“January will focus on increasing my confidence by catching negative thoughts and refocusing them onto Queens.”
That’s how I wrapped up this Challenge when it began a month ago. I had a two-pronged plan that, admittedly, sounds strange: I’d cut my television consumption down to one episode per evening, and I’d capture every negative thought and flip it into a positive arena through Amy Cuddy’s power poses. The idea hit this Year’s requirements: the removal of negative habits I want to change that will affect my social interactions, health, and sense of self.
And yet recently someone looked at my “one hour of television” and asked: Is that enough to count as abstinence? The question/judgment irked me for a while. Then I realized it’s not that person’s fault — it means I haven’t articulated the true, intimate, lasting, THIS IS DIFFERENT THAN EVERYTHING ELSE significance. So here I go:
Every book or program done throughout my life aimed at improvement tells me what to do based on the success that plan has brought its creator and the population the creator has worked with. And that’s excellent — I applaud the success of those people! But for where I am, that system is flawed.
It’s flawed because, as written up during the No Sugar Challenge, even the most progressively scientific food sensitivity tests and elimination diets ended up being wastes of time and money for me. The world in which I produce work is also extremely specific, so business programs contain a lot of fluff that gets in the way of real lasting progress, too. There are dozens of other examples, but we all have these quirky specific parts of our lives that don’t fit the books and programs we buy to change them. I have hundreds of dollars in books and programs aimed at improving my life that have either failed because they failed me, or failed because I just never committed to them. Which is part of the point.
This is a self-self-help idea, here. Because if we decipher what we really need for ourselves and then make a simple, tangible plan we can actually accomplish, then I think our chances of true, lasting change are actually possible.
Over the holidays, a girlfriend of mine suggested I study obsession about aging — she’s found herself maniacally checking for wrinkles and gray hair to an unhealthy degree. What would a month of not looking in mirrors produce? “That would be your Challenge”, I gently coached her. Another, when she heard of my List of Five, suggested I add her ass-kicking octogenarian mother to it. Again, “She’s on your list” was my reply. I’m taking this year to see just how much I can get out of the idea of abstinence. I think it’s excellent that friends are seeing themselves in this idea, too. But I can only inspire others if my own experiences inspire me. Which brings me to…
Sometimes on the subway, I sit and look around at the beautiful people sharing the space. What complex, joyful lives of struggle they too must live! There’s no way that I could understand the significance of a sacrifice in their world just by looking at one of them.
I realize that for some the idea of giving up television may seem silly if not committed to 100%. A few weeks ago, I was reminded that not all are in the position to even “choose to abstain” from the things I’m choosing; they have no television to give up, or time to sacrifice. I get that — trust me; this is an especially privileged thing to abstain from. But I don’t watch television out of laziness, self-indulgence, or gluttony. It doesn’t distract me from the more important things I should be doing with my time.
I watch television because sometimes I can’t do anything else. My body crumples, I am alone, and I don’t have the physical, mental, or emotional power to change that situation.
Especially in January, when it’s cold and wet and the changing pressure and lack of sunlight make my body hurt even more than it does in a more temperate time of year, I spend a lot of time indoors. Alone. I came into my apartment at 1 pm on Monday. It’s now Thursday morning. I haven’t left other than to walk Mitra within a two-block radius. I have no social engagements until next weekend. This could change if I wanted; there are friends and things to do out there. But my body needs this space and quiet, this solitude. I fill it well: I rise early and work, I read, I cook, I walk Mitra and chat with my neighbors, and then at night (or, often 3:30 in the afternoon when my adrenals crash), my body starts to cripple. I lay in the darkness on my floor and talk to a friend or family member on the phone, a candle illuminating the space to keep it temperate. I read a book. I listen to a podcast. I lay. And when I can’t do that anymore… I climb into my big bed and stream something onto the flat screen hanging opposite that my father bought and my brother hung for just this circumstance.
That’s why reducing watching television from an indefinite amount to only one episode a day “counts”.
So why did I choose to couple “abstaining from television” and Power Posing into this weird month of TeleWonderWoman? Because I was collapsing emotionally. And that collapsing often landed me in bed, giving up and giving into it.
Before the Challenge even started, I noticed a difference just from having made the choice to take this on. I recognized how easy it had become to stream one episode after another, and stopped. When the Challenge began, I either chose what I’d watch more specifically — I started a new series, Supergirl!, and knocked a few documentaries off my list — and then also noticed that I really do benefit from the security blanket that is watching Gilmore Girls again, and that is okay, too.
Throughout this month, I tracked what negative thoughts often had me diving for or hiding in that bed, too, and when popping into my Wonder Woman power pose could get me out of them… and when it could not.
With men… it actually became extremely easy to flip low or negative thoughts to, well… dismissal. There are no significant men in my life contributing to deep, hard, worrisome thoughts, and so those pesky men from my past just became clearer pests. The existential questions were balanced by an “I’ve got this badass single woman thing down” satisfaction.
With my work… Starting my day with the power poses brought a reenergized focus to my writing mornings. The two minutes cultivate confidence, yes. But before 7 am it’s actually more like focus: I stand in my kitchen for two minutes, pour my coffee, and sit with a plan as to what I want to write first, and the confidence to get it done. Like this. Right now (It’s 8:19)(9:20, shit).
There have been times this month where I’ve felt like a very. bad. writer. Like, my career is never jumping to the next level, I’ll be struggling to make ends meet with it forever and, soon, I’ll be looking for the non-writing job for someone else I’ll somehow be able to do in this body. Even just reliving that while I typed it made my heart physically start to tremor, and my shoulders collapse towards my chest. So: I stop. I broaden my body, and command my space. And I invoke Carrie Fisher and say “fuck that” to myself and keep going.
With money… This is another huge anxiety, and for good reason. But I power pose and List of Five, and move on. Worrying won’t make me money. Being smart and working will.
My Health… I can’t think my way out of pain. Unless you’ve lived with pain you can’t control for an unlimited amount of time, you can’t understand this concept (that’s not a judgment). Power Posing doesn’t fix moments when everything just hurts. What does? Medicating, taking a hot bath, making some tea, crawling into bed, and watching television.
Those little points up there are basically summaries about how this Challenge has affected my health and my sense of self; two of the three points. The third — social interactions — has been more subtle this month than it might have been in another, given how comparatively reclusive I’ve been. When I have gone out, I’ve popped into poses before walking through the front door or on the subway in preparation. I’ve invoked my List of Five to save my from spiraling into a dark place, and I’ve repeated them mentally while someone else was speaking at me to keep strong.
When alone, TeleWonderWoman taught me to step away from a fight.
With all this time I have alone, I have plenty of space to relive words and digital communication. It reminds me of what Shana Lebowitz — a strategy reporter for Business Insider — said on Love Bites a few months ago regarding texting: we can obsess over a text because it’s there indefinitely in front of us. We hit our brain with the experience over and over again.
Over the course of this month, I’ve had a few friends say or do things I took to be hurtful. I’ve replayed the scenarios, angry and building a list of assumed intent on their part, feeling hurt by my assumptions. Instead of heatedly forcing conversations, I took a step back, focused on my own confidence, and choose to just wait it out for a bit. The situations either resolved themselves when I learned of the reality of the scenario, or the conversations came up in far less clashing ways than I, even in my kindest intentions, would have introduced. I was calmer, more respectful, and more articulate because of it.
Focus, and confidence.
To circle back to the top (2,000 words later), the point of this Year is not to invest any time or money in other people’s plans. And so this month, as weird as it was to put together, was once again about me. It wasn’t about taking out television so that I had the motivation to read more books or clean out my hall closet. Yes, both of those things happened, but the gains weren’t directly related to the television, nor were they gains I even tracked.
Instead, the idea of taking something out to welcome something new in brought clarity: I see what I beat myself up about, where I most waste my time, and in what scenarios I can feel more confidence and focus. Prior to this Challenge, I’d be in bed with the television on and scrolling through an ex’s social media feed!
Now, I’m either engaged with the show I’m watching, or I turn it off and am sleeping. Now, when fading to dreamland and panicking because I’m in debt, single, and have too many things to do without the physical capacity to do it all, I snap into a reclined power pose (it’s weird) and List My Five and eventually fall asleep, calmed. When I wake, I start my day strong. As my energy and pain levels shift and flow, I track the negative thought and then assess if there’s something to be done about it. If not, I choose the floor, the book, the phone or, when all else fails, the bed and television.
In the future, when I don’t have any restrictions in place, I should still be catching habits and choosing whether or not to change them. Lasting change.
Well, not really. I’m now on the first of four Everything Bagel Days which means this keeps going, along with every other Challenge from the past piled on top of it, until Monday, when I start the next super-hard phase! Yay!