Month: January 2021

Surrender to the suck

January, cold, exam cancellations, mutant Covid, another significant birthday celebrated via zoom, yet another lockdown. I won’t bore you with the catastrophic series of disasters that have occurred since last time I posted. But, suffice to say, 2021 would have been greatly improved had I simply stayed in bed. How is anyone supposed to find their motivation when most of us are so completely spent?

“ boring. Netflix,” says psychotherapist Julia Samuel, who must speak to most of us with her neat appraisal of the status quo. Best known for her wonderful work as a grief counsellor, she is also the author of the prophetically titled ‘This Too Shall Pass’. But it seems that even she is struggling to find a schedule sparky enough to see us through adversity again.

Nonetheless, the counsellor quickly rallies to offer some more professional advice. “One way of dealing with a new lockdown is to look at the dark, acknowledge it, allow the difficulty of it and then intentionally turn your attention to the light,” she says. “Be self-compassionate,” she continues. “What you say to yourself affects your mood and behaviour. One way of dealing with a new lockdown is to look at the dark, acknowledge it, and then intentionally turn your attention to the light “Be curious. Have the best day you can have today. Communicate with others — I’ve found the non-work-related Zoom lunch to be extremely helpful. And, at the end of the day, let yourself know the small wins can be a delicious cup of coffee.”

In other words, she says, preserve your sanity by keeping your expectations spectacularly low. Resist the compulsion to put deadlines on every aspect of your life. Fighting to put a timeline on things will only make you abject with misery when they fail to materialise. Hence this week’s words of upliftment are: surrender to the suck. “The paradoxical theory of change,” argues Samuel, “means that the more you accept the things you don’t want, the more you’ll be able to live with them.”

The surrender of which she speaks reminds me of my 80 year-old parents, who take a similar attitude. Despite having had their busy social life seriously curtailed, virtually no visitors bar me in nearly a year, precious little interaction with the outside world and a tsunami of toxic disinfectant accompanying their every move, they have remained  in extraordinarily buoyant form.

I wouldn’t do it the discredit of describing it as Blitz spirit — their stoic pragmatism and sense of humour seemed to be drawn from a far deeper psychological reserve of self-preservation than anything so mannered — but contrary to the picture of lonely decrepitude we insist on using to describe the geriatric condition, they are the poster children for fortitude and pluck.

Samuel recalls her own mother, faced with an ongoing series of power cuts, retiring to bed with the radio and a packet of biscuits until the lights came back on. Biscuits, radio, putting on your earrings (as suggested by one colleague): these must be our small wins for now. Which isn’t to say we must abandon hope or, as Samuels describes it, “the alchemy that turns a life around”. Of course, we ache for proper holidays, huge intoxicating parties and the company of crowds. But, she says, hope must be a “feeling or behaviour”. Picture the future, dream it, but for god’s sake don’t go making plans. Which is good for the mind: but what about the body?

Seeking motivation to finesse the post-Christmas physique, I turn to another source of professional effervescence, fitness coach Peter Cobby. He too counsels the prevailing wisdom that in order to stay motivated you must create some sort of schedule. And then stick to it like glue. “Plan your day the night before,” he tells me. “Write down your three ‘must-do’s’, but make it interesting and challenging. No point setting a task you don’t want to get up for. This is the first step in having the motivation to get up and move.”

And there’s more. “Focus on habit creation,” he continues. “They say that your day is determined by the first hour from when you wake up.” And most importantly: “Don’t hit snooze.” He recommends the five-second rule preached by American TV host and motivational speaker Mel Robbins. “Once you hear that alarm, count backwards from five and, on zero, jump up and attack the day. Momentum is the key to a positive day.” As a snooze addict, I cannot pretend this will ever happen. But I admire his buccaneering spirit and have resolved at least to get up and throw myself around the yoga mat again. As for the “must do’s”, they’re a work in progress. “Buy biscuits” seems quite do-able. And of course there’s always “ Netflix”, too.

A feel better guide for the already tired.

It’s the first day of 2021 and I’m already … tired. Usually at this time of year, I have a list of resolutions and goals for the year that I’m bursting with energy to implement. New Year? Bring. It. On.

But this year, after collapsing over the finishing line of 2020 – there’s not a lot of juice in the tank for New Year’s resolutions.

Burnout – previously a millennial thing – affected just about everyone in 2020. Whether you were an essential worker who had to deal with the stress and uncertainty of being out there, working from home with a brain fried after hours a day on Zoom meetings, someone who had lost work during the pandemic, or a parent who suddenly found yourself homeschooling during the day and doom-scrolling at night – no one got out of 2020 unscathed.

Doing more exercise, dropping some kilos, saving money, spending less time on social media, establishing a meditation practice – many traditional New Year’s resolutions are not wholly pandemic-proof. Until there’s a widely available vaccine, 2021 could deliver more of the same shocks and disruptions: coming in and out of lockdown, facilities like gyms shutting, routines being disrupted as we shuttle between working from home and returning to the office.

So I’ve trawled the World Wide Web and garnered advice from a team of virtual experts to offer advice on creating more humble, but potentially more achievable and long-lasting new habits.

My brief? Make each piece of advice as pandemic-proof and achievable as possible, and assume that the people they are advising are really, really tired.

This week, I’m focusing on starting small, shifting my mindset and recognising that habits are linked.

The framework: habit stacking (and starting small)

Dr Breanna Wright, a behavioural change expert from Monash University, says if you are already starting 2021 feeling burnt-out, you should keep your resolutions manageable.

“One of the most important things is not trying to change too many things at once.”

Instead we should start “trying to achieve one change” that can then be turned into a habit. “That’s when the change is really powerful – because once something is a habit you are likely to do it every day.”

When picking a habit to implement “it’s better to focus on one thing at a time and make it specific”.

Action: She advises tying the new habit into an established routine that won’t change – such as meditating in the morning (new habit) before you brush your teeth (old habit).

“If you set up a habit based on something that may change – such as exercising in the middle of the day, then when you go back to the office, you may not be able to keep up that change. Best keep it small and tie the habit into something that won’t change, like getting up in the morning.”

The first step: sleep

Each article I read about the this topic agreed that new healthy habits were connected to each other. So cutting back on drinking alcohol leads to better sleep and better sleep leads to more energy and more energy leads to better food and exercise choices, and so on.

Dr Kate Gregorevic is a geriatrician and internal medicine physician, and author of the book Staying Alive. She says that our first building block should be focusing on good quality sleep as the foundation of good health and longevity.

“We all know how awful you feel after a bad night’s sleep. You are grumpy, you don’t have the same appetite regulation, you’re more likely to reach for ‘sometimes food’ and skip the workout. 2020 has been so stressful – we have all had this incredible tension we’ve lived with for months on end.”

But we can control “having a regular bedtime and wake-up time and establishing good sleep habits”, says Gregorevic.

Once we have my sleep habits under control, we’ll be in a better place to tackle other goals, such as a regular exercise routine and nutrition.

Gregorevic also advises we develop a wind-down routine to get ourselves ready for bed. This should include reading a book for 30 minutes before bedtime instead of scrolling through social media. And, crucially, also keeping phones out of the bedroom.

Hopefully after establishing good sleep habits, in weeks two and beyond we’ll feel fresh enough to put in more building blocks to set up for a healthy 2021 – including developing an exercise routine.

The mindset: self-compassion

Kate James, a life coach and author of Change Your Thinking to Change Your Life, suggests we need to start noticing ‘self’ talk.

James advises clients on mindfulness and self-compassion, which are especially important if you are experiencing 2020 burnout. She suggests we “try to come to an internal conversation with yourself that is not being hard on yourself. So much of the internal problems we have start from beating yourself up. For example if you’ve had too much to drink, you’ll wake up at 3am and berate yourself.”

She instead advises detachment when you start thinking negatively about yourself. Make note of what you are saying, then ask yourself: “Am I treating myself with compassion and care?” Often the answer is no.

Action: Pay attention to how we speak to ourselves. James says once you start paying attention to your inner monologue you are more likely to be kinder to yourself and encourage good habits rather than putting yourself down over bad ones.

So, if I lie awake past my new bedtime, at least I can avoid beating myself up over it!