In our house we have a little ritual: every night at dinner, we go around the table and ask each person what the best part of their day was. Sometimes it’s a big outing, other times it’s something out of the ordinary we saw, or a visit with a special person. Making progress on projects, jumping off the diving board. That kind of thing.
Oh You, My Old Friend Self-Discipline
Last year I spent a lot of time thinking about, writing about and working on building up my self-discipline. I flossed my teeth, went out exercising and persisted through some challenging woodworking projects. Some of it was hard work, but it was work that I believed would be worth it in the end.
This year I’m taking it easy so far. We’ve been sick the past few weeks, so instead of going running I’m sitting in the armchair and knitting little-girl sized cardigans. I’m still flossing pretty regularly, and the bed gets made every day whether I like it or not. But I knew something had stuck from all of last year’s work when one night at dinner I told everyone about the best part of my day – when I did nothing.
How is Doing Nothing an Achievement?
Let me set the scene for you. Myself and the two girls have been housebound for a week, and Bea is starting to get her energy back while Claire and I are still in the recovery phase. I figure the best plan for the day is to get out and enjoy the sunshine by walking Bea down to her ballet class, then Claire and I will clear off somewhere and wait for Bea to finish so we don’t infect everyone with our horrible coughs. It all sounds good in theory, but as we set off walking I begin to be aware of just how sick I still am. I persist with the plan. We arrive at the busiest road we need to cross on our route, and as I push the button to get the lights to change, Bea and Claire wander away to play in a giant pile of leaves nearby.
“When the light changes I need you to come right away so we don’t miss our chance to cross!” I call to them. They respond, but they’re busy playing.
Then the light really does change and I call but they don’t come as quick as I need them to (of course), so I’m rushing them and trying to hold on to Claire so she doesn’t wander out of the crosswalk, and then she trips and falls because of me pulling on her coat sleeve, and I pick her up like a sack of potatoes under one arm while I push the stroller in the other. My head is pounding and my ears are all plugged and I feel like I’m underwater. Then when I try to pop the stroller up onto the curb it tips right back, spilling coats and ballet bags onto the giant, busy road in the last two seconds before the light changes. I scoop it all up, get everyone over to safety on the sidewalk, and proceed to have a giant hacking coughing fit.
Then I took ten deep breaths and did nothing for another moment.
I didn’t shout. I didn’t blame anyone for playing in the leaves instead of waiting with me beside the stroller. I didn’t blame myself for dragging us all out while I was still sick. I didn’t freak out about how nearly we all were run over in the busy road. I took a moment to calm down, then explained how dangerous it was to cross the road like that, and how everyone needs to wait right beside me next time. We continued walking. And when Beatrice piped up, saying, “Mom, I don’t really want to go to ballet today,” I stopped, thought about it for a moment and then said, “Ok. Let’s go to the park instead.”
And we did. The girls played and I sat on the park bench, knitting a little-girl sized cardigan in the early spring sunshine.