Today I found myself looking through an open pill bottle down to its empty bottom. (Don’t worry, it was just my vitamin bottle!) It was a medium sized container that used to hold 90 of the not-quite-uncomfortably-large-sized multi-vitamin tablets. I felt a small smile at the corners of my mouth. I finished it!
Though seemingly a mundane and easily accomplished feat, this was only the second multi-vitamin bottle I’d successfully polished off in my life! And the first bottle was consumed in fits and starts, months if not years between attempts.
What’s the deal? Did I just not care about vitamins before? Did I not believe in their worth?
The truth is that though my work and school lives have been distinguished by strict organization and overachievement, my personal life has always been chaotic. Home has been the space where I lost any semblance of control, routine, or structure. My home and my personal life were places where I retreated from stressful demands at school and work, and literally, and figuratively, collapse.
The truth is that even when I tried to take a multivitamin every day, even when I really wanted to, I never could stick to it before.
I didn’t know how to create a routine. I didn’t know how to stick to habits.
I thought that was just the way I was. I thought I must just be too absent-minded, too “creative,” too “right-brained,” too tired. I thought I “couldn’t” do it, that there was something wrong with me.
But if that were true, how did I manage to perform so well at work and at school? If it were really the “way I was,” why did my problem seem compartmentalized?
I seemed to thrive under the pressure of grades and performance reviews and wither without them. But was that the real difference? Having someone else to be held accountable to?
I think that can be part of it, for sure. Some of us haven’t learned to be accountable to ourselves, we’re only accountable to others. That’s something I’m trying to work on.
One other difference is that success at work and success at home require different sets of learned skills. Success and achievement at work are like success and achievement at school: You are given a set of expectations, a schedule, a set of projects, a list of requirements, etc. And all you have to do is execute. This is a format that I’ve been familiar with since age 5. School prepared me for work.
But what prepared me for home life? I never learned to live life on a set schedule or how to decide what schedule might work. I never learned to cultivate habits. Or how to decide what habits to build or what goals one should have in the first place. I never learned what any of that should or even could look like.
It’s no wonder that I’ve struggled.
Even if it might be harder for me than it seems for other people, a big key part of the situation is that I just hadn’t learned how to do it. When it wasn’t automatically easy, I felt overwhelmed and gave up. It didn’t occur to me that creating routines and habits required muscles that I needed to work on, rather than just being one time decisions followed by automatic or even easy execution.
I think if I had to choose one idea that has made the biggest difference in my life, it’s the realization that small conscious actions add up over time to a far bigger difference than you’d think.
It’s doing the little thing every day, or every day you can, that is going to tip the balance over time.
This applies to all areas of life.
When I’ve been job hunting, it’s the times that I’ve been able to do a little every day that provided better results than when I did one day long push and collapsed for several days after.
With art, I’ve noticed the biggest advancements when I’ve done daily challenges like Inktober or Sketchtember. Even though each day’s effort is relatively small and part of my brain tells me “it can’t possibly matter” …it does! It matters a lot more than weeks when I have a vague idea of a larger project or tutorial I want to do, and then sometimes I don’t even get around to it.
When it comes to reading and learning, it’s not reading all weekend one time that’s going to make a huge difference. Not compared to putting aside an hour (or three) every day to read.
Lastly, with the example of the vitamin bottle from the beginning of the article, you physically can’t take 90 pills at once and expect to get the same benefits. It’s just not possible!
I’m writing this out not to lecture but to remind myself. Because I get down on myself for not taking “big enough” actions. Because I worry I’m “going too slow” and “falling behind.”
I’m writing this because this week I definitely need a mindset shift. A shift toward making a little progress every day and celebrating little wins. I need to be consistent instead of having such intimidatingly high standards that a part of me wants to throw in the towel before I’ve even begun.