Sunday, April 17, 2016

On Developing Habits

Since December of last year, when I was at my unhealthiest, I've been trying to develop good habits, and I feel like I have a couple in place now. At that point, I was eating a lot of junk food because "I shouldn't let anything stop me!" but I stopped once A) I lost the taste for it in the quantities I was eating it, B) I was blowing a bunch of money, and C) my clothes were honestly starting to get a little tight. I decided I wanted to reverse what was going on, so I made two decisions. First, that I would walk to and from school every day. And I actually really enjoyed it, because going for a little walk before class helped to wake me up and was some form of exercise into my day. Second, I would only buy junk food on the weekend. I made the rule this way because it didn't seem super restrictive. If I bought enough oreos to last me until Friday, I could eat oreos every day of the week. Otherwise, if I ran out of chips on Monday, I'd have to wait until next Friday (after class) to buy them. This really helped me stop wasting so much money and also allowed me to stop eating so much crap. I settled into a much healthier place, and was a lot happier for it.

For a long time now I've been meaning to work out. I feel like everyone does it in some way, even if they're really lazy about it, and that if I was to become a Normal Average Person, I should do it too. But I never really did. This semester, I started doing stairs as part of a deal with Redbeard- if he took swing dancing lessons, I would improve my cardio to go on hikes with him. For a while, we did stairs a few times a week, in the Ed building. I had actual thigh muscles and didn't get winded walking up the stairs to my apartment. It was great. Then, Redbeard started doing them at weird times when I couldn't join him. This left me with no good place to leave my stuff and no partner to do stairs with, so I just... stopped. Having a buddy really helped me stay motivated, because I could sort of piggyback on his motivation, or steal some for myself, or whatever.

I also downloaded an app this semester in which, whenever I drink water, I water a plant. It sort of guilted me into drinking water (if you don't drink enough in one day, the plant begins to whither and makes a sad face and the saddest squeaking noise ever) but also gave me a little incentive. It helped me track how much water I was drinking, and holy fuck, do I feel so much better drinking enough water (mostly it's just that before I actually had physical pain in my kidneys because I was barely drinking anything). So yeah, sometimes incentives do work. Just getting to click a button that said I had finished my water bottle again was something I wanted to do, so I'd find a way to get there.

Most recently- just yesterday, actually- I decided to harness the power of "reminders" on my phone. They annoy me and the only way to make them go away is to mark them as completed. So now, at 8 AM every morning, a reminder appears for me to spend "15 minutes doing literally any exercise at all." So far, so good- I was kind of tired today, but reasoned that if I could even just do 5 minutes, it would be better than nothing. I ended up getting in 20. I'm hoping having that reminder there will keep me more on track.

For each of these little goals, my motivation was different. When I stopped eating so much crap and started walking to school, I wanted to stop gaining weight (and possibly lose what I had gained to go back to healthy- I was only really 10 pounds heavier than where I'm comfortable at now, but it took me 4 months of doing what I did to get back down there, so it wasn't some quick-tip-fad thing) and also stop spending so much money. When I decided to do stairs, I was participating in a relationship in some way, and wanting to be a little healthier. When I started drinking more water, it was because I knew I wasn't drinking enough and was constantly dehydrated. When I started working out, I decided that some exercise was better than no exercise.

What I've found is that allllll the fitness and habit and whatever tips floating unsolicited through the internet (and by the internet, I mean tumblr) really piss me off. I hate those blogs full of skinny white girls with abs in expensive workout gear and shiny hair and 10 pounds of makeup holding a smoothie, and those same girls in big white t-shirts and little panties laughing with a salad with "messy" hair. I hate those kinds of things- they just make me feel like shit about myself. I get it- they're selling a lifestyle, and some people do find that motivating, they want to look like that... but I just resent the idea that my life isn't pretty too.

This isn't to hate on those artsy blogs with those pictures of skinny white girls with nice hair. Those girls are pretty. I'm sure many of them love their lives, and feel happy with themselves. I'm sure there's also some who hate themselves, starve themselves, restrict, work out too much, or don't eat the day before taking pictures like that.

It would be kind of nice, though, to see a pretty life portrayed as something like mine. Something like the average person. No, she doesn't have a flat stomach, but she makes sure to eat 2-3 square meals a day. No, she's not conventionally attractive, she'll never be a model or grace a magazine cover, but she's still happy. Her life still has substance. She's good at science, she likes swing dancing, she's still working on not hating herself. Her GPA is average, she has a love of dill pickle chips, she's got friends who love her, and boyfriend who does too. I know that it's hard to convey that in a visual medium, while it's so easy to snap pictures of those girls with workout clothes and big t-shirts and perfect smiles and smoothies and kale salads. That also sells, that's what makes money, because people want that.

People lust after that lifestyle. I'm as guilty as anyone. Sometimes I think, if I'd just gotten into makeup earlier, if I just hadn't been so weird as a child, if I wore the right clothes, straightened my hair just so, if I went out to parties, if my GPA was higher, if my abs were more defined, if I could climb four flights of stairs without getting a little winded, maybe I'd be happier. Maybe my life would be all happy sunshine and laughing in big white t-shirts. Maybe I could live in those pictures.

But it's not realistic. I'll never get there. I won't. I just don't think I'll ever be in a place where I care enough to put on eyeliner every day, or do something different with my hair more than twice a month. I don't think I'll ever want to go for runs in the morning. I don't think I'll ever go to a gym, honestly. I'll never be the girl full of healthy recipes and perfect ponytails. I won't. And even though that life has never been sold to me as a happy one, I'm going to make it so.

So: on developing habits. I've found that developing habits because you want to be more like the girls in the pictures, it just doesn't work. It just makes me hate myself for not having started earlier. It overwhelms me with what I think I have to do. The tips reek of shaming (which quite frankly is just my opinion). But when I develop habits because it's something I genuinely want to do for my own well-being, it works. They stick better. When I actually am focusing on taking better care of myself, when I am actually loving myself in that way, habits form, habits stick, habits WORK.

Maybe this isn't for everybody, I get that. I just want to say, it's ok if you're not developing a new habit right now. It's ok if you only develop a new one every semester, every year, whatever. It's OK to be OK with yourself right this second, and decide you want to improve something later. I know this is probably obvious to a lot of people, but maybe others are still learning like me. You don't have to change everything today unless you genuinely want to and that is perfectly fine. Work on yourself at your own pace (or don't work on yourself at all, none of my business). You'll be fine.

yer pal,