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!

Is it just me or is everyone in a COVID funk??

I published this on September 16th but it turned up in my drafts folder… not sure what happened there….

Am I suffering (post)-COVID funk? Last week I talked about the idea of mini habits suggested by Stephen Guise and the strategies used by Michele Bridges in her 12WBT Challenge (12 Week Body Transformation) as ways of getting myself off the couch, or more correctly out of bed and into action.

Let me set a few things straight, it’s not that I am NOT exercising or eating OK it’s just that I know I can do better.  A lot better. I know that once it’s done I feel GOOD after I have exercised first thing in the morning. That smug sense of self-satisfaction gives me a real boost for the rest of the day. My problem has been maintaining or re-establishing my preferred routine.

There have been two factors that have led to my routine crashing around my feet, one novel and one that happens every year. Firstly, the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 and the second, winter.

Been here, done that, sort of.

I can see from my Facebook memories that this time last year and the year before and most likely the year before that, I was in a similar space. On top of that, we have COVID.

Speaking with friends, reading social media posts and a quick search of “post COVID funk” on Google shows that I am definitely not alone.  There are a plethora of articles already published claiming   we’re all feeling like this. That is, unmotivated and not liking it.

Articles published by the Sydney Morning Herald right through to a blog post about getting back into your bass guitar practice are offering support and advice.

The advice is consistent. Get off social media and get outside (after you finish reading this post of course). Stop watching the news. Eat well, sleep better, connect with friends.

The bass guitar blog even agrees with me on the benefits of mini habits

It is common to hope for motivation to show up to make us want to practice. But a more useful strategy is for us to show up for a small, doable task – regardless of motivation being involved or not – and then celebrate the fact that we did the task.

Motivation is overrated.

Regular short practice bits (and feeling better about ourselves for having done them!) are underrated.

Focus on a short task – one scale, one verse of a song, one technique exercise. Then high five yourself for having done them. The good feeling the high five creates will have you coming back tomorrow. (If you want to know more about this, check out this book).

More serious concerns

My personal situation is not a dramatic problem and I anticipate my laziness will begin to evaporate once we head towards spring and the mornings are brighter and warmer. I have a secure “essential job”, I have a house where I can retreat to if needed. I really have very little to worry about.

There are real concerns that some people will develop more serious health issues and potentially post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the months of uncertainty and stress. For many Australians, particularly those on the east coast, COVID hit when we weren’t yet over the devastating fires of summer. Just as families were getting back on their feet, we were locked inside. Health care workers and other “front line” people haven’t had a chance to catch their breath. They have lurched from one crisis to another.

According to a report from The Black Dog Institute (one of Australia’s peak mental health bodies) people who have had  positive diagnosis of COVID-19 are also at a specially high risk.

“In past pandemics, patients who experienced severe and life-threatening illnesses were at risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, months to years following their illness [12, 13]. Appropriate systems and supports need to be put in place to screen patients, especially hospitalised patients who have survived COVID-19, to screen for common mental health problems and to provide appropriate psychological supports.”

Problem solved.

I have spent enough time wallowing and when I look at the hardship some others are experiencing, I am embarrassed. I need to recognise the privilege I have and stop whingeing! I’m going to use the idea of mini habits and JFDI to drag myself up by the shoelaces and get out there and exercise.

Next month, I  am going to look more closely at mini habits or more specifically Tiny Habits. I will post a review and executive summary of  the Tiny Habits book by BJ Fogg. (Similar idea to Guise’s mini Habits)

In the meantime,  I am off for a run.


If you are suffering from severe anxiety and are seeking more useful help than I am talking about here please reach out to people who can help.  There are some great resources here at the Black Dog Institute’s website.

Australian readers can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for mental health support.