How Low Can You Go?

ninja cat on a treadmill deskAs we all learned last week, I’m on a kick to do more, eat less, and hopefully, tilt my balance in a little healthier direction. I have been on this kick for probably twenty years–ever since I was diagnosed with thyroid disease, at least. One lesson of this long siege has been, “No heroic measures.”

The more ambitious my goals for myself, the less likely I am to reach them. Whether it’s losing 50 pounds, or writing 100,000 words, the grand schemes, in my experience, are doomed to failure. I expect to finish the manuscripts I start–I love to write–but “expect” is as far as I’ll go. I get the ninja catbooks written, without death marches, marathons or six weeks of writing devastation thereafter.

This is contrary to all the writing wisdom ever propounded by knowledgeable writing gurus, who insist you MUST set goals, have word count quotas, keep records of your progress, write on a schedule, and display your goals prominently in your writing space. The thought of those activities makes me want to hurl. I don’t do ANY of them and I’m pretty sure, for the past couple years, I’ve been one of the most prolific writers on the romance scene. 

ninja bunnyOf course, if you’re going to run a marathon, you probably do need to approach it with some structure if you’re to avoid injury. I’m not saying the writing process I’ve developed so far is for anybody but me, or even that it will always work for me. 

With exercise… all I’m doing is walking, a few miles a day. I go at it in manageable chunks, and to “exercise” all I have to do is wander into the living room and press a button. I don’t have to put on gym clothes, get in the car, hope a machine is available when I get to the gym, cram the cardio into 30 sweaty (blech!) minutes if the gym is crowded, etc. Nope. I just wander, push button, walk.

Happy BesomWith the writing, it’s even easier. The computer is in my kitchen/dining room. I push a button, sign in, sit down… go. Easy-peasy. Low activation energy.

I think that’s what many people mean when they tell us to “work smarter.” Set yourself up so that making progress toward your goals requires overcoming the smallest possible increment of inertia, rather than putting a lot of energy into a plan for surviving the marathon. Put the veggies where you can SEE ninja sofa stretchthem in the fridge, tuck that organic raw milk cheddar at the back of the crisper, double wrapped. 

Stretch right where you’re sitting at this moment, not just at the yoga class ten miles away that you miss half the time because you’re working late, exhausted, haven’t filled up the tank, and just… just can’t. Keep a pitcher of water on the counter. Leave the meditation pillow out at all times. Always have a book stashed in your purse. 

ninja stretchingLow activation energy. We often know what we’re supposed to do, but we don’t always think about how to make the desired choice the easy choice, too. 

Where have you instituted a low activation threshold between a hope and a step in the right direction? To one commenter, I’ll send a $15.00 Amazon gift card. Pretty soon… time to start that holiday shopping, or stockpiling the TBR tower for winter, right? 



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36 comments on “How Low Can You Go?

  1. We are all different, aren’t we? What is important, whether it is dieting, writing, or just doing housework, is to find what works best for you. Good on you for doing that.

    When I was young, my weight yo-yoed a lot because I was always going after whatever fad diet was out there. I finally realized that I had to stop becoming the diet and that the diet must become me. In other words find out what I could live and what I couldn’t. My weight stabilized after that.

    I could use that gift card. There are a lot of good book being released in the next couple of months (including yours).

    • Glad you found equilibrium because all the experts seem to agree that yo-yo’ing ins’t so good.

      There ARE a lot of good books coming up, and a lot of long, chilly evenings (where I live), and that is a wonderful combination.

  2. I’ve been a fan of this concept for years. After the birth of my son, I suffered from post-partum depression that settled into a pervasive, longer-lasting depression. Everything, especially little things, seemed overwhelming. The few people that I confided in all gave advice that involved a total and complete upheaval of my daily life, the thought of which only made the depression and anxiety increase. Luckily, I found a wonderful therapist who listened to me rattle off a laundry list of things that needed to change and simply said “Well, you can’t change all of that right now, so let’s prioritize.” I was able to change many things by attacking the list one at a time. Due to my status as a sleep-deprived new mother and the ensuing low level of energy, the strategies I used to change things had to be the easiest, “lowest-inertia” solutions or they simply wouldn’t work for me. But, most of us tend to think that easier solutions can’t possibly work as well as a drastic and difficult course, don’t we?

    • One of my brothers puts it this way: Don’t think about “I must run 20 miles a week. You’ll have a million reasons why you can’t, not now, not today. Put on your running shoes and stand in the yard. Just do that. Maybe you’ll only walk to the maibox, maybe to the end of the block, maybe you’ll sit outside and unwind, but you’ll do something positive instead of berate yourself for not going that five mile run.”

      For me, that means sometimes, I go into the living room, and push that button, and walk at 2 miles an hour, which is a crawl, but it’s an honorable crawl, and better than cursing the darkness.

  3. I have adopted this method ( didn’t know it had such a fancy name!) and am using it in my weight loss plan. I can go on a fancy diet or order the meals in a box– so I am on a low carb, low sugar diet. I am not setting monthly goals because I find it them too overwhelming. I have lost 20 pounds and hope to reach 40 by next year. I walk my dogs in the morning and do my best to keep away from the treats at work.

    I will admit that with the humidity, loss of my dog and packing DD off for college….I might be slightly off course. But, I am determined to get back on track.

    Having the three day weekend is a good way for me to catch up on review writing (three written yesterday), housework, dog stuff (crates cleaned, laundry done and baths planned for today!) and to see friends. I don’t feel as overwhelmed when I have three days to get everything done! And it really doesn’t matter if it takes me 2 or 3 days to finish my “to do” list.

    Have a great weekend!

    • By Fridays, any more I am shot for most purposes anyway. I can’t function productively in the law office (I can fuss and pother like a champ), and the writing often needs a rest day by Friday too.

      Three day weekends are glorious for me. They give me that one day when I don’t have to work at either job, and that’s so lovely.

      Good luck with the weight loss Sue, and condolences on the passing of your friend. I’m sure you and other pups will feel the loss for a long time to come.

  4. I’ve got a big bottle of water next to my work computer to encourage my water consumption, and I’ve stopped keeping candy at my desk, otherwise I scarf it up in the afternoon when I’m getting sleepy. I miss eating my chocolate, though!

    • I called my “little” brother to wish him a happy birthday last week. We haven’t seen each other for at least two years, and we seldom talk. My chocolate stash these days is a bag of Ghiradelli dark chocolate squares. What is hiding on Joe’s top cupboard shelf, for those days when he really, really needs just a bite of good chocolate? Sure enough….

      But I couldn’t keep at my desk, either. I’d go through a bag a day, easy.

  5. I’m not good with the goal thing either. I never had to worry about my weight until I hit menopause. *sigh* Now I walk my mom’s dog 2 miles each morning before sunrise (it’s cooler then) and walk by myself 1 mile in the early evening (when it’s cooler). Although I’m vegetarian, I do love my cookies, cakes and pies, so the best way I’ve found to limit what I eat that is fattening … is don’t buy it in the first place. Also, I use stevia sweeteners with zero calories. Even though I also go dancing 2-3 times a week, my metabolism just seems to be slowing down. I’ve decided I’m doing all I can and I’m not going to sweat it any more. I am not mentally geared to going to the gym and working out. If it’s not fun, I won’t do it for long. Know thyself. Excellent advice.
    I’ve got all your books (and I do mean ALL) on iBooks so unfortunately the $15 won’t help with Matthew but I buy other things (like the 99 cent specials Amazon offers), so the gift card would be much appreciated!

    • Could be the old thyroid, Linda. Thyroid meds are the most common prescription for post-menopausal women.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the books, too. As we get closer to the holidays, I’ll be giving away Amex gift cards. Amazon has some way of connecting authors with who gets cards, and then they decide the recipient is a “friend” who can no longer leave reviews for the books. Don’t get me started….

  6. If it isn’t built into my everyday life, it doesn’t work for me. We eat healthy, have healthy food available (my Hubby–and he’s a physician–has a terrible sweet tooth and, to satisfy him, we only eat desserts on the weekends…this weekend,THREE DAYS!), as well as healthy beverages. Exercise is mostly a stationary bike for me, watching a (believe it or not)60 minute food program on TV, three days a week, the same time of day. If the weather is decent here in the Midwest, I might do a power walk one of those days instead.

    I’m mostly a busy person, so three days a week for exercise is all I can cram in. There are occasional weeks when I am not able to do my bike at all…..and I can tell because I feel a little, um, chunkier, and my energy is a little bit off.

    I’ve tried doing the bike more days a week, but since I’m a free-lancer most of the time, three days works best for me actually DOING it. When I tried more, the days I wasn’t able made me mad at myself and that wasn’t good….three is manageable and I can do it, so there you go!

    • I have up weeks and down weeks. I try for five days a week, occasionally hit six, but often have to settle for four. When a book deadline has me in its grip, three will have to do, and they won’t be high mileage days.

      One learns moderation, or else.

  7. I have had low thyroid since I was 15 and never behaved as far as taking pills until I was 40. I never feel very different whether I take the pills or not. Never could quite understand the whole bit.

    I giggled about your suggestion of always having a book with you. I have carried a book with me since I got past the “Dick and Jane” books. To school and everywhere else . Think I was bored all through school. In college I decided Professors test on lecture material as well as text book material so I had better leave the book at home.

    Your style of writing sounds best to me. Schedules take the joy out of pleasures. I make lists of what I want to accomplish in a day. Seldom are they all completed. A list allows me to see that I have not wasted a whole day.

    • Somebody once suggested we’d be better off emphasizing a “Got Done” list instead of a “To Do” list.

      I like that idea.

      As for the thyroid juice… One doc told me all it really does is keep you from getting goiter. Doesn’t fix the underlying autoimmune problem, doesn’t address the low energy, mental fog, slow healing, thin hair, etc, etc, etc,… which suggests to me, if MEN had this problem, there would medication that DID deal with the symptoms, not just the outward disfigurement that can result from the disease.

      I do know that when I go off the meds, my cholesterol gets outta whack and that makes the docs shoot around the room backward, lab coats flapping. Hmmm.

  8. Hmmm, I think the lowest threshold I have is getting Meds into my cats. I have established a ritual “treat time” when I give them a canned cat food they don’t usually get (and really love). I give them each a glob on the palm of my hand and when necessary some crushed meds are mixed in. It works great …. mostly (the best you can hope for with cats) lol

  9. My strategy used to be set the outrageous goal and realize that you’ll probably fall short but still will have accomplished a lot. It worked out pretty well for a while, but too much of that leaves one feeling, well, defeated. As the mother of an absurdly cute, precocious and soporifically-disinclined seven month-old daughter, co-sleeping (which I would never have considered before Bunna’s arrival) has incentivized sleep enough for my daughter that Mommy is getting a bit of rest too. I had hoped she’d be sleeping through the night by now, but I’ve realized that setting great big goals for my kid is worse than silly. It’s probably damaging to both of us.

    • One definition of motherhood is probably the intermittent well intended damage done to somebody small who’s engaged in intermittently and unintentionally damaging you too.

      I will wish a big sleep breakthrough on your household, though for some that doesn’t happen until around one year, when a) the gross motor exertion of walking creates greater fatigue, b) the verbal effort of speech creates more mental fatigue, c) losing the second nap means sleep happens more at night, and d) the bigger tummy capacity means the 2 am feeding can finally, finally fall off the schedule.

      Until then, one night a week for you in the guest room, while Dad to uses the pumped inventory at 2 am might do wonders for your ability to put your shirt on frontwards and rightside out (one day a week).

      You’ll get there. We all do, but it can be a long few months.

  10. If more people understood that everyone is different and works in a different manner, the world would be a happier place. I decided many years ago that to be a better mother I had to prioritize life. A spotless house ended up going to the wayside in favor of spending time with the kids – even if that time was ‘only’ reading books and playing around the house. My mother in-law and step-mother may have been driven crazy by the fact that I didn’t mop, dust, and vacuum at least once a day – and that the kids toys cluttered the house. But I like to think my family – especially the children – are better off for my not being OCD about that particular goal. 🙂

    • My mom was and is of the vacuum-daily school of housekeeping. With seven kids, I think maintaining the appearance of the house was about the only coping mechanism left to her, besides alcohol (of which she did partake regularly).

      I hope there have been generational shifts, away from the house being the only place a woman can express her competence, and thus making the housekeeping a measure of her worth. Women still do more of the parenting, and more of the house keeping than men do, even when the women also work a full time job outside the home.

      That’s not sane or fair. Something has to go, and I’m with you. Nobody steals your dust bunnies, nobody dies because there’s dog hair on the couch cushions, but children do really stupid things because their parents ignore them for too long, or only notice them when they’re delinquents.

      Good on ya. You can vacuum later.

  11. I’m a very habitual person, so all I have to do is make a habit of something and I stick with it. I am lucky because we have a Wellness program at work, which includes a gym in the basement and yoga classes two days a week at lunchtime. I have no excuse to miss the class, so I go regularly. Twice a week I go down to the gym and ride the recumbent bicycle at lunch as well, and I love it because I can read on my Kindle while I do it. 😀 I have a Fitbit and I track my steps and my calories on the Fitbit app. I check during the day to make sure I’m on track and it’s easy to see if I need to step up the activity or maybe cut down on the calories for the day. It’s been easy to keep on my fitness program this way, I’m determined to stay healthy as I get ready to retire in a couple of years.

    • Those Fitbits are saving lives, I’m convinced of it. When you can see, moment by moment, how well you’re doing in terms of lifestyle preferences, it’s a lot easier to make course corrections. Losing twenty pounds… not easy. Adding 500 steps a day each week for a month week… with a Fitbit, it’s entirely doable.

      Wish I owned stock in the company, and I suspect those little gadgets will get increasingly sophisticated too.

  12. Hello Grace.

    Love reading everyone’s input on this.

    We met late July in RWA and I was (and still am) at a turning point in my life. A couple years ago, I decided to try and work less, but better (didn’t know the term ‘low activation energy’ then!) So, I gave up low-key contracts to focus on the more serious ones. It worked so well I’m at the moment reducing my work load, again.

    Now, I want to apply this method to other aspects of my life. As an author, I’ve tried to “1000 words per day” routine, but it got me down when I ‘only’ hit 600. So now, as long as I write every day, I’m happy. And the counts keeps going up, often above the 1000 words a day.

    Giving up the goal setting might be the best way for me to reach that goal…

    BTW, loved reading everyone’s comments; great ideas all around 🙂

    Annie (aka Kelly Ann Scott)

    • Welcome, Annie!

      I have frequently had to try on conventional wisdom, test the fit off in my own corner, and then reject it as just not for me.

      A horseback riding buddy about whom I recall little else used frequently drop into conversations about training horses, “There are many roads to Rome…” The method one trainer SWORE worked for every horse was the one that nearly lamed another trainer’s best prospect, and so forth.

      Trial and error, go with your gut, do what works.

      And at 1000 words a day, you could easily write four full length novels a year. That’s considered smokin’ hot productivity by most authors.

  13. Hmm… so I walk during lunch at work Monday- Friday. I keep my walking shoes, visor, ear plugs, and a little arm holder for my phone in my office. I used to listen to music, now I listen to books. I have enjoyed Papertowns, Boys in the Boat, I am currently listening to Orphan Train.

  14. Grace, thank you for sharing. I found your story very helpful. A supportive family doctor (battling cancer herself) suggested I look at goals differently after a traumatic event. How does one reduce stress in life while recovering from PTSD? Like you, I found it was in my view of everyday activities. My many lists of detailed goals are gone replaced by simple mapping of big ideas. I wake up. Get out of bed. Go to work and try to smile and greet strangers- a simple joy to share. I tackle the day moment by moment. Tomorrow will come and I will begin again.

    • My mom is 91, and when she walks around the neighborhood where she’s lived for the last forty years, she smiled at every single person. The snooty rich power walkers in their designer everythings, the beach bums, everybody gets a smile from mom.

      I asked her why she did that, because she’s not an inherently cheerful person.

      “I want to be useful, and for all I know, that smile is the only kindness some of those people will experience all day…I feel useful, they get a smile. You gotta problem with that?”

      Knows a thing or two, does Mom. When I’m having a bad day, kindness to other empowers ME. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. i find the trick is to wake up early and get the exercise stuff outta the way. Also – gyms suck, those freaking machines will hurt you. Do an activity with people – a yoga class or spin or my choice is Masters Swim. No matter what aches or bothers you – you can swim. Of course with a group swim if you miss it – 30 people say next time – what up? where were you? you feeling ok? Anyway the point is if you make it social – it kinda makes the exercise thing not so tough. I love that you write heaps but stay healthy! How about one of those treadmill desks?

    • Got a tread mill desk, thank you very much. We’re best enemies, until I can have a lap pool in the house…which probably only thirty or forty books away.

      And yes… swimming is sooooo good for us. No wear and tear on the joints, no heat stress, a little social, a lot good for us.

  16. Hello! First let me say I devour your books! Thanks so much for taking us on the journey with you to the 1800’s. For low energy days—which is most every day after teaching fifth graders–the last thing I want to do is go walking–and while the weather may not be great (I live in Michigan), my neighborhood is safe and countrified enough that I’ll occasionally see deer and bunnies. I set my tennis shoes by the door so I see them first thing when I come in. Just a gentle reminder that they’re ready when I am…I enjoyed today’s blog so much! It’s given me a shot in the arm to get back to healthier eating–no more excuses. Thanks!

  17. Funny you should write about this particular topic. I have this huge rock bed in front of my house that is full of knee high weeds. Last week I instituted the one square foot at a time weeding principal. I may not have a lot of time at any one time to devote to the project, but most days I can weed a square foot, or more. It also gives you a little feeling of accomplishment in place of the grinding sense of failure.

  18. So many foods taste even better with fresh herbs. So my low activation threshold is growing Basil on my deck! On days when the main garden seems too far I can count on a little snip right near by. Tum.