The Pencil Theory

The Pencil Theory | How I plan to manage anxiety. | WrittenByJennifer

With two kids, a husband in the military, and a job of my own it’s easy to say: my life is busy. It’s not crazy or unpredictable but it is busy and things other than my standard routine and responsibilities crop up all the time. I’m old fashion and I rely on a paper planner to keep tabs on everything. I love my day planner. I use it for everything: appointments, tasks that need to be completed, events to attend, birthdays, anniversaries…you name it and it goes in the planner. I even write down what dinners we’re going to have on what days. It can be a lot to look at. Something that is supposed to help me keep things organized and relieve some stress can be a big source of anxiety. I know, a paper planner should not be an anxiety trigger.

I can be a perfectionist. I have been known to re-write an entire grocery list if I make a mistake or don’t order the items the correct way. (Yes, there is a correct way to write a grocery list.) Like so many people who have jumped on the paper planner obsession in the past few years, I found some pretty, colorful pens to write my entries and then…shit happens. And then I get a little crazy.

When I received my new planner for Christmas this year I thought about the things I want to complete in 2016. I thought about the weddings and events we’re already scheduled to attend. I thought about the school concerts and parties that would inevitably pop up. I thought about plans that I would make and ultimately have to change some of them. And then I thought about how I’d have to scratch out and re-write all of these things throughout the year and it made me a little twitchy. And then I came up with a theory…the pencil theory.

The Pencil Theory | How I plan to manage anxiety. | WrittenByJennifer

What is the Pencil Theory?

The pencil theory is fairly simple. Instead of making plans in ink, I’m giving myself the right to write them in pencil. By writing plans in pencil, I’m acknowledging that nothing is permanent, things and circumstances may change, and I shouldn’t feel obligated to adhere to something that may cause me additional stress or anxiety or guilt. I can simply erase the things I need to and the remnants aren’t left hanging around for me to obsess over or second guess.

For me, writing things in ink can make them seem permanent. If I need to cancel on plans and I have to scratch that item out of my planner, it can feel like a failure on my part if I’m the one who canceled. It’s a problem that culminates as the year goes on. If I see a slew of crossed out plans then I start to think that I’ve used up some imaginary grace period and that I should power through whatever it is that is currently being tossed on my plate because I shouldn’t shirk everything.

This theory that I’ve come up with goes past my simple day planner though. I, like many women I think, hold myself up to ridiculous standards of being a wife, a mother, and an individual. Many of my female friends have agreed that we feel as if we’re being measured against the Pinterest standard and so we take on more; more projects, more tasks. Things that consume time and energy. We try to make the best of each moment because that’s what we see online and on television and in magazines. But our personal resources are limited. A point that many of us forget. There are only so many hours in the day. Some of us need to work to support our families. Our children and spouses need our attention. And while we’re constantly hearing “be the best mother/spouse/friend” we’re also told to “take time for yourself”, “make yourself a priority” and it’s no wonder the feeling of being pulled in a myriad of directions is ever present.

It’s frustrating to think I even have to come up with a theory to give myself permission to acknowledge what is already a universal truth: life is fluid, plans change, circumstance change, you change. It’s natural to need to adjust as life goes by. It’s unnatural to force myself to say “yes” to everything that presents itself to me and not expect to suffer the consequences. It’s ridiculous that I should feel a sense of failure at all for doing something that is a basic part of life.

It’s my hope that I put this theory into practice as often as I need it. That I use it to remind myself that I’m only one person and I can only do so many things well at one time. I want to use it to remind myself that I shouldn’t feel guilt or shame for acknowledging and respecting my limits.

11 Comment

  1. Andrea says: Reply

    Nice metaphor!

  2. Yes! This is such a great way to honor your limits. I’ll definitely be sharing this tip!

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      Thank you! I have high hopes for this plan. 🙂

  3. Ali A says: Reply

    I’ve always struggled with this – if I commit to something, I feel like I need to be there. And while that’s arguably a good trait, sometimes I push myself when the day/event comes and I’m not into anymore, don’t feel well or have another legit reason to skip. In the past I’ve forced myself to do things I really didn’t want to do simply because “I said I was.” I think being reliable is good, but it’s also OK to say no once in a while. I’m working on that… so from now on, commitments in pencil only! 🙂

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      Yes! It’s so difficult to tow the line between “reliable” and “obligation”.

  4. Ali says: Reply

    Congratulations on letting go! You are absolutely right. We hold ourselves to a standard that is sometimes impossible. I made a mental shift like this a couple of years ago and that standard suddenly got much more attainable. Here’s to a great 2016!

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      I’m encouraged to hear this has worked for other people. I am definitely in need of a shift in the way I operate.

  5. Brandie says: Reply

    This is a good practice.

    I started doing this years ago, because plans do change. Or, horror of horrors, you don’t finish your to-do list that day.

    It’s important to allow yourself to be human. That kind of imperfection also allows you to work more effectively and creatively.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      I definitely struggle with realizing that I’m not going to be perfect 100% of the time, even 50% of the time seems like a stretch some days. Glad to know it’s working for other people.

  6. Jackie says: Reply

    One of my new year goals is to plan more, and I have started using my planner on a daily basis since last month. I love your idea of using a pencil because of the flexibility I need as a student, working on the side and also blogging and spending time with family.

    Am glad I found your blog, good content 🙂

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      It’s only the 5th of January and I’ve already had to put it into practice. 🙂

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