I started my morning with a 5:30 am yoga class. The instructor guided us through our practice by encouraging us to create space in our lives. She meant this physically, such as when she suggested that we create space in our bodies by reaching for a stretch more deeply. She also meant it emotionally and encouraged us to create space in our lives for patience, compassion, and listening moments. I listened to her, acknowledged her thoughtful message, and carried on with my day.
I accompanied the rest of my morning with a giant cup of coffee and my planner. By 7 am, I had already written down 10 things I needed to accomplish today. The list was extensive and ranged from minor reminders, such as “send this email” to more important items, such as “finish grading papers.” ***
Here’s the thing: In addition to my extensive to-do list, I had an extensive case of anxiety about what I needed to do today. Just a half hour after I had listened to my yoga instructor tell me about how I needed to create space in my life, I was busy decreasing it. Instead of creating space, I was creating a to-do list. What I needed instead was a to-don’t list.
The to-don’t list is the practice of not doing. It is a practice of mindfulness, thoughtfulness, and compassion for yourself. It is the practice of taking a moment to acknowledge the hectic, anxiety ridden thoughts in our mind and then let them go. It’s a way to keep those unproductive thoughts in check.
My to-don’t list is worded positively. Placing a positive emphasis on your goals and to-don’ts helps you from feeling negative as you read them. For example, instead of saying “don’t think negatively about yourself,” I say “acknowledge the positive things in your life.”
Some of my to-don’t list items are:
- Be yourself (or: DON’T put on a mask). Be authentic, kind, and unapologetic.
- Just keep swimming (or: DON’T give up). Be resilient in the face of adversity. Remember, the glass is half-full.
- Take it one step at a time (or: DON’T get overwhelmed). Be patient, have faith that the universe will unfold as it should, and continue to do your best.
Do you have these mantras in your life? They’re different for everyone. I sometimes feel a more negative to-don’t list emerge when I tell myself things like, “DON’T be late, DON’T be so self-centered, DON’T EAT THAT DONUT.” A to-don’t list is a way to stay mindful of the things that bring positivity to our lives (i.e. being conscious of others and being conscious to create a healthy body by not eating less than nutritious foods).
If you do choose to create a to-don’t list, do so to create space in your life. It will help you stay grounded, present, and focused on fully experiencing your day. Share your to-don’t list with the Accountable in Action community via our Facebook page! www.facebook.com/accountableinaction
*** Sometimes I feel like I write things down in my planner just so I can cross them off with a highlighter. There’s something about florescent yellow/green/pink/orange that really makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something… what, just me?