Just Ignore that To Do List!

Yes, you read that right! When I make this suggestion in my resilience workshops, the gasps and protests don’t take long to surface. It seems blasphemous in our multi tasking, addicted to busyness culture to suggest that one ignore the “to do” list.

Once people get over their shock, I explain that it isn’t a permanent state of affairs, but rather a conscious choice one needs to make on a regular basis. In my experience, the more driven I am by my to do list the more my health suffers. I experience a myriad of chronic, and seemingly unsolvable, problems like stomach issues, neck and shoulder pain, insomnia and migraines.

We live in a quick and easy fix, immediate gratification type of society where we turn to medical experts to help us with our health issues. I know I have certainly had my share of visits to the doctor. I’ve recently been exploring how the brain starts to wire itself towards pain when we feel threatened. There’s a lot to be threatened by today and so it’s no surprise that so many people I talk with experience these baffling health issues as well.

Our to do list can also be threatening, especially if it’s long and not achievable, includes tasks that are highly unpleasant that stay on the list for weeks or months, or just reminds us that we are never “done” no matter how hard we may have worked that day. I think these to do lists often provide us with the illusion that if we just do all these things, we can control events and prevent bad things from happening. I know that some of my clients are really threatened by NOT doing their to do list as they really believe very bad things will happen.

While world events might be beyond our control, our to do list is in our control. Give yourself a regular break from being driven by the to do list and see what happens. Or at the very least, take some items off the list that don’t need to be there. I let go of several big to dos in the last 6 months that were keeping me in a constant state of “not enough.” My health has definitely improved and I’ve certainly been enjoying life more … and, even more important, nothing bad has happened 😉 In fact, a couple of remarkable things have happened that probably wouldn’t have if I had kept to that list.

How is your to do list working for you?

3 Tips for Putting Down Your Armour

It seems a natural response to being hurt, facing challenges or experiencing unexpected tragedy is to respond with fear and anger and armour up. Armouring up can be anything from “From now on I copy everyone in on my emails to cover my butt.” to “I will not share anything authentic with you again.” to “I’m going to isolate myself from others.”

But research is clear about the role of optimism in resilience. While these armouring up responses are normal, it’s when they become a long term habit that our overall wellness, effectiveness and satisfaction with life can be affected.

While some people seem to be more naturally optimistic, there are times when all of us need to be intentional about it. Here are three practices I use to put down my armour:

  1. Lighten up. Lightening up means that we don’t take ourselves seriously and we put things into perspective, hopefully finding humour in situations. While that may not always be possible in extremely distressing situations, it can also mean giving yourself permission to “park the issue” even if it’s for a short time. This gives your brain a chance to get out of fight or flight. To lighten up, practice the “pause.” When you find yourself overly stressed, anxious, serious, in a rush, etc, take a deep breath, pause for 4 seconds, name what you are experiencing and then ask yourself a question to shift into more optimism. Some of my favorites are “Will this be important a year from now?” “Can I do anything about this?” “Can I invest my energy into something more important or positive?”
  2. Reframe. Reframing means that we interpret and make meaning of our experiences in a way that is optimistic. Resilience researchers followed children raised in neglect or abuse over a long period of time to see how they fared as adults. Those who did well (lived productive happy lives) did not attach the same meaning to their earlier experiences as those who continued in a cycle of neglect and abuse. The “stories” we tell ourselves about what happens to us can be even more important and crucial in determining how we do than what actually happened to us in the moment. Those children who were able to reframe their early childhood as learning experiences that helped them develop their strength and confidence did better than those who told a story of how their early childhood damaged them. Reframing also relates to how we think about things that didn’t go right for us, or failures. Resilient people are able to reframe mistakes or failures as opportunities to learn or create something different in their lives.
  3. Develop a daily ritual that facilitates connection to yourself, others, nature. Some of the things I do are to write down 3 things I appreciate or am grateful for, go for walks, review my file of thank yous from others, watch uplifting videos or read something uplifting, and send a text or email of appreciation to someone. I find that doing this helps me to lean more towards optimism than pessimism, put down my armour and connect to others in a meaningful way.

What are the strategies you use to put down your armour and develop your optimism?

This blog is the A in our PAUSE model of resilience – Active Optimism. Watch for the U in a future blog!!