Category: Goals

Year of Discipline: February

“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.” 
― Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War

This month I decided to make a list of chores that I keep putting off and get them done. Somewhat motivated by a lot of thinking about burnout and “errand paralysis” last month, I decided that the only way over some of my backlog of tasks was through.

Work travel this month really threw me off some of my exercise, eating, and budgetary habits, but once back home and settled I was able to get back on the path of virtue.

General motivation. I had work travel this month, and Jeff is in the middle of “busy season” for his profession, so it was a chore to make maintaining the house a priority, but we did it. We also finally upgraded our vacuum cleaner after five years using an incredibly cheap (and increasingly unreliable) one picked up from Argos when we first moved to London. The difference has been night and day. We’ve also been really good about our “fewer lazy days,” goals by making sure we get out of the house and do something fun or together every single weekend so far this year. In February this has meant going to see a movie with serious Oscars buzz, wandering in central London, date nights, or just walks along the river.

Grooming. I hate doing my hair. I hate it. It’s so boring, it never ends up doing what I want, and I always feel ridiculous whenever I try to do anything remotely stylish with my mane. But since I want to get better at doing my hair this year, I made it a point to be sure I was prioritizing “doing” my hair this month instead of just throwing it into my signature pony tale and going. This meant digging out the mysterious hair products hiding in my bathroom drawer depths that I don’t use enough and, surprise, they helped. I also bought little travel sized items for my gym bag for post morning exercise grooming. While that week of travel was not my sartorial best, the rest of the month was easier to prioritize–not least because the workmen are finally out of our apartment!

Financial. Since changing around some bank account options, I have restarted my monthly savings goal of putting at least an extra £100 straight into a savings account that I cannot touch no matter how much I want to. While our primary motivation is still debt payment, I want to bolster our emergency fund. I also kept my credit cards more or less on ice this month and stuck to a cash only system. We’re staring down the barrel of a large bunch of fees for immigration purposes which is incredibly stressful to think about, so every single pound allocated to that is a deposit towards mental health at the moment. Speaking of…

Health. It was difficult to stick to my good habits while travelling, but once back at home I was right back to meal planning and prepping on the weekend and making healthy food decisions. I strained the knee and hip joints of my dodgy leg which also had an impact and a week of exercise went down the tubes due to it. While not thrilled with this, the only solution is to try and do better next month!

Other stuff: 

Continued the art framing project, as part of my overall ambition to protect our pieces and actually begin using them to decorate.

Passed my immigration test!

Life admin. I made it a project to unsubscribe from almost every single marketing email list I can find so that the only things coming through my inbox are newsletters I have signed up for and enjoy, practical things like banking and order tracking, and correspondence with actual human beings that I know and like. Delightful!

Repotted growing plants. Gotta keep my chlorophyll children alive!

 

Year of Discipline: January

“Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows
with the ability to say no to oneself.” 
― Abraham Joshua Heschel

This month I really tried to use the fresh start energy that January often brings to practice some new habits, without getting too affected by the #newyearnewme attitude that I find personally unhelpful. New Year’s Resolutions do not work for me, which is why I like yearly themes instead. Themes, I find, allow me to vary what I’m doing or focusing on at any given point rather than holding me to a prescriptive lists of dos and don’ts.

So, how did the Year of Discipline start off, you ask?

Exercise (blech). I’m not going to meet my 101/1001 goal of a certain amount of exercise per week for a six month period. This is annoying because I’ve had a lot of stretches where I was really dedicated to exercise and was seeing the benefit of it–even if I hated every single minute of it. But on the other hand, my Year of Health last year helped me to lose a lot of weight, sort out medications that were clearly affecting other areas of my life, start eating healthier overall, and nearly eliminate what were once chronic migraines. So while I’m still working on exercising more regularly, I’m not beating myself up too much over missing out on this goal. I did track my exercise this month which included days at the gym, but also included a step-counting challenge for charity for work, and walking home from work as many days as possible, even though the January weather isn’t exactly a Londoner’s delight.

Healthy eating. You might have seen the Instagram Stories over December…to say I indulged would be a hilarious understatement. One of the best things I did for my health over the past couple of years was to drastically reduce the amount of sugar I was eating but that had fallen by the wayside in the last few months of 2018. I took this month as an opportunity to really be mindful about my food and deliberately healthy in my choices. This isn’t some kind of personal revolution, I’m not jumping on the latest trend, and it’s not something I’m going to be particularly rigid about moving forward; I just appreciated the chance to deliberately focus on reinforcing the good food habits I’ve spent a long time building. This month I cooked almost all of my food at home, with one night out and one brunch with friends, and deliberately carved out time to cook on the weekends and during the evenings.

Waking up earlier. One of the unintentional bad habits I’d found myself sliding into was hitting the snooze button more and more, which made for rushed and grumpy mornings. I also noticed that I didn’t have as much personal time as I wanted. Work has been pretty consuming which has meant late nights or lack of time or energy for personal projects in the evenings or at weekends. I decided to try and free up some more time in the morning instead and do you know what? It worked! After the first week of adjusting to my new wake up time, during which I woke up but allowed myself to get up and moving at a leisurely pace, I was gradually able to introduce more and more action to my mornings. Sometimes I made breakfast, sometimes I did some light exercise, sometimes I just read the news and got my social media fix. It made for a much better and less frantic morning routine. Did I miss a couple of days due to overslept alarms and unintentional snoozes? Yes, but less than five, so I’m going to call this a goal achieved.

Financial health. Jeff and I put some big payments towards our personal debt in December and were determined to not use our credit cards more than strictly required. I literally took them out of my wallet this month to rely on cash as much as possible. I also saved on travel costs by walking home when I could, packing my lunches, and curtailing my afternoon coffees at work. I scheduled appointments with my bank to finally make some minor changes to my accounts to facilitate improved savings habits. I had a bit of a wobble when it came to shopping which I wrote about here, but the total damage was under £250, which is something I more than accounted for by changing my food habits.  Budgeting: fun, no. Another month of debt payments? Yes.

Other stuff:
I used some of our budget this month to start the long put off project of framing our art. This is going to take a long time to do so we are going one piece at a time, starting with a print we bought last year.

Took another batch of items to donate to charity shops and donation centers. The water damage to our apartment finally got repaired and we used the opportunity of camping in our living room for two weeks to go through our stuff and set aside items for repair or donation. It was cleansing, even if we did spend the day arguing!

Reorganized the house. See above.

Scheduled my next batch of immigration work, including a test.

Tried to dress better overall. This month I played around a bit with my wardrobe and found ways to wear favorite items, styling or layering them for the colder weather. I also really made my morning grooming routine more of a priority…which was not easy given that workmen were in our house for two weeks and we were sleeping on the living room floor!

I renewed an out of date library card. While buying books is allowed this year, I’m trying to minimize this by taking advantage of the community resources I benefit from.

Booked a dental appointment and processed the insurance claim immediately.

What did you do for yourself this month, kittens? There are NO wrong answers. 

What’s Your Burnout Flavor?

“I never thought the system was equitable. I knew it was winnable for only a small few. I just believed I could continue to optimize myself to become one of them. And it’s taken me years to understand the true ramifications of that mindset.”
– Anne Helen Peterson 

Yes, I’m still thinking about that piece on millennial burnout from a couple of links posts ago, and the many, many think pieces I’ve read following up on it or responding to it since.

Ironic, I know, since I just wrote a post myself not too long ago about deciding that the hustle was still worth the amount of effort it takes. I still believe it is. But it took a conversation on the (fabulous) NPR podcast It’s Been a Minute to really articulate the feeling of burnout that I seem to personally experience. The author Anne Helen Peterson sat down with host Sam Sanders to talk about her own misconceptions of what burnout actually is, as opposed to how we tend to think about it. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey–or more specifically it’s a treadmill run where you don’t actually get anywhere.

“You reach the point of collapse…and then you keep going.”

I appreciate that this is not unique to my generation, but I am a firm believer that every generation has a unique combination of circumstances and variables that make them culturally distinct enough to trace broad trends. Peterson doesn’t make any points I haven’t thought of or written about before, but she articulated the mental load of some of the circumstances of millennial:

  • Graduating in a recession, with fewer entry level jobs available, and fewer jobs overall which will set us up for what have become the traditional routes to retirement
  • Lots of us are getting more stability ten years on…meaning we’re getting to traditional adulthood phases of lives and careers a decade later than most of us anticipated
  • The change of digital pace. My freshman year, Facebook was brand new and now it’s destroying Western democracy (or so it feels)
  • The way we self perpetuate burnout circumstances by not enforcing boundaries or insisting that others in our communities enforce their own boundaries either (answering emails late at night, women doing the “second shift” without thinking about it, always been online and accessible, etc.)
  • The feeling that if we aren’t being successful–making enough money, out of debt, in a fulfilling job, generally living our bliss–that the fault is someone ours and ours alone. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in hard work, but I also know that there are things such as systemic realities that can significantly affect how much pay off you see, no matter how hard the work.

“Burnout is of a substantively different category than “exhaustion,” although it’s related. Exhaustion means going to the point where you can’t go any further; burnout means reaching that point and pushing yourself to keep going, whether for days or weeks or years.”

This, I realized reading the piece, is how I experience burnout. I have lived in the space for a long time–not in all aspects of my life, but enough to make an impact. Whether it was struggling in a toxic job, working the hours necessary to make it as a full-time freelancer, or just the slog of budgeting aggressively to pay down debt, there have been points where I have felt like all I wanted to do was sleep for a year. But of course, that is not an option. For any of us! Life goes on, whether or not you have the energy to deal with it.

In my case, it’s a privilege problem in some ways, to be sure. My struggles are not the same as a woman in poverty, a single provider, in an abusive household, or any of the thousands of other circumstances much tougher women survive every single day. There are class elements of this, gender elements of this, privilege elements and racial elements. There is no such thing as a universal experience. But the sheer amount of statistical evidence that this feeling of burnout is a genuine phenomenon and a widespread thing are frankly too much to ignore.

“Errand paralysis.”

The description of errand paralysis really struck me because it was the individual symptom I fall prey to most easily.

You know that feeling you get when you look at your list of To Dos and honestly are unable to make yourself do even small tasks that should not overwhelm you, but do? I feel like I live in this mental space.

Peterson herself exclaims, “That term sounds ridiculous; that’s such a bourgeois problem…but I think that everyone has a to do list in their head, right, in their head, written out–whatever. And there’s a bottom half of that to do list–and everyone’s is different–but what happens is that that bottom half keeps not getting done and it weighs on you in a way that you internalize.”

I have found myself putting off incredibly basic chores that do not, on the surface, phase me in the slightest but that in the moment feel insurmountably hard. I have also been incredibly harsh on myself for this inability to get small tasks done. It’s a hamster wheel of anxiety and it has absolutely contributed to the darker periods of my overall mental state.

When the treadmill keeps going but the dopamine runs out.”

I also shared this previously, but the description above from Hank Green on burnout also resonated. As I said, the beautiful and difficult trouble with life is that it goes on. It doesn’t stop. And while I believe firmly that hard work is a component of success, I and others in my generation sometimes struggle to explain this general, pervasive feeling of demoralization. I believe this is why irony is our generational language in comedy, trolling is an unfortunate generational pastime, and we invented the shrug emoji. As the Peterson article delves into, we’re working hard: there is an abundance of evidence to back this up. But it feels (or is) for diminishing returns when compared to our parents or grandparents. The treadmill keeps going.

I don’t have any solutions to this, and obviously I’m still working out the reality of stress, money, ambition, career, and opportunity in my own life. But having this expanded framework of burnout has helped put a lot of past experience into perspective for me in a new way. I can now see when I was operating with nothing but fumes in the tank and what the long term toll of that was on my body and brain. I can see how choosing different habits, lifestyle options, or priorities has helped actually put some gas back into that depleted tank. I’m no longer burned out as I once was, but I know that the possibility is much closer than I would wish and one or two bad turns could put me back there again.

Have you burned out? How did it look and feel to you personally? What, if anything, has helped or are you still on the treadmill? 

January Accountability: Oops

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” 
― Epictetus

It all started when I had to purchase some items for a work trip. It was a legitimate need as a very specific style of dress was required and I did not own any of the items, nor could I find cheap or easy ways to rent them. I spent a couple of hours researching sales, warehouse sites, and even eBay to find the most reasonable and cost-effective options and got what I needed at heavily discounted prices that I am happy with.

But…the thing about shopping is that once you put your card or cash down, it becomes frighteningly easy to do it again, and the algorithms are unnervingly adept.

I have this ambitious goal of seeing if I can strictly limit the items I buy this year. I have a short list of stuff I have wanted or identified as a longstanding need or reasonable desire. For example, I wore my past pair of black ankle boots to absolute shreds, such that even a cobbler suggested that between the cracked leather, ripped sole and missing heel…I should just maybe replace them… Because I wear this kind of shoe more than any other, I felt that replacing it was a reasonable exception to my No Buy, and bought a nice pair on significant sale (post holiday sales in London tend to be good places to find bargains).

Then, because I had been searching on eBay for those work items, the internet sent some other “suggestions” my way–all items which legitimately happened to be on my shopping list. A cashmere or wool sweater dress and a summer dress. Scary. The internet knows. Because my mental pump had already been primed, my weak will kicked in and I put in bids…and won! Both were about £15 each, which is a bargain for the brands (The White Company and Ralph Lauren), but facts are facts and the truth is I think this means I’d well and truly broken my No Buy challenge for the month.

And then! Because I’d already “failed,” I allowed myself to buy a chunky knit from & Other Stories. Once again, this was legitimately on my shopping list for the year, and I found a lovely piece that’s thick, very warm, modern looking, and on trend while being something I will be happy to wear for several years to come.

I am not counting the items required for work individually, but in the spirit of honesty I’ve decided to count the whole order of work gear as one of my approved 2019 purchases, and I’ve also added the two dresses and jumper to the list. Which means we’re three weeks into the year, and I’m already down five spaces on my limited shopping list. That’s a bit sobering. My consolations are that all of these were items I had actually projected to spend money on this year and considered for several months, none of what I bought is expensive, and only one item is full price…but that’s not really the point.

Spending is, and is designed to be, a slippery slope. If I had not had to buy those work items originally, would I have ended up purchasing other items? I’m not entirely sure, but probably not.

I’ve been very disciplined in other areas this month, especially around food and exercise which both ended up saving me money as I bought significantly less food on the go and saved on travel costs by walking more. All in all, I think this month balances out so far, but in February I think my priority will be to not even open the door on spending. If an event or function requires kit that I don’t own, I will turn it down rather than incur unanticipated costs and will find cheap or free ways to socialize rather than default to eating out.

What goals did you have for this month? Have you met them? Where are you putting your focus next? 

 

Empties!

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” 
― Edgar Allan Poe

My love for this kind of hashtag content continues unabated, so once again here’s a rundown of all the beauty products I used up in the last six months. If I were more consistent (or, frankly, didn’t have so many products which makes finishing anything a challenge) I’d do these kinds of posts more often because I enjoy tallying up what I use and why. So, if you’re nosy and like beauty and grooming, come on and judge the sheer amount of stuff I’ve managed to slather on myself in the past half year.

I’ve significantly reduced the size of my overall stash over the past year. My little sister has benefited from more than one major clear out of makeup and jokes that she hasn’t had to ever buy makeup thanks to me–she got another haul over Christmas. But I still have way more stuff than one woman needs! This year, as part of my ongoing accountability, I’m committed to six months without spending money in the “beauty” category that is not a strict replacement of something I’ve used up.

Slowly but surely I’ve built a pretty good skincare regimen and, as I’ve learned more and more about ingredients and formulas, I’ve been able to find cheaper products that produce the same effects as pricier items.

Skincare first! Korean sunscreen continues to take the cake, both in terms of good pricepoints and elegance of formula that don’t leave a white cast and help moisturize skin. My favorite by a long shot is Thank You Farmer, which I continue to replace regularly.

Let’s talk cleansing! Micellar waters tend to have cult followings but I find most are much of a muchness and that you can get by with whatever happens to be on sale at Boots. At least someone in my mentions will yell at me for this supremely plebeian take, I’m sure. When it comes to cleansers, the No 7 line at Boots has been a revelation and I can heartily recommend this gel cleanser that acts like a balm–rub it onto dry skin and let it break down SPF and mascara for you, before you add water and wash away as a milky texture. You’ll notice the Clinique Take the Day Off Balm Cleanser in there as well, which I love but is more than twice the price. It’s also a gorgeous product, but I’m sticking with drugstore versions for the time being since I’ve found such a great option.

Over here in moisture…I liked the Pestle & Mortar eye cream, but have also replaced it with a drugstore line option (Botanics) which I can also recommend. Only one toner, the acid Solution by Glossier which helps with exfoliation but I only use rarely since I use acids in masks and other products pretty regularly. Only one tube of the Glossier Priming Moisturizer…because I left the other one in a hotel bathroom on a work trip. Oops. I really like this product, it’s an extremely good match for me, especially as I layer it with SPF and…

Serums and such! The Ordinary continues to provide brilliant products at ridiculously low price points and in spite of the drama with their founder and his poor decisions on social media, the products are still worth looking into. I’ve gone through a few of their different oils (which I wouldn’t necessarily repurchase), multiple bottles of their Hyaluronic Acid (which I clearly would), and their caffeine solution eye treatment (I’m on my second bottle). I can also recommend their Lactic Acid treatment as a decent alternative to the more expensive Good Genes by Sunday Riley–it’s not an exact match but does a similar job. Finally, I’ve added another Korean product here, the Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner which is a beautiful, hydrating product. I think I’m on my second or third bottle thus far and I’m probably going to stick with it for a long time to come.

Shockingly, I actually used up makeup products. The Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation is easily the best foundation I’ve ever tried and I’m itching to replace it, but I’ve got to use up an existing foundation first. While not as good, it’s perfectly serviceable and deserves to be used up instead of neglected. I also finished up my Glossier concealer which I really liked, and the NARS eyeshadow primer which is a great product and one I replaced whilst in the States for Christmas.

Multiple mascaras (all drugstore because I cannot see the wisdom of spending designer prices on something you are supposed to use up in three months, but do yell at me about how I’m wrong in the comments), and multiple lip balms from Keihl’s, Glossier, and DHC.

And then, my ducklings, LIPSTICK. I finished two by BITE, my favorite brand, and a Pat McGrath dark, vampy color as well as NARS velvet lip pencil in Red Square which is a gorgeous orange red. I fully intend to repurchase the NARS in due course, once I’ve used up more of my existing lipstick collection.

Hair stuff. I’m sure I’m missing items because there is no way I only used two shampoos and one conditioner in six months, but I’ll be damned if I know where they wandered off to. The OGX line produces really nice products and I’ve repurchased from them regularly. TGel by Neutrogena is the only thing that has ever tamed the eczema on my scalp (sexy…).

I’m trying to get more into haircare this year since it’s never an area of grooming in which I’ve felt particularly proficient, therefore I was surprised to see two styling products in the bag: a leave in conditioner by Aussie which has been an old standby for years, and a travel sized Elnet. I never buy larger cans of hairspray since I use it so infrequently and don’t want to sacrifice precious shelf or drawer space to a bulky can that will take me years to use.

And finally, body products! I’m sure I’m missing out on all kinds of lovely products but this is almost purely a utilitarian category for me. I’ve written before that I share body cleanser with my husband because I don’t see the point in buying two versions of a single kind of product, and for some reason at some point years ago I started borrowing whatever deodorant he had lying around the house  and clearly haven’t revisited my life choices since. Er…perhaps I should do that at some point…

I absolutely loved the Lush Sleepy body lotion and have fully bought into it’s street cred as a soothing sleep aid. I’m not immediately repurchasing, but will certainly keep it in mind should I find my latent insomnia creeping back in. The real hero of this category is the supersized jug of Keihl’s justly famous Creme du Corps body lotion. Not only does this stuff help with my eczema but it lasts for absolute yonks. I picked up this tub when we were last in the States about over years years ago and it lasted about that long, while being used almost every day. It’s not a cheap product so I bided my time until another trip to the US and a generously donated coupon from family allowed me to replace it at the size I wanted for a large chunk off the price. I’m assuming that we won’t be back Stateside until 2020, at which point it will be time to pick up my next batch.

2019: The Year of Discipline

“Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.” 
― Eleanor Roosevelt

If you’ve been around this corner of the internet for a minute, you’ll know that I don’t really get into resolutions so much as I do yearly themes. I’ve found this to be a much more useful way to frame a year and the things I want to achieve in it.

A lot of good has come out of my Year of Health and I think my next focus needs to be on making some of the big changes I’ve made stick. This has been a good year after a few harder years, ones of hustle and grind. I’m starting to feel as if that hustle is paying off more, and that the grind is not taking the toll on my mind and body that it once did.

Looking ahead, I’d like to turn my attention to maintaining positive equilibrium and trajectory. 2019 is going to be the Year of Discipline. What is this going to look like you ask?

Fewer Lazy Days
I’ve been pretty honest about the fact that being married to an introvert has made me develop some homebody tendencies. And I’m not mad about it, I take great pleasure in down time and scheduling time by myself or with Jeff. However, looking back, I see that I have allowed myself to default to lazy far too often in the past year. Whether that means staying in bed too long in the mornings, goofing off on the internet too late at night, or just generally lazing about–those are hours and days I won’t get back. Now, I’m not throwing in the towel on relaxing, but I do want to be more thoughtful and intentional about how I use my leisure time, so I’m going to try and schedule at least one small activity a week to get out of the house more and take advantage of the city. Especially during the summer!

Financial Discipline
I made big progress this past year in making healthier money habits, next year is about maintaining them and holding myself to a policy of radical honesty. I will continue to document my makeup spending freeze and report truthfully on my purchases. I think I will resurrect my item based goal and see if I can hold myself to a goal of only buying 19 items in 2019–and I’ll hold myself publicly accountable on this as well.

Staying Healthy
Let’s be clear: I still hate exercising. I will probably hate it until the day I die. But it’s good for me, makes me feel better about life overall, and keeps my body and brain in a better state–who every could have guessed it! I’m most able to stick with exercise routines when I do the work of building them into my other routines and making it difficult to deviate from them, so that’s what I’m going to try to do more of in 2019.

Emotional Discipline
One of the things I still don’t feel I have enough of a handle on is how effected I am by other people’s moods, circumstances that I cannot control, or simple bad days. Rather than swinging from highs to lows so easily, I want to work on being more stoic and resilient and less susceptible to emotional influence. I’m not entirely sure how to best achieve this, but I think it will involve being more considered in the media I consume, more measured in my own speech and actions, and generally attempting to be more thoughtful and slow to react. Good luck to me…

Dress for the Job I’ve Got
I’ve gotten my career to a place that I’m proud of and at a more senior level and now I want to be sure I look the part. As my trivial and superficial goal, I’m committing to more discipline in my in my morning routine. I want to get up earlier and spend more time putting together more and better prepared outfits, using my accessories and jewelry more often and effectively, and to upping my grooming game. Instead of whipping my hair into ponytails and buns when I’m at a loss–this will be the year that I finally tame my damn mane!

Let me know if you’ve picked any goals or themes for 2019 in the comments!

Things to Leave in 2018

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” 
― Henry Ward Beecher

A by-no-means-exhaustive list of stuff that you should give yourself permission to simply ditch in the upcoming year:

Subscriptions you aren’t using (we ditched NowTV)

Crippling self doubt and/or loathing. God, the time you’ll get back…

Any sense of shame or dismay about your faves–if you like cheesy pop music, reruns of specific sitcoms instead of that new prestige drama everyone one else is into, certain video games, or anything at all that gives you joy, lean into that feeling and let your fan flag fly!

Social media feeds that do not positively contribute to your life in some way, or that magnify unhealthy or negative tendencies

One toxic relationship–doesn’t matter what kind

One bad habit

Any tendency to speak unkindly about yourself

Self flagellation over that one Big Idea or task that you can’t seem to make progress on. Take a break, give yourself some grace, focus on something else for a bit and see what happens

The broken gadgets and mismatched cords in that one drawer you never open

Clothes that don’t fit

Books you don’t like

Stuff you don’t use

Obviously this is mostly a self reminder, but more seriously, list me some of the things you are going to try to leave in 2018?