competition · fitness · Guest Post · motivation

Fitness Is Not a Competition (Guest Post)

Fitness is not a competition.

By Shana Johnstone

The comparison trap is a difficult mindset to be stuck in. I hear it all the time in my gym community—folks not satisfied with their progress because it doesn’t match someone else’s. I also hear it in my own head. I hear my inner dialogue as it compares the barbell I lift to the amount my friend can pull, and I feel my self-worth increase or decrease with how much—or how fast, far, long, or many—I can do. And I’m sick of it.

Rationally, I know that seeing my fitness as a competition with others is a reliance on outside factors and external validation to feel good about myself, and I’m slowly talking myself out of this mindset. I’m paying more attention to my inner voice and deliberately disrupting the dialogue with a new set of messages.

I’ve learned that how I talk to myself matters, and so I have started a practice of drafting pep talks. I like this practice because it encourages me to dig into some of the finer points of comparison and competition, and by writing to “you” (who is you that is reading this but also is me in the mirror) I can develop and order my thoughts in a considered, deliberate way. How we speak to others can be so much more compassionate—and, also, more objective—than how we speak to ourselves, and I’ve found this approach helpful to busting out of—or at least putting some serious holes into—the need to compare and compete. 

What Is Competition?

Before we get into reconstructing our mindset around fitness, let’s consider the characteristics of competition.

A competition is a contest in which there are winners and losers. At its core, competition is a comparative exercise. Someone comes out on top. Sport is competition; fitness is not.

In sport, we determine a winner or a ranking of the top few. Someone is identified, as objectively as possible, as the fastest, the strongest, or the most skilled. Validation comes from others; it is external to the self. The point is to win.

The pursuit of sport and the pursuit of fitness are fundamentally different. In fitness, there is no finish line, no award ceremony, and no gold star. Validation is found internally, from meeting your own needs. The point of fitness is to be able to participate.

This doesn’t mean that fitness is easy. In fact, it’s often harder than sport. Without the clear parameters of winning, how do we know when we achieve it? Without agreed-upon rules of engagement, how do we know we’re doing it right? And perhaps most confusing, without competition, what drives us?

By shifting how we think about fitness away from competition and toward participation we open ourselves up to so many more benefits beyond just the physical.

Fit for What?

Can you identify the exact criteria for fitness? Few can agree on what to measure, never mind the thresholds required, so don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to pin down. Part of the issue is identifying the fitness objective—what is it being used for?

My fitness objectives are likely different from yours, and yours are likely different from your neighbour’s. For example, I’m currently fit to care for myself, do basic maintenance around my home, carry my groceries, walk around town or hike through the forest, go ocean paddleboarding, and learn new gymnastic skills. In other words, my fitness matches my objectives. I have other objectives that I’m also working towards, and my fitness is moving in that direction. Should my objectives change, I would likely work to alter my fitness accordingly.

But I’m a competitive athlete, you say. Well, do you want to run hurdles, or long-distance cycle, or execute a tumbling routine, or fence, or play rugby? Great! Are the fitness requirements the same for each sport? Are you working on fitness specific to your objectives?

There’s no bar for fitness, nor should there be. Fitness is not an absolute. There is only the ability to do the thing you want to do, at the level you want to do it at.


When you picture yourself as a fit person, what activities are you doing? If you’re already doing those activities, mission accomplished. If you’re on the path to making it happen, mission accomplished also. Everything—everything—is a progression.

It’s All About You

Your situation is unique. Really, it is. Hear me out.

Your physical fitness and the mindset you bring to it are specific to you and your personal history. What you can do with your body, right now, is a manifestation of that lived experience.

The variables are infinite. Blow out your knee ten years ago? Recovering from a major illness? Not sleeping well or working eighteen-hour days? Your mental and emotional stressors are just as significant and combine with the physical to create the you of this moment.

This is the you that is capable of what you can do right now.

Does it make sense to compare your work-, family-, or injury-related stress to someone else’s? No? Then why would you compare your one-rep max of anything?

How about this: if you and I were to compare our fitness in a contest of shoe-tying, would it matter who wins? If it doesn’t then tell me why it matters that you lift more than me or I run faster than you. Each of us can do what we can do and it’s irrelevant to compare.

But there is a place where our unique situations are indeed relevant to others. We all experience challenges, sometimes small and niggling, sometimes devastating. And we all experience successes, be they fast and fleeting or sticky and triumphant. Though incomparable, our experiences are what allow us to relate to each other. Comparison is pointless, but empathy is gold.

Abundance

Sport is competitive, as are many other things—a game of chess, a spelling bee, a job opening, an audition, the last seat on your bus-ride commute. What do all of these have in common? There is a winner and there are those who . . . didn’t win. The reward is limited to one, sometimes to a few. The system is based on scarcity.

For many of us, the competitive mindset is in our blood. We feel driven to lift heavier and move faster than those around us. We want that personal best. We want to “catch up” to our friends who can do more than we can. We want to regain a skill, a speed, a body we once had because we think we used to be a better version of ourselves.

We’re comparing a past or an imagined future to where we are now and judging our current selves lacking, less worthy than before or not yet enough.

Your fitness doesn’t exist in a system of scarcity. It is available to you now, or later, whenever you decide to strive for it and regardless of who else is working on theirs. There’s no podium and no limitation on who can have it, how much you can have, when you can have it, or how long you can have it for. There is no competition—it just doesn’t exist.

Moreover, you don’t live in the past or the future. You live in the now. So how are you not enough? You are, literally, everything.

In the land of fitness there is infinite room, space for all, enough for everyone.

That Feeling

It’s okay if you see something that someone else has and want it for you, too.

Maybe you see a stranger climb a local pitch, or your friend completes a Gran Fondo with style, or someone at your gym has a two-pull rope climb.

You might feel . . . jealousy. It might be hard to admit, but there it is. It’s no surprise, really. We’re taught to compare ourselves to others. We expect to compete for limited resources. We learn that there are winners at the expense of losers and that the rewards go those at the top. But with fitness there is no competition. You can have it too.

Here’s the important bit: your response to others’ achievements paves the way for your own. If you celebrate the success of others, you’re saying yes to that success for yourself, too, whether it be now or in the future. None of us exists in a vacuum. Your support of others matters—to them, to a future you, and to everyone else who wants to succeed. It creates an environment where we all can strive and where more is possible.

Likewise, if you put down the success of others, you’re saying that you’re not interested in that achievement for yourself. You are, in effect, saying that the achievement has no value—not for you or anyone else. This creates an environment of apathy.

If, by watching your peers increase their fitness, you discover a sharp desire to handstand, increase your bench, or row a lightning-fast 2k, channel that motivation into your training. Now you have a goal and the drive to make it happen. Go get it! Your achievement won’t supplant someone else’s. But do this first: cheer on the person who is inspiring you.

BIO: Shana Johnstone is an editor and writer who lifts, learns, and loves in Vancouver, BC.

fitness · Guest Post · motivation

Where do you find inspiration for fitness? (Guest post)

By Nicole Plotkin

As the days are starting to get shorter and the nights are getting chillier, it’s a good time to remind myself what motivates me to exercise on a regular basis.  

Motivation is a strange thing.  What works for one person, may not work for another.  The number one motivator for me is: feeling good. Period.  Vanity, health markers, increased confidence, all have their place.  But ultimately, feeling good is why I keep coming back again and again.

What overcomes a lifetime of a love/hate relationship with food and your own body and being brought up in a diet era?  Feeling good while slamming balls against a wall – and despite silly messages in your head. 

How do you wipe from your head: a love of 80s glamour magazines, dieting from around 11, and thinking all day about what you should or should not eat?  Reaching a max weight in your strength training class – and feeling friggin’ awesome with a perma-grin.

How do you silence the girl who was out of breath running across the street to her best friend’s house to share a smoke, from your head?  Experience the feeling of closing in on the finish line at a marathon.

What is an antidote to being afraid of heights and not letting yourself do a pull up on the rig?  Try to do that thing a different way – or do something else just as hard and badass – and feel good.  There is not only one way to feel good.

What if your muscles are tight?  Your lower back is achy? Determine what you CAN do, whether a certain type of stretch or a modified version of an exercise. Do that thing – and feel great.

What if you are so tired at the end of the day and can’t imagine going to a HIIT class?  Remember that 5 minutes into the class, you will feel good and you will feel great by the end of the class.  Not to mention the friends you get to see during class. 

What if it’s a gloomy February evening after work, and you’d rather fill the perma dent in your couch with your butt, and eat vats of hummus while watching Netflix?  Get your butt to the nearest spin class and feel great.

What if every human you have encountered that day has questioned how you have tolerated humanity for this long?  Definitely go for a run and restore your faith in humanity.

What if you are your body’s biggest critic that day?  Your body is telling you to quit bitching and to exercise.  Be especially grateful if you have the ability and the option to do it.  Not everyone does. Go exercise and feel great!

What if there was a clever meme going around an hour ago that told you that you are not getting out of here alive, nor in tip top shape, so you might as well give up any effort at being healthy?  Remember that there is no guarantee for anything and that, the only thing you can control is how you feel today. Go to a kickboxing class and feel good!

Did you come across an annoying fitspo Instagrammer, who made you question your achievements because you don’t have “abs of steel”?  Go find challenging flow yoga class and remember how good your body feels in tree pose and that is all the fitspo you need to feel great.

Were the people you lunch with comparing every diet they are currently on, in a way that made you want to scream, and find the nearest gelato stand?  Go for a long walk with your partner and feel good (gelato optional)!

How about if you’ve had an awesome day and you feel like celebrating – by not going to the gym – go to the gym anyway and feel even better about your fabulous day!

Each and every time I have felt resistance to just go and exercise, each and every time I have defied the thoughts in my head, and gone for a run, a conditioning class, to spin my legs, or to lift some iron, each and every time, I feel better afterwards.  What are your motivators to keep at it?  

Image description: You Go Girl in white spray paint on yellow brick followed by two hearts, one green and one blue.


Nicole Plotkin: law clerk, loves to exercise, eat good food, snuggle with her dogs, and her wonderful husband. 

fitness · Guest Post

On Age Appropriate Activities (Guest Post)

Recently I found myself sweating it out in the gym and thinking to myself “Is HIIT an age-appropriate activity for someone like me (in their mid-forties)?” then I put down the 30lb sandbag and came to my senses; I was actually in the middle of a HIIT workout, and I was killing it.

Let me rewind a little bit. I love lifting weights, I’m not necessarily very strong and I don’t always lift consistently, but its an activity I always come back to when I’m in a fitness slump and it always makes me feel great, both mentally and physically. So naturally I’ve been cross-fit curious and HIIT curious for a number of years. But also scared that just one workout will leave me lying prone and sucking wind.

So when my 30-something neighbour invited me to try F45, a new functional-training HIIT gym that opened around the corner, I decided to finally do it. I’d go slow, I’d lift light and if I hated it I would simply never go back. With a one week free trial there was literally nothing to lose, expect perhaps “face” in front of my younger, fitter, neighbour.

And that’s how I found myself lifting heavier, going harder, and feeling amazing, yet questioning whether I belonged in a studio filled with younger, some much younger, people.

Its something I do now that I’m not as slim or as young as I used to be; whenever I walk into a new gym/restaurant/concert/etc., I check out the crowd; are there many women? What’s the median age? Is the crowd diverse ethnically and in body-shape and size? Are there other grey-hairs in here? Do I fit in? Is it okay for me to be here?

My F45 studio is full of pretty young and pretty fit people and it gets points for diversity of all kinds (thank you Toronto). However, I am definitely among the older folks in class and I’m positive I’m the only woman rocking a head of grey hair. So maybe I’m not exactly the target audience for F45, however, the idea that I shouldn’t be there while I was actually doing the workout seems ludicrous in retrospect but I had a genuine moment of doubt that I can’t shake off.

It’s clear to me now that this self-questioning is a symptom of the whole cultural idea that women have an expiry date and therefore when we reach a certain age or milestone (motherhood, menopause) that it’s no longer okay for us to [fill in the blank]. Wondering if I belonged in a HIIT class was like scolding another woman for wearing a mini skirt after age 40; unfair, arbitrary and sexist.

I choose to do F45 in middle age. I choose to enjoy it, and I choose to not care whether I’m the oldest person in class. If I can do it and I love it, I belong. There’s no age limit on feeling good in your own skin.

Jewel of Toronto is a feminist, fitness enthusiast, MBA living and thriving in Toronto. Her likes include pets, pizza and cool leggings.

fitness · Guest Post · swimming

I’m swimming, get out of my way! (Guest post)

Recently, and along with recent trends inspired by social media, I have taken a more dedicated approach to recognizing when my emotional climate is at risk, the waves of change it goes through and how an evolving emotional climate can affect my day-to-day. While I won’t get into any mental health aspect in this post, I really wanted to share how tracking physicality can act as an indicator for emotional climate.

I probably would never have recognized what being physically active does to me had I not taken up swimming. I started swimming in lap pools a few years ago after taking a swim cycle class. Side note: Have you ever taken one of these? It’s where you drag the spin bike into the therapeutic pool for a semi-submerged spin class. It’s quite something!

Getting into the water that day inspired me to go my local community pool, sign up for a very inexpensive swim membership, and swim laps when I can. I had swum for fitness once before and that was during a swim course in university. Before that course, swimming had always been a part of my life – just in a more casual way.

Going to that community center lap pool was challenging. The centers were difficult for me to get to, especially since I wasn’t used to winter months, and most days it just didn’t work out. However, I recently moved to a new home which is conveniently located five minutes away by foot to a YMCA. The pool there is quite nice; it is large, well-kept and there is usually at least 1 lane open throughout the day (and during optimal times, 3-6 lanes).

Before I even started swimming at the Y I bought new gear. Why? Because I was super uncomfortable in my old gear. To clarify, this wasn’t a familiar uncomfortableness. It wasn’t that I was worried about how I looked. No, for once, my gear was actually uncomfortable. My swim cap didn’t fit and it was extremely tight on my head. This combined with an ill-fitting suit and some hand-me-down goggles left me in a poor state. I’m honestly surprised I had put up with it for as long as I did.

Recognizing that my gear was actually uncomfortable was validating. When I judge myself about my body on a regular basis, knowing that I am happy with my body in the water makes me smile.

I also noticed that even with all its convenience, I still had trouble scheduling swims. I work from home, so I think it goes without saying that my daily schedule is usually unique. But, having to carve out time to go to a very convenient gym with a very convenient lap pool schedule made me realize that I was the one not prioritizing my health.

Recognizing that I wasn’t prioritizing my health was disappointing, but useful. Now, I schedule it in, and I use a habit tracker to stay on top of it.

Now, my swim sessions usually take around 30 minutes and that’s what I’ve found works for me. Since I know this about myself, I commit as much of those 30 minutes as I can to constant movement – easy or hard, it doesn’t matter. This mindset helps me to keep moving, it helps me to more accurately assess my mental and physical health, and it forces me to do one thing and one thing only (the water helps with that too).

Recognizing that 30 minutes of swimming is okay relieves me of the pressure to swim more or faster.

This dedicated 30 minutes of putting on my goggles, my cap, and being submerged in water is enough for me to ignore any other obligations I have and have a conversation with myself. These conversations are usually good. In fact, I’ll notice when they are maybe too much or distracting because I stop swimming. I usually stop swimming because my breathing is off and I have to catch my breath. If my breathing is off then I am distracted. Then I start again.

And of course, recognizing that I am distracted while I’m swimming helps me to stay present.

I also love what swimming does for me. I’m not able to be aware for every second of the swim, but it is rather supporting to know that something as simple as getting in the water can act as a type of recalibration. I don’t need any fancy doctors or medical knowledge. I just need movement.

Score! Free health care for life.

Most importantly, this form of movement has tuned me in to patterns of negative mental and physical health that seem to overtake my lifestyle. Getting back into the water helps to create a routine of swimming, where I realized that before I did not have a routine of swimming let alone self-care (and honestly, what was I doing?).

Not working out should be a major indicator that I am not taking care of myself, but that’s not how life works. This is why I now have a lifestyle coach. Okay, so it isn’t completely free health care, but it is very affordable and it will keep me dedicated to recognizing my physical, emotional and lifestyle patterns.

I think for those on this blog, using physical activity as a tool for feeling good and refreshed might be normal (right?). However, I think a large majority of people don’t see it that way, especially when it comes to being water active. In this overworked world, being active is a chore (#fitlife), while getting out to the water is called leisure or vacation. There’s a book by Wallace Nichols that relates to the transformative power of water (let alone being active in the water): Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. It’s on my must-read this.

As I woman I find that shutting off the world for 30 minutes – 30 minutes every single day – is necessary. There are so many balancing acts that I am trying my best to navigate and to un-navigate. And now, instead of having to claw my way through self-care, I can just go swimming. Swimming is easy and, for me, there’s something entirely ungendered about it.

Cami is a PhD candidate at Western University studying the ethics of women’s sports science. Her studies stem from her past as a professional volleyball player and personal trainer. Now she prefers to climb rocks, tend her vegetable garden, camp, hike, surf and play in the water.

Photo by Etienne Girardet on Unsplash
Image description: Blue water, a yellow pool deck, and a stainless steel ladder
fitness · Guest Post · running

Imposter Syndrome in Fitness (Guest Post)

by Nicole Plotkin

When I was at a clothing store a couple weeks ago, buying a pair of pants, the young cashier looked up and asked me if I was a runner. I was momentarily shocked, “how did you know”, was my natural response, assuming no one would guess I was a runner unless I told them. She pointed to the tattoo of running shoes in a heart on my arm and I smiled. Oh, right, now it makes sense.
 
I have been running for 16 years. I have run 2 full marathons and several half marathons. During my 30s I went to spinning class, on average, 4-5 times a week. Often double headers, and sometimes a run, followed by spin class. Then I learned kettlebell and yoga and became a devotee of a lovely local studio for a few years. For the past few years I have been going to a women’s studio for strength and conditioning workouts. And yet, I still feel like an imposter, on occasion, when it comes to fitness (don’t get me started on my career).
 
There are times I feel quite satisfied by my dedication to fitness. Somewhere in between learning how to run more than a few blocks, and completing my first half marathon, I acknowledged that I am, in fact, a “runner”. It is a great source of confidence, “even if a bit of a slow one”.
 
Running and other forms of exercise have helped me manage my mental health (I am a moody Cancerian by nature). It gave me something to have goals about, and distract me from some of the life goals I wasn’t reaching in my 30s.  I am certain, it is because of my regular exercise, I have managed to stay “insulin tolerant” at 47, despite a strong family history of type two diabetes, and a penchant for eating bags of sour kids when my hormones are not my friends. I had high blood pressure at age 18, but not ever since I started exercising. I have managed to stay fit, much to the chagrin of the part of my brain that has been socialized (incorrectly) to believe only certain bodies can call themselves fit.
 
And yet, even when I would be finishing 3 hours of high intensity spinning, with energy still left to burn, there was still a part of me that figured that many of the “natural athletes” in the room secretly knew I didn’t belong.
 
There’s still the 12 year old girl who, for lack of knowing better, and likely not realizing she was self-treating early stages of anxiety, would stop halfway through the dreaded laps in gym class, to light a cigarette, and take as long as possible to walk back to the baseball field, to hopefully find a spot on the bench.
 
I have made friends through fitness, relished the endorphins pulsing through my body after a killer HIIT class, and yet, I still feel embarrassed when I can’t do certain moves and that I will be found out for not belonging there. Sometimes that can manifest itself as anxiety in class. Making sure I do what I am there to do, sweat like crazy, even if my brain is suffering a confidence battle, at the same time there are logistical challenges due to a packed class, or a tight hip, or peremenopausal nerves clenching my soul.
 
Ultimately, I know I cannot function properly without exercising regularly and I am diligent in fitting my needs into my calendar. One day, I may turn off that imposter voice in my head, once and for all.
Nicole Plotkin: law clerk, loves to exercise, eat good food, snuggle with her dogs, and her wonderful husband. 

 

blogging · fitness · Guest Post

Big blog changes: Be our guest!

Interested in guest posting here at Fit is a Feminist Issue? I thought I’d share (again) the instructions we send people who are going to guest post on the blog.

INSTRUCTIONS (AUGUST 2019 UPDATE)

Thanks for your willingness to join our community of guest posters at Fit is a Feminist Issue.

Posts usually range between 500 and 1000 words. If your post is really long it might make sense to do it in several parts.

First and foremost we’re a feminist blog and we expect guests to share that perspective. We also usually incorporate a personal perspective in our writing, even if that’s the history of what made us think about the thing we’re writing about.

We also are a body positive blog and we try to keep the diet talk down to a minimum. Lots of us are critical of diets, the long term odds of success, and the beauty standards beneath lots of fitness ideals. We’re more about doing things we love and sharing athletic, rather than aesthetic goals. That said, we don’t all agree about all of these things and “big tent feminism” is part of the charm of the blog.

We try to use accessible language and write with a sense of humour, where appropriate. We especially try to avoid ableist language. For example, we don’t say “crazy” or “lame.” Here’s a link to alternatives, http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/08/alternatives-to-oppressive-language/

Where it makes sense include links to further resources.

You must include a short bio at the end.

The way it works is that you after you receive and accept our invitation to the blog (through WordPress), submit the post for review and we edit it lightly (mostly for grammar and spelling and adequate paragraph breaks). We schedule it. We also add photos. You can email pictures to samanthajbrennan@gmail.com (or if you’re working with another blogger to their email address). Contributor status means that you can’t add photos. After a few posts, we switch you to author status and authors can add their own photos and schedule their own posts. If you would rather not work directly in WordPress, email us your word docx and we will import it into WordPress.

Note: If you are adding your own photos and video, pls be sure to provide image and video descriptions for the visually impaired. All non-text content should have a text alternative that provides an equivalent meaning as the image. Read past posts for some descriptions of the images in the posts. Best practise is for the image description to go in the alt-text field which you can see when you edit the photo. You can put the image description in the caption as well if you have space. Captions are also useful for photo credits Finally, giving your photo a descriptive title makes it easier for search engines to find.

Please share your guest post widely to let your friends and social media followers know about the blog. We’ve got some excellent regular commentators and if you could check in on your post and reply to them that would be great.

Yay! And thanks for contributing!

Cheers,

Sam and the Fit is a Feminist Issue team

A red bicycle leaning against a battered brown leather sofa with a “guest” tag on the rear wheel.
fitness · Guest Post · martial arts · motivation · planner

The Power of the Planner (Guest Post)

By Sarah Skwire

Today is 50 days until my second degree black belt test. I know this because after the previous test in June, I decided to see how long I had to get ready. On the day I happened to count, the total came out to the pleasantly even 130 days.

For a long time, I’d been saying to myself that the trick of fitness in general, and of my martial arts practice in particular, would be to do one thing every day to improve. It probably didn’t even matter too much what that one thing was, since there were so many things–cardio, strength, flexibility, core, balance, etc–that contribute to improving martial arts performance, SO MANY of which I needed to improve. I knew what I needed to do, but I was having trouble doing it. 

Although I was always dedicated about attending classes, I was sporadic about doing things outside of class to support that work. I’d go through streaks of regularly stretching while my youngest daughter took her bath, and then I’d get sidetracked one night and would drop it for weeks. I’d run consistently for two weeks, then have to skip a run or two because of meetings and would drop it. I had been on a very good schedule of weight lifting, but a shoulder injury sidelined that. Like everyone else, in other words, life kept getting in the way. 

But I knew that, life or not, in 130 days I’d be expected to perform at the top of my game. And more than that, I wanted to perform at the top of my game. I needed to find a simple way to stay consistent.

A friend of mine in college always used to say that you could solve any problem with office supplies, heavy artillery, or a large enough plastic bag.

So I bought a planner.

I got a really small one–it’s about 4×6–with a page spread for each month and a small box for each day. It didn’t have any dates in it, so I could start right where I was. (I hate starting planners in the middle. So much wasted paper flapping around. And I hate starting mid month because of that depressing white void at the top of the page..) 

I labelled it with months and dates. Then I put a countdown every 10 days of how many days were left until the test. On the front of it I wrote “130 Days” and a somewhat belligerent and accusatory “What did you do today?”

And then I started to fill it in.

I used it to track anything I did, any day, that would further my goal of performing well at the second dan test. I recorded class attendance, time spent assisting in instruction, stretching sessions (no matter how brief), runs, physical therapy, and so on. When I travelled and did lots of walking, I recorded that. When I spent hours doing yard work, I recorded that too. 

And when my body told me that I need to take a day doing nothing, I wrote down “rest” as well. (That was a big deal for me, acknowledging that sometimes even I need to take a break. Maybe that’s another blog post for another day.)

I’ve learned quite a bit from having a planner dedicated to a single goal. A few blank stretches remind me that I get knocked out of my routines easily, so it’s better for me to find time to fit things in than to say “I’ll get back to it tomorrow.” Travel throws me for a loop, so I need to have a plan before I go about how I can keep working toward my goal even when I’m not at home. It’s best when I don’t use this planner to schedule ahead (though sometimes I do). This is meant to be a record of what I have done–not of what I intended to do. I’ve learned that writing down what I’m doing helps me feel like I’m making progress, even when I’m feeling stuck on a plateau, or frustrated about not being able to make it to class one day, or just generally feeling old and creaky. I can look at my planner and see how much I’m doing and how hard I’ve been working. I’ve learned that I’m sufficiently nutty to be motivated to add new things to my routine just to be able to write them in my planner.

I know that the trend now is for bullet journals, where you track everything all in one book–daily calendar, shopping lists, work out schedule, movies to watch, favorite quotes, and so on. And I’m as seduced as anyone by the elegantly laid out bullet journals I see on Instagram and on my friends’ Facebook pages. But I don’t want to make earning my second degree black belt just another part of the daily run of stuff I do. It’s more important to me than remembering to stop by FedEx, or pick up more tea on the way home from work. I wanted to set it apart.

Having a dedicated space where I record my work towards this goal reminds me that it’s more important, and reminds me to treat it that way. Work and family and kids and illness and everything else still go one, and still call on my time, energy, and attention. But now there’s a little book in my bag or on my desk belligerently asking me, every day, “What did you do today?” and reminding me that it matters. 

Image description: The cover of a planner called ‘the small monthly planner.’
Image description: A monthly planner with days of the week at the top, filled in with handwritten notes about training

Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at AdamSmithWorks.com. Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture.