Style guide for living

I’m always looking for ways to make my life calmer and more enriching. I like lists! I like grand declarations and sticking to plans. (did you notice! 🙂 ) I’ve decided to adopt my COVID to do list as a style guide for living. Think of it as a personal list of T&Cs.

Why would I want a style guide for living? Modern life, pre or post-pandemic, is a mass of decision points. Living in a developed country, I have lots of choices. Take acquiring and preparing food for example. The choices I  can make include whether I:

  • waste or not waste food. 
  • shop at the multinational supermarket or the farmers’ market
  • buy stuff in plastic or not
  • buy bulk or not
  • freeze or not
  • eat meat or other animal products or not 
  • plan meals or buy on impulse

I could keep going. If I wrote a similar list for exercising it would be equally as long. Is a 5-minute burst of HIIT (high-intensity interval training)  really as beneficial as a one-hour walk/run? 

I want to choose healthy plant based food.

Decision fatigue is a real thing. 

Habits help us manage decision fatigue to a certain point but having a style guide for living can shepherd your choices and, to an extent, eliminate many of the daily decisions you need to make.  It leads to a greater level of automaticity and hence less anxiety. Choice is not all it’s cracked up to be as Barry Schwartz clearly demonstrated in his book the Paradox of Choice. If you have too many choices you tend to make none! Dr Laurie Santos also talks about this on her podcast, The Happiness Lab. Check out Season 1 Episode 8 on Choice Overload.

To-do becomes  Ta-da

A few months ago I wrote about my COVID to-do list and how I decided to turn it into a ta-da list as a way of celebrating success rather than beating myself up with the things I had not crossed off.  My aim for each day of lock down was to:

  • create something, 
  • organise something, 
  • learn something new and 
  • move everything (as in exercise). 

Ticking off these things every day was a TA-DA moment!  The things didn’t need to be big and were open to interpretation. This list served me well and I have decided to keep it as part of my life.

I want to re-badge the TA-DA list as my style guide for living.

Creating a small image counts.

Style Guide for Living

The style guide for living is not intended to be a daily to-do list but rather a way of living. I don’t expect to be able to cross each item off every day. Rather that I see myself as the type of person who for instance, values AND participates in regular exercise. It builds on my ikigai (reason for getting up) which I outlined in a recent post.

I have been mulling over an idea for a mnemonic to capture my style guide and make it easier for me to internalise and remember. The Ta-Da categories spell out a rather awkward COLM!  I want to be calm not COLM! I’ve been working on a better mnemonic – CALMER.

Here is my first attempt. 

C – Create before you consume. I don’t intend to create something everyday but rather be a person who creates before they consume.

A – Arrange (as in organise) – I will be a person who stays organised and de-cluttered.

L – Learn something new – I will be a life long learner

M – Meditate – I will meditate regularly to improve my mental health

E – Exercise – I will be the type of person who incorporates exercise into my life as often as possible.

R – Reduce/reuse/recycle – I will be the type of person who reduces their environmental impact.

This misses a few important aspects of life that I want to include, like healthy eating food, restful sleep and positive relationships. 

PERMA+

Greater minds than my own struck this problem too. PERMA is a concept and mnemonic that’s been around in the positive psychology space for a while now. PERMA focuses on five pillars that have been shown to lead to positive mental wellbeing, namely:

P = Positive emotions

E = Engagement

R = Relationships
M = Meaning

A = Accomplishment

To fill in the physical factors necessary for overall good health and to launch it into a state of flourishing,  the schema evolved to PERMA+ (said PERMA plus) The “plus” being good diet, exercise, and sleep, as well as resilience and optimism. They just lumped everything they couldn’t fit into the plus sign!

CALM-FEST?

I have been fooling with a few iterations for my own version of the PERMA+ concept and I’ve turned CALMER into a festival – CALM-FEST!

C – Create before you consume

A – Arrange (as in organise)

L – Learn something new

M – Meditate

F – Friends, family and my community.

E – Exercise 

S – Sustenance and sleep.

T – Tread lightly on our Earth.

It’s a work in progress!  If you have any ideas for better words that encapsulate my intentions, please comment below. Especially the “S” to cater for sleep and food.


Some of these intentions will be easy to achieve everyday. For others, I’ll be happy if I can do them 20 out of 30 days in the month. Borrowing from the ideas of BJ Fogg in his book Tiny Habits (which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post) at the very least each day should be a mini-festival!

Cut back on your daily decisions by working out your style guide for living.
Meditation helps settle your mind

Free mammogram anyone?

I had a mammogram recently and the whole experience made me tear up with gratitude and joy.  An odd reaction perhaps, but my joy and gratitude was for the free health screening services provided by the Australian government. 

Free Health Screening

I have written about the bowel cancer screening program which is provided to all Australians over 50 in a previous post. Once you turn 50, the Government sends you a kit every 5 years to test your poo for blood. If you get a positive result, like I did last year, you’ll be scheduled for a colonoscopy.

Free mammograms are available for all women (cis or trans) between 50 and 74. It is recommended you have the procedure every two years. Breastscreen NSW provides the service in my home state, but each state has a similar service.

Every two years.

My regular two-year check up was a lovely experience. I know that sounds a bit cheesy but bear with me!  For many women, the idea of having their breasts squeezed firmly between two plates is not much fun. Yes, it is uncomfortable and yes, someone you don’t know will be handling your breasts and “smoothing” them out on the plate BUT the surroundings and the care and kindness offered by the people who work there, make it a pleasant experience.  

The clinics are nicely furnished and softly lit. The receptionist greets you in a friendly and courteous manner. You’ll be asked to fill out a form. Since there were still COVID restrictions at the time I had the procedure, most of this form had been filled out two days prior to my visit when the lovely receptionist rang me. This meant I didn’t have to be at the clinic any longer than necessary. 

Once in the treatment room, the radiographer asked me to get undressed from the waist up and checked my identity again. The lights were dim and the room was well heated. 

I was then positioned in front of the machine and the radiographer told me how to stand and gently guided me to get the correct positions, before retreating behind the screen to take the shots. These days the images are recorded digitally rather than on film. You have a front image and a side image of each breast. 

It takes about twenty minutes, then you get dressed and leave! You get the results after about two weeks. A letter is also sent to your GP. If there are any abnormalities your doctor will contact you.

I couldn’t find an Australian video showing what to expect but here’s one from John Hopkins.  

From John Hopkins Hospital

You don’t need a referral for the screening once you are over 50. Like the bowel cancer kits, you’ll get your first invitation as a fiftieth birthday present! After that, you’ll get a reminder every two years.

Ultrasound vs X-rays?

I spoke to an ultrasound technician (My Cousin Kris!) and she said that ultrasound images are superior to x-rays especially for women with smaller breasts because they have better resolution. 

Ultrasound scans are not part of the free screening program and you will need to pay for it yourself unless the place you go to bulk bills. She recommended you get an ultrasound every second time you get an x-ray screening image to increase the chance of detection. 

Breast cancer is diagnosed in close to 20,000 Australians each year. It accounts for 6% of cancer deaths. The 5 year survival rate is high (91%) because of services such as the screening program which allows for early detection. Early detection of any cancer is vital for successful treatment, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of the Breastscreen Service?

So don’t be scared – bare your boobs in the name of good health!

The Search for the Missing Mojo Begins! 

Last week I declared that my mojo was missing. I reported my feelings of laziness and malaise. Exercise has become a chore and eating right a battle. The anxiety monster is lurking just around the corner waiting to pounce on me if I let it. Last week’s goal was to start searching for answers.

Perhaps it’s not mojo I’m looking for?

As a first step, I decided to define a few terms. What even is mojo? Am I using the term correctly? Googling led me to this:

1ZoqnzE0nzLuetceuE9Sby61Olhscfit7ylDyIAwwMKWxOJZy7dmbTdObytOhUSs

Am I looking for mojo? Or am I looking for enthusiasm? Is it motivation I need or more willpower?  Some further search terms lead me to this blog article

Should I Get Motivated Or Use Willpower? The Ultimate Guide For Taking Action When You Don’t Feel Like It

Now that sounds like what I’m after!

According to the author, Stephen Guise, you are better off relying on willpower and habit rather than motivation. He defines motivation as a desire to take action, whereas willpower is forcing yourself to take action even if you don’t feel like it. Creating habits is the ultimate goal. When something is a habit you don’t have to make a decision, you just do it because you have built it into your life. I’d recommend the article. It’s long but his writing style is easy, amusing and straight forward. He has a book to sell called Mini Habits.

Working SMARTer

Guise recommends taking action even when you feel unmotivated. Just get out and do it.  This is the same strategy Michelle Bridges uses in her 12 Week Body Transformation Program. (12WBT)

Her motto is  JFDI (just f*^%#$ do it!)

Just get out of bed. Don’t think about it! Just put your workout gear on, don’t think about it. Once you start, you’ll keep going.

I have signed up for the 12WBT three times in the past, and every time it has worked well for me. I’ve gotten fitter and stronger. At the conclusion of the 12-week program, I have felt empowered, healthy and proud.

Why does this style of program work so well for me and others? It boils down to a few simple factors:

  1. The program isn’t free. The fact that I’ve paid for it is a huge part of its  success for me. The idea of wasting money if I don’t stick to it is an important external motivator.
  2. It’s for a well defined period of time. Long enough to see results, short enough to maintain interest.
  3. It is measurable. There are some very carefully planned milestones that involve actual measuring including a weekly weigh-in and a monthly fitness test. On top of that, you take your body measurements every four weeks.
  4. The program asks you to set mini-milestones and a final goal. For my last round, these goals were timed running events and culminated in a final event where I aimed to crack the 56-minute mark. (missed by 5 seconds!)
  5. There is a supportive online and IRL* community attached. I didn’t join in on this aspect much but it was there if I wanted it.

That list sounds very familiar and a lot like SMART goals. That is goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Make a start – even if its small

While SMART goals are a tried and true strategy for many people, Guise suggests another option. Using brute force! In a strategy, he calls ‘taking stupid small steps” he suggests you take a very small action which you repeat over and over again until it  ‘turns into a powerful, healthy habit.’

The idea is to force yourself to do one push up (or another similarly very small step), then do another and then another and before you know it you’ve done a workout. Guise says that harnessing the power of stupid small steps will increase your willpower, stamina, build momentum, lead to action rather than just thinking about taking action and finally bring a greater level of consistency.

Here’s a good summary of the idea.

What’s next in the mojo hunt.

My Year of Zero precludes me from signing up for another round of 12WBT so I am just going to wing it on my own with a very strong mini habits flavour thrown in. I’ll set some milestones, do some measurements and give myself 12 weeks to whip myself back into shape. I have a 5 km race booked in for December. Maybe I can get down to 25 minutes. (My previous best time is 26 minutes)

Yep, that’s what I’m gonna do…Starting next week…I really really mean it this time! 


Next week’s post: I know I’m not alone in this potentially COVID induced funk. Next week I’ll examine the possibility of this lack of motivation being a bigger shared problem. 

* IRL = In real life