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Habit Tracking: Perfect Shmerfect

“And now that you don’t need to be perfect, you can be good.”

-Lee (From Jonathan Steinbeck’s East of Eden)

This line comes near the very end of John Steinbeck’s late-career masterpiece, and was particularly poignant for me as the first month of the year came to a close. New Year’s Resolutions have either become habits or have faded into the kerfuffle of life.

Personal Quest for Perfection

Man climbs in a climbing gym
Me at the end of my 75 Hard, climbing 5.11a with ease.

Sixteen months ago, I pursued perfection. Andy Frisella’s 75 Hard Challenge doesn’t require perfection of every action in the same way Alex Honnold’s free solo of El Capitan might, but it required perfection in box checking. Basically, it’s a self-improvement challenge that requires participants to adhere to a strict regimen for 75 consecutive days. The challenge involves following a diet, drinking a gallon of water per day, exercising twice daily for 45 minutes each (one exercise which needs to be performed outside), reading 10 pages of a non-fiction book, taking a progress photo, and abstaining from alcohol and cheat meals. Its aim is to develop mental toughness, discipline, and resilience through consistent habits and overcoming obstacles. Failure in even one of those tasks results in starting the entire challenge back at Day 1.

Admittedly, I learned so much about resiliency, the distinction between my body’s limit vs. my mind’s limit, and how to rigorously prioritize certain aspects of my life. I felt better than I had in years, maybe as far back as my marathon training or military days. And it was not sustainable. I went on a pursuit for a way to be good on beneficial habits  without having to be perfect.

Much like how I can remember moments of childhood, though they are 30 years in the past, the feeling and the discipline that came from the 75 Hard is permanently etched. I also know that if I wanted to participate in my life as a good father, a good husband, and an employee handed the reins to an entire division, all while trying to grow my professional coaching practice, something was going to have to give. Striving for perfection felt like also accepting stress, shame, and guilt as a package deal, which often allows the subtle parts of life to get ignored along the way.

Go For Good

After some personal testing and planning, I challenged myself to find 8 activities that would greatly benefit me, and set out to do those 8 activities as often as I could and set forth to habit track them throughout the month. I used the a flag as a metaphor. Flags are resilient and can withstand a lot of punishment because of their flexibility. They also have substance to them to create durability, and they need to be well-fixed to a permanent structure.

Here are the activities I knew supported my goals:

#1. Yoga for at least 20 minutes.

#2. Workout for at least 30 minutes.

#3. Read at least 10 pages.

#4. Drink at least 64 oz. of water

#5. Play the guitar for at least 30 minutes.

#6. Write for at least 20 minutes.

#7. Meditate for at least 15 minutes.

#8. Do something coaching related for at least 30 minutes.

From what I also learned about habits, sometimes showing up at all is a victory. I also learned that if I can show up for the committed bare minimum, I was much more likely to stick around for longer.

For the flexibility portion, I told myself that if I showed up for at least 5 of those activities every day, it would feel like a fulfilling day. If I could only show up for 3, there better be a damn good reason.

For the resiliency and discipline aspect, I also picked one activity (yoga) that I was going to do every single day without excuse or negotiation. Last Saturday, when I came home from poker at 12:40 AM and laid on my yoga mat for a 20-minute yin practice, that was me honoring that commitment. 

I also committed to constantly check-in every week and assess why certain habits weren’t getting as much attention as other habits. I wasn’t going to beat myself up about it, but it was important to follow through with my intention of applying the 4 A’s to my 2024 Mantra: Elevation.

The 4 A’s: Aim, Act, Assess, Adjust.

Here’s the data:

#1. Yoga: 31 / 31 days. 

#2. Workout  26 / 31 days

#3. Read 28 / 31 days (2 books)

#4. Drink 64 oz. (10 / 31 days)

#5. Music (15 / 31 days)

#6. Write (8 / 31 days)

#7. Meditate (8 / 31 days)

#8. Coaching (15 / 31 days)

Bullet Journal habit tracker.
My January 2024 Habit Tracker courtesy of my Bullet Journal

There wasn’t a single day I did all 8 activities. I managed to only get 5+ activities in 16/31 days. There are very few places that 51.6 percent success rate is considered an excellent thing: A baseball batting average, and a basketball field goal percentage comes to mind. If it was a school subject, I’d be failing, yet if I was odds at a Las Vegas Casino, I’d have money coming out my ears. 

Here’s the bottom line: I feel more fulfilled than in any other month in memory, even when compared to the height of my 75 Hard Challenge. Nothing about my challenge felt like a sacrifice, and I still got a ton of the benefits. I probably didn’t lose as much weight as a I could have, learn as many songs as I could have, or get as flexible in my muscles as possible. I also felt less stress because I picked activities that I wanted to do and let my life flow around them in a way that I could always say, “Fuck Yes” to them, rather than me just saying, “Fuck.” and giving it the obligatory attention I “should.”

Happy Guy.
Happy. Fulfilled. Accomplished.

Here’s the other sure-fire way to know I’m doing something right for myself. There isn’t one bit of resistance to striving for more consistency. I have a better plan to drink water, write, and meditate, because I find that I’m not dreading them, I just need to tweak some things. The beauty here, is that if I was dreading them, I’m not trying to push a boulder up a hill that I deserve to leave alone. 

Yoga is still going to be my hard yes. Now I get to focus on how to make sure water, writing, and meditation are prioritized and learn more about myself and my resistances and strengths. 

A few key takeaways:

Finding activities that check off more than one box has been instrumental. Writing this blog qualifies as writing and coaching attention.

A challenging Vinyasa practice counts as a workout and a yoga practice. I haven’t figured out how to turn water and music, but I’m happy with where I’m at and I’m even more motivated to keep going. That’s a big deal for me in the constant attempt at not finding the quick solution, but the one that becomes a natural part of my life. My hope that by the end of 2024, I won’t have to think about incorporating these things into my daily life. I also look forward to feeling what it feels like to dial my time in to the point that I can get all eight in without feeling like I had to take away from other important parts of life. 

I am not sure I can say that I know what perfect feels like, but I can say that I’m perfectly fulfilled with good.

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