Same Me, Same Goals, New Methods

Last Year I wrote about how each day is a great time to pursue self improvement. I still feel that way, and given the less than joyous political and social climate we had in the US this year, maybe even more so.

Every New Years Day for me is a day to assess what I’ve done, and come up with a plan for making it better. Most people can do this pretty effectively. The tricky part is continuing that self-help momentum into February and beyond. I struggle with it as much as the next person but I’ve learned some tips that might help someone else too.

The first week of the new year is when I write the page numbers, goal pages (daily & yearly/lifetime), and date sections for each day of the year, in a fresh notebook. This planner has become my lifeline to keeping on track (read about it here) and is part of three notebooks I use daily.

The second notebook I use is a journal for tracking what happened the day before. Most people who have gotten to know me over the years know I have a slightly bad long term memory and this helps me keep track of important dates such as when I graduated, had major medical procedures done, changed jobs/schools etc. It’s also a good mental health care routine to have to process stress and monitor health trends. For example, if a doctor wants to know how long my symptoms have lasted, or when I first noticed something, I can usually look back and find it there. I’d recommend this to anyone preparing for an appointment, especially since in the US right now the waiting times are much longer, and you’re more likely to go through health changes (or attempt to home treat) before your appointment actually comes around.

The third notebook is another kind of health tracker. Before last year I rarely drank soda, and I was so busy all day that the extra sugars didn’t affect me much. Since changing from a job where I was on my feet constantly to a completely sedentary one I’ve also drank more soda than ever. I gained some weight and started seeing some negative effects on my heart and overall health; this plus the fact that T2 Diabetes runs in both sides of my family encouraged me to lower my intake. Since I’m a believer in enjoying the little things in moderation, this journal lets me essentially do a sticker chart (yep, more stickers!). I made a spiral chart, and every 5 stickers I can have a soda, and after about 70 stickers I get a Redbull (I found out having one and drinking it slowly with water actually doesn’t bother my heart too badly; that’s serious progress!).

The goal, is to get a sticker after every good health day. I have to drink enough water to meet my intake goals, which is around 1500 mL, exercise in some way even if it’s just a brief walk, and get at least 6-8 hours of sleep. If I meet all three of these goals, I get a sticker. This method basically reinforces itself, and helped me move away from my slight soda addiction. Before this, I was literally putting myself into exhaustion from excess caffeine/sugar and not fueling my body enough to handle it; it caused quite a few heart problems.

Outside of these journals, making my goals for the year has been vital. When making my goals I try to keep in mind that I’ll probably lose momentum around mid-late January, and they should be realistic enough to take into account poor health days, stressful events, and disappointment when I fail to meet daily goals. Those goals are:

  1. Do my best to listen to my body’s needs
  2. Make healthy choices as much as possible
  3. Treat each new moment as just that, new.
  4. Try to work on at least one personal endeavor each day, even if that’s just for 10 minutes

These seem kind of simple, but they leave room for error, while giving me a chance to assess what I want out of my life each day. I personally enjoy learning new things, working on different projects, and getting healthier, but setting strict goals makes it harder to adapt when things don’t go as planned. As most Spoonies already know, having to adapt is crucial when your body doesn’t always do what you need it to when you need it to.

So, what do I do around this time of the new year when things start losing their brand new motivational sparkle? I set alarms.

Well, technically I use my phone and apps to track personal goals in simple ways. But since not everyone has the ability or means to do this, I’m going to break it down to it’s simplest form. I have an alarm for each type of activity I need to do during the day. One for taking my medications, one for small fitness breaks, one for drinking water, and one for time to rest and reflect on my day. Alarms can be different things for different people, but they give you a chance to stop stressing, and let the app/phone/clock worry about time. If I choose to skip one, I know it’ll come around again and I get another shot at it later.

Honestly, for me, the key to staying motivated is what I’ve stated from the start: every new day, every new moment, is a new chance. Beating myself up over what I didn’t do because I was busy with my health, another priority, or just plain tired, just stops me from trying again later. Being gentle with myself, while also trying not to overindulge have been the best ways to keep me going at a good pace. There’s no magic routine that will work for everyone. I didn’t learn these methods from someone else, and while they might help someone else, that person will also have to make changes that fit their own needs. Implementing something small, getting used to it, then adding resources as needed is a pretty good standard practice. Dumping too much on yourself can be overwhelming and most people lose momentum from the sheer weight of it all.

Self improvement isn’t a sprint, it’s an endurance run. Go too hard and too fast, and you’ll burn yourself out before you’ve even begun.

Burnout, Executive Dysfunction, and Indulgence

I typically post my blogs at a different day and time than when I wrote them so I’m going to start marking the actual day and time. It’s 16:42 on September 19th, and I can’t decide what to do with my Saturday afternoon.

My planner works really well during the week because my schedule is consistent due to work. Sometimes on the weekends it’s not as great if I’m feeling rundown. Today it’s definitely been more like the latter.

I’ve been laying here thinking “I know I’m tired and it’s good to sleep, but I also need to [insert my entire todo list].” It’s difficult to get up and just do something.

I think I’m giving myself a pass this weekend because I’m feeling a bit burned out from 2020 but that doesn’t mean I get to skip my responsibilities and my actual self care. Indulgence is sleeping longer than you need because getting up sounds hard. I don’t want to be indulgent, so I think I’m going to start with something small and get my momentum going.

My hope is that this will get me moving to do other activities. Sometimes the resources we use for mental and physical health and products stop working, or need a jump start. When that happens I try to do an activity I enjoy that gets me moving, or turn on music I like while I work. Occasionally the making a list and just tackling one thing on it and deciding whether to rest afterwards or not is helpful.

Today, I think I’ll make tomorrow’s schedule so I start the day off right, and I’ll pick one cleaning chore, and one mindful activity (so not videogames) to do to relax.

This year is tough on everyone. What do you do to get yourself motivated, or started on a more healthy track or to do list?

A Planner, Stickers, and Breaking The Cycle of Stress

I wasn’t planning on writing this now at 22:30, but my brain will not let me just rest for an entire afternoon. I went to sleep at 18:30 and the plan is to sleep again after this. I’ve been exhausted lately and tonight my goal was to give myself some much needed rest.

The more I learn about myself the more I realize that I am not only a perfectionist, but I’m a workaholic in the sense that I have to feel productive 100% of the time. That’s problematic because I also have a heart condition that makes being productive 100% of the time extra exhausting. I’m talking weak arms and legs, pass out in the hall because you’ve been studying non-stop for a week, exhausted (yes, that’s happened before).

Lately I’ve taken some steps to make self-care and rest more intuitive, but I have a feeling this will take a while. Here’s what I’ve done:

First, I love using my phone for to-do lists. It makes sense to me to keep my priorities in the thing I carry around anyway. Which is why I started a planner in a non-virtual notebook. Sounds contradictory, I know.

Using a paper planner means I can place it where it’s going to “haunt” me. On my bedside, by my workstation, in the car, in front of the TV, everywhere I look is a good place for it.

It’s working.

I’ve used the planner every day and it’s helping me remember everything I need to do as well as move my priorities around as needed.

Next, this planner is not designed to make me follow the schedule, it’s designed to help me break it when needed and still feel okay about it.

I had this pack of stickers that I think are adorable but never used because when the heck, as an adult, are you going to use stickers??? At least I never had a use for them before. Now I do, because every day that is a “good day” from a productivity standpoint gets a sticker in the planner.

This is inherently rewarding for my crow-brain (crows collect things they find asthetically pleasing) which enjoys giving me cute stickers, and serves as a visual tracking of my general productivity/positivity trends.

From a Spoonie perspective, tracking your health is pretty much standard. This is part of my mental health and I want to see if it fluctuates in any patterns. If it does, is there a reason, and is there a way I can use that information to help myself be healthier? When you have a physical illness, your mental health becomes even more vital to your energy levels. For cardiology patients, this is something you learn right away. Stress or lack thereof could be the difference between having the energy to make it through lunch, or needing to lie down so you don’t pass out.

The stickers give me solid reminders of the days when I was either healthy enough to be productive, or healthy enough to forgive myself and view the day positively when I wasn’t. A sticker means: great work, you had a good day either by knocking out your to-do list, or by taking time to relax. This way, both are encouraged and wavering in a state of anxiety between the two isn’t.

I also included a list of daily goals in the planner. At the end of each day I list which goals I completed and which I didn’t. The idea is to give myself a sticker anyway. This ensures I don’t beat myself up because I didn’t complete a goal, but I’m also motivated to see the not-done list get smaller each day. Plus, it’s a good way to build a habit one task at a time.

Overall I think it’s working because I never would have felt comfortable going to bed at 6:30 PM, at least not with the only productive thing completed after work being a single blog post. I feel a little less stressed but it’s going to take a long time before I see permanent changes to my mentality.

I’m excited to see how things turn out!