Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Mental Lightbulb

Finding a new routine for the new year

Zoë Sharp


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.


  1. Hurrah! for you, Zoe!! My routine must, by force of bodily pain, requires that get up and move around often. I work pretty much every day, with breaks that involve must do personal stuff and what needs to get done around the house. But here in Florence it included morning and 3PM strips to my favorite coffee bars.

    Your loss of weight in Italy is, from my observations, pretty universal. Since I spend time here often, people ask me for advice. Almost to a person, they tell me that they are worried they will put on pounds because the food is so good. But they almost always lose instead. I think it's because they walk more, but also because when the food is delicious and satisfying, one can actually eat less and still be totally satisfied.

    1. Thank you, Annamaria. Yes, as I see from your post this morning, there is always so much fabulous stuff to see in Italy. All I can see around here at the moment is mud, although it is partially hidden under the snow! Still, there was a beautiful pink-sky sunrise this morning, so there is always something of a silver lining!

  2. Thank you for this lovely reminder that I need to get BACK to my routine!! I used to have a great one, but the pandemic threw it into the dumpster and lit it on fire (as it did with so much else) - so instead of telling you what mine is, I'll just say I'm working on a new one!

    1. Thanks, Susan, and I hope your new routine presents itself. (I love your description of what happened to the old one, though.)

  3. To Judith. Taking each day as it comes is a lovely way to do it, but sadly does not prove entirely compatible with rapidly approaching deadlines, lol. A belated Happy New Year to you, also.

  4. I love what you're doing and I think I'd like more of a routine but every time deadlines approach everything goes out the window. This year I'm trying to get back on the yoga mat and if I manage to stick to that (targeting 10 practices/ month--not much I know but a start) for three months I'll see what I can add.

  5. I think we all tend to drift away from our routines at one time or another for somewhat justifiable reasons, Zoë, but then find an excuse not to resume them once the excuse no longer obtains.

    In my case, a severed rotator cuff justified my abandoning a decades long morning exercise routine, and knee surgery perpetuated that once the shoulder had healed. I'm now working back into it...slowly. One routine I have not abandoned is my morning step onto the scale. I have a range in which I allow my weight to wander, but once it's passed the high mark, I'm back on a strict no carbs, no sweets diet until squarely back in the middle of my range.

    It works for me...I think.