While there are cases in which the output of an activity matters a great deal, in much of life the infinitesimal changes that occur in you matter even more.
My therapist suggested a few weeks that I adopt a daily practice of writing Morning Pages to help clear my mind and get in touch with the emotions I am holding in my body. As I was talking about it with my wife, she suggested that I use loose-leaf lined pages, mostly because I hate lined paper. That would help transform the act of writing my morning pages to be more of an exposure, which is always helpful in my ongoing struggles with OCD. To increase the effectiveness of the exposure, I further decided that I would throw the pages away each day.
I have a hard time throwing things away, especially writing. Throughout the years, I have often taken copious notes, and rarely reviewed them. After every therapy session, I would immediately sit down in my car and write an outline of what we discussed. I finally realized one day that the urge to write these things down and keep them comes from the fear of losing or forgetting something that is important. I discussed the issue with my therapist, and she kind of laughed. She commented that she would have stopped me if I ever tried to take notes during a session. The important thing for me is not to perfectly recall everything that we discuss, but rather to internalize one or two major takeaways.
The first few days that I wrote my morning pages, I felt a little surge of panic as I threw them away. I slowly habituated to the perceived destruction of important information, and my brain settled down. As I did, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Knowing that I was not going to keep the pages freed me up to write more things. I allowed myself to express whatever was going through my mind, without worrying about whether it would be valuable later or not. As I quieted the inner editor that is constantly at work, I found myself getting in better touch with my emotions. I would often just create a prompt for myself, and write, “Right now I feel” and write whatever word came to mind.
Through this process, I realized an important lesson. The process of change that occurs as I write out my emotions and thoughts matters so much more than the output I create. This is true in so many areas of life. As we interact with each other, we are constantly changing each other. We are the result of all of those tiny changes. If we want to be different than we are now, we merely need to repeatedly expose ourselves to different situations and influences.
Whether you struggle with OCD or not, I imagine at times you feel the twinge of panic that you are losing something vital. Hopefully this lesson can help you, and me, to remember what really matters more. The kind of person we become is almost always of infinitely more importance than the artifacts we create.