If at first, you don’t succeed…

I discovered that making a crib sheet can be a useful tool for helping me to manage my chronic illness with some activities. I discovered this almost by accident while writing an email to my yoga teacher. However, having a useful tool is only half the battle. Figuring out how you are going to make sure you use that tool and apply your knowledge I just as important. It’s also quite tricky as I helpfully demonstrated recently.

The crib sheet idea came out of an email conversation I was having with my yoga teacher. We started an email conversation about what I can and can’t do and what issues I was having. I began writing down all the things I liked about yoga, what was helpful, what I couldn’t do, the advice and the recommendations of my audiologist and physiotherapist and I wrote about my approach to self-management. While writing this rather long email it occurred to me that making a bullet point list in a Word document would be a lot easier for my teacher to read. Then I realised what I had written would also make a useful crib sheet that I could reference in the future. The crib sheet contained quotes, rules of thumb, important information and adaptations.

The process of writing the crib sheet turned out to be hugely useful for me too. I kept adding to it for a week or so as new ideas occurred to me. Once I’d started my list little phrases and pieces of advice would pop into my head. I also started to think a little more deeply about what I wanted to get out of the yoga classes in the first place. I realised my I had lost sight of the things I liked about yoga, and the reasons I was taking a class. I’d drifted to an achievement-oriented mode of thinking where I was striving to be able to do the poses that I used to be able to do before I was ill. I was pushing myself, and I was feeling resentful and disappointed that I couldn’t take part in class the way that I used to. I wasn’t applying my ideas about the best way to manage chronic illness to yoga.

Writing the crib sheet was also helpful because it allowed me to see that I already knew a lot about how to manage my condition. I already knew what I needed to do to be more comfortable in class, I just hadn’t been applying it.
Why did I forget or ignore all the things I had learned through being ill? I did feel some exasperation with myself. I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into learning a set of skills and to enable me to live with my chronic illness. I’ve also thought a lot about what living well with a chronic illness means to me. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about acceptance. It was disappointing to feel like I’d not really made progress at all. For a short time, I felt like I’d learnt nothing and gone back to the beginning. On the other hand, it’s understandable that I will have these slips.

Thinking about, and knowing what to do is important but it also takes a lot of time and practice to break out of old patterns. Also, I am good at translating what I’ve learnt in one context to another – but only if I stop and think about it. I think I’d assumed that because I’d done the courses, and read the books and had a good understanding I would now be able to apply that knowledge effortlessly. By coincidence a friend posted a quote that was perfect for this situation:

“Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill”

Shinichi Suzuki

I started a new class a few weeks ago. How did the technique work out? I made a mental note a week or two before the class to look at and update my notes on yoga. Then promptly forgot about it. I did too much in that first class and suffered for it the following week. (Note to self: if you don’t write it down it isn’t going to happen!).

It would have been better to do this before the first class, but I’m going to read through and update my yoga crib sheet now. I’ll also add a task to my to-do list to think about where I want to store notes like this for different activities so it’s easy for me to refer to them. Hopefully, taking a little time to think about how I might manage things will become a habit. I will go easy on myself if it doesn’t because it’s hard to get into new habits and I find it particularly difficult with irregular habits that don’t fit into a routine. What can I learn from this?

  • Make some time to think about what I already know
  • Don’t be too hard on myself. Maybe I will always forget until after the first class in a series. That’s not ideal but not the end of the world.
  • Think about how I can make it easy to remember to do the right thing (A note in my diary? A task on my to-do list? Ask a friend to remind me?). Don’t expect to remember without help!
  • Treat these notes as working documents. They will grow and evolve as I learn more.


On Thursday I finished writing this post. Then in the evening, I went to my yoga class having reread the crib sheet. My mind full of good ideas and intentions, I had the best class ever and came out feeling great, yes? No. I forgot everything and like a big stupid hypocrite overdid it. I tried three new poses holding them for way longer than a couple of seconds. I was so excited to discover I had the core strength to hold myself up in forearm plank that I did it twice! Twice! What was I thinking? And when will I ever learn? When we came to the last pose, my arms turned to jelly. I knew I had gone too far but it was too late. My arms ached. My hands were sore. I slept badly and woke up with the pain. It would be tedious to list everywhere that hurts this morning. It’s enough to say I’m deeply uncomfortable and feeling very sorry for myself. And I’m cross that I did that. Again! Only this time it was just a few hours after writing about a blog post on learning to adapt. So I’m feeling pretty embarrassed too.

So what now? First of all, I need to stop calling myself names. I’m not hopeless or stupid. Maybe I am a little hypocritical writing a blog when I can’t follow my own advice, but I’m also very aware of my own failings. I made a mistake and this is part of the learning process. And the crib sheet idea is a good one. I just need more practice putting it into practice.

Will I ever learn? Yes, I’m learning all the time. But it’s a long, slow process and there are bound to be missteps along the way.

How can I make sure I remember to actually use my crib sheet I future?

  • File it somewhere it’s easily located on my phone and laptop (Dropbox, OneDrive etc.)
  • Create a habit or routine. Perhaps I could look over the crib sheet at the same time as I pack my bag for yoga.
  • Set a reminder
  • Make a to-do list item at the same time I put it in my calendar.

I think it might be a good idea to write about handling setbacks and flare-ups for my next post. I’ll be focused on recovery over the next week anyway. And it’s a good opportunity to dig out what I already know about that subject and practise with a new crib sheet.

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