55 to 60: The One-Step-Back Week

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They say that resolutions peter out around 4-6 weeks, and I proved the rule this week.  So it’s time for recommitting myself.

In short: A low C overall.

Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.  Sorta.  See below. C.

Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.  Fail. No gym at all; some planking. D.

Objective 3: Confront the negative. Progress here. B.

Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week. Does cereal count? F.

Of course, there were extenuating circumstances.  But aren’t there always?

Circumstance #1 was a weekend work retreat that eliminated any chance for cooking.  And while I packed my sneakers for exercise, let’s just say that they stayed in my bag.

Circumstance #2 came in the form of an unusual winter storm in the South that produced a little snow, a good amount of ice, below-freezing temperatures, and the chance to spend two solid days at home because the office — and everything else — was closed. Descriptions of how the South can’t handle winter weather belong in Changing Accents, not here, so on that topic I’ll be mum.  But here’s the new thing I did: I slept with the water running out of the faucets, and I stopped laughing at how the South can’t handle winter.

Oops, just noticed a flaw in my logic.  Two days at home simply moved the weekend to Wednesday and Thursday; I could have cooked.  In my mind, though, they were workdays, and a much-needed chance to catch up and get my head above water.  I left meal preparation to Mr. NYer.

So the big gains this week were on confronting the negative, and I hesitate about calling them gains because I speak of a sad and troubling situation that had no winners.  About this there’s not a lot to say, because the story centers on others whose privacy I need to respect.  So I’ll keep this simple: I had a lot of opportunity this week to balance compassion and justice, and to stay level-headed and not let anger or other negative feelings take over. And at those I think I succeeded.

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56 to 60: The Road Reveals Itself

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Four weeks into the slog Lifelongnewyorker is realizing … well, a bunch of things that don’t have a lot to do with this 60 to 60 initiative. But they have to do with life, and figuring out what we’re about, and so I’ll report them here.

It’s been a hard week.

But there’s been some progress to report:

Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.

Mr. NYer loves music. Last week I proposed that we start something new: the Lockwood Boogie (Lockwood is the name of our street). The principle was simple: Mr. NYer would create a playlist of dance music. After dinner every night, he would play one song from the queue and we would dance in the living room. Exercise and bonding. What could be better. On Wednesday, we began with The Locomotion. Thursday brought Aretha and Respect. Anyone spying us through the French doors would think we were slightly insane, but the three minutes or so of post-dinner dance brought a little exercise, and a lot of joy, into our lives. Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.

Got to the gym three times and stayed with the planking. Think love handles are diminishing but probably should have a caliper.

Objective 3: Confront the negative.

Yikes! A tough week at work had me in full immersion mode, and sometimes that meant waking with what can only be described as an anger hangover. But it’s a soul suck, really, really, really. One of my colleagues, an attorney who will be known as The Boss, told me today about her own decision to “live in the good.” I won’t go into the whole explanation, but the general idea is that we can choose to live according to our values and ideals and not play in the dark lands of our souls — or those of our colleagues and bosses.

Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week.

Pizza last week. Off at a work retreat this weekend, but will cook soon. Asking a colleague for some authentic southern recipes.

As for the hard week, well, the message is that growing old is not the same as growing wise. Or maybe it’s that growing old does not guarantee that you won’t have the self-doubt, conflict and soul-searching that you had as a younger person. Being a certain age doesn’t guarantee you know all the answers or that you have resolved all the issues you seem to have been born with. What gives? I did a Myers Briggs self-assessment and, not surprisingly, don’t entirely like the results. I’m the type that “exudes confidence,” and I’ve learned, from college to this very day, that “exuding confidence” is a distinct turn off for some folks.

I learned this today while at a company retreat. Because of this retreat, I missed going to my newest grand-nephew’s Christening, which also happened to be my sister’s wedding anniversary. I have seven grand nieces and nephews, and have not been to all of their baptisms … after all, I’m in Alabama and they are over a thousand miles away. My son attended this one, and we joked that he had our proxy and represented Mr. NYer and myself.

But I woke up this morning acutely aware that I was not with the people whom I care most about in this world. Mr. NYer was home in Alabama while I was at a hotel in Georgia. Our son, who lives in Brooklyn, NY, was staying with my sister in New Jersey. Both sisters, together with their husbands, children, and grandchildren, were assembling in New Jersey for the Christening of my sister’s grandson. And I missed them all, terribly.

At the same time I thought about the friendships I’d built over 50 years growing up in New York. Some of them dated back as far as 5th grade. I’d gathered others up over the years teaching, working at the local newspaper, participating in community theater. They are, literally, irreplaceable. And I’m feeling even more tender about them because of news that one of them has died. I read it on Facebook, and will hear about the wake and funeral there as well.

I’ve been in Alabama for four years and have a nice circle of acquaintances, but few close friends. And today, perhaps for the first time in four years — don’t ask why — I realize how much I miss my friends and my family. They are not fungible, or easy to replace.

And so, the road to 60 seems different this week. Maybe it’s less about who I am, and more about who I value.

57 to 60

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Every week I start my update by doubting the title.  Just now, I typed in “57 to 60” and thought, “Wait, it’s gotta be more than that.” So I count on my fingers, or go back and check the last post and realize that time does, indeed, move oddly.

At work this week I picked up a new term that aptly describes the 60-to-60 project: “maturing the story.” I spent two days meeting with a pair of consultants who are defining the business requirements for our website rebuild. This process is not for the impatient, and I learned something about myself during their visit.

When you’re building or rebuilding a site, you think you know what it needs to do.  For example, you might want a user to be able to find articles on a particular topic and view the results with the most recent showing first, but with the option to sort the results in other ways, e.g. by title. Turns out that’s the beginning of the story. The business analyst’s job is to “mature the story,” or fill it out, by asking a lot of questions that force you to really think the process through and get a lot more granular. Do you want to limit the number of results? Do you have multiple filters? If so, you need to think about relevance in the sort results. Do you only want to return results that match the filter criteria 100 percent, and do you understand that is often frustrating for users because there will be “no results match your search” messages? No, you want to return more results? OK, then what is your cut-off for relevance — 70 percent?  75? 80?

Now imagine having this conversation about every bit of functionality on the website.

To prompt this kind of thinking, the analyst asks, “what if,” followed by a lot of scenarios you hadn’t really thought of and would rather not have to think about. And to do this well, you need a bunch of people in the room who bring a range of knowledge and a variety of perspectives.  Which means that one person answers the “what if” question, and another says, “wait a minute … what about …?” At one point, while discussing an online tool in which the user completes various steps, the discussion about interim saving vs. completion went on for an hour and a half.

Lifelongnewyorker considers herself to have a lot of self-discipline and enormous task patience. Her patience and above-average ability to stay focused have been remarked upon by others. Her ability to concentrate at length on certain kinds of problems or projects have even led people to believe that she is detail-oriented.

That’s the story about myself I have nurtured, and until this week, that’s the story I was sticking to. But the web meetings helped me to “mature” that story. My boss is a notoriously fidgety guy who freely admits that he has trouble sitting through a feature-length movie.  During meetings, he gets up to pace or juggle. Seriously. At the web meetings, I found myself checking my email, standing and pacing, getting water or coffee, tapping my feet. I had turned into my boss!

I wanted to make decisions and move on. And because I’m in the midst of the 60-to-60 project where I’m trying to be more mindful, I took a step back and thought about how I could reconcile the fact of my impatience with the story I told myself about my persistence. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me what I realized: My patience, perseverance and self-discipline rise in direct proportion to the degree of control I have over a situation. In this highly collaborative situation, I was not in charge.

I survived the sessions and think I’m better off with this more mature story, which also helps explain why I compulsively multitask (I get bored easily). It does pose an interesting dilemma for we Type-A folks (also known as control freaks) as the workspace becomes more collaborative, but that’s another topic.

Oh — I learned one other new term, too: the Happy Path.  In software development, it’s the most common, or default, use scenario. You want to keep it simple, and error free, but you need to prepare for exceptions, because the exceptions WILL happen. And when you test the software, you need to wander OFF the path by plugging in the exceptions. We probably all have a happy path in our head about what our life is going to be like, or what will happen for the next year or two, or five. But you want to be ready for the bumps and detours.

Meanwhile, here’s my progress report.  I think I rated a B this week.

Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.

Too busy to notice if I did something new.  Does maturing the story count?  Oh, wait!  I added grapefruit to my breakfast once or twice.

Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.

Increased daily planking time to 1 minute 15 seconds, and resting every 7th day.  Got to the gym only twice.

Objective 3: Confront the negative.

I lapsed and wallowed in work-related anger this week.  No, I dove in.  But I did climb out and dry myself off.

Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week.

Planning on it.  A picture will follow.

58 to 60: Ups and Downs Oh My

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The only real ups and downs this week were in the weather.  The polar vortex brought the lowest temperatures to Alabama that Lifelongnewyorker has experienced in her four years living in the South.  On Tuesday, it was 13 degrees; today, Saturday, it’s 70.

I mention the weather only because cold weather is a good reason to seek warmth and comfort food, and a great reason to avoid exercise.  I’m happy to report that I didn’t deviate from my path.  Of course, it’s only two weeks, and I know about hubris, so I’m going to just report the facts.

Last week, I committed to four objectives for this growing-old-with-grace-and-intention initiative.  Here’s how I did:

Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.

Check.

Frankly, this set a low bar.  I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t do something new once a week, and I didn’t place any limitations on the kind of new thing, or even the quality. Let me do so now.  “New thing” does not cover a variation of something I already do. Starting a new book does not qualify, because it’s reading, which is not a new thing for me.  Neither is trying a new recipe or starting to binge-watch a recommended television series.  Neither should “new thing” be something that arrives via the agency of someone else.  This week I participated, for the first time, in a Skype call with about 10 people in six different locations.  I didn’t initiate this call, I just agreed to it.  Doesn’t count.

But planking does. And that’s my new thing for this week.  Colleagues on another floor have begun the year with both a cleanse (3 days of liquids, no solid food) and a daily time during which they plank. I’d heard of planking, of course.  It was that meme that went viral a few years ago where people laid flat atop odd surfaces and posted photos online.  But it seemed really odd that such an activity would be scheduled in an office, let alone sanctioned by the department head, who was the one who told me she was doing it.  I asked, and learned that planking is an exercise (actually a yoga pose) that takes very little time and promises to strengthen one’s core.  But, she warned, “It’s hard.”

Clearly, my chances were better if I had allies and made a public commitment, so I enlisted my department. I hope this isn’t an abuse of power; it was optional. Several of them already knew how, so we started with 60 seconds.  I’ve done it four days in a row. Today I found out that you’re supposed to begin with 30 seconds (there’s a 30-day planking challenge) and build from there. I figure I’m ahead of the game and can take tomorrow a day off.

Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.

Check.

And no, I don’t mean the planking.  I’ve gone to the gym three times this week.  Still don’t like it though.

Objective 3: Confront the negative.

Got some reinforcement here from another friend and colleague, whom I’ll call the Writer.  The writer had achieved some notoriety earlier this week when his New Year’s resolution, “To go after it!” was cited, after some editing to bring it to a PG rating, by our CEO in a message to the entire organization. The Writer and I had a chance to talk this week about his resolution, my initiative and how to keep focused.  We agreed on a corollary to the “confront the negative in oneself” principle: Walk away, when you can, from the negativity of others.  Don’t give it oxygen.

Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week.

Check.

Made a lovely dish of pork medallions with capers, artichokes and lemons last weekend.  Just bought the ingredients for tomorrow’s homemade tomato sauce with meatballs and sausages.

59 to 60: One Week Down

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Lifelongnewyorker heard skepticism from some quarters about taking sixty weeks to anticipate her 60th birthday.

“That’s quite a length of time to wait,” said Middle Sister. “Does this mean you will simply speed past 59?”

No, not at all. But it’s hard to whistle through 59 when 60 is looming right around the corner.  I’d rather face it with a plan.  Sort of.  Beginning this initiative, I announced some general goals — get in shape physically, maybe eat better, explore ways to balance life and work — but listed no definite resolutions or objectives.  Readers offered some ideas I had not entertained — like adding more flaming food to my life — that I think worth exploring.  I want to be open to new ideas.  After one week, I’m committing to a few specifics:

Objective 1: Do at least one new thing every week.

I’m giving myself an A here.  This week I realized that negativity is not a good mindset for change.  On New Year’s Day I woke up disappointed in myself for having followed the path of least resistance until 3 am. I even blogged about it, thinking that witty writing (you be the judge) was just as good as doing something different. But telling stories of one’s utter failure to move toward the goal is probably not the best road map for getting there. Those stories are banished. I know — this breakthrough is at the 101 level of behavioral psychology.  Like Johnny Mercer wrote, you’ve got to Accentuate the Positive.

Objective 2: Exercise. Regularly.

Clearly, if I want to be in better shape physically, I need to exercise. To be honest, I don’t like exercise and have never understood concepts like the “runner’s high.”  Exercise is boring and hard on my body, especially my big toe. For the record, I am not making that part up. I don’t mind exercise as much if it is ancillary to something that’s actually interesting, like hiking in a national park, or biking to a new place, or taking a walk in a new city with lots of shops. But I have a low tolerance for repetition, and maybe for self-discipline. For years I gave myself the excuse that I didn’t live in the kind of place that allowed me to exercise as I liked. In New York, I liked to bike along the canal towpaths in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It took two hours to get there, so sadly we did it rarely. “When I move to a place that has a lot of great outdoor spaces I’ll gladly exercise,” I lied to myself.

I made a good start this week and got myself to the gym three times. But that third time almost didn’t happen. It was yesterday, Saturday. I’d gotten my hair cut, returned home, had no other plans. “I should go to the fitness center,” I said to myself. And even as that thought went through my head, I became aware of a powerful feeling of resistance. As if another voice countered, “Oh yeah? Who’s going to make me?”

Normally, virtue loses those battles where the good angel and the demon sit on my opposite shoulders. But this time I was prepared, having read about a simple method to counter negativity. In it, you acknowledge the negative emotion, allow yourself to feel it, ask yourself if you’re ready to let it go and, if the answer is “no,” ask yourself when you’re you think you will be ready. I had no actual faith in this method, but holy self-help, Batman, what had I to lose?

So I paid attention to what I was feeling and identified the fact that I was feeling resistance — I was digging my heels in hard against my own best interests. I asked myself “Am I ready to let this resistance go?” Imagine my surprise when the answer bubbled up instantly: “No.”

No?! Where did that come from? It didn’t take long to figure it out. I adopted resistance early in life to assert my independence; the earliest manifestations were in battles with my mother over food. Begun early and nurtured lovingly, I got very good at resisting. It must have worked for me once, but it sure wasn’t anymore.  And I realized I was ready to let it go.  When? Now.

I went to the gym.

Is this going to work every time?  I don’t know, but it’s as good a time as any to let go and unlearn old habits.  Hence,

Objective 3: Confront the negative.

Finally, I cooked dinner last night. I actually love to cook, especially when we’re entertaining.  The thrill of routine, maintenance cooking, however, vanished about 15 years ago.  I’d been cooking family dinners since I was 12 — my mother worked at a bank and if they didn’t prove at the end of the day they stayed until they did. I got very used to the after-school phone call asking me to “Get dinner started.”  After 30 years or so, I just got tired of the nightly chore, especially having to plan and shop. I discovered take-out. Finally, Mr. NYer picked up the slack. We essentially switched roles: He planned the menu and cooked, and I got used to coming home to a hot meal.

Nice, but not really fair.  Which leads to …

Objective 4: Cook at least one meal each week.

As for the sixty weeks, something I read today suggests I’m on the right track. According to studies done on the subject of developing new habits, it takes, on average, 66 days to build the “automaticity” for even simple new routines, like eating fruit with your lunch.

So, I’m thinking 59 more weeks might just be enough time.

New Year 2014: 59 weeks, 2 days to 60

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I slept until noon today.  I would have slept longer, and perhaps still be asleep, had Mr. NYer not awoken me so we could attend a New Year’s Open House that began at twelve.

Last weekend, friends who had read my first entry here insisted that I could learn to rise early to meet them for exercise at 5:30 am.  They have never seen me at that ungodly hour, so they can be forgiven for holding to this objectively wrongheaded supposition.  Staying up late, and sleeping late, are lifelong habits.  Mr. NYer used to think they were his way too, but years of rising early have reset his circadian clock.  He nods off during evening television and rarely sleeps past 7:30 on any morning.  My identity as a night-person, on the other hand, is bred in the bone.  Mr. NYer explains it, tenderly, as my “never having lost touch with my inner teenager.”

And now, as I wend my way to 60, I have to ask whether I want to stay in touch with my inner teenager or leave her behind.  And I suppose that question has to do with more than sleeping habits.

This sleeping to noon today — and the night’s events that led to it — remind me that CHANGE IS NOT EASY.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve never adopted New Year’s resolutions.  Who in their right mind would contemplate making major lifestyle changes in January?  Where I come from, January signals the beginning of hard winter, with three more bitter months to follow.  The world, in the form of arctic winds, long waits on unsheltered bus stops, cranky furnaces, icy hills, three feet of snow, and insane neighbors who try to steal your parking space, offers challenge enough.  Time to hunker down and do what you need to do until the snow melts and the forsythia buds.

Asked about his goals for this year, Mr. NYer said he was aiming “to keep on keeping on and avoid complacency.”  At first I thought he was quoting Satchel Paige, but Mr. NYer reminded me that what Paige advised was to “Avoid fried foods, which angry up the blood.”

I think Mr. NYer has it right — the habit that is hardest to break is complacency.  Complacency is why I slept to noon.  Because last night, after watching a movie on Netflix and sharing a bottle of champagne to toast the New Year, did we go to bed?  We could have relied on the fact that it was already 2014 on the east coast, and slide into bed on that technicality.  No.  Instead we switched between the live coverage of the New Year’s Eve extravaganza in downtown Montgomery, where about 10,000 people had gathered to listen to a band and await fireworks and confetti cannons.  The cannons, we learned, had been stocked with twice as much confetti as last year.  Shortly before midnight, our mayor came on stage and introduced a city councilman (white, middle-aged, heavy-set — you need to know this) who took the mike and began to sing Clarence Carter’s “Stroked.”  I’ve never seen a look quite like the one on the mayor’s wife’s face when the councilman demanded to know whether she’d ever made love in the backseat of a car, but the mayor seemed ready to affirm that he had.

Switching channels to CNN, we saw the great watermelon drop in Vincennes, Indiana, and learned that it’s the watermelon capital of America, producing 20 million pounds each year. We also learned that watermelon is both a fruit and a vegetable.  And also a gourd.

Finally, the clock struck twelve.  We could hear the fireworks downtown even as we saw them on the TV.  We wished each other a happy new year with a quick kiss, and then didn’t move.  Instead, Mr. NYer went to pour some wine (the champagne was gone), and I surfed the channels until I saw that one of our favorite movies, Juno, was just starting.  How delightful!  After all, even though we’ve probably seen parts of it a half-dozen times, how often did we get to see it from the beginning? We settled in.

There were commercials.  Lots of them.  Staying to watch the movie to the end (2:50 am) went well beyond complacency.  It required willful endurance verging on masochism.  I muted the commercials.  Mr. NYer refilled the wine.  We ate crackers.

None of these activities are recommended for a person who wants to be a lot healthier.  Thankfully, I’ve given myself time.

And amidst this mountainous evidence of inertia and devotion to bad habits, there was a slight sign that change was possible. Before switching off the light, I turned to Mr. NYer and told him I wanted him to try to sleep at least until 9 am, and to resist the urge during the night to pick up his phone and check the time.  He did both, sleeping until 9:30.

So, looks like I can inspire change in others.  Can I do it for myself?