  husband. No dice. He spent the whole workout running laps around the living room and trying to climb all over me between sets.

At one point, I decided to try a bench press. One of my coaches at barbell club had shown me how to do it the way the powerlifters do it. I got my rack out, figured out the height adjustments for benching, figured out where to place the bench in my set up. I got myself in position and ready to do a bench press.  I was about to lift the barbell off the rack.

And then something soft hit me. My kid had taken a sock and launched it at me, slingshot style.

I sternly told him that it was not safe to throw things at me while I am lifting, and carried him upstairs to my husband.

He still made his way back downstairs before the end of the workout, and climbed on me while I was stretching. And climbed on me for a while afterwards. He hadn’t napped. I made plans to go buy wine and cook some macaroni and cheese as soon as I put him to bed. Comfort and decompressing was needed.  As I was cooking dinner, I realized “I should have just gone for the walk I wanted to. I’d probably be in a much better mood right now!” I had a great time watching the Bachelor and felt better when I went to sleep.

And then it hit me….this isn’t working for me right now. I shouldn’t finish my workouts so stressed out that I need to decompress from them. And right now my kiddo is making that a reality.

The positive side is, having equipment at home gives me loads of flexibility to make changes! What if I tried something different? I’ve been wanting to try more powerlifting again (after taking a break for a while to focus on Olympic weightlifting). What if I just committed to one exercise every morning? I could do a Wendler style 5/3/1 program or a Stronglifts 5×5 model. I could make a schedule, for example: Monday deadlifts, Tuesday bench press, Wednesday squats, Thursday overhead press, Friday Pendlay rows. Each morning I could spend less than half an hour on a lift. While my kid ate breakfast. I’d be able to crank it out and be done before he started driving me batshit crazy. I could do it even on the three days of week that I go to work. On days I stay home I wouldn’t be too tired afterwards to do all the extra stuff that is on me to do while my husband is injured. I could maintain and even increase my strength. I could maybe do an Olympic lift on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday if I feel up to it if my kid is entertained, but I could take a break from focusing on them.

And I would be able to take a walk in the afternoon if the weather is nice enough that I actually want to.

So, this morning I came downstairs and did some sets Pendlay rows as my kid ate breakfast. And wrote this post. It feels strange to just do one exercise and still have this much energy after a workout.  And it feels nice to be done with a workout and not be ready to drink. Let’s see how this goes!

Happy Habitiversary to Me!

Today marks the one year point for when I set my first habit goals and set up a spreadsheet to track them . I’m calling it my habitiversary. I’m not sure I like the term; let me know if you think of something catchier ;).

I started with a just a couple, and now I have a color-coded rainbow spreadsheet to track many habits across many areas of my self-care. Not to mention a blog, and a series on how to help others get started making successful habit changes.

When I started last year, deciding to track healthy habits instead of a number on a scale or clothing size was unfamiliar territory for me. I decided I wanted to be open to whatever outcomes would come.

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As it Turns Out, The Water Is Fine.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about a new habit I had started that was provoking some conflicted feelings. A month has gone by since I started this habit, and I’ve been having some thoughts and feelings I wanted to document before I forget about them. So, you get a post! Yay!

The habit goal I am writing about is “finish my food by 8pm, 25 times by the end of the year.” I was experiencing both optimism and apprehension about adopting this habit. My biggest fear was that a habit like this would send me back into a dieting/restriction oriented mindset.

Overall, this habit is going a lot better than I expected, both in terms of emotional response and implementation.

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Dear Parents Who Struggle With Self-Care

Dear Parents Who Struggle With Self-Care:

Are you feeling guilty about not taking better care of yourself (whatever that means to YOU)? Maybe you took great care of yourself (whatever that means to YOU) before you had kids, but now you feel pretty far off course?

I get it! The other day I caught myself thinking  “It is crazy how far off course I was from living a lifestyle conducive to self-care.” If you knew me when I was in my 20s, you would probably say the same thing. I was the most health-fanatical person of anyone I knew! Now, I’ve been working on habits that I would have considered pretty basic back then.  I would have thought that these habits were not nearly enough to maintain my health.

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A New Habit. Somewhat conflicted, but it’s going well

A couple weeks ago, I added a new habit to my list: finishing my food for the day by 8pm. My goal was to do this 25 times by the end of the year.

Why did I choose this goal? I’ve been noticing that if I eat too much, too late, I feel uncomfortable while going to sleep. My sleep is not great and I thought this habit might improve it. Why only 25 times? Because I have a past history with any “rule” that sounds like a diet rule, and I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I just wanted to start experimenting with this habit to see how it felt. 25 times amounted to roughly 3 times per week.  I was uncertain  as to whether focusing on this habit is a good idea in the first place. What if it sends me back to a dieting mindset?

I noticed those feelings and tried to address them. You don’t have to do it every day. The goal is 3 times per week. That leaves plenty of room for listening to your body. If you are  hungry and need to eat, go for it. It won’t mean throwing in the towel. If you didn’t get home in time to finish eating by 8, the goal is flexible enough to accommodate that. If you are watching a movie and want a snack for pleasure, not hunger….well, there is room for that too.

This is not about restricting myself from eating food that my body is hungry for. It’s about encouraging me to finish all that food early enough in the day that my sleep won’t be compromised by a full belly. It’s about noticing where I am in this process/journey of developing an intuitive eating practice…and noticing that I have made great strides with it during the daytime, and not as much in the evening. Therefore, it’s about giving myself an external reminder (the clock) during the time of day when I feel least likely to remember to eat in tune with my hunger and satiety cues. And since the goal is not perfection (but rather, 25 times by the end of the year), there is room for me to check in with myself and decide that I DO want or need to eat after 8pm on any given night for any reason.

Even acknowledging all of this flexibility, I still notice some uneasiness with this idea. Not necessarily in a “red flag” sense…maybe just in a “notice the sensation” sense that yoga teachers talk about when holding a challenging pose.

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