The Magic of Making Lists

Basically since I learned how to write, I’ve been making lists. Lists of things I want to do, things I need to get, things that I want to read, research, ideas, etc. This is a habit that has stuck with me all my life. Possibly one I even somewhat inherited from my mother, who is a prolific list maker herself. Even though, at times, the lists I make can seem repetitive they are always helpful for a multitude of reasons, all of which help greatly in reducing my overall stress.

Organize Your Thoughts

Sometimes when I have a lot of things on my plate, it can feel like my mind is a fishbowl that has been stirred up. The tiny rocks of my thoughts are spinning around and around rather than resting gently at the bottom. I begin to feel rushed, panicked. I have this nagging feeling that I am going to forget something important. Sitting down to make a list of everything swirling through my mind is a great way to get the water to settle. I don’t feel the need to keep thinking about all of these things. I can find comfort in the fact that it’s all written down. It gives me confidence that I won’t forget so I can get on with the rest of my day.

Prioritize & Visualize

Another great reason to make lists is to help you prioritize. Sometimes things seem so jumbled and complicated in my mind. It is hard for me to decide where to start. Writing everything down allows me to get a better idea of what I need to do first and what can wait until later. It also helps me to visualize the tasks I’ve set for myself. It gives me a clearer concept of how much I really have on my plate. Before I make a list, it always feels like I have a huge number of things to do. I feel helplessly overwhelmed. However, once I write it out, there are usually only a handful of tasks. I feel much calmer after realizing this. My lists always look manageable and allow me to feel more capable of completing everything I have to do.

Routines

There was a period of time when I started to become frustrated by my lists. It felt like every morning I was writing out the same exact things, and I was getting tired of it. My bullet journal allowed me to solve that problem. Most bullet journal tutorials online will include something called a habit tracker. Every month you can make a chart with a list of all of the things you would like to do everyday along with a designated box for each day of that month. You can come back to that page each evening and color in a box for each habit you completed that day. It is a great way to get into a routine or begin a new habit. It also saves a lot of time. No more writing out the same exact list over and over again.

Satisfaction

One of my favorite things about making lists is the satisfaction of checking things off of them. It’s funny the small seemingly meaningless things that can make us happy. Adding a check to a box, crossing off a line, or coloring in a square, don’t really strike me as pleasurable activities. But somehow the brain gets a dopamine hit for each one. It is such a delight to look at a finished list. Especially when it’s a completely filled in monthly habit tracker!

Ta-Da List

The other day I stumbled upon another great way for lists to help reduce stress. A Ta-Da List is something you can write to help you feel pride in what you’ve accomplished. Instead of all the things you need to do, a ta-da list is a list of everything that you’ve already done. You can even cross them all out as you go for that extra satisfaction. Sometimes at the end of the day, even though I know I have done a heck of a lot, it still feels like I haven’t done anything. This type of list can help you to acknowledge all the hard work you’ve done and give yourself credit. It can really ease an anxious mind that is afraid you’ve wasted the day away.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

Making Plans

There are only a handful of weeks left to us in the hellacious, year of our lord 2020. It is around this time I feel it’s appropriate to start making plans for the new year to come. I know most “New Year Resolutions” fall to the wayside and are forgotten after a few weeks at most. But there is something deliciously invigorating about the illusion of a fresh start, a clean slate. It may not ultimately help you follow through with or achieve your goals, but it does make it a hell of a lot easier to feel inspired enough to a least make a plan for yourself. And that is worthwhile and important in it’s own right.

I personally am in desperate need of a plan for myself. I have been drifting listlessly for what seems like a very long time now. Every time I think of making a change, it just feels hopeless. Why bother? However, knowing I’ll have a few months to mentally prepare myself makes it seem more manageable. (Not to mention still getting to enjoy a hedonistic holiday season.) Don’t get me wrong, it’ll still feel daunting when the day finally arises at my doorstep, but I’ll at least hopefully feel more ready. Having a clear plan in mind is always helpful.

So what kinds of things do you want to change in 2021? Start a new habit? Kick an old one? Spend some of this waning time in 2020 to get a clear idea of what you would like to do and how precisely you plan to do it. Having a detailed plan is key. Vague goals are the most slippery. Much too hard to actualize.

Maybe even more important than making your plan specific is making it incremental. Don’t expect yourself to wake up on January 1st 2021 and lead an entirely different life. That isn’t going to happen. I’ve always been afraid of being “too easy on myself.” I worry that if I’m not strict and rigid, I’ll fail. But perhaps that is exactly the reason I have already failed so many times in the past. I think it’s more important to be kind to yourself along the way. You will mess up. You will have days, maybe even weeks, when you feel like you’ve given up, that you’ve failed. But there are no rules to follow in this life. There are no disqualifiers. Keep playing. Start again as many times as you need to.

There is no shame in what we perceive as failure. Only an opportunity to rest. To collect ourselves. To be gentle with ourselves. And begin again with new strength, new determination, new wisdom. So make your plans. Make the small improvements something to take pride in. Expect to mess up. Expect to start again many times. But remember one thing above all else. These are your goals. You are the only one invested in the outcome. And do you know why? Because beneath it all, it is your self-love that moves you. The belief you have in yourself. The deep desire for you to be happy, healthy, prosperous. You’re doing this for you. Inspired by pure love. So don’t forget. Be kind to yourself. As you would be to a child that you only want the best for. Comfort yourself when you fall, and help yourself back up again.

It is time for another transition. It is time for change.

Setting Clear Intentions

I have always been a very logical person. I never really bought into things like the law of attraction or summoning certain scenarios into being through your thoughts alone. It always seemed too good to be true. However, once my mind started to wrap around the way that such things could actually occur I became very curious. For many people it is enough just to hear that their positive thoughts and wild dreams will come to fruition as long as they believe them and keep their focus on them. In my case that always just seemed unfounded and foolish. This false perception kept my from allowing myself to fully believe in the power of my own will.

When you lay out the idea logically, though, it holds true. If you focus your energy on cultivating a more grateful existence, your mind will naturally begin to find more things to be grateful for. If spent time everyday on a certain goal, you will inevitably reach it. Even if only your perception has changed rather than the world around you, it is still certainly worth the effort. I don’t usually put too much weight in anecdotal evidence, but never-the-less I have seen the power of my positive intentions manifested this past year. The hardest part is setting clear intentions and keeping your focus.

Most of us, I’d imagine, would say that we know what we want out of life, that we have a set of goals. However, once you actually start to organize and verbalize these things it becomes apparent that it may not be as clear as you thought. It’s important to take a step back once and a while to evaluate. There may be things that we are putting energy into that really isn’t that important to us in the long run. There may be goals we aspire to meet that we haven’t really been taking steps towards achieving. It can help to create some means to record your progress in different areas so that you can see how far you have come. Before I began recording my efforts in different areas I would often lose sight of how much I had already achieved in the shadow of how far I felt there still was to go. Another way this can be helpful is to reevaluate a habit that maybe in hindsight isn’t realistic or isn’t helping you to reach your goals.

I am grateful for this shiny new year that has just arrived to give me the inspiration to keep pushing forward. It is an interesting and confusing feeling to know exactly what you need to do to cultivate happiness and fulfillment while at the same time being resistant to the change that requires. I need to remember to be patient with myself. Instead of pausing, paralyzed in the face of the huge changes ahead of me, I need to press onward one step at a time. I need to lean into the tension of knowing that this will take a long time and be mindful as I implement more and more small changes into my daily experience.

I want this year to be even more transformative than the last few have been. I want to calm my chaotic mind be setting clear intentions regarding what I would like to learn, experience, and create in the coming months. For once I feel confident that I will reach my goals and gain so much insight and happiness in the process. My mantra for this first month of a great new year is going to be a Buddhist quote that I stumbled upon a few days ago. I hope that it can inspire us all to be present, grateful, and joyous in each moment that this year has to give us.

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha

March: A Month of Minimalism

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For awhile now I have been extremely interested in the idea of a minimalist lifestyle. My parents both have the tendency to hoard random items they will probably never need or have the urge to look at again. My mother has always baffled me with her massive stacks of old magazines. She would also say that she “wanted to look at them someday when she retired.” (She’s been retired for two years now and hasn’t touched them.) My father has filled a good portion of the yard with broken down old cars “in case he needs the spare parts someday.” With my background in psychology I know the potential being raised in this environment could have on me. I am always hyper vigilant of when I am accumulating too many unnecessary items.

I have always been a person that finds comfort in neat and orderly spaces. If my coffee table begins to get cluttered or the dishes start to pile up it has a noticeable effect on my mood and anxiety level. I always feel so light and refreshed after cleaning and organizing my home. When I realized that there was a popular trend known as minimalism, I was immediately interested.

I stumbled upon a video on Youtube a few days ago laying out the framework for a 30-day minimalism challenge. That is why I decided that this month was going to be my first calculated attempt at downsizing my possessions. So far I have gone through my bags, wallets, clothes, shoes, and beauty products. It isn’t even the end of the first week and already I have thrown away and donated a ridiculous amount of stuff. And I feel so good!

Just the thought of having less is so liberating to me. Eventually I plan on buying a tiny house and owning even less than I will at the end of this month. There is just something so pleasing about not being physically and emotionally attached to so many different objects. It is also satisfying to know that the few items that remain are actually very special and important to me. I cannot wait to see how the rest of this month turns out. I am excited to someday live a life free from attachment, embracing each new moment and having more time to spend experiencing and cherishing my life rather than being buried under things.

Wish me luck!