Working Toward Winter Happiness: Week Nine

Well this has been quite the week. I’ve been all over the place when it comes to habits but added a few new practices as well. Did it have any effect? Let’s see!

Goal 1 (Go outside 7/7 days) and Goal 2 (Dress properly to enjoy being outside):

As I suggested last week, I’ve moved from making a point of going outside every single day to viewing my winter life as living in the International Space Station. Nobody in the space station says they need to have a space walk every day. They go out for a purpose. They don’t even go out to get some sun as you can’t have exposed skin in space. I can’t have much exposed skin in my own situation as it’s all covered under insulating layers. So instead I have been sitting in front of a SAD light for 30 min every morning. And whether or not it’s helping, I can say for sure I am having a great week.

In addition to going to work three days, I did go out on one major space walk this week, though. I read that before my new fitness watch can use indoor rides to calculate training load and recommend how much I should or shouldn’t be exercising, I need to do at least one real bike ride outdoors. Sunday night was that night. Not only that, I needed a few things for dinner: greens, rainbow trout, some rice. And so I put on my own space suit of merino wool leggings and shirt, wool socks, pants and a bright yellow windbreaker. A merino wool neck gaiter kept my neck, ears and chin warm.

When I got outside I was shocked at how cold it is. It’s only a little below freezing but there’s a 40 km/hr headwind and a little snow falling. There’s also a bit of snow on the ground so I have to ride carefully. The bike lanes are not fully cleared so I have to ride a bit further out in the road than I’d like. That plus the extra slipperiness makes the ride more stressful than fun though at least it’s a quiet Sunday night trafficwise and so once I get off the busy main road the stress is reduced. The cold is still there, though, and I’m surprised at how I’m still really cold despite all the warm clothes. You can see a little bit of the ride below:

I get my groceries, head back, balancing riding safely on the slippery roads with riding quickly to keep warm and get home fast. In the end I think I’m likely done with regular outdoor cycling for 3-4 months unless we have some unseasonably warm days in there.

In the end my watch had opinions. I’m pretty sure the stress reading is more about exercise than traffic but still!

So I went out 4 days out of seven this week. Sunday (bike ride), three days of work and again today for volunteer work (more on this later) and grocery shopping.

Goal #1: 57%

But despite my best efforts I could’ve dressed better so I’ll give myself 3/4 or

Goal #2: 75%

Goal 3: Running:

This is on indefinite hiatus due to injury. I’ll not be factoring this in.

Goal 4: Cycling:

This week I aimed to ride five days this week. I rode on Sunday as I mentioned and had two indoor rides on days I didn’t work. Those rides worked out really well, actually. I woke up early and got on the bike soon after. I did not enjoy the first few minutes but it paid off in the long run. After 10-15 minutes I was happy enough. But the real benefits came later. I had already done my exercise for the day. There was nothing more hanging over my head and I felt the benefits of exercise all day. So this will be 3/5 or

Goal 4: 60%

These goals are not looking so good, are they? OK onward to the next:

Goal 5: Get more than 6.5 hours sleep every day:

This one has been interesting. The short answer is I met the goal five days this week. Yesterday was tough as I had Hindi class that went until after 10PM and I had to wake up at 4:45. I was lucky to manage 6 hours. But my watch has also been tracking sleep quality. Am I getting enough deep sleep? Am I tossing and turning? Since I started using the watch, two things have become evident: one is that late exercise energizes me and I sleep poorly. The other is, doubtless, obvious to lots of people but eating a large late dinner means bad sleep, tossing and turning and sometimes even insomnia. So my goal has been to eat lighter and easier (I certainly didn’t on the other day I didn’t meet my sleep goal). So you can see while my total sleep was relatively good, my quality could be improved and most of that is to do with time and quantity of food. Cooking really yummy food keeps me in the kitchen later and I’m inclined to eat more when I shouldn’t. And the result is bad sleep and a worse day the next day. Particularly interesting to me is that I got less sleep last night than the night before but thanks to eating less, better, and earlier (salad with baked tofu finished by 7:15PM – 3 hours before sleep), my sleep was actually better.

So as you can see, I have something to work on here. I did improve though with 5/7 days meeting my goal or:

Goal 5: 71.4%

Goal 6: Eat Properly

This week I did well in terms of what I ate – there were veggies and mostly good quantity. One big exception was Tuesday night when I made this:

This is Goan fish curry, carrot/chilli pickle, cucumber raita (made with coconut yogurt, and brown rice. I ate all this, and about this much again it was so good. And I didn’t finish up until after 9PM – less than an hour before bed. Is it any surprise that when you look at the graph of sleep quality above, the rating I got the morning after was 49/100 – the worst of the whole week. I’m going to update the criteria:

  • Veg with every meal
  • Proper portion size (mostly this means no seconds)
  • Dinner finished before 8:30 PM – preferably earlier

So this week I’ll give myself:

Goal 6: 65%

So let’s have a look at my mood and we’ll start with “Body Battery” again. Keep in mind that exercise and stress deplete the battery, rest and relaxation recharge it. On days I go to the office I’ve been using only stairs – no elevators or escalators and usually due to the distances I travel this uses a bit of energy. I end up with 7000-10000 steps depending on if I stop on the way home for groceries or errands. I also end up doing 10-15 flights of stairs in the process as well, mostly from going in and out of the subway but also if I go outside I make sure I get at least a total of ten flights in by getting of the elevator early. So have a look at the two graphs of how I’ve been using my energy:

Looking at this week versus last week it looks like this week has about the same overall as last week but with a different profile. It’s also interesting to see that there’s a sharp dip at the end of the day as I either do errands/commute (Mon/Wed/Friday) or cook dinner (Tuesday).

One thing that I also did this week that makes me feel good is I did some volunteer work. With the pandemic it hasn’t always been easy with the food bank and free breakfast dropins I helped out at closing or scaling way back. It had been so long I’d forgotten it was even something I did. But this morning I did get out the door before 6:00 AM to get down to Chinatown where I helped out at a breakfast drop-in I often used to. It was a great start to the day. While the effort is low – mostly pouring coffee, milk and juice and chatting with people as they come through and then a bit of cleanup afterward – less than two hours total, 100 or more people usually come to warm up and get a little something to eat.

This week I also have been very religious about using my SAD lamp for the first 30 min I’m awake. I still can’t say whether it’s actually doing something physiological for me or psychological but in either case. Throughout my day I’ve been marveling at my energy and attitude – and during work hours my focus and motivation seem to be better as well. So all around a good thing. This has not only been the most consistent mood-wise with no bad days pulling the average down, the average has been higher as well. So for this week the results are:

Mood: 79.4% (+6% over last week)

Meanwhile, my overall habit score is 65.7% an astounding 16% drop from last week. Clearly there are other factors at play and maybe some of these items I’m tracking are not directly correlating or must be done in conjunction with others. Take Week 7. This was my best week for hitting my goals. I managed to get 95.7% – almost perfect. Only a couple bad night’s sleep gave me trouble. On the other hand, that week my mood was only 72.9% – the second lowest of the whole project. You can see the details in the table below:

I have not tracked SAD light use (only this week). I have also been pretty regularly taking Vitamin D so there isn’t a lot of variability on that. I think I may need to gather some more data – and start tracking sleep score as well.

Fingers crossed for next week, but beyond just crossing my fingers I’m going to target the following habits:

  • SAD light usage 30 min/day (not tracked at this point. I always hit 100% so no variability)
  • Tracking going outside and dressing warmly when I do.
  • No running, Aiming for four days/week of cycling. Only doing that on days I am not in the office
  • Sleep: Tracking sleep score and duration
  • Eating: Tracking not just what I’m eating but when

See you next week!

9 thoughts on “Working Toward Winter Happiness: Week Nine

    1. Thanks so much! I’m not sure I’ve found any really solid answers yet but part of me thinks that the experiment itself is being helpful in feeling my best.

  1. Todd, you are an inspiration! I relate to all of this, especially the tendency to hibernate in when the dark and cold arrive.Here in Boston we have not hit such low temps yet. In fact, we had quite a mild November. I struggle with SAD and find it very hard to get motivated to leave the house after nightfall which begins now at 4:30! I exercise daily, get early sunshine plus the Happy Light Lamp, and extra sleep. I try to do my creative work and outings during daylight. I’ve heard that we need to acclimate to the cold temperatures, but do not enjoy the process. I’ll compliment all this with a trip to Florida and North Carolina. Summer will always be my favorite time of year.

    1. Thanks so much! And I’m totally with you about leaving the house after dark. In summer it feels like nothing to head out the door at 8:30 PM but by 4:00 now I’m thinking it might just be a good night to stay in and relax.

      Temperature-wise I’m mostly doing OK thanks to warm clothes. I realize I also like feeling extra warm and working up a sweat when exercising. There was no way I’d be doing that outdoors on the bike – and if I did it would be uncomfortable or dangerous for extended durations. So while it isn’t the same as going out for a ride on a hot summer day, riding in a virtual jungle when the indoor temperatures are warm also feels great.

      Great idea to go south for the winter. I’ve been to India four times in the winter and that’s been really lovely. But now with airfares so high and the possibility of ending up sick in bed for part of the trip makes me think that at least for one more winter I’ll be making the best of things here.

    1. Thanks, Lakshmi – I feel the same. I’m really glad to know you.

      The injury was a simple running injury – a bit of muscle pain in the back of my calf and the beginnings of pain in the bottom of the same foot. I probably could go to a professional, buy fancy shoes and maybe do special exercises. But really, I like running but not so much that I want to put so much money and time. It’s really too fussy – even when I was running all the time, if I ran just a little too much I would end up with pain in the back of the leg that kept me from running for a month. I’ll stick to cycling – if I ride a little farther than usual the only thing that happens is I need a bit more to eat to fuel me.

  2. Todd , you always inspire me ; whether reading about your bike – ride in India , learning Hindi and now writing articles in Hindi too .
    Thoroughly enjoying the above goal ‘ diary ‘!
    Definitely makes this time of the year more cheery for me ; and I look forward to further writing from you .

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