We’re all familiar with “To-Do” lists, which means we’re also well-acquainted with the stress and shame that can often accompany the effort it takes to get everything on that list done, running ourselves ragged with the effort. We’ve mastered the art of exhausting ourselves by trying to check things off a list, to feel good enough about our “accomplishments” and worthy of a break.
So in the spirit of not beating myself up over itemized lists that aren’t fully crossed off, this year I’ve decided to try something different: “To-Be” lists.
Rather than writing down exhaustive columns of things I should be doing, this year I’m choosing to go at whatever pace feels good, being extremely gentle with myself, and focusing on peace and slowing down. Without stress, judgment or ulterior motives, I’m going to focus on how to feel rather than what to do.
Here’s an example of one of my To-Be lists. Note that the bullets have nothing to do with getting stuff done and everything to do with how I want to feel:
When it comes to making your own To-Be list, ask yourself what qualities make you feel your absolute best. Don’t think about the fantasy version of you, but the real, authentic you.
For example, the fantasy version of me is adventurous and loves hiking and camping. In reality, I am happiest and feel my best when I have quiet time at home by myself to rest, recharge, reflect, and write. So in order to turn that fantasy me into a reality, I first have to “check off” the things that make me feel my best before I can be the person of my dreams.
And don’t worry about pleasing anyone else with your To-Be list. This list is yours and yours alone, so think about what makes you happy and fulfilled.
Different days will require different list items depending on your schedule and how you feel spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically, and that’s okay. If you need to change up that list every few hours, that’s all right too, because it’s about what you feel is necessary at any moment.
Ready to create a To-Be list of your own? Here are five benefits to get one going now:
1. You’ll slow down.
When you take the time to stop and think about the qualities you want to embody, it gives you a chance to have a minute to yourself, about yourself. No thinking about what those around you need or the full inbox waiting for you at work; these few moments of reflection are all about you.
2. You’ll learn to set boundaries.
So much of traditional to-do lists revolve around trying to be in several places at once, pleasing as many people as possible. But when you’re the only one in focus for a To-Be list, it’s only about pleasing you. So stop feeling the need to say yes to every invite you get — choose what appeals to you and will fulfill you, and say no to everything else. Who or what do you need to say “no” to so you can stay on track?
3. You’ll have time to reflect.
If, in the past, you have said yes to something because you felt obligated, only to end up feeling depleted and even further behind on your lists than before, a To-Be list can help.
For example, maybe you feel like you should go to that work happy hour even though you really don’t want to. You’re tired, don’t have the energy to be “on,” and desperately need to clean your house and get to bed early. In the past, you would have gone out of obligation and maybe even enjoyed yourself, but the ramifications were that you were exhausted, stressed about a messy home, and felt like you were abandoning your needs.
With the help of a To-Be list, you can really focus in and reflect on what you truly need, which will help you practice self-love and -care.
4. You’ll create your own reality.
How do you want to be at work, home, with friends, co-workers, your spouse, etc.? When you actively choose to be one way, it’s much easier to remain that way even when faced with setbacks or rejection.
5. You’ll be empowered by your more intentional approach to life.
When you live your life with purpose and intention, you make better choices because you are in control. Give yourself the opportunity to take back your time and use it for the things you want to use it for, leading to a more centered, creative, and flowing existence. An added bonus is that even without a to-do list, you’ll probably get more done and with less effort because you’re making the choice to give yourself time and freedom.
Remember, this is a gentle exercise, so no shame or judgment if you don’t stick to your list, forget it, or need to skip a day. With practice, it will become second nature, and you’ll be building a strong spiritual muscle to guide you.