Adulting, Chapter 1: Daily Maintenance

Welcome back to Join Rise Be’s Adulting series!

In this first installment, I’ll cover 2 basic organizational tools I use:

  1. A daily maintenance checklist
  2. A wellness inventory

Not exactly mind-blowing drops of wisdom, but bedrock ain’t the most elegant stuff unless you’re surveying the Grand Canyon. The beauty of this system emerges at scale.

Why bother with a daily maintenance checklist and wellness inventory?

It is easier to exist as an adult in this world if you possess a clear sense of self. Deliberately structuring how we take care of ourselves routinizes self-reflection. Self-reflection is how we become mindful of our various physical, emotional, mental, and social states of being. The ability to self-reflect prevents us from stagnating or letting stressors pile up and helps us seek out what brings us joy. At their best, these practices allow us to stop framing recovery in terms of what we want to move away from and shift to what we want to move towards.

So, how do we get the ball rolling?

Step 1: Describe yourself when you feel alright.

We all have a core personality that stretches and bounces in response to the obstacles in our environments. That dynamism makes us interesting, but something static lives at the core of each of us, distorting only in extreme circumstances. When your favorite character is doing well, they might be argumentative, withdrawn, or dramatic. They may become people-pleasing, provocative, or unexpressive under stress.

Our goal is not to make a list of our best qualities, but to create a frame of reference for when things get tough by honestly inventorying our baseline characteristics. Use a bulleted list with simple words.

Step 2: Create a list of feelings and behaviors relevant to your mental health.

Fans of DBT might call this a diary card. I call it my wellness inventory. The first item in my inventory says, “Used my skills/tools.” I use a rating system to denote whether I thought about or used my adapative coping skills and whether they helped. Recording this allows me to correlate behaviors with thoughts and feelings.

At the end of the day, I rate the intensity of my feelings. I use a scale of 0 to 5, ranging from absent to intense. Your rating system might be drawings of faces or emojis. My inventory includes feelings like depression, anxiety, anger, shame, fear, fatigue, and pain. The inclusion of joy helps me orient myself around what feels good.

I also include thoughts, such as my belief in my sense of control over my emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Over time, checking in with myself has caused a noticeable upward trend in my belief that I can competently handle obstacles.

Lastly, my wellness inventory includes behaviors I’m working on, like avoidance and impulsiveness. But it doesn’t need to focus on behaviors you want to curb. You can include behaviors you’re cultivating, like patience, firm boundaries, or saying yes to invitations.

Step 3: List what you need to do every day to keep yourself feeling alright.

Keep this list short. Consider the most basic elements of existing: Sleep. Food. Water. Sunlight. Movement. Connection.

These things are not what you need to do to thrive (although you won’t without them) but what you need to do to survive long-term. Include things that feel integral to your routine, too. I don’t need to make my bed every day to survive, but my whole day feels off if I don’t.

I also need to sleep 6-8 hours per day, eat at least 1 fruit and 1 vegetable, brush my teeth, change my clothes, and leave my room. If I miss one of these enough, I transform into a provocative, irascible little gremlin who can scarcely move their weeping from the bed to the couch.

Step 4: List those things you might do to keep yourself on track.

You might do these things weekly, monthly, or only as you feel the need. Make this list as long as you like but avoid adding things you only aspire to do. Those become burdensome expectations in the checklist! Circle a handful of things you are most likely to do to feel alright. Including too many on your checklist will overwhelm you with options.

Your list might include things like taking a bubble bath spending time with a good friend, partner, family, or pet. I might feel better by exercising, writing, reading, making art, reaching out to 3 people, and tidying up. These items are often unchecked, existing only as reminders. That’s okay.

Step 5: Formalize your daily maintenance checklist and wellness inventory.

Pick a form, a time, and a place. If you choose to use a physical medium, print a few months’ worth of these in advance. For me, this has historically looked like 3-hole-punched charts in a binder on my bedside table. I crack it open a few hours before bed.

You have cornucopious options: Apps, Excel spreadsheets, templates we post here—there are color-by-day mood coloring books out there, for crying out loud! You could write a list of questions on the first page of a journal, then write a few sentences nightly. I have a friend who plans to tattoo small symbols on their fingertips to unify their daily maintenance checklist with meditative fingertip-touching that help them check in with themself.

Step 6: Reevaluate.

You probably won’t stick to a system with too many items, irrelevant information, or a form you don’t enjoy. Build in time to reevaluate. If you miss a bunch of days in a row, ask yourself “Why?” Consider incorporating an alarm or a timer set to 5 minutes, so you follow through. Use an app if you find it more convenient. Delete what no longer serves you.

And yes, of course you can quit using this system altogether if something else works better for you, so long as you do not exempt yourself from the work of self-maintenance and self-reflection.

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