Posts Tagged ‘30 day trial’

March Challenge: Day 1 Eating Plan

March 3, 2009

Breakfast: tea, yogurt with lemon curd, banana, tofu and mushroom miso soup.

Lunch: leftovers (potato, kale, chicken, carrot, onion), apple, Chinese rice cracker wafer thingie, bread with cheese.  I ate this in 3 batches, the bread and cheese and rice cracker wafer thingie on the bus between campuses, half of my leftovers and the apple during lunch hour, and the other half of the leftovers around 4PM.

Post workout snack: egg and kimchee, 2 Chinese date candies.

Dinner: Rice with eggplant, scallions, ground beef, Chinese pickled vegetables.

I admit I ran into a bit of trouble during my afternoon class, where I was passing around white chocolate-covered pecans that my friend had given me.  Admittedly I’m not a huge white chocolate fan (if it had been dark chocolate I don’t think those pecans would have seen the light of day!), but as I was passing them around I was tempted to sneak one or two myself, just, you know, to be companionable in eating the sweets and all, but certainly not part of The Plan for yesterday.

Not a bad start to the month, but I’m certainly going to have to tighten things up a bit.  I can already see that I need more vegetables in my diet, and more dairy, too.

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January post-mortem

January 31, 2009

So how am I feeling at the end of month one?  Pretty good, to be honest.  It wasn’t nearly as hard to buy nothing new as I expected.  Granted, I did have that one slip up due to a combination of unusual circumstances, not planning ahead well enough, and general unwillingness to put myself through the torturous experience of shopping for pants.  But I didn’t feel constrained this month, as though trapped in some bubble world where I could watch the rest of society move about normally in realms I could not access.

Did I miss shopping?  I cannot lie, occasionally I thought of all the money I could save on stuff I don’t even need.  But life has been very full this month.  Instead of dumping hours into online sites or wading through stores I cooked.  Read.  Wrote.  Caught up with friends.  Began jogging again.  Sent some letters, actual handwritten notes on stationery I’ve had since middle school.  Found an internship opportunity.  Started a collaborative photography project with friends.

I like this version of my life.  It’s closer to the lifestyle I’d like to lead.  It’s also more balanced.  Towards the end of last semester I grew increasingly dependent on shopping and sewing to balance the stress of school.  Remove shopping from the equation, and other hobbies flourish.  Without the material distractions that create an external definition of self, I’ve been able to focus on internal recalibration.  This is not a radical departure from the Jessica of 2008 but rather a distillation process.  Remove the dead wood to let half-hidden gems shine through.  2009 is about chipping away at the soil around those half-hidden gems, buffing them, learning to work them seamlessly into daily life.

A balanced approach to life means spreading the self-worth eggs into multiple baskets.  It means identifying with multiple parts of my personality.  Just as a three-legged chair is more stable than a two-legged chair, the more identities we create for ourselves the more stable our self-identity becomes.  Baker, crafter, student, friend, runner, photographer, daughter, volunteer, and yes, maybe even writer.

Balance is especially helpful in a society that places so much stock in careers to define who we are.  In my case, this means my identity defined by measures of student success (Grades!  Classes!  Collaborations with professors!), and, by extension, my post-graduation plans.  To solely define myself along these lines, particularly when I’m just acclimating to this program and have quite woolly plans at best, is to throw open the door and invite in self-doubt, anxiety, and depression with wide open arms, particularly if I kick sanity out the door as well and compare myself to my fellow students, an impressive lot to say the least.

Classes start Monday.  I’m excited.  It’s going to be a good semester.  I’m also excited for a new challenge in February.  January accomplished everything it was supposed to accomplish.  I’m ready for more.

Short-term vs. Long-term decision making

January 22, 2009

I have a confession to make. I broke my January challenge and bought a pair of dress pants.

Let me explain. My January travel was for a winter session course involving a gaggle of grad students collaborating with several federal agencies. As a student working with mid-level and senior members of federal, state or local agencies, it is critical to be as professional as possible. This includes wardrobe considerations.

None of the jobs I have ever held have required formal outfits. They haven’t even required business casual because it didn’t fit with the culture of the organizations. There was no interview for a Masters program. As a result, I have very few formal occasion outfits, and the few that I have tend to be a stretch and not properly formal.

Thus, after the first week of the program I could tell I was going to have to step it up a notch to just keep pace with the rest of my classmates. I mean, I still don’t have a suit, but at least I have a decent pair of pants now.

I did plan ahead by purchasing some items during the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales. I scoured the pants racks of several thrift shops, something I never do. I admit, though, that I hate finding pants, particularly dress pants, and through the years I’ve constantly put that one off and mentally prayed that the khakis I have on hand would be sufficient for the occasions that present themselves. Pants rarely fit well (hence various techniques to tweak them), and I’ve never invested enough time in shopping to find the one brand or style that I can passably wear. Frankly, the thought of spending an entire weekend hitting up every single store with business formal clothing is not appealing to me. Hence the procrastination that has stretched out for years.

Which is why, when I was standing in the dressing room in my last-ditch attempts to find something, anything passable, I kept screwing up my face in the mirroring and mumbling, “I HATE pants. Hate, hate, hate.” Unfortunately Ohio in January is too cold to wear anything besides pants, so I was trapped into a purchase that, realistically, will only help in the long run, if only to avoid further night-before-my-flight excursions to the shopping mall to find myself screwing up my face in the mirror, growing desperate and angry over the lack of any decent prospects.

As much as it hurt to falter in my January challenge, I made the conscious decision to do so for two reasons. One, I was running out of time, and when you need something in a hurry, thrift shops and eBay generally don’t cut it. Two, it is more important to maintain a professional appearance than to maintain the sanctity of the challenge. These will be my supervisors and colleagues once I graduate from this program. This January challenge is but one piece of a larger, yearlong challenge to myself.

Although the best life lessons are the ones learned from handling the consequences of our mistakes, in this instance the consequences would have farther-reaching consequences for my career and the relationships built during these two weeks. That is very different from living with a smelly sponge for a month (I was only joking, though it didn’t hurt that I was gone for two weeks in January). Either way, in the future you can be sure I won’t cut it that close in the future. The choice to break the challenge was a matter of balancing priorities, but I don’t anticipate any other big emergencies coming up for the rest of the month. Furthermore, I am already reaping the gains that the challenge intended to produce.

More on that in my next post.

The loophole in my plan; advantages of buying used goods

January 12, 2009

I haven’t mentioned it until now, but I left myself a gaping loophole in creating this January challenge.  Notice that I haven’t banned myself from purchasing anything for the entire month (aside from food, that is).  I’ve just banned myself from purchasing anything new.  This leaves the entire market of used goods still in play.  Granted, January is an odd time to take upon this challenge: not only am I missing out on after-Christmas sales, but garage sale season is in summer.  Still, given the root causes that I am attempting to address it seemed a fair tradeoff.  And to be honest, I really don’t need anything that is on sale in the stores.  I don’t anticipate a mad rush to the mall in February to make up for lost time, so this truly is a recalibration instead of mere delay tactics.

To be honest, the used goods loophole was more applicable the last time I took up this challenge.  Two years ago I was living at home and a mere 10 minute walk from one of my favorite thrift shops.  Call me weak, but I left myself a bit of a loophole, just in case.  Even then I didn’t go crazy buying used, and certainly spent less that month than normal.

Fast forward to 2009.  Even though I’ve lived here for four months now I’ve only checked out one thrift shop and it isn’t terribly convenient from where I live, so I do not anticipate using the loophole very much this time around.  Still, I thought I’d take some time to plug one of my favorite sources of clothing, furniture, household goods, books and crafting supplies.

Otherwise referred to as “thrifting,” tapping into the used market offers a number of advantages.

1)    Used goods are almost always cheaper than retail.
2)    Vintage goods are better constructed and made of higher quality materials.  Furniture, clothing and toys used to be built to last.  These days companies expect consumers to tire of their products in a season or two, and it shows in the manufacturing quality.
3)    Higher quality goods are available at lower prices than their discount store counterparts.  One of my favorite sweaters is a black v-neck 100% Italian merino wool sweater that I thrifted for $5.  No matter how great the sale, I’ll never be able to find the same quality sweater at that price at Walmart or Target.
4)    It is eco-friendly.  We rarely use things all the way through before we get rid of them, which means that perfectly good items are sent to the landfill all the time.  Why not rescue our landfills by giving items a second home?
5)    If you have a favorite brand, style, or consumer good that has been discontinued, you can still find it on the used market.  Hate low-rise or skinny jeans?  Since thrifted goods tend to lag fashion trends, you can still find high-waisted (or reasonably-waisted) jeans if you know where to look.
6)    You never know when you’ll stumble upon something really unique.  Garage sales and thrift shops are filled with all sorts of eclectic, quirky, offbeat finds.
7)    Mistakes come cheap.  We rarely nail our purchases 100% of the time, but the learning curve is less expensive with used goods.  Maybe you’re not a cardigan person or the coffee table just doesn’t work with your living room.  Used provides a low-stakes test run.
8)    For those who love the thrill of a bargain, there’s no better place to find them!
9)    How well an item looks at a garage sale or in the thrift store provides clues to its’ durability.

Of course, used goods are not panacea.  Buying used does have some disadvantages, including:

1)    Most finds present a one-off opportunity.  That means there isn’t the same range of color and size options that are available at retail.
2)    Low prices increase the temptation to come home with more than you need.
3)    Due to variable selection it can take longer to find what you’re looking for.
4)    Often you’ll have to wade through a lot of junk to find a few treasures, so if you’re in a hurry or dislike browsing, it may not be the approach for you.
5)    Some people feel a stigma attached with buying used.  That’s silly since other people can’t tell anyways.  After all, other people tried on those shoes you decided to buy.

Even with all these disadvantages, thrifting remains an excellent source of inexpensive, high quality, one-of-a-kind goods.  And there are ways to work around these advantages, so stay tuned!

Tips for a successful 30 day trial

January 11, 2009

The first time I attempted a 30 day trial to jump start a new habit, my friend Kris and I both wanted to wake up earlier to get a head start on our days.  It was September, that time of fresh optimism for students when you still think you can do it all, that you will fix all your mistakes this term and squeeze every last bit of opportunity out of your tuition bill.  I was just beginning grad school.  After a couple years in jobs with flexible schedules, I thought regularly getting up at 6:30 felt reasonable, starting at 7AM and pushing it back by 15 minutes with each passing week.  Granted, I hadn’t regularly woken up before 7AM since high school, but that didn’t mean it was beyond the realm of possibility.  The world felt wide open with endless possibilities, and I was going to get each day off on the right foot with a bout of productivity while my classmates were still sleeping.

Although if my classmates were anything like Kris, then obviously I had a ways to go.  She set her goal at rising between 5:30 and 5:50 daily.  Following her lead, we each drew up contracts for ourselves and emailed them to each other.  Here is mine:

I commit to a 30 trial of

1) Getting up at 6:30AM by the week of October 1, 2008 on the
following schedule:

-Beginning September 8, waking up at 7:15 AM
-Beginning September 15, waking up at 7AM
-Beginning September 22, waking up at 6:45 AM
-Beginning September 29, waking up at 6:30 AM

2) After waking up I will do 20 minutes of stretches and exercises followed by 30-60 minutes of writing.  Then I will ping Kris plus ~10-20 minutes of crafting blog appreciation/voyeurism, no longer than that.  After that I will spend 20 minutes on breakfast, then continue on to other homework or other PRODUCTIVE time usage for the day.

3) 2 free days allowed

Kris’ contract was even more specific, down to the exact actions she would take the minute her alarm went off.  This level of specificity is helpful for several reasons.  You can almost go on autopilot if you follow the exact same sequence daily, which is helpful to shake the cobwebs in those groggy early morning hours.  It prevents indecisiveness, which leads to inactivity, which leads to talking yourself out of follow through.  It allows you to envision what the 30 day trial will look like each day, and we are more likely to succeed to actions we first visualize.

The idea was to keep each other accountable through a simple daily email.  If I’d succeeded in completing all items on my contract I’d send her an email with a single word, Ping!  She’d send one back if she was successful as well.  Living on separate coasts, my ping usually reached her first, but it was a really great way to start off my day each morning.  That sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, combined with the accountability and the knowledge that we were going through this together, really made Pinging successful for us.

Most importantly, we agreed, once you start racking up a string of Ping!s, you really don’t want to be the one to break the trend.  You develop rhythm, momentum.  Each day’s accomplishment is rewarding in itself, but so much more so in the context of the larger picture of continued success.

We learned several lessons from our first string of Pings.

*Be as specific as possible when laying out your contract.  Imagine your daily routine.  Pick a time to start and stop.  Think through the obstacles you will face in accomplishing all the items on your contract, and put safeguards in place to help yourself succeed.

*We originally set a “2 free passes” clause into our agreement, namely that we could each have 2 days where we did not have to adhere to the 30 day trial.  This was a big mistake because once we used our free passes it was difficult to get back on track.  It allows a wishy-washiness that detracts from the positive energy built up by a string of pings.

*Emails don’t have to be limited to the word “Ping.”  It’s fun to share successes, words of encouragement, and progress.  I always loved hearing what Kris was up to, and it was nice knowing I had someone I could blab to about word counts or other such mundane details.  Other friends who are less involved are great support networks, but they won’t have as great an appreciation for your efforts.

*In the course of your 30 day trial you may come across obstacles that morph into their own 30 day trial.  In my case, towards the end my efforts faltered because I wasn’t getting to bed early enough.  By the end, my head was so foggy in the morning that it ruined my entire day.  When we tried another Pinging session a couple weeks later, I made my bedtime routine the subject of my 30 day trial.

I still love Pinging with Kris.  In fact, we have another one going right now.  I’m supposed to write for at least 30 minutes daily and post to this blog at least 3 times per week.

Ping!