When I set up my habit tracker for July, I found myself pausing and wondering if this was the right way to go about it. In June, after all, I ticked off just one day in the ‘write’ category, because I’ve hit a bit of a wall in my novel and sent it to a friend for feedback. Likewise, for a lot of things I’m moving to a quarterly rather than monthly view, as I discussed in my last post, so those are things that don’t belong in my monthly habit tracker.
It got me thinking about the point of a monthly habit tracker. I’ve been doing habit trackers most months for over three years now, and by this point I’ve done just about everything: only tracking things I want to be doing daily, tracking overly complex things like ‘eating only when hungry’ (which usually comes with the caveat of ‘unless it’s my husband’s homemade scones and I really want one’, because I know the limits of my self-control), and tracking over a dozen things with the expectation that I won’t do them all, but want a record of how often I am doing them (which, for a lot of things, turns out to be not at all, because I’m not developing a habit).
Perhaps it’s the long summer days. Perhaps it’s the other things on my plate right now. Perhaps I’ve just been in go mode long enough that my brain wants something else.
Whatever it is, I feel the need for a more flexible, less demanding habit tracker this month. I thought about doing away with it entirely, but I also feel the need for a bit of accountability, I suppose, that wee kick in the arse that keeps me from spending all weekend lying in my pyjamas watching Netflix.
And so I landed upon three words, a mantra almost, that define the things I want to be doing daily to promote my own happiness and wellbeing. They’re all things I know from experience help with my depression, and they’re the cornerstones that help ensure I do things like cook a healthy dinner and keep my flat tidy.
And they’re all very, very vague.
This is deliberate. I’ve tried going for ‘yoga every day’ or ‘write every day’ and I pretty much inevitably fail. And so this time I’ve settled on three very broad words that encapsulate the things I want to make sure I do: Move, Create, Grow.
This one is, I think, rather self-explanatory. Whether it’s a karate class or lifting session, five minutes of yoga or a leisurely walk, I want to be moving my body in some way every day. Exercise of any kind has so many benefits for mental health, and I know that even a short yoga session tends to have a waterfall effect on the rest of my life. I’m calmer and have more mental energy for cleaning the microwave or folding the laundry.
This one is so important. As I learnt back in February, being creative is what really makes me feel happy and fulfilled. Whether that’s working on my novel, writing here at Savour & Dream, taking my camera to a local park, or even trying something new in the kitchen, my goal for July is to create something every day.
It’s not about reaching the end of the month with a body of work to show for it, although that will, hopefully, be a fortunate side effect. Instead, it’s about giving regular time to the creative side of my brain. It’s almost always easier to consume instead of create and, while I think consumption of whatever it is that you’re creating is vital to learning and honing your own craft, it’s very easy for one day of reading instead of writing to turn into a week, a month, a quarter.
And so I want to prioritise creating. Of course I’ll still be consuming — books, telly, Instagram, other blogs — but I’ll be making time to create as well.
This last one is a bit tricky. I’ve taken an interest in meditating recently, and I took up journalling (albeit sporadically) a few months ago. I wanted to encourage myself to do those things alongside some personal development work. I was really keen to keep all the categories quite open, but I wasn’t sure how to put them all together.
In hindsight, it was obvious. I settled on grow, as in personal growth. This is the category of activities that don’t necessarily have as much of a short-term impact as being active and creative do (journalling aside), but in the medium- to long-term have a big impact on my life.
In a sense, this category is the broadest. 2 minutes of meditation, an hour of working through a personal development course, curling up with my journal before bed — all of these things count towards this cornerstone. And I don’t think this is an accident; compared to creative work and exercise, this is a much newer group of activities for me, so it’s natural that I’m approaching them in a broader sense.
Honourable mention: Nourish
I wanted to include something food- or nutrition-based here. I know that eating a nutritious diet is beneficial for my depression. And I also know that being too strict about it, without leaving space for a beer and burger with my dojo crew after karate, is very bad for my depression. I get obsessive and anxious and hyperfixated on what I’m eating, and feel like a failure if I so much as have a single square of chocolate.
All of this means that the way I eat doesn’t fit into the same type of category category as the other three. How do I define that I’ve nourished myself? Is it getting my 5-a-day? Is it avoiding the sweets someone brought into the office that I don’t particularly want, but feel tempted by anyway because I’m tired and stressed about work? Or is it going for a leisurely dinner at my favourite restaurant with my husband, having a couple of glasses of wine and devouring their pear-and-brie flatbread?
In the end, I decided not to include anything nutrition-related as part of my month’s tracking. I couldn’t think of anything to track that would be a simple binary of ‘Did I or did I not do X?’ Nutrition and how we eat is vastly complicated, and any time I thought of something nutrition-based, like eating enough fruit and veg, it reminded me of the rigidity of my clean eating days, and I found myself shying away from it.
That isn’t to say I’m taking some kind of free-for-all approach. I’m following the principles of intuitive eating, paying attention to my hunger and fullness cues and my cravings, and planning balanced meals every week to make sure I’m getting appropriate amounts of produce and macronutrients. This is just all a lot more complicated than a binary Yes/No answer, and so I decided not to include it in my tracker, as I wanted to keep this tracker simple and broad.
If I had included Nourish, the criterion would probably be something like this: Did I take a self-care approach to food today? Which could mean eating my 5-a-day or ordering a salad instead of a burger because it’s what I fancy, but could also mean getting the burger and fries or going for ice cream with my husband. It could mean having an extra glass of wine when out with my friends, or forgoing it because I need to be up early in the morning.
A final note
I’m curious how this works out for me. In the past, I’ve always favoured tracking habits with strict definitions, like ‘write 500 words of fiction’ or ‘read for 30 minutes’. Lately, however, I’ve been finding that constraining, almost suffocating, and I think it’s time for a more general approach that gets at the root of what really matters.