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Flaming June – how did it go?

June came by and ended a couple of weeks ago when I first sat down to write this follow up. Three weeks later, I’m wrapping up this post to review my Flaming June habit-goals. So how did it go?

Ovo-vegan as much as possible

This was quite simple. Going from vegetarian to non-dairy, the main change was that cheese was off the menu. Tortilla wraps became a staple for lunchtimes, with houmous and salad a firm favourite. Through the month I ate fewer eggs, and this was simple for me.

Leaving milk behind was simple too: I put rice milk in my morning cornflakes, and switched to black coffee/herbal teas for hot drinks. Sometimes I had English tea with rice milk – it’s ok, but not ”the same”.

Simple switch number 3 was replacing butter with vegan margarine. No big deal here.

Thanks to a great LoveFood cookbook, in Dutch, I’ve added some new vegan recipes to my repertoire and learned some culinary language to boot. Vegan bean chilli with corn chips, beanburgers, and on the sweet side, mango and coconut muffins, and chocolate brownies.

I didn’t find myself missing many foods, but what I did miss was Dutch appeltaart – the buttery pastry and generous quantities of apple is simply delicious. This was the first non-vegan thing I ate in July.

By coincidence, or not, a number of short videos promoting vegan food, and discouraging meat-eating and the industrial farming that provides meat, came my way during the month, keeping me well on track and less inclined to go back to cheesey-goodness in July.

5:2 to shift a few pounds

The main idea behind this diet is to have low intake of 500 cal per day for two days each week. The rest of the week you can eat what you normally do. A former colleague and his wife had successfully followed it, and I figured it was worth a go. I’m not great at doing things day-in, day-out, so 5:2 seemed like a good balance. I’m not overweight, but I am between dress-sizes, and this makes life awkward. I have two choices: I can either chunk up, or I can slim down. I choose to slim down.

Happily, I found that being on a diet for 2 days a week was just fine. I had 5 non-diet days to play with, so putting off a treat until the next day was simple – and I wouldn’t always eat it the next day anyway.

Working with a 500 calorie budget, I found a few staples in the first week or two that then were easy choices for the rest of the week. Breakfast became a crackerbread with a small dollop of peanut butter. A salad for lunch with minimal dressing. Mug of broth made with a little veg stock and hot water for a savoury hot drink. A few cashew nuts for a snack. Broccoli and a couple of eggs, or portion of beans for tea was warming and filling.

Some days I would see how far I could go in the morning without eating. If it felt easy to skip breakfast, I did. If I was hungry for lunch by 11.30, I ate lunch. No point torturing myself. This way, I could store up calories for the evening meal and snacks when I was more likely to be tired and have less willpower.

Most evenings I had a 50 calorie surplus. This became my treat time – some Jelly Beans, a small square of dark chocolate, and more cashews. One evening I had an alcohol-free beer to use my surplus up.

I felt hungry mostly around 4pm on the diet days, and mid-morning on the day after, leading to an early lunch. I’ve rarely looked forward so much to my bowl of cornflakes for breakfast the day after a 2-day! Hunger was easy enough to handle with some herbal tea or water, and the knowledge that tomorrow all limits were off. Fortunately I’m not an over-eater, so I didn’t gorge myself on the 5 days.

The effects were noticeable. In the first week, my wedding ring and watch became looser. By week three, my jeans felt looser around the thighs, and week four even more so.

The scales told a similar story: a few kilos gone. Success!

Daily walk/run/cycle

Getting outside and exercising has rarely been my thing. I’ve yet to go beyond the barrier of thinking that it’s a bother. This daily walk/run habit started off in my mind as getting outside for 30 minutes a day, and two days a week these 30 minutes would be running. Then it slipped into allowing cycling as well, which was a handy get-out clause as sometimes I cycle to get to places so I could count these journeys. Then it slipped again into allowing indoor yoga/bodyweight exercises instead. Then it slipped into not really bothering with anything.

As you can see, I didn’t keep my habit clear during the month. What counted each day could change, and in this changeability I undermined my resolution. If anything could count, if I could do the mental gymnastics to allow different things to count, then the integrity of the habit was compromised – my integrity was compromised – and my habit intention flopped and faltered.

This isn”t the first time that an intention to run regularly has faltered. I’ll go for maybe 3-6 runs, and then I find many reasons (excuses) not to go out and run. It’s not the right weather. I don’t feel great. I don’t have time – I should be doing something else. But really these are just excuses.

I’ve read, and been inspired by, Leo Babauta‘s journey into running, and Scott Dinsmore‘s, and joined Fitocracy too, but I miss the social support aspects that they encourage and rave about. I also don’t identify with being “a runner”. I’m someone who occasionally tries to get into running and so far haven’t fully succeeded.

When I’m actually out and running, I feel hot, sweaty, like I’m working hard, and pleased with myself for being out there. I feel generally good. But when I’m at home, not yet running, it”s too easy to put it off and ignore it.

Daily meditation

This was a straightforward habit to resume. I’d fallen off the straight-and-narrow during our relocation, and I needed to get into some kind of routine and habit with my meditation practice again. I used to have my meditation spot permanently set up in my office space, but in our new apartment I get my mat and cushions out each time, and put them away again. By the end of the month, my meditation practice was more regular than it had been for a few months. Success!

Unlike the running, meditation is something that I do identify with. I meditate. So when I was building meditation into my routine again, I met very little resistance – in fact I looked forward to it as I love the results and experience of meditating, even when it’s not that concentrated or easy.

Daily music-making

Making music has been part of my life since I was a child, though this was the first time that I deliberately put any kind of plan or intention into it beyond having intentions to get better at playing certain pieces. Playing music is something that relaxes me, cheers me up, and to put it more simply, I just enjoy. So I thought that it might be simple to make it a daily habit.

Not so. Music-making is something that I see as a treat, so when I have what feel like pressing concerns to attend to – work or household-related tasks – music-making drops off the priorities list. When you consider that music-making has such positive experiences and outcomes for me, it would seem sensible to put it as a high priority to encourage more positive states of mind. But no, it drops down the list. In fact, it’s a good indicator of my stress levels: if I’m not on my piano stool for a few days, I’m probably busy and/or overstressed.

Aspiring minimalism

I’ve been becoming more and more minimalist (or essentialist) over the last few years. What started as a practice of frugality became more of a chosen lifestyle as I realised more of the benefits of paring down my material possessions to what actually matters. Moving house was revealing though, since some of the boxes are still, four months later, packed up. What do I need to keep from those untouched boxes?

I decided to have more of a focus on minimalist activities – letting stuff go – during June.

Looking back now, five weeks later, I find it hard to pinpoint exactly what I did that was different to usual. When I travelled, I packed lightly. My wardrobe is pretty compact (see Project 333 below). We’ve already pared down what we have, and tend not to buy frivolous things. I keep my papers tidy, filed and updated, throwing out the papers that are beyond their useful storage dates.

This habit was very loosely defined, so my success with it is also quite loose. I didn’t turn into a raving hoarder, but nor did I whittle down my possessions to an absolute minimum. A work in progress.

Project 333

Project 333 is Courtney Carver’s approach to simplifying your wardrobe. Put simply, you select a capsule wardrobe of 33 items that you wear for the 3 months ahead.

At the start of June, I counted up my wardrobe items. I have a total of around 55 items, including coats, accessories, and shoes. When I counted up my summer items, for June through to August, I had fewer than 33. In fact I need to go shopping to have a better range of summer clothes, especially as the summers here are drier and warmer than in England.

What actually happened is that I just got by with my existing wardrobe. Sure, I could buy a few things that make summer dressing a little better, but it was enough to use what I have already. So this habit I passed by default rather than by design. Come the end of August, I’ll review for the autumn months of September – November.

BAM twitter posts

June 2014 was Buddhist Action Month, co-ordinated in the UK by the Triratna Buddhist Community. Going more vegan for the month was my main activity. I’d intended to tweet daily about BAM, and to post to the BCA Triratna Facebook group about it. After a handful of days, my enthusiasm waned. I felt as though I was talking into a void. And my inspiration dried up – I didn’t feel creative and some days my mind was blank when I wanted to send a tweet or make a post.

What I learned from this was the importance of detail and planning as well as having an overall aim. 30 separate tweets and Facebook posts need at least 30 pieces of information, and preferably a coherent thread running through them so that they make sense as a story through the month.

Business set up

The highlight of the month was a delightful workshop I led for the Ghent Buddhist sangha on money. We explored views and emotions around our financial lives, and heard one another’s stories too. The feedback I received about the day was really inspiring and touching. Feelings of freedom and clarity, a deepened understanding of how to relate to money and how to apply ethics to financial dealings were reported. And I could see on people’s faces the looks of relief, curiosity, and resolve to work more deeply with the relationship to money.

I had a great meeting with a Dutch coach who inspired me to join Het CoachHuis, an organisation that provides coaching venues. Our meeting also galvanised my resolve to get some tuition in Dutch (more of that in another post soon). We discussed niches and how I’m well placed and experienced to work with clients with technical backgrounds, to teach mindfulness and meditation, as well as taking the heart-head-intuition route into clients’ financial relationships.

Am I completely set up now? No, not completely. I do know my niches better, I have confidence in my methods, skills and personal qualities for coaching and workshop facilitation, and I’m building up the support network that’ll motivate, inspire and encourage me to get there.

Flaming June, or steady burn June?

As well as the individual habits and goals described here, I learned a lot about intense periods of effort and life change – more on that later.

How do you make changes in your life?

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