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Why I don’t do things every day

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It seems that reading and listening to so much of Gretchen Rubin‘s work is starting to have an impact on me. The other day I had a personal revelation about something that is true for me:

I can’t commit to doing something every day.

As soon as it occurred to me, it became so obvious. There’s something about a “streak” that for some reason makes me feel too much pressure. When I break the streak (because life happens and I often work 12-14 hour days), it feels like failure and I’ll go from doing something every day to dropping it cold turkey.

This has happened several times that I can recall:

  • exercise/going to the gym (the cycle has repeated more than once)
  • practicing French on Duolingo
  • pushup challenge (as soon as the challenge was over I stopped)
  • gratitude journalling
  • logging my water consumption in my Fitbit app
  • reading, even books that I like
  • listening to podcasts

I’m sure it’s happened other times too, but these are first ones that come to mind.

My solution to the pressure of continuing the streak

When I realized this (two weeks ago), I’d developed a new habit of flossing my teeth, and hadn’t missed a single day in 2018. But at some point, I suspected, I would accidentally fall asleep or forget to pack floss, and miss a day. If/when that happened, I didn’t want to drop the habit.

My theory was that I was putting too much pressure on not breaking the chain. So, what if I deliberately built in a break? What if, approximately once per month, I deliberately did not floss my teeth? (This may seem ridiculous to anyone who doesn’t have the same trouble with chains, but I figured if I’d already missed a few days in the year, then one accident doesn’t carry the same weight.)

I tested my theory and deliberately missed two nights of flossing. I planned for it and did it on purpose, and then when the weekend was over, I RESUMED MY HABIT! (Don’t mind the yelling. This is pretty thrilling for me.) So far, I haven’t missed another day – but I will be scheduling days to miss on purpose.

The importance of knowing yourself

If I hadn’t heard Gretchen Rubin say so many times that what works for one person may not work for another, or you have to know yourself, or that one solution doesn’t work for everyone, I may not have ever considered this solution. I might have thought I just wasn’t good at building habits, or that it’s because I’m an Obliger. But it seems like neither of these is the full answer. I think it could have something to do with Obliger Rebellion as a defence of committing to too many things on a daily basis, but I’m not sure.

This solution definitely needs more testing, but if it keeps working, I’m very optimistic. And I’ll continue my new habit of approaching universal advice with caution. “5 things everyone must do for a productive morning” might work for some, but who knows? It might not work for me. And I’m the one who’s responsible to figure that out.


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