Recently, we were trapped inside for a few days thanks to Hurricane Florence. (Luckily no damage for us, Praise God!) While stuck inside, my husband and I worked together on cleaning out a closet. In it, he found one of my journals. He quickly opened and flipped through. No, he wasn’t trying to read my private thoughts. He was looking to see how much I’d actually written in it. The answer? Two days.
This only served to reinforce his theory that I start writing in a journal with gusto; then quickly stop. Then lose it. Then, instead of finding it, I buy a new journal (with an even cuter cover, of course) and start the cycle all over again.
The truth is, our house is filled with barely-written-in journals in various hiding spots. I’m always thrilled to stumble across one and retrace my thoughts, but I’m always let down by how little of the pages I actually seem to fill.
I blame this problem on (you guessed it!) my tendency toward perfectionism and “all or nothing” thinking. If I don’t keep up with my writing in a continuous fashion, in my mind I have failed at journaling, and thus abandon the pages all together. A new journal represents a fresh start and a chance to keep it going every day, but when I slip up—again I just quit. It is a vicious cycle.
And it doesn’t just apply to my journal writing. I do the same with my attempts to eat healthy. To lose weight. To write a book. Or script. Or blog post (Notice the long break since I last posted.) To start/maintain a morning routine to start my day off right.
At the risk of revisiting some common ground, I have to ask—How often do we give up before we’ve even really begun? How often do we accept excuses as facts? How often do we convince ourselves we don’t deserve better? How often do we put aside what’s really on our hearts to do what we’ve always done, the way we’ve always done it?
I’m writing this for myself, as much as for anyone else, when I say FAILURE is not BAD. And one slip up is NOT even FAILURE. When will we learn that CHANGE can be GOOD? That MISTAKES can be GOOD? We all have to learn to use our moments of weakness, our mistakes, as a spring board for more positive behavior, not as a reason to give up. It is hard when “all or nothing” is engrained in you. It is hard when your habits keep you on autopilot, heading in a hurtful direction rather than a helpful one. It is hard when you’re stuck in the same ‘ole routine.
The good news is habits can be changed. Our distorted thinking can be changed. We don’t have to keep giving up. But it does take work. And it is a journey. If we go into it thinking we’ll be a new person by tomorrow or we will have formed new habits by the time we wake up in the morning, we’re going about it all wrong. We have to allow time for the journey. We have to be willing to do the next right thing. And then do the next right thing. And do the next right thing after that. (Even when there are some wrong things thrown in to distract us.)
And hear me when I say—we have to learn to extend forgiveness to ourselves. I venture to say we are much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else. At least, I am. Maybe it is time we get real. Is it the end of the world if I have nearly-empty journals all over my house? No. Is it the end of the world if I eat that ice cream drumstick? No. Am I doomed to never finish a book if I didn’t take time to write on it for a few days? No. There is so much positive talk out there right now (that I do enjoy) about working harder and not letting things slip by and holding yourself to a higher standard. Let’s be careful, though, not to put too much pressure on ourselves in our quest for doing well.
I am so bad about punishing myself for not being “perfect”. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. And do the next right thing. Pick up the journal from two years ago…and dare to write in it, without feeling like the missing chunk is more important of a focus than what you have to say right here and now. Choose the strawberries or blueberries the next time you crave a sweet snack. Write a little extra this week. Just because you took a break doesn’t mean the quest is over.
Acknowledge. Accept. Forgive. Do the next right thing. And see if it makes a difference. I’ll let you know if it does for me.