March: Beyond the Halfway Point

I haven’t written in a while.  Honestly, I have been so tired – I know that this is the time of year when a lot of teachers hit a slump, and I’m feeling it.  Spring Break starts on Monday, I don’t want to be here, my colleagues don’t want to be here, my students certainly don’t want to be here, and there’s a lot of negativity going around.  And it isn’t necessarily an attitude problem – a lot of people I’m working with have legitimate problems they are trying to deal with outside of their lives as teachers, and when you have a job that intrudes so much on your personal time, it’s really difficult to maintain a balance between job duties and personal duties.

That said, I haven’t given up on my goal for March.  I have made really great strides in some areas, and not so great strides in others.  I had already been flossing every day before this month and got great mouth reviews at my dental appointment last week.  I have been brushing most nights now, too.  I’ve developed a habit of going to bed at 9pm and waking up at 5am, which has been my favorite change this month, even if my body is still adjusting and I’m still generally pretty tired.

Getting up at 5am has resulted in more relaxed mornings and nights for me.  Mornings are more relaxed because I don’t have to rush through my routine of getting ready for work.  I have time to take a shower, read a little bit, eat breakfast, finish up any housework I was too tired to do after work the previous day, and still get out the door by 6:45am (my goal is to leave by 6:30, but 6:45 has been working, too.)  It takes me half an hour to drive to work, and school doesn’t start until 8:20, so I usually have a good hour to an hour and a half to set up, resolve any pressing issues, and settle in before my students arrive for first hour.

And now nights are more relaxed too, because if there’s some emergency that needs to be taken care of for work, or if I’m too tired to complete a household task, I know I’ll have time for it in the morning without being rushed.

One place where I’ve totally failed so far is exercising.  On the third day of the month, I went and signed up for a gym membership.  I have yet to actually go to said gym.  I always find some excuse.  Sometimes I’m too tired (and sometimes, I actually do feel too tired).  Sometimes I don’t have enough time.  It would interfere with the time I wanted to use to do other things.  Et cetera, et cetera.  This next week is Spring Break, which gives me something of a reprieve from all of the stress and exhaustion I’m picking up from work right now.  During this time, I will endeavor to actually go to the gym and get my feet wet.

And finally, my data collection has dragged.  I’m not too concerned about that.  I made this an experiment for motivation purposes, and not much more.  I’m finding that even without data collection, my motivation hasn’t suffered too much, so I’m good on that account.

March: Quitting the Quitting Attitude

I messed up over the past couple of days.  Thursday I didn’t drink enough water.  Friday I couldn’t pull myself out of bed, and when I got home I passed out without flossing or brushing my teeth first.  Today I haven’t eaten breakfast yet and it’s already nearly noon.

Usually this is the situation where I look at my chart, and I say, “Well, of course I could do it on the first day when I felt motivated, but now what’s the point?”  Why is it that small failures make giving up so enticing?  I feel as though since I couldn’t even do it the first couple of days, going on I’m going to feel that there’s no point in even trying.

This is where I need to be kinder to myself.  I’ll keep on trying, and at the end of the week, I’ll treat myself the way I would treat one of my students.  Where are my successes? I’ll ask.  Where do I need work?  If I can’t drink 8 glasses of water per day, maybe I should lower my expectation to four for now and build myself up to it.  But ultimately, the point of this isn’t to succeed or fail, but to become happier, and building these habits despite adversity is a way to, if not happiness, at least some extra energy.

Kicking off March

Hello!  As I often do, I’ve made one more change to my plan.  It’s fairly last minute, but now that I’ve started recording for March, I’ll be keeping the rest of my plan exactly the same.

I’ve changed my dependent variable.  Instead of measuring my lifestyle’s effect on my mood, I’ve decided to measure its effect on my energy level.  The point of this is that I find it easier to gauge my energy levels than my overall mood – sometimes I think I’m perfectly happy, and then BOOM, my whole mood shifts.  Energy is a little easier.  I can usually tell if I’m ready to work or if I’m falling asleep.  Here’s my energy scale:

= I’m likely to fall asleep if given the chance.

2 = I’m not falling asleep, but I don’t feel like doing anything, either.

= I can go about my normal day.  I feel worn out, but not sleepy or lethargic.

= I’m motivated and ready to act.

= I’m not only motivated to act, but eager to do so!

Yesterday (March 1), I registered about a 1 at 8am, a 3 at 1pm, and a 1 at 6pm (I literally did doze off at 6pm).  So, as you can see, I had a very low-energy day today, and that seems like the norm.

Today, since I got 8 hours of sleep and woke up at 5, I would register about a 4 at 8am, and a 3 at 1pm.  It was interesting seeing how energetic I felt in the morning.  One thing I noticed this morning getting up at 5am is that I didn’t feel pressed for time to get ready.  I don’t need to leave for work until 6:30am to arrive in my classroom an hour before the school day begins.

I am a morning person by nature.  After work, I have no motivation to do pretty much anything work-related.  One thing that pleasantly surprised me this morning was that I felt motivated to work once I had showered, and I was incredibly productive because I had a lot of uninterrupted time.  While it’s true I have that time at night, I never want to do anything right before bedtime.  I think this is going to do wonders for my stress caused by work.

March: The Happiness Project as a Science Experiment with Health

A Brief Overview

For those who don’t know me, I’m a high school science teacher.  The relationship between happiness and health sounds like a brilliant science project waiting to happen.  So here’s my research question:  Will improving my health really make me happier?  The variables have been defined.  Independent variable: Amount of improvement in health.  Dependent variable: Amount of improvement in happiness.

How to Measure the Independent Variable

There are some things that make this challenging as a science project, though.  First of all, how does one measure health?  I’m planning on making changes to habits regarding exercise, sleep, dental hygiene, diet, and hydration.  That gives me five different independent variables, which is a big no-no for a science experiment.  How could I tell what was making me happier?  What if I think that eating breakfast is making me happier, when in reality it’s the extra sleep and I don’t realize it?

What I need is some way to measure overall improvement of health in a quantitative way that incorporates all of these factors.  So do I make an equation to find some average of all of these factors?  But what if one thing is making me happier than another?  What if sleep has a bigger impact than flossing, and I can’t come up with a system that gives each variable its proper weight?  How do I quantify health so that I can measure it?

The answer to that is to simplify my independent variable – I will make number of days what I measure. So for the whole of March, I will endeavor to perform perfectly.  Since I know I won’t (and probably cannot) do that, I will make a chart to track how well I’m doing, so that if I see blips in the correlation between overall contentment and time, I can check to see if I am making any errors that affect the data.

In this method of measure, I believe I’ll get more reliable results as to whether keeping lifestyle changes over time impacts happiness, but I must also keep in mind that it won’t be possible to tell for certain which habits are helpful.

How to Measure the Dependent Variable

And for that matter, how do I quantify happiness?  What is happiness, really?  It feels like I’m chasing a shadow with this project.  I’ll know when I’ve got it, but there may not be a particularly tangible result.  I won’t be able to open my hand and show someone else that I’ve got it the way you would a physical object.

During NPR’s TED Radio Hour podcast entitle “Simply Happy,” Matt Killingsworth discussed how he measured happiness using surveys texted to people at random times throughout the day.  I think I’m going to quantify happiness over the course of this project using his system of ratings at random moments throughout the day.  To do this, I will need to install some program onto my phone that will ask me at random times to rate my happiness.  I’ll rank my happiness each time this happens on a scale from 1 to 5 and watch for improvement as my number of healthy habits improves.

My Predictions and Hypothesis

Obviously, being unhealthy makes people unhappy.  I hate being in pain, or being sick, or even little things like feeling hungry or exhausted.  Those types of things clearly take a toll on our happiness, because they sap away all of the energy and motivation we have to do other things that make us happy.  At best we can ignore them and try not to let it make us less happy.

But what about if you’re someone who isn’t sick, who’s in reasonably good shape, and is living a relatively healthy (albeit somewhat sedentary) life?  For me, I rarely do any rigorous exercise, I eat fairly healthy and usually cook my own meals, I brush my teeth daily and floss a few times a week, I sleep between 7 and 8 hours at night, I drink about 2 glasses of water a day and “supplement” with Dr. Pepper and the occasional beer.  If I started a workout routine, ate better food and started eating breakfast, brushed my teeth twice a day and flossed daily, slept 8 to 9 hours at night and kept a regular bed time and waking time, and drank eight glasses of water a day,  would it really make me happier?

I think yes.  Multiples studies have shown for years that exercise increases endorphin flow to the brain, which provides an immediate boost in mood and helps many people manage stress.  We all know from experience that getting enough sleep makes us less cranky, and multiple studies, including several cited by researchers at Harvard University, show the same results.  This article from the University of Connecticut summarizes a study that shows a potential link between mild dehydration and mood.  I don’t think that mood itself is happiness, but I think that people who are in a good mood more often are probably generally happier people as well.

So this is my experiment for March. I’ll continue to post updates for how it’s going! 

March: Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Because your body is the most important tool you have for exploring the world and living life.  Take care of it, and it has a much higher chance of serving you well.

In the month of March, the following are habits I will adopt to improve my health:

Create an exercise routine.

I hate physical activity.  I’ll admit it.  My fast metabolism has made me a very lucky lady, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not losing a lot of the health benefits that come along with getting exercising regularly.  I’m planning on joining my local gym and going three days each week for an hour each time.

Eat 3 meals a day.

Including breakfast.  This means I’m going to have to actually start stocking food items at my house.  Sometimes I get lazy and don’t remember to feed myself.  This seems like a great opportunity to try some new recipes, too!

Go to bed at 9 and wake up at 5, even on the weekends.

I think this one actually might be the easiest for me.  I’ve always been an early bird.

Drink more water.

Living in a desert increases the amount of water you should drink daily.  I like to “supplement” my water intake with soda.  I’m hoping that drinking more water will automatically mean I drink less soda.  One step I’ll take with this resolution is buying a quality water bottle.

Brush twice a day and floss once a day.

Right now, it’s more like brush in the morning, floss 4 times a week.  Which, I will say in my defense, is better than many who never floss at all.  The main culprit?  The lack of a strong bedtime routine, I think.  I want to create a bedtime routine that will help me relax and include teeth brushing.