Starry, Starry Chart

If you’ve been following me on Twitter lately, you might have seen that I’ve been attending, then quit, then started going to therapy again. There are a lot of reasons why I felt I needed to speak to someone qualified to listen, and to ask the right questions, which I’ll save for another time.

But one of the methods employed by the first therapist, who was using a very surface-level approach to CBT, was the idea of rewards and treats.

I had a bit of a problem with this, as I honestly don’t think I do enough to earn a treat every single day. To me, treats are deserved for good writing news, job offers and finishing manuscripts – not walking out to the park, as (in my broken brain) anyone should be able to do that sort of thing. Apparently, this is one of my problems – not thinking what I do accomplish is good enough (oh boy, is that ever true?). The therapist gave me a printed chart to fill in activities, and to rate them based on how enjoyable vs how much of an achievement they were.

It was super, super dumb. For a start, I don’t nevessarily do one activity per hour. If I write, I can be doing that for four – six hours without a break, and the ejoyability level can swing wildly during that time.

I quit that therapist, for unrelated reasons, and whilst the team sorted my out with another, I decided to start tracking my writing progress with some sort of graph. Which led me to Victoria Schwab’s star charts, which led me to thinking that maybe I could do the same thing: I could list five things of importantce – things that I had a good chance of doing – and reward myself with a sticker.

If nothing else, it would look pretty!

This was after two days. The categories I’d chosen for myself were:

Write 500 words
Walk Outside

Read 50 pages
Make Something (could be baking, painting, drawing, organising,booking, planning)
and Take Meds

You can see that my first two days were a really good mixture. I was deliberately trying, when I started, to get a star of every colour, every day. How hard could be it to write a little, read a little, and walk outside?

Turns out, very.

And the problem came on the fourth day, when this happened:

I wrote six and a half thousand words! But I didn’t read. I didn’t make anything, and I even forgot to take my meds, so although Thursday loked like success, it actually put a downer on the week, as I hadn’t done things that were important for my mental health. And I think I only left the house to get milk.

So, I decided to at least try and make time for reading, and going outside, and taking my meds.

I have never been great at following my own advice.

Although I was trying hard to sit down and read, I was too engrossed in what I was writing to make time for it. I did remember to take my meds, though, so that was a plus, but you’ll notice that on Saturday I saxrificed going outside for 7,000 words.

I started to wonder if the star chart was going to be right for me – it made me feel good about the amount I was writing, but even I could see that gluing myself to the laptop wasn’t giving me a lot of colour – it wasn’t the variety my brain apparently needed.

Like people insisting five fruit and veg a day should really be five different colours of food a day, having variety on my chart was going to be the way forward, for me.

The number of stars dropped off – apparently it takes more time in the day to read 50 pages than it does to write 500 words (who knew?). And if going outside is a proper walk, or taking my son to the park, rather than just wandering to the corner shop, it’ll do more good. I won’t get another star for it, but I will feel more relaxed, and more inclined to sit down with a book, or make something, or even write! Stars helping birth other stars! Like a tiny Big Bang on my chart!

Can you spot the days I was on holiday?

I finished my chart yesterday, and I’m so happy with all the colours on it. I’m also feeling more relaxed than I thought I would about the days where (gasp! horror!) npo writing happened. To say the initial idea was to keep track of my writing, this is a big deal.

I’ve learnt that I’m ok with days where I don’t write, because there’s plenty of red stars I can see to balance it out – my word-count achievements are no longer some abstract thing I can tweet about and then forget – they’re there to show me that I can do this, and even if I only write 1,000 words today, it’s fine, because a better day has come before, and it doubtless will come again.

I’m going to draw up another star chart today, and continue doing this – it’s one thing to give yourself a treat just for existing, but I find it better for me personally to be able to see my daily achievements starred-out and celebrated. Each one, in their own tiny way.

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