Category Archives: exercise

How I Made Some New Habits Stick, in January

Habits Update Jan 2016

Last month I was writing about habits over at and trying out various ways to change my habits — not just for a day or two, but for the whole month.

I had varying degrees of success and I learned a thing or two. I thought I’d share them here.

picture of Asian Zoodle Salad Jar from


Habits I Was Trying To Develop In January

  • Taking a new medication every morning (Routine? Ugh!)
  • Writing fiction regularly, to a goal of 10K words a month.
  • Reading a spiritual meditation every day.
  • Tracking my food intake.

Things That Went Well


I wrote about this at the start of the month. I had taken part in a study once that used this technique to make habits stick, so I knew it ought to be powerful, but I don’t think I really believed I could make it work so well.

But I did.

Now, every morning when I wake up, I roll over and take the medicine that’s sitting next to my bed. (My incentive to remember this is actually pretty perfect: it has to be take on an empty stomach, so if I don’t stick to this, my first coffee is delayed by every minute I waste. Aargh!)

My 30-day challenge for January was to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I anchored that habit to “the moment my son gets in the shower”.


Logging My Words

I have had a love-hate relationship with logging in the past. When I set daily goals for my writing, all it did was make me feel terrible. Partly because I was setting ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers. And partly because I’m not built to write consistently every day.

Realizing this, I settled on 10,000 words of fiction a month, early last year, and made that my goal.

Logging the words (especially on a day when the writing is going slowly) really helps me to feel like I’m making progress.

Unexpected Bonus

My fitness trainer, sick of hearing me whine about how I can’t lose weight, made me promise to log my food intake. He promised he wouldn’t judge me: that we were just going to use what I wrote down as data. (He made me sign something because I was making such terrible faces at him).

And when I thought about it, I knew, from logging my words, that I could use the data to help me feel better. So I did. And I went from losing no weight (or gaining) to losing a pound a week two weeks in a row! (Trust me, for me, this is huge).

The simple act of recording and quantifying a thing is a powerful way to take misconception and emotion out of the equation.

  • Setting a reasonable goal (323 words a day or 1300-ish calories) and trying to meet it MOST days, is manageable.
  • Tracking it, over a month or more, lets you see that you are neither as awesome nor as awful as you suspect you are, on any given day. And that’s OK. Because “consistent” is what will win the race.

Make It Friction Free

Everything that worked to make my habits stick, was based on my lifelong pursuit of laziness efficiency.

If I have to prepare a lot of stuff before I start on The Thing, I’ll never get to The Thing. So I try my best to have a smooth entry into every task.

My medicine

…lives by my bed and my lovely husband brings me a glass of water every day when he gets his first coffee. If I had to get up and go downstairs, find my meds wherever I dumped them yesterday, find my slippers because the kitchen floor is cold, get water, then take the pill, I would not get it right every day.

Spiritual Meditation

My book of spiritual meditations is sitting next to the bed with a hairpin marking the page of the next meditation (because I always have hairpins lying around). As soon as I hear the shower turn on, I grab the book. It takes very little time to read, but having it on my bedside table, and anchored to a specific action is what makes this habit work.

If I had to search for the book every day, my son would be out of the shower and demanding breakfast before I’d even picked it up. If I tried to find a time every day to squeeze it in, I’d end up scrambling to read the meditation as I fell asleep every night, which wouldn’t be nearly as effective.

Fiction Writing

I keep all the notes for my novel in the same notebook I use as my journal and my list-maker and my ‘taking notes while on the phone’ book. This saves me from having to find the right book either when I want to make notes, or when I want to find them again.

I number all the pages and, from time to time, go through and add to the “table of contents” that I create in the back few pages of the book. This helps me scan through the ToC and find out where my latest brilliant idea is, for the next part of the novel. I also have a list of scenes that I know I want to write soon, right in Scrivener. They’re brainstormed and ready to go, which helps me figure out what to write each time I sit down.


Food, ah food. How I love it. But one of the reasons I eat badly is also the reason I hate logging food: I don’t plan ahead.

If I’m scrambling for lunch when I’m already hungry, then whatever is to hand is what goes in my mouth. Lots of it. Then I have to figure out how much I ate and how to log that (I use MyFitnessPal, which is good because it has a massive database of food, but bad because you have to find the foods, then figure out how to quantify your portion, then do it again for every component of a recipe…)

In January I took my doctor’s advice (a lovely woman who struggles with all the same issues I do!), and started making up salad jars. It’s an easy portion-control method and means I always have something to grab. It almost doesn’t matter what I put in there, because of the built-in portion control aspect.

I pick one recipe a week, shop for the small quantities you need to fill four 16 oz mason jars, then spend a little while on Sunday or Monday, making up lunches for the week ahead. (I like this Spicy Peanut Zoodle Recipe and her Chicken and Spinach salad jars with grapes and a mustard-thyme dressing. I know I’m a year or two behind on the Mason Jar Salad trend, but I’m here now. Let’s party!) Even making up your own dressing and chopping veg doesn’t seem so bad when you do it once and feed yourself four times. And I LOVE all the freshness and crunch. I especially love being able to open the fridge and eat instantly (mmm, fooooooood).

The other thing (and why I went off on this rant in the first place) is that if I eat the same thing every day (or rotate a few receipes over a few weeks) I can log the ‘meal’ in MyFitnessPal once and I never have to enter in all those individual ingredients again. I just select “Asian Zoodle Jar” from the “My Recipes” tab, and it’s done.

See? Friction Free.

It doesn’t work for every meal or every situation, but batch-cooking makes it easier to prepare healthy meals and log them. (I know, rocket science, right? Reinventing the wheel, sure. Discovering things for yourself: sometimes essential!)

What I’m Still Working On


Our routine goes way out of whack at the weekends. I need to develop different anchors for the some of the habits at weekends.

Also, I get embarrassed about logging my food. I don’t know why, but I do. Any suggestions for getting over that?

This Month’s 30-day Challenge

This month I’m trying to relax for 15 minutes a day, with something unrelated to housework or reading/writing (I’m mostly doing meditation, exercise, knitting, and musical things so far).

I don’t have a good way to trigger this. I’m thinking maybe ‘after lunch’, but that’s kind of nebulous. I do need to take a little sanity break midday, but I haven’t found a good way to anchor it yet. Do you have any ideas for me?

Next month I’ll be back to talk about my Relaxation Challenge and about the Permission To Write theme I’m writing about all month long at the StoryADay blog.

Buttering the Sky

This is a quarter of a pound of butter.

Since August, I have managed to shed the equivalent of 40 of these (42 actually, if this morning’s weight is to be believed).

It’s only 10lbs. It doesn’t sound like that much when you consider that a, my weight had spiked up a few pounds in August and b, I have a lot more to lose.

But 10.2lb (or 163 ounces) of blubber is gone, baby. And I’m stronger than I’ve possibly ever been, too.

Just pausing to note it and celebrate.

Onward and downward!

P.S. The answer to your question? Sadly: diet and exercise. And consistency. And accountability. And patience. Gah!

Perfect Day

My boys rolled out of bed on the right side this morning, cheerful and compliant and ready to go before it was even close to time to start screaming at them that they were late.

K was cheery and well-rested — shades of the dreaded morning-whistling-K I remember from our early years together (shudder).

I, instead of faffing about, showered and dressed and set out for my writing garret before the clock struck 9.

When I stepped out the front door, the sky was a lovely dull gray, the light not too bright for my weak blue eyes, not so dark as to be ominous. The temperature was hovering somewhere around a cool 52 F and, oh joy of joys, it was spitting. Not a miserable kind of drizzle that soaks you without even trying, but a sort of cheerful plinky rain that a light jacket can ward off and that serves mostly to keep you cool on your walk and to make the fallen oak leaves smell amazing.

My town is dull and cool and full of the smells of autumn. I stomped along the street with a big stupid grin on my face and arrived at my garret pink-of-cheek and crazy-of-fringe.
I really never should have left Scotland.

Wibbly-Wobbly Armey-Warmey

I noticed tonight that my left arm was shaking as it pressed a glass to the ice dispenser.

Naturally my thoughts went immediately to Michael J. Fox’s autobiography “Lucky Man” and how he woke up one morning with a twitch in his pinky and look where that led!

(What? You don’t immediately diagnose yourself with the worst disease you’ve heard of that shares a symptom with your every twinge? Come on, you know you do!)

Then I remembered that I had a particularly tough yoga class yesterday (and there are two words that I never equated before I actually TOOK a yoga class). AND that the teacher had us doing some devilish arm exercises right at the end. (She said she couldn’t do them any earlier or our warrior poses would have surrendered to the Swiss army at the first sign of trouble. Or something like that. I’m a bit hazy on the actual words, due to, you know, the pain).

So I paid a little attention to the rest of my body and noticed that my right arm was feeling distinctly wobbly too. So that’s OK then.

And this homework-induced margarita should definitely help alleviate the symptoms.


(Isn’t Wednesday the new Friday?)

You Never Forget

Apparently it’s true: you really do never forget how to ride a bike.

I took my new steed out for a trot around the block this evening. Actually, first I encouraged Angus to take his bike around the block. And he made it. Even with the stabilizers on, I ran behind him holding on, because the difference in pitch between normal sidewalk and the driveways is quite treacherous, and certainly too much for a beginner with questionable coordination. Gregor took off, running,  ahead of us and was home before we had rounded the final curve. But I give Angus much credit because he pedalled the whole way, even up the big hill, with no moaning or complaining and only fell off a little bit at the end.

After one circuit he declared himself done, but he was willing to run around once more, with his helmet on, he said. So I jumped on my bike and took them on a clockwise circuit which involves no road crossing.

I first rode a bike in the 1970s, rode around the houses as a child and was occasionally allowed to cycle to the next town as a teenager (but only if I called when I arrived, which I didn’t always remember to do; and that time I stopped off at someone’s house unannounced and didn’t call home because her big brother was having girl trouble and was on the phone, and then I forgot until about a hour later by which time my mother had nearly passed out from panic? Well, sorry about that.)

When I turned 21 I convinced the aforementioned traumatized parent to buy me my very first new bike. I was living away from home at this point so the prospects of them being traumatized all over again were relatively slim. I spent one glorious year pedalling around Edinburgh (wearing a helmet for the first time. Yes I am that old. Helmets for push bikes were not invented when I were a lass) on my new 21-speed, with the cutting edge twist-grip gear change. Oooo!

After years of stomping around the city or pedalling rustily on my sister’s old three-speed, I was positively gleeful to be flying along tree-lined Morningside avenues in any one of 21 gears. I bounced across Brunstfield Links on my wider-than-average hybrid tyres. I screeched to a halt and ‘chained’ by bike to the railings outside the library with a new-fangled D-Lock, stashed the key in my pocket, popped a plastic grocery bag over the seat (for protection against the inevitable showers of rain or passing student who’d spent a bit too long at the Pear Tree at lunchtime), clipped my helmet to my backpack and stomped off in my fake Doc Maarten’s.

A year later I flew off to visit my boyfriend in the US and, apart from a short flirtation before my wedding, abandoned my pride and joy flying machine along with my family and friends, and moved abroad. That was 14 years ago.

For some reason (oh yeah, we were broke) I never bought a bike in Boston. I could really, really have used one for getting to the subway station and for the trips home, when the connection would take longer to come than the walk would have taken. I suppose I could have picked one up at a yard sale or something but I never did. (It didn’t help that this was largely pre-Web too — yes, OK, I’m old! — and information about yard sales was gathered by walking past flyer-clad telephone poles, so your options were limited if you lived in a poorish neighbourhood, which we did.

I don’t know why I didn’t buy a bike when we moved to Pennsylvania. Lack of funds, inertia, objections from my non-cycling spouse, all contributed I suppose. Since we only had one car, a bike would have come in handy, but I never bought one.

And then I reached the stage where, whenever I seriously thought about buying a bike, I would discover I was pregnant.

But now, as I said, I am old and I am fat. My weight loss guru has advised finding a form of exercise that you loved as a kid. My boys are getting to bike-riding age. And, dammit, I wanted a bike! So I bought one.

I took it for a quick spin outside the house yesterday afternoon, but one boy was inside and one outside, and it was 92 degrees, so I didn’t get a chance to get a feel for the thing. But tonight?

Tonight I spent a happy half hour whizzing around the neighbourhood with one or both boys trotting alongside or waving to me from the playset in our fenced-in front garden as I wheeched grinning by.

Some things I learned:

1, You never forget how to ride a bike, in as much as ‘ride a bike’ means ‘pedal along in a straight line without falling off too much’.
2, You do forget how to steer in that effortless way you had as a kid: leaning into corners and making tight circles. Or maybe it isn’t that you forget. Maybe it’s that 20 years and 20 more pounds are upsetting the equilibrium a bit.
3, In spite of 15 years of driving over here, I had a bit of bother figuring out which side of the road I should be on.
3.1, Everything’s on the wrong side! I pulled up to the kerb to talk to Gregor (who was ‘poofed’) and realised that I would have to put my right foot down, not my left. Aargh. I jumped right off the bike instead, because my brain and my instincts couldn’t sort this fight out before the bike stalled and tipped me. And then THAT meant that, starting off, I had to start with my right foot on the ground and my left foot on the pedal, contrary to a life’s worth of pushing-off-on-a-bike-with-my-right-foot-first. Go on, YOU try doing something that you do instinctively, but with the wrong limb first…Go on, I’ll wait….. See?
4, My rear wheel brake is on the left-hand side, which is the hand you need to take off the handle-bars to signal the all-important left-hand turn (which here, unlike in Britain, is the one that crosses the traffic). You can probaby get away without signalling the ‘easy’ turn (in this case the right hand one) because your position on the road indicates it, and anyway, you’re not pulling out in front of cars behind you to do it. I haven’t quite worked this out yet and so will be spending a lot of time for now whizzing around the neighbourhood where most of the people in cars know me and will probably try to miss me, if only to avoid awkward silences at the next neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt.
5, I have not lost my love of flying as I glide along the road under pedal power.
6, Cheap bikes now are better than moderately-priced bikes 16 years ago. I had been nervous about my ability to pedal up even the slopes in our neighbourhood, but I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.
7, A little exercise (and it hurts me to admit this) perks me right up.
8, I might have to get a bike trailer…

Stay tuned for more Amazing Adventures of the Cycling Scot, coming to a blog near you soon.