Shortest list of things I’ve learned at 30 ever!
1. Track habits and moods based on my menstrual cycle
Yo, this tracker is life-changing!
As a woman, it’s not hard to realize how crazily my menstrual cycle affects my wellbeing. Oh not hard at all! Tears that come out of nowhere. Sudden waves of anger and irritability. One day feeling so fatigued and the next day is like a surge of energy. Well, I can’t change that part of my nature so I had to find a way to understand it better (knowledge is power).
Five months ago, inspired by the bullet journal ideas, I created an analog system (photo below) to track how my emotions and energy fluctuated throughout the cycle.
I also added daily habits and external factors (weather, events, supplement intakes, etc.) to the tracker. The hormonal changes can’t be the only culprit that influences my “sentimental soul”.
After five months of religiously tracking, I have become much more aware of my “woman’s code” and overall wellness. I have also impressed myself with the amazing progress in keeping up with healthy daily routines and digital detoxing. *patting myself on the shoulder*
How to set up the tracker
- Get a grid notebook (a plain one works too but the grid layout makes it much easier to draw straight and parallel lines!). The one I’m using here is MUJI Recycled Paper Double Ring Notebook B6 Grid.
- On the left page, draw a grid chart like above.
- Left column: what you want to track. Tips: Stay consistent with when you mark the tracker daily. I usually do it twice a day, after morning and night meditations. With that, I won’t be able to track the activities that happen after the night meditation until the next morning. So I group those with the next day’s items and use “day/night” symbols to differentiate them.
- Top row: write days of your menstrual cycle.
- Once the cycle starts, add days of the week to the top of the cycle days.
- Mirror the days of the week to the right page.
- The right page is reserved for one-line summaries of each day. You can write about key events and/or if you notice anything that influences your mood and energy that day.
- Be creative! Do whatever works best for you.
One time, to make things a little more flavorful, I listed out my anxiety habits. Guess what I found out about myself! Wanting to have control over time, people’s responses, and expectations are the main causes of my frustration.
The UX designer in me has infused the creative process for designing the tracker. Run data analytics at the end of each month. Iterate on what and how to track next month.
At 30, I finally got to know my body and mind much better (scientifically-ish). So do those around me... involuntarily.
Hmmm… Boyfriend, take notes! Seems like I get extra sensitive on the 8th and 9th days of the cycle. Should I send you a calendar reminder? 😘
And that satisfying feeling, whenever I marked a red cross, has been a strong motivation to stay on top of my self-care routine.
2. A balanced mind starts with a healthy body.
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming.” – An excerpt from the fifth mindfulness training of Plum Village.
This formula is my simple path to a healthier (mentally and physically) and more meaningful lifestyle:
+ intermittent fasting (16/8)
I’ve been doing this for almost two years and experiencing tremendous benefits. Eat to my heart’s content without worrying about calories or weight gain! A belly flattened up over time. A more energetic body and a clearer mind. One of those perks should be enough for you to give the fasting a 3-month trial. Right?
My skin is forever thankful for this switch in my diet. Dairy products cause so much inflammation. Even worse, what really breaks my heart is the extreme cruelty the dairy industry has been treating mama and baby cows. Sad that I had to say goodbye to the aged gouda and fresh milk bubble tea. But I want healthy skin and body, and I want to sleep sound at night knowing I’m not stealing away the milk mama cows reserve for their babies. And the alternatives are not bad at all. Have you tried Oatly (oat milk) or Earth Balance spreads (vegan butter)? 🤤
4 years ago when I was transitioning to the vegetarian diet, I applied the trick from this TED talk. Very simple, stay vegetarian during the weekdays and eat whatever your cravings demand on the weekend. I had burgers back then… That was a stepping stone into the new lifestyle. It’s not an easy path but a possible one. It’s the right thing to do for my health, the animals, and the environment. Need more motivation? Here are some movies and documentaries about the meat industry and the life of farm animals.
+ vegan supplements:
Took me years to realize how inadequate my nutrient intakes were. Totally depleted after an intense workout. Felt fatigued once in a while. All due to the lack of knowledge in creating a well-rounded vegetarian diet.
So after a series of experiments, these are what I now integrate into my daily intakes:
- vitamin B12 better be in a liquid form so the body doesn’t have to break down the medicinal properties of the herb to put them in the stomach
- “good” fat (monounsaturated fat): olive oil, avocados, seeds (chia, hemp, sunflower, pumpkin), nuts (almond, cashew, macadamia, walnut), nut butter, etc.
- vegan protein (powder)
- vegan collagen (powder)
- probiotics (powder) also in pickles, vegan yogurts, etc.
- calcium & vitamin D in either almond milk or orange juice
- magnesium (powder) I normally take it before bed to avoid muscle soreness while sleeping.
Pro tips: I usually just jam-pack all the ingredients into a smoothie!
Avoid as much as possible 🙅🏻♀️
High glycemic carbohydrates (white bread, rice, rice cakes, most crackers, bagels, cakes, doughnuts, croissants, most packaged breakfast cereals), and refined sugars. Watch out for natural sugars as well. When in doubt, go for slow-carb and unsweetened foods.
For some mental and emotional boost
Everyone’s body works differently. Make sure to find out what works best for yours.
Also, don’t forget to compost, recycle, minimize your waste, and be aware of the consequences of your consumption.
3. There’s no need to read so many books or journal all the time.
I used to journal every single day for years. But over the past year, I have noticed a big gap between what I was truly experiencing at the moment and what I was writing down describing that experience.
We tend to try capturing what’s going in our mind or in front of us. Jot that down. Take a photo of it.
But words are limited, none of them can truly paint the complexity of our mind. It takes many steps to get whatever is going on in our mind onto paper or google doc. And so often, once the experience becomes visible, it’s not that accurate anymore.
Books are a bit more tricky. I used to fill up my time by reading, excusing that it’s a productive activity. I’m not on social media. I’m reading books that offer valuable knowledge or let me escape into another world. Look, I’m doing something meaningful here!
But reading books to the point that all I was thinking about while brushing my teeth was what I had just read earlier started to concern me. Dancing poetic words in my head. Vivid images fabricated by my imagination. Somehow I got removed from the present moment and lived in the books’ world instead.
With all that said, I do still read books and journal, but more intentionally and mindfully. In the grand scheme, our journals are still much more reliable than our memory.
Anything is done with mindfulness is done well.
And sometimes it’s not so much about how much I read or write, but how often I allow myself to enjoy doing nothing. Just be.
4. Focus on one thing at a time
It took me a year to train myself to not do anything else while eating alone.
I guess I grew up seeing a lot of people constantly on their phones, reading newspapers, watching TV, or talking while having a mouth full of food. Somehow that became the norm. Somehow I expected myself to do something while eating. But that’s not fair for the healthy delicious food I’m consuming. How was I supposed to be enjoying something fully while my attention was always elsewhere? And I’m not even talking about all the health issues resulted from distracted eating.
That set the way I approached life. Being in one place while my mind was on another continent. Always multitasking, always lost in the present moment. Then that moment happened. The first time I intentionally put all my attention into drinking a cup of tea, I felt like I have never tasted tea before. How come I never noticed this warm and comforting sensation the moment the tea touched my lips?
Now when I eat, I just eat.
What’s even better? Eating in silence with friends and family. We allow ourselves to mindfully enjoy this wonderful moment of life while being in the presence of each other.
5. Get your self a good bike and a hammock
Being an aspiring minimalist, I’m very conscious of my consumption and waste. But I do believe in getting what brings values to our life, such as requesting a hammock as a gift for my 30th birthday.
There’s something so magical and soothing about being in a hammock. First, it gives a new perspective, sky-up! For those obsessed with cloud gazing like me, it’s an instant dose of joy. And that gentle rocking motion is so so so comforting, like a baby in a womb. Plus hammocks are pretty versatile, I totally can see mine being used indoor. Worth every single penny! (It’s not like I paid for that hammock… got it as a gift. But you get the idea.)
Cycling, besides running, is the most liberating activity people of all ages and from all walks of life can enjoy, especially during this pandemic. I used to only be able to bike in a straight line. I got super stressed out whenever biking around other people or vehicles. But ever since my cycling skill leveled up (which, to my surprise, only took 3 bike rides), I can’t go by a week without taking a ride.
Now go reconnect with your inner cyclist. Remember, safety first! Wear a helmet, apply ample sunscreen, (if you want to go extra) bring a bottle of water, add a bike bell, put on a reflective vest, and you’re good for the ride.
6. Embrace sadness and not get attached to happiness
Elizabeth Gilbert once said, “…the truth that everything (both uncomfortable and lovely) does eventually pass.” But the deeper truth is that pain and joy are co-existing. One doesn’t exist without the other, like the front and back of one hand. When we look at our palm, we simply forget that it also has another side. The moment I was overjoyed achieving something, I was already afraid of losing it.
Through meditation, I have observed how often I got carried away by strong negative emotions.
I’m so anxious about their decisions (which are totally out of my control) that I don’t even notice the roses in full bloom in front of me.
Also through meditation, excitement about the future seems to be another source of distraction from the present moment.
I can’t wait for the next vacation! All I’m doing now is imagining how I’m going to enjoy it.
Always live in the past or the future. Always a cycle of pain and joy. So to live in the present, I have to be fully there for any emotion, and not get attached to none. All of that is for being able to enjoy the birds chirping in the backyard and not listen to the troubling monologue in my head.