My Bare Minimum

 

Everyone has ambitions and dreams. Even when we’re speaking about things of smaller significance to our larger life, there’s the ideal and then there’s reality. How my week unfolds tends to go differently than how I had imagined it Sunday night. Some of us are realistic thinkers who tend to imagine our week much more accurately. Then there are those of us who are dreamers who find it hard to replicate the week we imagined to the week we have. No matter where we sit on this spectrum, the future never goes according to how we imagined it, so when I am having one of those weeks; the kind of week where nothing goes to plan, I default to my bare minimum list.

I want to highlight this is my BARE MINIMUM list! It is therefore not an ambitious list. It is a list which highlights what I consider ESSENTIALS to my week. In other words, these are the things I find as essential as breathing, to keep my head up through a tough week.

#1 - At least two heart heavy workouts per week.

Disclaimer: I am not on a full teaching schedule yet, so I know this will have to adapt once I am on a full teaching schedule.

There are various types and intensities of workouts, but honestly, I can never feel satisfied unless I go through a workout which pushes me to my VO2max range. This is that feeling where I’ve worked so hard I am left gasping for air and unable to talk. Why would I want such a thing? Well, because I want to know I’ve challenged my heart. When I am having an off week and I can’t get to my workouts as regularly as I’d like to, then a moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (an exercise which increases the heart rate) becomes my priority! Remember, the heart is a muscle!

#2 - Meditate every morning (at least on the weekdays!)

Meditating for 15 minutes in the morning, via the Headspace app, has become a major priority in my life. I do it either first thing after I wake up or right after a morning workout. I also prefer meditating on an empty stomach. It’s one of those simple and life-changing habits which has helped me kick start my day in a positive and productive way.

#3 - EAT LOTS OF CARBS!

This may come as a shock to most reading this, but eating lots of healthy carbs is a top priority throughout my week. I am an active person, so even on an off week, I have more to gain from fueling my body with this essential source of energy than not! I tend to have a lower appetite when I am not at my usual routine and when I am in a lousy mood from a bad week, so I’ve gotten into the habit of consuming lots of complex carbohydrates (grains, legumes, starchy veggies like potatoes) no matter the circumstance or situation.

#4 - Leave the booze for the weekend (unless I have work on the weekends, then I opt out completely)!

The main reason for this has to do with how I sleep. Anytime I drink alcohol, I can’t sleep as soundly as when I don’t. I also wake up much hazier than when I haven’t had any booze, so when I am having a more difficult week I choose to cut the booze. It’s a sure way to set myself up for a better week.

 

Simple Ways To Be More Mindful

 

A few years back I took a workshop led by the Presencing Institute, which is, as described on their about page, “an awareness-based action-research community that creates social technologies, builds capacities, and generates holding spaces for profound societal renewal” out of MIT University in Boston, Massachusetts. This workshop is what deepened my understanding to this idea of mindfulness and how mindful practices can shape how society operates and how I operate.

What is mindfulness anyways?  Merriam Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In other words, to be more present and aware of each moment I encounter in my day to day. Being more mindful allows us to have better control of our thoughts and therefore our emotions. Meditation is usually what’s associated with mindfulness , but for some, who aren’t as open or well-versed in meditation, here are ways (outside of meditation) I try to be more mindful in my day to day:  

#1 Stop listening to music on my commute.

However you get around, with today’s hyper accessibility to music and content, most people tend to fill the ‘silence’ of daily commute with the open library of applications. Don’t get me wrong, I love apps, but once in awhile I’ll choose to walk in silence.  

Something that becomes apparent is that the world around me is never actually silent. I would notice the wind blowing through the trees, the sounds of cars zooming through, the high pitched radio at a construction site, and so much more. The world is filled with so much sound, it’s easy to plug in and ignore everything which seems insignificant, but there’s so much beauty in being mindful in my daily commute. It’s about noticing what’s around and observing my simple reactions.

#2 Put away that phone.

 I admit I have an attachment to my phone. Leaving my phone at home or losing it sends me through an instant rush of panic. I’m sure this feeling is true for most nowadays, which is why consciously choosing to put my phone away becomes that much more important. We were not made to be dependent on a machine. We originated on this earth as social beings, made to interact with our living world; with animals, plants, other humans, other species, etc. An attachment to our phones and to technology is a manmade dependency. (I appreciate technology, but I try to preserve an honest perception to its role in my life. It is a tool, a supplement to real life, and a means not an end).  

When I am around people, socializing, whether it’s in a car, out to lunch, hanging out at someone’s living room, or participating in any other social activity I tell myself to put my phone away. (Now I admit, my attempts aren’t always 100% successful but I at least make it a constant goal when I am around people). I also put my phone away when I am doing work, because with every notification comes a flood of distraction. The simple act of putting my phone away while working (especially when I am writing) tends to cut my work time in half or more. 

#3 Eat alone. 

Now I am not saying eat alone all the time, but I find when I have meals alone without the distraction of conversations, of a TV, or even of any music, there’s a different kind of pleasure which arrives as I eat my food. Without the distractions I am able to really notice the flavors, the smells, and the textures of the food. I think the main difference is that I have time to contemplate these characteristics. If I weren’t alone, the distractions would only allow me to notice the taste, the scent, and feel the food, but I won’t have the time to reflect about what I am experiencing as I eat the food. If there’s one thing I can’t deny is how much I love food, especially discovering new food, so taking the time to spend quality time with my food; the flavors, the aromas, and the touch is a must. Contemplating the experience of eating beautiful food is a wonderful act of appreciation that’s worth spending time on.

#4 Sit at a park bench.

There’s so much beauty in just sitting and observing. If you don’t have a park bench to sit at, then just do this at home sitting towards a window or even at a cafe will do. What’s key is to just sit and observe. Try not to think about your to do list for the day or worry about that conversation you had with so and so. The goal here is to clear the mind of unrelated thoughts and just observe what’s immediately around you. Observe and contemplate what’s in your direct environment for a few minutes. This exercise always leaves an elation in my mind. I don’t know the science or psychology behind it, but speaking from experience I think allowing our minds to rest and settle in what’s around relieves the mind momentarily from the overwhelming chain of constant information.

 

 

 

Let Go Of Lame Guilt Trips

 

There are common occasions where guilt tends to interrupt our positive progress. Don’t get me wrong, guilt is bound to occur. It’s only natural to feel some level of guilt when we divert from our path towards our goals, but I’m talking about the unrelenting and unforgiving kind of guilt that’s not worth holding on to. The kind that skyrockets anxieties, the one that's crippling and detrimental to progress (both physically and mentally).

If guilt creeps up too often, here are some things to think about:

 1 “I accidentally ate all the cookies.” (LOLS, sure... it was an accident!) 

Don’t worry I’ve been there, where I ate too much of something sweet or something fried or whatever that unhealthy food is (I admit, I have been guilty of late night Mickey D's). I’m not going to pat my back and say it was OK, but if it already happened, then hey why be so hard on myself, tomorrow is another day.

What I can do is think about what happened, why it happened, and what can I do to stop this from happening again? Did I restrict myself from having any sweets at all, despite my cravings? Thus, when I had some I couldn’t control myself and ate a lot more than if I allowed myself some sweets every now and then?

The key thing to consider here is “what can I do to stop this from happening again?” There's a lot more to healthy eating than to succumb to restrictions.

2 “I missed my 7AM workout this morning.”

There are days where the guilt for missing a workout really commanded my attention for the day, especially around the days when I was trying to lose weight after gaining over 9kg (about 19 pounds) during my freshmen year in college.  

Here’s a wonderful fact, missing one day of working out is not going to make that much of a difference if I’ve been good other days. Even if I haven’t been good, there’s always tomorrow to make up for it, and the day after, and so on. Life keeps moving and wellness is a lifetime approach, it’s not about what you do one day it’s more about what you do most of the time throughout your life.

3 “I haven’t worked out in 2 weeks.”

Believe it or not I’ve been there too. There are some weeks, usually when I’m off on holidays where I really can’t be bothered to workout and hey, that’s OK! My level of fitness might witness some regress, but it doesn’t mean I can’t work back to where I was. Shifts in routine is OK from time to time. Stopping for a little doesn’t mean stopping forever, it only means I am hitting pause.

All in all what I’ve come to realize is there’s no reason to feel guilty when I diverge from my routine or goals. What’s more important is to always view my pursuit towards health and wellness as a lifelong journey. It’s about making healthy decisions majority of the time, but also forgiving myself for those days I don’t. There are no shortcuts, it’s about living a lifestyle and how much effort I put in throughout that will make the biggest difference.