Furlough

furlough/ˈfəːləʊ/noun – leave of absence

Most of us had never even heard this word just over a year ago. I’ve been really lucky, working as I do in the travel industry, to have been able to keep working all this time whilst many of my colleagues have been furloughed, and of course many people (not just in my industry) have lost their jobs. It’s been a tough year though, and I don’t mind admitting that I did like the idea of having a break when things were really stressful, but it wasn’t feasible at the time.

I first brushed with furlough a few months ago when I was told I would go from 5 to 4 days a week and be ‘flexi-furloughed’ for one day. It took a little while to get used to this bonus day off, but to be honest I quite like a 4 day week. Then came the big one – a month of furlough. My company is doing the right thing, making the most of the support available, and I guess it was inevitable that I would be furloughed eventually. So, here I am, about to start my stint of furlough. A month off work.

It’s strange, now that everything is starting to open up in the UK and many people are going back to work, to suddenly find myself with time on my hands. At first I freaked out and in my panic started making a mental list of all the things I would have to do during this time to make it worthwhile. Pole, stretch, dance, do Couch to 5k again, walk 12,000 steps a day, tidy everything, read all those books that are piling up… the list went on and my brain hurt. Then I stopped. Literally, in the middle of the street as I was pacing about. I stopped and realised I don’t need to be a superhuman. I don’t have to prove anything

But I know how my brain works, and I know what’s best for my mental health. I need some kind of structure, and I need goals, even little ones. So, here’s my furlough plan:

  1. Relax and enjoy some downtime. Don’t feel guilty if one day I watch a lot of TV, or another day I take a book to the park and sit and read all day. It’s about time I had a bit of a break and time to recharge.
  2. Work on my pole, fitness and flexibility goals, but listen to my body as I go. It’s not possible or sensible to train hard every day – I need time to recover too.
  3. Spend time outside – whether it’s walking, running, or sitting, I want to get out of this flat and see something other than these four walls!
  4. Cook! It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular, but use this time to cook nice things. I’ve found when I’m busy or stressed I still turn to convenience food (and there is so much yummy vegan convenience food!) but I do actually love to cook, so now’s the time to dust off those recipe books.
  5. Just be. Every day doesn’t have to be full of achievements or Instagram-worthy moments. Some days it’s perfectly fine to just be. See some friends. Go for a walk by myself. Read. Dance in my kitchen. Whatever makes me happy.

None of this is to say that you won’t be seeing a bit more of me on Instagram and maybe even here in this blog over the coming month. I will be learning new pole things, I am doing a running challenge, and I will hopefully cook something worthy of taking a photo of at some point. But I don’t want to obsess over the numbers and the achievements. When the first lockdown happened last year and lots of people found themselves on furlough, there was a huge amount of pressure on everyone to achieve. Is this the time to write that novel I’ve always dreamt of publishing? Maybe, but probably not if I’m honest. Is this the time to enjoy some (hopefully!) nice weather and have a bit of a break? Yes. And is this the time to simply do what feels good? Definitely.

Let’s see where the month takes me…

Relaxing with a non-alcoholic rosé the other day, to match my new ‘do’

The marshmallow experiment…

Despite all the baking programmes I’ve been watching of late, and the picture below, this is not actually a post about cooking. There will, perhaps, be cake related posts on this blog in the future though.

Today I’m thinking about an interesting article I read on the way home in London’s free weekly magazine, Stylist. The article, “Just. One. More. Bite.” was encouraging readers to try investing in willpower instead of making New Year’s resolutions that will be abandoned before the end of January.

Personally, I’ve tried not to make specific resolutions this year. To be honest, they’re always the same anyway:

  • Lose weight
  • Save money
  • Write more

The third, writing more, seems to be in hand. The other two seem to be horribly intertwined and unapproachable, like a drawer full of old necklaces that you’d like to wear but abandoned long ago because the effort of untangling them will just be too much.

But just think, if you did untangle all those old necklaces, you’d have loads more jewellery you could wear. Pretty, shiny jewellery. (Guys, if you’re reading this, think cables. Pretty, shiny cables that you keep in a drawer, even though you have no idea what they’re for.)

But what’s all this got to do with marshmallows?  Well, according to the article,  in 1972 (Stylist says ’68, but Wiki says ’72) a bloke called Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted a test which is known as the Marshmallow Experiment. The test subjects were children (aged 4-6), and each child was taken into a room in which there was a plate with a single marshmallow on it. They were told that they could eat the marshmallow if they wanted to, but that if they waited 15 minutes they could have two. The child was then left alone to decide what to do. Some children simply ate the one marshmallow they were given, but some waited patiently (perhaps covering their eyes so they weren’t tempted or, according to Wiki, “stroking the marshmallow as if it were a tiny stuffed animal“).

The kids who waited got two marshmallows and learnt the lesson of delayed gratification. Follow-up research showed that those who had learnt the lesson went on to have higher academic achievement, and those who didn’t were more likely to have behavioural problems and trouble paying attention in class.

The Stylist article emphasised the importance of willpower; that rather than just denying ourselves the things we want (which will only make us want them more), we should learn to exercise our willpower a bit more, and resist the temptation of instant gratification. That doesn’t mean you can’t have your cake and eat it too, it just means you ought to wait a while between the buying and eating (if you’re baking, I’m not sure where “licking the bowl” fits in to this test, but I’m pretty sure it’s ok).

I need to give myself a marshmallow test. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is my year of being frugal and learning to save up for the things that I want. It’s the first time I’ve ever really tried to save up, and I’m finding it hard already.

Losing weight and saving money may seem like two separate goals, but when I start trying to untangle that twisted mess of chains it becomes quite clear that they have huge impacts on each other. I tend to run in viscous circles: I try to go on a diet, but then I get hungry or something else stresses me out, so I ignore the fact that I have a whole bunch of tasty (not cheap!) fruit and other snacks at home and go on a Sainsbury’s rampage for chocolate and other naughties. I have a night of over-indulgence, spend too much and eat too much, and feel bad about it all in the morning.

If I planned out delicious, nutritious meals with a light sprinkling of yummy but healthy snacks, I could save money and, most likely, lose weight too.

So, how’s my marshmallow test going to work? Right now there is no chocolate in my house (except Options hot chocolate, which really doesn’t count). Next time I go to the supermarket for groceries (not mid-week in a crazy fit of hunger, but for a weekly shop with a sensibly prepared list), I shall buy one, reasonably priced bar of chocolate. The chocolate will sit in my fridge, where I will occasionally stroke it as if it were a tiny, hard, cold animal. Eventually, I will eat it – when I really, really want it.

I won’t cheat by buying extra chocolate along the way. That would bust my diet and budget in one swift punch.

Let’s see if this experiment works…

(The Rose Petal Bakery)