Sunday, May 13, 2012

Finding Joy [Part Six]

Again, taking a prompt from Shelley Seale's article Finding Joy: Tips for creating your own 30-day Happiness Project, today's topic is short-term pleasure versus long-term happiness:

View happiness in the long-term. Immediate/temporary pleasures are often harmful to us in the long run; for example, it might be more pleasurable to sit and eat ice cream in the moment, rather than work out. But ultimately, you will be happier if you’re active and healthy.

Self control. What is that again? Oh yeah, it's when I make a decision that I don't necessarily like now to have a greater

Ian and I are reading Brain Rules: 12 Rules for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. The first chapter covers the enormous positive impact of exercise on brain power (thinking, memory, learning, etc.) and, of course, health. Some surprising facts* include:
  • Humans are designed to walk approximately twelve miles a day (I walked about a mile and a half today).
  • Aerobic exercise practiced two or three times a week for at least 30 minutes "at a clip" will improve brain functioning, and such exercise reduces the odds of getting Alzheimer's by 60%.
  • Exercise releases serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, "the three neurotransmitters most commonly associated with the maintenance of mental health." Regular exercise helps with depression and anxiety. 
  • Walking at least 20 minutes daily decreases your chance of having a stroke by 57%.
These are some really interesting statistics. And they make me question why I'm so adverse to... moving around.

It is difficult to have the self-control to always make good decisions, especially if you have multiple habits and projects you are working on at the same time. I feel like I remember reading somewhere (I cannot remember where, maybe someone knows? Malcolm Gladwell, perhaps?) that one can only use so much self-control during the day before breaking down. So, for example, if I'm really concentrating on using all of my spare minutes when Felicity is sleeping or otherwise occupied to straighten the house or write, and I'm making a really good effort to not swear, even in my mind, and to turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk, then I might not have enough self-control left to avoid having a piece of cake when offered one (that is, if the cake fairies exist, as I hope they do, and brought me a piece of cake, specifically German-chocolate cake with a nice, thick coconut and walnut frosting, I would not have the self-control to turn it down. I would take two. Thank you, cake fairies!).

Exercise is really one of those things that pays off in so many positive ways. If you're doing it right (not overworking yourself, doing what is within your physical limitations yet stretching yourself), it literally cannot harm you. So why is it so hard to commit to? Why is this single activity, that can make you healthier, help you live a longer, more vibrant life, can you make you healthier and smarter, so hard to commit to, especially when it requires so little time during the day?

Because I'm lazy, and I'm definitely not alone. It's true that my knee is currently injured, so cardio workouts and even a lot yoga is just out, but I do try to walk. I could do more. At this point it isn't so much about weight, but being healthy for me, being healthy so I can live a long and fulfilling life with Ian (who runs 4-5 times a week, that no good show-off), and being healthy for Felicity, so I can do everything I want to with her, be a good parent, and be a good example.

Of course, there are so many more areas of my life that I am working to have more self-control in. Something I keep repeating over and over to myself is think of how I will feel after this is done. Today, despite having a house guest (and, it turns out, a baby that will not go to sleep and stay asleep, no matter what I do!), I washed and dried three loads of laundry, folded the clothes, and put them away. I kept thinking, imagine how it will feel to have no dirty clothes, to have everything neatly put away and no clothes getting wrinkled in hampers for days (an perpetual problem in our household). And, I can say, it feels amazing.

I also had two scoops of chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream for dessert. Small steps.

Daily goals I'm currently working on:
  • Walking for at least 30 minutes every day (until I get cleared for exercise again).
  • The "touch it once" rule (courtesy of my mother): If I have it in my hand, put it away or do what needs to be done with it. This eliminates mail floating around, mugs moving from room to room, clothes on the floor, and a general chaos of things floating from room to room, without a home of their own. 
  • Writing for 30+ minutes a day.
  • Envisioning the end product of a chore or task, and how I will feel when I've finished it.
  • No more than one sweet thing a day.
 Goals I've been working on that I've successfully implemented (and are now habits):
  • Snacking on fruit or yogurt if I get hungry before meals.
  • Responding to Felicity with empathy instead of frustration .
  • Getting 1-2 servings of veggies with every meal, and one serving of fruit.
  • Cooking and eating all of the meals on our menu each week, as to not waste groceries and save money avoiding eating out.
QUESTIONS: What goals are you currently working on? For you, what short-term things are hard to give up for long-term gains? What does long-term happiness mean for you?

*John Medina explicitly states (and I love this!) that he doesn't reference studies unless they're both 1) in a peer-reviewed journal; and 2) the results have been duplicated in at least one other study.