Principles of a Power Year

“How often does five Mondays in February happen?” my math-minded husband asked me. He wonders about these things, and has likely calculated the answer since this question came up in our conversation last night. I, on the other hand, don’t have the patience to try to figure something like that out (or, let’s be real—the skills). Instead my mind registers, “February 29th; Leap Day!; a 29th day for a month that usually only has 28; less common than most years and eSPECIALy special since I’m in the midst of PY35!”

A day like today has the ability to get us feeling the carpe diem energy of life, to inspire us to make new and different choices for ourselves. Do you feel that? That swelling in your heart and soul? If that’s what happens when you merely consider making new and different choices, can you even imagine what happens when you follow that feeling and take action to make the kind of choices that nourish your spirit and rejuvenate your outlook on life?

We tend to protect ourselves from letting our hearts guide us by judging/doubting/shutting down/detaching. It happens fast and sometimes furiously, so we spew remarks like, “What kind of hippy dippy shit is this? Show me the outcomes, show me the numbers. Show me the proof.”

I can offer you some proof if you think it’ll help. First, you have to understand the principles of a Power Year, some of which I’ve found to be annoying yet necessary:

Be intentional

A Power Year code of conduct establishes what you WILL do and WON’T do during 365 (366 in my case) days of living. This code is practiced every day, some days are more successful than others, and that’s okay.

Be willing

This can be really hard. It requires disarming and being vulnerable—two things that I have found to be equally uncomfortable and rewarding. Willing to do what, you wonder? Willing to incorporate new information into your life instead of ignoring it. Willing to align your values with your actions so that they are real values instead of only ideal.

Be ready for hard work

By hard I mean not the quick ’n’ easy way that our culture tends to favor; hard work requires me to reflect instead of online streaming whatever show; hard work means having difficult conversations; hard work means forgiving and renewing relationships; hard work means having the courage to create my own path instead of walking down someone else’s.

I’ve practiced those principles for eight months now, so here’s my qualitative proof for you doubters. I’m surprised and delighted at where they’ve led me. I dismantled the system of living that wasn’t serving me and have rebuilt it in a way that allows me to feel the feels—to be vulnerable. Researcher Brené Brown says that “Our rejection of vulnerability often stems from our associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment…Vulnerability is [also] the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” Historically, I’ve been TERRIBLE at being vulnerable. That just means the remaining four months of my PY35 are going to be hard work—I say BRING IT.

Bergman begets Bergman

“Watch an Ingmar Bergman flick” was my one new thing of the month in February. Got through four (Virgin Spring, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Autumn Sonata) of the six films I checked out from the library before accepting the fact that I’m just not that interested in old Swedish movies. I also read Ingmar Bergman’s autobiography, The Magic Lantern; found some windows into his humanity and our shared humanity, but mostly I just felt indifferent about his life. A question about his relationship to Ingrid Bergman did come up for me. At one point he was married to a woman named Ingrid, but it turns out it was a different Ingrid than the actress that starred in various Hollywood films and one of his films, Autumn Sonata.

Ingrid Bergman’s life is way more fascinating to me. Kagen and I went to go see Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, a documentary by Stig Björkman—how convenient and thoughtful of the powers that be to present that film to me this month! The film uses home video footage taken by Ingrid Bergman (she constantly toted around her video camera) and letters she wrote to a few of her close friends, to narrate. There are also interviews with the children she had, which offer a heartfelt and sometimes painful perspective of her life that was far from conventional for a woman in those days. I thought the film was done really well; I can’t imagine how many hours of footage were viewed to get to the well edited final film.

Going in to this PY35 One New Thing activity, I didn’t expect to end up learning (and liking) more about Ingrid Bergman than Ingmar Bergman. But that’s the thing about exploring new things, you never know where they’ll lead you.

Become a bedtime champ

My soul sister and I were roommates in college for our freshman and senior years. One of our nighttime rituals was to run around and “get all the hyper out” before superman jumping into bed. Or at least that was my ritual. I think it took my SS longer to fall asleep; I remember her expressing some aggravation at how quickly I fell asleep after my head hit my pillow. She didn’t hold a grudge though, and even gave me this award:

BedtimeChamp

I’ve always vaguely been aware of how important sleep is, but recently learned that it’s also an essential time for our brains to process everything that’s been thrown at them during the day. Our sleep patterns can determine how well rested we feel when we wake up, and affects our overall health. When we’re sleep deprived we may not function like our typical selves.

So what prevents people from getting good sleep?

Stress

Deadlines, responsibilities, demands at work and home, financial problems, being too busy, dependents, strained relationships with colleagues/friends/family, perfectionism…

Environment

Physical safety (camping and scared of being attacked by a bear? Probably won’t sleep that well), comfort, light levels, sounds

Caffeine and alcohol

Period.

I feel very fortunate to be the type of person who falls asleep quickly and generally sleeps through the night; on the occasion when I’ve had one too many glasses of wine and I wake up at 2:00am and have trouble (“trouble”=it takes 20 minutes) falling back asleep, I feel like I get a teensy glimpse into what it feels like to have sleep issues.

A number of people who I talk to express wanting to focus their Power Year on improving self-care. This is no surprise since it’s easy for companies to say they value work-life balance yet encourage and reward 60+ hour work weeks; self-care is about walking the talk of health and wellness, because nobody else is going to do it for you— getting enough sleep is a great place to start if you missed last week’s post about eating healthily.

In the spirit of sleep self-care, ponder these questions:

Do I wake up feeling well rested? If not,

How can I decrease the amount of stress in my life?

Can I improve my sleeping environment?

Are there relationships I need to patch up or strengthen?

Food feels vs. food fuels

I lived for McDonalds hamburgers (sometimes pronounced ‘hamboogers’ to my big brother’s delight) when I was a tod. Everything about them made me lose my mind; from the commercials they were featured in where Ronald and kids were having so much fun and were so happy with their meals, to the feel of opening their white paper wrapper with brown arches on it. Sometimes I’d just hold the warm bun to my nose and breathe in the sweet, greasy aroma. Bon appétit!

If I wasn’t actually eating a McDonalds hamburger, I was pretending to. I “play ordered” at home. “I’ll have a hambooger, no pickles, no onions.” I birthdayed at McDonalds. I probably would have vacationed there too if it were allowed.

I can’t help but think about how my relationship with food was founded on Happy Meals. Not only did I enjoy the beef disc on buttery bread, but a toy came with each meal. A toy!

I learned that eating=happy fun.

When I grew out of my obsession with Happy Meals I applied that theorem to all eating in general, which is probably how I ended up sick one evening, after overindulging during dinner. The only recognizable thing that came back up were the blueberry Eggo Waffles I ate. I let go my Eggos with force that night and don’t know that I ever brought myself to eat frozen waffles again (lucky for me my waffle palate is more sophisticated these days and I make homemade waffles from scratch on the regular).

I’ve been known to eat second dinner; when first dinner is bland and underwhelming and not enjoyable at all, happy fun must be sought, right?! Is this why I see characters on television eating pints of ice cream after breakups? Because they too seek happy fun?

I learned a new theorem when I worked in the public health realm.

Food=Fuel

There is a food to mood connection, it’s just not the one we’ve been sold. If we eat processed and packaged edible items, our bodies don’t run as well as if we eat actual food that is full of natural color and nutrients. Contrary to conventional understanding, healthy eating doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Thug Kitchen is proof. Treating food as fuel doesn’t mean we have to adopt a strictly utilitarian relationship with food either; we can still savor the deliciousness of our favorite meal. Enjoyment within the food is fuel framework is focused on mindful eating and being present with our food. Instead of autopilot shovel it in eating, we focus on eating only what our bodies need; we’re not depriving ourselves of happiness by eating less, we’re breaking free from the idea that food is responsible for the joy we feel when share a meal with friends or family—chances are it’s the actual people whose company we enjoy that are giving us all the feels.

I haven’t had a McDonald’s hamburger in more than a decade, and guess what? I’m happier than ever these days. 

February posts are all about self-care, and eating healthily is a great place to start. What is your relationship with food and where did it form?

Clients: Email me to receive the Eating Healthily Power Year Challenge.