A Chatty Life: The Prescription

RxAs a follow up to my last Tumblr post, I’ve started taking actions to clean up my life hygiene. The various health professionals working on my case have repeatedly told me that the secret to a more stable life as a Type II Bipolar-ite was to have a healthy lifestyle and a toolkit to deal with anxiety and stress.

Thing is, one’s life hygiene (diet, exercise, sleeping habits, social life, etc.) is mostly made up of habits. Humans are creature of habits. Creatives more so than many.

In fact, creatives are often collectors of tremendously bad habits:

  • Self medication through booze and drugs
  • Horrendous sleep patterns
  • Diets that makes mothers cry
  • Exercise routines that make the Couch-to-Fridge challenge look like a marathon
  • Reclusive lives that make the average Otaku jealous

And so on…

I’ve long since known that. I’m a smart guy, I have a graduate degree in life sciences. Yet to this day I’m still about 30 lbs overweight, I go to bed at ungodly hours, I sometimes feel the urge to drink when I’m alone, and I’ve got bad romances with poutine and diet soda. I also like to blow my self-imposed gym appointments with the time honoured “I’ll go tomorrow, promise!”

Well, I turned 40 a few months ago, I can’t afford to do that much longer. Not if I want to keep my bipolar symptoms under control. (Not to mention my heart…)

I’ve tried many things to improve my lifestyle. And while a few of them have stuck (like biking and getting rewards for exercising), to this day, most of them have failed to significantly change my habits.

That is, until a few weeks ago. In the course of one of my projects, I read a short book on productivity called Zen to Done by Leo Babauta. The book has nothing earth-shattering. It’s a collection of 10 habits that, when applied, leads to a more productive and supposedly satisfying life.

One interesting thing the book does teach is that for an habit to truly “take”, one must commit to very few of them at the same time and focus on changing behavior over a set period of time, generally a month,

Looking back at my list of bad habits, I decided to pick the one that was Most Important to me. The one habit that would help me change others after it gelled in my lifestyle.

Turns out that habit is “Exercise at least 3 times a week for 30 min or more”.  While scientific research is piling on that this can be as effective as an anti-depressant to treat/prevent mild to moderate depression, I have solid evidence that doing this for at least 2 weeks in a row increases my baseline mood significantly. It even stabilizes my moodiness to a point that my girlfriend notices it. I’m less likely to have depressive symptoms and my “happy go lucky” persona becomes my default one.

Looking back at the good habits I have developed over the last few years one does stand out: taking my meds to prevent another manic episode.  Come rain or shine, high and low moods, I have not derogated from my pharmacological regimen. I have THOUGHT about it more than once, but I never quite did.

You know why?

Because I have a prescription.

I follow prescription… it’s like, you know, prescribed?

So combining the book’s “Change one habit at a time”, the positive impact exercise has on my mood and my already formed habit of following prescriptions, I came up with this concept:

I prescribed myself a minimum of 3 sessions of 30 minutes of cardio exercise per week, for a starting period of 1 month. No matter what happens to me, I commit to this. I told my girlfriend, I talk about it on Twitter and I’m sharing it with you now.

How will I ensure I see it through?

Motivation.

While it sounds like self-growth bullcrap, it really works. In my case I added multiple layers to motivate myself.

  • I honestly consider exercising like a prescription now. It’s like a mantra that I repeat whenever my will to go to the gym or out on my bike wavers.
  • I accumulate reward tokens when I exercise. Whenever I have 10 tokens, my girlfriend gives me a special gift, like a cool geeky t-shirt or a night out(1).
  • I bought myself a TV show I really wanted to watch (The Legend of Korra) on iTunes. I can only watch while at the gym.
  • I Tweet about my achievements to reinforce my commitment.
  • If I make it for a full month, I’ll buy myself something I’ve wanted for some time but been holding off on on the condition I recommit myself for another month.

So how’s that been going for me so far?

I’m at the end of my 2nd week, and I’ve held onto my commitment and I remain motivated and focused.

Yay!

What about your strategies to change bad habits in better ones?

(1) We’ve been doing this for almost two years now. It’s one of the reasons I never quite stopped exercising.

Comments

  1. Tracking really works for me. I like running and walking, so I bought the Couch to 5k app, as well as Runkeeper. Between those two, I can keep track of how many miles I do per month, what my pace is like, etc. Just the act of tracking (and having a concrete training program to follow) has kept me honest for almost 7 weeks now. :) Today, I jogged for 25 minutes… in… a… row. That alone is a heck of a reward for someone who, not too long ago, could barely manage a whole minute. Keep it up, man, I’m cheering for you!

  2. So after two years of exercising, how is your weight now, and how have you advanced in strength and endurance? Watching TV while exercising doesn’t sound like a good habit.
    Otherwise this is something I have to do too. I haven’t noticed exercising to better my mood but it does help with self-esteem.

  3. I found an active thing I like to do, so getting myself to do it doesn’t ever feel like a chore. Even better, I now teach others to do it, so I HAVE to show up because all the students will be there waiting for me if I don’t.

  4. @Marianne: I use RunKeeper whenever I bike, traking my milleage. I usually award myself a little something something when I hit a specific milestone. Good for you about the 25 minutes of jogging straight, that’s awesome. I stopped jogging because my knees are busted, but I really liked doing it.

    @Edhel: I lost 10 lbs the 1st month, then I stayed EXACTLY the same. However, I went from wearing size 40 jeans to size 36 over the next year and I’ve stabilized since.

    The watching TV bit is not a bad habit if you compare it to not exercising at all. See I hate going to the gym, but it’s the only place I’ll go to do exercise consistently (during non-biking season, I live in Canada). So I bring my iPad with me and watch shows while on Cardio machines. I also make sure that my heartbeat stays way above the 70% point.

  5. @Corey: The whole “sensei” thing you do is so awesome. Havingheard your story, you combine one of the 10 habits in your routine: Find your passion with that of staying active,

  6. I love Leo’s website. I’ve been studying Buddhism, esp Zen for a while now, but Leo manages to bring it into real life and outside of a nice theoretical place. He has an awesome article on Practical Contentment that I would recommend reading, among numerous others as well. Good luck.

  7. Great post. I’ve been thinking about many of the same things (having turned 40 last year while carrying about 15 lbs. too many). You should check out the book “Willpower” by Baumeister and Tierney. It presents a lot of great research on some of the motivation techniques you’re using.

  8. Starting my 4th week, I only have 2 exercise sessions left to reach my goal. Having gotten the bike out of winter storage has made exercising daily a breeze. Next month I plan to divide my week between bike rides and muscle training at the gym.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Remember my last post where I prescribed myself 3 weekly sessions of cardio exercise a week? Well it worked, the habit is well established and I’ve been biking for the last two weeks in gorgeous weather. I’ll be moving on to a new life habit change as of tomorrow. I’M very proud of myself, it’s been a good week. [...]