Tag: random thoughts

For the Love of Micro-Goals

As some of you may have learned, I, uh, don’t usually make rapid, astonishing progress towards any of my goals. That reality really, in the words of the incomparable Phyllis Neffler from Troop Beverly Hills, frosts my cookies. I so wish I was the sort of person who could see dramatic, super-fast progress in, like, pretty much any area of life — and knowing that I usually have to keep slogging away at stuff is super annoying. Maybe it’s because I’m just an Xennial whose brain was molded by the internet and instant gratification, but hey, we can’t all be perfect.

Instead, my progress tends to be slow but usually steady — and thank god, because if it weren’t for that part I’d lose my mind — and it tends to require a lot of work on my part to stay motivated, productive, and on task.

Like, a lot of work.

Like, an obnoxious amount of work.

Like, I should probably feel mortified and personally victimized by how much work it requires.

But the fact is, my slow progress is still progress. And even if I do things like 1) break a task into wee little tasks like “open the folder” or “put the receipts in the envelope,” and 2) write down tasks I’ve already done just so I can have a sense of accomplishment when I cross them off, it’s still productive. And at least my ability to be a functional adult hasn’t deteriorated to the point of being featured on an episode of Hoarders, right? (Please tell me I’m right.)

Anyways, all that being said, I felt super vindicated today when I read The New York Times’ Smarter Living column on how micro-tasks can help people gain productivity momentum when they’re struggling to get started with (or to finish) a task. Guys, my love of putting already-accomplished mini-tasks on my list has a basis in actual science!

Enter micro-progress.

Pardon the gimmicky phrase, but the idea goes like this: For any task you have to complete, break it down into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time. … What’s so striking about applying this law of motion to productivity is that once you shift your thinking into this frame — I’ve started being productive, sI’m going to keep being productive — you achieve those micro-goals at what feels like an exponentially increasing rate without even realizing it.

YOU GUYYYYYS. This actually kind of works, both in day-to-day and big-picture, grand strategy contexts: on a day to day basis, my goals tend to be pretty small, but each small step helps me move forward. It may be at the pace of a geriatric snail in a lake of molasses, but whatever. It’s still progress.

So, with that in mind, here are the mini- and not-so-mini steps that I took, and things that made me stop and really think over the course of the last week:

  • I’m applied for a job that asks candidates to have “a defensible position on the Oxford comma,” and I basically started fangirling as soon as I read it. I haven’t put in a formal job application anywhere outside of the federal government for almost ten years, so this was a big deal for me. I don’t know if I’ll even hear from them, but I was at least excited and encouraged to find that there are, in fact, jobs that I can get excited about. UNICORNS ARE REAL, Y’ALL.

Fangirling

  • I tried a couple of new and awesome face masks, courtesy of a dear friend who sent me an incredible care package. I have this burgeoning love of skincare, which comes at an inconvenient time since I’m unemployed — all the more reason to still be giddy about said care package — and I was super excited to try them out. The kaolin clay mask made me look like the Babadook when I had it on, but it detoxed the bejesus out of my skin and was therefore 100% worth it.
  • I also spent a lot of time adulting this week: reviewing my finances, organizing and filing the papers that I haphazardly threw into a bin when I was rushing to get packed and moved out of D.C., etc. It was the total absolute opposite of glamorous, and I required a ton of popcorn to sustain me through these trials, but I was super relieved to get it all done.
  • I installed two new apps on my phone — that’s not a big deal, since I tend to get a bit app-happy (Me: Ooooh, that looks cool and possibly useful! Also me: But do you need it? Also, also me: Screw it, this will be useful somehow!) — that are helping me stay accountable to myself. (And, apparently, to my phone. Because apparently I care about whether or not its judging me.)
    • The first, Momentum, is a habit tracker that helps me keep track of all sorts of good stuff: you can customize the list, so mine includes flossing (my least favorite hygiene task in the history of my existence), drinking enough water, meditating, journaling, creativity, and reading. These are all things I want to do more of, but I tend to put them off until everything else is done, at which point…I zone out on my phone. (*Womp womp wommmmmmmp*)
    • That brings me to the second app, Moment, which runs in the background and tracks the number of times I pick up my phone in a day, the amount of screen time I put in, and which apps I use the most. Fun fact: I spend entirely too much time with my face in my phone, and most of it is spent on Facebook (AKA: The Official Social Media Platform of Old People). I figure that Moment can keep me apprised of how ridiculous my screen time has become at any given point, and that Momentum can help me reincorporate the other things I love to do, like reading, journaling, and art.
  • I’m doing a lot more running and biking these days, too — and good lord do I need it. I mean, yes, we all know about the physical benefits of exercise and blah blah blah, but you guys, it’s increasingly clear that my mental health depends on this. On days when I don’t exercise, I’m stabby and agitated. I have a short temper. I don’t like pretty much anything.lord is testing meBut once those endorphins hit my brain, it’s like a whole new ballgame. I don’t hate everything! It doesn’t all feel like a cosmic joke! Granted, my face is usually so red that people wonder I’m going to keel over and die at any moment, but that’s not the point. Endorphins are the point, and they’re my homies for life. #selfcare, y’all.

I’ve also noticed that since leaving my job last fall, my chronic pain and fatigue issues have gotten dramatically better. I still get a little achy from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was a year ago. I never noticed until recently how much better I feel, and I suspect that this, too, was a case of micro-progress: the improvements were so incremental that I didn’t notice them until they really started adding up.

Fingers are crossed that my other life-improving efforts follow a similar trajectory, amirite?

#EarlyBirdLife, Budgets, and Diets: The Struggle is Real

There are three areas where I consistently, and without fail, ride the struggle bus:

1) Waking up early
2) Losing weight
3) Budgeting

It’s like I have a giant mental block around all of them – and as part of that mental block, things like my super comfy pillow, cookies, and Amazon Prime act like sirens luring me to my own wreckage. Like, I know I’d be better off if I woke up early, were able to stick with Weight Watchers, and adhered to a damn budget. I know I’d feel better, and that my mental and physical health would both be in a better place.

Similarly, I know I’m just screwing myself over when I hit snooze, eat cookies, and spend entirely too much money buying supplies for arts and crafts projects/decorating ideas.

And yet.

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what, exactly, my problem is, and why trying to do these basic things is like beating my head against the wall separating Westeros from the white walkers. I mean, would it be so hard to resist the allure of the “purchase now” button on Amazon? Would it be so hard to stop myself after a half-cup of ice cream?

Apparently.

I realized that I have similar mindsets about all three of those issues: waking up early, trying to lose weight, and budgeting all feel like massive sacrifices — something akin to voluntarily chopping off a limb. I know the long term benefits would be worth it, but I can’t seem to get past the short-term sacrifices they require. (Why must I be so beholden to instant gratification? Why do my dopamine levels fuck with me like this? WHY, BRAIN? WHYYYYYY?)

I decided to do what all normal people do, and consult the Oracle at Delphi Mountain View, AKA Google. “Why can’t I stick to my budget?” I asked. And lo, the Oracle produced many articles, one of which was…actually helpful. Most notably, this piece from New York Magazine came up, and DEAR GAAAAWD did it ever resonate with me:

There are few words in the English language that conjure a sense of dread faster than the word budget…But the main problem with budgeting is its approach, says Brad Klontz, a psychologist and certified financial planner. “I think the entire concept of budgeting is flawed,” said Klontz. “Your emotional brain responds to the word budget the same way it responds to the word diet. The connotation is deprivation, suffering, agony, depression.” Klontz says hearing the word diet makes us feel there’s a famine coming. We can muster up the motivation to take on that famine in the short term, but in the long term, research shows that diets don’t really work.

Welp. That sure does explain a few things.

I spent some time poking around for other articles within the Science of Us series, and I was happily surprised to find some pieces that helped me ask crucial questions. This piece on the importance of asking what, not why, when trying to figure out how (and, uh, why) we do/don’t do something /feel/don’t feel some particular way, also felt like it hit the nail on the head.

So, that got me thinking: instead of asking why I’m so bad at this, I should ask myself what: what is it that I like and don’t like about making the effort to wake up early, stay on Weight Watchers, and stick to my budget?

What do I like? I like end result.

After I’m awake and out of my cozy cocoon, I’m productive and I have time for writing and art.

After I stay on WW, I like how I feel and how I look. I like that I’m able to run without my knees hurting from all the pressure that the extra weight puts on my joints. I like feeling like I can actually run, not just lumber along like a geriatric water buffalo. I like being able to wear clothes that I actually love, and not just ones that are adequate.

After I save money and stick to a budget, I like knowing that I have more flexibility to do things that really matter to me, like traveling, trying to start a family (egg donors don’t come cheap, y’all) and, ohpleaseohpleaseJesusOprahBuddhaletthisactuallyhappen, eventually quitting my job.

What don’t I like? I don’t like the discipline, effort, or sacrifice. I don’t like having to plan out my meals and exercise. I fucking hate sad desk salads. I don’t like having to plan out my purchases (as opposed to, y’know, just making them whenever the urge strikes).

Part of it, I think, is that my depression, PTSD from the cancer and hysterectomy, and the feeling that I have almost no control over my life suck up so much of my bandwidth that I rely on things like cookies and Amazon to give me little moments of happiness (GO GO GADGET DOPAMINE!). Without those little things, life would feel 99% heavy, dull, and grinding. With those things, it only feels, like, 90% heavy, dull, and grinding.

But really, what am I getting out of that 9% difference? More importantly, even though it comes with an immediate happiness bump, there’s also a rebound effect which amplifies the feeling that I’m not in control of my life: sleeping late makes me late for work, which means I have to stay late to make up for lost time, which then means I have less time to do what I want. Spending money on things I don’t need makes me feel queasy and gives me pangs of guilt. Seeing myself in the mirror, totally devoid of muscles and nearly as heavy as I was at the end of my progesterone treatment, makes me depressed.

The immediate gratification gives me a moment of satisfaction, but it’s quickly followed by guilt and discontent.

So, that 90% is probably more like 95%. Which, y’know, doesn’t seem like much. And it’s probably not worth the rebound effect of the guilt.

When I think about this more, I realize that by trying to actually do these things that I find so hard — self-control, discipline, short-term sacrifices for long-term gain — I might actually start to feel like I do have some semblance of control over my life. And, considering that this lack of control is one of the factors that feeds my depression, I might actually stand a chance of breaking out of that self-reinforcing feedback loop.

So, those will be my next tasks for renovating my life, and it will undoubtedly be among the biggest and most difficult: creating a budget and re-starting — and sticking to — Weight Watchers. Any tips y’all might have for how to make this happen, or how to make it suck less, would be greatly appreciated!

The Great Asthma Debacle of 2017

Welp, I’ve had an eventful week.

After taking a long weekend to visit my grandpa in NC for his birthday, I got home and ventured up to my building’s gym. Yes, I know: there’s nothing notable there (although I can report that the elliptical is just as heinously boring as ever). Mercifully, I had lots of guilty-pleasure TV shows on my phone to keep me entertained, and I refuse to feel ashamed about watching Hollywood Medium while sweating like a woolly mammoth in Dubai.

Side note: I especially refuse to feel ashamed when it keeps me from also being so bored that I contemplate things like what I’d eat if I ever became one of those people whose Ambien prescriptions cause them to binge-eat in their sleep. (Would I wind up eating gluten, either inadvertently or out of some kind of subconscious sense of defiance? And if I did do that, would I go for just any gluten, or would I seek out the good sh*t like pizza and brownies? Would Ambien-me know that Celiac-me would suffer grievous consequences for this, or would Ambien-me just not care?)

But I digress.

Anyways, after my session with the elliptical and Tyler Henry, I got in the elevator to head back to my apartment, and I found myself in there with two heavily-cologned dudes. Now, this isn’t unusual either, despite Axe Body Spray being basically a weapon of mass destruction.* But this time, for whatever reason, the mild asthma that I’ve had since I was a kid, and which was well-managed until this week, decided to become wildly ambitious. Because why not? Breathing is for sissies, y’all.**

I started coughing almost immediately, and since hot air and steam usually help to loosen up my spazzy lungs, I jumped in the shower to let the steam work its magic. But it didn’t work. Soon I was dizzy from the lack of air, so I took a seat and had my husband bring me my inhaler. Now, for me, using my inhaler is the nuclear option: it makes me shaky and anxious, so I prefer not to bust it out if I can resolve an asthma attack by other means.

As you will soon find out, my inhaler is no longer the nuclear option.

Because it barely worked.

And then I could barely breathe.

It wasn’t fun.

I couldn’t talk by this point, so my husband called an advice nurse to see if we needed to go to urgent care — and she immediately told him to call 911. Basically, my existing respiratory distress was at a stage where it could rapidly turn into respiratory arrest, and since I could feel my airways swelling, it was time to go for the real, actual (but not, y’know, literal) nuclear option: an ambulance.

Since I’m stubborn and also vain, I resisted this because I knew it’d be embarrassing — and, since I was conscious and able to walk around, it didn’t seem bad enough to warrant this level of emergency response. But, deep down, I knew it was imperative.

So I did what any 100% sane, level-headed person would do while my husband coordinated with the 911 operator: I tried on four different shirts, all while wheezing and coughing my brains out and barely moving any air, because I didn’t like the way they looked with my pants.

Oh, and I also grabbed my phone charger, list of medications, and all the responsible, logical things one should probably consider taking in a f*cking ambulance.

Yeah, I was doing really well.

So then the EMTs arrived, loaded me onto a stretcher, and wheeled me out through my building’s lobby (thus causing me to almost die of embarrassment in addition to hypoxia). All in all, I got three nebulizer treatments, one prescription for Prednisone, five hours in the ER, another prescription for Singulair, and a fancy new inhaler.

I’m doing better now, thanks to the, like, veritable cornucopia of medications I’m now taking. But looking back on it, it was scary and weird. At the time it was mostly weird, since the lack of airflow made me do bizarre things like worry about whether or not my shirt worked with my pants, and not, for example, the fact that severe asthma attacks can wind up being fatal, and that I was definitely having one. Deep down, I knew I was in serious trouble — when I’d thought about trying to drive to our urgent care clinic, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it there in time before things got precipitously worse — but my conscious mind wasn’t willing to acknowledge it. (Hence the “OMG, but what am I going to wear to the hospital?” fashion crisis.)

Now I just have to finish out the Prednisone and hope that I can eventually start exercising again soon, since that’s the primary way that I manage to stay sane. Until then, a brief PSA: friends don’t let friends wear Axe Body Spray. Especially not in elevators. The public thanks you in advance for your consideration.

*Props to one of my favorite former colleagues for pointing out the Axe-WMD connection. This makes perfect sense, you guys: Saddam Hussein gave all the WMDs all to Unilever.

** As you may have discerned by this point, it’s not for sissies. It’s for people who want to stay alive. Vital functions: who knew?