Saturday, February 9, 2019

About Commitment

Two Virtues

Last month, I attended a weekend yoga workshop taught by one of my excellent yoga instructors. Each time she does one of these workshops, she designs it around a theme taken from the list of 100 virtues. This particular workshop focused on commitment and self-discipline. 

As it happens, commitment and discipline are two areas in which I believe I am quite strong. Now, if the focus had been patience, tolerance, or confidence, it would be a different story!

In general, I don’t really struggle with making a commitment to something. And, once I have agreed to do something, I follow through and do it. Not necessarily quickly. The opposite of procrastination (promptness?) also is a virtue that I could use some work on. 

Similarly, with self-discipline. I am quite capable of being a stern taskmaster for myself. In fact, I remember certain times during my work life when I spent 14 solid hours at my desk to complete a necessary project, at a high standard, and met the deadline.


In the yoga workshop, I found myself re-thinking commitment and discipline to take it to a deeper level than my initial smug response, which was, “Oh, I’m pretty good at those virtues.” And I have continued to ruminate on commitment and self-discipline in the weeks since.

Having strong self-discipline means sometimes pushing yourself to complete something for a deadline, or persevering with doing a task or activity even when you would rather be doing something else. With good self-discipline, a person can master new skills, develop behaviours that help achieve their goals, and follow through on commitments they have made. 

But doing that too much, day after day, is not a good thing. Head down, flogging oneself to keep going, ignoring the need for rest; that is when self-discipline can become excessive and unhealthy. I am sorry to say, that kind of single mindedness describes much of my past work behaviour.

Similarly, a problem that I have with commitment is not lack of commitment or failure to follow through on a commitment. Rather, it is over-commitment. I have a history of committing to more than I can possibly do. It’s not because I can’t say “no” to people, but rather because I have strong sense of duty, and a vastly over-extended sense of what I can accomplish. Pair this with a slight tendency towards perfectionism, and voila! A recipe for stress and burnout. 

So, my take-away from the workshop was, a virtue, taken to excess, becomes a problem.

Application To Environmentalism

As I continued to think about commitment, I considered one area in which I have been struggling to make a commitment. 

Like so many of us, I am very worried about global sustainability: climate change, loss of species diversity, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events. I have been struggling to figure out what to do about it. The problem is urgent, and also so massive. Although it might be the most important thing I could devote my time to now that I am retired, I feel paralyzed by helplessness. I can’t figure out what to do, and therefore, what actions to commit to.


I’m not. Stated this way, it appears ludicrous. I am one little person. I am not going to solve climate change. I am not going to save the world (or, at least, the human inhabitants of the world).

So, another lightbulb moment in the workshop had to do suddenly understanding why I was having such a hard time deciding the best way to commit myself to supporting global sustainability. I was setting an impossible expectation for myself.

And when the problem of saving the whole world slid off my shoulders, I felt much more at peace, and also I was able to think more clearly about what positive steps I actually could do. I can continue to add one thing, and another thing, and another thing to what I am currently doing to be more environmentally aware.

So, here is a list of some new things I have already started to do:

- buy nothing in January (except consumables)
- cook a vegetarian dinner once a week
- limit cooking beef for dinner to no more than once a week
- discontinue using chemical fabric softeners for laundry (use dryer balls instead)
- read several articles per week that summarize current research on environmental issue and response strategies
- order the book “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming” by Paul Hawken, from the Library
- write a blog post this month on global sustainability (this is it)
- spend time in nature every week, thinking about and valuing the natural world

Island Winter

We have had a little touch of winter on Vancouver Island this month. Although it has not been very cold compared to the frigid temperatures across the rest of the country, we have had a bit of snow, and the ponds froze. So, I’ll end this blog post with some photos of our Island winter.

(I am writing this on a tablet, which limits editing, so please pardon any errors.)

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Fat But Fit?

Stock Fitness Photo From Here
January is a month when many people make resolutions at the first of the month and, unhappily, have already broken them by the end of the month. Oftentimes those New Year's resolutions pertain to fitness. So, although I do not make New Year's resolutions, I believe that today's post on fitness and health is timely.

I have had a longtime interest in fitness, health, nutrition, food, wellness, quality of life, and longevity factors. I am the sort of person who actually reads the health bulletins handed out at pharmacies, and the health columns in newspapers, and every new update on whether dietary fat got a bad rap in the Canada Food Guide of 30 years ago, and why we should eat colourful fruits and vegetables. And wine. Is that one glass a day actually good for you, and what are the risks, and is a glass of beer just as beneficial? Kathy Gottberg, on her SMART Living blog, has written a lot on these topics, for example, here, here, and here

Red Wine Stock Photo From Here
 As well, I am an outdoorsy person who enjoys athletic pursuits. But, as I have written here before, until I retired 18 months ago, I worked long hours at a sedentary desk job that left little time for anything else. Some of the things that were lacking in my life back then included: enough sleep, a satisfying social life, enough time to spend with Rob and other family members, sufficient exercise, and time for personal passions like writing, art, gardening, cooking, and travel.

Although I have always enjoyed cooking, and in the past I grew some of my own fruits and vegetables, during the final five years of my career it became very difficult to maintain a healthy approach to eating. On a typical day, I'd eat a light breakfast, throw together a bag lunch, and race out the door to be at work by 8:30.

The morning was filled with meetings, preparation of agendas and updates for meetings, phone calls, and answering emails. At noon, I would eat lunch at my desk, preparing for the afternoon slate of meetings or answering emails. The afternoon consisted of more meetings, and some were highly political, or involved stressful personnel issues. Finally, at 4:30 when the staff went home, I would sigh and dig into the work that required real concentration and uninterrupted time: writing reports, working on the budget, or planning. I'd also make a cup of tea and dig into the remains of my bag lunch, often high energy foods like granola bars, or crackers and cheese, or puddings. Finally, at 7:30 or 8:00, I'd head home, starving. I'd cook dinner and we'd eat at 8:30 or 9:00.

The lifestyle was a prescription for high stress, lack of activity, and poor eating habits. You can see how it left little time to lead a well-rounded life. Although most of my life I have been short and slender, in the final five years of my career, I packed on 20 pounds and moved into the "overweight" category. One reason that I retired when I did was that I began to have worrisome health indicators that made it obvious to me that I could not sustain that kind of a lifestyle and remain healthy.

So, since retiring, it has been very important to me to reestablish healthy habits and live a well-rounded life. I get enough sleep every night, and refuse to participate in activities that require me to set an alarm clock. I eat three well balanced meals a day, and make sure that I drink enough fluids, especially water. I have an active social life that includes new and old friends, and I spend lots of time with Rob, my kids, and my grandkids. I make time for writing, art, reading, and other personal pursuits.

Alpine Skiing
 And I have increased my activity level. I do at least 30 minutes a day of at least moderate exercise five days a week, as well as yoga twice a week.These photos show two examples of activities that I have done in the past week: A day of skiing, and a hike with Rob up the steep hill to the viewpoint near where we live.

For Christmas, I was gifted with a wearable fitness device. This is something that I had not imagined wanting, but it has delighted the data nerd inside my head. The small screen on my wrist tells me how many steps I have taken that day, how many hours of the day I have been physically active, my pulse rate, the distance I have walked in kilometers, estimated calorie burn, how many flights of stairs I have climbed, how many minutes I have spent in sustained exercise (such as brisk walking), how many hours of sleep I got, and whether I have met my goal of 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. If I wanted to, I could also track weight and fluid intake.

It is synchronized with my phone, so at the end of every day, I can look at a report on my phone, and I get detailed stats on all of those categories, with appealing multi-coloured graphs, and stars for the goals I have achieved.

This is the Graph Generated to Show My Sleep Patterns Last Night
 Well, who can resist stars? Not me! Gold stars and graphs motivate the heck out of me.

This is not all. The device also sends me a weekly report. I can see how I did this week in each category, as well as cumulative kilometers walked, etc. Since I put the device on my wrist on December 25, I have been going strong, trying to beat my own stats.

Using the heart rate data combined with age, height, weight, and activity records, the device has estimated my general fitness level. It tells me that my cardio fitness level is excellent for a woman my age. 

I am fat but fit, and I'm happy with that.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Beach Compositions

Last week, Rob and I took Kate and went to one of the local beaches a couple of hours before low tide. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and we had a lovely time rambling across the sand and circumnavigating tide pools. As it was on the weekend, lots of other people were at the beach too, but it's a big beach.

I was particularly interested in how the waves had left patterns in the sand. They looked dramatic in the late afternoon light.

I took quite a few photos, all with my phone, and share some of them below.

The Water Retreats

The Dog and Me

Rob and Kate Go Around Tide Pools





Stone Circle

Tide Pool

The Beach

Every day I feel grateful to live in such a beautiful place.