Minding My Marbles

2740 days is what we are given to pursue the things that matter to us (based on an average life expectancy of 79 years and removing things like sleeping, eating, grooming, work, etc.). I began thinking about how I might translate this into something that I could use in daily mindfulness. I decided to buy a bunch of marbles to represent the days given to me then each day move one from the “remaining” pile into the “spent” pile.

Having 3468 marbles–I’m an optimist, I scaled to assume I will live to be 100–didn’t seem practical because it would be very easy for me to let days slip by given such an abundance. Also, that time is broken up by other activities in our daily lives. So it would have meant that I would have had to take a marble every 10.5 days. Sort of defeats the purpose of daily mindfulness. Plus, it was too much to keep track of and I knew I would lose count so I decided to start with 365 marbles. 365 days to live my New Year commitments. Manageable mindfulness for a year.

I also saw this as an opportunity to find mindfulness in the quality of how I spent those days. I decided to use three colors of marbles: green, for days I felt I had spent well, yellow, for days that were okay but could have been better, and red, for the bad days. At the end of each day I would take one of these colored marbles and place them in the appropriate pile. I found some nifty jars at Crate & Barrel to keep them organized.

After a month, here’s where my experiment stands:

Minding My Marbles

24 green, 5 yellow, and 2 red.

I have tried to start a daily gratitude journal on several occasions and couldn’t quite get it to stick. Combining it with my marbles gave me an added incentive to be diligent. Each day, rather than struggling to find something new I was grateful for (or find myself writing about the same things) I would write what it was about that day that made my marble green, yellow, or red. That did the trick for me. I am much more disciplined about writing in my daily gratitude journal now and I have a built in topic to consider as I write: Why was my day good, meh, or bad?

For my greens: 9 came from time with friends and family, 7 involved doing things for others (random acts or mentoring/teaching), 3 days of inspiration, 3 great career moves, and 2 spent getting necessary things done.

For my yellows: 4 had me just vegging out at home and 1 was from a bad day that turned okay by some meditation and proper perspective realignment.

For my reds: 1 from family hardship and 1 from work stress.

Here’s where the experiment started to yield mindfulness benefits. Knowing I would have to “spend” one of my marbles that evening, it made me more aware of the things I planned to do that day. Whenever I was being a lazy layabout, I would ask myself if this is how I wanted to spend my day. If I had a bad day, I thought about how I might turn it around or what I would do the following day so that one red marble didn’t turn into two consecutive reds. I started finding little tricks to shift my day to green. Bad day at work? Do a random act of kindness. Being lazy? Call someone I love and talk for a bit.

If you’re not quite ready to commit to 365 days–I’ll admit it can be quite daunting–then start small. Maybe you’ve wanted to start exercising more regularly. Get 21 marbles and try it for 3 weeks. Ready to really form a lifelong habit? Then bump it up to 90 consecutive days. Whatever activity or habit you need help with focusing your discipline, daily marbles can help.

The inspiration for this article came from this brilliant video representing the time we are given in this world as illustrated by jellybeans: