How to Negotiate Boundaries

Sometimes I would rather bend myself into a different species completely, like a rubbery balloon dog, than have to confront anyone. There’s a belief floating in the ether: the more we put up with, the better, nicer, and stronger we are.

But watching our boundaries crumble around us, while others put out metaphorical cigarette butts on everything we hold dear, is a path that can only lead to illness. In When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté proposes that when we repeatedly suppress our experiences and our emotions to placate or protect others, our bodies find ways to express what we’ve buried. This can manifest as physical illness such as fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and even cancer. It can also present as mental health issues such as anxiety and major depression.

Asserting our needs is an essential and healthy part of self-care, just like brushing our teeth, listening to good music, and eating peanut butter straight from the jar. (Okay, maybe that last one’s not for everyone.) The trouble is, establishing and maintaining boundaries requires a good deal of communication, and much of that can seem overwhelmingly difficult. The following are some strategies I’ve found helpful when I need to make my needs known.

1. Give Yourself the Space to Feel Emotions Prior to Speaking 
It is challenging to feel assertive when we’re smoothing away a snot-bubble with a damp sleeve. It is also difficult to keep a conversation on track when we feel like smashing every hideous decorative plate we might see. Therefore, having a gulf of time to breathe, reflect, and really feel the emotions brought about by our conversational partner’s transgressions is essential. Whether it’s acknowledging the hurt caused by a partner repeatedly talking over us, feeling the flush of anger when a relative passive-aggressively judges our appearance, or experiencing the hot shame in the aftermath of a friend admonishing our parenting style, sitting with the discomfort of our emotions now will prepare us for a more productive conversation later. We should always aim to validate our own experiences. By doing this, we will be calmer and more confident when the  talking time comes, and we will experience less confusion about our feelings.

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The space you choose doesn’t need to be your therapist’s couch, but it can be. 

2. Create a Specific Goal
While we can’t predict the outcome of the conversation (we can’t stop anyone from rage-joining the military to spite us), we can prioritize what we want to say. If there is an issue because our partner isn’t spending enough time with us as we’d like, it would be unproductive to bring up that time they said they’d vacuum and then didn’t. In general, we should aim to keep our conversations related to one issue at a time, and we should avoid speaking just to make a point. The other reason to keep our goals clear and narrow, is that it will give the other person less leeway to bring in their own unrelated grievances (“Yeah, but in high school you—”).

Having a specific goal in mind will also save us if our conversational partner happens to have dramatic tendencies. Sometimes, when people get defensive, they throw any kind of soap operatic plot twist to derail the conversation and manipulate us.

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“You can’t call me out! I’ve got knots in my legs! Also, I’m a literal chew toy! From space!

3. Frame Issues from Your Perspective
We can try to guess what our friend was thinking when they showed up at our house at three in the morning, half-cut and with a fever of one-hundred-and-four, but it is best if we simply presume not to know. Trying to label our conversational partner’s feelings for them is futile. Instead, we should frame things by explaining how their actions affect us. Granted, these kinds of statements are squarely in Dr. Phil’s neighbourhood, but he’s not wrong. We can only know ourselves, (and even then, the waters can get fairly murky). Therefore, it is more useful to say, “I feel hurt and embarrassed when you mock my laughter in front of your friends,” than “look, I know you want to seem funny by putting me down, but fuck you sincerely.” (Although that last one can feel damn good to fantasize about.)

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How I frame everything. 

4. Be Clear
That being said, it is important to avoid sugarcoating the issue. If we’re not used to confronting someone about their behaviour, we might be tempted to use diminutive words  to qualify our experiences and make ourselves seem smaller and unimportant. These include words such as “maybe”, “a little bit”, “kind of”, and “a tad”. For instance, saying, “Hey, uh, it sort of bothers me a little when you wipe some of your boogers on some of my furniture sometimes,” sends an ambiguous message, like maybe it’s okay if this person continues to wipe their smallest boogers under your table, as long as you aren’t looking. It’s normal to want to be seen as a nice person, but there will be people out there who will paint any assertion we have as a villainous and evil affront to their way of life. It is therefore better to take the plunge and say what we mean, even if we have to be Senator Palpatine in their mucus-glazed eyes.

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This plant is the only thing as prickly and villainous as I am.

5. Know When to Listen and When to Walk Away
In a healthy exchange, our conversational partner will likely have some valuable feedback. They might explain their reasoning, ask questions, and becoming active in understanding our boundaries. They might negotiate, and this too can be productive, as long as it is done respectfully and with our mutual wellbeing in mind. Conversations like these are challenging and require us to remain calm and open, but they are ultimately conducive to the goal we’ve established. As long as the person is not derailing our experiences by being deflective or defensive, or downright mean, it can be beneficial to us to listen to their side.

However, if our conversational partner makes excuses for their behaviour, speaks aggressively, tries to intimidate us with threats or by breaking stuff, or calls us names, it is time to pack up our little hopes and dreams and get precisely the hell out of their line of fire. Depending on the severity of their reaction, we may choose not to interact with this person again. Sometimes a boundary might mean not interacting with a toxic person at all. This is often easier said than done. For instance, if this person happens to be the joint parent of our children, or our boss, it may be difficult to ignore them. But wherever possible, we should aim to cut toxic people from our lives, because this will enable us to be better friends, partners, parents, and employees in the long run.

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This is precisely where some relationships belong.

6. Know When to Exchange Apologies
By now, we should have had time to reflect upon and understand the situation leading to our difficult conversation. It is important to be honest with ourselves: did we mess up? If so, giving an apology will show good will and demonstrate our willingness to work things out with our conversational partner. But if not? Unnecessary apologies can be every bit as damaging as withholding a warranted “sorry”. In the same way using words like “maybe”, and “just a bit”, can make our statements fall flat, unnecessary apologies will obscure our message. We shouldn’t apologize for someone else’s behaviour, nor should we apologize about having feelings or healthy boundaries. “I’m sorry you think I’m ugly, Grandma, but I wish you wouldn’t make rude comments about me”, is not helpful because it removes Grandma’s responsibility to cop to her shitty behaviour.

We should also note that some apologies are not worth accepting. If our conversational partner says, “I’m sorry, but here’s a string of excuses and also you’re not perfect either, you know”, then we can politely tell them to swallow that sorry because it has less meaning than a bile-filled bubble of a burp. (More politely than that, probably.)

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This isn’t so constructive.

7. Make a Plan
We’ve made it through our main talking points, listened to our conversational partner’s feedback, and exchanged sincere apologies if they were warranted. Now we can ask questions such as, “can we agree not to talk politics at work?” or, “will you keep comments about my parenting to yourself from now on?” This gets closure on the issue, and ensures we have a mutual understanding of our expectations going forward. These closing statements are the last big cringey thing we need to say before we can stop feeling like hack lawyers and get back to the business of maintaining our refurbished boundaries.

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I’ve got my planner ready, now all I need is your continued respect. 

8. Treat Yourself
That was a difficult experience, and if we’re still shaking from the adrenaline of asking for basic respect, we should definitely do something nice for ourselves. This can take the form of a night out with friends, a trip to the movies, or a solid chunk of brown sugar. The important thing is that we feel relaxed and comforted — we stuck up for ourselves and didn’t take anyone’s crap today.

brownieseduce
I often treat myself by looking deep into this silly creature’s eyes. 

When our guts twist and we feel the hot emotions of hurt, it is important that we become aware of our feelings. By acknowledging this, we can become our own best advocates and share our concerns with others in a clear and personal way. This ultimately ensures that we are building relationships with people who genuinely care about our wellbeing.

 

How to Stick to a Weekly $40 Dinner Budget

I live in Canada, and because our dollar is currently sinking in comparison to the US dollar, many of my fellow Canadians are forced to strike the cauliflowers and cucumbers right off their shopping lists. (To say nothing of my dear compatriots who live far north, where a sack of flour can cost as much as $60.)

I suspect, however, that the struggle between affordable and adequate nutrition is something more global. We might abandon fruits and vegetables altogether in order to make room for the centrepiece of our meals: the meat. After all, we need our protein, right? Well, there might be more to it than that.

I’ve made a list of the ways that help keep my weekly dinners under $40. I’ve also recently had my blood tested, and my vitamin and mineral levels, my cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and even my blood pressure have greatly improved since before I started saving money. These are the simple strategies I keep in mind.

1. Make a List and a Plan

Before I head out to grab my week’s worth of groceries, I sit down and make a plan so I don’t overbuy or end up with eight litres of Dr. Pepper. Usually, the process of making this list takes between twenty minutes to half an hour. I sometimes browse the cookbooks I have on hand, but more often than not, I end up on my favourite websites: websites that offer straightforward, healthful, quick, and inexpensive recipes. Some of my favourites include Oh She GlowsThe Post Punk KitchenThug Kitchen (warning for casual swearing), Vegan Sandra, and Happy Herbivore. Between these websites alone, there are hundreds of uncomplicated, tasty recipes that ask for easy-to-find ingredients.

A typical week of meals for me might include a combination of a stir fry with edamame beans (soy beans), a tomato pasta dish, a hearty soup, roasted vegetables and rice, or chilli. I usually start by cooking the stir fry, pastas, and roast veggies types of dishes first, so I can use all of the leftover vegetables in my soup. And this is simple: I toss the half onion, the almost-limp celery, a carrot, a potato or a yam, and literally whatever other veggie I have on hand into a pot of water with some dried red lentils. I turn the heat to medium-high and forget about it for half an hour.

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The gang’s all here.

2. Forget Pre-Packaged Foods

Am I the only one who spent my adolescence eating whole boxes of Kraft Dinner macaroni and cheese, only to flip the blue box over and discover that I was supposedly eating four portions of the stuff? There was something notoriously un-filling about it. And this seems to be the case with many pre-packaged fares. Those frozen Hungry Man dinners left me feeling paradoxically hungry and sluggish. And this isn’t to shame anyone who consumes these foods. Sometimes it really is the best option available, and that’s okay. But often, we find ourselves getting in a rut, buying the same lacklustre (expensive) products every week  simply out of habit, unaware that making a change could be so easy.

If it’s an issue of convenience, zapping something in the microwave for ten minutes seems like an adequate solution. But those frozen dinners add up in cost. Buying a bag of dried lentils or split peas (which contain a vast amount of protein, by the way), and some vegetables will last a lot longer, and will take about twenty minutes more to prepare. They will also potentially provide you with more energy, instead of delivering that sluggish feeling that makes one want to collide with the nearest armchair.

The environmental aspect is also hard to ignore. All of that pre-packaged food has, well, so much packaging. The apartment I’m living in doesn’t have a compost or a recycling area, so we need either to sneak our recycling to other places, or be very mindful of the trash we produce.

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I like food that comes with its own packaging.

3. Cook in Batches

My partner, Matt, always makes fun of me because I cook as if I’m feeding the whole town. I think it’s hereditary. My dad does the same, even when he only had to feed me and my sister. But his mom had eight kids, so she really did have to cook for a small village. As it turns out, this isn’t a bad reflex to have.

I give myself some much-needed days off kitchen duty by cooking in batches and eating the leftovers the next day. This way, I only cook about four meals all week, but we have healthy food every day. Since each meal takes roughly half an hour to prepare, this means I only spend about 2 hours per week, or 1% of my week, cooking. This leaves me plenty of time to ponder my existential dread.

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I swear these beans are magic.

4. Be Sale Savvy 

I’m not talking about extreme coupon-ing here, because what better way to negate all of the time we’ve just saved in the kitchen? This is just about taking notice of what might be on sale in your particular grocery stores. It also helps if you can extort a relative who works in a grocery store to tell you about upcoming deals. (Just kidding, my sister works in a local chain and she basically boasts about the crazy sales coming up. She once showed up with six cartons of coconut ice cream on sale for $3.99. If you know someone in grocery, you’ll know about the deals.)

Another option is to sign up for community food boxes. These programs run under different names, but for me, both here and in Montreal, it was called The Good Food Box (or Bonne Boîte, Bonne Bouffe, to be bilingual). This is basically a program that requires a payment between $7 to $16, either bi-weekly or monthly, for fresh, usually local produce. I’ve gotten lettuce, onions, potatoes, bananas, grapes, carrots, leeks, squash, beets, and more in my boxes. It’s a good way to overcome food deserts, where the nearest grocery store might be inconveniently far away.

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The downside: food boxes don’t get delivered. 

5. Forget the Meat and Dairy

Oh, yeah. You may have noticed something missing in this list. All of this talk of vegetables, beans, and lentils took the focus away from those extra-lean chicken breasts. Well, to be honest, I find meat and dairy to be the most costly aspects of any meal. I’ve mentioned my partner, Matt, before. (He’s the one who makes fun of me for my massive-scale cooking operations, remember?) Matt loves his chicken wings, his buddy burgers, and his nachos. And he still eats these things sometimes. (Hey, I’m not the boss of anyone.) But even he has been impressed by how much money we save when we drop those chicken breasts, the bricks of cheese, the containers of yogurt, the steaks, and the ground beef from our shopping list. And according to him, the food I make without these things still tastes good. (Go ahead and ask him to be sure, though. There is the off chance he doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.)

“But what about the protein?” is the question I most often hear when people discover I don’t eat meat or dairy. Luckily, in reality our foods aren’t divided by macro-nutrients. That is to say, if we eat whole foods, we don’t really have one thing that’s just carbs, one thing that’s just fats, and one thing that’s just protein. Whole foods contain a mix of everything. For instance, brown rice gives a lot of carbs and a lot of protein. Even steak will give us plenty of fat with that helping of protein (not to mention cholesterol). Oh, and speaking of cholesterol, plant-based foods don’t have any. You’ll only ever find cholesterol in foods that contain something from an animal. You can gorge yourself on chilli and rice and never eat a bit of cholesterol. So by eating a varied diet filled with different nuts, grains, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, we can get all of the protein we need. It’s a good way of getting our greens both on our plates and in our wallets.

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I like my animals for cuddling purposes, anyway.

If you have any questions eating plant-based foods, making the switch to plant-based foods, or thoughts about how to save money on groceries, feel free to leave a comment, or contact me by email at dualmindguides@gmail.com. Happy eating.

 

Dining with Bigotry

Do you dread family dinners?
Does it make your jaw
clench, when someone passes potatoes
mid-bigoted-sentence?

What’s there to do when a relative spews
a gravyboat worth of hate
against certain immigrants?

Is it worth the dry turkey
to sit there ashamed, while your great aunt
blabbers on about homosexual campaigns?

Sure, you can offer your well-researched facts.
You might even do so with saint-like
tact. But if all else fails, feel free to leave:
Critical thought will provide more peace
of mind than would grudgingly passing the peas.

 

How To Deal with Bigoted Family Members

It’s strange, isn’t it? A relative can be the picture of kindness: they may volunteer for meaningful causes and donate money to charity, provide us with hugs and encouragement, and give us heartfelt birthday gifts, only to turn around and spew hatred against groups that aren’t “like them.” This may come in the form of jokes or mistaken beliefs, the use of language (such as mentioning what ethnicity a driver appears to be when it has no bearing to their story), or a more upfront, sweeping statement about a group of people. It can be difficult to reconcile the love we feel for our family while becoming increasingly aware of their un-lovable prejudices. The following is a list of ways to troubleshoot dealing with family members who have bigoted opinions. If number 1 doesn’t work, we may proceed to number 2, and so on. But one word of advice: know your own values. There is no single right way to go about doing this, and much of it will depends on what you find important in your life. Good luck!

1. Consider Yourself and Consider Them
The most crucial step when evaluating anyone’s behaviour is this old nugget: put yourself in their shoes. After all, not all bigoted opinions are created equal. One person may simply be unaware that they are using a slur when they speak with enthusiasm about their “G*psy lifestyle.” This is very different than say, the great-uncle who’s convinced there is such a thing as the “homosexual agenda” and consistently spits venom about it. It’s also important to realize that we may have our own bigoted beliefs; even though we may have the most open of minds, it’s hard not to internalize certain opinions. We are, after all, partly products of our society. To give you an example, in high school I was actually quite anti-feminist: I considered other girls and women to be my competition, I believed that I wasn’t like “other girls”, and I thought that traditionally “feminine” behaviours or hobbies were beneath me. Luckily, I eventually learned the error of my ways. The same can be possible for family members with bigoted opinions. Are they affected by internalized misogyny, racism, and homophobia? Are they unaware of their prejudices? Are they acting out of fear, because the world is quickly changing around them, and they just can’t seem to keep up? The answers will help you determine whether they are willing to change or not. Remember your own humble beginnings as well: no one is perfect.

bigotblog1
I’ll gladly put myself in these particular shoes…

2. Ask a lot of Questions
Suppose you aren’t sure how deep the bigotedness goes? A good way to test the waters is by asking a lot of questions. And this has an added bonus: asking questions will give the person the opportunity to examine their own beliefs (though whether or not they actually do this is up to them). For instance, suppose a relative makes a joke at the expense of an ethnic group. Not cute, right? Depending on how they are, they may either expect to elicit a laugh or get a rise. But what if you don’t play into their game? Instead, ask them: “I don’t get it — why is that funny?” They will either dole out an awkward explanation, a sheepish “never mind”, or, if they’re feeling bold, they may delve into a disturbing diatribe about why it is, in fact, funny. Either way, you now have a better idea about what you’re dealing with, without being complicit in their prejudice. Asking people to explain why they hold certain beliefs is another good option: “Why do you think that?” Playing the ingenue will let the person’s bigoted opinions stand out for what they really are: nonsensical and unfounded.

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Families can be tough…

3. Model Appropriate Behaviour
This step is always important, and hopefully it can become one’s default mode of being. Especially during family reunions, when there may be impressionable children or youth that may actually have a well-defined sense of right versus wrong, but, because of their deference to authority, may feel voiceless in expressing their opinions. It becomes important to be the person who speaks fairly. We can model appropriate behaviour by catching those mis-spoken stories and re-framing them: “Then the lady doctor did x”,  becomes “And what did the doctor do next?” We can also gently report facts: “Actually, that’s a common misconception, the majority of Indigenous people in Canada do pay taxes.” Note that indisputable facts are most effective here; there is often little point in offering a different opinion, as the person will be an expert in giving their own opinions. If, after giving the person a few facts to mull over and a period of time to do so, they still resort to parading their bigoted beliefs, realize that it is not merely ignorance that you are facing, now. This person does not want to modify their beliefs because it serves them somehow. Likely, their beliefs give them a false sense of superiority, security, morality, or intelligence. Furthermore, it may be the unfortunate case that if the person happens to be older, they may use this as “evidence” that you are simply naive and uneducated about the ways in which the world really works. Older people often do have wisdom, but this does not preclude them from mistaken beliefs and feelings of hatred towards others.

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This robot is the ideal model for positive behaviour, but his cuddly side does leave something to be desired. 

4. Set Boundaries
Suppose we have tried all of the preceding steps to no avail. We’re still assaulted with a barrage of homophobic monologues during our visits. The next step is to set boundaries, for ourselves and our sanity, for the aforementioned children exposed to these toxic viewpoints, and for, in this particular example, our LGBTQ friends who may not be present but who would be saddened or hurt by these remarks. We must not allow hatred to fester, and we can do this by telling our relatives statements such as: “I love coming over and visiting you, but these remarks are really starting to make me feel sad/hurt/frustrated/, and I would appreciate if we could talk about something else.” Or, “let’s not spoil this dinner by talking politics!” Or, “In our house, we’ve decided to love and accept everybody equally, and we would appreciate if you would respect this while you’re here.” Doing this takes courage: despite your best intentions and your most gentle demeanour, you may anger or offend your relative (sometimes people are offended because they feel ashamed), but if this is the case, recognize that their reaction is more about themselves than about you. Weigh it out and decide what’s more important to you.

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Please leave your racist monologues on the other side of this line. 

5. Give an Ultimatum
Generally, I am not a proponent of ultimatums, especially when we are not sincere or serious about them. Often they are used to heighten the drama of a situation without providing a real solution. But supposing we’ve tried all of the other steps here and our relative still decides to be disrespectful, it may be time to pull this out. You can put it in writing; sometimes it’s easier to say something difficult without being interrupted or being at the mercy of our possible lack of verbal proficiency. But there is no one right way to do this. It may look something like this: “I have asked you several times not to do X while we are visiting, because it makes me feel like Y. I feel like if this were to continue, we might have to shorten/call off/eliminate our visits.”

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Don’t use this as a template. 

6. Distance Yourself
Oh boy, still nothing? We may have to ask ourselves how much our relative really cares about our feelings at this point. Are they saying things to aggravate us because it’s somehow funny to them? Are they showing us any goodwill or respect for our feelings? Even after we’ve explained to them the damage this inflicts on our relationships? If it seems more important to them to have their racist spiels, sexist jokes, homophobic rants, and hateful diatribes, it may be worth asking ourselves a very difficult question: is this the kind of person we want in our lives? This may be painful, but perhaps it is necessary. For example, the lesbian woman who has the aunt that continuously denigrates what she call her “lifestyle choices”, may be making a healthy choice by distancing herself from a person who is consistently hurting her. Again, there is no rules about when and how to do this. What one person tolerates may be different for someone else. But sometimes it can be better to handpick our families and fill them with people who love and support us for who we are.

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Ah, peace at last. 

While we will almost always have disagreements and arguments with family members, some of them are more serious than others. We must know ourselves and our own values, and take the appropriate steps to act upon them. Wherever possible, we should seek to promote education and tolerance among those closest to us. We can do this by first considering where they come from, model appropriate behaviour, and correct their mistaken assumptions with facts. When all else fails, we must resort to what is healthiest for ourselves.

How to Make a Lifestyle Change

Changing things up is good: it lets us shake off the stale routines that no longer serve us. Like a snake shedding its papery skin, we slither on to better things. However, change isn’t usually as effortless as our reptilian friends make it look. We often lose that magical feeling called motivation, which takes the lustre away from the day-to-day grind. This makes us say things like “why am I doing this, again?” and “well, I can always try again next Monday.” But what if we could just stick with it? I’ve been a vegan for over six months now, which is a lot for this former milk-and-meat eating, diet-cycling, food-enthusiast. I don’t believe it was simply a matter of putting my mind to it, either. The following tips are applicable to almost any large-haul lifestyle change.

1. Get Educated
The most important aspect to consider when we make a big change is whether that change is going to be healthy for us. Diets that claim we can eat anything if we follow “one weird tip” or that involve eliminating one or more of the basic food groups are usually a red-flag for unsustainability at best, and serious health hazards, at worst. This step that takes us on a grand tour of the Internet, our local library, and the doctor’s office. Doctors are helpful when assessing a patient’s current wellbeing and letting them know which exercises are okay to begin (and let’s be honest, sometimes it’s nice to have a doctor-approved excuse not to do hot yoga.) One must be a little picky when it comes to consulting Internet and even library sources; checking for scientific studies and sources becomes important. (Though this can feel like writing a college research paper.)

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Pictured here: solid knowledge. 

2. Be Realistic
Let’s get this one out of the way, since it’s fairly unpleasant to get yanked down to reality while imagining all the neat changes we could be making. This step has everything to do with goals. For instance, if we want to get super fit, it might be more attainable if we train for a specific event or milestone, be it a 5 kilometre walk, a triathlon, or an all-night video gaming session. (Goals are very personal things.)

calendar
Get a nice calendar that you won’t dread looking at.

3. Say “Nah” to Nay-Sayers
Isn’t it strange how when we tell someone we’re making a change, they suddenly become the world’s foremost health and fitness expert? While some friends and family will have legitimate concerns, it’s often the case that when we make a change for ourselves, it causes others to question their own life choices. This is something that can be uncomfortable for people. For instance, if someone decides to stop drinking, many of their friends may be supportive, while others, most likely their drinking buddies, will say things like “Well, everything in moderation” in an effort to justify their behaviours. However, being armed with the confidence brought to us by the rigorous studies of Step One, we can now shut nay-sayers down gently, (or aggressively, if appropriate.)

nah
Write it on your hand when you get sick of repeating it.

4. Have an Emotional Connection to the Change
Whether we want to ride our bikes more, stop smoking, or change our food habits, it helps to be emotionally connected to our cause. While, “I want to look hot” is as good a reason as any, often it doesn’t provide that lasting conviction to get us through the hard days. (Especially when we realize, damn, I’m already hot anyways.) Similarly, “I want to lose weight” can be tricky, since often the emotional connection we have to this cause is propelled by guilt and frustration. Similarly, if we do lose that 10, 30, or 50 pounds, we now have no reason to maintain our lifestyle change, making it easy for old habits to creep up. It is therefore more effective to identify with an emotional cause such as, “I want to ride my bike more often because I care about the degradation of our environment and feel moved to do what I can to stop it.” Or, “I want to stop smoking because children whose parents smoke are much more likely to smoke themselves, and I don’t want mine to start.” My reason for change, with regards to adopting a vegan lifestyle, was tied to my concern for the wellbeing of animals. When I conjure up the idea of an animal’s suffering, I don’t need resist having a hamburger, I just don’t want it.

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It helps having a cute dog to remind you why you love animals.

5. Get Support
If our friends and family are too busy playing our health-concerned doctors to be supportive of us, then it’s lucky we live in a time with such amazing online communities. Being able to share recipes, swap training goals, brag about milestones, or just plain talk to someone with a similar outlook can be life-change-saving.

computer
Pinterest can be a wealth of recipes and distractions.

6. Have Fun
Reward milestones with experiences that bring joy. A new cookbook, a course, new running shoes, a trip, or a night out at a favourite restaurant can be great ways to express pride and gratitude in our efforts. For those of us who are daring, we can choose to commemorate our success with a tattoo or new haircut. These are not simply rewards for being good, rather, they act as little nudges towards an unknowable, albeit exciting, destination.

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I made my milestones weekly so I could eat this more often.

If we take the time to do our homework first, we will have the knowledge and the tools to make any lifestyle change we see fit. By making an emotional connection to the cause of our change, we are assuring a long-term commitment and a passion that will re-new itself every time we read, hear or talk about it. A much more effective fuel than motivation.

Settle

stare from window sill at streets
made narrow, strangled by the jagged
angles — concrete towers stab
through cloud or cloak of smog

they rise as you rise
from itchy bare mattress
(cheap sheets forgotten
at a former address)

wade through clutter
shudder at the boxes
that tower from the floor
push past, find the door

outside the boulevard is black
from rain. stand, soaked
shrug off that you heard
the sound of your name

How to Feel Settled in a New Place

Whether it’s for school, work, family obligations, or simply an attempt to leave a stagnant routine behind, most of us experience the disorienting business of picking up our belongings, and setting them down somewhere new. This action can take place on a small scale, such as when we leave our noisy, cockroach-infested downtown apartment for something a little quieter, if more rustic, on the outskirts of town. Or, it can be a massive move overseas or across the country, complete with an unknown language and a staggering sense of alienation. Regardless of the scale or reason, it’s difficult to conjure up those familiar adjectives about a new place — cozy, restful, Netflix-coma-inducing — and feel settled in a foreign environment. There are new neighbours (some maybe a little too friendly), new smells (hello, pulp mill), and new wildlife (that spider may be venomous). The following are some tips on how to feel settled in a new neighbourhood.

1. Surround Yourself with Familiar Objects that Bring you Comfort and Joy
Of course, this doesn’t mean schlepping every possession you’ve ever owned to your new abode. The key here is quality. It could be an evocative piece of original artwork, framed photos of loved ones, or perhaps a collection of rare beanie babies from your childhood (comfort is not about judgment). Ideally, display these objects in a place you will see every day. If they are well-chosen, they will remind you that you are still you, even if your new dig has hideous pastel wallpaper.

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Some of my favourite belongings: my plants, a hand-painted gnome, and 90 kilograms of books.

2. Go for a Walk in the Area Immediately Surrounding your House
Not only will this pilgrimage help to orient you, it will allow you to uncover the hidden gems in your neighbourhood that can often be missed when traveling by bus or by car. Perhaps there is a park nearby where you can direct your good intentions to go for brisk morning jogs. Or, maybe there is a corner store that sells emergency chocolate or wine. You may realize you live near a haunted-looking empty lot and make a mental note to avoid it after dark.

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Closed-up shops looking more than a little sinister on an eerily quiet Sunday afternoon.

3. Know your Amenities
What sorts of amenities does your new neighbourhood have? It is helpful to know of organizations such as immigration welcome services, women’s centres, LGBTQ support centres, government buildings, police stations, hospitals, and recreation centres. In many cases, it’s useful to simply strut into these places (if you think you qualify for their services) and introduce yourself as new in the neighbourhood. Often, you will be loaded down with information pamphlets, business cards, activity guides and, if you’re lucky, free welcome candies. This can be a gateway to finding relevant resources, such as community food box programs (because honestly, fresh produce should always be relevant).

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This intimidating amount of fruits and vegetables comes from my community’s fifteen-dollar Good Food Box.

4. Draw a Crude Map of your New Surroundings
You can now beautifully render the amenities you found out about and re-name landmarks to better suit your purposes and personality. This also becomes a handy mental image to have on hand when old friends and relatives ask how far the nearest grocery store is from your new house, since, according to your map, it’s roughly three concrete buildings away from the public square, which is a gas-station away from your house. You will be giving lost drivers directions to nearby hotels in no time.

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Here is the most accurate map I’ve made of my new town.

5. Keep in Touch with Old Friends
Just because you’ve moved on to a glamorous dorm room or an urban studio apartment doesn’t mean you should forget those who have supported you through your humble beginnings. Through the magic of social media and good old-fashioned phone calls, you can report back all of your fascinating adventures. If you want to make it even more retro, invest in a pack of stamps and mail letters and postcards to your loved ones. Most people appreciate receiving mail that isn’t related to the third final notice regarding their student loans.

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Pictured here: a fresh pack of good intentions.

So there it is, five simple steps towards feeling more settled in a new neighbourhood. If you have any advice you would like to add, please comment below. Stay tuned for a related poem on the topic of “settling in”.