Honoring Today: Banning “The List”

All of my life I have been a maker of lists.  I make lists about anything and everything (what to pack for vacation, what to buy at the grocery store, what needs cleaning or attention in the house or garden, my goals for the week or the year, my workout schedule, etc.).  My lists capture THINGS THAT MUST BE DONE, in order of priority.  I get a thrill of pleasure when I cross something off the list (the bigger the item, the greater the flourish of my pen).

Lists were useful in my professional life.  They kept me organized and productive.  But a some point, I’m not sure when, lists spilled over — and took over — my personal life.   The list became my first thought in the morning, followed closely by a tightening in my stomach (what terrible thing will happen if the list isn’t managed?).  It kept me tethered to technology (Where’s that excel sheet?! I need to check email!  What can I move around on the calendar?).  I thought about the list when I was driving in the car, working out, relaxing in a hot bath.  I even thought about the list when I was having a conversation with someone.

Now that I’ve set out on my mid-life gap year[s] and disentangled myself from the big-house/life-sucking business noose around my neck, a funny thing has happened:  I’m still making lists (in my head mostly, but lists all the same).

This is no way to live.  Or at least, it isn’t a way I want to live.  Not anymore.  So, I’m working on a new model.  I’m trying to start each day by honoring it (I know this sounds like crunchy granola; bear with me).

Honoring today means noticing it.  Fully.  This requires shutting off my mind and paying attention to something in my world that is beautiful, peaceful, and/or treasured.

Here is an example:  I wake up in the morning, grab my coffee and head across the street to the beach.  I sit for a few minutes and watch the seagulls, the boats, the sun on the water, etc.  I do not think about what I’m going to do later, or how I need to check on the evil Anthem health insurance policy that will not be cancelled no matter how many times I call, write and beg to be released from the Anthem “family”.   I simply sit and watch and breathe.  Or, I head out for a run, being careful to shut down my thoughts and notice the cute little dog on the beach, the grandpa on his morning walk, the Greek couple opening their coffee shop.

Martha Beck (author of The Joy Diet) calls this “15 minutes of stillness”.  It is so simple.  AND IT IS SO HARD.  The list wants attention and it gets louder and more insistent when denied.  But I find that when I pull it off and keep my thoughts at bay, a beautiful thing happens.  I feel peaceful, relaxed, and energized.  And, as I finish up and start walking home, I often experience a realization — an answer to a sticky problem, a new-found understanding of someone or something, an exciting possibility that I hadn’t thought of before.  Its the craziest thing.  When I turn off my head, it seems to work so much better once I turn it back on.  Sort of like a re-boot.

I find that if I don’t start the day with this little habit, it doesn’t get done.  I’m not sure why, but there is something powerful and unstoppable about the mind when it gets started.  My only chance at bringing it to its knees is first thing in the morning, before it has started firing on all cylinders.

I honestly haven’t been doing this for very long, but I’ve learned something already:

What you do each day is not nearly as important as the mindset you bring to what you do.  I can wake up every morning to a beautiful beach at my doorstep and I will not see it or enjoy it if I am busy making lists in my head, or thinking about what I’m going to be doing later, or what I should have done yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow….

Today is sacred ground (thanks to my sister Kathy for this idea).  It should be honored.  The list needs to *get out the way*.




  1. Pat says

    For the life of me I cannot figure out why doing that sort of life enhancing activity is so difficult even though you KNOW it works. The time they take is no more significant the multitude of junk activities that litter a day. When I look at the inability to do them I marvel at why they are pushed away (and the improvements they will bring to life.) It is either some strange self destructiveness or fear of the what will come from stillness.

    • Nan Dawkins says

      I think you are on to something Pat. When we sit still, all kinds of insights come up — and those insights are often frightening. So much easier to eat a cookie and watch some junk TV, or work on crossing things off the list, or make another list….etc.

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