After his first bout of cancer, my brother’s recommendation was to throw away my to-do list. Jim had read a spiritual, life awareness book that claimed we focus too much on getting things done rather than just “being”. To-do lists were a roadblock to our true humanity. I did not have a strong argument against that assertion because our American culture encourages the treadmill life, leaving relationships in the dust. Yet, giving up my daily list seemed counter intuitive.
A to-do list gave physical structure to my day, a path to follow, a sense of direction. I felt such satisfaction checking off the items on my list, and that feeling of daily completion was addictive. My younger life often felt emotionally chaotic, and the list was my weapon against overwhelming anxiety, fear of losing control and inadequacy. In short, it was my blankie. But Jim’s insightful comments made me reevaluate my list, especially how it impacted my self worth.
Despite my love of list making, I use to complain if I only completed 24 of the 25 things on my daily. I had trouble seeing the day as 24/25ths successful. Nothing short of perfection was acceptable, and getting it done tomorrow was not okay. My own personal rules about the list were the destructive part. I had created a bar so high most days I was destined to fail, and then I felt bad about it. In fact, I felt defeated more often than successful. If this had been a job, I would have quit.
While awareness is always the first step in any change, the idea of letting go of my daily structure still frightened me. I had to consciously work on not making such a big list, on being okay with the incomplete, and some days, just not having a list. This took years. Thankfully, I am easier on myself at this age, and if my no-list day turns into a Netflix binge-watching afternoon, oh well!
However, every January 1st that pressure to make up a magnificent list of goals for the coming year looms large. I rather envy the why-bother-with-resolutions crowd, although I have noticed that people in this group are often embarrassed about all the things that seem to slip away. Just not embarrassed enough to make a list. Most friends fall into the good-intentions pack. I think February is briefly depressing for them, but by Christmas they seem to have forgotten all about the lack of follow through and make a new list. Totally okay. And, then there’s the eternal-improvement people. These folks take the resolution thing seriously, which is also okay. The healthy approach for me is to limit the number of resolutions each year to one or two, instead of tackling a complete makeover.
This year I had some goals in mind, but wanted balance to the list. I did not want to make another daunting list and just be doing, doing doing. So, this past weekend I attended a vision board seminar and created a board that shows my vision for the coming year. The envisioning exercise prodded me to think about what I want to be or become this year, rather than what am I going to do. The underlying theory is if you have a vision of your better self, the right practices to get there will follow.
I think that’s what Jim was talking about long ago. Only took me twenty years to put it into practice.