One mark or two? / by Will Ringland

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Should I mark each failure to follow a precept? I don't think it is necessary or helpful at first. While you're still acquiring these virtuous habits, you're going to fail. Like a lot. And it isn't helpful or encouraging to have a grid that looks like this:



A study in frustration

That was many of my early days. Success will wax and wane but generally trend upward; it is just very hard to see that when you're in the middle of a no good very bad week. Give yourself time and allow for a choppy start. As you get better, you can absolutely set your expectations higher and start marking each precept when you've failed to meet the standard.

For now, it's ok.

Every day?

Yeah, review it every day. Make a nice moment of it. Pour yourself some tea or, depending on the week you're having, a nice glass of wine, and take a look at your life. Make it a pleasant experience so you're more likely to do it. And the more pleasant it is the better reinforcement you'll get from it.

I am a huge pumpkin spice fan. In the Fall, I will usually make myself a cup of pumpkin spice rooibos with a little almond milk and disappear into my study. I'd throw on some nice atmospheric music and set down to judge my day. Take a sip of tea and start at the top.

No really have some wine if it means you're more likely to do it. Following temperance is not necessarily dull abstinence from alcohol. Just awesrness and cotrolled indulgence.

How do I actually do the thing?

Get out your tracking method discuss earier, the ting that you know you'll use and may be even enjoy using, and dig in. First, start by writing down your focus virtue and ask yourself these questions.

  1. Did I succeed at that virtue?
  2. If it went poorly, how did it fall apart?
  3. When did it go wrong?
  4. What was happening then or just before that moment?

An Aside on my own review attempts

When I first started, I generally failed in the same manner each week when I did have a particularly bad day. And, full disclosure, it was actually my review ritual that was causing me problems. It took me a while to notice.

My "where it first breaks down" moment for a cocktail is my height. I'm as tall dude and as such have moth heightened tolerance (see what I did there) and only an eagle's view of the glass when mixing. Pouring from the top of the glass is the best way to under-measure your ounces, especially if you use inconsistent glassware.

So yeah, I'd pour myself a cocktail before heading off to do my review and what I'd think was a reasonable 2 or 3 ounce drink was much more likely a 5 or 6oz one. Alcohol destroys both your hydration and reasoning and leaves your body in kind of a murky place between "comfortably buzzed" and "I'm thirsty, let's get another!" And while we all think we can hold our liquor like some English wartime prime ministers, we mortals likely can't. And intemperance just bolsters that false confidence.

By the end of my review, I'd be drunk and possibly livid at myself for my failures as crahing blood sugar will kill my mood. Which would carry over as dehydration the next day and depress my general functioning if not give me a full on migraine. I'd have trouble sticking to any virtues which would lead to a long spiral of self-loathing and despair.

This is really a cautionary tale to watch how you do your review. Set yourself up for a successful experience rather than something that will fresult in compounding failure.

Precept by Precept

Once you've completed your focus virtue, move on to your remaining set. While you may be closely adhering to one virtue at a time, assessing your natural adherence to your all your virtues will provide insight your elf, your project, and suggest changes to make to be better with them.

In your tracker, list out each of your virtues and their precepts. As with above, ask yourself how you did. Did you succeed at maintaining each virtue or each precept? Here it can especially useful to denote if a precept was particularly irksome that day. If you are not interested in the individual precepts, just the larger virtues for each day, that is totally fine. Just jot down something about the ones where you struggled or succeeded easily.

Here's an example from my own digital virtue journal from a day in June 2016:


I didn't write a treatise on everything, just the broad points so I can review them later, faster, and to assess my progress. Now... About that assessment? ###Review the last few days Yeah, this is tough. Like really tough. Like would rather smack my thumb with a hammer tough, which is really hard for me to do! Looking back at your failures is about the worst thing for most people, especially Americans, who are socialized to see failure to accomplish a thing as a moral failing.

Failure is not about you or I being bad people. The fact that you're here suggests you care about virtue and that you care about self-improvementt. That is a Good Thing, captial G T. Further, do you get how far ahead of most people that gets you? It has to be at least a few ring posts up...

We're in the home stretch now. I have further recommendations for some review process and a little more of my experience to share. But then that's it. It will be time, like for serious, for you to try your own Virtue Project.

There won't be any more excuses.

Nope. None.