My relationship with Fitbit has changed drastically over the last year. In September 2015, I purchased a Fitbit Flex and wore it religiously for eleven months. I lamented my Fitbit failings along the way. Then I lost the charger. (Hah.) I could have easily found a new cable and kept stepping along. But I found that there were some deficiencies in my Flex compared to my now-current fitness tracking needs. And after scoping out my options, I finally acquired a black Fitbit Charge 2. I’ve been using it for two weeks now, and I’m extremely happy with the results.

 Fitbit Charge 2 Review

What I Love

The Band and the Charger

After using a Fitbit Flex for a year, I noticed the band starting to wear out in colour and stretch. It was a solid colour, so the change was obvious. Plus, the clasp was (and had always been) precarious, and popping the device out of the band to charge it was an unnecessary strain on the band (and on me).

The Fitbit Charge 2 comes with an integrated device + band, meaning you charge the device while it’s still attached to the band. The Charge also has a belt- or watch-type clasp, so I’m a lot less worried about it falling off. Plus, the simple textured design will keep any discoloration down the road hidden for longer than a solid, smooth band would.

Heart Rate Monitor

This was the main reason I purchased the Fitbit Charge 2 over, say, the Fitbit Alta or something a little bit smaller. Now that I’m getting more active, it’s a lot more important for me to track my heart rate and cardiovascular health. This is Fitbit’s HR-monitoring option with the lowest cost and the most narrow band.

Simple But Sufficient Display

Unlike my Flex, the Fitbit Charge 2 doubles as a step counter and a watch. It also lets you cycle through other screens to see your heart rate, start tracking an activity (like a run), use a stopwatch, begin a guided calm breathing exercise, and view your upcoming alarms.

The App

I’m used to using the Fitbit app from my Flex days. But with floor counting, heart rate monitoring, and more detailed activity info, there’s so much more to do now that I have a Charge 2! I especially love tracking my heart rate throughout the day. I went through a phase of tracking my nutrition via the app as well, but with the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan, it’s way too time consuming (and probably unnecessary).

Nitpicks

No Ability to Control Smartphone Music

I would gladly trade the smartphone text/call notifications for the ability to skip through a playlist via my Fitbit. Unfortunately, the Charge 2 doesn’t have this functionality. I would have to trade up to the Blaze smartwatch for that ability — but that’s a larger device, with an extra $100 on the price-tag. I opted for the simplicity.

Not Waterproof

I don’t do much swimming (at all), so removing my Fitbit for a swim isn’t a big deal. The larger challenge is remembering to put my Charge 2 back on after a shower. So far, it’s been two weeks and I have yet to forget. But I’m still concerned, as my memory is pretty awful. We’ll see how long I can last before I walk out the door without my Fitbit!


In summary, I’m very happy with my new Fitbit Charge 2. In spite of some slight shortfalls, I definitely don’t regret choosing this fitness tracker out of the others out there on the market!

How do you track your fitness?

Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions

After weeks of debate, and swooning over nutritious Instagram stories, I finally caved and purchased the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan. That means I’m a full-fledged TIU member! Never thought I’d be saying that, but here we are. Just a few weeks ago I started following along with the Daily Workouts on ToneItUp.com. I’ve really enjoyed the process and the community thus far. So before I get too entrenched in the TIU 2017 Challenge (for better or worse), I thought I’d share my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions!

 Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions: 2017 Challenge

Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions

Curiosity killed the…wallet?

Let’s just start off with the price. This plan is expensive, yo. Dropping $150 (USD, I might add) is a hefty commitment, especially since I’ve never done anything like this before. Can’t I just Google all of this nutrition info? Pull together some recipes on Pinterest and make my own plan for free?

Technically, yes, anyone could do that. The question is whether anyone will — and for me, the answer is a definite “no”. By the time I put in the effort to research which foods I need to fuel my body for mental and physical exercise, I’m already chowing down on Tim Hortons. I have made some healthier choices in recent months, but my self-regulation is my downfall. The convenience of having things explained, and aggregated in one spot is my biggest draw to the Nutrition Plan. I wanted to see whether the layout and guidelines of the plan would work for me.

I also took advantage of the current bundle offer. For $165 I received the Nutrition Plan membership and the Body Love video series. These video workouts currently appear quite often in the 2017 Challenge Daily Workouts. The challenge is already 1/3 of the way through, which is a bummer for the bundle. But from what I saw in December, members-only videos from previous challenges show up pretty often during non-challenge period Daily Workouts. Plus, I can always do the workouts whenever, right? (…Right? Hah. We’ll see about that.)

This Plan is Future-Proof.

Usually, when I’m making a commitment like this one, I’d take forever to come to a decision.

Should I wait until the next challenge comes along? Should I wait until I’ve used up all of the frozen pizzas in my freezer? Should I just try to eat healthy without any Nutrition Plan? (Continue ad nauseam…)

But the payment structure of this plan is a huge plus — or, rather, the lack thereof. It’s one fee. One-time. Flat rate. And you get every Nutrition Plan update and Challenge supplement download, for free, forever. This is perfect whether you just want to dabble, or if you’re an all-in-or-all-out kind of person, like me. Here’s the current spectrum of Plans available to members for download:

 Tone It Up Nutrition Plan First Impressions: All Plans 2017

I likely won’t use all of these, but they’re helpful to have when the opportunities arise. (Granted, TIU Challenges also usually require a paid set of videos, which are not included.)

Nutritional Science(ish).

I read through the “plan” portion of the download (i.e. not the recipes) on Saturday night. The guidelines seem solid, and there’s even some chemistry in there to explain the “why” behind them.

Even though I’ve got a Bachelor of Science, my biochemistry background is super limited. I appreciated the basic explanations Karena & Katrina included in the Nutrition Plan. But then you come across stuff like this:

Fatty acids are broken down by the enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase~ or what we like to call the “Burn Baby Burn Enzyme!”.

My boyfriend was reading over my shoulder and dying of laughter! So take the science sections with a grain of salt…

Meal Prepping is Madness.

My original plan was to dabble in some recipes and try out the Nutrition Plan whenever I could fit it in. But I just knew that I would revert to pasta and takeout, and wouldn’t be giving it a fair shot! So instead, I spent Sunday afternoon grocery shopping and meal prepping, as instructed by the 2017 Challenge Guide.

Wowza.

That grocery run was so expensive! I probably could have guessed. So much healthy food, and some of it premium or organic. Also, I was stocking up on bulk foods that I wouldn’t otherwise have purchased, like coconut shavings and flax seed. (And apple cider vinegar. Apparently that one’s important.)

Joe helped me with some of the meal prepping, since he loves to cook and I’m a mess in the kitchen. But as we all know, practice makes perfect! I made Egg Muffins, Almond Butter Cookies, and Chia Seed Pudding.

Things I Wish I Had Known 24 Hours Ago.

I’ve only had this Nutrition Plan for a day, and it’s already been a learning experience. Here are some things that might be helpful if you’re taking the TIU Nutrition Plan plunge:

Print it out.

If you have an iPad or tablet, you’re probably okay, but it was a nightmare switching between my phone and my laptop all afternoon. There are also printables at the end of the Plan — so at least print those. Plus, there’s just something so comforting about holding the pages in your hands, isn’t there? Okay, maybe that’s just me. I’m thinking of printing and binding mine at Staples ASAP — at least the main Nutrition Plan book, anyway.

Rewrite the grocery list in an order that makes sense for you.

This applies if you’re following a Challenge, like the 2017 Look for Love Challenge, with your meals all laid out. Joe and I kept having to go back for things in the grocery store because we skimmed over an ingredient! Take more time to study the grocery list than I did…

Join the gosh darn challenge on time!

At the end of 2016, I was convinced that my reasons for skipping out on Look for Love were solid. I’m participating in Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga Revolution, and still following the Tone It Up Daily Moves. That’s all the time I have to commit!

But you know what I still had time for?

Facebook.

Netflix.

And lots and lots of dawdling.

So you know what? I’m going to bite the bullet, try something new, and hopefully be healthier for it.


Those are my Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions. To summarize, I’ll say that I’m cautiously optimistic, motivated, and curious! If you have any questions (for a newbie like me), ask away!

(P.S. I also created a TIU Instagram account to document the journey — mostly so I wouldn’t annoy my main account followers, haha! Let’s connect @tiu.hillary)

Are you on the #TIUteam? What were your Tone It Up Nutrition Plan first impressions?

Happy Friday (the 13th…)! Just thought I’d check in and give you an update on my life lately. It’s been a busy couple of weeks getting back into the swing of things at work and settling into a daily fitness routine for the month of January (more on that here). But yesterday, I was laid out all day in recovery mode from my wisdom tooth surgery.

Okay, perhaps “surgery” is a stretch. I only had one wisdom tooth, and it was pretty small. The whole surgery process, from freezing to walking back out to the waiting room, took less than 20 minutes. I was pretty nervous going in. Multiple people in my family are paranoid about needles or dental procedures. I won’t say it was painless, but it was still quick and easy.

An unfortunate side effect of popping out that wisdom tooth is that I had to sit out from exercise for a day or two, to facilitate healing. I’m glad I completed my Yoga Revolution Day 12 (In Sync) practice yesterday morning so I could stay on track! However, I didn’t get a chance to complete my Tone It Up daily moves or my steps for the day. Bummer, since I’d been pretty consistent up until yesterday with both of those.

For context on the latter, I just purchased a Fitbit Charge 2 last weekend, which I totally love. You may remember (from this post) that I kinda… sorta… lost the charger for my Fitbit Flex in the summer and never bought a replacement. I started looking online for Flex chargers (since they’re outdated in stores now), but realized that I really wanted a heart-rate monitor moving forward, which the Flex doesn’t have. And when Joe said that he’d like to have a Flex, that settled it — I’ve got my new one, and he’s got my old one. You know, once we find a charger. I may post a review of the Charge 2 once I’ve had it for a little while longer!

As for my daily moves, I have to say that while I’ve only been following along with Tone It Up’s daily workouts for a few weeks now, I’m actually noticing improvements. The videos are becoming more manageable, and I’m taking fewer breaks and starting to enjoy the daily moves. Given that I started out completely loathing exercise, that’s actually pretty cool.

That’s my life lately. How’s yours?

Have a beautiful weekend!

Agendio Planner Review

If you’re like me, one of the most exciting things about the New Year is starting out with a brand new planner! I find that putting my thoughts and commitments down on paper is one of the best ways to get organized. Plus, it’s so satisfying to check items off that pesky To Do list! I went a totally new direction with my 2017 planner than I ever have, so I want to share my Agendio planner review and customization experience.

(Note: this post contains my referral links. I hope this review helps with your planner decisions — thanks for your support!)

What about Erin Condren?

Last year, I was a huge Erin Condren Life Planner fan. I’d been using the planner for six months when I first blogged about it, and continued for another six months before letting the habit drop. (It was an 18-month planner, by the way.) So what happened?

  • It became too bulky and cumbersome for my needs. I couldn’t bring it along to meetings, and I was hesitant to take it home stuffed in my laptop bag every night.
  • The layout was very daily-focused, without much space for weekly lists or notes. With my schedule becoming more erratic, I wasn’t able to assign many tasks to certain days ahead of time.
  • The interchangeable cover was starting to get a little damaged, and I couldn’t justify ordering a new one (especially with shipping costs).

That being said, I’m still a huge fan of Erin Condren’s tools and aesthetic. I will definitely purchase products from the shop again someday, though they might be other types of stationery or accessories.

I started shopping around for my 2017 planner in early November, and I wasn’t finding anything that met all of my requirements. And yes, I may have been nitpicking. But if I’m committing to a planner for the year, I don’t want to compromise! Eventually, I gave up searching for pre-existing planners and just typed into Google, “customizable planners”. There were a few misses as I scrolled through the results, but I found a real winner: Agendio.

Agendio Planner Review

Agendio’s web app allows you to walk through the entire process of building your perfect planner, essentially from scratch. You first choose your general layout: the size, timescale (daily/weekly/monthly) and orientation (horizontal/vertical). From then on, you’re in the driver’s seat. Create customized list areas, add check boxes, manually adjust section sizes or day breakdowns (hourly or into sections), pick your colours and fonts — basically do whatever you want. Click here for a sample of Agendio’s “customer creations” if you want more examples, but I’ll show you my own!

 Agendio Planner Review — Cover

First of all, I selected the smallest size and the leathery binding with small interior rings. I’d heard in an unboxing video on YouTube from MissVickybee that this format felt lighter than it looked, and that’s what I was hoping for! The exterior on this version has the Agendio logo, and the only customization available is the colour. That was fine by me. If you’re looking for something more substantial, the sizes go up to 8.5×11″, and there are customizable laminated covers for the full-spiral binding. (See images of other planners here.)

My weekly layout looks like this:

 Agendio Planner Review — Weekly Layout

If you’re curious, that’s weekly layout Model #32064. I’m also using Enriqueta as my font.

The left-hand side I’ve devoted to daily notes, while the right-hand side is for a weekly overview. There’s space for goal-setting, random notes or doodles, a to do list, blogging ideas, and a weekly thankful thought (borrowed that idea from Erin Condren!). Each of these sections were things I either appreciated or wished for when using other planners. I customized the sizes, lines, and shading for each of the boxes on the right-hand side. The web app was very easy to use as I set up the layout. I’m so excited to use the sections!

Now here’s my monthly layout, Model #32060:

 Agendio Planner Review — Monthly Layout

I was able to customize the look and feel of the page, plus the notes area on the right-hand side, which I’ve kept in list form. Plus, you’ll notice on the 12th that I’ve included my dad’s birthday. You can add your own events to the calendar in weekly or monthly mode (or both), and you can make them recurring if you need to. While I didn’t use the feature very much, I was extremely impressed with it. I can totally see how that would come in handy!

You can set the colour of each month separately, if you wish. I decided to follow the Life Planner trend, giving each month a different colour (dark blue for January, for example). Other than that, though, I will admit that the planners aren’t nearly as colourful as others on the market. No worries! I ordered a bunch of stickers from Amazon last week to spice things up throughout the year. And to accommodate the stickers, I added a cardstock pocket to the back of my Agendio planner (for $3 extra). You can also add an elastic for the cover or coloured monthly tabs for the interior.

If you’ve missed the start of the year to find the perfect planner, fear not! Agendio allows you to choose the starting month of your 12-month planner.

Every Agendio planner review I read before ordering my planner was very positive, and this one is no different. I’m so excited for 2017 — with my new Agendio planner in tow!

What’s your planner of choice this year?

Yoga Revolution - I'm In

Happy Almost New Year! We’re counting down the hours with eager anticipation until…2016 is finally over. This year has been quite the roller coaster for most of us. I’ve found that one of the most positive, grounding experiences for me this year has been a renewed commitment to yoga practice, as guided by Adriene from the Yoga With Adriene YouTube channel. So starting tomorrow morning, I’m going to be embarking on the Yoga Revolution journey: a 31-day yoga practice video series with a daily mantra or focus. I’m pumped!

You may remember from that I participated in the “first annual” 30 Days of Yoga back in the summer. This video series launched in January 2015, so obviously I was a bit behind. It took me 44 days to get through the 30 videos, but at least I made it! You can read more about that experience in my Lessons Learned post. To summarize, I learned to build a habit of self-care, find what feels good, and expand my focus from just the physical aspects of yoga to the whole experience.

I continued to attend weekly yoga classes at my office gym and walk through a YWA video every so often. But I was becoming uninspired and the habit was falling away. So in mid-October, I took on the 30 Days of Yoga challenge from January 2016: Yoga Camp.

The main difference between the 2015 and 2016 challenges was the introduction of simple mantras to each practice.

I am strong.

I am supported.

I go with the flow.

I’ll admit that I never got to the point of chanting the mantras out loud, but I did find them very helpful in focusing my energy and intentions throughout the practices.

For this challenge, I actually completed one video each day for 30 days straight, finishing on time! I could feel both my mind and body becoming stronger through the experience, and I’m so glad I did it. And now that I’ve done the New Year challenges from 2015 and 2016, I’m officially caught up — meaning I’m ready for 2017:

Yoga Revolution.

So this will be the first time that I’m following along with others through this yoga “bootcamp”, and I’m very excited! These practices are super diverse: cleansing, challenging, creative, you name it. And participating is totally, 100% free. If you’ve even considered doing yoga, I want to encourage you to join me. It’s going to be awesome!

Sign up right here!

For those of you that have been following my blog recently, you may be wondering, what about Tone It Up? In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve been following along with the Daily Workouts on the website for a few weeks now. For the duration of Yoga Revolution, I’m going to let Tone It Up take a backseat. I’ll still complete the Daily Moves, but the other workouts/cardio will generally be replaced by my yoga practice — unless I somehow find enough time and energy to do both!

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see you tomorrow on the mat!

Blogiversary — A Look Back and Ahead

Hello readers! One year ago, Flinntrospection went live on the world wide web. So for our blogiversary, I’m taking a look back at some of the posts we’ve all enjoyed over the past year, and giving you a sneak peek into my plans for 2017. If you’re new to the blog, this post will also provide a nice little summary of what you’ll find here on Flinntrospection!

My First Post

This post, “hello and welcome“, went live on Boxing Day 2016. I was so nervous to release my writing into the world! We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s fun to look back and gain perspective on the journey.

Physics Studies & Academic Life

In case you missed it, I studied physics at university. (I know, I know, I’m nuts.) I’ve written a few posts on the topic:

Young Professional Thoughts & Tips

I’ve been in the working world for almost two years. I’m in no position to provide definitive advice yet, but here are some thoughts I’ve shared on the topic here on the blog.

My Fitness Journey

I hesitate to call it a “journey” at this point, but looking back a year ago, I’m surprised by how far I’ve come! This blogiversary is a great chance to reflect — especially since everything is documented! I’ll put these in chronological order:

Products & Apps I Love

At this point in my blogging journey, I’m not getting sponsored by companies to write posts or reviews. If I’ve told you great things about a product, program, or application, it’s because I’m genuinely a big fan!

Writing, Grammar, and the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

The whole point of this blog was to write. So naturally, it follows that I would write about writing, right? Uh…right.

(Don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? Click here.)

Goal-Setting and Check-Ins

Every so often, I publish my goals on the blog, in the hopes that I’ll be more likely to stick to them. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. For this overview, here’s a link to my Goal Check-In for 2016 from a few weeks ago, and my “30 Before 30” Twenty-Something Bucket List!

Other Stuff

If you browse around Flinntrospection, you’ll find all sorts of things that I haven’t mentioned here. There are discussions on astrology, motivationsblogging and budgeting challenges, my favourite teas and TV shows, and ramblings about my cat

I’m not yet at a point where I’m narrowing this blog to a particular area. Someday I might. But I’m enjoying the flexibility of a full-on geeky lifestyle blog, so that’s where I’m headed for now. Now that this blogiversary has come and gone, I want to let you all know that my blogging goals and focus for 2017 will be similar to 2016. Perhaps I won’t be averaging a post every 3 days like I did this year, but who knows?

If you’ve been following along for a year now, thanks so much for your support! And if you’re brand new, hello and welcome! I’m so glad you could make it.

Happy Blogiversary and Happy Holidays!

Getting On The Wagon With Tone It Up

I signed up for Tone It Up last week. I’ve been following the daily workouts for seven days now. And I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.

 Tone It Up: I have no idea what I'm doing

Okay, let me provide some background here.

Exercise has never been a priority of mine. Unlike many young professionals, I’m not saying that I “fell off the wagon” when I graduated. I was never on the wagon to begin with. In fact, here’s a rundown of my fitness history:

  • Took ballet at the age of five. Was horrible. Never went back.
  • Passed swimming lessons up to Level 12, when they had that — basically, the one before official lifeguard training — then stopped. Never went back.
  • Tried out for exactly zero sports in high school.
  • Stopped taking gym class after Grade Nine. (Swapped it out for science or music courses…)
  • Basically hated all things related to exercise.

Recently, I’ve participated in Zumba, done some hiking, and practiced yoga (including some month-long challenges). I even did a bit of circuit training, sort of… But the frequency and/or intensity of these activities don’t constitute a healthy lifestyle by anyone’s standards, including my own.

So I realized recently that it’s probably in my best interest to take care of my body. You know, so I can live longer, feel better, not get winded when I go up a flight of stairs… That kind of thing. Plus, I want to avoid a midlife epiphany that getting in shape would have been so much easier if I had only started earlier. Right now, for example.

Except I’m not the type of person that can motivate myself to do something brand new, and then commit to it from the get-go. Plus, gyms are scary for newbies like me. Like I said, I really don’t know what I’m doing.

Enter Tone It Up.

Tone It Up: Karena & KatrinaIf you haven’t heard of it, Tone It Up (or TIU) is a website, a YouTube channel, and a massive social media presence run by Karena Dawn and Katrina Scott, two (extremely) peppy fitness trainers. Their site has workouts, recipes, an online store, and a community forum. The Tone It Up videos are pretty tough for me, though it’s clear how to modify the difficulty up or down with weights, duration, etc. They are also bright, musical, beach-y, and usually very feminine. A decent portion of their videos and a few of their recipes are available for free, but their famous “Nutrition Plan” and video series are for sale in the shop. So far, I haven’t personally purchased anything from TIU.

I’ll post a bit later on why I chose this program over the countless others out there, but here’s a quick update on how it’s going.

I’ve probably exercised more this week than ever before. (That’s not saying much… but still!) Everything on me has been sore at some point. I haven’t bought into the social media component yet, and I think that will be a long time coming. I’m getting used to waking up early to complete at least some of the daily workout first thing in the morning. That’s one of the requirements, known as the “Bootycall”. Also, I have never heard or used the word “booty” as often in my entire life — and it’s getting kind of weird, to be honest.

Will I stick with it? No idea. The ultimate goal of this experience for me is to normalize exercise in my everyday life. Having a video series and daily challenges gives it some structure and external motivation, which is helpful in this (very) early stage!

How do you stay fit — or get fit in the first place?

Christmas Traditions

Last year, Joe and I celebrated our first Christmas away from home. We knew it would be a very different experience from celebrating with our families, and it was! There were traditions to leave behind and compromises to make. But the best part was having the opportunity to make new Christmas traditions for us as a couple. Some things we’ve “stolen” from our families, while others we’ve begun all on our own.

Christmas Traditions — Clembrook Christmas FarmCutting Our Own Christmas Tree

We’re both fortunate to have always had a real tree in our house at Christmastime, but my family has always chosen a pre-cut tree. While the process of choosing the perfect tree hanging from a barn ceiling can be fun, it’s nowhere near as rewarding as trudging through the snow and cutting down a tree for our own. When it came time to choose

This year and last, Joe and I have gone to Clembrook Christmas Farm in Milton, just south of Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area, to pick out our Christmas tree. And both years, we’ve been very happy with the result — especially after spending time and energy to find it ourselves. It’s worth it!

Sending Personalized Christmas Cards

These days, when everyone is inundated with email and social media, it’s always nice to receive mail once in a while. Joe and I hopped on the Christmas card bandwagon to break up the monotony of online-only season’s greetings. We simply take a photo we want to send, use Staples’ online Print and Copy Centre to create a card, and have a set of them printed in store.

Last year, we took a “family photo” of the three of us to send to our relatives in a Christmas card. This year, only Lorelai is featured in our cards, looking adorable as always. (I won’t spoil it since we haven’t sent them out quite yet!)

Christmas Traditions — DAVIDsTEA Advent CalendarThe DAVIDsTEA Advent Calendar

Growing up, Joe and I both had your standard chocolate advent calendars every December leading up to Christmas day. Every kid’s dream, right? But eventually, the joy and surprise of a new chocolate shape every day wears off (and the guilt of eating chocolate in the morning sets in…). So this year, we wanted to find something exciting to get us pumped for the holidays. And what better way to get warm and cozy in December than drinking copious amounts of tea?

I’ve become a more adventurous tea drinker in recent months, and now I love trying teas and finding new favourites. This year, we bought the DAVIDsTEA “24 Days of Tea” advent calendar. It comes with 24 (duh) teas in tiny tins, stored away in little cardboard drawers. Each day, you get to surprise yourself with a new flavour of tea! So far, we’re really enjoying the experience, and all of the teas we’ve tried. Plus, it’s giving us a mandate to slow down and have some tea and quiet time every evening.


What Christmas traditions are most important to you this holiday season?

On Memory & Understanding

I have a terrible memory.

When I was a kid, I received lots of praise for my memory. But this was solely because I memorized “In Flanders Fields” and recited it to my church on Remembrance Day in the second grade. From then on, my family and family friends had it in their heads that my memory was spectacular. Whether or not it was true then, it definitely isn’t true now.

Sure, I can remember basic facts and concepts. I’ve memorized pretty much every intelligible song lyric on KiSS 92.5 (because they’re set to music and repeated fifty times a day). I’ve got close relatives’ birthdays and other important dates in my head. But my long-term memories are spotty at best, and they tend to be visual memories of “scenes” in my head, rather than facts and stories. And when it comes to recalling something I’ve seen, read, heard, or even experienced recently, I’m totally useless.

It takes a lot of effort to move random data from my working memory to my short-term memory. I’m often busy, tired, or indifferent, so many of the things I hear or see don’t make it into short-term. And if they don’t make it to short-term memory, they definitely won’t make it into the long-term. Numbers and equations are awful for this. (Even worse: remembering to remember something — hence my tendency to abandon or lose important items that I need to have with me.)

It’s much easier to store information that has a context or a meaning.

Knowing why something is true helps me to recall what is true in the first place. In my academic life, if I had an understanding of a physics concept, I would be much more likely to remember the equation that models it. Its components and structure would just make sense. And in the worst case scenario, if I forgot the equation altogether, I could use what I do know to figure out what the equation should be.

Between memorization and understanding, I am of the opinion that the latter is much more flexible, helpful, and indicative of intelligence and subject mastery. It’s why I went out of my way to avoid school subjects that required straight memorization, such as biology or history. And given my memory struggles, I believe that grinding doubly hard to memorize is nowhere near as useful for me as developing a thorough understanding of a subject, and working out the “memorizable” facts from there.

Maybe you’re a natural memorizer, and therefore you disagree. More power to you! But I maintain that it’s important for you to have context for the facts and figures you memorize.

The problem, in my opinion, is that a fact recalled is often more revered than a concept understood.

For example, why was it so impressive that I had memorized a poem? Did I understand the poem, its context, and its depth? I highly doubt it. (Though I don’t remember. Hah!) Perhaps people assume that in order to memorize something complex, you must also understand it. But most people who took biology in high school would disagree. There may be a correlation, but it’s definitely not consistent.

I hate when we judge expertise on memory, rather than on understanding. You may have both, but you may also have only one or the other. There are fields and areas of life in which both are mandatory, and that’s understandable. But I’m not likely to focus my time and energy in those fields. I acknowledge the benefits of strengthening and improving your memory, but I also don’t expect myself to be able to recite the Periodic Table (or something relevant to my life now) anytime soon. When it comes to expanding your expertise, I think it’s more important to understand the concepts, then go from there.

“I want to oppose the idea that the school has to teach directly that special knowledge and those accomplishments which one has to use later directly in life. The demands of life are much too manifold to let such a specialized training in school appear possible […] The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost.”
Albert Einstein

For some tips on managing a poor memory at work, check out this post!

How do you balance memory and understanding in your areas of expertise?

Ten Thoughts You Have When You Finish NaNoWriMo

Yesterday I finally — finally — finished the National Novel Writing Month! In a previous post I mentioned that this year’s 50,000-word challenge has been a slog, so I’m pretty glad to be done. Writing (the first draft of) a book in a month is a fun, difficult, and rewarding feat, and you’ll go through all sorts of highs and lows before you finish NaNoWriMo. After completing this challenge seven times now, I’ve found that there are many ways you might feel when you get to the end of the month and cross that glorious finish line. I’ll let you guess which thoughts are true for me this year!

  1. Yes! My fifty thousand words are complete! It’s party time!
    When You Finish NaNoWriMo: Party Time
  2. Whew, I need a nap. A long nap. And maybe some coffee.
  3. Actually, scratch the coffee. I’ve had enough of that already this month.
  4. This is so awesome. I wrote a book. A book! An actual, 50,000 word book!
  5. Wow, think of all the fun things I have time for now that I’m done this book…
  6. Oh gosh, this writing is awful. My plot is full of holes, my characters are one dimensional, and the grammar… Ugh! I have so much editing to do. How did I ignore all of this?
    When You Finish NaNoWriMo: Ignoring My Novel's Problems
  7. I don’t need to edit yet — editing is for December! Time to decorate the house for the holidays, snuggle up under a blanket, and maybe think about editing. Just maybe.
  8. Oo, winner goodies! Should I buy a winner t-shirt? Stickers? Posters? Should I donate (again)?
  9. Wow, NaNoWriMo really knocked the wind out of me. Going to sleep now. Never writing again.
    When You Finish NaNoWriMo: Sleeping Forever
  10. Hmm… What am I going to write next year?

As we head into the last few days of November, what thoughts are running through your head? Comment below when you finish NaNoWriMo, no matter what your word count might be!