It’s silly to place so much attachment to a number, right?
Yet this particular number meant a lot to me. It represented my practice. And not just any practice, but one of the most powerful practices I have – freewriting.
Back when I started my freewriting practice, I used a game to create the habit. I kept track of how many days in a row I’d written. Every day I wrote, my count increased. And the higher it grew, the more determined I became not to miss a day. I didn’t want my streak to go back to zero.
The game worked. I wrote consistently.
Some days I’d remember my writing moments before drifting off to sleep. Despite wanting to just sleep, I’d get up and write. Some days I’d put up with the terrible keyboard of a hotel computer. Some days I’d get up a half hour earlier to fit my writing in ahead of a busy schedule. I did everything I could to maintain the perfection of the unbroken streak.
My streak kept growing.
Until, one day, I forgot to write. I woke up the day after and realized I’d missed a day. My streak came crashing down to zero.
All my effort had been undone. I’d failed. I’d failed my practice and failed myself.
Or had I?
With almost any practice – be it writing, meditation, exercise, love, or anything else – it’s easy to get caught up in all the extras that go along with it. We count how often we keep the habit or the number of times we fall short.
Yet the most important thing about practice is the activity itself. The transformation comes not from being perfect, but in making the practice more and more a part of our identity over time.
With my freewriting, it wasn’t really about the streak. It was about the writing. Writing helped me reflect on life, experiment with ideas, and learn about myself. Through writing I gained a tool for making difficult decisions and a place to find peace amid challenging circumstances.
We can strive for perfection. But we will fall short of that standard. It happens.
What matters is not the perfection, but what happens after you go off track. The strength of a practice is its resilience. Can it take the disruption?
Do you walk away from it after that failure, or do you pick yourself up?
Do you have the awareness to realize you’ve fallen off the rails? That your practice has become enough apart of your way of living that when you strayed from it, something felt off. You caught yourself.
Do you have the presence of mind to stop walking in the opposite direction of your practice? Do you stop the unhelpful behavior?
Do you have the ability to recommit to your practice? To say, yes, this is important to me. I want to continue on this path. I’m not willing to give up.
Do you have the mindset of learning and curiosity? To look at what happened, and what caused you to get sidetracked. To study the situation and circumstances and make adjustments and create plans for how to deal with them in the future.
Do you have the strength to return to the practice? To dust yourself off and continue again on the path you’d been walking.
The day after my streak went crashing to zero, I stared at the blank screen before me. The choice was mine. I could walk away from it all, or I could refuse to let failure break my practice.
I began to type. Twenty minutes later, my streak hit one.