On learning to be kind to myself
What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself
— Senaca quoting Hecato
Written in August 2020 during Melbourne’s Lockdown 2.0 and only published in 2021 during Lockdown 3.0 whoops - will require a re-write / update / 2021 edition
You can jump straight to the changes if you want.
I haven’t figured out if I will share this yet. Or how. Or if it’s even interesting. But I think I probably will because there is a chance that something in the below will help someone.
As you may know, I quit my job in October 2019 as I was burnt out after ~17 years (through acquisition) of being with the same company and industry - advertising, media and creative agencies. The final year of my constantly changing role was particularly challenging as the company went through multiple restructures, redundancies and budget cuts. When I resigned I had about 9 months of unused annual and long-service leave that was paid out, so the aim was to take 4-12 months off, recharge, spend more time with friends and family, climbing, hiking, camping, then once I felt ready, look for some more meaningful work (what does meaningful mean? yeah, more on that later)
We demand to be taken seriously
The first few months of not working were glorious. Within 2 weeks of my last day of work I finally sat my drivers license exam and got my manual license at the ripe old age of 36.
Thank you Jess for being an excellent and patient teacher
I learnt to trad climb at Dyurrite/Mt Arapiles with Jon, another excellent and patient teacher. I started doing more sport and trad climbing with Phil, Gerardo and Sean, completing my first few multipitches. My outdoor bouldering grade improved, completing a bunch of v4 climbs on days spent at Mt Alex, Benloch and Camels Hump with Phil, Tee or Bo. I booked to do the Kokoda trail in May with my little brother Lachie, and hiked whenever I could in preparation - Feathertop with snow a highlight.
Jon at Dyurrite/Arapiles on my first visit
I did 10 sessions with a psychologist while I had free access through works EAP (Employee Assistance Program). I had wrapped up a lot of my identity in my work, and with not working for the first time ever in my adult life I had quite a bit to do to figure out who I am, what I value, and what is my purpose - or at least I thought this was what I needed to figure out. I’d graduated school at 17, went straight to uni, then started my career at the end of my 2nd year of uni, going back to uni part time a year later to finish the course while still working.
People would ask me how I was going, and if I was thinking about looking for work soon. Around February/March I started to feel like I was ready to look for a couple of days of work a week.
Then covid hit.
Firstly, some caveats. I know I’m lucky in that I don’t have dependents (a cat doesn’t count). I know people will scoff at my get up time ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Surviving was enough for the first lockdown.
If you pretend lockdown life is forever, ‘what does thriving look like?’
— errr, me
Back in March, Jess and I talked about writing down some predictions for ourselves for 3 months time (maybe with the view to it being post-covid? I don’t remember). I’d forgotten I’d written them down in OneNote and not shared them with anybody until now. I’ll come back to how accurate they were.
In chatting with Jon at the start of April he had also asked me something similar. In some ways, everything I’ve written down here is answering him.
I found this video about Spaceship You helpful, particularly the bit about the core generator being your health made up of two halves (physical and mental) and if the core is low, it’s easier to start with the physical half.
Routine/Structure - Taking Sleep More Seriously
Without work to provide a defacto structure, I recognised that if I didn’t invent my own I would slip into old habits of going to bed late, which means I would get up late, I’d then eat lunch quite late, leading to eating dinner late, going to bed late, and so the cycle would repeat.
I also have accepted that I’m a night owl, and therefore more likely to be productive later in the day, so I don’t try and force myself to work first thing in the morning. A few years ago I saw Dan Pink’s opening keynote at Telstra Vantage talking about knowing your chronotype
My basic structure looks like this - I’ve listed the night time first, because without nailing the night, I won’t nail the morning
- no active brain activities like gaming after 11pm (now 10:30pm for solo gaming)
- play with my cat Arya (generally while watching half an ep of Taskmaster
- hop into bed to read
- in bed ready to sleep by 12am
- alarm set for 9am every morning
- be out of bed within 20 minutes of alarm going off
- chuck on exercise clothes and either run or do yoga before showering or eating anything
- I ‘work’ a normal day - tick off things on my various to do lists
- lunch at a regular time around 2pm
- stop working around 6pm-7pm and cook dinner at a regular time
I think I might add in a wind down activity like doing a jigsaw at some point.
Better Habits - Identity
Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become
— James Clear - Atomic Habits
Here a few more little excerpts from the book Atomic Habits. I actually listened to the audiobook while running/walking/riding and then purchased the paperback. It had always been on my list of books to read, but thanks Karloskar for inspiring me to actually do it.
- The most effective way to change your habits is to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become
- Your identity emerges out of your habits.
- The real reason habits matter is not because they can get you better results (although they can do that), but because they can change your beliefs about yourself
Re-become someone who reads
I had actually started trying to read more this year already with the rough goal of reading 12 books (1 a month), but the reading of Atomic Habits helped me frame why and how. I also realised that reading non-fiction before bed wasn’t the best way to form a reading habit, so I’ve switched to reading some fantasy genre trash as John calls it
What I’ve read so far this year:
- Stumbling on Happiness - Dan Gilbert
- The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark - Carl Sagan
- The Beckoning Silence - Joe Simpson
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones - James Clear
- Touching the Void - Joe Simpson
- The Consolations of Philosophy - Alain de Botton
- The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living - Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
- The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin
- The Obelisk Gate - N.K. Jemisin
- The Stone Sky - N.K. Jemisin
Continue being a physically active person
Metro Melbourne in stage 4 lockdown meant we can/could only leave our houses once a day to exercise for 1 hour.
To maximise this exercise time outside I decided to add learning yoga using Down Dog
Each day I would either:
- go for an hour long walk in the middle of the day when hopefully the sun was shining and chat with friends on the phone while I did so
- get up in the morning and run 3km in docklands and then do yoga on the boardwalk or grass if the sun was out (otherwise I’d go home post run and do yoga inside)
My daily activities have now evolved into doing a collection of the below:
- run 2-5x a week
- yoga (vinyasa atm) 3-7x a week - now we have 2h of allowed time outside I am doing this on a nearby grass patch when the sun is out
- small group personal training for 1 hour over Zoom 3x a week with The BioMechanics
- walk for an hour if the sun is out - thanks to all the friends who’ve answered their phones while I walk
- bicycle - it’s my only form of transport
- climb a bluestone wall
I’m using a habit tracking app on my phone that sends me a notification at 11pm each night to check-in about my day. There are plenty out there, and I just stuck with the first free one I tried, Daylio
- flossing! for the first time in my life I am flossing every night for over a month!
- playing with my cat Arya - making sure she gets some quality play time considering how much time we spend at home and has been a good way of ensuring she burns energy before I want to sleep
- no reading comments on the internet - much better for my mental health
- activate my glutes - they are lazy!
- tracking a general exercise streak - currently at 51 days in a row since starting to track (2021 update - streak lasted for 134 days!)
Other general things
I’m making a lot more of an effort to actively seek out human contact through phone and video calls - normally I’d get this interaction in person.
Giving plasma every 2-4 weeks.
I had a few online sessions with a different psych for free as part of another work EAP. The psych got me to do something I’d wanted to do for ages but never got around to which was to actually define my values. They are still a work in progress but for now they are:
- social responsibility
- understanding & curiosity
- freedom & flexibility
- lists ;)
You may have noticed the reading on philosophy. I’d asked John if he had a recommendation on a basic grounding in a bunch of different philosophies and he recommended Alain de Botton’s book which covers:
- Consolation for Unpopularity (Socrates)
- Consolation for Not Having Enough Money (Epicurus)
- Consolation for Frustration (Seneca)
- Consolation for Inadequacy (Montaigne)
- Consolation for a Broken Heart (Schopenhauer)
- Consolation for Difficulties (Nietzsche)
I found Epicurus, Seneca and Montaigne the most interesting, and from there I’ve then started reading more about Stoicism in particular which has helped me a lot during these last few months.
I have generally healthier consumption, and am looking forward to getting my cholesterol re-checked once lockdown eases:
- cut down on meat last 12 months
- using chickpeas a lot
- done zero research, just doing whatever feels right
- snacking now often consists of either air-popcorn or a carrot with homemade hummus
- don’t really drink beer anymore - not that I ever really did at home, but not visiting the pub or going to gigs means way less beer consumption
- red wine has gone up - mostly on weekends, most weeknights are booze free
- still drinking plenty of water - thanks sodastream and big glasses
- cook a lot more - way less buying burgers and chips out
Re-visiting my 3 month predictions
Back to those 3 month predictions where I was fairly prescient
- learnt Arduino but in your face past Nick, I totally nailed my blinds as outlined in this blog post
- learnt new recipes, and supermarket shortages generally meant less experimentation with exotic ingredients
- learnt to hangboard and did it while watching climbing videos because it is so boring so I don’t do it much
- abs - I definitely have a stronger core, but no noticeable visible difference
- bang on track with the reading target
- sleep routine is WWWAAAAYYY better!
- haha, yep, totally attempted multiple ways of calendaring my time
- I have a CV (and have taken some work)
What have I learned?
What the hell, you’re still reading this?!
I started this post with a quote that I’m also going to end with
What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself
— Senaca quoting Hecato
I am a work in progress, and that is a good thing