Monday, August 31, 2015

How I tricked myself into liking exercise

As I have described, I have historically not excelled at athletic activities - or at regular exercise. Nowadays, I go to Bar Method five days a week on average and I get my 10,000 steps and I go jogging a couple times a week and somehow, signing up for a 10k in May turned out to not be a huge mistake despite my misgivings.

So to be clear, this is not a story of how I went from a couch potato to an ultra-marathoner. It is more the story of how I went from basically not exercising at all to developing a regular, sustainable exercise practice. So this will probably be deeply unimpressive to many. But I came up with a few helpful tips and tricks along the way that may help you too.

Long story short, I got from point A to point B through a series of incremental, manageable goals.

Phase One is the failed goal. Back in spring 2013, when I wasn't exercising regularly, I had the brilliant idea to do what I was going to call "mile-a-day May" - a springtime version of the Thanksgiving-to-New-Years running challenge I had seen a favorite blogger, Elise, take on. When May 1 rolled around, I planned to hit the treadmill at my office gym... only to realize that I didn't have access and had to go through a multi-day process to get one. Womp womp. I don't know why I didn't run outside (though it probably had something to do with living in a slightly sketchy neighborhood at the time), but I basically gave up at that point. Because if you are doing a daily challenge and you miss the first day, it's hard to motivate yourself to pick up and keep going. 

In retrospect, it's clear why that challenge failed. It would have been a huge routine change. Of course I failed at running every day after running never. If I had been serious, I could have done much more to set myself up for success - I could have bought new running shoes and made sure I had gym access and developed a real strategy - but I still don't think I would have succeeded at doing it every day.

Later that summer, I started craving a massage. But I figured that any physical ailments I had from my sedentary desk job could be cured more cheaply with exercise than with a massage - and, if anything, working out might give me some aches and pains that I could then justify alleviating on the massage table. I set myself a challenge: I promised myself that if I worked out three days a week, for 12 weeks, I would reward myself with a massage at the end. 

Doesn't sound too hard, right? It still managed to take me about twice as long as I thought it would. (I didn't start back at zero when I missed a week, I just continued again the next week.) I would typically go to yoga Tuesday (the only day the closest studio had a Vinyasa class at a time that worked for me), run on the treadmill at my office Thursday, and run outside on the weekend. But that schedule was easily disrupted by happy hours and bad weather. I eventually made it through, got my massage, and was pretty pleased with myself.

In January 2014, after encountering lots of buzz about barre classes, I started doing Bar Method near my work. I signed up for monthly unlimited classes since it seemed like the best deal - and that totally changed my exercise calculus. Because when you are paying $$$ for unlimited classes on a nonprofit salary, you have a pretty strong incentive to go as often as possible to reduce your cost per class and prove to yourself that it is worthwhile. 

And that made a huge difference. It changed the question from "Should I work out today?" to "Is there a legitimate reason I can't work out today?" Working out three days a week still means that you are not working out more days than you are working out. Now, I was working down from seven days a week instead of starting at zero and working up to three. (Does that make sense? It makes sense in my head.)

And really, that was the tipping point. The other big influence was tracking workouts. Again, this idea came from Elise. I love what she says about that process:
Charting my progress made me see that every work out was worth it. Seeing that it was worth it kept me going. Continuing to go resulted in pounds lost. Seeing those results made me want to run even more. Running even more made me stronger. Being stronger made is so I didn't want to die while running.
In 2014, I tracked workouts and mileage on a fabulous cat literary calendar from Sarah Von Bargen. And this year, appropriately enough, I am doing it on a daily goal tracker from Elise and logging mileage separately. I'm not shooting for every day or even for a certain number of days a week, but it's still satisfying to watch the bubbles fill in.

So there you have it. Nothing especially exciting - but I do consider developing a regular exercise practice to be one of my big, if intangible, accomplishments over the past few years since graduating college. I am so hopeful that, while the particulars may change, this is something I'll be able to stick with as my life gets more hectic when I eventually return to school - and, really, for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The daily card, week 31

I feel like I'm back in a groove with this project after a slump. The thumbprint monsters were totally inspired by Katie Licht and were a perfect creative release after a long day at work. The airplant sketch, similarly, is a tribute to my sole living companion when I'm in the office after hours.

As the first Republican primary approached, I got the catchy phrase "not my circus, not my monkeys" stuck in my head. I was delighted to discover (via Gawker) that it's a Polish saying - nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy. And I'm always glad for a chance to use my "VOTE" stamp before 2016 rolls around.

As I prepare to take steps in a new direction, more and more mantras and motivational phrases are creeping in to the cards. I've been liking the results.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

30 Lists blog hop

Hello to anyone from the 30 Lists blog hop, and thanks for stopping by! This is my take on a pre-season list. As you'll discover if you poke around, I've been doing a yearlong creative challenge where I decorate a playing card every day (more here) - so I figured I'd play along and use a list prompt to inspire my card tonight. I'm excited for the September challenge - I think it'll be a nice creative jumpstart for back-to-school season.

Monday, August 24, 2015

My 100th post

Hurray for my 100th post!

Until around this time last year, I posted a handful of times a year when a really good idea struck me. I always had the idea that one day I would get the blog looking good - not like a janky Blogger creation with a too-long and too-earnest url that I picked at 22 - and THEN I would blog regularly. I would have a Blog and be worthy to go by the name of Blogger.

But I have always more interested in writing posts than in figuring out how to code. So one day I decided to just start, and I got into a pattern of writing more regularly, and as I wrote more I made little tweaks to make my online space more functional and more presentable, so it felt less and less embarrassing to share. Which is sort of the whole point of blogging to begin with.

The design is still a work in progress, and on the magical day that I have more time - or, more accurately, fewer competing priorities - I'd love to spiff it up a bit more. But I like what I've got going here - and I love having words and photos documenting my thoughts, ideas, and creative projects over the past year.

And as with the daily cards, I like having the writing practice in place and emphasizing quantity over quality. I like the process of polishing my writing until it's good, if not perfect, and then hitting publish instead of obsessing for hours over minor phrasing details. Sometimes the results are good, sometimes they're meh - and hopefully the truly terrible stuff is deleted at the drafts stage.

Thank you so much for visiting - whether you're a regular reader or you've just clicked through from another blog's comments section, hoping to procrastinate in the Internet rabbit hole a few minutes longer. It is too cool to have people interested in reading what I have to share.

Photos from a classic summer weekend of farmers market, coffee date, pool.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A quick thought on the "inspiring story cycle"

I think a lot about this post about creation and consumption. Last weekend, I spent an hour or so drinking coffee and reading Lean In and getting jazzed up to work on some professional development/responsible adult stuff I've been putting off. I sat down at my desk excited to get to work, but after making some introductory moves (pulling together work I've done in the past! creating a new file!), I hit the "this doesn't feel fun" wall. And I wanted to go back to the couch for more inspiration in the form of reading about Sheryl Sandberg's career path. It was the first time I really noticed the "inspiring story cycle" Elise writes about at work. Good to be conscious about the creation/consumption balance and making sure I'm making more time for the former.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The daily card, week 30

Some fun ones this week with an unintentional color theme. The figs were inspired by this. "Blister please with those wings in your spine" is a line from a song I've had stuck in my head on and off for... seven years now. The result is probably the most emo card I've ever done, but I love how it turned out and I love that this project has let me play with different styles in a very low-commitment way.

But I think my favorite is "the best eras never really end" - a card I made thinking of the "end of an era" card from January, and repeating its color scheme. The January card came about when I was thinking of a whole bunch of upcoming program and staffing changes in our Tunisia office, and the August card after a reunion happy hour with one of the colleagues I was most sorry to see leave. I like that aspect of this project, and of art journaling in general - that you can have a conversation with yourself across the ages.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A seat at the table

There has been a lot of chatter lately about how women, especially young women, speak and present ourselves and what that means for us in professional environments. We say too many "justs." We apologize for everything going around anywhere in our vicinity that may have displeased someone, regardless of whether or not we were the cause. And vocal fry is the up-talking of our day.

What this all means, the argument goes, is that we are constantly trying to minimize ourselves, to take up less space in the world. I have totally seen this in action. Whenever I need to bug any one at work, by default almost always more senior than me, about something I need from them, I definitely tend to preface it with "just wanted to check in."

But there has also been a very well-argued, feminist backlash to the Sheryl Sandbergs (making you a straw man here, sorry Sheryl) who would have us believe that if we just talked better, we could level the playing field for women. Ann Friedman said it best: we need to stop policing how women talk and listen to what they are saying.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I agree that there is - obviously! - some sexism inherent to the argument that women sound dumb. But on the other hand, I also think it's good to be conscious of how we come across - and I like the reminder that you don't have to apologize for doing your job. And plus, I really do hate (the more glaring instances of) vocal fry, whether it's men or women doing it.

All of this brings me to an experience I had in Mauritania this spring. We were at a large roundtable with women members of one of Mauritania's political parties, talking about their initiatives and what kind of training we could offer them. During the introductions - of senior political party leaders, of our experienced trainers - the chair turned to me and asked me to introduce myself.

"I'm just the rapporteur." I cringed as soon as I said it. I was caught off-guard and working in French, but it would have been so easy to say something to the effect that we were looking forward to working with them. I should have been prepared, going into the meeting, to speak. Even if no one would be calling on my expertise in my political party organizing, I am still a representative of my organization, with expertise in what we have to offer. I see it in the group photo, too, where I tried to take as unobtrusive a spot as possible - so much so that when Austin saw the picture, his response was "are you a ghost that haunts political trainings?!"

One of Sheryl Sandberg's tenets in Lean In is to sit at the table, not at the edges of the room, and to participate in the conversation. But I learned that even when you are literally sitting at the table, it is still possible to opt yourself out, to assume you don't have anything significant to add and thereby cut yourself off from adding something. I think of this as "intern mentality" - where your job is to stay out of the way and quietly execute the duties assigned to you until the summer's over and you're back to school.

But I'm not an intern anymore. I am a valuable member of my team - and I'm slowly carving out a career for myself. So I resolved, after this experience, to go into meetings expecting to contribute instead of just expecting to take notes. No ifs, ands, justs, or sorries about it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The daily card, week 29

This project, like most in the art journaling/scrapbooking world, serves twin purposes. It's both a creative outlet (as I wrote about last week) and a memory-keeping device. It's challenging me to create every day in the present, and I think it'll be something cool to look back on in the future. Ideally, I like to find a creative way to express something that's going on in my day. Oftentimes, one wins out over the other - some days I'm more interested in playing around with pattern than I am in creating something deeply self-reflective - and sometimes I just don't particularly have anything to say.

Of all the cards this week, the one that makes me smile the most is the Minion. It totally cracked me up when I found my boyfriend hunched over a Vox explainer watching minion videos. Drawing a minion is not fine art by any stretch, but it was good drawing practice. (Or at least, good practice at following the directions of "how to draw a minion in 26 easy steps!")

It's a little time capsule of our culture at the moment - a piece I'm sure I will have forgotten when I crack this album open 30 years from now. And what's more, this card captures something about us (or in this case, mostly Austin) and who we are at the moment and how we engage with that broader culture. It's a glimpse, in a neat little package, of what it's like to live in DC and spend too much time on Twitter and look to certain authorities on all manner of questions, from the Greek crisis to popular culture. And it's something that will hopefully make me laugh as hard 30 years from now as it did then.

 As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Fringe Hours and being choice-ful

You can't go anywhere in certain corners of the blog world these days without running into The Fringe Hours. After hearing the author, Jessica N. Turner, interviewed on a couple podcasts and blogs, I loaded it up on my Kindle and read it during a month's worth of metro trips. I don't know that it was as life-changing for me as the jacket promises - but it did get me thinking.

The basic principle is that women should take time for themselves - for hobbies and friends and rest - and we can do that by carving out and making better use of the "fringe hours" during our busy days. I definitely liked the reminder that you don't necessarily need a long stretch of time to make progress on a personal project, you just need to have the tools in place to take advantage of the little snippets of time you do have.

While Turner emphasizes that the message is for all women - and I do think the principles apply - I think the intended audience is a bit older (and a bit more religious) than me, and has about 2.5 more kids. So I skimmed the parts where she argues that taking time for yourself will help make you a better wife and mom. This book also recalled the chapter of Lean In about seeking a real partnership with your partner. On balance, I think I prefer Sheryl's approach - of creating relationships on an egalitarian foundation, rather than asking your partner for more help when you're starting to go crazy.

But, feeling a bit out-of-sync with what I imagine to be the book's core audience actually resulted in my major takeaway. I was intrigued by the book because I, like everyone else, feel busy. I love to read, but sometimes a week goes by where I realize I've barely cracked open my library book. Between working - almost always past quitting time - and happy hours and gardening and exercising and making cards and feeding myself and general household management, it's all I can do to get to bed by midnight. So I was hoping the book would help me figure out how to leave myself a little more space in what feel like packed days.

But the thing is, the woman she describes in the book is busy juggling the obligations of a career and a marriage and kids - and last I checked, I only had one of those three things. The only obligation I really have is to my work, and that's pretty much under control. So really, all my hours outside of the 9 to 5 (or more accurately, the 9 to 6:30) are fringe hours. I get to choose how I spend them. That's an incredible luxury that I won't always have. Almost all the things that leave me feeling so busy are things that I chose. So, reading the book has helped me reframe those activities as "fringe hours" - enjoyable, restful, good for the soul - rather than as obligations.

Turner emphasizes that you need to make sure the things you once enjoyed haven't become obligations. Or if they do (like if your sewing hobby turns into an Etsy business), you need to make sure you're not overloaded and you're still taking time for the things you do purely for enjoyment. So I get to reevaluate whether the things I fill my days with are still filling me up. (Something I've been thinking about a lot lately.)

It all comes down to choosing. At an alumnae spirituality retreat at my Catholic high school last year, a very wise nun told us to "be choice-ful," and that choosing and intentionality are spiritual practices. This book was another great reminder of that.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The daily card, week 28

I've been wondering lately: How effective is the daily card as a creative habit? More often than not, it's squeezed in at the end of a long day, and sometimes I feel like I'm phoning it in. Over halfway through the year, I've had a harder time thinking of totally new! creative! ideas! and find myself recycling some techniques.

But keeping at it with the ho-hum stuff means that the habit (really, the obligation) is there, which gives me the chance to come up with more interesting stuff - stuff I never would have created if it weren't for the standing appointment to put something down on a card. (And really, I end up liking pretty much everything I make.) So many creative people have said that inspiration strikes, not like a lightning bolt out of nowhere, but through the everyday process of doing the work. And so the habit keeps your creative muscles warm even when it feels like you're just checking the box. At least I hope that's the case.

On the subject of doing the work, the quote in the first card comes from Bono in the thought-provoking documentary 20 Feet from Stardom. I think my unexpected favorite, though, is the "a diva is a female version of a hustler" card. That song was stuck in my head after Bar Method, and we had watched Community that night, hence Gillian Jacobs is there representing the diva. It's not deep at all, but I like that it captures a bit of life in 2015. And of course, this week was also when I celebrated my 26th birthday.

As a creative challenge, I am decorating a playing card every day in 2015. More context on this project is here and you can see all past card posts here.

Monday, August 3, 2015

25 favorite moments

Over the past couple weeks, I've been compiling my favorite memories of 25. This was such a fun, and honestly sort of heart-warming, exercise, and made for great nostalgic conversation at my birthday dinner.

At 25-going-on-26, I spend so much time looking forward and trying to figure out what's next that it's refreshing to take a look back and remember all the good that's happened on my way here. So here goes:

Bottling gin for an unconventional but fantastic 25th birthday party.

Pacing the French Quarter to get in my steps on my new Fitbit.

Going for an evening walk as the sun set on the Chelan apple orchards (again, #diditallforthefitbit).

Gazing up at the Washington night sky with my college friends and feeling like no time at all had passed since we were together in Vermont.

Sitting in the yard with Austin, drinking wine on a weeknight after playing kickball, in our magical new backyard.

Walking home from the Tunis office and listening to the Serial podcast while dodging traffic.

Observing three elections and realizing that the hard work of democracy, and the hard work of booking flights for 50+ people, all pays off.

Getting loopy in the call center at three in the morning with my organization's senior leadership a room away.

Realizing "hey, I know what I'm doing and I'm good at this" during the third election.

Getting told "you are good at this" over celebratory post-election drinks. 

Watching the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean driving to an early morning Bar Method class with my sister.

Buying my first real Christmas tree (and making Austin haul it home in the rain).

Seeing wood and ink transformed into words and print.

Entering our giant Victorian rowhouse airbnb in Richmond, the snow gently falling outside, and feeling like we'd just been handed the keys to a haunted house (but in a good way).

Yelling at the TV with my girlfriends during Bachelor fantasy football.

Making it through the St. Michaels 10k feeling stronger than I thought I could.

Eating at the restaurant where my college friend is a sous-chef and realizing she has made her dreams come true.

Talking to diplomats from around the world on a Nouakchott rooftop and thinking "huh, my dreams have come true too." 

Representing my organization to Mauritanian political parties in my halting French.

Jumping into the Caribbean to swim with manatees (even if I ripped my bathing suit bottom open on the way down).

Walking into a dark jungle full of T-rex sounds (aka howler monkeys) and Mayan ruins.

Sonia Sotomayor telling me that I clearly had a desire to do good in the world (even if I'm not a lawyer). 

Falling in love with art journaling over mugs of tea on quiet winter evenings.

Learning I can be creative every day.

Every time the question was "do you want tacos and margaritas for dinner?" and the answer was "obviously." 

Now I want to go back and do this for as many past years as I can remember. I can also tell I work in international development and spend a lot of time doing reporting and monitoring & evaluation because for a moment there I was worried about double-counting the memories that fell in 2014, which has already been well-documented here.

Inspired by.