Readjustment has been the main goal of the week. That and setting up a foundation for beginning my freelance career. It has been less than two weeks since Sean and I finished the Appalachian Trail. The differences of lifestyle are noticeable. We went from living in the woods and walking all day every day, to our urban apartment in Montreal. Not that this is a bad thing. I love our two story townhouse in Little Burgundy. It has got all the character and space I could ever wish for. Therefore coming home felt wonderful. It certainly is different though!
Mostly the readjustment has been focused on creating a schedule and goals that I want to maintain. Creating good habits, staying active, and being productive were just natural results of doing a long distant hike. Now, though, I have to actively work on them to maintain that lifestyle. Which so far has been a pleasure! As I’ve mentioned before, there were times while on the trail that I dreamed of the most basic domesticity routines and now I get to implement them. It has been interesting scheduling my days without the natural routine of work to dictate it. This is how I have done it so far:
I’ve done some reading that talks about the best way to make a permanent change in your natural routine is repetition. That if you make something a daily habit you will begin to do it without thought and it will become a natural part of your day. I’ve heard about theories like the Thirty Day Challenge where if you commit to doing something at the same time every day for thirty days you will do it for ever after. This seems a little optimistic but I’m going to give it a try.
To organize this process and keep myself accountable I worked on creating a daily schedule in a physical journal. I’m a tactile person. Tangible things that I can interactive with are important for me to keep focused. It is why sometimes I do not get the full satisfaction with things that are on a screen. I can engage only so much and therefore sometimes I lose interest. For instance, logically I love the convenience and ease of an e-reader. There is something to say for having a whole library at your fingertips on a device that weighs absolutely nothing. However, when it comes down to it I don’t know if I could ever fully give up the tangible nature of a physical book. It’s not just the smell and nature of the book. It is the purely tactile nature of it. That you have to turn the pages to progress, the weight of it in your hands, the feel of the paper against your fingers; all subconsciously important aspects for me. Therefore having a physical journal that I write in daily was important to me. I could have used my smartphone, and I know there are a wonderful myriad of habit tracking apps out there, but it made sense for me to buy a notebook for this process.
The main organization of it is broken down into parts: This week’s goals, my daily schedule with supplemented weekly chores, an ideas section, and a daily record of activities. I looked around on the internet for ideas of what to keep track of and how to implement them. There are some beautiful journals out there, I do have to say!
For my weekly goals, I wanted a way of representing them in a non-binding manner. As in, they were goals that I wanted achieve over the course of the week and not regulate them to a specific time or day. I find that if I say I am going to do this on this day, if I don’t accomplish it on the day in question it is more difficult for me to reschedule when I am going to do it. If I have a more fluid idea of when I want to accomplish something I have more of a chance of getting it done. So if I have some time on Tuesday evening when I thought I might have been busier, I have a chance of accomplishing one of my weekly goals. Therefore I use the method of drawing a circle with the goals spiraling around it. When I accomplish one I can indicate that it is done by coloring in a block. It makes it aesthetically pleasing for me and gives me the satisfaction of seeing my goals getting accomplished as the week progresses.
My daily schedule is more rigid. To create daily habits, doing the same activity at the same time each day is important. Most importantly for me is to maintain a sleep schedule that keeps me productive. I love to sleep. I love my bed and the feeling of being cozy under blankets. Therefore if I let myself, I would happily sleep the day away and fill up the rest of the time with Netflix and KD. I have done it before. And while in the moment it is hedonistically gratifying, it always felt depressing if I did it for too long. Weeks where I didn’t really do much and accomplished little are not the weeks I look back on fondly. Though every now and then a cozy day is pure bliss.
However, right now I am working on a productive habit inducing lifestyle. For me, I am most productive in the morning and so I wake up at 5:30 every morning. So far, it’s been wonderful. The light is just turning into that early morning glow and by the time Sean and I are out for a run the city is flooded with pink and golden light. It is incredibly beautiful and gratifying to be up and about so early. I am worried that as the sun rises later and later that it will become more difficult to maintain. Getting up and out for a early morning sounds so much harder when it is still fully dark outside.
There are a couple of things I have organized that I have to do daily. Things like wake up at the same time every day, drink water first thing, take care of the cat and all his various need… etc. Things that should be done every day for me. Then other things I have organized that I should do five times a week or other things less. Things like, I want to exercise five days a week and allow myself a break sometimes; I want to clean my house but it doesn’t need scrubbing daily, so I have specific rooms to be deep-cleaned once a week; and I want to make sure I do something creative during the week but only really need to set time aside for it a couple times a week. All this organization is tailored to my needs and what I am expecting of myself. To keep track of it I have unmarked boxes beside each task and can colour them in as I do them. Secretly I am still a child and need gold stars to feel productive so seeing the week slowly get filled and more colourful helps keep me on task.
An idea section was important for me because hopefully I will be pursuing a career that is based on my own ingenuity. To have a place where I can jot down things that come to me in a moment is important. Even ideas that I think are brilliant, can be forgotten by me in the hustle and bustle of my day to day if I don’t write them down. Therefore, nearly half the page is reserved for space where I can write down anything I wish.
I think the most important section that I have in my new journal is where I record everything I did today. It is the most traditional aspect of a journal and keeping it to bullet points makes it easier for me. I can quickly jot down what happened during the day and it helps me recognize if I spent the day productively or not. It keeps me accountable to myself. So far it has also helped fulfill my sense of satisfaction when I do have good days. I don’t believe that every day has to be productive but my Calvinist ancestors have left me with a sense of pleasure at a day well spent.
Also, I had met a woman on the trail who had talked to me about quantifying life aspects. Things like keeping track of mood and productivity can give you a perspective on your rhythms that would be hard to see otherwise. Therefore as part of journaling at the end of the day I record things like the weather, something that made me happy that day, if I drank enough water through the day, food intake, expenses and happiness levels. I’ll see if I can notice anything significant about these recordings over time.
So far my journal has been a success. It helps me keep an idea of what I want to accomplish and if I am working towards those goals. I do have an issue with keeping journals over a long time, but I think the daily planner aspect of it will give it more purpose than the cathartic scribblings I have done in the past as journalling.
Sean and I went from burning nearly 6000 calories a day (speculatively, we never actually kept track of calories while on the trail) to potentially burning none. We had heard stories about people leaving the trail and finding themselves in a depression. Mostly from the drastic change in exercise. Most cardio based exercise promotes the creation and release of serotonin and can really affect one’s chemical happiness levels. Therefore we wanted to maintain an active schedule upon coming back to Montreal.
Luckily we have the most beautiful running paths right near our house. We live a couple of blocks away from the Lachine Canal and the city has built the perfect park for morning runs. We have a circuitous route that follows the water and over bridges. It is flat, it is well maintained, it is perfect. So our main source of exercise is morning runs at the moment.
That and, surprise surprise, walking. Currently we are getting closer and closer to broke and therefore any unnecessary fees we can avoid seems like a good idea. Therefore, we both have been walking everywhere. Transit tickets add up over time. Especially in these first two weeks where we have given ourselves a break from working, we kind of have all the time in the world. Therefore if it takes an hour and half to walk to the Parc where I am meeting a friend, why not!? We have had plenty of practice walking in the last six months. Therefore, walks that used to feel like they were needlessly long and uphill have turned into nice strolls. It gives us a little reminder of the trail as well. We spent months walking side by side all day, every day. During this time we got into the habit of falling into conversations about things trite and important depending upon what was on the mind. There was also a sense of comfortable companionship about walking together in silence. These walks around the city revoke these companionable feelings and give a continuity to our life this year. Integrating aspects of the trail in our Montreal life feels like a wonderful way to feel connected to that period of our lives.
I also want to do yoga periodically. I love the feel of stretching and strengthening muscles using a routine and traditional poses. I am not particularly a spiritual person though and I know yoga is a traditional and spiritual activity. I do want to respect that and not just do the colonialist white washing of a cultural staple so I am trying to educate myself on the subject as much as I can. It is such a wonderful way of creating a physical routine of strength and flexibility.
I think with these different ways of exercising and adding movement to my routine Sean and I will be able to stay active and stave off some of the post-hike blues. Coupled with access to fresh fruits and vegetables which we have been starved from, we have been building a foundation of general health. I physically had never felt better than while on the Appalachian Trail and therefore it would be nice to keep that lifestyle as I transition into an urban freelancing life.
I think this aspect of the life I am trying to build at the moment is going to be the most difficult for me. Innately hedonistic and distracted, I find staying focused and on target a really difficult thing to do. I am constantly admiring my partner’s ability to create goals and steadfastly work on them until completion. I feel like my life is littered with projects begun with so much intention and passion and abandoned after any hardship or fatigue. All in all, self discipline is not my strong suit. And it is going to be the most important aspect of starting a freelance career. Having my salary be based on the amount of work put in is going to be the make or break aspects of this next stage of my life.
One thing I did learn about myself while hiking on the Appalachian Trail was that I can overcome this basic desire to abandon ship when the going gets tough. There was a time when I felt that I was done with hiking. I had gotten everything enjoyable that I wanted out of the process and would happily go back to Montreal then and there. However, we still had one state and 300 miles to go before the trail was officially done. And I wasn’t just at the bored- with-this-I’d-rather-be-doing-other-things stage. I was emotionally struggling with the concept that there was still so much to be done. To the point where, after a particularly bad fall into the boggy mud that periodically was the trail, I was fighting back tears of frustration while trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other. When we came across a sign that said we still had 298 miles to walk before completing our goal, I burst into uncontrollable sobs. It seemed a daunting amount of distance to go when my heart was no longer in it. However, even though I knew it was going to be hard, in no way did I have the impulse to quit. The need to achieve this goal was more important to me than making myself feel better in that moment by admitting defeat. It took a couple more weeks and some sore feet, but in the end, we made it to Katahdin and can officially call ourselves Thru-Hikers. And I learned that I can be self-disciplined when it means enough to me.
Therefore, I think that I can achieve this goal. I just have to be wary of those moments of non-productivity and not allow myself to fall into bad habits. This week has been interesting because I have not had my computer. It is currently at the Apple store having a hardware issue fixed. My laptop is the tool in which all my writing and research is done on. Not having it has nearly stopped any progress I could make on being productive. So I have had to become creative with how I am spending my time in order to avoid falling into bad habits.
Some of it is a little ridiculous and I know it. I spent a solid couple of hours creating a shelving unit out of an old ladder purely on a whim. It took time to paint and find the materials I needed to be able to create it but in the end, I think it turned out looking like I wanted it to. And, now I have a place to put all my little trinkets and various miscellaneous items that I have kept over the years.
However, I have also been working on the foundations of building a freelance career. If you are reading this, you have presumably discovered my website which I read is an important aspect to cultivating clients. I am not the most tech savvy so it has been a little bit of an ordeal to create but I am so happy with the results. Both the intuitive design of Squarespace and my wonderfully patient partner have been instrumental in making it look how I want it to. I have done research on the financial side of things and written down many helpful resources I want to use. Now I am just waiting for the return of my computer to begin!
I do believe that the first steps, the baby steps, to start my endeavor of becoming a freelance writer is to make sure my life is in a good state to begin. Making sure that I am creating a lifestyle and schedule in which I can succeed is the only way I will begin to be able to accomplish this. So with the trifold approach of examining my habits, health, and productivity I am trying to build a foundation that allows me to build on it. If anyone has any advice I would absolutely want to hear them. For now, my next big step is to start! Wish me luck.