Picking Up a Practice Again

Remember the Five-Minute Journal? I love the thing; I extolled its virtues, I recommended you buy the fancy one if you like that kind of thing, I even formatted one for my daughter to try and help her get more centered as she prepares for her boards.

However, if you look in my colorful little Field Notes book, you’ll see a bit of a discrepancy. There’s May 8, when my mantra was “Centered”, then May 13th , when I was thankful for Spring, a day to work on my busines, and a good night’s sleepThen there’s two blank pages, and the next date is March 18, which doesn’t make any sense except that it was early in the morning and I probably meant May 18. On that day I planned three things to make the day rock:

  1. I will sketch
  2. I will think
  3. I will relax

…and I must have done them a little too well, because guess what? Not only did I neglect to fill out the remainder of the day, the next entry doesn’t happen until June 18 – a full month of no Five-Minute Journal. In fact, there is only one other day in June that I did it – June 23rd.

Let’s jump past the simple self-recrimination of Bad Personal Development Blogger! No biscuit! Instead, let’s ask the more pertinent question: during that month of no-five-minute-journal practice, did my life fall apart? Was I unhappier?

And if not, perhaps the initial joy of the Five-Minute Journal was less about the efficacy of the journal and more about the Shiny New Technique to Make Life Grand?

There’s No Magic Bullet. Except for…

No, I wasn’t unhappy during the month of June. In fact, I had a lot of great things happen, things that are still happening. The Five-Minute Journal could have made things happier – maybe – but they didn’t make things unhappier. It’s one of many tools that you can keep in your Personal Maintenance Toolbox, and just like a torque wrench isn’t going to be the only thing you need to fix your car – in fact, you could get by without it and just use a socket or adjustable wrench and guess – it’s a nice tool to have. When it comes to doing that one precision thing, having the right tool feels great.

Almost everything I write about in this blog falls into that category. I love reading articles like “100 Things You Should Be Doing to Increase Productivity” for the same reason gearheads like to browse tool shops: not that you want to buy all the things, but because you appreciate the myriad possible ways of doing all the things.

(Let’s face it, there’s also the inherent joy of realizing that the tool you already have works as well or better as the shiny new ones, but that’s a guilty pleasure we won’t dwell on.)

The one exception – the one thing that is a magic bullet, and for which there is no substitute tool, is sleep. As my fellow blogger Karl (who is on that most civilized of breaks called “paternity leave”) mentioned to me last week: “It’s amazing what getting enough sleep can do for your stress levels.” But this blog post isn’t about sleep, so I’ll simply point you towards another good post if you’re interested in that.

Getting Back on Your Habit Horse

What do you do when you fall off a horse? Dust yourself off and get back on. I’m happy to say that my 5-minute Journal is on a 4-day streak that started on the 10th with mantras of “ease”, “happy”, “joy”, and “forward”. I’m considering downloading the app Chris Brogan recommended, “Streak”, which will help me celebrate this (and other) practices (though I’m trying out the free “Productive” first). I’m pleased to say that I’ve even managed to mostly avoid that typical “Why bother? You’ll only quit again…” voice in my head.

What was it that got me back in the saddle for 5 minutes a day? Not some epiphany. Not some great resurgence of will or resolution. No, it was a simple request from one of my patrons for some “custom content” (that’s right, if you’re my patron, you get that kind of access to Love Life Practice! What a deal!).

Specifically she wanted to see how I laid out the book I made for my daughter. So I made this little video:

In the process, I was reminded of how much fun the 5-Minute Journal was to do. I was reminded of how easy it was to do if I set up an Environment of Win. Next thing I knew, I was making sure the pen and the book were next to my bed, and poof the practice is reborn.

The lesson I got from this is that if you’re having trouble maintaining a practice, maybe talking yourself into it or trying to create peer pressure aren’t the best strategies. Maybe it’s as simple as this: tell your friend why you want to do the practice. Maybe they want to try it out too (or, for your sake, could pretend to) and you get to show them how to do it. Heck, use this blog for some techniques; I grant you permission to steal liberally.

It’s not about being happy. It’s about being happier. It’s not about being perfect, or even about being better. It’s about being authentic. Some practices help you with that, some don’t. The nice thing is, they may come and go, but your authentic self?

It’s always there.

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