To-Do Lists

Cacophony: when multiple sounds combine in a discordant manner.

This usually refers to harsh sounds mixing with each other, but if too many instruments are melodiously playing at the same time, disharmony can result then as well.

So too, when too many good things happen simultaneously.

Recently, I found myself in a position of having said yes to too many things. They all seemed to serendipitously just pop up.

I can’t plan when things will happen. I wanted to take advantage of these opportunities.

But being that my plate was already full, managing these new additions became pretty challenging.

The benefits of these opportunities were clear, and far outweighed the drawbacks. In fact, the only drawback I could think of, was the limited energy I had; my human state. That’s not a very good reason to give up an opportunity?

Unless it is!

I’ve been doing a lot of inner work recently, delving into why I do things the way I do. In this case, why did I feel compelled to take advantage of these opportunities?

In many ways, it made sense. And at the same time, I was spreading myself too thin.

And that is where the disharmony came in. Being pulled in different directions at the same time.

Each thing in a vacuum was a delight. But I don’t live in a vacuum!

Being more discerning of what I can and cannot take on according to the present day’s circumstances is not something that comes naturally to me.

That’s why making to-do lists on a daily basis is so important to my mental well-being.  My inherent response to having things I need to do is to get them each done as soon as possible. There’s this sense of urgency. This sense of fear of what is on the other side of not having these tasks completed.

Instead of living in the moment, my mind tends to jump all about, causing me to jump through hoops—to do anything I can to stay ahead of the to-dos and the shoulds.

I think this heightened sense of pressure came from having homework in school. When we started having homework in first grade, I felt like if I didn’t complete it, and didn’t do it well, the world would implode. And I look at my approach to completing projects—more than a decade after completing graduate school—and not much has changed.

It’s still this top-down approach, this tyranny of the shoulds.

I yearn for the day that I can go back to living in the present, with this sense of wonder and inherent thirst for knowledge and growth.

School was supposed to teach me things. And it did. But it also stripped me of my innate fascination with learning about the world around me. In trying to keep up, I stepped over myself, held my breath, and held on for dear life to external validating factors (project deadlines, teachers’ approval, etc.).

These past several months, I’ve been working even more than usual on getting myself back.

Making to-do lists helps a lot, because instead of biting off more than I can chew in a day, I ask of myself a reasonable amount of tasks, am realistic about how long they can take, and set my day out accordingly. And I feel calm, knowing that even though I will not complete all the tasks that day, I have a plan for how to do so.

To-do lists help keep my anxiety in check, and reinstitute feelings of self-trust. As does the realization that what I need to learn I already know, it’s just buried under layers of survival mechanisms I’ve used over the years. Did they help me survive? On the one hand, I got to where I am today using them. On the other hand, my core self has been struggling throughout.

Yes, the time is ripe for a new script. A present moment, bottom-up approach instead of a top-down one. Where I continue to take one breath, and then another. Where I don’t have to run away from myself in order to keep up with the world around me.

Check out my book about mindfulness and self-care available on Amazon. Link here.

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