I’m a list-maker—and kind of a fanatic about it.
It’s a habit I purposely adopted over 20 years ago when a friend confided in me that list-making helped her sleep better at night.
I’d been struggling with insomnia at the time, and couldn’t figure out how to hit my mental “off” button whenever my head hit the pillow at the end of the day. Rather than drifting off into a peaceful slumber, my mind tended to run down a long list of unfinished business.
So, instead of lying in bed thinking about all of the errands I had to run, phone calls I had to return, and things I needed to buy at the grocery store the next day, I just wrote it down on a piece of paper and mentally let it go. It was a simple trick that allowed my mind to stop chasing its tail with pointless thinking.
But now, years later, my challenge is a different one—figuring out how to get to the bottom of an endless “to-do” list. These days, looking over my list of things that need to be attended to is like staring down a deep well or into a black hole—there is no end in sight. And it seems to get longer every day. Lately, I’ve even fantasized about how it would feel to actually cross that last item off my list. What would I do with my time? Sadly, I’m not sure I will ever know. There are days when I feel as though I may spend the rest of my life ticking things off my list, only to die of old age before I even get it pared down to a single page.
But over the last few years, as I’ve tried to increase my present-moment awareness and become more conscious of how and where I spend my mental energy, I’ve been forced to reevaluate how my “to-do” list impacts my peace of mind.
While it does allow me to stop mentally obsessing about my responsibilities, deadlines, and chores, and frees up my mental energy so that I can focus on the present moment, my “to-do” list keeps me far more focused on the “doing” part of my life at a time when I’m really trying to focus more on the “being” part of my life—when I’m making a concerted effort to be less busy all the time, trying to slow my pace and give myself more time to just breathe.
When it comes to practicing present-moment awareness and experiencing that all-too-elusive peace of mind amid the chaos of our hectic lives, author, quantum physicist, and consciousness guru, Dr. Amit Goswami says it best: “It is not just do, do, do. And it is not just be, be, be. It is do, be, do, be, do.” In other words, it all comes down to balance.
So, it occurred to me that instead of eliminating my “to-do” list (which would probably send my life into a complete tailspin), what I needed was a “to-be” list.
I mean, what could possibly be more important than a “to-be” list, especially for someone like me who is actively working on learning and growing as an individual? So, every morning when I review it, my “to-be” list serves as a gentle reminder that what I am “doing” is never as big of a deal or as important as who I am “being” each day. It’s a great opportunity to reexamine my priorities, keep my expectations in check, review my long-term goals and dreams, and remind myself that I’ve got a clean slate to work with each morning.
So, in the spirit of sharing, here is my personal “to-be” list:
1. I want to be more in the moment:
Each day, I want to strive to be conscious enough in my thoughts, actions, and words to create true balance in my life. Ultimately, this will help me cultivate greater peace of mind, speak more consciously, and act from a place of present-moment centeredness. I know that spending time outdoors in nature and traveling to new places are two experiences that seem to immediately connect me to the present moment and recharge my batteries, so I want to make these more of a priority in my life. I want to remember to stop throughout my day and hug my dog, smell the flowers, enjoy the feeling of warm sunshine on my face, and take in the sunset if I can, no matter how busy or chaotic things may seem. When I’m with someone, I want to be fully present with them, no matter who they are, what we’re doing, or what’s going on around us.
2. I want to be more open-hearted:
I want to continually practice being more loving, kind, patient, compassionate, and empathetic each day. I want to live a heart-centered life, allowing myself to feel and process my emotions, not just intellectualize, or “think” them. If I get angry or frustrated, I want to be able to stop, take a breath, and notice where it’s coming from before reacting. And I want to fully experience the joy I feel as well, to truly inhabit the positive emotions I am feeling as they arise. I want to make an effort to be more gracious and selfless with others, and more understanding and forgiving with everyone in my life, including me.
3. I want to be someone who “gives back” on a regular basis:
I want to do something of real importance each day, create something of value, impact people positively, and be of service to my fellow human beings. This includes noticing opportunities where I am able to be more thoughtful toward others, such as holding the door open for someone, paying someone a sincere compliment, offering a genuine smile, or performing an anonymous random act of kindness.
4. I want to be a better listener:
Being a better listener will make me a better friend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better coworker, and even a better neighbor. I want to be a caring and empathetic listener, someone who is generous with my time and attention. I want to remind myself to feel less rushed, to take a moment to stop and listen when someone is speaking to me—truly listen, instead of mentally formulating my response or trying to get my two cents in all the time. I want to ask more questions, get to know people on a deeper level, and be more curious about the people I meet and their experiences and perspective.
5. I want to be someone who lives from a place of integrity:
I want to honor my dreams and goals in life, in some way, each and every day. I want to be my “true” self with others, able to express myself authentically, sincerely, and genuinely, without being concerned about what others might think or how they might react. I want to speak and act in ways that are aligned with who I want to be as a person. I want to make my choices based on what’s right for me, not just to please others. I want to say “yes” when I mean yes, and “no” when I mean no—and feel good about it.
6. I want to be more grateful:
Each day, I want to take time to appreciate what I have and cultivate a sense of gratitude while focusing on the abundance in my life. I want to look for the beauty and the good in everything around me, instead of constantly judging things or noticing what’s wrong all the time. And I want to express my gratitude to others more frequently, to share with them the ways in which they make my world and my life a more beautiful place.
As I read this list, I am reminded that I already have so much to be grateful for. Over the last several years, I’ve made enormous strides in becoming more conscious in my life in all of these areas, though I’m aware that I still have quite a ways to go. I hope this list will inspire you to become more balanced in your own life—and when things get too busy and life becomes hectic and stressful, always remember the value of “do-be-do-be-do.”