Is it worth being a morning person? Or even possible?!


I was reading* in the bath last night (one of my favourite things to do, ever) and came across a line that really struck me:

"Decisions are sheep, habits the shepherd".

Certainly when it comes to get up in the morning it seems like any kind of decision-making (sheepish or not) doesn't get a look-in. My lifelong habit of being dragged kicking and screaming from sleep into another day has continued it's reign long past my teenage years...

Certainly our habits seem to be a framework in which we live our lives, for better or worse. Interestingly, just before the New Year I read a book by Gretchen Rubin called "Better than Before" by Gretchen Rubin, she of "The Happiness Project", all about habits and how your personality can affect your habit-forming tendencies. I actually read the book off the back of a Jess Lively podcast I'd listened to featuring her (check it out here - link! - in fact I'd actually recommend it over the book, especially if you're short on time). Rubin believes there are four tendencies - the upholder, the obliger, the rebel and the questioner - and that each person tends towards one of these. She even has a quiz you can take to find out which one!

Anyway, I fall into the OBLIGER category, which means that I have difficulties keeping up with good habits or quitting bad ones unless I have an external form of accountability - essentially I find it easier to keep promises made to others than those commitments I make just to myself. So as the year progresses I have been keeping this in mind when I decide to try to form a new habit - essentially I attempt to build-in some kind of external accountability regime. 

More recently I read a book called "The Miracle Morning". Again, one I came across in a podcast (here), and one which I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading in its entirety. But it has some interesting ideas I'm eager to put into practice. The essence is that your level of personal development is intrinsically linked to your professional development, and that it is worth taking time each morning (before the day wears you out) to actively focus on developing yourself as a person - through meditation, exercise and reading to name a few of the activities he suggests. 

With both of these books something clicked with me - I have wonderful intentions, but too often end up vegging out in front of the TV at the end of a day in work. And even when I'm not being lazy, I often just plain forget my good plans when the day's tasks jump to the front of my mind. Like I forget to go shopping for a healthy dinner until it's 8pm and I'm looking in the fridge because my stomach is beginning to eat itself. Or I forget to meditate until it's 11pm and I'm in bed. Or I forget to switch my alarm to an hour earlier than normal because the fact that I planned to workout the next morning slipped my mind... Ok, so my memory is actually completely ridiculous. You get the picture. 

So now I am publicly committing to next week beginning my "Miracle Mornings" - setting the alarm an hour earlier to spend a hour on myself each morning, and setting in place habits that will hopefully become as routine as brushing my teeth and mean I no longer have to rely on my memory (hopeless), my willpower (dodgy), or my decision-making faculties (unpredictable!) in my attempts to put my health and wellbeing front and centre of my life. So getting into the habit of being an early-riser so that I can put into place more good habits! A virtuous circle if you will.

And despite being the world's most resolutely non-morning person, I'm strangely looking forward to it!

* A book called "The Architect's Apprentice" by Elif Shafak, set in 16th Century Istanbul. I'm loving it.

** How about you? Do you have any habits you want to cultivate? Anyone have any tips and tricks on how to become a morning person?! **

How to get over a nasty cold

Dear Jess,

It seems to have been a bad winter for bugs, and now that you are also unwell I thought it might be time to share some of my failsafe tips for getting over flu or a cold quickly.

1. Sleep: This seems obvious, but if you're anything like me there will be a temptation to dabble in work, check emails, watch TV, read books... basically anything that might technically count as "rest" (I mean, it can all be done from bed right?) without actually necessarily being restful. NOTHING works as well as plain sleep to get you better - your body does its best repair work when you're snoozing, and just being in bed does not count. Bonus points if you meditate to help get to sleep - I use the Headspace app for daily meditation (though it's designed for mornings rather than going to sleep I still find it helps me nod off), and there are loads of other apps or online options.

2. Olverum bath oil: I swear by this (despite for some reason insisting on pronouncing it ol-i-ver-um. I have the same thing with mischievous - mis-chiev-i-ous. No idea where these random "i's" come from). Yes, the price tag will make you want to weep, but this stuff is snot-busting magic in a bottle. It also lasts for ages. Half a capful in a warm bath will help sooth aches and pains, relax you right down into your bones, and the intense pine scent (think essential oils rather than Toilet Duck) is the best decongestant I've found. (Disclaimer: this stuff is addictive, I have used it all winter in my baths just as a "precaution" against any colds or flu lurking in my house...)

3. Manuka honey: I was slow to jump on this bandwagon (unusually, since any new superfood I'm basically sold on at the first mention!) but it really does make a difference. Again, pricey but a little goes a long way. And it really helps if you're prone to throat infections or the sore-throat side of flu-y symptoms like I am. Many people mix with hot water and lemon - I'd advise not to, as hot water can deactivate its antibacterial qualities, use lukewarm instead. Antibacterial levels are measured in "UMF" levels - look for something over UMF 15+ for some serious bug-busting strength.

4. Wash, lots: The temptation when you are sick is to let standards slip a little... But seriously, don't. Wash your hands more frequently than ever, bathe at least once per day, and change your bedlinen every couple of days. This may be more superstition than science, but I swear wearing newly washed PJs, getting into fresh bedlinen, after a lovely bath (with Olverum of course) accelerates the healing process. Maybe you're getting rid of any opportunities for germs to fester; maybe you're just making yourself feel better psychologically by improving your environment. Who cares, so long as it helps!

Lovely readers, and more tips and tricks?

Get better soon,

Anna xx

...or plant-based?

"Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" - Michael Polan

Dear Jess,

I loved your "Bad Vegan" post - such a sensible way to approach what can seem to some as a rather extreme approach to food but that really isn't! Or at least it needn't be.

I have to say I have pretty much the same approach as you, though perhaps a bit more lax. Some time ago I was vegan for about five years, as strict a vegan as you could possibly find. Time proved that I couldn't keep it up: I not only became that person no-one wanted to eat with (either cooking in or going out) but I lost any kind of joy in food. Unfortunately my quest to be the Best Vegan Ever dovetailed all too neatly with a broader perfectionism that I think is pretty common in women of our generation. And it was making me miserable.

More recently, when I decided to move back towards being more vegan than vegetarian, I decided to take a more easy-going approach - one I guess could best be described as "plant based". For some this means a strictly whole-foods approach to veganism, for me this means very much what it says on the tin. Plants make up the vast majority of my food intake, but with some leeway for the odd bit of dairy, even more rarely some egg, and even more rare than that some seafood. And by not calling it "vegan" I never feel boxed in, never like I'm constantly falling short of the label, never like I'm missing out or need to justify myself. And this approach seems to inspire more people around me to cut back on meat than my ultra-strict veganism ever did.

It's taken me a long time to heal my relationship with food, but I think I've finally finally found a way of eating that works for me.

Anna xx

Bad Vegan

Dear Anna,

I have revisited this extract from Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist essays quite a few times since it was first published, because it’s clever, and funny, and forgiving.  As Gay points out, moving through this world as a woman is hard.  And it is a topic to which I will return a lot here.  But for now, I just want to share that I’m not only a Bad Feminist, I’ve realised I’m a Bad Vegan, too!

I often feel like I’m failing at being the person I want to be – my best possible self - and with that comes a lot of guilt. This has only gotten worse for me since becoming vegan.  Here I am actually trying to be the change I want to see in the world, but I ruminate on the instances in which I’ve failed.  I know that you have those moments, too.  In fact, you just did. But as I said in my text, not even a few hours ago, you really should not feel guilty because you ate non-vegan chocolate in the midst of a stressful weekend.  If we had our way, everyone in this world would be vegan and we’d have the convenience and luxury of endless vegan options everywhere we went. If Roxane Gay had her way, she’d have the luxury of enjoying catchy thuggish rap songs that don’t degrade women. Until then, I think we all need to forgive ourselves our imperfect taste.

I very much like this article in Slate – not least because I am fully on his side when it comes to the oyster debate – but I love this line, in particular, “Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest”.  Well said. So I’m just going to do the best I can, and for now (all things subject to change), I’m of the opinion that it’s OK to enjoy oysters, and honey, and on occasion, the non-vegan chocolate bar, the naan bread at your local Indian, your best friend's homemade garlic mayonnaise, and the beer and wine that – so frustratingly – is not actually vegan because of a technicality called isinglass.

In short, I think I’m a bad vegan.  But that is better than not vegan at all.

X jess

Turmeric Milk

Dear Anna, 

Today I made Turmeric Milk following this recipe from Nutrition Stripped, and you must try it. Being a #badvegan, I did add the optional tablespoon of honey. More on why I'm a #badvegan - and why I embrace that - in my next message. 

In the meantime, make yourself some turmeric milk: it's good for you, it tastes great, and your flat will smell of cinnamon. 

x jess