Trying to get my brain to follow any rules, or establish any behavioral patterns that I want is hard. Knowing when I am doing it right is even harder.
When I get really upset, the resulting mood-dependent memory makes the negative voices in my head certain that I am doomed, that I am a failure, and that I have never done anything useful ever (EVER!). To counter this, we started using rainbow stickers for tracking patterns.
There is something delightfully tangible about taking a physical sticker and putting it on a calendar. It feels real.
When I think I have not done anything all month, I can look at the wall of stickers and prove to myself that my perceptions, while understandable, do not apply to what is actually happening in the real world.
This system allows for a reality check, accountability, and ammunition against the part of my brain that is trying to keep me safe by strongly encouraging me never to do anything risky (or different!), and to live under the bed.
You can do this for anything that is important to you. I’ve considered tracking remembering to eat, and possibly writing time. I decided not to track those right now, since my system ended up complex as is.
What I decided to track are: sleep, movement, and not-having-meltdowns. If I don’t move, I go insane. So does the four-legged monster. My partner loses some cope as well. It is very hard for both of us to keep the sleep schedule nailed to something reasonable. It becomes a big deal in the winter when every little bit of sun helps, and sometimes I can only breathe outside when it is sunny and warm (cold-triggered asthma). When it becomes dark at 5 pm, waking up before 9 am keeps me significantly saner. I can’t use an alarm, because my brain does not react well to being woken up at the wrong time or too soon. What works is forcing myself to go to bed on time. (Which is hard. – Pending:write a post on sleep). It makes me feel better to see that some of this is working over the course of the month. This is the backbone of feeling better (or not feeling worse) for me.
There is no way for me to begin to guess if any of the tools I write about will work for you, or how long any particular tool will work for me. If something clicks for you, use it or modify it. If not, don’t try to squeeze your brain into an uncomfortable squiggle. If you are not sure, consider trying it for a while. Make a decision about it when you have more information.
Currently I am proud of myself for remembering that giving other people solutions as well meaning presents is not a kindness. It makes it mine instead of theirs and not something to be proud of. I shared the idea when the subject comes up, but I will not give anyone else a box of stickers or take them to the store, until they ask for help on their own. It is amazing how many people can figure out where to get their own stickers, want nothing to do with stickers, or build much better systems for themselves than I ever could.
Here is the system for October, November and December. (Key is below.)
Smiley Faces – Not messing up the sleep schedule by more than an hour. (This is hard for me.)
BIG Stars – are marked of for:
- Gym – 30-40 active minutes either on elliptical or water aerobics or swimming.
- Fitbit – Meeting my steps goal for the day. Currently 10,000 (the catch, swinging arms is what it tracks, or really one arm)
- Fitbit – 40 active minutes logged. (Not as accurate as I might like)
- Yoga of Hula-hooping – About 40 min. (have not earned a full star hooping yet)
Little Stars – Getting at least half way to any of the above.
Peace Sign – No meltdowns lasting longer than it takes to get food or hugs. Not trying to eat my partner’s face too much when I am really triggered or otherwise stressed. These are encouraged more generously that I think they should be sometimes, but it helps me to be more mindful about how my feelings manifest and when.
Leaves – Outside with the dog off-leash or humans among the trees for at last 40 minutes. This is adjusting down to 30 as the weather gets icky.)
Paws – Dog was outside for at least 40 minutes today.
We are tracking too many things, but I get bored with simple systems (even faster). One of the nice limitation for this game is the size of the calendar sheet. I can over do it, but there is a limit by how much. The complexity of what I am tracking, means that I get to be more flexible with what I do for movement, since the goal is to get stars, not to go hiking (so there are things I can do on days that hiking is icky that still gets me stars!). It might be easier to start with tracking 3-5 things.
For movement (and sleep tracking), if you are not using a fitbit or something similar, consider using the free Endomondo app to track activity (if that is one of the things you want to track). There are other, similar apps out there, but Endomondo is the one I like best. Go with measurable, because brains have a tendency to be bad at remembering things. If you’re not relying on something that you can measure, you risk lying to yourself (in either direction), or being a little more flexible with definitions and standards than you want to me.
I would recommend not mixing too many different things on one tracking attempt. Try to track for at least 3 months at a time (revise whenever you feel like it is not working for you), and try to treat yourself with the kindness you might afford someone else who you know is trying hard to make difficult positive changes. (yea, I know, I find this part reeeallly hard also)