I’ve spent the better part of the past two days coloring. On my last (walking! social distancing!) trip to the office for a few essential to-dos, I made a point of borrowing my colleague Holly’s set of colored pens so as to re-do my current “food and fitness” journal in a manner that doesn’t resemble a chicken scratch cry for help, page by page. I came up with a color-coded key for highlighting the most pertinent information (when I finished a tumbler of water, when I worked out, when I got a good night of sleep). The aesthetically unappealing and sometimes inconsistent manner in which I had been tracking my habits — effective as it may be for keeping me structured and largely healthy — was simply not up to par for sharing with the world. The original intent of this article was to share my journal, and I wasn’t going to do it unless it was something I would feel comfortable bouncing around Instagram with the hashtag #bulletjournal.
But I was also determined to make it a thing of beauty and care because I read a piece of advice for making the most of your quarantine time that has wedged itself into my psyche and prevented me from feeling truly good about anything I’m managing in this time: “How you do anything is how you do everything.” I can’t remember where I saw it (though I think it was while browsing the #pilates hashtag, looking for new routines and occasionally getting suckered in by bodies that could only be described as “distressingly aspirational”), but it has stayed with me ever since that day. There is a lot in this time that I am doing shittily, largely because no one is looking, which is when — according to this wisdom — we are supposed to be holding ourselves most accountable. How was I keeping my journal? Shittily. How was I assembling my lunches every day, often eating while standing in my kitchen and reading gossip sites? Shittily. Much of my day-to-day life has been about just getting to the next one, and an imperfect journal to track my meals, workouts, and sleep was the imperfect thread holding a lot of it together and creating a kind of recognizable pattern in my life. I hoped that how I was maintaining that journal was not indicative of my overall outlook on life or work, but according to this dubious, Pinterest-y advice dispensed by an Instagram Hot Person™, it very much was.
So I spent several hours attempting to recreate it, transferring over my notes in a much more curlicue-pleasing way, even going so far as to attempt drawing a plant motif along the bottom of the pages that was so “middle school girl doodling in the margins of her math notebook” that I became overwhelmed with disgust at my own poor craftsmanship and literally tore apart the pages. It was a moment that I am glad only my dog saw, and even she frankly had that look of “let’s take it down a notch, honey.” We’re all teetering on the edge of tears most of the time these days, and for one unhinged moment, my inability to create the adorable journal I would be proud to share with the TFD community felt like an indictment of my entire worth as a human being. How I did my bullet journal was badly, therefore how I do everything is badly. When no one is looking, I am the giant toddler who tears up her drawings because she will never be as good as That Girl In Class Who Can Draw.
The entire episode this afternoon got me thinking about the advice that serves us well in this time and the advice that only leads us to feel worse about ourselves. And while I would never presume to know what falls into those two categories for anyone else, I can say unequivocally that for myself, the kinds of maxims that set me up for failure are the ones which place undue importance on being motivated to do things for the right, intrinsic reasons, because the motivations themselves are part of your inherent value. When advice implies that the satisfaction of a job well done should be good enough for essentially everything you do, or that the most important choices you make are the ones made when no one is around (which, I’m sorry, maybe that applies to things like stealing but it definitely doesn’t apply to things like what you eat out of the refrigerator at 2 AM), it seems to almost guarantee failure. I am someone who personally needs a high level of accountability for a lot of things that I know on an intellectual level are important (such as working out regularly), so I content myself with creating groups to whom I am accountable. I also know that for much of what I have to do in order to keep the wheels turning — now and forever, if I’m being honest — a lot of it just has to fall under the category of “good enough.” I’ve been doing my laundry on an absolute desperation basis lately, and consider it a day of health if I only consume a few squirrely mouthfuls of candy at random hours. It’s not good, it’s good enough.
And I think that during this time in particular, remembering that we are not defined by the corners we sometimes cut or the self-imposed goals we sometimes fall short of is essential for trending generally in the right direction. The most effective tool for accumulating personal accomplishments or good habits is feeling the momentum of small victories, and allowing them to build behind you. Sometimes, if we’re being honest, that means setting the bar a little lower so as to not feel like a failure. If today’s “workout” is just a quick walk around the neighborhood, that’s much better than a day where you sat inside and felt a crushing sense of despair for eight hours straight. Go ahead and give yourself that star for “exercised today.” And then allow the stars you’ve collected to show you that going for a few more isn’t as hard as you thought. How you do anything is not how you do everything, but frankly, even if it were, we all do everything imperfectly. What matters is focusing on what works for us and gets the job done when no one is looking, even if we would never want someone looking at how we got it done.
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