Remember, it’s Arbitrary—What Rules Rule You?

When updating my Brainfoods page recently, I recalled one of my favorite quotes from Essentialism.

“The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away—it can only be forgotten.” -Greg McKeown

At first glance it might seem the quote is about societal and cultural rules. For example, most of us grow up believing we must achieve the following:

  • College
  • Job after college
  • Family after job
  • Monogamy
  • Retire
  • Hopefully travel, etc. etc….

Then there are the “rules” we apply to the minutiae of daily life:

  • Read something every day
  • Exercise 5x per week
  • Style hair such-and-such way
  • Go to bed by 10
  • Call mom once a week
  • Eat dessert infrequently
  • Attain X progress with Y project
  • Etc. , etc…

Beg Your Pardon?

Let’s face it: we don’t have to do anything in any particular way. Especially random personalized rules we’ve arbitrarily instated upon ourselves.

(Nor must we do the big societal ones, but they can be more difficult to overcome. More on that later.)

a cement wall w/ "stay off wall" spray painted on it

Over the last year, I journaled everyday. Somewhere within that time, I unconsciously decided that journaling was a requirement for my “productive” existence. I decreed it part of my narrative, of who I was as a writer.

Though I enjoy journaling, the thought of “you must journal” eventually caused me to rebel. But it had become such an unspoken requirement of my existence that once I began veering, it felt I was screwing up life somehow.

Nobody was holding me accountable. Perhaps we could say I was, but I hadn’t even consciously created this rule. Instead, I’d created a formless godlike point-keeper to leer down and judge my break from routine as wrong.

I worried, I chastised, I tried different hours and different techniques to win back my journaling passion…but the rebel was too strong.

For a month or two, the journaling stopped, but the guilt remained.


Back to Basics

Then I read about the Bullet Journal. It incorporates the written techniques I use every day to stay organized (calendar, to-do list, note-taking, etc.), but everything goes into one notebook. And, you know…if you feel like it…you can journal, too.

So, basically, it’s an everything journal. Here’s my favorite webpage explaining the bullet journal method.

Anyway, I tried it…and I’m a convert. And I’m journaling again. Not as much as before, but more than nothing.

(At least until I begin losing interest and once again beat myself up during the time it takes to find something new.)

Or maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by then—that changing preferences isn’t a sign of moral and productive decay.

Sometimes things just exit our lives.

bullet journal journaling style

So this bullet journal is Spanish, and thus is not my own. also, I am not nearly so beautiful about it. But you can be.

We don’t have to judge ourselves for losing interest when we’ve given something a fair shot; deep down, we’re making an unforeseeably important choice.

We decide to unclasp the hand. It’s not giving up—it’s choosing.

Habits don’t abandon us because we become unworthy, we abandon habits because we make a choice—conscious or not.

I chose to give up a certain style of journaling, and in the process of [self-flagellating] release, I found something even better. The abandonment was necessary, the self-flagellation was not.

What are you unwilling to let go of out of fear that something else won’t come along?

In an era where psychological evolution moves more quickly than physical, if we commit to mental stagnation, then stagnant is how we’ll stay.

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