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

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.

Full mind vs mindfulness

Have you mastered mindfulness, or are you a mind full person like me? You may have noticed that I am not very good at paying attention to anything for a very long time. Without external accountability from others, lists and reminders, I would chase after bright shiny things that come into my field of thinking.

I can stick to some things. I am extraordinarily proud of myself for sticking to this blog for three years with weekly posts.  However, I have jumped from topic to topic which, according to the SEO experts is a bad thing.  I should be sticking to a branded theme.

I have more or less stuck to my Year of Zero. I more or less stick to a sustainable lifestyle with frequent exercise and healthy eating.

I’ve wanted to add meditation to the mix to help calm down my mind. To help me tame the thoughts that keep me too busy when I should be sleeping. The ideas that jump into my head when I am trying to concentrate. The thoughts that stop me from getting into a flow state more often.

 

I’m a meditation failure!

IMG_5965

I’ve tried meditation a few times with online apps but decided I was useless at it because I could not stop my thoughts from intruding. In a serendipitous twist, a course I did for school this month, has allowed me to see the light! (No cosmic rays, no angels singing! Maybe a little bit of new-age synth music!)

You don’t have to silence your thoughts when you meditate; you just let them slide on past and then refocus. 

 

The realisation that it is impossible to stop thinking and that this is not the aim of meditation was a revelation! Even though I had read that before, hearing it from a real live human being with her personal anecdotes,  made the difference. The aim is to concentrate on one thing, like your breathing, and then if you get distracted, which you will, refocus. If you get distracted again, refocus. If you get distracted again, refocus! As many times, and as often as you need to. Over time you’ll get better at it, and the time you can remain focused will increase.  And ta-da!! You’re meditating!!

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The Nan Tien Institute in Unanderra

Courses at the Nan Tien Institute

The course, Mindfulness, Theory and Practice for Schools centred around ways of embedding mindfulness into schools so that it becomes as fundamental as literacy and numeracy.  It was held at the Nan Tien Institute, a higher education campus attached to the Nan Tien Temple. The temple is the biggest Buddhist Temple in the Southern Hemisphere. The Institute offers many other courses including degrees and diplomas. While rooted in Buddhist philosophy, this course was secular in nature.

It was fascinating, and by the end of the second day, my mind was bursting (in a positive way) with ideas and plans. I was invigorated even though I had been sitting for two full days, listening intently to the lecturer, Dr Nadine Levy.

Nadine had the knack of drawing out good discussion and the room had a great vibe. I came home committed to incorporating meditation into my daily routine on top of any plans I may have for my school.

 

Mindfulness is big business.

Perhaps I’m late to the party, but I am hoping the insights learned at the course will be a permanent change for me. Mindfulness has been a buzz word in the wellbeing industry for many years now.  It has/had a bit of a bad rap (in my age demographic anyway) as being a bit hippy and woo-woo, but despite that, it is a darn good idea.

Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation are effective in treating anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. It’s cheap and universally available. It requires no special equipment and doesn’t need the internet! Having said that there are many useful apps available that can help you with your daily practice. Check out Smiling Minds (free), Calm ($A60-ish p/a) or 10% Happier ($A140 ish per annum).

My favourite mindfulness definition so far is “the mental art of stepping out of your own way”.

Dan Harris, the (US) ABC journalist, author and podcaster sums it up well in this short video.

Nadine led us through 7 or 8 mindful/meditation activities during the course. In that short time, I felt that my memory improved and that I was thinking very creatively.  I slept well that night and woke up refreshed—an unusual occurrence for me. I am up to Day 4 of practice on the Smiling Mind app, and I’m feeling good! I’m going to make an effort to make it stick. I intend to include a 10-minute meditation into my morning routine. That’s do-able!

I am not going to go into detail about what mindfulness is or isn’t in this post. I’ll save that for future posts, but I warn you, this Old Chook has found another topic to bang on about!

On another note, if you are an educator, I’d highly recommend the course. It runs a couple of times a year.

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