Just Fifteen Minutes a Day!

You know the “It only takes fifteen minutes!” stuff?

Hey, you should be doing this One Great Thing because it “Only takes fifteen minutes a day!”

I used to think that was cool. Oh wow, look at what I could improve in fifteen minutes. I should be doing that.

You know what that stuff ignores?

It ignores the fact that transitioning between activities actually takes a few minutes. I’m sorry, multitasking doesn’t really exist. It ignores the fact that your time is genuinely finite.

Let’s talk about those “Just fifteen minutes.” You have ninety-six blocks of “just fifteen minutes” each day. You can’t have any more than that.

But, hey, that’s nearly a hundred blocks, so that’s pretty cool, right? You have more time than you think.

No. You have less time than you think.

If you’re sleeping enough, you’re taking thirty-two blocks off the top. You’re down to sixty-four usable blocks. Oh… take a block off for fifteen minutes to wind down enough to sleep. (At least I need that.) So, sixty-three blocks remain for your use.

And let’s say you work an eight-hour day. During the workweek, that brings you down another thirty-two blocks. So, all that personal development stuff you’re not being paid for? You have thirty-one blocks to work with.

That’s assuming you don’t have a commute. Okay, take off another four blocks for that if you’ve got a shortish commute into an office.

Now during a typical work week, you have twenty-seven blocks left. This is time available for chores around the house, socializing, hobbies, exercise, doctor appointments, charity work, voting – all of that.

Oh, wait… if you work in an office and work an eight-hour day, you’re probably still at work for about nine hours because they presume a one-hour lunch. You’re probably working through that. At least, most offices I’ve ever worked at have a culture of doing so. So, that time isn’t entirely your own, either. Now you’re down to twenty-three blocks for all that stuff I was talking about above.

In my case, I do have some morning and evening routines that do help to streamline my life. They are meant to get in some needed personal and household maintenance. Those routines take two hours a day, and that doesn’t even include my daily walk. So, take away another eight blocks to give us fifteen blocks.

Oh, right. Transitions do take time and mental energy. Let’s be generous and take out three blocks for transitions of various sorts. So, down to twelve blocks.

That’s the rest of what you have to work with. Three precious hours to do what you actually want to do instead of doing what you “should.” That’s what you have available for socializing, reading, hanging out with your family, and just damned well resting.

This presumes no childcare duties. This doesn’t take into account cooking meals, shopping, making meals, cleaning house, and all that smack. Some of it is done on the weekend, sure. But still…

“It’s only fifteen minutes” really adds up and eats into your day.

This is why I’m so into being deliberate about how you spend your time.

I’m developing a class about this and will be offering my first session the last three weeks in August. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll let you know more particulars.

Organization, Self-discipline, Distractability, and a Rant

A made bed with pillow shams a little askew

A friend of mine re-posted this tweet. I am quite certain that because of this friend’s (VERY REAL) struggles there was a feeling of being seen and validated. And that’s a valid point of view. If something comforts you in your struggles, that’s valid, no kidding. And this article might annoy you. Scroll on by. I’m not wanting to dump on what keeps you going. Times are rough enough. Seriously…

My initial reaction before logic kicked in was nearly incandescent rage. Which led to this rabbit hole as I tried to deal with it.

Why did a little meme make me so mad?

So, remember how it took me thirty years to vacuum a closet? I could have as easily said it took me thirty years to pay my bills or cook a meal or several other things.

Oh sure, I’m organized now. I’m talking “color-coded boxes when it is time to move” level of organization, ‘kay? But even though other people don’t see it, I still remember being shamed in fourth grade because of the desk cubby crammed full of books and papers, and being asked, “You’re so smart, how come you can’t–” about So. Many. Things.

I didn’t become organized by ignoring reality

I am not naturally organized. I am not naturally industrious, and I am not naturally all that productive. I’d call myself lazy, but that invites a lecture from anyone who loves me about being too hard on myself.

I did, at some point, need to accept certain realities. Not paying bills can land one in court. Disorganization can be a big problem in one’s professional life. In my own case, I also have a big problem with depression, so I cannot count day to day being on the ball and thinking clearly. (I mean, really, this rant was because of an initial reaction of NOT thinking clearly)

So, shooting for some damn Platonic Form of “Organized and Disciplined” in my case is a recipe for failure. I’m going to bet it is for you, too.

  • If your plan has no way to account for delays and failure points, it’s a wish, not a plan.

    There used to be a fashion in self-development on YouTube to have The Perfect Morning Routine. You know, get up, do twenty minutes of yoga, make yourself the perfect nutritionally-balanced breakfast, read some Improving Literature, and bike to work… that kind of thing.

    To tell on myself, yeah, I’m trying to get in more stretching and yeah, I use a yoga app for that. My general idea is that I’ll get up and do twenty minutes of yoga (stop laughing at me) and then do my day.

    I did not, in fact, get right up and do that. It’s almost ten in the morning, I’ve been up since six, and I’m here writing this incredibly detailed rant and not getting in that stretching. So I’m failing, right?


  • “Imperfectly Perfect” has a lot going for it
    My goal for the month is to get in ten minutes of yoga a day as an average measured over a month. I’ll throw in a few minutes today at some point. Probably after I write this.

    While an organized person looks like they’re doing things in a strict way and in a specific order, that may not be entirely the case. Sure, you have to show up at the dentist at a specific time, or take your meds before you eat or something. But what time you do your writing or wash your dishes has a lot more wiggle room.

    Let it have that wiggle room and let goals that don’t need to be exact be inexact.

  • “Good Enough” and “Perfect” are two different things. Good enough is better than Perfect.

    Bed making… I’ve heard people say that bed-making is too much trouble. When I hear that, I almost always presume another choke point — bed against the wall makes making it a pain in the ass, depression makes it hard to get OUT of bed, never mind making it, things like that.


    If the only time you make your bed is when you have the energy to make it neatly enough you won’t be yelled at on Parris Island, you have absolutely confused “Perfect” and “Good Enough.”

    A made bed with pillow shams a little askew

    I took that picture thirty seconds before I wrote this. I did no adjustments on the bed. It’s just how I made it this morning. I woke up this morning cranky and wanting to punch Humanity in the mouth. So, not motivated. This meets my personal definition for good enough. It’s made. I’m dressed and doing my day.

    Good. Enough.

    Defining Good Enough will help you. What is “Good Enough” in your life?

  • Ignoring real issues of executive function will set you up for failure.

    Are you distractable? I am. In fact, this article is a prime example of distractability for me. I haven’t written what I plan to do for the day in my Bullet Journal and haven’t done most of my Wednesday morning chores. I got ranty and just had to sit down and write this. That yoga I was going to do? That planning out the day I (usually) do? Obviously not happening right now as I ranty, ranty, rant.

    But my life is set up to account for things like this. I accept and plan for the fact that stuff like this happens! I have a means to track what needs to be done that won’t let the genuinely important and urgent things fall through the cracks. Even though I am currently caught up in the glorious dopamine hit of ranting, those things that need to be done are quietly sitting in their places, waiting for my attention.

    Thing is, it’s more than just a to-do list. It’s setting up your life to account for how your brain works.

    That might mean storing your extra sheets under your mattress so you will immediately re-make the bed when you wash your sheets, or hanging a mask on the back of your door so you don’t forget to put then thing on before you leave your apartment. (Yeah, I know, that looked oddly specific, didn’t it?)

  • Being organized and disciplined is a skill. Mastering skills take time.

    Think of anything you know how to do — playing an instrument, cooking a meal, writing fiction, driving, whatever.You might have wanted to master it overnight. But if you actually developed the skill instead of stopping the activity, you probably put in a lot of time and effort. You probably had failures that made you wince at yourself.

    Learning the skill of organization is no different.

    I know that saying it took me thirty years of solid work to get organized seems like hyperbole. It’s not. It was really that difficult for me.

    Which is, I know, why images like the above set me off a little. I know the intention is to make people feel better about a mutual struggle.

    But it also makes me feel like in the common cultural mind, my life’s work was mostly a waste of time.

A Watch Stopped Me Drinking

File:Closed loop feedback systems.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

The Garmin Vivosmart 4 stopped me drinking.

I love it as a fitness tracker, as it tracks heart rate, pulse ox for part of the night when sleeping, and has a function called “body battery” that tracks your activity against your rest using heart rate variability. You can track many fitness activities and even sync it to your phone as a GPS tracker for dryland training.

Y’all knew I was a nerd and love crap like that, right?

It’s the body battery that was the major push away from booze. If I had a drink the night before, my body battery didn’t charge — as my heart rate never dropped down into the fifties for that “good sleep” slowdown.

Now, I’ll still have a drink about once a quarter, don’t get me wrong! I’m not entirely a teetotaler. However, if I think about wanting a drink, I think about how deep I want to sleep that night. Being extremely protective of my sleep, the answer’s usually “no.”

It’s the logic of, “What will this do to Future Me?”

Will I be sorry I had a glass of wine at a celebration?

No. Pleasures and enjoyment at celebrations are an important part of enjoying life.

Will I be sorry I got bad sleep after a tough day?

Yes. Most of the time, it’s the restorative sleep I need after a challenge. Challenges are a part of life, too, and doing what you can to recover from them is also important. Yeah, I would have thought that booze knocked you out so you’re all good. Turns out that’s not quite so. You’re adding something else for your body to recover from as well as the emotional hangover. I wouldn’t have believed it, either.


Yes, direct feedback does have an effect on my behavior.

I also swim. But I will be quite honest, it’s hard for me to get in the pool. It’s a lot of rigamaole — getting the gym bag packed, making sure I have everything, plotting out how to get through the damn locker room with a bunch of old ladies who don’t seem to believe Covid is real, making sure my hands and face are dry with putting the mask on and off, making sure I packed my underwear…

It’s a damn production that, frankly, I sometimes don’t really want to face.

It’s not that I don’t love swimming, I do. I’ve never been grumpy more than 100 yards into a swim. I love the fact that I’m off the hook for thinking, planning, considering other people’s feelings, or solving problems for an hour. I have a lane to myself and all I have to do is swim. I can’t meditate sitting still, but woah, can I send my brain into that Mushin (no-mind) state pretty well staring at that black line. I even have a watch that counts laps for me and I swim some long sets.

So yes, a bit of moderate exercise and letting yourself off the hook for anything but what you’re doing in the moment usually does leave you feeling better, right? Well, it does for me, anyway.

I need to apply the same logic to not-drinking to swimming. How do I usually feel at the end of a swim? At worst, high end of neutral, low end of good.

Today, I was singing Uptown Funk at the top of my lungs on the drive home, and I’m sure my town thanks me for doing so with the windows closed!

Still, getting over that hump of getting myself out the door and into the pool is real.

I’m trying to think of things to engineer the hump away. You know, like people who have a hard time throwing their clothes in the dirty clothes hamper if there’s a top on it, but for some reason will toss those suckers right IN if there’s no top? (Yes, this is a real thing, especially with people with attention deficit problems)

Do y’all have things that were blocks, humps, or choke points? If you did, have you tried to engineer them away, and did that help?

I Put Things Away Because I am Lazy

In my Endless Quest for Tidiness, which is mostly analysis and musing these days, as my home is absolutely tidy enough, I noticed a habit of my mother’s in much sharper relief than usual.

She puts things away.

I know, duh!  Putting things away makes things tidy, right?  However, it’s more subtle than I thought. 

I noticed it on vacation, of all places.  Mom and Dad like to take a morning walk, and I’d volunteered to get breakfast for the family while they were doing so that week.  My husband loves to get out in the evenings when we’re at the beach, so I figured our Daily Walk (yes, we care about that, too) would be a good thing to do in the evenings after dinner.

Before Mom goes to bed, she likes everything to be put away.  For instance, in the kitchen dishwasher emptied of clean dishes, dish drainer empty of dishes that have dried after dinner.  She did this while my husband and I were on our walk.

Now, I wake at first light most days, call it twenty minutes or so before sunrise.  In real life, I might roll over to sleep some more, but I don’t at the beach.  I like to watch the sun rising over the ocean.  It’s one of my favorite sights in the whole world!

Walking into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee in preparation for my Morning Ritual was really nice.  Everything was neat and clear and calm, and it just made me feel good.

After coming home from our vacation, I decided I wanted to try that out in my own life.  I told myself if it was a burden or I couldn’t make it stick, I’d go back to my “never more than fifteen minutes of messy” style.  It’s certainly tidy enough and no big deal, so it wasn’t like I’d have this pressure and feel like I failed if I decided I didn’t want to keep it up.

I found out something.

I most emphatically do want to keep it up.

Putting things away every night reduces chances for accidents and property damage

I have a young cat.  Mr. Tumnus gets into things all the time, as he’s still a very curious and active little fellow.  When I put things away, the cat doesn’t get into my knitting and scatter my yarn and project all over the living room.

Making sure I put away my evening cup of tea ensures that when I get my morning coffee, I’m not risking a spill by my writin’ chair removing the empty cup from the coaster and replacing it with the mug of hot coffee.  I’ve spilled coffee on more than one knitting project from this little dance of switcheroo.

When I put things away every night, my kitchen stays tidy. 

Washing a pot or pan after a meal and always having a dishwasher ready for the things that can be machine washed is easy.  Unless you’re stressed to the point of needing medical care (and no shame about that, it happens to all of us) rinsing out a cereal bowl just isn’t overwhelming. 

Since we tend to pile mail on the kitchen counter, I also note that in tidying the kitchen every night, I’m loathe to leave mail piled on the counter.  It goes in the recycling, shredder, or is dealt with immediately.

Waking up to tidy spaces helps with mental clarity and creativity

Now, I’ve been keeping my room relatively neat for a long time. But, there would be times when it would get very cluttered.  Maybe I’d been slow to put laundry away.  Maybe I had a bunch of books I’d been reading all over the place (less common now that I read electronically).  Maybe I’d dropped yesterday’s clothing on the floor rather than putting it in the dirty clothes hamper properly.  Maybe I was in the middle of a sewing project and was leaving everything out until I had completed the garment.  It was never a big deal. Again, never more than fifteen minutes of messy, so if I took fifteen minutes on my housework day to tidy the room, it was easily brought back to rights.

I’m in the middle of sewing a dress right now.  Just for giggles, and to continue the experiment that I thought I might drop, I put all my equipment away after completing what I’d intended to do on it. 

For me, I realized that it is easier for me to think calmly about the project, to take it appropriately slowly when I am not eager to be done so my daggone room isn’t really cluttered from all the paraphernalia from the project.  Being less likely to rush means a better quality project that I’m happier with.

Tidying every night reduces work

Back when I lived in a really cluttered home, that sounded crazy.  Yes, yes, yes, I grew up in a tidy home, but tidying my room was always this big daggone production.  Surely the tidy spend all their time cleaning and tidying, right?

Not even close. 

I spent four and a half hours sewing on my new dress yesterday.  Putting away all my sewing stuff took 00:02.38.  Yes, less than three minutes!  Yes, I timed it.  Yes, I have space to put my stuff away easily because I’d Konmaried my home about four years ago.  So, I guess Ms. Kondo was right about the whole tidy forever thing.  *wrygrin* It’s just that “tidy” is still a dynamic process.  Which makes sense.  One’s home is a dynamic process, or it should be.  You do work, you get things messy, you put things away.  We all do it.  It’s just that making the cycle more rapid makes things easier.

Friends, if you take a look at home much time I spend writing, knitting, working, playing video games, working out, or sewing, any one of those items will take more time in a week than I spend on cleaning by at a minimum of a factor of two.

So, yes, I am going to keep the practice (which I hope to develop into a habit) of putting everything away and “rebooting” my house every night.


I have better things to do than tidy all the time.

Assistive Technology and Being a Grown Up


I genuinely, no kidding, need assistive technology to be a grown up. I’m 47, so I was in my thirties before I had A) the technology, and B) a system to help get around this. It is not always perfect, but this helps.

The technology means I have beepy reminders to do things. I use these for everything from making my bed and washing the dishes to making sure I work on contracts for clients and keeping up with relationships with people I care about.

Thing is, as anyone who has this problem knows, beepy reminders are not enough. You’ll go down a rabbit hole chasing something that isn’t important pretty quick and still not solve everything.

I have to combine this with a pretty strict schedule. If I don’t stick to it, my llfe falls apart. My schedule would seem crazy and oppressive to someone who doesn’t share my issues. It deals with bedtimes, when to do paperworky stuff like calling for and scheduling appointments and doing bills, making sure I get enough exercise, making sure I take some time to do something chosen at a whim, making sure I contact people that are important to me or doing the shopping and even scheduling opportunities for naps (I need a lot of sleep)

It helps a lot. I find I need something from the store? Its goes on the list for my scheduled shopping day. Barring an emergency, I only shop then. I get a bill I need to deal with, or some other taxy-kinda thing? It goes on my pile for Paperwork time. (Filing Time comes after Paperwork time). Tasks are broken down into very small units and I’ll think ahead to plan out what is needed for each step of a task to make sure I have what I need for the task before I go on. And yes, Plan Tasks has its own place on my schedule.

Thing is, if you see me in an office situation, you’ll think I’m really organized and together. I worked for a man for THREE YEARS who thought I was really organized and had this great memory until he played a joke on me before my last day, asking for some work I’d never agreed to do. I didn’t catch that he was being outrageous and goofy because I was automatically going to my computer to look up what I’d agreed to do and see what progress I’d made on it. He was surprised when I confessed to him that I had a system to take care of stuff because I get so distracted and can’t remember things.

Some people can just DO this stuff. My mom can. She sees dirt or clutter, and she just CLEANS it, and doesn’t get distracted. I can’t do that. it isn’t NATURAL to me, so I had to develop some very rigid routines to take care of it instead. To someone who does not have my problems, it probably seems like a terribly regimented way to live. In some ways, it is.

But the house is clean (enough), I get enough exercise, bills get paid and paperwork followed up on. That things get taken care of is better for me than the anxiety and confusion I experience when I do not have these rigid systems in place.

The Mareli List and Not Exactly Resolutions

What is the Mareli List, Anyway?

My husband has this mental list he calls his Mareli List. It is named after his maternal grandmother and is from her custom of how she looked back on a specific year. To the end of her life, she always looked back trying to find things she had never done before. They could be big or small, but she made a specific effort to do new things. She had just turned 90 when she passed away, so this means that she lived a pretty rich and varied life.

2015 has been a good year for me in terms of my Mareli list. In no particular order, I:

  1. Learned to do a flip turn.
  2. Swam in 50-degree water.
  3. Swam 2 miles in open water
  4. Swam 2.5 miles in a pool
  5. Swam across Boston Harbor
  6. Rode a Segway.
  7. Visited Bermuda
  8. Visited Cape Liberty and saw the Teardrop Memorial.
  9. Took a salsa dancing class
  10. Took a class in how to make cupcakes.
  11. Saw the Statue of Liberty in person.
  12. Learned a new method of knowledge management (Knowledge Centered Support, or KCS)
  13. Konmaried the house.
  14. Negotiated with an airline for a better flight.
  15. Visited Mt. Vernon
  16. Visited Ferry Farm. (I mean, I grew up on the land, but I’d never visited the historic site)
  17. Tried Glendronach Scotch.

With these things in mind, and feeling like I had a decent year, I’m looking on to the next year and what I want to do with it.

Not Exactly Resolutions for 2016

marelilist-1I know some people don’t like the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, and ya know, I get the point. Often it’s some self-improvement thing that people approach as something they oughta do, but without any real serious plan or genuine purpose. Lose weight, get their finances in order, or whatever – it’s not something that’s really got a plan behind it.

My resolutions are more goals than any real attempt at habit change. I’m sure good habits will happen during this process, but this year, I have more specific things I want to do or accomplish. In no particular order, I want to:

  1. Implement KCS at my office.
  2. Write the first draft of a novel starring three middle-aged ladies.
  3. Swim 6 miles in Lake Mephremagog.
  4. Knit myself one or two sweaters.
  5. Travel cross-country by train.
  6. Swim from Alcatraz island to Aquatic Park without a wetsuit.

This is a good mix, I think. I have professional goals, I have physical goals, and I have enjoyment goals. One of the habits I am going to have to develop better along the way is the habit of consistent over heroic effort. Some of this stuff will require something in the way of heroic effort, but that won’t sustain what I want to do in the long run. It’s going to be the dailyness of plugging away at it that will get me there.


I lost about 20 lbs.

And I quit even though I am hardly at a weight that would make anyone flipping out over body size happy.

I quit.

No, I didn’t quit because I’d reached a goal. And I didn’t quit from lack of willpower or anything like that. I stuck to what I was doing for about four months. I was seeing plenty of results.

But I have found calorie counting intrusive and unsustainable. Also, obsessive-making. I didn’t realize how much so until yesterday morning coming home from the gym (yes, I work out every morning, yes, I do a pretty intense workout, no it’s not going to automagically make me skinny) and was musing on meal plans for the day when my husband commented, “If you have to diet, why can’t you go back to No-S?”

“Why do you say that, sweetie?” I asked.

“Well, is your goal swimming long distances, or calorie counting? I think the calorie counting is interfering with your real goal.”

He was right. Now, when I do the calorie-counting thing, I don’t, say, eyeball a portion and guestimate. I don’t even use measuring cups. I measure using a scale and measure to the gram. Then record it. Recipes? I measure all the ingredients, then portion it out.

This is unsustainable. And no, my goal is not to be skinny, but to trim down a little in the hopes of speeding up swimming. But, yeah, the swimming is the real goal.

It brought me up short. While I don’t want to overeat particularly, I certainly don’t want to make a hobby out of tracking every gram that goes into my mouth, either. And as an athlete, I do have some level of concern about how I am fueling my workouts. Which basically means a lot of lean protein, whole grains, fresh veggies and fruit. Nope, that’s not going to make you automagically skinny, either. But the point is that while permasnacking isn’t good for me, eating meals totally is.

The balance for that for me is using the No-S method. No sweets, no seconds, no snacks, except sometimes on days beginning with S. Cake on a close family member’s birthday? Bring it! Sure, the carrot sticks are great, but for goodness sake, have a sandwich with it. Eat a hearty breakfast after that long swim. Just, don’t spoil your dinner by snacking, but wait until it’s mealtime.

For me, it’s sustainable. I prefer larger meals to snacking, there’s a lot of clarity to it and it’s not something that gives me the creeping horrors when contemplating doing it the rest of my life.

Creation and Re-Creation

Yet another 750 Words.

I have this challenge going with myself in terms of daily practice. I’m trying to write 750 words a day every day for a year. I may or may not wind up doing it, but I figure if I fail, I will still have regularly and consistently practiced my writing more than if I had not set this little goal for myself. So, there’s no real down-side to it.

However, a year is way the heck too much to face. I’m breaking it down month by month, and the site I use to track my words makes it very easy with monthly challenges. Each month you can sign up or not for it. If you do it, you get your name on the Wall of Awesomeness. If you fail, you have your name put on the Wall of Shame.

My name has been on both walls before 🙂

As an additional little spur, when you sign up, you can set a reward and a punishment for it. Mine for this month:

•    If I succeed, I will… treat myself to a new bathing suit

•    If I miss a day or more, I will… swim 4000 yards in one session.

In retrospect the failure one is a little dumb. My next Really Long Swim is probably going to be 4,000 yards whether I succeed in writing every day this month or not. And the reward is also kinda silly. I own one good workout bathing suit and I really should own two — just to switch out between workouts and make them last longer, ya know.

I am very happy with how I spent yesterday evening. I spent about an hour knitting. It was wonderful.

So, all this doing, doing, and doing I’m doing. Goodness me, why is this such a big deal?

I think it is at least in part because I’ve become more keenly aware that I am not immortal. For all that I take pleasure in video games, I’d rather leave behind a sweater and written material than I would hours of playing a video game.

It’s not that I think pleasure doesn’t count or have its place. I do. My general make-up is probably more pleasure seeking than most (You guys do realize I swim because it’s one of the few exercises I find fun, yes?) and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. But I think that, for me at least, when the pleasure intersects with the productive, it seems like a better way to spend a limited life.

Productive is a funny thing, though. Think of the term “recreation.” You break down that term and it’s re-creation. You’re re-creating something (probably your physical and emotional center) and if you don’t do that, you’re not maintaining your SELF very well.

In thinking about it, I wonder if “fun” is even a good term for when I am actually joyfully in the moment. I find those moments when I am teaching a class, or writing a piece, or when I get a new client as much as when I am knitting a sweater, swimming or sitting on the deck of a cruise ship watching the sun come up.

And except for when I am sitting on my butt staring out over big water (something I do love to do immensely) most of what I’m talking about is less about re-creating than about creating. I’m sure if I were a fictional character, that my fondness for creating and my pleasure in sunrises would be some sort of metaphor the author would use to indicate character traits.

Speaking of doing and creating, I have a busy day today. Need to get all dressed up to see a client, do some shopping, and write some articles for another blog I do. But, of course, I need to get in those seven hundred fifty words, and I’m still about a hundred words short.

Word count, I think, might be great for getting you to sit your butt down and write substantial work, but I also think that trying to hit word count can make you write a fair amount of drivel as well. Then again, the drivel can be edited out, and you can’t edit unwritten words. So writing volume has to count as well. Right?

How do you re-create? Does it involve creating something? Or does re-creation for you require stillness? I expect my frantic need to be doing and making would be the despair of a Zen master!

An Excerpt from “Screw Skinny, Get Fit”

Mis-assigning Virtue

Often we associate virtue and physical fitness. Blame it on the Spartans or Romans if you want, or blame it on the Puritans. But because exercise can be hard or painful, we can associate it somehow with virtue.

Muscle mags are probably some of the worst offenders for this. You’ll find lots of articles sneering at fat, lazy slobs and a great deal of self-congratulations for a great physique and by implication, perfect health. Sometimes it can be hard to wade through them to get to some genuinely good information.

Being physically fit isn’t a moral imperative, nor is being healthy. There are lots of reasons why being more active is good and they’re discussed all through this book. You may have a million reasons to do what you do (or don’t). Since you’re in charge of your life, you get to decide this.

The human body did not evolve to be sedentary for long periods of time – true enough. Many people find regular movement has the benefits of mood improvement and an increased sense of well-being. Many people also find that hard, punishing exercise just makes them depressed and wanting to quit. Plenty of people have it worse than that, and punishing type exercises is emotionally triggery. Amazing what some high school gym teachers can do to discourage health and fitness, innit?

The reality is, yes, you do have to put in some maintenance on your body for it to perform well. The reality is also that you’re under no moral obligation at all to become an athlete if it doesn’t suit you. The reality is that you’re under no moral obligation to maintain your body, either. Obviously I find being active desirable, and I do genuinely believe it leads to a greater quality of life, but I’d be the last person on Earth to choose whether or not it does for you.

A great deal of finding out what’s going to make you more fit and feel better will be a constant series of corrections. This will be a pretty fluid boundary as well. If you stop exercising, you’ll find your light workout from your fit days will feel terrible to you. While consistency is ideal, don’t be a fool. You’re not doomed to a lack of movement because you have your exercise ups and downs.

You don’t owe the world “pretty”

Part of the reason, I think, that women are encouraged to exercise and “get fit” is a bloody lie. It is not about getting fit. It is about the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to be pretty. If it helps, I’ll let you off the hook. You don’t owe the world physical attractiveness, so don’t let anyone tell you that you do.

Don’t let people use fit as a euphemism for pretty. There are plenty of physically fit Olympic athletes who would not be picked for modeling contracts. Challenge people when they try to map pretty to physically fit, and maybe we can chase that idiotic canard out of the English language. Except in the most extreme of cases –more to do with malnutrition, you cannot tell either physical fitness (for whatever value of fit you’re discussing) or health from appearance. Being strong and healthy might do things you like to your appearance, sure. That’s dandy, but what it does to your quality of life is far more important.

Your value as a human being is not about how many people want to fuck you. Sorry for the bluntness, but that’s what it boils down to. Don’t buy into that nonsense. Yeah, yeah, people talk about biological programming, but men are biologically programmed to rape any woman that smells like she’s ovulating, too. Five men in six have never committed a rape at all. Let’s not act as if we don’t have minds and wills, too, okay?

Making a disconnect between “unpleasant” and “good”

You might have gotten the idea from gym class. You might have gotten it from someone who was trying to teach you self-discipline, but kinda went overboard. But you might be thinking that if it hurts and it is difficult, it must be good for you.


Exertion and challenge is one thing. I’m all for challenging oneself a bit during an exercise session, mind. Just don’t be an idiot about it. There’s a serious difference between challenge and punishment.

Self-discipline v. self-punishment

I’d be the first to say self-discipline is important. Except, I wasn’t. Would you believe other people have said it before me? No. Fine…

But yes, getting into the habit of being physically active when you have been sedentary for a while does take a fair whack of self-discipline. No-one is excited about their workout every single time they do it. In fact, there are many days when the best thing I can say about my workout is that I did it. Sure, sure, sometimes it feels glorious and wonderful. Other times, I plod.

Ultimately, what matters is not that I felt glorious or that I plodded through it. Nope. The important thing is that I did it. My body will not care how I felt about it, but muscles will be stronger and the heart will be pumping better because of the work I put in.

There’s a difference, however, between self-discipline and self-punishment. Even if you hate working out, it is not supposed to hurt. If you’re going for any sort of pain, it is because pain is your kink, not because your body needs it to get a good workout or enough movement to stay in good shape.

I won’t even push the “hurt so good” feeling some people (including me) sometimes go for. You don’t have to do it to get a productive workout. People who do it are going for an adrenalin high. You don’t have to do this to get fit. Some people just don’t get this feeling, and it is okay. While you do need to move your body to keep it in working order, anyone who says it has to hurt is a little maso. If you’re not, you can safely ignore them.

Now, that’s not to say that challenging yourself a little is bad. Challenging yourself some is a good idea. It’ll keep you interested, and boredom is often a problem with exercise, especially among geeks. I think it is no accident that when we do work out, we tend to gravitate towards sports that can be translated into a lot of math like weightlifting, or tend to be very physically technical, like martial arts or swimming.

Goals, Strokes and Intervals

I’ve got a goal this year of reducing my swimming time from around a mile in 56 minutes to a mile in 40 minutes. I’m doing it because you should be able to do that comfortably in a pool before you start doing open water swims.

Swim workouts, like any workout with athletic improvement in mind, need to have some changing up component to it to keep the body challenged. If you do the same thing every time, it becomes a lot easier. Easy is often a legitimate goal, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not my particular goal.

So, I do some things to ensure changing up. Swimming sees its best improvement when you swim intervals. This means you’ll swim a distance as hard as you can, then another distance at an easier pace, switching things up throughout the workout. Yes, even marathon swimmers do this to train, even if steady is the goal when they get out on the open water.

For the past couple of weeks, my workout was either 1,000 yards or 1,200 yards swum in units of 100 yards with a length of breaststroke up, then swimming crawl back, then breaststroke up, then backstroke back. I’d sprint for the crawl because it’s a fast stroke.

As an aside, no the stroke is not actually freestyle, even if people often call it that now. Freestyle is an event in a swim meet, not a stroke. It is called freestyle because you are free to swim any stroke you wish. Most people choose the front crawl because it is the fastest stroke.

This was brought home to me when I was about six or seven at a swim meet. The event was the 16-18 year old men’s freestyle. We were swimming against a team that wasn’t quite as competitive as we were, and the Romagnoli boy swam the event *gasp* butterfly! The younger kids, including me, were freaking out, thinking that he’d be DQ’ed (disqualified) for swimming the wrong stroke even if he DID come in first, when the coach laughed and pointed out that freestyle means you can swim any stroke you want. Butterfly was a bit of a risk for the event, but he was very strong fly swimmer. Why not go for a challenge?

So, the stroke that you think of as freestyle is really the front crawl, ‘kay? And it’s a LOT faster than other strokes.

Those sets I was swimming, breast, free,* breast, back?

Today I decided to switch it up and swam free, breast, free, back. Instead of half my distance being breast stroke, half my distance became the front crawl. That 56:30 mile I’ve been side-eyeing? Today it was a 52:11 minute mile. (That was my pace, mind. I didn’t swim a whole mile).

So, why not just switch entirely to freestyle, right?


I could, but it wouldn’t be a great idea. That’s asking for a shoulder injury, and I’m not just doing this to get faster. The real reason my butt is in the pool is to get an efficient workout (swimming is good for cardio and full-body strength), and switching up the strokes means I work different muscle groups.

The other reason? That’s a little more embarrassing. I can do about 100 yards of the crawl before I get tired. The plan is to start working up to longer and longer distances of a single stroke as I get in better shape. My sets will stop being essentially a length of a particular stroke as I work up.

But there’s a lot to be said for essentially sprinting a length, then swimming another a slower stroke and alternating. That’s good, solid interval training, after all.

I also reached a goal today. I’d decided to try to swim ten miles in thirty days, and reached it about seven days early. I think my next goal needs to be a tad more ambitious. Since I swim a bit over half a mile a day, I think I’m going to make it a goal to swim 15 miles in the next thirty days. That’s more or less presuming I stick to my usual schedule, and a little bit over, so that I am going to have an impetus to bump up my yardage per workout in the next week or so.

Anyone else have any goals — fitness or not? I’m curious what people are challenging themselves with!
* Yes, see, I think of it that way, too!