Earning an A in Failure

Spilled coffee photo by Kolar.io on Unsplash

After reading The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by the legendary dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, I feel like I received a masterclass in the merits of failure. I’m neither a dancer nor a dance fan, but I am interested in habits and learned about her daily workout ritual while reading Atomic Habits by James Clear (one of my top book recommendations from 2019), and I tracked down a copy of her book.

Dancers and dance lovers will appreciate this book, but it’s a book for all creative people who want to develop and deepen their creative muscle.

Setting my intention for the year: Fail a lot.

The last chapter of Tharp’s book is titled “An A in Failure.” This is timely for me because I decided that failure is one of my intention words for 2020*. I think Failure is a bold intention to set for the year, and it’s a bit scary. I don’t like to fail—no one does. But staying in a safe, failure-free zone isn’t conducive to a creative life. It doesn’t help us to learn and grow. All learning requires failure. I have spent too much of my life staying in my competence zone and eschewing anything that I wasn’t good at doing. Ironically, this includes dancing.

Fail early and often

So, this year, I’m embracing new things and preparing to fail early and often:

  • Language instruction: Quiero hablar español. Puedo esribir en español pero no puedo hablar espanol muy bien. ¿Lo que sigue? “¡Sí, hablo español!”
  • Dancing: I’m not sure where I want to go with this yet, but I want to say, “Yes, I can dance.”
  • Expand my quilt repertoire: I do some things very well. I want to go further. I want to find my artistic voice. What’s next? Being able to say, “I am an artist.”
  • Writing: I am trying to write every day. So far, so good. My 2020 writing goal includes publishing something once a week.
  • Be athletic: Much to my surprise, I have learned to enjoy working out. My next stop is: “I am athletic.”

Share your intention

How about you? Where can you venture out of your comfort zone this year? One of the ways that we hold ourselves accountable is by sharing our goals with others. Share your intention with me, and I’ll follow up with you later in the year to see how things are going.

Need some inspiration to embrace failure?

Here are some of my favorite resources on embracing failure.

* Learn more about setting an intention for the year. The convention is to pick one word. I selected two. Maybe I’m an overachiever. Maybe I’m a contrarian. Maybe there’s a third option.

Slay Your Sugar Habit for 25 Cents a Day

I raised a jar of coins just like this photo by Michael Longmire on Unsplash to start tracking my sugar intake

Trying to limit your sugar intake (dare we say addiction?) to the recommended daily allowance? Pull out a pile of pennies and let’s get to work. We can slay that sugar habit!

Nothing focuses the mind like stepping on the scale.

That and I signed up for the New York Times 7-Day Sugar Challenge right before New Year’s Day. The article linked to a lecture that I am familiar with but hadn’t watched, Sugar: The Bitter Truth with Dr. Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Yikes, it was the equivalent of a Scared Straight experience, especially right after my many sugary indulgences throughout the holiday season. Sugar addiction is real. Many companies use food scientists to make foods irresistible, and science works.

For the past year, my family has cut back on packaged foods, especially anything with more than three to four ingredients. But the cookies still came home with us. And I love chocolate and chocolate peppermint creamer. I love eating dessert twice a day. But you can guess where that leads.

I did the NY Times challenge, but I went one step further and decided to follow the American Heart Association dietary recommendations for added sugar intake: 25 grams of added sugar per day or about 6 teaspoons/100 calories is the recommendation for women. (It’s 37.5 grams or about 9 teaspoons/150 calories for men.)

Holy geez. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really, really not.

A serving of cinnamon rolls or dried cranberries exceeds 25 grams. And both of these items were in my fridge and pantry. The creamer that I like has 5 grams of sugar per serving (which is really a half serving when compared to half and half): 5 cups of coffee/tea, and suddenly, I am at 25 grams, and that is if I stick to the one tablespoon serving size, and it’s unlikely that I do. This is one of the ways that food labeling misleads us. We underestimate our consumption.

Calorie tracking: Not a Fan

I am one of those people who intensely dislikes tracking what they eat, especially calories and other nutritional information. Still, I knew I couldn’t count on my memory, so I came up with a visual system: 25 pennies, one for each allowed gram of sugar, and two small dishes. Throughout the day, I move the pennies after each meal or snack.
Some days, the pennies are gone by noon. But much to my surprise, by Day 5, the cravings subsided significantly. Some days, I made the pennies last. On Day 7, I ended the day with 15 unused pennies! I felt rich.
Suddenly, I felt like a bargain shopper. What could I eat that had no sugar (jackpot!) or under three grams?

Tapping into my bargain hunter brain

Using money has had an unusual side benefit: I find that I don’t want to overspend my allowance. High sugar items (read “expensive”) have become unappealing. I still get snack attacks, but it’s for fruit or nuts or cheese. The interwebs are filled with Keto/low carb desserts, and I am going to try a few. One of my challenges is that I need to eat a low FODMAP vegetarian diet, so a lot of sugar substitutes are off the table for me. But limitations spur creativity.

Approaching this challenge with a habits mindset

From a habit perspective, removing the high sugar options and replacing them with low/no sugar options helped tremendously. My supportive spouse put all the remaining holiday chocolate and cookies in the freezer. The low/no sugar options were set in easy reach, making it simple to make good choices.
How about you? Do you struggle with sugar love? Have you found good substitutes? If you’ve cut back on sugar, what are some of the best outcomes? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


How I did it

I raided my piggy bank for 25 pennies and set-up two small dishes, one for the bank and one for the spend.

I repurposed some takeout condiment cups and they work great. They are small enough to make the 25 pennies look like a lot.

I work from home so I set the dishes in my kitchen and move pennies from the bank to the spend pile throughout the day. It would also work to move pennies from one pocket to another.

This was my starting point:

  • I measured added sugar, not total sugar.
    See this article for more details about added sugar and the recent changes in food labeling: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/well/eat/diet-sugar-nutrition-foods-health.html
  • I did not measure or limit anything else.
  • I am a life-long vegetarian who leans vegan.
  • I stick to a low FODMAP diet for the most part and this way of eating steers you away from processed foods and foods with high amounts of naturally occurring sugar like grapes and most dried fruit.
  • I already made the move away from most processed foods, meaning that we cook most of our meals from whole ingredients. (It’s the snack foods that were getting me.)
  • I started a daily 30-day exercise challenge in mid-December, and exercise is truly the magic pill for everything.