40 before 40: Week One Update

I’ve been easing into improving my habits and reaching my goals on about half the things in my “40 before 40” list. Here is an update on how I’m doing…

  1. Write 40 blog posts. Not counting this post, my blog post count is 2 down, 38 to go.
  2. Hike/walk/run 40 miles. In deciding to set this goal at 40 miles, I knew I was making it easy on myself. In reality, I hope to exceed this, but I also want to take it slow to prevent any injury. This week I’ve walked three mornings for 30 minutes. This usually adds up to about 1.4 or 1.5 miles but I am only counting the whole miles, which means I’m at 3 with 37 to go.
  3. Cook 40 new recipes. This week I made red beans and rice for dinner, cornmeal mush with strawberries for breakfast, and I prepped a millet salad for this week’s lunches. That makes 3 down and 37 to go. 
  4. Declutter 40 items. I’ve been working on clearing out my magazine stash. If I count each magazine, I’m already up to 6 items, but since I probably have 40 magazines in my nightstand basket, I’m just going to count them all as one item.
  5. Do a 40 day social media detox. I haven’t really started working on this, but I have outlined some strategies to make this a lasting habit rather than a gimmick that I’m done with after 40 days. 
  6. Go 40 days without alcohol. My bff is moving away tomorrow so we’ve had some going away functions with drinks. I’m officially up to Day 3 with 37 to go.
  7. Go 40 days without caffeine. I’ve started cutting back on my morning coffee so that I don’t suffer withdrawal headaches. This week, I’ve gone from unlimited coffee (typically my only source of caffeine) to 8 ounces of coffee in the morning.
  8. Go 40 days without sugar. I picked up The Case against Sugar on a trip to the bookstore this week. I’ve only gotten into the introduction, but I hope this book will help motivate me toward accomplishing this goal.
  9. Clear the magazine rack. I’m down 6 magazines with a lots to go. I could do this really quickly and pitch them all in the recycling bin at once, but that seems almost sacrilegious to me. 
  10. Take things to Clothes Mentor. Clothes Mentor is a consignment store for gently used clothing. I called the store to find out what hours they buy clothes. The next step is to check the tags on the clothes I want to get rid of to make sure they will take those brands. My instinct is to wait until I’ve cleaned out every closet to take one huge pile of clothes, but it is more likely that I will complete this task if I go as soon as I have a few items to take.
  11. Make vacation photo album. I’ve transferred all the pictures from my phone and our camera to my laptop and I’ve chose a Shutterfly theme for the photo album. We received a Shutterfly coupon in the mail this week so my goal is to complete this before the coupon expires. 
  12. Finish rag rug. I have worked on this pretty consistently throughout the week. I’m surprised to note that I’m almost finished with it.
  13. Read five books. I think I’m currently reading five books all at once. They include 21 Days to Resilience, Getting Things Done, The Case against Sugar, Rez Life, and a re-read of Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me?. But it doesn’t actually count until I finish one.
  14. Exercise 3 times each week. I should’ve been more specific and said “strength train 3 times each week.” I’ve identified some body-weight exercises for my shoulders, abs and butt and I am working on slowly increasing the repetitions. My strategy is to do three days on separated by one rest day. So far so good.
  15. Stop using my iPhone an hour before bed. I’ve done this one day. The key is to use my other alarm clock but first I have to figure out how to damper the volume of the alarm because it is super loud and my husband always jumps when it goes off.
  16. Incorporate GTD. I’ve been reading a little of this every day and am really striving to do better with the collecting and processing steps.
  17. Work through 21 Days to Resilience. I’ve completed Day One.
  18. Stay under my grocery budget. I set my grocery budget at $400/month. That is an average of what we’ve spent over the last four months. I’m well within budget and hope to decrease my budget slowly as I pay more attention to what we’re spending at the grocery store. 
  19. Journal every day. Check.
  20. Do daily Bible study. I try to identify a verse for every day at the beginning of the month. With our recent vacation, I was woefully behind, but I’m caught up and moving forward. 

21 Days to Resilience, Post 1: Habits

Chapter one of 21 Days to Resilience by Dr. Zelana Montminy prompts readers to consider their habits. An audit of my habits clearly shows that I spend way too much time looking at my iPhone. Much of my day involves staring at a screen and that is a habit I want to change. I use my iPhone to wake up, to distract from tedious tasks such as commuting, getting ready for the day and eating, and as a pacifier when I’m feeling bad or need to wind down for bed. In fact, I’ve actually started thinking of my phone as a pacifier. While it may distract me from feeling bad, it also allows me to avoid dealing with those feelings. It also distracts me from really engaging with the people and things around me and from the sparks of inspiration that occur when I’m marching through the boring parts of my day. (I’m looking at you, shower-time.)

Even before I did an audit of my habits, I knew my reliance on my iPhone was something I needed to change. My 40 before 40 goals are telling in that they not only include iPhone avoidance goals (a social media detox and a nightly iPhone curfew), but they also include positive goals I want to replace my iPhone habit with, such as regular exercise, journaling, home projects and reading.

The book encourages readers to introduce new cues that will assist with cultivating a good habit to replace those habits you want to change. One cue I identified to replace my habit of iPhone surfing after work with exercise, is to change into workout clothes as soon as I get home from work. Another cue I can implement, in order to replace my morning surfing with Bible study, is to use a different device for my alarm clock and keep my journal handy. Lastly, I’ve started packing a book in my work lunch bag to break my habit of web surfing during lunch and replace it with more reading.

Another tip Dr. Montminy is to change your environment. If your surroundings spark a bad habit, change your surroundings. This strategy worked for me when I quit smoking ten years ago. I took advantage of a long winter break from grad school to quit smoking. Because our digital devices are so pervasive and few places have instituted a “no cell phones” rule, changing my environment in order to discourage social media browsing is a little more difficult. That said, I plan to step away from my desk to eat lunch. I am also planning to park my cell phone in the office area that serves as a transition from the carport to the rest of the house when I get home. If I quit carrying my phone around with me when I get home, I will rely on it less as a boredom pacifier.

My plan to leave my phone in the office is an example of a hybrid between the “change your environment” strategy and the next strategy Dr. Montiminy outlines: removing the bad habit cue. Since I won’t have my cue (my phone) for social media browsing with me at all times, it makes it more difficult to engage with that bad habit.

This chapter is a good starting place for anyone who wants to do a quick  survey of their habits. If you really want to dig deeper into the topic, however, I recommend reading Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. Rubin dives deeply into multiple strategies for changing our habits.

My Self Care List

The first part of Eat, Pray, Love talks about how and why the book is structured in 108 tales. Hindu prayer beads contain 108 beads and 108 is seen as an auspicious number due to the essential role of 3 within 108. As someone who often uses numbers as a way to distract my brain and lull it into sleep–my favorite method is counting backwards by 3, but I also create a grid in my head of multiples of 4–I very much like the number 108, which is a multiple of both 3 and 4. It is also a multiple of 12 (9 things each month for 12 months equals 108) and of 9.

I also like categorizing things so instead of creating a random list of self-care tactics, I organized my list into nine categories. I used the categories identified in this Psychology Today article and added a category for daily habits and one for “crisis mode” or when I’m feeling really overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.

I’m aiming to do all twelve on my daily list (really not a stretch as I do most of them anyway, especially when I am feeling healthy and normal) and incorporate at least one extra activity every day.

The Daily List

  1. Get up when the alarm goes off
  2. Blog
  3. Eat fruit or vegetables at every meal
  4. Shower
  5. Watch something funny
  6. Drink water
  7. Engage your brain
  8. Plan your day and keep revising
  9. Call your mom / Hug your family
  10. Do a 10-minute tidy up
  11. Move
  12. Go to bed when you feel tired

For Crisis Mode

  1. Hide in the closet
  2. Put your expectations into words then right-size them
  3. Ask for what you want
  4. Articulate your feelings to yourself then…
  5. Make the opposite argument
  6. Put away your devices
  7. When you feel overwhelmed, do the one thing that will make the biggest visual impact
  8. Write a prioritized to-do list of basic things you can achieve.
  9. Read something comforting
  10. Alternate between the to-do list and the comfort read. Use a timer and gradually increase your to-do list time
  11. Take a mental health day
  12. Write a list of 25 Reasons I’ll Be Ok

Sensory Grounding Activities

  1. Have a cup of hot tea. Take time to make it and pay attention to the process.
  2. Breathe
  3. Go outside and pay attention to nature
  4. Take a bath
  5. Light a candle or make a scent for the wax burner
  6. Listen to calming sounds
  7. Look up
  8. Go to river / forest
  9. Watch sunrise / sunset
  10. Practice relaxation
  11. Focus on the present
  12. Pay complete attention to something you usually do on autopilot

Pleasurable Activities

  1. Watch something enjoyable on Netflix
  2. Watch something funny on YouTube
  3. Go to an art museum
  4. Read poetry
  5. Decorate for something
  6. Pick or buy flowers
  7. Look at old photos
  8. Eat comfort food
  9. Watch something calming and uplifting
  10. Listen to music
  11. Cook
  12. Garden

Mental Activities / Mastery

  1. Change the sheets
  2. Read
  3. Read children’s literature
  4. Make something
  5. Upcycle something
  6. Finish a project
  7. Write
  8. Plan something
  9. Doodle a quote
  10. Cut and paste
  11. Declutter something
  12. Make a photo book

Spiritual Activities

  1. Meditate
  2. Read spiritual books
  3. Listen to On Being
  4. Visit a divine space
  5. Go to a religious service
  6. Pray
  7. Collect bible verses on a theme
  8. Write a meditation
  9. Read a liturgy
  10. Listen to hymns
  11. Look at religious calendars, figure out what religious holiday is nearest and celebrate it in some small way
  12. Research a spiritual master

Emotional Work

  1. Make a list of 25 reasons you’re a good person
  2. Make a list of 25 things that make your life beautiful
  3. Daydream
  4. Record the happiest memory from your day
  5. Create a gratitude list
  6. Stop overthinking
  7. Stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides
  8. Practice forgiveness
  9. Be your own best friend
  10. Embrace your strengths and your weaknesses
  11. Spend 10 minutes writing down what is bothering you
  12. Burn something negative

Physical Activities

  1. Stretch
  2. Wear yourself out
  3. Dance
  4. Do restorative yoga poses
  5. Get dressed in a nice outfit, put on makeup and do your hair
  6. Take a walk
  7. Snuggle
  8. Take active steps to deal with physical pain or discomfort
  9. Dance
  10. Do some body-weight exercises
  11. Take a hike
  12. Do a new activity

Social Activities

  1. Send a text
  2. Ask for help
  3. Go out in public
  4. Volunteer
  5. Do a random act of kindness
  6. Compliment someone
  7. Have a date
  8. Express appreciation
  9. Give someone a gift
  10. Go to bookclub
  11. Engage on Facebook
  12. Visit someone


Project Clean House

I’m a terrible housekeeper. The daily grind of keeping up with everything gets me down. Not only that, I’m not the type of person who takes note of my surroundings often. For example, all of the following are situations that have happened to me.

Coworker: Did you see how this intern is dressed? Do you think it is inappropriate?
Me: The intern is here today?

Me: Your hair looks great. Did you dye it? (It was an obvious change from blonde to brown.)
Coworker: Yeah, like a week and a half ago.
I was in the office the whole time and her cubicle was directly across from mine.

Me, giving directions in college: Then you turn left at the pink metal building.
Mom: That building hasn’t been there for years.

So it isn’t surprising that a layer of dust on the bookshelf or lint on the floor or dried toothpaste in the bathroom sink doesn’t phase me. But just because I don’t notice those things doesn’t let me off the hook. The reason that I’m so interested in keeping a clean house lately is that my husband got a job in November. He had been unemployed for a few years and did a great job keeping up with the housework. The only chores that were my sole responsibility was food-related. Now that my husband has a job, though, he doesn’t have time to maintain the house and also cross bigger jobs, like changing the oil in our cars regularly or fixing his squeaky breaks, off the list.

So even though “housework” doesn’t seem like a rebel thing to do, I’m motivated by a sense of justice and fairness. Also, when he wasn’t working he was obsessive about doing things a certain way, which often precluded me from even trying to help. So in a sense, me taking over certain chores and doing them to my “standard” is rebelling against the established routine in the house.

The first thing I needed to overcome, though, was my inability to notice when a job needed to be done. My solution to that problem was to develop a schedule. Unlike Pinterest-worthy cleaning schedules that are colorful and written in a fancy font, my schedule is scribbled in the back of a half-used notebook. Maybe after I test it out for a while, I will make it look nicer but maybe I’ll just scribble it into another notebook when I finish using the current one and recycle it.

To make my schedule, I divided the house into three zones: kitchen, bathroom and rest of the house. “Rest of the house” does not include the basement as that is my husband’s domain, or my step-daughter’s room. They are responsible for their own spaces. After I divided the house, I made lists of chores that needed to be done daily, weekly and quarterly. I tried to make sure the quarterly jobs were scheduled for a weekend, since they usually take more time. Every evening when I get home from work, I make a to-do list with all the chores that I need to do that day listed.

The thing that works best about the schedule is that there is space built in for me to fall behind if I need to or want to and then catch up later. No single day is so burdensome that I couldn’t do everything on the weekend. If I’m going to be busy on Sunday, I do my Sunday chores on Saturday.

The other thing that works is that, even if I don’t get everything done that I’m supposed to get done in one day, I get a few things done. Most of my daily chores only take a few minutes combined. Even if I can’t cross all the weekly stuff of the list, I can do something.

Finally, I always take credit for chores that I don’t have to do. It gives me a secret thrill. For example, my only daily bathroom chore is to squeegee and dry the shower. We don’t do this individually, but the last person who takes a shower does it. If I get in the shower first so that my husband has to dry the shower, I don’t have to do the task but I get to cross it off my list. Same with watering the outdoor plants–if it rains I get the credit.

So what does my schedule look like? Here’s what I’ve accomplished after using it for about four weeks.

Daily chores: Do dishes (load/empty dishwasher, empty dish drainer, hand wash anything that needs it), wipe down counter tops/stove, take out recycling, squeegee and dry shower, make bed, sort mail, water plants, 10-minute tidy up and at least 10-minutes doing outside chores (weeding, picking up sticks, deadheading flowers, etc.)

Monday chores: clean microwave, empty compost container, dust bedroom and office
Tuesday chores: wipe down back splash,  vacuum bedroom and office
Wednesday chores: wipe down range hood, empty freezer of food waste, empty bathroom trash, take trash out, dust living and dining rooms
Thursday chores: wipe down coffee pot, vacuum living and dining rooms
Friday chores: Do a stove chore (this is a trigger to do one of the quarterly chores related to cleaning the stove/oven), clean bathroom mirror and sink, declutter something (again, a quarterly chore list)
Saturday chores: Vacuum kitchen plus declutter one cabinet, do a quarterly bathroom chore, laundry
Sunday chores: Do a quarterly refrigerator chore, mop bathroom floor and clean toilet, do a quarterly household chore.

Quarterly chores I’ve done so far:
Cleaned and organized top of refrigerator, freezer, refrigerator door, and two shelves
Cleaned burner pans, under range, oven door
Cleaned and organized Tupperware cabinet, pantry cabinet, bake ware cabinet, junk drawers and cleaned dishwasher
Cleaned shower head, washed bathroom mat, vacuumed out ceiling vent, wiped down walls
Decluttered desk, purse, nightstand and closet
Dusted baseboards, cleaned doors and frames, light plates and doorknobs and light fixtures.

It’s been mostly smooth sailing so far. I’ll post an update in the future.

Just like the admonition that happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy, project clean house doesn’t always make my house look clean. When I was cleaning the dishwasher, the seal on the door gave up it’s 15-year struggle to keep the water inside. Now I’m struggling to keep up with hand-washing the dishes until the new seal we ordered comes in.

The New Normal

One of the hardest things about growing older is accepting my limitations. The area of my life in which this is most noticeable is my physical ability. I know it seems a little extreme to be a 38 year old talking about my physical limitations; it’s not like I’m 68 or 98. And yet, I can’t do things I could do less than a half-decade ago and I’m having a very difficult time settling into a new normal.

In my early thirties, I had run two half-marathons, dozens of races and fun runs and did yoga on the reg. Then I started having lower back problems. My back issues are still undiagnosed as I have not visited an M.D. I just don’t want to go down the cortisone shot-surgery road yet. I have been told by various chiropractors and an ART that I have the following: bad alignment that causes one leg to “be longer” than the other, a bulging disc, arthritis. Whatever the specific cause, the pain has caused me to give up running and yoga altogether.

The fact that I can’t do these two activities, and especially that I can’t do them at the intensity I once did, represents a loss of identity and community. In addition to the physical pain, I feel the loss of who I used to be. Furthermore, exercise served as a way to help me manage my emotional state and process thoughts and feelings. It gave my days structure and my weekends a sense of purpose. It provided a very necessary stress relief and a high that I can’t quite seem to shake.

Case in point: a couple weeks ago I sat in my office preparing for a potentially contentious conference call. I could feel the anxiety gripping my chest and through and knew I needed to calm down. I stood up and did one sun salutation. Just one. One deep breath in and out in mountain pose, followed by focused breaths moving me through upward salute, forward bend, plank, chaturanga, upward-facing dog, downward-facing dog, forward bend and back to mountain. My back hurt for weeks in the way that I remembered but hadn’t felt in a while. Almost immediately, this shut down any thought of going back to a weekly yoga class, an idea I had been toying with as a way to relieve the shoulder stiffness that comes with a 90-mile commute to a desk job.

Freezing Runners
“Four-mile Valentine’s run in below freezing weather…Where do I sign up?” said my former self (on the right).

I’ve also failed to establish an aerobic routine that can fill the void of not running. Don’t get me wrong, I loathed running during the prep to get out the door and the first 5-10 minutes. But 85% of the time, somewhere in the middle of the run, no matter if it was 2 miles or 10, I was converted to a true believer in the church of the hobby jogger. My baptism by sweat 3-5 times a week gave me the subtle smugness that all runners feel. The smugness which causes them to proselytize to their nonrunner friends and put oval-shaped stickers on the back of their cars boasting their longest distance. I once went out for a run with my friend on one Superbowl Sunday in a light snow and had drivers shake their heads and gesture at us in disbelief. I finished my first half-marathon in a heavy sleet/light hail. There’s no other aerobic exercise in the world that is both achievable for me and at the same time makes me feel so tough and strong.


The problem is that longing for my former yogi-jogger self doesn’t get me off the couch. Mourning what I can’t do instead of doing what I can is a physical and emotional problem that I can no longer afford to indulge in. I still haven’t found answers for my back problems or for an exercise routine that I can sustain and that’s okay. I have some conditioning work to do to counteract my years of couch-sitting, car-sitting, desk-sitting. I’m about half-way through a very basic strengthening plan. You can find it on my Pinterest board: www.pinterest.com/wellbigdeal/get-in-shape-girl/.

The exercises are doable and don’t leave you with so much muscle soreness that you don’t want to do the next day’s exercises. The increasing intensity is manageable and encouraging. You can easily tell by the number of reps that you are getting stronger. The almost daily exercises also are helping me create a new routine that includes exercise as one of the components. It starts out with just a minute and slowly increases in a way that allows you to find more time for exercise in a sustainable manner. While it isn’t where I want to be at the end of this journey and it may never get me back to a place that I was, it is helping me to create and sustain a new strong and active normal.