In Praise of Box Checking


We live in a culture that prizes emotions and passion.

In our romantic relationships we search for our “true love,” preferably “at first sight.”

In our education and careers we’re dared to “follow your dreams.”

In our faith we’re proudly taught to declare we have “a relationship, not a religion.”

And so, the idea that growth – in love, career, education, and faith – can come through carefully following a formula, and checking a box daily doesn’t sit well with the modern zeitgeist.

We ignore, at our own peril, the wisdom of authors and notables of past eras, Benjamin Franklin comes to mind, that practice and daily check charts are the way to improve.

Surely, box checking is a rote, mechanistic way of living life? If we peck our significant other on the lips a 5 times per day, that can’t really lead to more love can it? If we read Leviticus 13 and 14 just to check it off the Bible-In-A-Year check chart, that surely can’t lead to spiritual growth, right?

Yet, William James, famed psychologist, and one of the first scientists to hypothesize and note that rather than actions arising out of emotions, our emotions come out of our actionsCurrent research indicates that participants who are tricked (!) into smiling feel better, even without a stimulus present to make them feel happier.

In the words of one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, I need to “Act the way I want to feel.”

Perhaps, instead of box checking being the problem, it’s the mistaken idea that that these small habits will not add up to measurable and meaningful change?  Or worse, that we much check all the boxes.  Certain measures of love, career growth, and faith may be foundational to success and mastery, but they aren’t all equally important or useful to everyone. Then it becomes important to know our own values and personality before we can determine which ones to practice, and how we’ll do so.

Rather than waiting for a feeling of ‘readiness’ to strike us, we must create habits and patterns that force us to follow actions that allow an atmosphere of careful growth, even if this studious approach seems somewhat counter-intuitive to more contemporary mindsets of love, creativity, and passion in pursuit of ambitious dreams.

PS: You might also like my post about why your priorities aren’t the same thing as a to-do list.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

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