The Best Laid Plans…

What a week it’s been! I started it full of confidence and optimism, ready to smash out another 6 workouts. But of course, plans don’t always work out.  A comment on my last post by Matters of Living should have prepared me for this, they were pondering how much can you actually plan and how much will you be able to follow through on.  A week later, I think the best thing to do is to incorporate flexibility into your plans to expect the unexpected. Because on Monday, I injured my elbow.

Dr Google thinks it might be elbow bursitis but I need to see a physio (I think this is a result of compensating for another injury in my shoulder). It happened just as I started my planned workout; first, my elbow was aching so I stretched it, then I heard a very unpleasant noise (grind/squelch), followed by pain.

I probably should be resting completely now, but I’ve managed to find a way to persevere.  Arm strapped up in a sling, doing one-armed HIIT workouts. I look ridiculous. But I’m hoping the physio gives me the go ahead to keep doing it this way because with uni stress piling up this is definitely not the time to stop exercising.  In the meantime, no more weights/pump classes for me.


Date Planned Exercise Actual Exercise
Wed 17/05/2017 Fire 45 EZ Fire 45 EZ
Thu 18/05/2017 HIIT 15 HIIT 15
Fri 19/05/2017 REST REST
Sat 20/05/2017 Pump Pump
Sun 21/05/2017 Fire 45 EZ Fire 45 EZ
Mon 22/05/2017 Fire 55 😦
Tue 23/05/2017 Pump Fire 30

Exercise and Theory of Planned Behaviour

Approximately 2-3 weeks ago, I made a decision to try and increase the amount of exercise I was doing and to keep track of it.  This isn’t new for me, I’ve done it before (and in fact, I’ve even blogged about it on here), and I’ll probably do it again.  But this time round, I decided to do it because I was heading into the busiest time of the semester. I know from personal history that when the assignments, group presentations, and thesis components all start to pile up health and fitness takes a back seat.

The good thing about studying psychology though is that I know about the theory of planned behaviour (TPB).  TPB is all about increasing the likelihood of you achieving a goal if you take control of your decisions, plan your actions, identify risks/excuses, get support from others/tell other people about what you’re doing.  I’m also fully aware of the psychological benefits of exercise – improved memory and cognitive functioning.  Two things I REALLY need to get through masters!

So I’ll try to check in weekly (most likely on Wednesdays) with a brief update of how the week has gone. At the moment, I’m doing a combo of Beachbody’s Turbo Fire at home, with the occasional weights session (Les Mills Body Pump) at the gym.

Turbo Fire sessions are either called Fire or HIIT.  Fire workouts tend to be longer, and have a few ‘fire drills’ i.e. 1 min bursts of high-intensity workouts included, whereas HIIT ones are shorter, and are literally high intensity the entire time.  Body Pump is a full body cardio/weights workout that goes for 1 hour.

So my first check in.  The previous week went exactly as planned.  I’m not entirely following the Turbo Fire schedule 100%, I’m rearranging the workouts to suit my weekly schedule, so this made it much more achievable.  So for example:

  • On Thursday and Fridays when I have to go to uni, I reduce the time required to workout.
  • On Mondays when I work, I also do a shorter workout.
  • Pump classes are on Tues, Sat or Sun so I just plan that around my other activities. I try to do 2 per week.
  • I leave the longest workouts for days when I’m at home e.g. Wed and Sat.

Even though I started increasing my exercise around mid-April, this was the first week I managed to do 6 days of exercise so I’m feeling very happy with myself.

Day/Date Planned Exercise Actual Exercise
Wed 10/05/2017 Fire 55 Fire 55
Thu 11/05/2017 HIIT 15 HIIT 15
Fri 12/05/2017 REST REST
Sat 13/05/2017 Fire 45 Fire 45
Sun 14/05/2017 Pump Pump
Mon 15/05/2017 HIIT 25 HIIT 25
Tue 16/05/2017 Pump Pump


Fitness Goals & Mental Imagery Reflection

My week of exercising, sticking to my meal plan and using mental imagery to motivate myself is now over.  I mentioned before that I did this as an activity for one of my uni classes, so here is the reflection I wrote afterwards.

For successful goal setting, Grant and Leigh (2011) suggest pursuing goals that align with your values as this increases likelihood of success.  One of my key values is self-improvement; I believe in continuously finding opportunities to improve, and working towards self-actualisation.  This is why I started to exercise two years ago – to improve emotional and physical wellbeing.  Holmes and Mathews (2010) contend that mental imagery (MI) is particularly effective at activating brain regions associated with emotion, so I was really excited to try it.

What it was like to practice imagining – how easy was it to control your images? How clear/vivid were your images? Did it get any easier/better with practice? What obstacles did you become more aware of? What new options did you discover?

My goal is to increase muscle definition, and reduce another 2-3 kg in the next 3 months.  However, I’m currently experiencing a plateau, which I’m hoping can be aided with MI.

Since returning from overseas in June, I’ve only been going about 3-4 times per week, and I can’t seem to find the motivation to resume 5-6 workouts weekly. I also haven’t been planning my meals carefully, so I haven’t felt in control.

I envisioned how I would like to look and feel by January.  I used MI techniques from this week’s audio file, visualisation from the Real Simple website (Rodriguez, n.d.), and tips from an article (Roffey, 2013) from my gym (which coincidently referenced Lydia). I created a list of daily exercise and food goals, and from this, a clear plan (see attachment in last post).

I started MI in the mornings, but realised quickly I was often rushed and distracted, so I changed to later at night and easily incorporated it into my evening routine.  My images were vivid and clear, but an obstacle was if I was falling asleep other images would also intrude e.g. a day at work, getting into honours, etc.  It wasn’t bad necessarily, because the theme remained the same – full of optimism and hope, however it detracted from my fitness objectives.  By practicing earlier at night, I was able to stay better focused on my goals.  I found a great guide designed for swimmers, that I used before going to bed (EAC Gators, n.d.).

How this practice affected your hope and optimism (and ultimately PWB)? Or for that matter, self–‐ confidence (aka self–‐efficacy)? You might like to discuss this relative to your score on the Optimism Test (online at http://www.authentichappiness.org)

The test indicated that when it comes to bad events, both in terms of permanence and pervasiveness, I’m optimistic.  I attribute bad things based on the situation.  With good events, I do the same – I believe they can be situational and isolated instances, overall, this gave a slightly hopeless result.  If optimism and pessimism were a spectrum, I believe I’m in the middle, a realist.  I believe successes are due to hard work – nothing to do with me being smart or dumb, but that I applied myself well in that given situation.

How successful were you following through on your (daily) goal? What was that like?

With my weekly plan, plus visualisation, I felt more optimistic about achieving success.  I didn’t achieve 100%, but I was pleased with the outcome.  6 out of 7 days, I achieved my food plan, and I did 5 out of 6 planned workouts.  I slipped when there were logistical issues (i.e. getting timing wrong), but I’ve made another plan for next week, and included more flexibility.

What else did you learn from the process?

It’s tempting to use one failure as an excuse to give up entirely, but I have to cut myself some slack and use these opportunities to reassess the plan, and find ways to reduce the risk of failure.


EAC Gators. (n.d). Mental Imagery.  Retrieved from http://www.eacgators.com/imagery.pdf

Grant, A. M. & Leigh, A. (2011). 8 Steps To Happiness: An Everyday Handbook. Melbourne, VIC: Victory Books.

Holmes, E. A. & Mathews, A. (2010). Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(1), 349-362. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.001

Rodriguez, T. (n.d.). 3 Easy Visualization Techniques. Real Simple. Retrieved from http://www.realsimple.com/health/mind-mood/emotional-health/visualization-techniques

Roffey, C. (2013). Train your brain with mental imagery. Fernwood Fitness. Retrieved from http://www.fernwoodfitness.com.au/weight-loss—exercise/well-being/train-your-brain-with-mental-imagery/

Mental Imagery and Goal Setting

Ah, another week, another random task I have to do for my Happiness & Positive Psychology class.  I’m really enjoying it – I have this natural instinct to always want to try something new and this class is meeting that need.

This week the focus is on hope, optimism and mental imagery.

I’ll do a proper reflection later on, but basically I’ve set myself daily food and exercise goals for the week and I’m going to be using mental imagery to imagine success (both short term and long term).

The goal for the week is as follows.  It’s not super healthy, but if I can stick to it, then I’ll be happy.  My goal is baby steps – if I can keep doing something like this for more than a few weeks, then I might start thinking of proper fitness meal prep.

Wish me luck. 🙂

Exercise and Food Plan

Biological and Cognitive Aspects of Depression

It’s mid semester break, and I’m meant to be catching up on all of my readings for my subjects, but it’s tough.  One of my subjects, Psychopathology and Models of Intervention requires 6-8 hours of reading per week (with 6 weeks worth of reading so far) and I can’t seem to stay focused for that long and retain the knowledge.

All week I’ve been trying to wade through the readings on depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, suicide and schizophrenia.  It’s rather bleak, and every now and then I’ve had to take breaks to go out in the sunshine and workout at the gym.

But I figure another good way to procrastinate… I mean.. get perspective, is to share some information here.  So here are some things I’ve learned about depression.

Cognitive Aspects

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that depression is as a result of cognitive processes – so the way we think and perceive the world.

A precursor to depression is a tendency to think negatively about life, and to interpret daily events in a negative manner e.g. imagining the worst in every situation.  As this occurs more and more often, it starts to become a  negative schema .  A schema is a framework or template of thoughts, opinions, values, ideas, etc. that allow us to interpret situations quicker.  So if we have a an unpleasant upbringing, or experience a lot of negative events, over time we might develop a negative schema about ourselves, other people or the world around us.

When this negative self talk is coupled with the belief that we’re a failure and that there’s no hope for improvement, we can fall into the trap of learned helplessness.  The theory of learned helplessness has been observed in animals as well as people who (through experience) perceive they have no control over their lives.  So animals that are punished for no reason, at unknown times, without any opportunity to improve their situation have been found to just give up.  The same has been found in people – if they feel that the bad things will happen to them irrespective of what they do, they lose hope.

So although this wasn’t covered in the textbook – the key thing I took away from this is that, coupled with neural plasticity (the theory that our brain continues to develop throughout life, new connections between neurons form and existing ones strengthen as a result of our experiences and thought processes), it is important to build positive schemas and consciously stop yourself ruminating negatively.

Studies mentioned in my textbook (Alloy & Abramson, 2006; Alloy, Abramson, Safford, & Gibb, 2006; Abela & Skitch, 2007; Haeffel & Hames, 2013) demonstrated that people with negative schemas (i.e. dysfunctional attitudes_ are 12 times more likely to suffer a depressive episode than those who have a more positive or realistic attitude, and this poor cognitive bias is contagious – if you live with someone who thinks negatively, it is likely to rub off.

Biological Aspects

Okay so there are actually a lot of biological factors involved in depression and mood disorders (including genetics, hormones and the endocrine system), but I’m sharing this one because it was news to me and it fits in with my strongly held belief that exercise is good for mental health.

Depression is linked with high levels of cortisol, which is called the stress hormone (it is released during stressful situations, so fight/flight, and alongside this our autonomic nervous system prepares us to respond, and our immune system is dampened).  High levels of cortisol for long periods of time has been found to cause a reduction in volume of the hippocampus.  A smaller hippocampus region has been found in people suffering from depression and those at higher risk of having a depressive episode.

The key thing is…

  • Some studies have found that the effects might be able to be reversed by increasing the volume of the hippocampus.
  • One way of increasing volume of the hippocampus found in experiments with rats is exercise.

What makes me sad is that this is a catch 22 – side effects of depression include fatigue and learned helplessness, so it’s unlikely people suffering from depression will actually become active.  But I think if therapists combine CBT (cognitve behavioural therapy – helping clients change their schemas) alongside physical activity, it would be hugely beneficial.

Every psychology student knows that you have to take a holisitic view when helping people, (i.e. consider the biological, social and psychological factors), but I wonder how therapists can help clients get physically active when therapy is restricted to the clinician’s room.


Barlow, D. H., Durand, V. M., & Stewart, S. H. (2014). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach. Toronto: Nelson Education

Capoeira continues

I’m writing this on my phone so I’ll be brief.

My second capoeira class was a  much better experience. It’s not that I improved, but I went in with a very different mindset.

In an unrelated class at uni, the topic for the week was mindfulness and I decided to apply it to capoeira.

Mindfulness is the act of focusing your thoughts on the present moment. Our natural tendency seems to be to think a hundred different thoughts per minute, so this can actually be quite challenging.

It was pretty obvious that during the first capoeira class I was 100% focused on my inner critic and riddled with self doubt, so this time I decided to ignore that voice. It was harder than it sounds, but I kept my attention entirely on doing the moves correctly. By the end of the class, I found I was really happy with my progress and had managed to keep up fairly easily with the others.

I’m going to give this a go again next class, fingers crossed it works. 🙂

First Capoeira Class

We all have personal identity stories that we tell ourselves, they can be based on fact (previous history) or they can be self-fulfilling prophecies.  So when we were told our assignment in Psychological Assessment and Individual Differences (PAID) was to ‘do something creative’, I felt panic.  A part of my identity is that I am not creative.  I can’t draw, sing, play music, or think outside the box.  Every personality test I have done (and I’ve done a lot) reaffirms this belief.  I am logical, structured, analytical and objective.  Asking me to do something creative is like asking a fish to tap dance.
After my initial panic wore off, I reread the instructions and got some good tips – think of something you enjoy, try to stretch yourself, challenge yourself, but don’t go completely left field into an area that’s outside your capabilities, and at the same time don’t choose something too easy.  With this in mind, I came up with a short list of things that I like.  I love dancing, I can dance for hours…but…I’m uncoordinated.  I have loved boxing classes – releasing stress and energy in the form of a martial art is extremely rewarding…but martial arts aren’t really ‘creative’ and can’t be easily presented to my tutor/class.  I also love to cook, so worst case I could make something, but considering I live pretty independently and cook almost every night, I figured this was a bit of a cop out.
And then I thought of capoeira.  The Brazilian martial art that combines music and singing with dance-like movements.  And I happened to know someone at work who wanted to take capoeira classes.  So that was that.  I looked up classes, got in touch with a few, and found one that had classes on Wednesdays.
The following Wednesday, my friend Shan and I headed to the capoeira class.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect, and I was extremely nervous.  Physically, my fitness level was really low as I had just returned from 5 weeks overseas, with a lot of eating out and minimal exercise. 
We went to a semi-deserted part of South Melbourne, climbed up some dingy looking stairs, and found ourselves in a small, sparse gym with majority of the space covered in mats set aside for martial arts.
We met the instructor Nano, who came from Argentina.  He had been practicing capoeira for over 12 years and teaching it in Melbourne for the past year.  There were about 6 or 7 students, most of them practicing for about a year, and all extremely friendly and welcoming.
Warm up began.  And I thought I was going to die.
There was the usual run around the room, run backwards, run with knees up, run while touching the floor every so often.  That was fine.  But then there was Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.  My poor body didn’t know what it had done to deserve doing the spiderman/walking-push-up thing.  Let alone the 15 minutes we dedicated to doing handstands.  Or in my case, failing to do handstands.  Plus the million other bizarre positions we had to assume while moving around the room.
After this, I was ready to go home.  But no the show must go on.  No rest for the wicked.  Etc.
We learned a few of the basic forms in capoeira: the ginga, esquiva`, and martelo.  While everyone else worked on more complex moves, Shan and I practiced these over and over…and over again.
And then came the freestyle fighting.  A circle was created, and pairs hopped in and ‘fought’ freestyle.   For the most part, the fighting was really more like dancing – changing forms/positions in response to the other person, mirroring one another, and moving in for a hit or kick when the opportunity arose.  This particular group also combines jujitsu with capoeira, so there were a few moments when it progressed to actual fighting, but those moments were rare and only a minimal number of actual blows were exchanged.
I hopped into the ring twice, neither were my own choice as Nano made it clear it wasn’t an option.  When I was on the sideline I was certain hopping in was the worst possible idea.  I couldn’t remember any of the moves, and was convinced I wouldn’t be able to do anything other than look stupid in front of these strangers (who were all incredibly agile, talented, and competent, and much better than I could ever hope to be…etc).
When I was in the ring, there were moments where I just focused on my movements and responding.  In these brief moments, I felt curious about what the other person would do and excited when I was able to respond.  But these moments were quickly overtaken by overthinking my movements.  It was still very unnatural to assume some of these positions, and they required thought rather than natural instinct, so intrinsic enjoyment wasn’t really possible.
Afterwards, I felt frustrated and disappointed with myself.  Learning capoeira was like learning how to walk, while being surrounded by people who could run.  I know that my self-doubt and negative self-talk wasn’t helping, but I couldn’t find a way to get better perspective.  The others said that I did really well, but I was certain that it was just them being polite to a newcomer.  I went home tired and disheartened…and wishing that I could do a handstand.

The following Monday, our PAID lecture was on Adler and his theory of inferiority/superiority, and I realised that I was experiencing a sense of inferiority over a task that I had only just tried the one time.  A sense of inferiority with a new task is completely normal and in fact allows us to minimise risks and keep ourselves safe.  With this in mind, I plan to return to capoeira the following Wednesday.