I made a promise to myself at the start of the summer of 2019 to stay physically and mentally fit. I developed schedules and regiments to read more and eat better and move more and write better. As I update this blog, I unfortunately have to admit that most of those plans fell through or were modified to basically continue my current, unhealthy lifestyle. I lack willpower; that’s obvious. I give up too easily. It was gross and misty this morning, so I didn’t go for my morning walk. I rolled over and went back to sleep, defeated. I gorged myself on pasta at dinner, making a million and one rationalizations for such piggish behavior. I’m tired and I’m always battling my depression and it’s rainy and work was hard: all those complaints become justifications for my bad behaviors, but I don’t want to live like that anymore. I have the desire, but sadly, that’s not enough. I
N E E D willpower.
What is willpower? The American Psychology Association defines willpower as: “…the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.” That is precisely what I struggle with, so I did some more internet research and luckily, I stumbled upon an awesome article titled “The Science of Willpower: How to Train Your Productivity Muscle” by Oksana Tunikova. In that, she writes, “Simply put, willpower is our ability to delay gratification. It is our self-control that helps us resist distracting impulses and persevere.”
Without getting too science-y, I wanted to understand how scientists know what they know about willpower. The concept has been studied numerous times, but those in the know seem to agree that there are three key studies that tell us everything we should know when it comes to willpower:
Stanford Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel: “Children were asked to choose between getting a sweet reward right away or having a double-portion after waiting for around 15 minutes. Kids who managed to delay gratification were believed to have stronger willpower (an obvious conclusion). The study, however, did not stop there. The young participants of the Marshmallow Test were actually subject to long-term evaluation. Over the course of years, it turned out that those who were able to delay gratification as kids had better life outcomes as adults. Life success was measured in terms of education, performance at work, health, and other metrics” (source). But what does this mean? To put the findings of the study in practical terms, to apply them to my own life, I realize that willpower is essential in meeting absolutely all of the goals I’ve set out for myself. If I’m able to make a schedule and stick with it, then I will be able to do anything technically.
“Roy Baumeister is another important figure on the willpower-science scene. In collaboration with other scientists, Dr. Baumeister discovered that our will, just like a muscle, can be fatigued if we spend too much time on activities that require self-control. According to Baumeister, the strength of our willpower depends on the level of energy available in our brain at a given moment. To support his point of view, Baumeister ran an experiment that involved hard-to-resist foods. Participants had to withstand the temptation of eating chocolate and complete a series of mental tasks afterward. Those who managed to resist food temptation appeared to be more fatigued and performed worse in mental tasks” (source). But what does this mean? This helps me relax about relaxing. I really have to accept the fact that “all or nothing at all” is not a concept that can apply to my life. When I fall, or when I fail, it cannot be enough to defeat me. I have to remember that it is natural and normal to fall short and in bouncing back is how I will strengthen my own willpower. It seems contradictory, and maybe even ironic, but still, it makes sense because we cannot know darkness without light and we cannot know success without failure. So instead of rolling over and being defeated, I need to begin again.
“Back in 2010, a study conducted by Stanford University researcher Veronika Job and her colleagues suggested that our own beliefs about willpower might play a key role. A series of experiments proved that when we believe that our willpower is limited, it becomes limited. Meanwhile, those who believe that willpower is not fixed and cannot be depleted, demonstrate greater self-control and are not likely to lose will under depleted circumstances” (source). But what does this mean? When I was going to therapy regularly, my therapist stressed the importance of loving myself (and so did my priest). I’m beginning to understand that loving myself includes believing in myself. I need to be nice to myself and tell myself that I am lovely, that I am strong, that I am capable of great things, that I will be published again, that I will lose the weight, and that I will be loved,.
So throughout my research, it became obvious to me that willpower is important, if not crucial, in determining success in any endeavor. Based on the three studies discussed above, it is apparent to me that willpower is as important as I believe it to be, and that it can be developed. To develop willpower, it is best to think of it as a muscle. “To strengthen a muscle, you have to exercise” and “When you overwork, muscles get tired and will need time to recover” (source). So, again, having one cheat meal a week is okay, but it is key to not let that cheat meal turn into a cheat day, which turns into a cheat week because I am not disciplined enough. But when I feel tired, I can rest, because indulging in being lazy twice a month is actually an effective way to give my willpower and self-control time to recover and “…restore its energy levels” (source).
But what does this look like in practice, in real life?
Exercise daily. “The trick, however, is to start small and build up” (source). Walking every day is fine to start with and I plan on continuing to do so even while I’m on vacation next week in Florida. But I’ve been walking for two months and my weight loss has slowed and while I fear it might be mostly because I’ve been slacking in counting calories, I might also need a physical boost. I remember reading somewhere that a person should change up her exercise routine after a few weeks. Upon returning from Florida, I am going to start running but I’ll walk if I need to.
Feed your brain the right food. “Willpower and decision-making are closely related. .. Studies suggest that poor diet makes you inclined to make more emotional choices than if you were well fed. To this end, the same advice to start small goes a long way” (source). This was another validation for me; I’ve been investigating The Mediterranean Diet for some time now and it’s time I got started. I have an entire cookbook and even more recipes printed from the internet. I could just start with breakfast, or a dinner once a week, because the article advises to “Keep changes small so that your brain doesn’t realize a change has been made. In no time, you can build up your willpower skills” (source).
Develop your own reward system. “If you break your big goal into a few smaller goals and assign a valuable reward for each small goal achieved, your willpower will be activated” (source). My original weight loss plan did have goals for incremental weight loss. For example, if I lost five pounds, I would treat myself to a movie. And if I lost twenty pounds, I’d get a hair cut. It’s time to find my original list and hang it up on my fridge so losing all the weight I’ve gained will seem more possible and I’ll have something to look forward to along the way.
Train your willpower, but don’t overdo it. Hence why cheat meals and lazy days are so important, and that helps me breath easier.
Work on your stress levels. “According to studies on the connection between stress and willpower, goal-oriented behavior suffers when our fight-or-flight signaling is on” (source). My stress has always been difficult for me to manage. Before I developed better coping skills and healthier habits, I used to suffer from severe, complex migraines. They seemed like small strokes; I wouldn’t be able to talk or remember things, and one side of my body would be numb. The vision in my right eye would resemble a television screen with static. There’d also be blinding, horrible pain. Exercising helped, but I want to implement a yoga regiment and spend much more time reading and writing. I also need to continue turning my home into a cozy sanctuary, even if it is little by little due to financial constraints. I should put fresh flowers in different rooms. I also need to start seriously planning my garden.
Set realistic goals. “Set goals that are big enough to be motivating but still doable. Alternatively, break your goals down into sub-tasks and work on one smaller goal at a time” (source).
When I get down on myself, I need to remind myself of the following things:
Willpower gets stronger with regular use. You can train your willpower with small things like making your bed every morning or choosing a fruit over a cookie at least twice a week. Start small and scale it up as your self-control skills grow.
Willpower is a muscle you can train. “Hear this: You are not forever bound to your bad habits. Of course, some poor habits might be hard to break, but as long as you keep your goal in mind and work on strengthening your willpower, nothing is impossible. You can become a better version of yourself; the power to make this happen is always within you” (source). I WILL READ THIS EVERY SINGLE DAY.
It is also helpful to remember that: “21 days is the minimum time needed to build a new habit” (source). That’s three weeks; that’s not so bad! I will give myself time. I will love myself. I will be patient with myself.
Next week, I’ll share my three-week plan for kick starting my plan to become a strong, more motivated woman. Will you join me? Do you want to become more motivated? Have you ever thought about how to be the best version of yourself?
My whole life, or at least that’s the way it seems, I’ve been desperate for love. All I want, and all I have ever wanted, is to be loved. I think that’s why I allow myself to constantly be used and mistreated because I believe that in order for people to love me, I have to give them whatever they ask for. But that’s not love. I don’t think I really know what love is. I don’t love myself; if I did, I wouldn’t let people use me and I would understand that I still have value even if others don’t think so. I surround myself, mostly, with people who temporarily need me, thinking it will grow into some kind of permanence but unfortunately, it rarely does.
If I really loved myself, I wouldn’t always assume there’s something wrong with me and try to take the blame when things fall apart. Why is it so hard for me to consider that I’m not always the bad guy? It is a real possibility that people out there are mean, plain and simple. If not mean, then self-serving. I have never been like that, and I don’t think it’s the worst thing if I start to be a little more self-interested.
My plan for this week’s entry was to talk about how I celebrate when my book is completed. But when I sat down to write this out, I realized I don’t really celebrate when I finish a manuscript, although to be fair, I’ve only done this twice so far. I feel all this pressure to revise and send it out to agents, like it doesn’t count as “completed” until it’s published. In typing that last sentence, I realize that’s an effect of my somewhat toxic “all or nothing” mentality. I should start celebrating the completion of drafts and manuscripts. I should get my nails done and go shopping – self-care is always a good idea. And I need ideas other than food; I’m too much of an emotional eater and no good has come from it. I’ve been on a diet and exercise plan and have had a rough two weeks of it: the week before last I only lost 2 ounces, and this week I gained 3 pounds. If I’m honest with myself, that last result shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, I moved way less and cheated on my diet on 5 out of 7 days of the week. I get so frustrated with myself because if I have the willpower and the stamina to write novel, why can’t I have the same dedication to taking care of myself? Or to love myself?
So yeah; I will celebrate when my next book is completed by taking care of myself.
What about my fellow writers out there? What do you do to celebrate when you finish a book?
Tips for Better Self-Care:
Know your worth!
As evidenced by the content of this post, I’m making a concerted effort to highlight the better parts of myself. But I’m also careful not to ignore the parts that need work. I just need to be patient with myself because, as I need to remind myself, I love myself.
A healthy work-life balance.
Two years ago, I stopped taking work home with me on the weekends. I also stopped staying later than what was contractually mandated (barring extenuating circumstances). It helped me start to navigate away from that toxic “all or nothing” mentality I referenced earlier; my life is not all work and nothing else, and it is not all play and nothing else. I’m managing a healthy balance.
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT! A few years ago, I was getting debilitating migraines that attacked my speech and vision and memory. There were like small strokes, and I went to see a neurologist. When the scans came back clean, the neurologist explained I was suffering from complex migraines that were brought on by stress! I started exercising more and limiting caffeine and writing more. I’m proud to say I haven’t had an episode in over a year.
Start living, stop existing!!
I’m still working on this one. I’m making a resolution, right here and now, to have adventures, even if I have to go solo.
Better physical health!
… and I’m still working on this one.
And here are Ten Tips for Happier Living:
1. Go for a run or a light jog. I’m working up to this; I’m walking two miles every other day. When I feel up to it, I’ll start lightly jogging.
2. Meditate or do deep breathing for five minutes.
3. Take a break when you need it.
4. Choose who you spend time with.
5. Laugh heartily at least once a day.
6. Eat green daily. I’m working up to this; I’m doing a lot of research about the Mediterranean Diet.
7. Avoid emotional eating!! I emphasized this one because I STRUGGLE to avoid emotional eating.
8. Start a journal. Check and check! I have TONS.
9. Learn to say “No.” I’m working on this one, too.
10. Stop overthinking. So difficult for me! I think this might be an occupational hazard for many writers, so I researched ways to stop overthinking:
Notice when you’re thinking too much.
Acknowledge these thoughts are not productive.
Challenge your thoughts.
Acknowledge that your thoughts may be exaggeratedly negative.
Keep the focus on active problem-solving.
Look for solutions, don’t dwell on problems.
Schedule time for reflection.
20 minutes of “thinking time”
But how does one practice mindfulness?
Take a seat
Set a time limit
Notice your body
Feel your breath
Notice when your mind has wandered
Be kind to your wandering mind
I hope these tips prove beneficial for other writers up there who are trying to improve their respective head spaces. And once I finish this current project, I’ll invite you all to my celebration, I promise.
It’s been a year since my last blog post. I want to say I’ve been busy, and I have, but not in the romantic, adventurous ways I’d like. I was struggling with depression and losing the battle for a while. I had no inspiration, no motivation, no real reason to get up in the morning. There were some really awful nights where I sobbed until I couldn’t breathe, where I gorged myself until I couldn’t move, where I didn’t even leave my house to check the mail. I hated my existence and hated who I was – only the worst sort of person could allow herself to be such a fucking loser, I thought.
And the problem with writing, I realized, is that it is solitary and sedentary, making it NOT conducive to the my goals of being social and beautiful, but it remained vital to my survival; I have to write. So instead of blogging, I filled journals with scribbled self-loathing and only a few blips of creative expression.
But therapy helped; it really did. And so did attending The Writer’s Hotel writing conference in New York City in June of last year. I was inspired, invigorated! I met some truly amazing and talented people whom I still talk to. I got some much needed perspective and validation. As a result, I’m healthier than I’ve been in a long time, and I only have one more chapter to revise on my manuscript.
So I’m back, bitches! Here’s a prompt for your enjoyment.
01.2019: Stealing Sentences I opened up to a random page in Nic Pizzolatto’s collection of short stories, “Between Here and the Yellow Sea.” I chose the first sentence I saw, and wrote this little ditty.
She looked briefly at his art. “I don’t get it.”
Jay blinked. “What do you mean?” he asked in an accusatory tone, offended because he believed she was being intentionally obtuse.
Alison cocked her head to the left, trying to study the sculpture from a different angle. She narrowed her eyes and Jay remained breathless. When Alison sighed, Jay did too, disappointed and deflated. “What is it?” Alison asked.
“I can’t believe you can’t tell,” Jay growled. He gathered his sculpture delicately in his arms and headed for the door.
“Oh come on, Jay, it’s not that serious,” Alison pleaded as she followed close behind. As soon as the words escaped her mouth, she knew she had just made everything worse. Jay took his art super seriously and Alison knew that.
“I wasn’t looking for an in-depth critique or anything,” Jay said. He was struggling to open the door with his sculpture simultaneously nestled in his hands. “A little enthusiasm would have been nice, that’s all.”
Jay was avoiding eye contact, so Alison used the opportunity to roll her eyes. “I am always enthusiastic about everything you do. You just caught me on a bad day. I had an awful morning. I tried to make coffee without closing the lid on the coffee maker.”
“Fascinating,” Jay spat. His hand slipped against the doorknob. Alison reached over and opened the door for Jay. Neither moved for half a minute. Then Jay said, “I spent hours making this today. I was so proud of this sculpture and the first person I thought of to share my joy with was you. And you couldn’t even humor me.” With a wounded look that irritated Alison to no end, Jay marched himself out of Alison’s apartment and into the hallway. She slammed the door behind him, pissed at Jay for making her feel guilty. She didn’t really think he wanted to share joy with her. He wanted to praised for his artistic endeavor like some elementary school kid. He was a grown ass man who should be confident in his abilities and shouldn’t need any validation.
All the same, Alison supposed she could have asked questions and feigned interest, even if only for a few minutes, or until his excitement waned. She’d call later and apologize when she had more energy.
It really had been an awful morning.
March 30th was my last night in Vero Beach, Florida. I must admit that I was sad; I had such a wonderful vacation. I lounged in the sand, soaked up the sun, shopped in expensive boutiques, tried a new style with a new haircut and feel completely at peace with myself and those around me. That vacation had been everything I needed it to be and more. However, I must also admit that I missed New Jersey and as I left, I was excited to see my family.
As far as the so-called itinerary I had in mind for the trip, I did not finish “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand, but I only have a few pages left. I wrote, but nothing of real value or quality, and nothing as far as truly beginning a second novel. I talk about writing a lot, but I fear that lately, it has become only talk and nothing more. I have to make the time to read and write, and truly devote myself to my passion. I know that statement seems paradoxical and that one could argue that if I was truly passionate, I would not have to force myself to make time for writing. That being said, I will admit that teaching consumes much more of my time than I had originally anticipated. The goal for next year is to strike a healthier balance between striving for my dreams and being responsible at work. Teaching pays the bills and while I love it and am fulfilled by it, writing is what pumps my blood through my veins. Writing is what I see when I close my eyes, and the first thing I look for when I open them.
While on vacation, I attended the sunrise mass for Easter and went with Kim and Carol to Cracker Barrel for breakfast. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.
One of my ceramic brackets for my braces popped off while I was eating sushi … imagine that. I’ll called my orthodontist and set up an appointment. Once I got there, they removed the brackets – surprise! there was two – but did not replace them. If it’s not one thing, it’s another; but I say that with a smile on my face.
Below is an assortment of photos from my vacation. Enjoy! Maybe one will inspire YOU to create a poem or a short story. If one does, please feel free to share it!