Folding a Fitted Sheet as a Life Manual Metaphor
“Who the hell knows how to fold a fitted sheet?!”
Not being able to fold a fitted sheet is one of those things that people say (often with an odd sense of pride) expecting to create connection through shared experience–in this instance, shared failure. Based on the number of people who seem to nod or sigh in agreement, I’m guessing most people don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet, or don’t want to admit that they can. However, every time someone has said that to me, I usually respond with, “I know how…” and then immediately feel bad when I’m looked at like I have three heads. (I don’t.) What comes next is often a dismissive response such as:
“Well, I can’t fold a fitted sheet – I don’t have that gene.”
And, that’s where I take issue: It’s not a gene – it’s a behavior. Which means it has to be learned. Anything learned either needs to be taught or tried repeatedly until it’s successful. Also, like any behavior, there is no perfect – which means, there is only what works for you to be successful. How I fold a fitted sheet may not be how someone else folds a fitted sheet, but we can both do it. This is why I think ‘folding a fitted sheet’ is the perfect life manual metaphor.
So, let’s break it down into steps:
Find the Corners
Connect the Corners
Make Straight Edges
Find the Corners
The first thing you have to do is find the corners.
Contrary to what you might think, the corners are not the bit with elastic. No, they’re the part where the edges come together at the seam. Finding the corners is foundational to being able to fold the sheet. Without them, you can’t do it.
So, what is foundational in life? The four corners of a fitted sheet are like the four aspects of health: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. But what does that mean in your day to day? Well, the foundational aspects of your daily life would probably include: Sleep, Food, Water, Movement, Connection, Housing, Income, Play/Creativity, and Spirituality or Faith.
On some level, you probably engage with all of these components on a daily basis. When you don’t, or can’t, you may feel imbalanced. Just like the four corners of the fitted sheet, you need to identify the daily foundational aspects of your life to succeed. Here’s an example of what my day might include:
Of course, some items crossover, such as playing with the dogs, breathing, or reading. The things that make up your foundation in life probably should fall into more than one category. That would be balanced and healthy. Which brings us to step 2: Connect the Corners.
Connect the Corners
In order to fold the sheet, you need to connect the corners. To do this, they first have to nest inside each other, before you can put them all together. They need to be connected in order to give you the stability you need to get to the next step.
Life is the same.
In order for your foundation to be strong, your four aspects of health need to be connected. As already mentioned, there should be some overlap from your lists; this is healthy. Balanced. In gathering the four corners of the sheet into one corner, the rest of the process can unfold. It’s no different in life.
By making your daily habits cumulative and connected, they are able to build on one another for support, health, and ultimately, success. For example: My breathing exercise not only supports my overall physical health, it also goes a long way to enhance my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Breathing deeply in a conscious manner clears my brain, lowers any potential anxiety, and makes me feel connected to my core (where the sensation at the base of my lungs brings awareness). This single practice supports me foundationally, and builds on itself, cumulatively. This, in turn, gives me the space I need to address any imbalances or changes I wish to make. Which brings us to Step 3: Make Straight Edges.
Make Straight Edges
Once our corners are nested and connected, we now have two clearly defined corners of a very wonky shape: The one we just created, and the one just opposite that formed naturally. This, too, is a metaphor for life. Once your foundation is set and building on itself, you will find that other aspects of your life seem to magically align. It’s no wonder, then, that we can feel overwhelmed when we look at the edges and see them not conforming.
This is where most people give up, say they don’t “have the gene,” and throw in the towel (or the fitted sheet, as the case may be). But this is exactly when you shouldn’t walk away. This is the moment when behavior is born of choice. It’s also where success is created through repetition. By not giving up, you are requiring your brain and your body to show up until you have built a new neural pathway. Once that pathway is built, success is practically guaranteed.
For me, once I learned how to fold a fitted sheet, and after I practiced it repeatedly, I can now do it 99%+ of the time at speed. Life is no different. We need time for behaviors to become second-nature. We also need patience to stick with the practice. But, once you get it, the joy you feel at accomplishing something you previously dismissed is 100% worth it. Now, let’s look at those wonky edges.
Because of the elastic, the fitted sheet creates two non-linear edges once you’ve gotten the corners into place. The key here is not to fight it. You can’t force elastic into a straight line. So, you work with what you have and you make straight lines by moving the bulky bits toward the center. This is a combination of acceptance and creating solutions.
In life, if there’s something you don’t like, or can’t seem to work with, you have two choices: 1) try and force it to change (never works), or 2) accept it and create change where you can. For the sheet, we’re creating two straight edges. In life, this could mean you are creating new opportunities for movement, or sleep.
Right now, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. A lot of my friends used to go to a gym almost daily. Then, all of a sudden, they weren’t allowed to leave home except for necessities or a daily walk. Many have given up and resigned themselves to “only walking” for the next couple of months. Whereas, others have created new opportunities at home. For example: one friend has used his bathroom scale to weigh soup cans and other pantry items to create “weights” for his home workouts. Another friend has figured out how to create “resistance” training at home using a couple belts and her own body weight. While these aren’t ideal situations, they have both figured out how to make straight edges from the wonky ones by engaging in creative solutions.
This brings us to the final step: Fold.
Once you have four straight edges and four (mostly) squared-off corners, you can fold the sheet however you like. I typically fold mine in thirds, because it nests better inside my folded flat sheet making it easier to store. It doesn’t matter how you fold it, what matters is now you can.
Life is no different. After we spend our time focusing on building the proper foundation, creating cumulative habits, and identifying the areas that are just a bit wonky, the last step is always action. Fold. Or… act.
Take action. Nothing changes if you don’t take action. It really is that simple. If you completed the three previous steps, you can take any action you wish to take, because you will have set yourself up for success by being deliberate. You will have turned a wonky-edged elasticized piece of fabric into a straight-edged rectangle, what you do after that is up to you.
Just as the sheet won’t fold itself, all your preparation and effort won’t bring you to success if you don’t take the final step.
So, you see, being able to fold a fitted sheet is not dependent on your genes, it’s dependent on your actions–your choices–and, in some part, your desire. If you don’t want to learn (or fail), you can always say “I don’t have that gene” and most people will probably laugh and nod with you. But, deep down you’ll know it’s because it’s easier to brush it off laughingly and connect with others in the failed attempt (misery loves company) than it is to admit a failing, or worse: complacency.
At the end of the day, complacency is not something we boast about, it’s something we hide. Unfortunately, many of us (myself included) have chosen complacency–the easy way out–over struggling and trying… and admitting failure. A lack of desire to change, or to be open to change, is possibly the biggest failure we can have. Walter Blake wrote, “The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly want my mind to be like standing water. I’d vastly prefer a steadily flowing stream, clear, clean, and vibrant with life. After all, ideas are born of flow. In fact, most of life is.