Column: One Day at a Time

Every year, the same resolution floats back up to the top of my list, accusatory as an oil slick.

Floss. Every day.

There’s no excuse for not flossing daily, yet I make them. For some reason, a daily habit creates resistance in me.

It’s why Polek Rybczynski’s Valley of Light photo journal entranced me from the first moment I heard of it.

He undertook to take a photo a day, for 365 days, of life in the Pemberton Valley.

“I’d needed to re-align myself with a form of self discipline,” explains Rybczynski (in tomorrow’s post), “something with a medium time frame not a few weeks or a few years. One year seemed perfect – it is a full circle of seasons. Nice opening and closure.”

He had a baby, moved house, and still maintained the discipline.

“It gave me a wonderful way of experiencing photography, but more so, experiencing how I look at and feel the environment around me. That was the nicest and most gratifying thing about this project. It forced me every day for a year to look, feel, then look deeper, then try and portray my feeling and observation into a frame. This repetition engrained a nice pattern into my mind.”

It wasn’t about becoming a better photographer, but about being more awake as a human being, something that would make him, incidentally, a better photographer.

The difference between flossing versus taking photos every day, is that one is a habit and the other is a practice.

I’ve been in love with the idea of a daily practice for ever… I think it has roots in reading Natalie Goldberg, but more recently, marketing guru Seth Godin, wrote about his belief that cultivating a daily practice is a necessary prerequisite to achieving great things.

“Everybody who does creative work has figured out how to deal with their own demons to get their work done. There is no evidence that setting up your easel like Van Gogh makes you paint better. Tactics are idiosyncratic. But strategies are universal, and there are a lot of talented folks who are not succeeding the way they want to because their strategies are broken.

The strategy is simple, I think. The strategy is to have a practice, and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably do the work in a habitual way.”

See how it really does all come back to flossing?

Also, as it turns out, to joy, because drudgery gets you nowhere, as Pemberton herbalist Evelyn Coggins so beautifully summarized in the wake of her 50 Day Wellness Challenge.

“If you do not enjoy the wellness protocol you have chosen,” writes Coggins, “it is probably not doing you much good. There is evidence to suggest that exercise will only reduce the detrimental physiological effects of stress if it’s something you actually enjoy doing. To quote Robert Sapolsky, ‘Let rats run voluntarily in a running wheel and their health improves in all sorts of ways. Force them to, even while playing great dance music, and their health worsens.’”

Wellness, creativity, joyfulness, self-actualisation… it’s all the same learnings to be applied, all the way back to Aristotle, who outlined the things that motivate human behaviour. Habit is right up there.

“All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.”

May wellness, whatever path you take to it, be your habit and your practice next year.

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