Friday, April 29, 2016

Another great set of reminders from Leo Babauta

The bad news about health and productivity habits is that if you start to slip up, things can slowly spiral downward.
If you are tired, you can’t focus on your important work, you don’t make time for exercise or cooking healthy food, so you grab some fast food, you veg out in front of the TV. This doesn’t lead to better energy the next day, but it does lead you to feel worse and worse about yourself.
When you feel worse about yourself, you want to comfort yourself with more unhealthy food. You don’t feel motivated to exercise or be productive.
Things spiral downward, until you feel hopeless and out of control.
The good news about these habits is that they can also spiral upward.
If you take a positive step, like going for a walk, you feel pretty good about it. That gives you the inspiration to eat a healthy meal. Now you’re cranking out emails and important tasks. You’re motivated to take care of yourself and turn your life around, so you start paying attention to sleep. You start flossing. You try some meditation. You feel great!
Things start to spiral upward, and you feel like you’re capable of change.
I’ve experienced both kinds of spirals myself, and have seen both kinds in so many people. The upward spiral makes you feel amazing, and changes your entire life. I recommend that one.

Turn Your Spiral Upward

Here’s the key: ask yourself which spiral you’re on right now.
Are you on the upward spiral? Keep going! Make one small change at a time, continue to help yourself feel better and better, work on your habit and mindfulness skills, and you’ll only get better at this over time.
Are you on the downward spiral? Ah, well, it’s good to recognize that. And it’s important to remember that you can turn it around. I turned my spiral upward, and many others have too. You can do this.
How do you turn your spiral upward? Here’s what I recommend:
  1. Take just one small step. Go for a short walk and clear your head. Start taking short walks every day, and make time for them. See how you feel, and if it makes you feel better, celebrate!
  2. Keep taking tiny steps. You don’t need to change your entire life. You just want to start moving in the right direction. One little step at a time. It can just be the same kind of step (just keep drinking water for a couple weeks, just keep doing 2-minute meditations in the morning for a couple weeks). But the important thing is to keep doing them.
  3. Clear up space and energy. This won’t work if you overload yourself, so try to move in a direction that gives you more time and energy. For example, if you slowly cut out time-wasters and instead go for a walk when you’re feeling anxious, you’ll have more time in the day to get things done or exercise or cook. If you start going to sleep earlier and cutting out devices before you sleep, you will feel more rested the next day. This helps you feel better for more small steps.
  4. Focus on learning and skill improvement. As you take these steps, you’re not just making progress towards a health or productivity goal … you’re developing habit skills. You’re learning about how your mind and body work. You’re learning about mindfulness and motivation and how your environment can be changed to help you function better. Keep learning, keep getting better, no matter what your progress is.
  5. Keep on the path, even if you stumble. Things will not go perfectly. You’ll hit some bumps, and many people are tempted to give up, to let go of their upward spiral. This can lead to another downward spiral. Instead, learn the skill of getting back on the path, taking another small step, and correcting course.
So a downward spiral can be turned around, if you can find the tiniest motivation to take the smallest step. Your motivation might be simply that you don’t want to keep going down this downward spiral — you can visualize where your life will end up if you don’t move in a different direction, and you don’t want that for yourself.
It can be turned around, with one small step, but you have to want it. And you have to take that step.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Changing the question I ask about food

Last weekend I was a guest speaker at a wonderful's women's 12-step retreat in Springfield, Illinois. I met so many great people and had a lovely time. However, the food was quite a challenge. Because many of the attendees were in AA, I wasn't surprised to see a lot of demon foods in the hospitality room (chips, snack bars, candy, cupcakes and cake). I knew I'd have to avoid them and was feeling pretty strong about my abstinence.

The real challenge was with the meals. I know that I live in a paradise of good food. Portland is a huge foodie city with restaurants and breweries and coffee galore. And our grocery stores are equally fabulous and the amount of local produce and clean meat is a real gift. And I hadn't given too much thought to the institutional food that the retreat center offered us. Well, it was plentiful but not much of it was what I typically eat: fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, buttered corn (the only veggie at that meal), a taco bar. Salad was iceberg lettuce. I did the best I could. I had a heaping plate of iceberg with a few tomatoes and cucumber bits with my taco meat. I ate the buttered corn and took the fried off the chicken. Fortunately on the second day, I met a woman who was eating differently and bringing her own food from home and she gifted me with red peppers, cucumbers, and celery.

I stayed abstinent: no sugar, no flour, no snacks. I didn't have my scale with me but I used the one plate rule of foods I could have and I realized that the question I ask myself about food when I'm away from home is changing. It's no longer What do I feel like? What do I want? but What can I safely eat that is available? A big change for this addict.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Our relationship with excuses Part II

So how do we get out of the excuse loop, out of justifying our behavior, behavior we say we don't want, and blaming our circumstances?

We have to take our power back and use it for what we want, not more of the same but the difference that we're trying to create in our lives. Blaming circumstances is abdicating our power to choose. And of course, choice only exists in the present moment. So we have to pay attention to how we're feeling and what's happening around us.

There are many situations and circumstances that we can't control, but we can control how we respond to them. I'm not telling you anything you haven't heard six dozen times before. But for those of us seeking recovery from addiction, for relief from a well-worn habitual groove in our responses (like eating, drinking, drugging, gambling), we can't afford to not pay attention. We have to assume that we are response-able in each of our circumstances to make choices that support us. We have to let go of excuses and explanations and do what we say we will so we can have what we say we want.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Our relationship with our excuses Part I

In the Bright Line community on private Facebook pages, we get to hear of participants' successes and struggles with abstinence from sugar, flour, and snacks; how they figure out and use the scale or don't; and most importantly, why they relapse and keep relapsing. I've been thinking a lot about what they say about this failure to stay abstinent and I realize that some of it has to do with our relationship with excuses.

We use excuses (we often call them explanations) to justify our behavior. I had a bad cold so I needed to have ice cream. I had a tough day at work so I stopped and got corn chips on the way home. It was my grandson's birthday and I couldn't insult his mother by not eating cake. These excuses become foundational in why we aren't succeeding at whatever we want to be doing (losing weight, staying abstinent) but they don't help us change. In fact, they keep us stuck.

Why? Because the cause and effect (head cold = ice cream) isn't nearly that simple. It's completely possible to have ahead cold and not eat ice cream. Millions of people do that. The truth is that as addicts, we want to relapse. We want to keep eating and using food to make ourselves feel better (even if, paradoxically, it makes us feel worse). The truth is our addict brains are looking for excuses, looking for justifications for behavior that a big part of us doesn't really want to change. We don't want to own the fact that we are powerless over those addictive substances and so we blame our circumstances. This is not very helpful.

Friday, April 15, 2016

My new art website is live!

For the last couple of weeks, I've been working hard on revamping my art website. New images, new look. Photos from my philanthropy project. A great photo of my studio.

I hope you will stop by and take a look and let me know what you think. And of course if you find a painting you just have to have, let me know!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Essentialist idea

I just finished reading a fascinating book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism. (I don't know if he invented this idea as there are other authors with books on the same topic, but his was the book recommended to me.) I found his ideas to be fascinating. It's all about doing less so you can do it better.

His book is aimed at both companies and individuals. He asks us to consider several important questions. What is the highest contribution I/we can make? How can I/we subtract activities, limitations, and time clutter, in order to best make that contribution? Can I/we stop trying to do it all and just do what is the right thing for me/us to do?

In many ways, this is a great complement to the Marie Kondo tidying up book. Her book is about ridding ourselves of all but the most joyful of our possessions and then taking good care of them. McKeown's book is about ridding our schedules of all but the most essential activities: those we love, the activities that we most love, the contribution we can best make, in essence, the most valuable things we can do with our time.

This is giving me a lot to think about.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The annoying propensity to regain weight

 Once you've been fat, it's very easy to be fat again. It's a bit like being an active alcoholic. One drink and you can be right back in all the misery from before. Of course, it takes more than one drink to get fully active again and it takes more than one doughnut or one half-gallon of ice cream to get fat again. But it doesn't take as long as you'd think.

For although we may look thin and actually are thin again, our body composition isn't quite the same and those well-plumped fat cells are just waiting to be plumped up again. It's common knowledge that people who lose a lot of weight often regain it all plus some. What is less commonly known is that while the initial weight gain may take years or even decades, the regain can take only a few months. Yes, it is possible to regain 90 pounds in a few months.

My own experience, while not so extreme, has proven this to be true. So I am conscious of this as I find myself wanting to eat more than what's on the plan. I still have a lot of weight to lose and I don't want to have to keep losing it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A powerful quote

"Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling lik a stay in our hand--and melting like a snowflake."   Marie Beynon Ray

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Conscious contact

In an AA meeting last week, the topic was the 11th Step: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God. As the conversation went around, it centered, as it usually does, on the difficulties of meditation. Who can do it, who can't, who's tried and who's given up trying. I stayed out of that part of the conversation. After decades as an on-again/off-again meditator, I've been meditating daily for about 15 months. It began to work for me when I agreed with myself that all I had to do was sit still for 15 minutes and do nothing else but sit there.

When it came my turn to share, I had begun thinking about something else from the step: the idea of conscious contact. It had not occurred to me until that day, until that meeting, that this phrase I'd been hearing for 26 years was another term for mindfulness, for being present. When I've been active in my addiction, whether alcohol in the distant past or sugar in the more recent past, I've not really been conscious in my contact with Spirit or friends or family or clients or life itself. Being sober from alcohol increased my conscious contact immeasurably but I'm finding that now sober from the numbing effects of sugar, I am even more conscious in my contact. I like this phrase and this idea.