Sunday, April 18, 2010


What is your day like?  Where does your time really go?   What do you think about?

Whether we are conscious of them or not, our days are full of patterns, habits, cycles of predictable behaviors.    We become so accustomed to them, oftentimes we don't even realize we have them.    

I have been examining my unconscious behavior, and it is eye opening.    I looked at my patterns and habits, and came up with a top-of-mind estimate of how much time I spend doing each one.   Then I tracked what I did each day - in writing, in a journal - for a couple of weeks.   I was way off. 

For example, I thought I spent maybe two hours a day on the computer. I thought I only snacked occasionally, only drank a couple cups of coffee per day, got enough sleep.    I believed I played with my kids a lot.

I was wrong.   About almost everything.

I spent more like three or four hours a day on the computer.   I drank four or five cups of coffee a day.    I got about six or seven hours of sleep.  I ate way more than I thought - when I read a book or watched television, for example, I got up often to grab something to munch on.  I worked out less than I thought I did.

It is hard to really know ourselves, I think.    If you're anything like me, you have this idea in your head of how you are, a kind of prototype.   I'll call mine Ellie 1.0.    Without realizing it, when I think about myself I look for ways that I fit my idea of Ellie 1.0 and I downplay or ignore the ones that don't.  

Ellie 1.0 believes she eats moderately, works out frequently, watches her caffeine intake.   She thinks she gets plenty of rest, and plays with her kids for at least an hour a day.   She doesn't talk on the phone excessively, or spend large chunks of time messing about on the computer.    

It's an innocuous form of denial.   Most of our habits don't become serious problems.    And it is exhausting and counterproductive to spend every minute of every day over thinking everything.   But I had been feeling a vague sense of unease, discomfort, malaise, and I couldn't get a handle on it.    So I started paying attention - to my actions, to my thoughts.   

The disconnect between the way things really are versus the way I think things are is interesting, and it is the source of anxiety and discomfort:   Why are my kids so restless?   How come I'm gaining weight?   Why do I get so tired at 3pm every day?  

So I made some changes.   I started limiting my computer time, going to bed by 10:30pm, stopping myself after two cups of coffee.   I joined Jenny Craig.    I started going to the gym three or four times per week.   I played more with my kids.    

Everyone else got happier.   My husband was thrilled that I decided to lose weight and exercise more.  The kids were less whiny, less needy, more fulfilled.

I, on the other hand, became edgy.    I was restless, anxious and irritable.     I began wondering why making positive changes in my life was creating such emotional havoc for me.

Because it is change.   I'm not a big fan of change.   I liked my ruts, my habits, my shortcuts.   I wanted to be able to eat what I want and not gain weight.  Exercise every now and then and be fit.    Play with my kids occasionally, and then have them leave me alone.    I wanted to go to bed when I want, and drink more coffee to stay alert during the day.   I altered my reality, my thoughts, to try to make my actions fit my desires.... otherwise known as denial.

I don't kid myself into thinking I can do everything perfectly, or maintain this proactive lifestyle indefinitely.   I like Jenny Craig, and I'm enjoying working out, so I plan to keep that up.

Everything else I'll do what I can.    Just becoming more aware has helped.   Every day is full of thousands of little choices.  I want to be more conscious of my choices.    I don't want to kid myself that I can stay up until midnight and not be tired the next day.   Or that if I choose to spend too much on time on the computer that my kids won't get restless.     I want to bridge that gap between thought and reality better.    I don't always like what I see, but at least I see it.

And the best part?   Being more conscious makes me remember to cheer myself on for the stuff I'm good at, the little successes I have each day.    Just like I can think I'm better at something than I really am, I can just as easily think I'm worse.

So I keep a list, now, of the little victories.    I remember to pat myself on the back when I go to the gym, play soccer in the yard with my kids, skip that piece of birthday cake, clean out a closet.   

If I can just keep making little adjustments and maintain some awareness along the way, I'll be okay.

Ellie 1.0?   Meet Ellie 1.1.   Soon to become Ellie 1.1.2, I'm sure.


  1. I think the edginess and irritability come about because you are letting go of more things that numb you - the computer, food, staying up instead of going to bed where it's quiet and your thoughts might find you.

    I get that way, when I turn off the computer or become mindful of what's going in my mouth. That's when I know I have to sit quietly for a bit and let me thoughts come and go, or get back on the yoga mat.

    And with that, I'm going to get up off my butt (actually, my entire back, because I'm slumped completely down in my chair as though it is a chaise loung), shut the computer and get to tending to the house!

  2. I love this post, El. But did you actually skip the cake? That's strength, girl. I ate some more for breakfast.

  3. Laine - DEFINITELY the behaviors I'm looking to change are numbing behaviors. I like the way you put that ... my thoughts coming to find me. That is absolutely part of the problem. Also, when I'm trying to stop doing something, for a while it is all I can think about.

    DaMomma - Yup. I didn't have any of that gorgeous cake. I thought I was going to FAINT.

  4. Hey, can DaMomma mail me your piece of cake? :)

  5. I've been reading Raising Happiness, and there's a chapter on changing behaviors. She says that it takes so much longer than you think to change behaviors in a lasting manner. That little steps towards the bigger goal make it possible to make permanent changes. And it makes so much sense, if you take on ten new changes, and expect them to go perfectly from the beginning, you're stetting yourself up for failure. But if you take it little by little, the changes become habit :) You'll get there! Be easy on yourself at the same time though.

  6. Krystal -- I can't mail you the cake. I think I had her piece for breakfast. No, maybe hers was the one I had for midnight snack. Nope, no, Ellie's was the one I tucked in the back of the pantry for breakfast tomorrow. EGADS!

  7. Excellent post! Reality bites sometimes! You've really given me something to think about. Thanks!

  8. One thing that treatment taught me was that I was repeating behaviors that were causing me to relapse. Innocent behaviors in most peoples are triggers in mine. Isolation is my biggest. My PC is my second. The third is my weight. So change is good. I'm gone most of the time and I am usually not interested in my laptop. As for the weight issue, I'm eating healthy and I had set a goal weight of 135lbs. I'm within 3lbs of it so I think I might go to 130lb. I just want to feel healthy.
    Great post as usual!

  9. I have been thinking about this post ever since I read it earlier this week. It has really made me think about my own perception of behaviors and I can SO relate. I too like to stay up late (I think I get so much done!) and then will try to nap when my kids have their tv time in the afternoon. I was very grumpy when the nap didn't work out (most days) - blaming my kids instead of my self. I also thought I was eating a lot more healthy foods because I was fixing fruit, etc for my kids. I recently realized that I wasn't eating nearly as much of the fruit - just giving it to them.
    Thank you for writing so honestly about yourself and your thoughts and travels on the road of life!

  10. Great article. I don't like change again. The not-liking shows up as lassitude and low-energy in me.

    Awareness and letting go. That seems to have helped the most.

    I look forward to reading more. Thanks.