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  • Writer's pictureTracee

A perfectionist's guide to letting go of a checklist mindset - Reset your resolutions

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

If you are a perfectionist like me, you may have a list (after list, after list) of checkboxes for your life. I kept track of my military responsibilities with checkboxes...or bullets for those things that didn't require me to do something. I loved every organization or list-keeping technique that I was shown along the way.

So when I left the military and transitioned to the work of home, naturally, my lists came with me. Raising a family and managing a growing household didn't fit as perfectly in my checklist, checkbox mindset though. So for my 4th year since leaving the corporate world, I have tried to find a balance that would combine my love of checklists with my new way of life. More on the different ideas I tried will come later.

In an attempt to leave checkboxes and the checklist mentality behind, I switched from a checkbox to color-in boxes to track my habits. When you sufficiently complete the task enough times, you have a beautiful picture to enjoy. I still love to do this and will probably never abandon it completely.

I had some major successes during my habit tracking journey: I met my goal weight and workout goals (for a time), I improved my vitamin supplement routine (and then stopped and started again), and I learned a lot about how to set myself up for success in accomplishing my goals. However, my habit tracking journey has been haunted by feelings of disappointment and failure. Which ones do you think a perfectionist would focus on? Even my victories had parentheses after them!

I finished 2019 with a strong habit tracking performance record and a full bullet journal and a daunting cloud of not-doing well enough beginning to hover. I don't know if anyone else fears coming to the end of an organization notebook and having to start over, but I do. I finally got started with my new journal for 2020 and crafted all of my habit trackers-making them as beautiful as my artistic talents allowed.

And I never filled out even 1 page the whole year...

When I opened up my untouched notebook this month I saw how rapidly all my tracking had deteriorated. Transferring everything into a new notebook had become so overwhelming that I quit. The goals I set were just too lofty and too many. As any good perfectionist would, I chose way too many habits to change and track at once. Kids Bible study - 2x/wk. Personal Bible study - 3x/wk. Workout - 5x/wk. Write a blog post - 1x/mth. Date night - 1x/mth. Memorize a Bible verse - 1x/mth. Have a Ladies Bible Study - 1x/qtr. And this is just a few.

This photo is half of my empty Habit tracker page in my new bullet journal (since torn out to start fresh) and another empty daily Bible study tracker that sits at my desk...

Around the New Year, I usually write a blog about what I have learned from the year. You can read it here. Since I started the annual habit, I have stated bluntly that I don't like new years resolutions. I'd rather look back at all I have learned and achieved during that time than set a bunch of expectations on myself that start on January 1. My reflections for 2020 held a goal among the lessons to improve my personal Bible study time.

And despite bucking the resolution plan, my non-resolution, resolution became to have a short daily personal Bible study. With the help of a devotional that assigned readings to days on the calendar, I immediately turned to the checklist for the days approach. Here are the results:

As I observe the calendar approach in the picture above, I notice the big gaps as I hosted family and executed a birthday party. I recall the times I tried to play catch up--reading the missed days in addition to the assigned day until (you guessed it), that became overwhelming. I notice what seems like a lot of Xs. It's hard for me to stay focused on the number of days I was successful and had a checkmark.

Now go back and take a look at the jar of acorns in the photo. What do you see? I'll wait.

I see a full jar--one acorn for each time I set aside to study! I don't see when I started it (though I know it was the beginning of the year). I see growth. I see progress. I don't know exactly how many are there and it doesn't really matter. I am even reminded of the times when my studies went long because I got wrapped up in it. There's no place for failure in the jar, which is encouraging.

I laugh a bit at myself because I bought the acorns especially for this sort of shift in approach during Summer of 2020, when my habit trackers and journals sat empty. I asked myself way back then how to reset my way of thinking about incorporating good habits into my life. I wanted to look at things more from filling a cup than checking a list. And yet I didn't actually switch.

So today I am taking a moment to be kind to myself in my pursuit of this habit goal. It's a noble goal. I am being kind to myself in taking a break from tracking at all in we all know it was a year for giving yourself grace amid the chaos.

But to you who were kind enough to read this blog...I suggest ditching the daily checklist whether for Bible study or personal habits--especially if you find yourself focusing on your failures instead of your accomplishments. If you look back at the time period with sadness, then I can assure you those lists are holding you back from fully embracing that new habit.

Though the scriptures don't dictate a method to approaching habits per-se, I would like to discuss concepts in the Bible that I think support viewing our goals in this different way.

The Bible obviously teaches that daily habits are important. Meditate on the book of the law (lets say scriptures) day and night (Josh 1:8). Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:16). Teach God to your children as you wake, walk, eat -- all the time (Deut 11:18). Be like the Bereans who searched the scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). But do we really think that God is looking at a checklist for accomplishing these things?

Of course not. God is concerned with our hearts, not a scorecard.

But take a look at how God speaks about filling our cup...

  • From a familiar psalm for many: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I'll not want", David says, "My cup overflows" (Psalm 23:1,5).

  • God strengthens us - "that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:19)

  • "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." (Romans 15:13)

  • Even the idea of walking in the spirit (Gal 5:16-22) is accounted more by our fulfilling qualities of the spirit (love, joy peace...) than by a list of our rights and wrongs.

God desires that we have a habit of turning to Him and studying His word and praying regularly...even daily. As a perfectionist, I am trying to free myself to see my cup overflowing with God instead of counting the number of verses or devotions I have read. I believe that we best pursue these noble goals when we let go of counting. I want to reflect on my growth and the fruit. Thats why I picked acorns to begin with...because when you plant a seed, it grows!

As a family, we use an acorn jar for kindness. My goal is to use this technique to help us all develop a dedicated character trait (bravery, perseverance, etc).

I haven't thrown out my checklists and managing tools completely though! I'm not yet willing to use the jar for my "honey-do" list.

If you have found yourself dwelling on the negatives as you track your habit goals or if you find yourself disappointed as you review your New Years resolutions progress (as I accidentally did even though I thought I didn't set any!), then I would encourage you to reset. Whether you shift to adding acorns to a jar like I did, or some other more positive way to track your progress, I hope you remember that God, in His wisdom, has not only given us many goals but also the purpose behind them. These noble pursuits should fill us up, strengthen us to continue and encourage us to grow more and more, not detract from our growth using a method of accounting. I hope that you succeed in whatever your goals may be this matter when they start. I hope that the only question you are left wrestling with as you look at your jar of acorns is: Do I see the jar as half-empty or half-full?

As for my bullet journal? It is all set up to start in February...which I'm going to embrace as right on time to get back on track. For those more checklist oriented tasks, here are a few of my favorite ways to stay organized and keep track:

An incredibly helpful FREE online notebook that allows you to tag ideas and insert webpages, photos and documents easily.

Bullet Journaling:

This is a helpful method to avoid leaving a lot of blank pages in your notebook, track and categorize bullets and actions, and know where to find your needed info. There are also suggestions for "collections" pages that are great for incorporating artistic habit trackers. Etsy has hundreds of shops with pages you can buy and print if you are like me and have very limited artistic talent. Here’s an example of mine:

I like the artwork approach to habit tracking for kids and adults because it de-emphasizes the date of completion or how many days are skipped and instead focuses on continuing your habit long enough to slowly develop something lovely--as well as a habit that has likely formed.

We are almost done with Winnie-the-Pooh for our family read-aloud. We probably aren't at the point of this tracker yet, but I love it!

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