Photo by poppalina, via Flickr

Two weeks ago, our bathroom scales broke.

I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity to learn how scales work. Digital scales contain four sensors, one in each “foot,” and as long as the cap on the feet remains undisturbed, the scales works.

Whoever came up with this design, however, was not factoring in four rapscallions who like to chase each other in circles around the upstairs, wrestle, and fight over bathroom rights. Floor-bound objects are always in danger. And that’s not even including the times the kids decide to use them for Frisbee practice.

As you might have intuited, given the explanation above, our scales has been on the fritz for a while now. But I could always get it working again, until Saturday it didn’t bother to turn on at all.

And just to add to the fun, my Polar heart monitor stopped working on the same day.

Now, I’m one of those people who does what you’re told not to do: I weigh every day. This is considered a no-no because, since weight varies, it’s too easy to flip out inappropriately.

That hasn’t been my experience, however. Weight variation is not random. It’s connected to cyclic hormones and–gasp–how many net calories I consume from day to day. What a concept, right?

So for me, meticulous calorie counting + meticulous weight tracking = sustained weight loss.

In other words, accountability works.

It occurs to me that deadlines do the same thing for my writing. Amorphous goals (write a novel! Submit more short stories! Send more magazine queries!) are great for visioning, but sooner or later they have to mesh with the reality in which I have to take kids to speech therapy, swim lessons, piano lessons, and scouts all on the same day.

Amorphous goals make it easy to procrastinate whatever I don’t want to work on. I can drag my feet, roll my eyes, complain, tell myself how injured I am because source-won’t-get-back to me or I’m not getting the material I wanted. But then Deadline comes within visual range, and it’s amazing. All that goes away. That project I didn’t feel like working on suddenly becomes the most interesting thing on my agenda. Creative solutions appear.

Accountability is not a sexy concept. We aren’t fond of limits in this day and place. Limits = ball and chain.

But I find limits to be liberating. One of my favorite quotes of all time–and one I don’t live up to often enough–comes from Stravinsky:

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit. (From The Poetics of Music)

I always heard this summed up as “The greater the limitations, the greater the art.”

People are always telling me they don’t know how I do it all. This is how. Accountability.

We brought a new scales home on Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning I stepped on, holding my breath to see what two weeks of nebulous data had done to the number on the scale.  It wasn’t as bad as I feared, but when the number came up on the screen, my insides relaxed. At least now I know what comes next. I’m no longer shooting in the dark.