A few weeks ago, as I sat with my husband to discuss schedules, I reminded him that we had several commitments for the upcoming weekend. He looked surprised when I listed them off, and I felt more than a little annoyed by my husband's surprise. It wasn't like I hadn't mentioned these commitments before. It wasn't like I hadn't spoken directly to my husband, on more than one occasion, about soccer games, dinner plans and ballet rehearsals.
He said, apologetic, "Sorry. I wasn't tracking this."
I was a little stunned. He wasn't tracking this? As in, he wasn't tracking family life and our schedule? As in, he was too mentally engaged with work to keep 'track' of what went on outside of it?
I realize those are some pretty dramatic and even unfair thoughts. I am the first to admit I run toward dark interpretations at times.
But the message hit home with me: we pay attention to what we track. And what we track is where we put our energy and focus. And where we put our energy and focus is what gets better, stronger and bigger.
This is obviously true in terms of both the negative and positive. If we focus on the positive, I think it's fair to say, the positive gets bigger. Vice versa for the negative.
But what does all of this have to do with Spending?
Hold that question. I have one more story. Okay, maybe two. I'll try to be brief.
I have a good friend who, a few years back, was married to an alcoholic. His wife would periodically go MIA for a few days, a pattern she established that felt utterly random and out-of-control to my friend. Tired of being thrown for a loop every time his wife spent a few days binge drinking with friends, he decided to get all technical and start tracking her behavior. He tracked every time she went MIA, how long she spent gone, when she reached out for help and how long it took to get her back on track.
After several months, my friend took his data, plotted it out on a legit scientific graph and could estimate with shocking accuracy when his wife would start her pattern again, roughly how long it would last and when he could expect a call and her ultimate return home.
That's pretty badass.
Twelve years ago, I was depressed, anxious and exhausted. Welcome to first-time motherhood. While pregnant, I had some distorted idea that motherhood involved wafting around my house in a cute outfit, my hair all done up nicely, baking loaves of bread while my baby played happily in the playpen I'd set up near a window, sunlight glistening across freshly scrubbed hardwood floors.
I wish I was making that up.
Reality was brutal. I had a baby who slept in 45-minute intervals all night, every night. I was exhausted, wandering around the house with a baby attached to my hip or breast, crying for 'no reason' and wondering what the hell was wrong with me. Finally, after seven months of zombie-like living, I made an appointment at a sleep clinic and decided to seek professional help to get my daughter to sleep longer than 45 minutes at a time. I went to the clinic with the tiniest sliver of hope and even less sanity.
The nurse told me I had to let my daughter cry.
Immediately, I resisted. I argued that I'd tried letting my daughter cry but she never stopped. She never settled. It was endless crying, and I couldn't take it; it was abuse.
My husband suggested I might be overstating it, but I think we can all see how I feel about my husband's suggestions. Bless his heart. He was trying.
The nurse gave us a semi-tailored sleep scheduled, her office phone number and a sheet of paper on which to log our experience. Then she sent us home with the instruction that my husband had to do the Cry It Out, and I was to leave the house for the first three nights.
I was half jazzed and half horrified. On the one hand, I didn't actually have to brave sleep training; I wasn't going to be in the trenches.
On the other hand, I'd just agreed to sleep train our daughter. I'd agreed to let her cry. According to the plan, I would let her cry no longer than a few minutes at a time and no more than 20 minutes total.
It sounded like torture.
But I couldn't ignore my own mental health and the state of our home life any longer. I needed sleep. She needed sleep. We all needed sleep.
Okay, here's the point: we tracked her crying. As in, we wrote down the exact time (down to seconds) that she began crying and the exact time she stopped.
If you'd asked me to tell you how long she cried, I would have replied (in full honesty, my heart totally committed to the truth): 20 full, long, haggard minutes.
If I looked at the log: she cried less than three minutes.
See the difference?
I was stunned (mouth agape) when I saw the results, written in my own handwriting. There it was in black-and-white. She cried three minutes the first night and two minutes the next night and after three nights she only whimpered a little and then slept fine. Within a week, she was sleeping through the night. Within two weeks, she was going to bed wide awake, in her own bed, happy.
We could debate the merits of letting babies cry until the cows come home, and I'm not totally convinced it was the best possible solution for our family. I won't die on the hill of defending the merits of Cry It Out.
But I will say this: tracking something takes the emotion out of it and lets us see patterns that otherwise are totally obscured.
Tracking demystifies just about anything.
Tracking something (behavior, habits, physical illness, food intake) let's us get a bigger, better perspective of what's really going on vs. what we think is going on.
Since tracking my daughter's sleep, I've begun the habit of auditing areas of my life that need more focus and, thereby, some kind of change. When I am stuck with an extra 10 pounds after a cross-country move, I track my diet. I track my sleep if I'm feeling tired, anxious or low. I track my kids' behavior if something seems off or wonky.
In short: I pay attention, in a detached sort of way, to what's going on.
This attention enables me to see areas that need improvement, and it focuses my attention to an area of my life that's lacking.
This month, after a big move and buying a house and then attempting to jazz that house up, I need to track my spending. It's so easy to get off track with money. There are thousand reasons we spend more than we should, and probably 999 of those reasons are emotional.
Then, when the dust settles and the emotions return to baseline (whatever that is), we find ourselves with some new habits. Maybe we go to TJ Maxx a few times a week, even though we already bought 10 new baskets for the house?
Maybe we started a skinny vanilla latte habit that needs to be addressed?
Maybe there is no spending issue at all and I'm just bored and need something to track.
For the month of November, I'm doing a full-blown audit of my spending. If I spend even a nickel on a piece of chewing gum (whatever...this isn't 1952), I'll write it down.
My husband saw me write down $2.03/Starbucks/Tea in my journal yesterday. He nearly fell out of his chair laughing.
"You're tracking something as small as $2?!?"
I nodded. "I am."
He shook his head and walked away.
Obviously the man has never found himself with an abundance of TJ Maxx baskets.
More at the end of the month with results from the audit and the no-BS truth about where my money goes.
Do you track anything? Does it make a difference when you do?