Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Slow Mornings...


The operating room is definitely a morning place. Cases start at 7:30 am, which means that preparations can take place up to an hour beforehand. Luckily I tend to be a morning person, so I still get up fairly early whether it is a workday or not. And those non-work, slow mornings are truly a treat for me. This is my slow morning routine:

I wake up without an alarm some time between 6 and 7 am (if I'm going to work, I use an alarm to get up around 5:40 am). I saunter upstairs and take my morning medications/supplements with a large glass of iced tea with lots of lemon. Then I push the "large coffee" button on my fully automatic espresso machine (best money spent EVER, huge return on investment 7 years ago). The loud grinding of coffee beans is a welcomed sound, as it is followed by the perfect aroma of Guatemalan coffee beans being pressed and steamed with water to form my espresso. I never tire of that smell! Instead of rushing back downstairs with my coffee to get ready for work, I turn on lots of lights, including my 10,000 Lux lamp (a must-have in the winter). I may turn on NPR or a podcast and then settle into a perch in front of the lamp (usually on the top of the counter) to enjoy my coffee. Slowly, sip by sip.

Sometimes my husband and I do cooking projects, such as preparing something in the slow cooker for the night or peeling and baking potatoes to have after our afternoon workout. I might do a brief, self-guided yoga practice. If the weather is nice, we go out for a walk or a hike from our home. Then I make brunch. Instead of wolfing down something while driving to work, I have the opportunity to actually prepare food... What shall I make? I contemplate the options with glee. If I still want something quick, it's a smoothie with lots of yummy ingredients. If I want to spend more time, I choose a special recipe of pancakes, waffles, or eggs with sauteed greens.

I consider these mornings as personal treats. The term "treat" is usually associated with something edible, sweet, and decadent, but it can really mean anything that contributes to your own self-care. Taking time to appreciate my slow morning routine helps me more happily and efficiently get through my more harried days. Happiness expert Gretchen Rubin wrote this article on why we need treats in our life to foster the formation of good habits. And in Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton discuss treats as one of their five key principles for spending money while maximizing happiness.

What about you? How do you spend your mornings on a weekend or a day off? Do you have other cherished "treats"? Share your thoughts here!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Making 2015 Resolutions? Frame Them Around Known Components of Happiness

(Photo credit: Jim Lowman leafdogart.com)

"In between goals is a thing called life, that has to be lived and enjoyed." - Sid Caesar

At the start of a new year, most of us contemplate some type of resolutions, whether they be fitness or diet-related, improvements at work, or changing of certain habits. However, effective goal setting can be an elusive task. There can't be too many, too few, they shouldn't be too broad nor to detailed, measurable goals are easier to meet, the timecourse needs to be appropriate, etc. Check out this article from Gretchen Rubin on tips for making effective resolutions. Others poo-poo resolutions, opting instead for setting a mindset, a theme, or a word to remember as a theme for your actions. But how do all these methods for self-improvement translate to increased happiness?

Last (Really? Really!) December, I saw an interesting program on HBO called State of Play, which profiled several ex-NFL players in the quest for a meaningful life after football. One of the psychologist/experts interviewed on the show mentioned three essential components for happiness that have been proven in the literature:
  • Connecting with Others
  • Opportunities for Personal Growth
  • Contributing to a Community
These just made sense to me. This year, I feel motivated to frame my 2015 goals around them. Why not maximize happiness while trying to make difficult changes to our lives? I'm certain that the achievement of goals is at the very least perceivably easier when they fit within the components of happiness.

My first and foremost goal (carried over from 2014) is to become a mom, which fits into all three of these components. I would no doubt grow personally from becoming a parent, and I would connect with a new human being and existing family members, plus eventually other communities that I normally would not have encountered. Another resolution is to continue my regular blogging with a goal to write two posts per month. This goal also applies to all three areas above. I hope that as readers you would agree that through my writing I am connecting to you and contributing to a community of people who want to prioritize self-care and stress management in their lives. And ultimately, I do write my posts in the interest of personal growth; they are my own public journal for discussing current thoughts, fears, and dreams.

I also have a resolution to continue minimizing the things I have in my closet. As a confessed shopaholic, I want to simplify my wardrobe further and may even try using this capsule wardrobe technique I recently read about. This will help me find more time for other things in my life, such as connecting to family and friends or pursuing other activities such as reading and writing more. Lastly, I will mention one goal that is more for personal achievement than anything else: I would like to do a real chin-up this year! People are amazed when they hear how long I've been rock climbing despite being able to do a chin-up or pull-up. I've already been working on exercises for about a month to get my back and core stronger, but with a little more weight on me this past year (being tall doesn't help the situation either), the chin-up has proven to be a difficult task! If I can do it now, I'll be no doubt be able to do it when I'm really back into climbing!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top 5 Posts of 2014

 (Me freezing on a Christmas walk. At least it's sunny!)

I have seen this done by a few bloggers I follow... What a great idea! It was so fun to look back at all the posts I've written this year. Based on internet traffic, I would like to give you a list of the five most popular posts from 2014. #5 was actually a tie for a few posts, as they were very close in number of page views, but I won't list all of those today in the interest of brevity.

Of course, there were a few pieces that I wish had been more popular, things that I was really proud of writing. If you're interested in taking a look back at everything from 2014 you can visit the actual blog and click on the 2014 links on the sidebar. Enjoy, and happy new year! Let me know what you think of the list!

5. Introvert or extrovert? Recognize when you're "out of your element."

4. My latest "project"

3. Realms of balance: how to assess yours

2. Think of it as one long pregnancy

1. What IVF taught me

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2014 In Review

This post will be nothing like those year-end holiday cards from acquaintances you may or may not have seen for a while that include a long list of accomplishments and highlights from the year. For me, 2014 was not a year of big travel, notable changes at work, or major fitness successes in climbing, etc.

Instead, 2014 was a year of learning about myself. And this learning predominantly stemmed from my focus on a basic human function, something that many people take for granted: fertility. I didn't intend it to be the theme of my 40th year, but knowing what I know now, my shot at starting a family has appropriately filled a vast span of time. I knew that my hypopituitism would slow things down, but I had no idea how difficult getting and staying pregnant at 40 would actually be.

I'd like to share with you some of the things I have learned this year:

We are all zebras. There is a saying in medicine: "Common things are common." As medical students, we are urged to "avoid the zebra chase" when it comes to diagnosis. But zebras are not unicorns; they do exist, and in a way we are all like the zebra - unique and special. When I embarked on my infertility treatment journey, I searched the medical literature for studies about people like me. What protocols work best? What are my chances? My search was quite short because there ARE no studies on people that have my exact constellation of medical problems. Likewise, I realized that I could not easily apply any outcome statistics or advice to my own situation when it is based on the experience of women with completely different reasons for having infertility.

This concept is discussed ad nauseum in health and fitness articles about weight loss. The formula for success for one person may not apply or may even be detrimental to achieiving results for another person. The answer to the question, "Will this apply to me?" is almost always, "It depends." What this means is that during your pursuit there will inevitably be trial and error. Which requires patience, and waiting....

Waiting is difficult but essential. I blogged about this a few months ago during the height of my frustration as a person who does not normally have to wait long for things to happen at work or in life. We are all conditioned to want quick and clean solutions to complicated problems, but they rarely exist. This fixation is evident in makeover shows such as The Biggest Loser and the myriad advertisements for medications that promise to erase all of our uncomfortable symptoms and feelings with the swallow of a pill.

I don't pretend to know the perfect remedy to aleviate waiting, other than trying to be mindful, grateful, and concentrate on the present moment. I journaled and journaled and talked and talked... and somehow, I finally accepted the waiting. Ironically, part of what helped was actually seeing an endpoint to the madness of fertility treatments. One that is starting to peak its head around the corner but is not quite in full view yet....

Progress is not usually not linear. Have you ever seen this graphic?

It describes what I'd like to say here perfectly: we all experience plateaus and dips in our pursuit of goals. In this post, I talked about how I saw some sort of improvement during every previous round of fertility treatment I had undergone. Eventually, that line stopped climbing upward, but I (and my fertility team) have continued to move forward. Avoiding trial and error, turning a blind eye to learning from failures, and not implementing small changes are what kill progress. In the face of a difficult goal (obscured by a plateau or a regression), we must recognize these small improvements even when tangible progress is difficult to see. This is the essence of one of my other favorite things to do: project climbing....

Working toward a goal is all about priorities. There are some things that I enjoy doing which happen to directly impede my fertility quest, and it has been a challenge to put them on the back burner. One of these is intense exercise and strength training. During the active part of treatment cycles, it is not recommended to do high intensity or impact exercise anyway, and as you can imagine, significant stress on the body from an exercise program or a rigorous diet/calorie deficit could seriously impede a woman's fertility.

Another thing I have reprioritized this year is rock climbing. While I have still enjoyed the movement of climbing (mainly in the gym between fertility treatment cycles), I have pretty much ignored my love of projecting, training and improving at climbing, including traveling for climbing. Initially, this change was brought on by a period of burnout following a long climbing trip which happened to precede my first IVF cycle, but the persistence of my climbing apathy is a difficult thing to describe. While climbing can be intense and can involve impact in the case of bouldering or controlled falls (thus something I was forced to cut out of my life at times), it can also be relaxing and mellow and thus I could have done more of it if I wanted to. But normally, the climbing style and settings that I prefer involve a tremendous amount of mental as well as physical energy.

It might be somewhat hormonal, but I have not felt enough mental energy to "try hard" at these goal-oriented things that I normally care about and are a big part of my life and social culture. I wrestle with this inner conflict frequently, but I always come back to the idea that climbing and the weight room and travel and projects will always be there. It may be a while until I get serious about them again (especially if I do eventually have a child). Yet this is my only time to try for a pregnancy. It has to be done now. So I need to let go of feeling guilty and conflicted and identity-less....

Loving yourself is a constant and necessary process. I have had to work at this every day: letting go of the shame, the feeling of being inhuman or unwomanly, the feeling of being in limbo and not being myself, all the while accepting my current situation. No matter what steps you take to reach your goals, guilt, shame, and frustration ("Why is it taking me so long?", "I'm not worth of success.", etc.) will stand in the way.
Enough said... except for this great quote:
"I have an everyday religion that works for me.
Love yourself first, and everything else falls into line."
- Lucille Ball

(Source: Start with the Heart, Facebook.com)
Happy holidays to you and best wishes for 2015!