Reflections from the Five Year Journal

Every night, before I turn out the lights, I write a daily entry in my Five Year Journal. A Five Year Journal has one page for each day of the year, and the pages are broken into five sections, so after a while, you can read what you did on that particular day in previous years. This is a practice I started nearly four years ago, and I haven’t missed an entry in all that time. So, tonight, before I compose the roughly eight lines that capture the day, I’ll get to read about what I thought and did on New Year’s Day in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Love it.

Last night, on New Year’s Eve, I did something for the first time that was so rewarding and revealing it’s destined to become an annual tradition. I sat down and read all of the entries from the year. It took me over two hours, and as the year unfolded for me in that relatively brief space, I got a visceral sense for how full it was. And I was surprised how much happened that I’d forgotten about. It was a year of growth, excitement, ambition, loss, change, love, risk, frustration, closeness, success, pain, triumph, stress, grief, peace, and bliss. I took notes on the patterns that I saw and I discovered a few things. So for this, my first official public blog post, and the first day of the new year, it seems fitting to publish an annual review and share a bit about what I learned. I’m going to look back at 2014, process what went well, note what I’d like to do differently, and look ahead to 2015, expressing my explicit intentions and goals.

Bright Lines – One thing that stands out for me about 2014 is that I stuck to my four Bright Lines every single day, 365 days in a row, without exception. The four Bright Lines are no sugar, no flour, meals, and quantities. I started doing Bright Line Eating™ in 2003, and since that time I have had more years of doing it perfectly (7) than years where I faltered for a bit (4), but I can state with conviction that I learned more from the breaks than I did from the stretches of continuity. Looking back on 2014, however, what stands out to me is that keeping my food in this clean and neutral zone allowed me to LIVE LIFE all year, without being dragged down in the quagmire of food, weight, struggle, or “turning over a new leaf.”

In fact, do you want to know how many times in 2014 I wrote anything in my journal about what I’d eaten or not eaten, how much weight I’d gained or lost, or what I was planning or not planning to do with my food?  Zero.

Bam! How’s that for neutrality?

Weight – In 2014, my weight averaged about 112 pounds. I’m a hair over 5’3, so this is a comfortable weight for me. At a few points, my weight dipped as low as 109.4, and at another point it was as high as 118.4, but that may have been a misfire on my digital scale because it was a rogue outlier. In March, I broke away from my eleven-year practice of weighing myself once a week and started to weigh myself every day. I made that change because my weight fluctuates enough that more frequent data points are needed to reveal a trend that might necessitate a slight adjustment in my food plan. I started daily weighing as an experimental thing, and was willing to go back to once-a-week weighing if the daily number impinged on my serenity at all. It didn’t. The number registers for me as pure information—I see it, I log it in my smartphone, and I forget it. It doesn’t affect my self-esteem, my emotions, or my outlook on the day.

Exercise – I have an on-again-off-again relationship with exercise. I thought I didn’t exercise much in 2014, but the journal revealed otherwise. I’d forgotten that early in the year I started training for a big mountain climb I was planning during the summer (more on that below), and I got pretty focused on increasing my cardiovascular fitness for that specific purpose. After the climb in August, I stopped exercising for three months, but I returned to it in December. I continue to be very grateful that Bright Line Eating™ takes care of my weight, regardless of whether or not I exercise.

Meditation – In 2014, I meditated for 30 minutes in the morning an average of 5-6 days per week. I mostly did not meditate when I was on vacation. I used a meditation bench and the Enso Pearl mediation timer, two tools that totally revolutionized, deepened, and sweetened my meditation practice.

Prayer and Spiritual Connection – Every day I get on my knees first thing in the morning and connect with the God of my understanding, the Unknowable Essence that is the most manifest of the manifest, and the most hidden of the hidden. I reconnect midday with another prayer, and at the end of the day I get back on my knees and say a prayer of gratitude. I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss any morning or nighttime prayers in 2014, but I know I missed my midday prayer two or three times. Of course it’s the quality of these connections that counts, not the quantity. Each and every time it requires effort to slow my mind down and focus my intention on CONNECTING. I don’t always manage it; sometimes I’m there in body but not in spirit. But my body lets me know when my spirit is present and sincere; it gives me shivers down my spine and tingles behind my third eye. And my lips crack a smile.

12-Step Fellowship – This year I was a card-carrying member of three different 12-step programs. (There’s no card, but you know what I mean.) I attended meetings, sponsored, was sponsored, did service, and made and received phone calls. I worked through the 12 steps again (for the umpteenth time) and had an especially powerful experience on Step 9, which is making amends. I believe that the bounties I received in the second half of the year were a direct result of the effort I put into working the steps in the first half of the year. In order to stay connected to all three fellowships, I found myself going to a lot of meetings in the first half of the year (up to nine a week). As my Bright Line Eating™ efforts intensified, this became unsustainable and a few months ago I cut back to three meetings a week. But I still go to meetings. Why? Because they work for me, plain and simple.

Family – As a working mom I constantly struggle with feeling like I don’t spend enough time with my kids. And maybe I don’t. But one big lesson I learned from reading my Five Year Journal for over two hours last night was that I’m with my kids a whole heck of a lot. We play together. We get testy with each other. I watch their triumphs and achievements. They help me cook dinner. We swim. We cuddle. I’m a mostly present and engaged mom all year long, and that was a pretty great thing to discover in those pages.

This year Alexis and Zoe turned six. They graduated kindergarten and entered first grade. They learned to tie their shoes and they learned to read. They became terrors on the monkey bars. They learned to play Parcheesi, Mancala, garbage, checkers, Connect Four, and Memory. Zoe got glasses.

Maya turned three. She held her own at Memory and was a nuisance at Mancala and Parcheesi. She talked nonstop in her chirpy, munchkin voice, transitioned from a crib to a toddler bed, pooped on the potty (but not always), and helped unpack the groceries (always). She inspired family, friends, and strangers alike to offer to take her home with them.

David and I fought twice in 2014, and lived in love, respect, and harmony the other 361 days. (Actually, the fights weren’t devoid of love or respect, just harmony.) John Gottman has found that to be happily married, a couple must maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. I suspect David and I have a ratio closer to 500:1. I should track it. Our relationship sweetens and deepens with each passing year. It blows my mind, but it happened again in 2014—I love him even more.

WorkMonroe Community College is going through big upheavals across the board, and our Psychology Department is no exception. Two of our most senior members retired. We got a new Chairperson, and I became the Assistant Chairperson of the department. The online platform changed from Angel to Blackboard, and I spent the summer transitioning my Introductory and Positive Psychology courses over. The highlight was teaching Positive Psychology and the Psychology of Eating, Body Image, and Wellness to yet another group of amazing students.

Speaking – I was invited to give four talks this year, plus one radio interview. I delivered talks on the science of willpower (view it on YouTube here), the science of happiness, and the science of weight loss to corporate, public, and collegiate audiences. In October, Caryn Hartglass interviewed me for her Progressive Radio Network show, “It’s All About Food.” That was especially fun. You can check out the podcast here.

Service – Our twins Alexis and Zoe were born at 24 weeks weighing under one pound, seven ounces each. They spent roughly four months in the NICU, and are alive and healthy against all odds and purely by Grace and western medicine. This year we were invited by the March of Dimes to serve as the Ambassador Family for their annual Signature Chef’s Auction. We told their story, shed some tears, ate some great food, and helped raise money for an amazingly worthy cause. Special thanks to Johannes Bockwoldt for donating his time to create the fundraising video.

We’ve been asked to serve again as the Ambassador Family, this time for the March for Babies on Saturday, May 2nd, 2015, which happens to be Alexis and Zoe’s 7th birthday. They’re going to wonder why there are several thousand people attending their birthday party! Register here to join us if you can make it to Rochester that weekend. We’d love to see you.

Travel – Other than two quick jaunts to Canada, one for a Paul Simon + Sting concert in Toronto, which was awesome, and the other to Niagara Falls to visit with family, I didn’t leave the country in 2014, which is fine with me. When my kids are older, I hope to explore the world with them, but now, while they’re little, I can tolerate being grounded for a few years. I drove to Philadelphia for a conference. We drove to Grand Island to visit the in-laws. (Love staying there! So nice.) But the big travel experiences of 2014 were all out in California. I took three trips to the San Francisco Bay Area during the year: one in February, one in August, and one in November, totaling 21 days in all. Whoohooo! I was raised in San Francisco and lived in the Bay Area until the age of 23. Every time I go back, my heart aches and pulses with how much I love the place. It’s my soul. I live in Rochester because I honestly prefer to raise my kids here, and David and I have family and a great life in this corner of the world. But the Bay Area is where I most love to be. Our November trip included the whole family which means that we finally took our three kids on an airplane! Or, to be precise, four airplanes. They did great! We went out to visit family for Thanksgiving, and it was filled with all the warmth and love we hoped it would be.

Milestones – 2014 was a year of huge milestones. On June 19th David and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. On June 29th I turned 40. And on August 9th I celebrated 20 years clean-and-sober.

As the “big four-oh” approached, I got it into my head that to mark the occasion, I wanted to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. That required some preparation, because to get to the summit you have to ascend up some cables, and access to the cables is permit-restricted. Permit applications are accepted in March for the whole year, and only 40% of applications are granted. Well, long story short, we got to go. David and I flew out together (our first long trip together since the twins were born), and called it an anniversary/birthday trip. The climb was epic! I would totally do it again. The sub-dome has, arguably, the best 360-degree view in the world. You can see the photo album here.

Grief and Loss – The saddest days of 2014 came at the end. My dear friend Anna Price died unexpectedly at the age of 37 in late December, and I spent yesterday, December 31st, 2014 bawling my eyes out at her funeral. Although the cause of death isn’t yet known, I took note of how often her name appeared in my journal throughout the year. She wasn’t doing well, physically, mentally, or emotionally, and I was worried about her. I have many dear friends, but I wrote about her ten times more than the rest of them combined. She was a gem of a friend, a mother of three young children, and a gorgeous woman. No words can capture the loss.

The day after I learned of Anna’s passing, David informed me that our first cousin, Brian Thompson, age 28, suffered an anoxic brain event and lies in a coma in Sacramento, California with little to no pupil response or brain activity. The latest update is that his prospects aren’t good. Brian is a happy, big-hearted guy. We just spent Thanksgiving with him. This is unfathomable. The Thompson and Baggett families are supporting each other through this awful time. Your prayers would be welcome.

Grief and loss are part of life. I’m watching my reaction, and noticing that I’m not eating over it. I’m feeling my feelings, not hiding from them or numbing them. I’m crying, because it’s sad. I’m taking about it, and now writing about it. These are all reactions I’m proud of, and I hope to respond similarly the next time tragedy strikes, Because, of course, strike it will. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

Bright Line Eating™ – Other than an initial nod to my own commitment to sticking with the Bright Lines, many of you will have noticed that I haven’t said anything about Bright Line Eating™ yet. Without a doubt, the thing I got most clearly from reviewing the 2014 row of the Five Year Journal last night is a vision of the arc of Bright Line Eating™—where it began, how it grew, and where it’s headed next.

But, my friend Ron Friedman tells me that the ideal blog length is 600-800 words, and since this post already clocks in around 2500, I think I’d better save that story for next week. So stay tuned for that.

Went Well, Do Differently – Looking back, 2014 was a full and rich year. For me, it was a pivotal year.

There are many things I hope to do similarly in 2015:

  • Log 365 days of consecutive Bright Line Eating™. This is first and foremost because I’m pretty worthless without the Bright Lines. When I’m eating addictively, I just obsess about food all the time and struggle to get “back on track.” No fun.
  • Pray regularly, three times a day.
  • Maintain my 12-step connections.
  • Speak publicly when invited.
  • Be present with my kids and husband every day.
  • Travel to California every chance I get.

But of course, there are things I’d like to do differently in 2015. Here are the changes I’m thinking about making as we launch the new year:

  • I don’t care all that much, but I do think I will be aiming to keep my weight within a smaller range. 110-113 pounds is good for me. I’ll shoot for more stability there.
  • I also think it’s finally time for me to become a person who exercises regularly. My strategy is to take a cue from James Clear and assume the identity of someone who never misses a workout. My regimen will be modest and simple: workout three times a week, MWF, all year long, except when I’m sick. I’m currently doing Dr. Jade Teta’s Metabolic Aftershock program. It’s fun, it’s intense, and it only takes 15 minutes per workout. Perfect.
  • I would like to meditate more often than 5-6 days per week, and will strive for 6-7 days per week in 2015.
  • And perhaps the biggest change is that I will now be blogging on a weekly basis! You can expect to find a new blog post here every Thursday throughout 2015.

I have purchased a 2015 wall calendar and will use it to track my exercise, meditation, and blogging. For some reason, putting X’s on a calendar is very satisfying.

People write lofty things about the secret to success, but it may just be that the secret is not lofty but mundane: daily, positive habits, performed faithfully.

And my definition of success, of course, is getting to live each day happy, thin, and free.

Here’s to living happy, thin, and free in 2015!

With love,

Susan

P.S. — I want to know how your year was in 2014, and what your intentions and goals are for 2015. Please leave a comment down below! I’ll read every one.

Comments

  1. Liliane Thompson

    I read your blog and was again struck by what an amazing woman you are and from my selfish point of view, how blessed I am to have you in my life and grateful that you are David ‘s partner. I always knew he needed a strong and intelligent partner and God answered my prayers with you. I look forward to reading your blogs and being inspired and refreshed by your insights. Thank you, Liliane

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Awwww, so sweet, Liliane! I love you so very much and am so grateful for you in my life. The feeling is totally mutual. You raised a gem of a man and I am beyond blessed to share my life with him. Lovelovelove!!!

      Reply ·
    2. Suzanne

      Ok I just discovered your free series this morning! I am so grateful that you are genuinely trying to help people with weight loss. My life is very similar to what you described and this year I need an everlasting change. I notice your series will be taken down in 7 hours. How can someone like me who is off to a full day of work able to listen to the series. Will you be offering it again?
      Thank you so much for your passion and commitment to helping! You are definitely doing Gods work. Suzanne

      Reply ·
  2. Molly

    Bravo on your blog Susan! I was just thinking that I’d like to get a five year journal for this very reason. BIG year for you. So sad for the loss of your friend. Here’s to more growth and gratitude in 2015. x

    Reply ·
    1. Susan

      Hey Molly! THANKS!!! I can’t recommend the Five Year Journal highly enough. It really adds another dimension to life, getting to reflect back on it that way. Brings such an awareness of the annual cycles, the recurring themes, and the total impermanence of it all. xoxox

      Reply ·
  3. Charles Manteghi

    Reading this blog did so much for me. Coming from an expert and an amazing person like you, it is a refreshing conformation of the right things I have done for years and to be honest, it does make me proud of myself. It also leaves me a list of things (I might have neglected for one reason or another) which I must start taking care of without further delay.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Fabulous, Charles! I love that you’re giving yourself the permission to feel proud of yourself. You should! The daily actions, faithfully performed, make up the solidity of our character. Here’s to a 2015 filled with the next right action!

      Reply ·
  4. Pat

    Thanks for being you, looking forward to Feb.3

    Reply ·
  5. Marianne Marsh

    On December 31, you posted a list of 10 questions to ask yourself before 2015. They were such good questions that I decided to use them as a writing exercise. It was a really worthwhile exercise! Then you posted this about a five-year journal. Inspires me to get one and write in it every day! I think I’ll call it Bright Line Writing LOL.

    Reply ·
    1. Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

      Yes! Bright Line Writing! Love it 😉
      BTW, there’s a link to the Five Year Journal right here on my website under “favorites.”
      http://susanpeircethompson.com/favorites/

      Reply ·
      1. Julie Brady

        Hi Susan: Where can I find the 10 questions? I would love to do this writing exercise 😊 I just signed up for the Boot Camp and would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing Bright Line Eating and all your knowledge about food, addiction and the brain. I registered 9 on the sustainability scale (probably wasn’t completely honest and probably should have been a 10!) I have struggled with food and sugar addiction most of my life (I justed turned 56) and have got all my weight off 3x in my life and obviously was never successful. In about 2000 I found pain pills and was addicted to them for the next 10 years. I got sober in 2011 on my own, cold turkey! I lost 80 lbs, got off all medication and walked my first half marathon in 2013. The interesting thing I found was that after all this achievement I wasn’t happy and I felt this disconnect between my brain and my body. In 2014 I was back on the pain pills and gaining all the weight back to a grand total of 263 lbs. In 2015 I realized I couldn’t get off the pills on my own so I went to rehab. They did biochemical testing and repair as well as fed us organic foods with no sugar, white flour or caffeine. What little did I know that this rehab experience was part of the puzzle to get me where I needed to be! This experience got rid of the disconnect I experienced with my previous sobriety. As I entered into sobriety from pills for the 2nd time my food and sugar addiction reared its ugly head! Additionally, I developed depression as well. The great thing is that I no longer felt the disconnect between my brain and body! Last summer I started trying to transition to a plant based whole grain diet. I’ve been struggling with it ever since and unable to be successful. About two weeks ago I joined OA and learned that this is where I will find my freedom from food by working the steps and working on the emotional, spiritual and mental relationship with food. When it came to the food plan, I was light years ahead because of all the work I had already done with my therapist. So when they said start with chocolate and abstain from it for 24 hours, my brain said ok. Well this turned into a free for all with all other food and I proceeded to binge in a way I hadn’t done in a very long time. I was devistated with my behavior but didn’t know what to do. So I just focused on attending 6 different meetings and found a sponsor. During a telephone meeting last Monday, a fellow OA person by the name of Carolan asked me for my phone number and called me. This was when I was re-introduced to you and Bright Line Eating! I originally heard about you through Louise Hay but at the time I was in a place where I felt it was just my addict brain buying one more book or program for a quick fix! (I had spent the last year to find something that would make me happy and maxed out all my credit cards buying stuff and living off them since I wasn’t working.) However when I checked out your website this time I knew this was the missing piece of the puzzle I so desperately was looking for. Additionally, it is the support and guidance I needed to be successful with a nutritarian diet!
        So Susan, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for YOU! I feel so blessed to have found you and your program. I can’t wait to get started 😊

        Reply ·
  6. Lindani

    You’re amazing, I love you, you inspire me.

    Reply ·
  7. Julia Milano

    I am humbled by your blog and filled with shame about my own lack of accomplishments. Almost all of my diets have been derailed by a terrible sense of deprivation and depression that leads me back to eating.

    Reply ·
  8. Michelle Vanderbrook

    Hi Susan, my name is Michelle and I’m just starting to read Bright line eating. I’m not even finished with the book yet, but I’m already so intrigued. My husband is reading it too, he actually started researching it for me. He is a family physician and knows I have struggled with weight problems up and down for years. Neither of us agree with the Western medicine and the pills. So this book really set things apart. I’m so very excited and nervous to take this journey and become a Bright liner. Thank you for your inspiration and wonderful example of helping people such as myself. God Bless you!!

    Reply ·
    1. Bright Line Eating

      Hi Michelle, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience… your husband sounds like a gem! I’m glad you found Bright Line Eating and I welcome you both to our community.

      Reply ·
  9. melissa pavon

    This is life-changing. I found Bright Line Eating about a week ago and am starting the 14 day challenge tomorrow. I have been more gentle with myself in the last few days than I thought was possible. This week I also stumbled upon Brene Brown’s words about shame versus guilt and the language we use when reflecting on past decisions. Between that paradigm shift in my thinking and your words about addiction, physiology and a way out…no words. Thank you for shining a little, tiny light in the dark, dark rabbit hole I have been in FOR YEARS. I know it will get bigger and brighter every day I honor my bright lines.

    Reply ·
View All Comments ▾

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>