I’ve been counting down to it, and yet I want to run right past it, to forgo acknowledgement of the moment I’ve had marked on my calendar for weeks.
This is the 2,000th essay I’m publishing to this site.
2,000 is an arbitrary number. Like all numbers. Yet at the time I thought about it, it felt big. It felt like something worth striving for and celebrating.
Which it is. And also, in targeting the number I violated one of my own rules — a rule that has been essential to sustaining my practice in a healthy way.
Specific and Arbitrary Metrics
We make such a big deal of numbers. They are concrete and specific. Ideal for setting goals because you know when you get there.
Where is “there?”
And what, exactly, do you know, when you arrive?
These are things I often I wonder.
And also I wonder:
What comes next?
Over the past few days, I’ve realized I’ve put this burden on myself because I’ve been counting the road to 2,000.
The Worst Way to Sustain a Practice
For years, I’ve maintained that if your intention is to create an enduring and sustainable practice, the best approach is to take it one day at a time, with no end-goal in sight.
The worst possible way to create sustainability is to set yourself a target goal for the number of days you will practice.
This is the reason I’m generally not in favor of “30-day challenges” if your ultimate outcome is a sustainable daily practice.
This isn’t to say that 30-day challenges (or shorter challenges) don’t have their place; they can be useful tool to serve many outcomes. But they work against the outcome of creating a long-term sustainable practice.
A 30-day challenge is a different mind game. You know it’s a limited amount of time, and you’re more likely to let other things fall to the side for a few weeks to hit the mark.
There are two main challenges when you set your sites on a fixed goal metric:
(1) What happens as you get close to your target; and
(2) What happens after you hit your target — i.e., what happens on day 31?
What Marathon Runners Do After a Marathon
Consider what happens with runners who train for a marathon. Not professional marathoners, or people who run long distances often, but the weekend warriors who decide to train for a marathon. Your friends.
They train for months. They eat healthy. Sleep a lot. Follow regimented protocols.
You invite them to go out, and they decline because they’re “in training for the marathon.”
As marathon day approaches, you might hear your friend grumble, “I can’t wait until this is over.” They’re counting down the days.
Marathon day arrives. If you go out to support them along the race course, you may notice that in those last few miles, many runners are struggling. It’s almost like the race gets harder when the finish line is in sight.
When they finally cross the finish line, they’re often depleted. If you asked your friend if they wanted to run a 10K with you the next day, they’re likely shoot daggers at you through their eyes.
The only thing they’re doing the next day is sitting on the couch. In fact, maybe they don’t run again for a couple of months, until they decide to start training again for the next race.
Then it’s back to the start. They must overcome inertia to re-establish their training routines.
This was precisely the type of situation I wanted to avoid when it came to my blog.
Creating a Daily Practice is a Different Game
I wanted writing and publishing to be something I did as part of my daily practice, not something that took a lot of emotional labor and cognitive brain power to execute each time I felt like writing. Not something that required me to put the rest of my life on hold.
Yet as I’ve counted down to 2,000, I’ve noticed that the past week or so felt harder than other weeks, at least mentally.
I started to consider: what will happen after 2,000?
Here’s what will happen: I’ll continue on. Because I’m not yet ready to stop. I have more to share. I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet.
And mostly because writing, and the need to express, isn’t a short-term need. It’s a fundamental need of the human soul.
This is, perhaps, the most important lesson I’ve learned from the first 2,000:
You can’t constrain the human need for self-expression by tying it to an arbitrary number.
It doesn’t fall into the easy boxes of a challenge.
It’s not a sprint, or a marathon.
It’s a different game entirely.
It’s a daily need, like sleep and exercise and eating and water and oxygen.
And it is best played one day at a time.