Self improvement: one year recap

Hello friends, how are you? I am rather fine, thank you.

Through this recap post, I’d like to share the progress I’ve done along the road to becoming a better, more serene and satisfied version of myself, in the hope that my experience could help you in your personal struggle. More than one year ago, I was spending my days emotionally laying on the floor, (like the woman in this short tale) and since I didn’t like it, I started reading books, watching videos and following blogs about self-improvement.

In a post from 14th March 2016, I stated that I wanted to achieve three things in a year:

  • publish a book
  • be truly fit
  • be a more seductive person

I achieved two out three of those goals and it’s ok to me since to publish a book you first have to write one, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But let’s analyse the list from the bottom.

Be a more seductive person

I feel more confident in my own skin, that I smile more (even if I still struggle accepting my crooked and not perfectly white teeth) and that I’m not always complaining about my hair, my looks or my wardrobe as I use to do. So, maybe, I am not more seductive in a strict sense, but I am more confident, and that goes a long way in the seductiveness of a person.

I can explain better through an example. About a month ago, I was going crazy with my hair. I was utterly unsatisfied with it and I was anxious to find a new cut or colour or treatment to fix it. So I consulted more than one hairdresser. I looked for tips and hair product brands on the web. I asked the opinion of friends and co-workers and then… I waited. I didn’t want to rush a decision as the old me would have done. I wanted to see what could happen just waiting one week before taking any course of action and I saw that my hair didn’t need any of the things I was planning. During that anxious week, I washed my hair without the conditioner, again just to see what could happen, and the result was that it looked a lot better, so I just stopped using conditioner.

Currently, my hair is growing longer and whiter and I plan not to do a thing about it at least for another year. Even if I have some split ends, my hair is too short to cut those ends out without messing with an overall shape that I like. And about the white strands, at the moment they are too few for colouring or bleaching wisely. In the end, as someone wiser than me once said: it’s just hair.

Be truly fit

In the past, I tried going to the gym and lift by myself, I tried following cardio courses, I tried using the Wii Fit. I didn’t stick to any of those fitness practices and none of them changed really my body. Even though following my sister in law step lessons increased my resistance, and lifting added something to my strength, my body didn’t change in a noticeable way. Then, I started the F.I.T. program and just in a couple of weeks it turned my body and my metabolism upside down. 

The changes that surprised me the most and that I like the most are two:

  • my belly fat disappeared
  • I eat like a lorry driver

Being able to eat plenty to fuel a lean body is the thing that brings me more joy than anything else. Now I can really enjoy going out to dinner with my husband. It is true that my food choices have changed but I feel a lot better and so I don’t miss pasta.

Publish a book

As anticipated, I didn’t publish a book, the main reason being that I didn’t write one. I realised that writing with that goal in mind was painful because I measured every sentence I wrote by that criteria. Writing became an unpleasant chore to the point that I stopped writing fiction. At the same time, my new job brought me enough joy and fulfilment and took from me so much time, that I stopped writing as a whole. Currently, I am more organised and also calm enough to enjoy writing again. More importantly, I abandoned the idea to give writing an ulterior goal other that bringing me joy and ideas have started to come back. 

After stating my goals, in a post dated 23rd March 2016, I declared that one of the strategies I was going to use was following a Spartan-like morning routine.

These are the 8 things I had planned to do before 08.00 am:

  1. a 7 hours sleep
  2. prayer and meditation
  3.  hard physical activity
  4. consume 30 gr of protein
  5. take a cold shower
  6. listen to uplifting content
  7. review your life vision
  8. do at list one thing towards long-term goals.

I tried for a long time to follow this routine and, even though it gave me some good results for a while, it didn’t become a second nature to me. To stick to it I had to write it down somewhere (my calendar, my diary, a board in Trello) and when something came to interfere with one of the eight points, I fell off the waggon completely.

 Fourteen months after, this is what I do almost every morning:

  • I wake up around 05.30, after a good 7 hours sleep
  • I write down my gratitude list
  • I have my first breakfast (mainly porridge)
  • I watch or read something instructive or uplifting
  • I exercise and shower (not in cold water)
  • I have my second breakfast (mainly proteins) and prepare my bag for work
  • Then, If I have the late shift or the day off:
    • I write something
    • I bake some bread
  • I ride my bicycle to work

I don’t have to write down this list but I almost never fail following it, and when I do, I shrug my shoulders and go on doing what contingency dictates.

As you can see, I stopped meditating. I think about it as a temporary interruption and not a goodbye but I’m not able to say when I’m going to meditate again. As absurd as it can sound, discovering a song about mindfulness (Here comes a thought) in a cartoon and keep on playing it in my mind is helping me more than meditating.

So, in the morning, I take a moment to think of just flexibility, love and trust.

Along these fourteen months, what has been so far, the biggest game changer? Actually, I think the game changers were two:

  • working out in an effective way –> because it gave me a more general sense that I could really change things in my life.
  • finding a job –> because of everything else. Working outside my house, even if not doing my dream job, increased my self-esteem, my finances, my English, my organisational abilities, and the frequency I ride my bike.

All these words just to say that, emotionally, I don’t lie on the floor anymore. I have too much to do. Do I still write lists of goals? This is a more tricky question. I know it’s important to have goals and there are things that I’d like to reach, to achieve, but now I have just one general goal. I want to savour my life. I want to feel the time passing, and being satisfied with what I am doing while it’s passing. At the same time, I write and edit lists of small goals that could help me grasp the big one.

And that’s it for today and for a recap of fourteen months of self-improving. I hope the long post didn’t bore you too much and that you might find it of some inspiration. As for always, thank you for your precious time and have a nice day.

The simple story of a woman, a man, and a cat. Chapter 1

I want to write a simple story in a simple way.  In this story, there are a woman, a man, and a cat. The story is similar to mine, but it’s not exactly my story so please, don’t get distracted trying to figure out what is real and what is fictional. Stick to the story, it’s really easy to follow.

At the beginning, there is the cat. It’s a black cat.

The cat is walking slowly from the bathroom, where he has just done his business in the most feline and educated way, to his favorite spot for the afternoon nap. Along the way, he finds an annoying squishy obstacle lying on the fluffy, creamy carpet but, since he’s a very feline and educated cat, he manages to partially avoid it, partially walking over it. The obstacle grunts, moans, and moves.

“Stop walking over me!”

The cat continues on his way unmoved by the woman’s complaint. He doesn’t even turn to look behind his shoulders. If she doesn’t like to be walked over, she could simply don’t lie on the ground, he seems to tell himself.

When the husband comes home a couple of hours later, the woman is still there. Arms and legs are spread out between the sofa and the media’ station. The TV is off. The game console is off. The PC is off. His wife is off.

“Hi! How was your day?”

The woman moans and collects her arms and legs in a seated position.

“I didn’t do a thing.”

“That’s good! – Says the man, trying to sound sincere – At least you rested.”

“Not really. I feel stiff and tired.”

The man walks to the bedroom, takes off his rucksack, his jersey and walks back in the living room.

“I backed the bread, though, and put the chicken in the fridge to marinate. Dinner will be served in half an hour.”

She finally raises on her feet, wrapped in black as the rest of her body, and closes herself in the kitchen.

On this day

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Hello, people!
How are you? I’m rather fine, thanks, even if I’ve been silent here for a while and I’m not sure if this post means that I’m coming back for good. But on this moment of the year falls the anniversary of my move to the UK and it incites some reflections.

On this day:

– 2 years ago, I was packing my wardrobe for moving to the UK with my husband and I packed lots of clothes and items that had already exhausted their tasks of being useful and bringing me joy.

– 1 year and 10 months ago, I decluttered my wardrobe. I filled around 8 bin bags, the big ones for the weekly litter collection, and I donated them to the charity shop right underneath my husband’s flat. The bags were filled with clothes, accessories, shoes and costume jewellery. That action made me fell lighter and helped us reduce the number of boxes for our next move, two months later.

– 1 month ago, I felt the need to declutter again and I filled other three bags with clothes, shoes, bags, and custom jewellery. I felt even better this time but I know that I still have some items that I don’t really use and have finished bringing me joy. Later this month or the next, I’m going to declutter again.

What did I learn from all this tossing away?

First of all, I understood that I need to possess a lot fewer things that I thought. At the time, I had already passed through an awkwardly high number of relocations: from my parent’s home to the university hostel, from there to three different shared apartments, from one of those to my first living together with a boyfriend, from that to living by myself, than a boyfriend again, then alone again, then finally, it was the love of my life, me and our cat. And every time I moved, I carried with me all my possessions, which, after 20 years, had become quite a few.

Then, between May and June 2015, I decluttered for the first time.

I remember looking at my possessions with a question going on and on in the back of my mind: what if I need this later?” Since at the time I had no money to buy new stuff, I answered to that question: “let’s keep this!” more than once, and I saved from the charity pile things that I didn’t really like or use anymore. No need to say: I didn’t need those things, later.

Then, one month ago, thanks to the new income I secured with my job, I gave myself permission to declutter some more. In that moment, I learned my second lesson, why I felt the need to drag with me all those things for years: I had encrypted part of my identity, a huge piece of it, in the things that I possessed.

Those things that weren’t useful to me in an immediate, practical way. They worked as statements of who I was, as symbolic roots, as pieces of hardware memory. Nina is the woman who wore this, the nerd who read this and the vintage lover who collected this. This is not true anymore. Well, I still love vintage, I am still a nerd and surely I didn’t stop being a woman, but I want to try new things, wear new clothes, engage in new activities. If my desire is to flow like a river and being a self in constant evolution, I should follow the example of the hermit crab and change my temporary shell as I need it, instead of sewing myself to a carriage to fill endlessly.

So, I am going to let go of some things, again. I know I’ll do it again and again. It’s perfectly fine for me. I can’t wait to lift my baggage some more, to see empty spaces, to feel lighter.

And you? What works for you? Do you use your possessions as hardware memory of who you are as well? How do you feel about the idea of letting go possessions to free the mind? Let me know in the comments. In the meanwhile, thank you for your precious time and have a lovely weekend.

Waves of time: walking in my new shoes

They say that to know a man you should walk a mile in his shoes. A month ago I bought myself a new pair of shoes and beginning to walk in those new shoes has been traumatic. See, there is a simple, silly, little thing nobody tells you about changing: your old self is not gonna like it.

I think I have already told something along these lines in previous posts about resistance to change. This is something slightly different. As much as talking about someone’s new and old self is silly – since each of us is constantly and unnoticeably changing – our mind builds a sense of continuity through repetition and relies on it to maintain a coherent self. This sense of continuity gets stressed when we change our habits, our clothes, our friends in a radical way, and apparently, as stupid as it sounds, my sense of self was relying heavily on my old shoes.

I’ve been walking in my old shoes for more than seven years. My old, black, ankle boots were not my only pair of shoes, obviously, but they were my mindless choice anytime I needed something that looked feminine, that was black and had medium heels. They were the Linus’ blanket of my feet and I was happy to jump everywhere with them, so happy in fact, that their sole was consumed, their heels showed the bones and the leather… let’s not talk about its poor conditions. So, after spending days looking at every possible shoe store downtown, I entered one and, after another good half hour of trying every possible black ankle boot I chose a pair.

I was wearing the new pair when the sale adviser proposed me: “let me remove the tag if you’d like to walk in those immediately.”

I said “yes” knowing that that was it. It was the end of my long lasting relationship with my old boots. I let the woman put my old shoes in the cardboard box and cover them with a sheet of thin, white paper. I gulped, paid and walked out the store.

As soon as I was out the store, I started walking oddly. My feet hurt. My ankles hurt. My knees bent unnaturally. I wanted to walk back inside, cry at the sale adviser and ask her to refund me. But I didn’t. Instead, I moved away from the store and then away from the shop gallery, telling myself that with every clumsy step I was taking I was scratching the soles of my new boots, making them non-refundable.

A big, black trash bin appeared ahead on the pavement. I moved towards it. I took the cardboard box out of the store bag and placed it against the trash bin opening. I thanked my old shoes silently, caressed the smooth surface of the box and pushed. The box fell inside the empty trash bin with a dull thud and I walked away almost in tears.

Luckily, after that I had to go back immediately to my store, change into my super comfortable ballerina shoes, and work for about four hours so I could distance myself quickly from that moment. Luckily, my new shoes are pretty great and I got easily used to them. Still… I am surprised at my own reaction. I just wanted a new pair of shoes I did not expect any drama. Regardless, in an unconscious way, I had chosen those shoes as an anchor for the image I had of myself and leaving them made me felt lost.

After that episode, I remembered a thing I was trying to forget and saw a thing I was trying not to see.

I had prepared tow bags of old clothes to donate to a charity more than three months before and they were still there on top of a drawer. I had a list of clothes which I rarely wear and which I’d like to sell inside my diary and photos of those clothes ready to be posted on the Facebook page Guildford buy and sell and I did not move a finger.

After another month, the bags, the list and the photos are still there. Sometimes I say to myself: “let’s get rid of everything! Let’s just look at the rubbish calendar and put everything out with the bins on the right day!”

But then I think that some of those things could be of use to a charity. Then I remember that other things are in really good conditions and could be sold. Then, I even think that I could wear some of those clothes and – you already know it – I do nothing.

I never was like this. When the decision was made, I threw away things. But in the last four months, I got clingy. Why is that? Am I reaching the core of my so-called old self? Am I becoming sentimental? Are those other subconscious anchors? Only recycling day will tell. In the meanwhile, sorry for the delay and thank you for your precious time!

March review: The Neverending Story

The first fantasy novel I’ve ever read was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende and that set my idea of what a fantasy novel should be. I was nine years old and was ruined because that book set me expectations really high. The author had told me, since from the title, that the story would have no ending but then the pages had finished, the story had left me and I wanted more. I wanted more of the endless possibilities, of the limitless reign, of the countless characters. I wanted more riddles, more spells, more curses.

I wanted more. 

I want more of the adventure, more of the unexpected hero (even if I had not understood why Atreyu should be considered an unlikely hero),  more of the mysterious, wise and magical queen (or empress, like the Infant Empress), more of the flawed and really unexpected hero (like Bastian). I wanted more magic because my life had none, and the only magic I knew was all in my head. It was there for me when I read books, and when I imagined stories and realms in my mind. At first, I consumed all the fantasy novel I could find at the library – feeling less and less satisfied with every new one – then I started to move towards the second possibility: inventing stories myself.

You know, I had no other possibility, no real chances of salvation, for two reasons:

  • the first one is simply that no fantasy book has the same structure and message as The Neverending Story. I’m going to say more about this point in a moment.

 

  • the second is that the writer virus was already sleeping in my blood, waiting for the right protein to activate it.

I think that the passion for writing it’s something like a virus, like a curse withing you that activates at touching. You touch the right item and the charm has you. You can be a shy, lonely child searching refuge at the local library like Neal Gaiman says it was. You can be an unstoppable chap full of anger, who wants to make his headmaster see what he is really capable of despite his prediction about you like Terry Pratchett was. The seed of this curse is inside you, asleep, waiting for you to pierce your finger with the spindle in the last room of the last tower or ready to bite you when you brush your palm on a paperback copy of The Lurker in the Shadows that lies abandoned in a dusty attic, like it happened to a young Stephen King.

I well know I am no King, no Pratchett and no Gaiman. And I have also a mild version of the curse too. It is something that allows me long periods of not writing fiction. But, coming back to the real subject of this post, The Never Ending Story, I think this book is a magic item per se. Coming back to the reason I listed as the first cause of my insatiable thirst for more, let’s speak about the unique structure of the novel. You can read The Neverending Story on a superficial level, but if affects you in a deeper way. You can read it being aware of all its metaphors and still be affected on an even deeper level. It is a meta-book in the way that it simply declares its nature since its first pages – the book that you hold in your hands is an object in the novel as well – and in a more subtle way.

The book is split into two parts. In the first part – we all know the first part of the book, thanks to the unfaithful 1984 cinematic version directed by Wolfgang Petersen – Bastian, a shy, highly imaginative and lonely bookworm bullied by his classmates, steals a mysterious book from a grumpy bookseller and hides with his treasure in the school attic. We read with him (pay attention to this detail) the story of the Kingdom of Fantastica, doomed to be destroyed because of the illness of its ruler, the child Empress. We read together with Bastian that the only hope for Fantastica resides in the mission of a young hunter, Atreyu, who must find the Saviour, the only person able to save to save Fantastica by healing its Empress.

Together with Bastian, we follow Atreyu through perils and losses to the oracle of Uyulala where, apparently, the only thing that Atreyu can find is a mirror that does not show Atreyu’s reflection but an image of the attic where Bastian is hiding. Things start to get slippery. Bastian feels that the book, more than under his skin, is getting around him. Until the Empress in person makes a move, Bastian makes a choice and… the second part begins.

In the second part, we follow Bastian in his journey through Fantastica along a road made of wishes. Bastian now is the bearer of the same jewel that the Empress had given custody to Atreyu in the first part of the book. The jewel represents two snakes that form an oval, each one of them has the tail of the other one in its mouth. Do you start to see a pattern?

The Neverending Story is a meta-book in the way that it simply declares it since its first pages – the book that you hold in your hands is an object in the novel as well – and in a more subtle way. At the end of the book, you’ll feel as if you are another character in the story. You can deny it or accept it, nevertheless, you are.

So… no. I won’t tell you a thing about the plot of The Neverending Story. And no, this is not an objective review. I think no review can do justice of this book. The right thing to do is talking a little about the consequences of reading it, warning you of the danger and then leave you alone and unsupervised with the book while moving to another room to answer to a very long call.

Thank you for your precious time and excuse me, I really have to take this one…