Jackalope

I became a rabbit:
soft and limber for the arrows—
a leaping, bending prey. My black pearl
eyes blind to my own blood

My breath matched the rhythm:
Nock. Release. Nock. Release.
pacing my heart
to your needs— it was easy.

But the trail of felled victims
tugged at me before sleep:
Here my buried voice, there my buried will.
I was complicit, complacent, completely
certain I could be palatable

No more. I’ve exhumed
and stitched back those shaken parts—
Antler, claw, tongue, and scale.
My will a jagged tusk, my voice a howl

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.

boundaryblog1
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.

boundaryblog2
“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.)

boudaryblog3
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.

boundaryblog4
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.

boundaryblog5
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.)

boundaryblog6
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.

boundaryblog7
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 be Alone

For many of us, the difference between isolation and solitude is more than a simple matter of semantics. Solitude is often a choice — the peaceful walk in the woods, or the quiet morning meditation. It’s Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which he builds a cabin near a lake and proceeds to live there for two years and two months. Solitude is that treasured time we take alone to reflect and learn about ourselves.

Isolation, meanwhile, is often thrust upon us, and research shows that it can actually be physically painful to experience. (This explains why “not fitting in” in high school was such a wretched experience.) Human beings are social creatures who depend on connection. We need to understand and to feel understood. Due to different circumstances, however, we may not always have the amount of human interaction we need. While living like this is not ideal (in fact, social isolation can lead to mental illness and premature death), there are ways to minimize the suffering we feel, should we find ourselves in an isolating situation.

1. Reach out However you can
It is somewhat fashionable to bemoan the advent of social media and online video games as the End of Real Human Interaction™. Political cartoons and satirical websites are rife with images depicting couples at dinner glued to their phones, or children swiping away their childhoods on the touch-screen du jour. While the debate on whether and when to unplug certainly has merit, we should be cautious not to glorify too much the “good old days” where we had to show up at a friend’s doorstep in order to share the latest gossip. (Some things never change.)

For those of us in difficult geographical circumstances (all of us astronauts, for instance), and those of us with physical or mental disabilities, being able to plug into online communities brings about some relief. For example, because of my ongoing battle with depression, it’s not always possible for me to get dressed and zip over to my much-beloved friends’ houses. When simply getting out of bed presents a challenge, I’m grateful to be able to chat and even laugh with a friend on social media.

In large, anonymous cities in which we hitch a ride on a subway with strangers, sit at a desk for eight hours, and come home to an empty apartment, we may also find some respite in our Twitter feeds.

Ideally, we would all hang out and hug and talk about Star Wars in person, but sometimes we are presented with less-than-ideal circumstances. My point is, don’t let purists talk you out of opportunities to connect. If it’s all you can do right now, pick up that phone and ‘like’ your friend’s picture. You’ll feel better.

aloneblog4
Like this plastic tree limb, branch out. 

2. Keep Busy
When we think of survival movies, we’re often presented with characters who use their time in isolating situations to make and reach goals. A recent example of this can be seen in the book-turned-movie, The Martian, in which an astronaut left behind on Mars gets really busy doing math and planting potatoes.

In real life, CBC News journalist Melissa Fung was abducted in Afghanistan in 2008. She was kept in a hole underground and watched by her captors, whom, obviously, could not have been the best company. To survive this ordeal, Fung made plans about her future. She planned a dinner party, she planned what she would do when she got back to Canada.

Moments of isolation require us to make plans and keep busy as much as we can. With mental illness, this can be a real challenge: how do you make goals when you have no motivation? It’s hard, but everyones’ goals will be different. If all we can do is shower and make breakfast, then we can start there. Circumstances are always changing; what is challenging today might not be as difficult tomorrow.

aloneblog2
The busiest guy in my house.

3. Watch Movies, Read Books, Listen to Music
Speaking of keeping busy, getting a start on that “books-to-read” list is a great way of going about this. While some might argue that books, movies, and music simply present ways of numbing the pain of isolation by offering distractions, there’s likely more to it than that.

When a movie makes us cheer for the protagonists, a book presents us with characters so real they feel like friends, or a song makes us shaky-shoulder sob (I’m looking at you, Adele), we’re experiencing the emotions we feel when we have a human interaction. The magic of art, is that we get to find those kindred spirits and as a result, we feel less alone. As a teenager, during my most painfully lonely time (and, I suspect, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way), I found solace in songs about misfits and books and movies, like Ghost World, about strange girls who skip town. So find the art that speaks to your soul, and hit repeat.

aloneblog3
What better reason to read comics?

4. Make Non-Human Friends
A few weeks ago, I was waiting for the bus in my hometown (trivia: I don’t drive), and a woman in a hot pink toque with a shopping cart full of Walmart bags sat beside me and started up a conversation, as friendly people waiting for buses in smallish towns sometimes do. The conversation was standard post-holiday small talk, until we somehow veered onto the subject of her guinea pigs. She informed me on the multi-generational commune of guinea pigs she took care of. Their cage, apparently, took over half of her living room. She was able to train them — one of them earned a certificate because he could literally jump through hoops. Lady, if you’re out there, I would love to see a video.

Peoples’ eyes light up when they talk about their pets. This isn’t surprising, when we consider that the chemicals we release when we hug a loved one or, in fact, give birth, the same ones we release when cuddling up to our pets. That dose of fuzzy-wuzzy feel-good cocktail can be therapeutic when we feel alone.

And when buying and caring for a traditional pet isn’t an option, we can always get creative. Plants, apart from decorating a room and purifying the air we breathe, can also give us the feeling we crave in a symbiotic relationship. Caring for a plant and watching it grow just feels good.

browniewinter
Seen here: my humiliated Spaniel and my smirking sister.

5. Enjoy your own Company
Let’s cut to the core of it: this won’t be easy if we’re constantly berating ourselves about not being _____ enough. Who wants to spend time with an asshole who won’t shut up about our weight, our lack of productivity, our undesirability, and our giggle-snorts?

Self-acceptance takes time and practice. We have to gently retrain our minds, like so many cute puppies peeing on the carpet, to speak to ourselves the way we would speak to a loved one. But it’s a practice that’s well worth the effort. When we’re able to hang out in our own heads without criticism and instead with encouraging thoughts and rational suggestions for improvement, we edge closer from the pain of isolation to the peace of solitude. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can decide to cut ourselves a break and say something nice for a change.

aloneblog5
Fear not the gratuitous selfies. 

If you’re feeling isolated right now, take heed: you’re not alone, and this situation won’t last forever. If you can, reach out to someone— however you can muster it. Make plans for your future. Find friends in books, movies, music, and meet some friendly plants and animals. Above all, treat yourself like the worthy and worthwhile person that you are.

How To Survive Depression

(I would like to start with two quick disclaimers. The first: if you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts and you’re reading this, take a moment and reach out for help. Call 1-800-SUICIDE, visit suicide.org for a list of International hotlines, or call 911. You are worth it, they do have time for you, and I will be waiting here when you get back. Second disclaimer: the advice in this guide is based upon my own knowledge and experiences, and I am not a certified health professional. Okay, here we go.)

What is the image that comes to mind when one thinks of the word ‘Depression’? It is often characterized as a void, as darkness, the downward spiral, a veil, and a black cloud. Winston Churchill described his own depression as a black dog. Personally, when my depression is milder, I picture it as shapeless body sitting heavy on my shoulders. When I’m falling into a deeper depression, the image of tumbling down a rabbit hole à la Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, in which I am clawing at clods of dirt to stop the seemingly inevitable plunge towards an unknown bottom. Finally, in the deepest recesses of my experienced depression, I am in another dimension, separate from those I love. Though we may sit together in the same living room, I am trapped neck-down in a swamp of tar, elsewhere.

All this is to say that ‘depression’ is actually quite a broad term that encompasses a variety of different states. One may experience depression as part of the grieving process following the death of a loved one, or in the aftermath of a life-altering event. Just as often, others experience depression for no apparent “reason”, which is why the question “why are you depressed?” so often cannot yield a satisfactory answer. The following tips are applicable to all levels and types of depression, however, the effectiveness may vary by person, state of mind, and circumstance. Also note that surviving depression is an ongoing effort for many people, myself included, but that’s not to say there won’t be those transcendental moments replete with meaning that gives life its lovely sheen. We’re never permanently condemned to a single state of mind, or, phrased in another way: This too shall pass.

1. Get your Basics Covered 
Unless we’re living in circumstances in which we have little or no control over resources, it’s crucial to eat, drink, and sleep. Sounds obvious, right? But with depression, these basic human needs can me sometimes hard to acknowledge, let alone act upon. Eating often requires cooking meals, which sometimes requires more effort than we can muster. When possible, we can call on friends and family to help in this task. If we’re living alone, it’s okay to resort to simple meals. While the adequate intake of food groups and vitamins can go a long ways towards feeling better, sometimes we go through phases in which pasta and tomato sauce is all we can come up with. That’s okay. This state of mind is not a permanent one; they never are. For fluids, water is of course, important. I often forget to consume an adequate amount, so I’ve taken to bringing a cup or bottle with me wherever I go. Finally, sleep can be tricky in that with depression, it’s easy to get too much or too little, and sometimes, paradoxically, both. Personally, I am prone to ruminating throughout the night, and if I’m not careful, I can sleep away the day. To quell the brain-chatter that keeps me awake, I’ve found it useful to listen to audiobooks as I fall asleep. You can access free audiobooks of classic literature in the public domain. And if you need that midday nap, go ahead and take it. You aren’t hurting anybody.

depressionblogbread
Not my finest culinary moment.

2. Never be Afraid to Get Help
This is such a crucial step, and it is also one of the hardest to take. Why? Perhaps we live in a society that still values certain stoicism, especially in the workplace. We still equate the need for help as a weakness, especially those of us wrestling with concepts of strength and masculinity. Furthermore, depression has a sneaky way of sapping our self esteem. Why should a therapist or doctor care about my problems when someone else may have it far worse? We may ask ourselves these types of questions, convincing ourselves that our problems, and our lives are not worth seeking help for. These are false beliefs. I know this for a few reasons: the first is that if someone came to me and confided their feelings of depression, I would absolutely be inclined to help in whatever way I could, regardless if this person was a stranger or a friend. I believe most people want to help others. The other reason, is that I’ve called suicide hotlines several times, and each time I have been greeted with kindness and support. I’ve talked with doctors and therapists who have also been helpful. And it’s not because my problems are more worthy than anyone else’s, that’s just what the professionals are there for.
If a doctor prescribes a medication to alleviate symptoms of depression, listen to their expertise. Medications can be a valuable asset in getting better. The only thing to watch out for is self-medication, or medications recommended by people who are not professionals, or who have no scientific merit. By this I mean not following the dosages correctly, using street drugs and excess alcohol, and also buying into “snake oils” that haven’t been tested or proven.

depressionblogphone
Before you make any calls, it might be necessary to google how these suckers work.

3. Acknowledge What is Co-Occuring
When depression throws itself a party, complete with black balloons and a sludgy cake, it makes sure the guest list is a long one. So it’s actually quite common to have depression and something else. For instance, one could have depression with another mental illness, such as anxiety disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder, to name a few. Likewise, depression can manifest itself as a buddy to all sorts of physical disabilities as well. Having awareness about some of these issues will help in the process of healing and of establishing ones’ needs. This will also help family and friends, because when we are able to understand what we need, we are in a better position to ask for it. As an example, my depression is best friends with my anxiety, and this sometimes manifests in a panic attack. Because I know about the underlying anxiety, I can ask my family to tell me exactly what I need to hear. Sometimes it’s just getting a different perspective that can alleviate anxiety, which in turn slightly lessens the burden of depression.

depressionblogdragon
Pictured: me in full panic mode.

4. Exercise if Possible
I say “if possible”, because sometimes due to physical or emotional conditions, it isn’t. There’s no denying the wealth of information supporting exercise as an effective therapy in dealing with depression, even if it’s light stretching and a walk around the block. Whenever possible, physical activity should be considered, but if it can’t be managed for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up. The last thing a person with depression needs is another reason to feel bad and/or guilty. Again, this state of mind is not forever. If one can’t do yoga today, one can try to do it tomorrow.

depressionblogplant
I’m fairly certain that gardening plastic plants isn’t exercise.

5. Be Gentle
While there is usually little harm in pushing oneself to make that soup or take that walk, it’s important to acknowledge that our condition does affect us in certain ways. For instance, we may not be able to complete activities or assignments at the same pace as classmates or coworkers. We may not go to as many social gatherings, or we may not stay out as long. This is okay, there is no rule that says one must function at 110% capacity in spite of depression. Taking longer than others to complete a task does not make us less talented or less capable. (Also, I suspect that everyone kind of goes at their own pace, whether they’re willing to admit it or not.) Use kind words and encourage yourself, rather than resorting to verbal beatings. Your health and wellbeing is what matters most.

depressionblogball
Treat yourself as you would treat this little guy.

6. Find Meaning in Whatever Ways you can
Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl pioneered a movement in psychology which underlines the importance of finding purpose in our lives. This incredible man survived German concentration camps during WWII by plotting and planning his future, and thinking about his love for his wife. We humans can survive the most arduous times, and Frankl suggests that we do this by finding the concrete meaning of our lives.
This is no easy task when one is depressed however. We tend to lose all sense of perspective. We ruminate on the past, we dread the future (what if it’s more of the same?), we ache in the present. And yet, it’s possible, even in our darkest moments of suffering, to cling to our purpose. It doesn’t have to be grandiose; we may not have the energy to imagine a glittering future full of accomplishments and accolades. But maybe there’s the person we love deeply and want to spare of the suffering they would undergo if we left them. Maybe we have an animal friend in our care who relies on us. Maybe there’s that story we need to tell, or a person we need to help. Maybe it’s a pervasive curiosity to find out what happens next. All reasons to survive are good reasons. We can adapt and change them as we go, because our conditions and circumstances will change as well. For more tips and ideas, visit the post on How to Create Meaning. 

depressionblogcube
Your purpose could be to solve this damn thing for me. 

These tips are the things that have helped me survive my depression. It’s not been easy, and I have wanted more than once to give everything up, but I’ve also had many spectacular moments in the midst of everything. My hope is that, if you feel depressed and are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you will find that acorn of courage and strength we all possess inside and reach out. You are and always will be worthy of survival.

 

 

 

Stranger

I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
“To a Stranger”, Walt Whitman

You sit, scribbling on a napkin
halfway across the café. Sipping
steaming cups of cappuccino
with maraschino lips. I know
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone

From your bag comes every book
I’ve cradled in the bath and treasured
on my nightstand. They have been written
for our conversations, and yet
I am to wait —I do not doubt I am to meet you again

Finally you rise. The buttoning
of your coat precedes the forward
scraping of your chair. We share a glance
before you find the door and step through.
I am to see to it that I do not lose you

Making Tea

The lavender and lemon balm leaves
were grown from seed—little specks
rooted under sun, cloud,
fog, and morning steam
They fed bees with black and gold rings
and bugs with backs like shining glass

Dry them next to hibiscus petals like ruby glass
and fragrant spindly green raspberry leaves
tied with twine, spun around them like rings
Brush away their collected dust specks
Keep them away from steam—
those tendrils of errant indoor cloud

A muggy thought akin to cloud
deserves no fragile crystal glass
but a sturdy cup made for steam,
adorned with painted leaves
and dotted with gold specks
the colour of treasured rings

Let the kettle kiss the burner rings
the cast iron sighing out a cloud
and sputtering little water specks
fog creeping up window glass
hiding roads and trees and leaves
until solitary with whistle and steam

blow swirls of breath against the steam
make ripples in the mug, creating rings
Pull out the mound of swollen leaves,
a heavy dripping rain cloud,
leaving ochre tea like tinted glass
with a few swirling specks

The future is set in green specks
and visible through steam
no need for balls of glass,
no mirrors, no mood rings
Part the smoke and the cloud
with the patterns of the leaves

You see the specks, will you read the leaves?
You breathe the steam, will you gather the clouds?
Will you shatter the glass, will you toss the rings?

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.)

books
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.

browniesocute
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.

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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.

crudessence
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.