[Ed. Note: The following post has been floating around in my head for a little while. However, this morning I read a post by friend (and HFG contributor) Erika. Mine hits on some pretty similar points as hers did, so you should probably read hers too. ;-)]
In my last post I alluded to a new system I’m using to try and get stuff done. I’m not ready yet to come out and totally explain how it works, but I’ve been thinking a lot about things… Currently my to-do list consists of about twelve tasks, and each are big’uns. Normally, in every day life I’m a huge advocate of making lists. I’ve found that any time I’m feeling particularly stressed about everything I need to do, making a list wipes it out nearly every time. I think our thoughts are like lose change in a drier. When we let them roll around in our heads all we can hear is the worrying clatter and clamor and it puts us on edge. Writing things down as we think of them forces us to confront the fact that it’s just a quick errand that’s making all that racket.
For the first time, my to do list has had the opposite effect. After enumerating what I’d like to do with myself this year, it feels like a lot even though I know it’s all do-able. As I worked on my list, I started hearing the all too familiar “clink clink” of something foreboding.
Am I the only one that falls into an all-or-nothing mindset by default? I feel like my head-space is telling me that I should either be getting all of these things done immediately, or don’t even try. What is that? It’s not just this instance either… In the past my attempts at self-improvement have met similar issues… I’ll come up with a plan, then try to enact it with all the internal grace and civility of a rabid rottweiler. Then, when I screw it up (as is bound to happen… Damn you, humanity!) I throw my hands up in the air and binge on whatever it is I’ve been avoiding.
I want to have more discipline in my life. I want to make myself do things I don’t feel like doing. I want to write more. I want to learn new things. I want to gain new skills and generally, live a life that is rich and full and wonderful and good. In the past, I’ve done a terrible job at making myself do anything. I’m a big guy and the amount of sloth I contain is unwieldy and difficult to maneuver. Making matters worse, it takes discipline to get discipline.
But… I think I’ve come across the answer: cheating.
Wait, come back! Let me explain. An imperfect system you can live with is going to be a thousand times more effective than a perfect system that you can’t stand. Whether or not it’s good science, I’m way more apt to stick with a diet if I know I have permission to eat an eclair from time to time. By the same token, I think I’m way more likely to stick with a plan that factors in some time to play video games or being generally worthless as a human being without the accompanying guilt trip.
Look. It’s the beginning of a new year. Maybe you’ve made some resolutions. That’s great! We should always be working to make ourselves better. But sometimes, in order to keep the momentum, we have to give ourselves permission to stop. As you do your best to achieve your goals this year, don’t get down on yourself if you screw things up. Keep striving, and make some room to fail if that can help keep you going.
As Americans, (maybe as American Christians), we have this really nasty tendency to believe in an all-or-nothing style way of living. How many times have you seen someone fight tooth and nail to avoid committing a sin, only to do it anyway? And what happens once they slip up? They binge. Let’s take it out of the religious arena, how many times have you seen that happen with a diet? We seem to have it in our heads that the only way to do something is to do it to a ridiculous extreme or it’s not worth doing. The moment we fail at living in this unsustainable manner, we feel like we’re complete and utter failures. It’s like we’re cartoon villains. As a kid, I’d watch the bad guy’s outlandish scheme fail and I could never understand why they gave up and tried something completely different instead of simply fixing the problem.