Saturday, 31 December 2016

Resolutions for 2017

1. Keep the house clean and tidy to a high standard.
2. Start an MA in Education.
3. Join some kind of exercise class in February.
4. Blog at least monthly.
5. Continue with current exercise schedule (light but regular).
6. Invest more in my life outside work.
7. Look at the bright spots.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Habits of 2016

In my journey towards the mountain (does anyone ever get to the mountain?) I've focused a lot on habits and developing the architecture of my life. Trying to build better habits, although I now see trying always to be a "better version of me" is actually a bad habit. There is no better version of me, and self-improvement leads counter-productively to isolating narcissism.

Still, developing good habits has been helpful. I read a lot of self-help books and once taken with a pinch of salt they can work. I've read "Grit" this year, and my favourite "Deep Work" by Cal Newport. Last year's book was "Better Than Before" and I've been keeping the Better than Before journal.

Some habits I thought were bad habits were really good habits. I had a habit of keeping a diary which I'd mostly write in the mornings and usually fill three A4 pages.  These were the morning pages from The Artist's Way. They had failed miserably in their intended purpose of getting me to write more, and they often took up to an hour to write as I ruminated and mentally digressed. So I said I'd give them up and switch instead to just keeping my Moleskine notebook. Things unravelled. First slowly, and then faster and faster until yesterday found me kneeling in my hallway, having dented my expensive front door with a kick of impotent rage, I had my head in my hands. I felt completely powerless and not sure what to do next. I think now my habit of writing was actually a good one, and it's one I think I'll go back to. Reflection is good.

I made a list last December of habits I would develop for the year. How many have stuck? Doing a few abs exercises in front of the telly. Putting on 20-25 minutes on the timer at least once a day and having a tidy-up. Unfucking my habitat at the weekends. Putting out my clothes for work the night before. Leaving the staffroom and finding somewhere quiet to work (this can be a challenge, both the leaving and the finding somewhere quiet). Taking five minutes to tidy up before leaving work. Reading classic fiction rather than watching television. Putting my Diet Coke in the fridge at night, and my breakfast in my handbag. These have all stuck, more or less.

What habits haven't been as sticky? Keeping better homework records. I've gotten better at this but it's still not as perfect as I'd like it to be. Sorting the laundry on a Friday. Getting blowdries. Keeping the fone charged. Getting the bus into town. Writing in cafés. Running. Bringing things in out of the car. Marking things on the calendar. Cooking my own food. Taking iron tablets. Writing. Going out on a Saturday.

There are some I've given up on, like meditating. I reckon going for a walk on my own fulfils many of the purposes of meditating. Also, I've shoved writing into certain periods i.e. the summer holidays. That is my writing time. This is after reading Newport's book, where he says there is a choice. You can do something every day, or allocated intensive blocks. I always felt guilty about not getting up early to write/ writing in the evening but this alternative way of looking at things - I'm either in writing mode or teaching mode - works better. Other things I've given up on are keeping the ironing board in the kitchen (why?), using a stamper (a habit I invested in by purchasing stamper) and sitting nearer the front in staff meetings.

There is still a week to go before deciding on next year's habits. Contenders from last year include going out on a Saturday night (have signed up to lots of meet-ups),being more materially generous (this is a bit of a vague habit), opening the post (I know!) and going for walks. The two-kilometre walk I do is better than the three-kilometre run that I don't. I'm considering joining a gym to do fitness classes but want to avoid the New Year rush and high prices. I reckon mid-February might be a time to do that. In the meantime, will walk and do my Minnie Mouse exercises at home.

Everything is alright really. I don't need to change who I am. There is no perfection, just excellence in the small things. There is reading. There are other people. There is the world, out there.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

On Not Gving a F**k

In an irreverent move I have decided that this year's Lenten penance will be giving up giving a fuck. As soon as I write that, it seems coarse and vulgar and not how it felt in my head. Seeing the word "fuck" isolates it, and makes me think of its literal meaning, whereas the phrase hung as a unit in my mind. I was waiting to respond to the next person who asked me "What are you giving up for Lent?"
"Giving a fuck."
What do I mean anyway? Worrying? Caring? Caring what other people think? It's hard to pin down. Caring so much about non-existent or potential observers maybe. Or calculating the knock-on effects of my actions, or more usually inaction, to the nth degree. Maybe.
Yesterday I was asked, by you can guess who, what advice would I give to myself at the age of eighteen, or nineteen, or twenty. I normally skip over these ages as a time where little would've helped, preferring to castigate my sixteen year old and twenty-five year old selves. So what would I say to my twenty year old self? Twenty is harder than eighteen or nineteen.
Give yourself a chance. You are worth more than this miserable existence you're enduring. I think the latter is harder to say; you can't say it, you can only make people feel it. I go back to give yourself a chance.
Take a chance on yourself. Take a chance that if you work hard it'll work out. I was an awful slacker, almost the definition of a self-saboteur. I can see myself in Kristen Neff's book "Self-Compassion" in the character who leaves buying black shoes until the morning of his wedding. I've always been a Last Minute Lucy, hoping for a miracle or accident to save the day. Neff writes "Failure of some sort is inevitable when we only make a half-hearted effort." I would say to myself: I know you hate the pastoral section of the 16th century poetry course, but don't bank on mutability coming up. Remember Leaving Cert Irish when you left out "Fill Aris" and that was the poem on the paper? All the work you did (at least 90% of the course) was a waste because you didn't cover all the bases.
Give yourself a chance, as much as you give others a chance. So what if none of your friends are doing French and the classes are on at awkward times in awkward locations? All that matter is that you are doing French.
Focus on you. This is your time to focus on you. Stop being hung up on the parents/the family/ your mental health/ Sylvia Plath. In fact if there is one piece of advice that would benefit not just myself at half the age I am now, but millions of other post-adolescent young women it is this: You Are Not Sylvia Plath. Focus on you now, and as a result you'll eventually have more interesting things than yourself to focus on.
Take a chance. Go out with that nice boy who likes you. Take a chance. Eat those dinners and stop propping that exit door ajar. There's an awful draught.


Saturday, 16 January 2016

Why Buying Books is Okay, Even When You Already Own a Copy

One week into the 90 day challenge and how's it looking? Today -  the first real test - was a partial success; I used two parking discs rather than paying for the multi-storey car-park; I escaped from TKMaxx with nothing more than an item of practical underwear, even though tempted by array of bargain-some beauty product. Why did I even go there in the first place? It's my habit: a habit compounded by the shop's addiction-forming variable-reward system.
I'd had lunch at home and met a friend for hot chocolate before caving and stocking up in M&S.  At that stage I was tired and knew full well that that was willpower-depletion. I could have chosen to push through, to go buy some real food from local businesses. But sometimes knowing why you're doing something doesn't make it easier to not do it. Or, it doesn't make it easier enough.
I also bought a book. Buying books is allowed, as I have rarely regretted buying a book. Even awful self-help books that seemed - on inspection in Waterstones - to hold the secret to transforming my life only to be lots and lots of wasted ink and dead tree. With books you have to kiss a lot of frogs. Not only will you meet some Book Princes, you will over time develop a sixth sense for a book's amphibian-factor. The book I bought today is a Prince. I knew it would be, being "Better than Before" the latest from Gretchen Rubin. Not only have I read Rubin's previous two books, I'd also read this book. I bought it last month. I am a Book-Buyer-Lender-Buyer. Lending books to other people is one of my life's greatest pleasures. It's akin to the hobby of match-making, although there is a downside. This is that a book on loan is not a book on the shelf. And a book on loan may sometimes become a book lost. So every now and again, I will deliberately buy a book rather than resent the very book-reader relationship that I myself set up.
I like Rubin's book. It's witty and thought provoking and I like that she eschews playing amateur cognitive psychologist (although there's plenty of reference to actual research) in favour of anecdote and personal musings.   I even like that she neatly insists that since I disagree totally with her unscientific division of humanity into four habit types (Upholders, Rebels, Obligers and Questioners), this very resistance indicates that I'm a "rebel".

Saturday, 9 January 2016

90 Day No-Spend Challenge

Inspired by a post on that really scientific, factual site www.mindbodygreen.com, I've decided to go on a spending diet. For the next 90 days, which'll roughly take me up to 10th April, I will not buy any of the following;
-clothes
-shoes/bags
-make-up [apart from replacements]
-toiletries[apart from replacements]
-M&S ready-meals
-multi-storey parking
-magazines[ I hardly ever buy these anyway]
-decorative household items
-lunch out unless I'm meeting some-one
This is mostly to stop frittering away money on things that really don't give me much pleasure. I have a freakish stash of toiletries - shower gels, cleansers, gift-with-purchase miscellanies - that needs using up. I have very poor clothes buying habits. I wouldn't even have thought of clothes buying as habitual before seeing this. Not that I'm an awful spendthrift, if anything I'm too slow to "invest" in good quality, high-use items like coats and bags. I buy things because they're discounted but they don't go together. I also buy things for the Unreal Me. Unreal Me wears lots of dresses, which I buy for her but rarely wear myself. My motto for 2016 is "Accept Who Your Are, Change What You Do", and I have to face the reality that I'm just not some-one who's ever going to be a regular dress-wearer.
I'm also doing this to stop frittering away time browsing through the shops where I live. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's my default Saturday-with-nothing-on activity. I can still go into town, but the plan is to bring the notebook and write. Shopping/consuming is a mostly soulless pastime. I really enjoyed Judith Levine's "Not Buying It" and I really like the idea of a total spending fast, but there are a few things I'll be consuming more, not less, of
-books
-cinema/theatre tickets
-trips out of Dodge
-meals/drinks in company
-regular haircuts instead of waiting until I'm the brunette Rapunzel
And finally, I'm doing this for the challenge. It's not climbing Everest, or even Carrauntoohil, but it will involve changing what I do. Am looking forward to it, if I'm honest.