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The Mental Lightbulb

Finding a new routine for the new year

The holiday season is well and truly over. In fact, before I can blink, January is almost gone, too.

Usually, at this time of year, I make vague plans to do… more. Not resolutions, exactly, just a distant feeling that I didn’t quite squeeze all the juice out of the year just gone, and I should make an extra effort to extract the maximum out of the upcoming twelve months.

And then, twelve months later, round I go again.

But, strangely, this year feels different.

I think part of the reason for this is that I finally seem to have got to grips with this whole healthy eating thing.

Lockdown pounds
I’m sure I’m not alone when I admit that I put on a few pounds (ahem) during lockdown. Either that, or yet another side-effect of the pandemic was the terrible way it made clothes shrink in the wardrobe.

Coupled with that, we’ve had a couple of baking hot summers here in the UK over the past few years, and I found I really wasn’t coping with the heat as well as I used to. And then my knees started playing up, and I finally had to admit that the metaphorical rucksack of rocks I was carrying about with me all the time really would have to go.

A trip to Tuscany in late September kick-started things. A combination of hot weather, hills, and hikes meant I came back about four pounds lighter, despite all the good food.

I took that as an omen.

(No, not that kind of Omen.)

Now, I confess that, in my time, I’ve tried most of the diets out there, from low fat to low carbohydrate, and even a few of the gimmicky ones where you replace food with pills and powders.

They work – ish – while you stick to them. But as soon as you start eating ‘normally’ again, back comes all the weight you’ve lost, and usually a bit more besides.

This time, I decided to go for one of the downloadable apps that helps you keep track of everything, from the food you’re eating to the number of steps you do in a day, and how many glasses of water you drink.

And, because it works on the theory of all things in moderation, I haven’t even – shock, horror – had to give up chocolate!

(Because, let’s face it, you’ve got to have some fun in life.)

This app offers encouragement for every small achievement and provides gentle reminders to eat at regular intervals.

And it has made me develop something close to a routine.

A non-routine routine
Recently, I flicked through a favourite book before loaning it to a friend, and hit upon the perfect summary of why I felt I needed to have a routine in the first place.

The book is The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow, one of the writers I admire most, and a master of present-tense narrative. The passage in question comes at the beginning of chapter four:

‘All Frank’s days are busy, what with four businesses, an ex-wife and a girlfriend to manage. The key to pulling it off is to stick to a routine, or at least try to.
‘He has tried—without conspicuous success—to explain this simple management technique to the kid Abe. “If you have a routine,” he has lectured, “you can always deviate from it if something comes up. But if you don’t have a routine, then everything is stuff that comes up. Get it?”

‘“Got it.”

‘But he doesn’t get it, Frank knows, because he doesn’t do it.’

For years, I wrote in the cracks of the day-job, but my day-job did not involve any kind of set routine. As an example, I recall that one time I did two particular photoshoots on consecutive days. The first took place on a bitterly cold disused air force base in the northern UK, where the temperature was minus ten degrees. The next was on the sands of Daytona Beach in Florida in hundred-degree-plus heat.

The unexpected nature of the job was one of the things I loved most about it. Through my photography work, I met millionaires and criminals, the titled, the notorious, the hilarious, and the downright insane. I never quite knew, from one day to the next, what it would bring. (And that, I suspect, was one of the reasons I clung to that day-job long after I should probably have let it go.)

But one of the things it didn’t do was help me to form a routine.

Now, it seems, a routine is finally developing to go alongside this new regime.

I’ve gone back to writing mostly in the mornings, rather than late into the night, and am finally emerging from the various issues of the last eighteen months that seemed to be bogging me down.

And, do you know, the strangest thing is that my wardrobe has stopped making my clothes shrink, and they now seem to have grown enormously.

Who’d a thunk it?

So, what’s your daily routine?

This week’s Word of the Week is actually three words, since their meanings are linked, and the reasons behind them springing to mind are a mystery, even to me…

Kakistocracy, which means government by the worst people. From two Greek words, kakistos (worst) and kratos (rule).

Snollygoster, which is a shrewd person who is not guided by principles, especially a politician. From 19th-century American English, snallygaster, a mythical beast that preyed on children and poultry. Possibly from Pennsylvania German, schnelle geeschter – schnell (quick) and Geist (spirit).

And throttlebottom, the purposeless and incompetent holder of public office. From the character of Alexander Throttlebottom in a 1931 musical comedy, Of Thee I Sing.

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