dinsdag 27 juli 2010

How to combat demotivation

Last week I had to go and fight a giant dragon. It was huge and intimidating and its name was Demotivation. I have been fighting this dragon for a while now but it only gets bigger and stronger.

image found here

I have been reading a lot on the topics of productivity and motivation, but all the strategies I read about only seemed to work for a little while. I would feel a spark of motivation and get really productive, but then would quickly return to my ‘normal’ demotivated state. I wanted to kick myself for doing this. After all, I want my PhD so I have to write that book. And I just need a kick in my butt and start working. Period. But somehow that didn’t really seem to help me. I was getting really frustrated and also more stressed out as my thesis deadline is approaching.

But the other day I found this productivity blog where another approach to productivity and motivation was explained and it totally made sense to me! Well, not all of it, but at least it provided me with some clues on how to slay that dragon in my life. Not that I had never thought of those things, but I forgot about them.

100% productivity is a myth
It is impossible to be productive all the time. You cannot control 100% of your time budget, nor should you strive to. It’s good and beneficial to make smart and conscious choices about what you spend your time on, but… it is also good and beneficial to go with the flow and end up doing stuff that do not match your goals at all, every once in a while. Further more, it is impossible to be focused at, for example work, for the entire 8 hours of your work day. Everyone has good and bad days being able to focus, even good and bad hours of the day, weeks of the month. The issue here is to accept this productivity flow and learn from it: schedule difficult things at strong moments and cut yourself some slack at times you know you have a hard time focusing anyway. Just save the easy tasks for those moments.

Never-ending to-do lists
The Getting Things Done system of David Allen teaches us to have different lists for different projects and/or contexts and to put stuff you are not about to do right now on you ‘someday’ list. But my problem is not so much in having several lists, but more in the never-ending part. Because I have so much to do (write a thesis), there will always be a next action until it’s all done. To me, this is super demotivating, because I never finish my to-do list. I can only decide that it has been enough for today. So I have changed this, and now I am setting monthly and weekly goals. I turn those goals into daily to-do lists. This way I can actually finish everything that is on it and call it a day. It’s just a small change, but it feels so much better!

The reason for your demotivation
If you want to battle the dragon, you have to know why it is attacking you. There can be several reasons ‘Demotivation’ showed up: perhaps you are bored because your work is not challenging enough, or you are frustrated because your job is really not what you would like to do. Or maybe you are scared that you won’t be able to complete the task. (for more info on types of demotivation, read this post). After some soul searching I found out that I am generally feeling a little motivated because I am fed up with the subject of my research. I have been researching general practice for older adults for almost three years now and it is getting boring. But I guess that’s normal for every PhD at some point. But more more importantly, I noticed that I feel overwhelmed and anxious that I won’t be able to finish it all in time AND come up with good and creative results. And then there is always my inner kid: she just wants to play and does not agree that I have to work in a job that is not my dream job right now. She also gets lonely very fast and then she wants to cheer herself up and chat with people.

Stressors and distractors
If you want to win the battle and slay the dragon, you have to know how you can hit it well. Actually, ‘Demotivation’s’ only way to win is to attack you in your weak spots. So what are the things that affect motivation? That would be stressors and distractors. They can be a lot of things, depending on your surroundings and on what you are sensitive to. Here are some of mine:

- clutter and dirt –> I can’t stand looking at piles of stuff when I am trying to focus
- multitasking –> I am not productive when I try to do several things at the same time (even though it is more fun)
- high workload –> it makes me feel overwhelmed and I lose my overview of the situation.
- focusing on the future too much –> also makes me feel overwhelmed
- unhealthy food –> if I don’t eat healthy I don’t have the energy to focus and I just feel blah.
- people making annoying noises –> speaks for itself
- internet –> once I start, it’s so hard to stop surfing the web!
- lack of downtime –> like they say in Dutch: ‘The bow cannot always be tense’.

The good news is that once you notice your own weak spots, you can try things to counter them. For example, having a clear desk and uncluttered office would help. And I can also (and actually do) shut down my internet connection. I put away everything except for the task I need to work on and I take regular breaks. When I feel overwhelmed and anxious, I take a small break to collect my thoughts and write them down if I need to. And then I set a timer for 5 min to get myself started on one task.

I am not saying that these things will guarantee that you win the battle and defeat ‘Demotivation’ at all times, but at least you can increase your chances. Some days the dragon is only a small one, but there are days that several huge dragons come after me. But that’s okay, I can’t always win and I am happy to accept my loss and try again after a while.

How do you slay your demotivation dragon?

vrijdag 16 juli 2010

Fitness Goals

Hi! I am back again! Today I will talk to you about my new fitness goals. So here we go:


I want to participate in a 5k on September 12th. My goal is to run the thing (way) under 30 min, finally. My other goal is to have as much summer fun as possible!


Speed training
Do interval and speed training to get faster, a couple of times a week. I was doing a 5k-10k program, but only running the sprintinterval lessons. But I think those are too intense for me. I am going to stick with a shorter version and include ‘long’ runs.

Get those abs back
Do short core workouts after runs. Not being able to follow classes at the gym for several months left me with no abs at all. I will also be doing ab exercises in most of my gym classes.

Summer fun
It is summer and I want to have fun, so I want to be active most days. I’d like to go outside more, but also just do a lot of different things. This means that I can’t exhaust myself with endurance training too much because it makes me need too many rest days. Another reason I don’t do this, is because I don’t want to strain myself too much because of my injury and my previous exercise burn-out. I will be alternating intense with less intense workouts. I will also mix things up. I have to because I cannot attend my regular classes, so I am just going to make the best out of it.

Relax, take it easy
Listen to my body and adapt workouts. Especially when it comes to my shoulders, but also if I am just tired and sometimes or if it is just too hot. It’s been hot here for a few weeks now. I look like this after every workout:


I am not sure if you can tell, but that is a lot of sweat!

So I only run in early mornings and I take walking breaks when needed. My heart rate really goes up with this heat and I struggle a lot, so I am not going to force myself.
After summer I will probably get crazy busy as I am setting in for my final sprint towards the end of my PhD. I am using this summer to catch up as much as I can, so there will be only the stuff left that I cannot work on yet. I am also using this summer to lower my stress level as much as I can. I want to incorporate yoga and meditation in my routine, so one of the classes I will be attending is Body Balance, a class with a mix of tai chi, yoga and pilates. I may also do yoga at home, like I did in my Daisy Do Zen challenge if I don’t feel like an hour long class.

That’s it, I think. Check my Exercise Log – the link is in the side bar – for my schedule and to find out what I have actually done. I change my schedule quite a lot, depending on how I feel and if things come up (I do like my social life).

Ok, I’m off. Finishing my tea while I try to figure out how to get Live Writer to understand that I have a new blog look. Then I have to finish some more work.

‘Till next time!

donderdag 15 juli 2010

Listen to your body

Good afternoon everyone! I realized that I haven’t  told you about my new fitness goals yet. But first something about goals in general.

I was thinking about how I handled my bike ride the other day. And there are two things about it. On one side I feel like I bailed out when the going got tough, but on the other side I don’t mind at all. I know I didn’t train enough to do well. I am still happy with my choice to make things a little easier, even though I didn’t feel so bad when I finished, nor did I have a lot of sore muscles the day after. Those facts made a little voice inside me whisper ‘You see, you have some left, so you could have done the entire thing anyway, but you FAILED”.

But I refuse to listen to that voice. Because I remember that my problem was in the hills: Because I took it easy I was able to cycle 50k more, but every hill was excruciating. And who said that I needed to spend every single bit of energy in my body during that race anyway?

Spending a night like this is good…:


But not when you have to because you cannot move…

I am sure that if I would have pushed myself over that limit, I would be injured or at least it would have take a lot of time to recuperate from that trip. And I don’t want either of them. Exercise is supposed to be fun and should not leave you feel like you got run over by a bus for a week. To add to this: I went to a Body Combat class over 48 hours later. I was feeling great so why not ? I felt good until at some point one of the songs had us use much force on one leg for a longer time. And then my leg said ‘I am not doing this, you do it yourself’ and I got muscle cramps and had to leave class early. My legs were ‘not ok’ for the rest of the week.

So, I think I finally did well listening to the signals of my body (at least during the bike ride). It is so hard to know the difference between having a hard time physically but especially mentally and really getting to your limits.

I had to learn the hard way, of course, to listen. About a year ago I started exercising more frequently when I started to run and reading health blogs. I felt great about it! I realized pretty soon that once I started working out 5 times a week, I wasn’t able to do 2 hour workouts at the gym anymore. I used to combine Body Pump and Zumba for example. So I stopped doing that, but still pushed myself hard on most of my exercise days. Around January I got my shoulders injured and to tell the truth: I am still dealing with that. But around that time I also lost my mojo. I was not enjoying exercise anymore and I felt like I was getting worse and worse at it: my running slowed down, my heart rate got up and I felt totally blah. Luckily my injury forced me to cut down on exercise and I also recognized that this was not going well. When looking back, I think I may have come dangerously close to overtraining.

So I cut myself some slack and since about a month I feel better: I am still looking for my perfect balance but I am enjoying my workouts again, looking forward to the next one and feeling much better in general. However, now my shoulders are starting to hurt a lot again. BOO. It hurts most when I am at my desk for a long time. But I also think it is a bit too much of a coincidence that it came back just as I started to attend Body Combat class in full force again. I do not have insurance for anymore physical therapy this year so I am going to try to fix myself. Deducing from what my physical therapist told me and the exercises he gave me, combined with some old-faithful Google I am pretty positive that it’s my rotation cuffs. So, I am forced to adapt my routines again before I even got used to them. But hey, it’s a good opportunity to mix things up over the summer.

Phew…that was long! But  am done blabbing now. Stay tuned for my next post about my new goals.

vrijdag 9 juli 2010

My Tica Sister

Yesterday I got to see my ‘sister’  Lilli from Costa Rica! Let me explain: after highschool I went to Costa Rica as an exchange student. I lived with a host family there for almost a year. We had a great connection and I really consider them family. After the exchange year I visit them two more times, but it had been six years since we saw each other. Sadly, the contact between us had been fading as well. I guess one of my flaws is that I am not so good in maintaining contact with people, especially if I can’t meet with them on a regular basis. But I was very happy to hear that my ‘sister’ was coming to Germany for a baptism and she would be staying close to the border at only a couple of hours from where I live!

She was staying there with a friend, and the parents of the baby. We agreed to meet in Maastricht, a beautiful city in the south of the Netherlands, so they could see Holland. Of course I got stuck in traffic and I also got lost (even though I think that made me get there faster). But then I finally got there and it was so good to see Lilli again!


We walked across the bridge and sat down somewhere to have lunch.


After lunch we wandered around town, shopping a bit and  looking for some typical Dutch food, so they could have a taste. We tried Dutch Fries and Poffertjes (sort of mini pancakes but different). BTW, Lilli having her mouth open with food in it is a major inside joke.


All in all, it was a really fun afternoon! I can’t even explain how happy it made me and how grateful I am that I have all these people who, even though they live far far away, still care so much about me.

The others were really nice too and Lilli and I had a great time catching up. Too bad the end of the afternoon came so soon. But everybody was pretty tired from the heat (30C; I don’t know what is happening here, it has been like this for 3 weeks now!) and especially the baby needed to go home.

Lilli brought me presents from the entire family for my birthday. So sweet!

First of all: Food! They black beans are hard to get here and the salsa is typical. They also got me some candy.


A really sweet b-day card. Every family member wrote something on it. The hands are from a niece and nephew.


My ‘sister-in-law’ made me this necklace and earrings. She has her own company selling these things. It’s really beautiful!


She also got me this thingy for my phone. Game in handy as my previous phone thingy just fell apart.


These are two souvenirs from costa rica. The one on the right shows coffee beans on top, then a traditional coffee maker and bread on the bottom. I am going to hang them on the wall.


A key chain with typical Costarican images.



I hope that from now on I will be better at maintaining contact. It should be easier because we can now use Skype. Ok, I’m off writing a Thank You note and mailing it to them. It will take some time before it gets there.

vrijdag 2 juli 2010

Cheating throughout the Century – part 2

So there I was, feeling tired and totally overwhelmed by the part of the course that was still left. I totally felt like quitting and going home, but on the other hand I really wanted to continue, i just didn’t know how. The Boyfriend asked me what I wanted and I told him that I really wanted to arrive at the next rest stop. That would be the farthest point of that lap anyway. Then he told me that the next stop wasn’t that far away anymore and that could totally make it. In the end he got me motivated to get on my bike again and peddle on. He pulled over at the first possibility that we could meet (because cars were not allowed everywhere) and encouraged me to peddle the last few miles. Thanks Boyfriend!


And I made it feeling so much better!! I still felt totally incapable of cycling over all the hills that were left though.


So, we came up with a plan. I was just going to take it easy, change the course a bit to avoid the higher hills…. Major cheating involved here! LOL

One last big sip and off I was for the last part of the bike ride


I left the course for a while to make a few short cuts and I followed the signs for another distance. I still concurred several hills, but probably not as big as they should have been. But hey, whatever! In the end my goals was to finish a 100k bike ride alive and I was soooo going to make that! The last part of I took it really easy so I had some energy left finish strong by bike the last few k’s  in the tail of a small biker group.

And then, finally, there it was: The finish!!!


I was soooo happy and relieved that it was finally over!! The Boyfriend got me flowers, how sweet!! That is what I am trying to grab in the previous picture by the way.


In the back of the picture you see the area where you could park your bike. There were really nice bikes there! My bike is about 25 years old I think, and among all those fancy bikes it looked really ‘retro’. A colleague has a road bike as well, and her sponsor got her a retro bike, which means a brand new one, but it looks like an older model. So I just started calling my bike ‘retro’ as well. I think I was the only person with the gears-changing thingies still on the frame!

Inside they had a screen playing the soccer match (Holland played in the world cup that day) so I left the Boyfriend there with a well deserved beer and went looking for a shower. Showers were really cold, a little disappointing because I was craving a hot shower. So I got dressed quickly, got the Boyfriend another beer and stood in line for the free massages. Yes you heard me right, free massages. They had physical therapy students who massaged your legs and or your back. And they did so thoroughly!! And I was lucky the line wasn’t so long. I got a really nice massage, that was supposed to help get the blood flowing in my legs and help to get rid of the waste in my muscles. It was amazing! I can gladly tell you that it totally worked because I did not have muscles aches at all. My legs felt tired and stiff for a couple of days but that was it!

After that we loaded the bike back in the car, drove home and had lots of French fries! I know, I know, not very healthy, but it was the only thing I was craving.

Look, I even got a diploma listing all the hills I rode was supposed to ride over LOL


Thanks again, Boyfriend, for being with me that day. I wouldn’t have finished without you!