Month: September 2013

Healthy Achievements

The health kick has stalled again but I think I’ve figured out why.

I need a goal. I need an achievement.

In the past I’ve managed to tackle a 10KM run, and a 47 mile cycle ride from Glasgow to Edinburgh and, more recently, I took part in a local 5KM event.

All of them gave me a target, a goal, a reason to do some training.

This is not news to me, I know I need a challenge to push me to exercise. After that I know that the healthier eating falls into place and after a couple of weeks I start to change my approach and attitude to being healthy, I’ll take more care of what I eat, I’ll push myself to do more exercise, I’ll even start to plan around going for a run, or to the gym, shuffling my social calendar where I can.

But whilst I know HOW to set myself goals, it seems that without some form of focus or event I can’t seem to stick to it.

Being healthy is not a specific enough goal. Lose 10kg is specific and measurable, but hasn’t been attainable despite the fact it is most definitely realistic and I can set myself a time limit to achieve. But there is no competition other than with myself.

Although I’m not sure “competition” is the right word.

There is definitely something I need to have in place that has my exercise being focused on an event, as opposed to a simple goal of losing weight.

So it’s time to come clean. My name is Gordon McLean and (I think) I’m a praise-addict.

I think I have to finally admit that it’s the achievement and praise that completing an event brings that triggers something in my head. Looking at how I interact with others when talking about exercise and health, it starts to make sense.

I’m aware of my weight and size, and whilst I’ve been heavier, it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t talk about my weight. I don’t drop it into conversation at work, for example, nor is it something that anyone asks me about (you tend to only comment when people have lost a very noticeable amount of weight and then only if you are reasonably sure that they have been trying to lose weight in the first place).

If I manage a short run, or I lose a little weight, I will mention those things in a self-deprecating way, but when I was taking part in Pedal for Scotland (the 47 mile cycle) or the recent 5KM run, everyone knew about it as I talked about my ‘training’ for it.

But, at work at least, we talk about what we did at the weekend. The achievements of our lives if you will, and I’m realising that the external validation (for want of a better word) is what drives me on. It’s also why I share weight and fitness ‘stats’ on a Twitter account, and why I write about it here now and then.

At this point I’m pausing to wonder if it’s praise for an achievement that I seek, or simply just having an achievement to boasting about.

None of this is new. I’ve floated similar thoughts on Twitter in the past and several very lovely people have offered me ‘competition’, be it comparing Fitbit stats, or mileage ran. At the time it was an intriguing thought as I was convinced it was purely my competitive nature that drove me but, as I’m starting to figure out, it’s not that at all.

Competition will always push me to push myself. I like to win. I like to help others win. Even going back to my time in the Boys Brigade, it was that same drive and determination to push myself further, and either help or drag others along with me if I had to, that made my squad win all the trophies going for the year I had them (I won both personal trophies that year too).

Ohh that’s a boast, isn’t it.

Regardless of whether it is praise or boast that motivates me, I know that I need to figure out how to ‘game’ my brain again. Sign up for another 5KM run perhaps? There is a local Parkrun* but, for no good reason they don’t seem count in my own internal (and admittedly quite weird) scale of ‘achievement’. Perhaps that’s all I need to change. To set myself a date driven ‘run 5KM at Parkrun by the end of October’, perhaps?

My general fitness isn’t actually too bad, I play basketball once a week and, injuries aside, have been managing to do at least one run or longer walk once a week as well, but it’s not enough and I know it.

The bottom line is that I need to lose weight for medical reasons.

My weight needs to go so my blood pressure lowers naturally so I can, in turn, lower the dosage of my high blood pressure medication before it starts messing with my liver. Beyond that I’d like to lose some weight to be more comfortable in my clothes and to change my own internal body image.

But, despite the seriousness of the issue, knowing that I have to lose weight, that I am compromising my health, still isn’t enough to motivate me to make the right kind of changes.

I guess that losing weight and eating healthily just doesn’t sound like much of an achievement to me.

 

* Parkrun – free, timed event that runs every week. Is it because it’s not a one-off event that I don’t seem to think it counts?  

 

Over Communicating

Written in response to the monthly theme on Poly Means Many: Communication

Many articles around open/poly relationships discuss communication and rightly so as it’s the key foundation for all good relationships, regardless of type. However, it’s not something I’ve always been the best at; add my own shortcomings to a poly relationship, and those flaws get amplified.

Obviously there are differences between the communication between two people and the communication required between four as we all have different personalities and naturally differing ways of communicating.

My own style of listening, the phrases I use, the presumptions I have in my head, all suit me, but for others in the relationship they won’t be quite right. I’m aware of this, as are others and so, to try and counter any confusion we spend a lot of time, for wont of a better word, over-communicating.

If there is something to be discussed by more than two people then we will talk it through together with each person rewording into their own ‘language’ if required. Clarifications are needed to make sure there is no misunderstandings and, so far, it’s all been delivered without any hint of negativity. Sometimes there are things which are hard to discuss, sometimes there are things which just need to be said out loud, it’s not always easy but it seems to be working.

I’ll admit that the level of detail needed to make sure all the people in the dynamic are clear and happy is something I struggle with even though I know it’s absolutely necessary (and I know it helps me too). The trouble is that it doesn’t suit my natural style of communicating. I tend to be very high-level, detail-phobic almost, so I have to be sure to adapt my communications appropriately.

That means paying attention to detail, and the words I choose, and putting myself in my partner’s place (or my partner’s partners place). It means being honest even when it’s things that aren’t easy to say. It means letting go of the past, of my own insecurities and owning up to things as I truly see them, not saying what I think someone else wants to hear.

At the beginning of this journey, I struggled with the honesty required to be ethically non-monogamous. It wasn’t that I wanted to not be open and honest but more that I was well practised in being guarded and closed. It’s not always been easy but I’m far more comfortable with it now to the point of it being just part of who I am.

Still learning

I first made aware of the idea of non-monogamy by some friends, it was on the periphery of my life and I didn’t pay it much heed. I was aware of the general principle but for the most part I fell into the usual traps when thinking about ‘open relationships’ (basically, all the sex, right?).

Fast forward several years and I find myself slap bang in the middle of a wonderful set of relationships (where my girlfriends are girlfriends, and my girlfriend’s boyfriend and I get on well). So I’m an expert now, right?

Of course I’m not!

The (unwritten) tag line to my life is that I’m always learning and with every passing day I’m happy to say that not only am I happy, which is always a good thing, but that I’m learning more about how being part of poly relationships works, not to mention learning more about myself too.

That also seems to be theme as I continue to reach out within the poly community, read other blog posts, and learn more about how other dynamics work. So, when the PolyWeekly podcast peeps asked “What do you wish you’d known when you first started exploring polyamory?” I knew I had an answer.

 

When my girlfriend first broached the topic of being in an “open relationship” with me it seemed pretty straightforward. We agreed we could see other people.

Pretty soon after that, of course, came the thoughts (the “what ifs” that can be dangerous) about the future. What if one of us met someone and fell in love? What if one of us met someone and the other person didn’t like them? What if one of us just wanted to be free to have one-night stands? What do you call the person A in respect to person B? What if the new person wants to introduce a hierarchy? What if, what if, what if…

So we talked and talked, and read and read. We bought books, we asked friends, we read blog posts and we talked some more.

Naturally, as the poly community starts to grow and be more vocal, language starts to play a part in helping communicate some of the ideas, but when you are new to the entire arena of open relationships and their various types, the words and phrases can seem alien; polyamory, compersion, deltas, NRE and so on.

Increasingly, as I become more comfortable with my relationship orientation, these words come to the fore as I talk to friends and family. It’s a whole new language, and a whole new view of the world.

Some useful links:

Getting Organised

I read some advice the other day that suggested that, instead of reading up on how best to be productive, you’d be better served actually doing the things you need to do rather than trying to figure out the best way to ‘be productive’.

I guess the premise being that many people spend a lot of time researching methodologies, trying out applications and processes when, for most of the tasks they are tracking, they would be better to just do the damn thing already.

I fall squarely into that group of people. I’m very guilty of spending too much time figuring out the ‘best’ way to keep myself organised, sometimes at the expense of just doing things.

So, why do I even need any kind of system?

Well, mostly to counteract my awful memory but also, partly, to keep track of random ideas that float through my head, things I don’t need to act on straight away but I know are good enough to log somewhere with a view of revisiting them later.

But what do I actually need?

Let’s break things down. Fundamentally I need to keep three types of things organised:

  • Tasks
  • Information
  • Schedule

For all of these I want to be able to access them all from any device I want, be it my laptops (work and personal), my iPhone or my iPad. Simple enough, right?

Tasks

There are tasks that I need to do and, broadly speaking, I can break them down across three categories: Work (capital W, day job), Personal, and work (lowercase w, side jobs).
Some of the tasks have a hard deadline (given to me, or driven by external forces), some of notional deadlines that I apply myself (or I won’t do them), and others fall into the ‘some time’ bucket (essentially these are the ideas that I need to follow up but which have no real urgency).

So I need categories, but I’m not fussed about sub-categories, and I need the ability to schedule repeating tasks because … well did I mention my awful memory?

Solution

Wunderlist. No, Any.do. No, Reminders. Dammit.

It’s here where I struggle to find an ideal solution but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

For now, I’m sticking with Wunderlist.

I love the Any.do app but there is no website (or OSX app) to allow me more power and easier editing. No matter how hard I try, this is a must have for me so after a couple of months of Any.do I’ve switched back to Wunderlist (I considered Remember The Milk again but it’s user interface just doesn’t feel nice any more). Wunderlist has iOS apps and and an OSX app, allows for categories and repeating alarms.

The future development of Apple’s Reminders app may sway me away from Wunderlist. Tighter integration with the OS makes it very slick and (work proxy issues aside) the ability to sync my Reminders to iCloud (and so across all my devices) makes it very slick. If the UI improves I can see it being my go to app in the future. Add in tagging, something I’m keen to see in the upcoming Mavericks release of OSX, and the power of the Apple ecosystem, across apps becomes a different prospect again. But that’s for the future.

Information

There is also information I need to store. Be it documents of information, files to backup or share, lists of contacts, or other pieces of digital media that I need to keep organised.

Occasionally the information is snippets, not a full document, but the need is the same.

Solution

Dropbox – for file storage. Not just because I can access it from anywhere, and share folders with others if I need to, but because many iOS/OSX apps integrate with it, allowing me to use it for draft posts, for example, so I can work on them at any time. For the inquisitive, I’m using Byword on both OSes to write my blog posts these days.

Evernote deserves a mention here too. For shorter pieces of information, and particularly for clipping information from the web, it’s excellent. It means I can grab recipes, add to my Evernote powered wishlist, and just generally use it as a database of things that might be useful to me in the future.

I should also mention the Drafts app for iOS here. It’s a simple text based editor which has several ways to take what you’ve just typed and fire out an email, send it as a note to Evernote and more. It’s a good quick way ‘in’ to my information system.

Schedule

Finally there is my schedule/calendar.

Due to personal circumstance this area is a lot more critical than it used to be, as I need to be able to schedule my leisure activities based on the whereabouts and plans of three other people.

Solution

Google Calendar – which allows me to share my own calendar and view those of others, making planning a night with one or more (or all) of those people a lot easier.

Email

One item I’ve not included in this waffling ramble is email. Quite simply because I have an excellent solution.

Gmail + Mailbox

My personal email is all filtered into Gmail. I can access it anywhere I want on any device I have. Where the real bonus for me is that, by using Mailbox for iOS I can now manage my emails much better. If I can quickly reply, I will. If something needs followed up I can quickly schedule it to ‘reappear’ in my inbox.

And that’s where I am currently. I don’t stick to a productivity methodology, I try and just do things when I can, but for now I have a system that works for me and does get massively in the way of me actually doing things.

Balance

I’ve use this word a lot and over the years finding emotional balance has become increasingly important to me as I start to understand how I work and function best. In the past I’ve been very guilty of taking on too much, either explicitly or without realising, and leaving myself open to the big dark clouds that occasionally loom when I start to failing to deliver on my promises or living up to (perceived) expectations.

Thankfully I’ve gotten past a lot of that and, whilst I will always want to try and make things better for people, to fix things that are broken, and generally try and make sure that the people I care about are happy, I know it’s not just down to me to find the balance in my relationships.

These days I’m think I’m getting better at picking up only the things I need to, although I’m still learning which issues and problems aren’t mine, something which takes on a whole new dimension in a set of poly relationships. If someone is upset or worried about someone else, should I be upset or worried too?

On top of my own character flaws and foibles, adding in not one but two loving relationships brings new considerations and I’ve found both the need for, and the challenge of, maintaining balance across those brought into sharp focus.

Whilst it can be hard to find that centre point it’s definitely not impossible. There are some simple tips we’ve picked up from others that help; Balancing time is managed by shared calendars for example, and everyone understands that we all need our own space from time to time. But of course it’s not quite that simple and I’m realising that the trick is understanding that having the time and taking the time are two very different things.

Understanding each others expectations plays a part as well; knowing how much time someone wants or needs, how much time the other person I want to see has to give, what the other person wants to do when you see them (stop giggling at the back!), all that, and much more, can impact the balance and has the potential to leave people feeling either neglected, exhausted, or overwhelmed (sometimes all at once).

So it’s a challenge. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. Arriving at the end of a week feeling loved, realising that you can be happy for days on end (no matter what else life throws at you), and knowing that you are very lucky to have so much love and affection in your life, well I think that’s well worth a few changes and compromises here and there.