How It’s Going

I had planned to title this post “Spring is in the Air,” but frankly, despite the calendar, where I live, it isn’t yet. It was, briefly (very briefly), but it’s gone now. I wore my Anorak twice before it snowed last Monday (it fit and was fabulous and warmer than I thought it would be). I’d still like to talk about that feeling of Spring though, because my connotation of it has only passing reference to the actual weather.

I have vivid memories, mostly from high school, of that feeling of Spring being “in the air” – it wasn’t exactly a smell, it wasn’t exactly nostalgia; I’m not sure there is a word for what it was. I haven’t felt it in a long time, but I still have the memory of that feeling, and the impulse to act upon it in some positive, life-affirming way whenever the snow starts to melt and the seasonal depression starts to ease up. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until May or June around here. It’s unusual for me to be affected by it this early.

I have a lot of free time on my hands while my husband performs in his marathon of shows every weekend, and in the depths of January and February I can’t recall a single productive thing I did during that time. I would have frenetically social stretches followed by despairingly introverted ones. I wanted to want to do things. Even three Stitch Fixes couldn’t quite lift me out of the fog.

Things started to pick up a few weeks ago, right along with the weather. We found a deal on Amazon for the Level 1 Spanish (Latin American) from Rosetta Stone and bought it (I completed the first Unit with flying colors, but then failed miserably at the practical milestone test – but at least I was able to laugh my way through it). I dove into new opportunities at work to incorporate more technology into the presentations I create. I started writing for Rational Creatures just for the sake of writing more and doing it in the company of some amazing women. I started writing a play. I purged my closet, again. I resumed my exercise routine. I’m learning new skills in PhotoShop, InDesign, Illustrator, and soon, HTML. Also, I got hooked up with an app/program called HabitRPG. Sorry, this is going to come across as a bit of a sales pitch in the next few paragraphs. I wouldn’t write about it if I didn’t really feel like it was making a difference for me. Also it’s free.

HabitRPG is a helper tool for maintaining consistency, managing tasks, and building better habits. For every task or habit you “check off” or move in a positive direction, you get gold, experience, and maybe some treasure. Right up my alley. I was hesitant to download the app at first, just because it felt a little too much like Weight Watchers tracking, which was something that ended up working against me after awhile. I had come to structure my entire life around what those tracking results and weigh-ins meant to my sense of self. I’ve written about that a lot before, how tracking everything I ate and every bit I moved contributed to the shame portion of the diet/binge cycle, culminating in a weekly judgefest that I was embracing like my life depended on it.

What makes HabitRPG different? For one thing, it mostly comes from a place of positivity and flexibility. I get the satisfaction of crossing items off my list (Getting Stuff Done), setting manageable and attainable goals (New Habit Building), and I am also allowed to give over of the outcome of “How I’m Doing” from its default choice between I’m good vs. I’m bad to a silly place of “I took damage for not completing that task on time” vs “I leveled up because I’ve consistently made positive strides towards building this habit.”

I’m a 14th level Rogue now, with 22 pets and lots of fun equipment.

As opposed to being an overweight lazy-pants who should be able to budget her Points better after three years on the damn program.

However, the benefit isn’t in how I’m tracking on paper, it’s that my life is actually changing for the better, and I’m not paying a monthly service fee to get there. Of course, I am paying for therapy every other week, but to me, that’s an investment in giving these positive improvements a chance to last.

HabitRPG’s tasks are divided into three sections: Dailies, Habits, and To-Dos.

To-Dos are one shot projects like, “Buy X a birthday gift.” Currently all of my work projects have migrated from 2Do into this list, as well as one long-term home project to clean up the office closet. To-Do’s can be given deadlines or not, assigned a difficulty, a physical/mental/social focus, and you can even build checklists directly into the task to create a workflow. Every time I think of something I need to do that I can’t do immediately, I put it into my To-Dos.

Dailies are things you want to build into your routine, but not necessary things you have to do every day. For example, one of my Dailies is “30m exercise”. but I don’t have the time or the inclination to dedicate 30 minutes every day to exercise. I decided it was important to me to exercise for thirty minutes at least four days a week and ideally five, knowing that it won’t always be the same days each week. So every Sunday, I go into the Daily and edit the days of the week I plan to work out. This week, it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, but on Monday, I was too sore from the weekend workouts to do anything but crawl onto the couch, so I changed the weekly schedule from Monday to Thursday, even though we’re seeing a show at 7:30 Thursday night and timing will be tight. But since working out Thursday would be a fifth workout for the week, if I don’t get to it, I’m not going to beat myself up for it. My little rogue will take some damage, and that’s about as serious as I have to take it. Again, more importantly, it isn’t what’s happening to my avatar that matters, it’s the fact that I have a streak of 21 going for completing that Daily, and that’s all it’s taken for me to gain back the consistency I’ve need to look forward to exercising again — not to maintain the streak for its own sake, but because it feels good, and I am starting to feel the difference in my body, which is having positive repercussions on my body image, my eating habits, and my general energy levels.

I’ve also maintained a healthy streak for my other Dailies: 30 minutes of reading every day (just finished Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog this morning), taking my multivitamin every day, and remembering my sea scrub facial mask every Sunday. And not one minute of any of has felt like an intrusion or a chore, it’s just me not forgetting to do things that I enjoy, and proving that I real do have time to do those things when I commit to making it.

Habits are flexible little tasks that you can really personalize. Right now I only have two: one is remembering to wash my face every night (I know that sounds stupid but I’ve lived my entire adult life falling asleep on couches and then stumbling straight to bed and my skin shows it), and the other is “Eating only planned meals and snacks.” Instead of a check box, Habits come with “+” and “-” symbols next to them.

The face washing thing I “+” before I go to bed (or, I forget and the task assumes a “-” and turns from its current blue to a shade closer to green — all of your items turn a warmer color the longer they go without completion or positive momentum — nothing harmful, just a reminder that you’re not keeping up).

I handle the Eating habit differently. I check in three times a day — at noon, at 6 pm, and before bed. I either binged or I didn’t since the last check in. If I didn’t, I get a “+” and if I did I get a “-” and then the slate is cleared. One of the behaviors I developed doing Weight Watchers was a tendency to give up on a day or a week if I wasn’t doing well. If I ate a big lunch or couldn’t resist the donuts in the kitchen that morning, the day’s Points budget was blown and I might as well just keep eating whatever I want. Same with Weekly Points. These more-frequent and less-fraught check-ins allow me to give over the issue and move on. And occasionally, I have been able to resist a free donut or two on the incentive of only needing to make it until noon to get a “+”. Not always, but sometimes.

All this being said, I’m not dieting. I eat what I want for those planned meals and snacks, and as much of it as I want. If I am craving a Five Guys burger and fries for dinner, I don’t critique myself for having it. And if I want Five Guys for dinner five nights in a row? Well, much as it goes against everything my brain is screaming at me, I no longer have an interest in denying myself. Putting foods on the Forbidden List has never done anything except make me want them more. Turns out that taking them off the Forbidden List has made me want them less. Which is exactly what Overcoming Overeating was trying to tell me last fall. Once I took all of the shame and judgment out of the equation, I started doing a lot less damage to my physical and emotional health.

I also stopped investing in the idea that my life would be a lot better if only I could learn to think of food as fuel (as opposed to a reward for something, for example). It isn’t just fuel. It tastes good, and I take pleasure in eating. Not all the time, of course — sometimes we’re just hungry and need sustenance, and not to the point of being over-full. But eating thoughtfully prepared food that tastes great in the company of loved ones is not something I ever want to feel guilty about again. It’s one of those things that makes life worth living in the first place. I would like to think that I’ll never find myself on my death bed regretting all the prime rib dinners, all the pastas with garlic and olive oil, all the bread and butter I’ve consumed. I think it more likely that I’ll regret all those times I fussed over how many Points this dish was over that dish, or how many minutes of cardio I’d need to do to work off dessert, instead of engaging with the people I’d gone out to spend time with and listen to and share stories.

Physically, I’m mostly happy with the shape I am in. The exercising helps me feels not so blah even though it probably hasn’t affected my weight or shape too dramatically. Clothes fit. I feel stronger. I don’t go hungry. Binges are rare and mostly come from restlessness. I’m learning alternate ways to deal with that restlessness.

These shifts in thinking have been slow and steady, not big leaps of change. I tend to come to understanding things quickly on an intellectual level, but then need time, experience, and positive reinforcement to accept them.

I’m still in progress and have no idea what the future will bring, but if you were to ask me today How it’s going? I’d say it’s going pretty good.

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