God knows I love a ‘to do’ list and, for me, there are two types: the ‘I’d like to do’ list and the ‘I suppose I have to do’ list. They both seem to be haunting my days at the moment! My head gets a little (a lot) scrambled with all the things I need to do and remember. I don’t remember feeling this scrambled before babies…
Something along life’s path has done a pretty good job of convincing me that, in order to be happy and satisfied, I need to be organised and get it all right first time. No one person told me this but it’s something I’ve somehow interpreted as fact and it’s now so ingrained in me that I’ve grown to measure myself against whether I achieve my ‘to do’ list or not. It’s taken me until my 32nd year to realise that, rather than making me feel happy and satisfied, lists mostly make me grumpy, frustrated and frequently disappointed in myself.
Don’t get me wrong, lists have their place and are more often a help than a hindrance but recently they haven’t been doing me any favours. For one, they have to be convenient for you to use them. You have your place where you make lists (on your phone, your notebook, a diary etc.) but if it’s not nearby and you think of something to add to your list, it may well fall out of your head before you get chance to note it down. This happens to me a lot. Everywhere I look at home, I see things that I’ve forgotten, left out, haven’t finished or even started for that matter… stuff that needs me. And it all makes me feel like I’m failing, so I end up restless and dissatisfied.
A few years ago, a colleague (that I used to have very deep and meaningful conversations with about the meaning of life, etc.) shared a video with me that changed everything. What changes everything for one person, changes nothing for the next: we’re all different but for me, this altered my thinking and approach to almost everything from that moment on (watch from the beginning and up until about 5:45 minutes in, after that she goes in a different direction):
The woman’s crazy but she makes a fantastically valuable point and humerously so. The point that she’s referring to and that rang so true for me was that we talk ourselves into things and then they become true for us. This is what I do. All. The. Bloody. Time.
After watching that video, I started noticing just how often I was talking myself into (or out of) things and it really suprised me; I was literally deciding the outcome of things before letting them unravel for themselves. I would then begin to react emotionally to my made up outcome and before I knew it, I would be all wound up before I knew if it was even warranted or not.
So I was truly convinced that this Amanda Gore was onto something. Then, I began to experiment: I wanted to see if telling myself something different would affect the outcome of things. It took some practice; you can’t just say something to yourself and truly be convinced, just like that. But I would make little changes like, with something I was nervous about, I pushed all nervous/negative thoughts away as they appeared and I told myself ‘this will be great, this will go so amazingly well and I’ll feel great about it after’. It was unnatural to start with but I persevered, it became easier and I noticed amazing differences in my experiences: I came out of them feeling more positive and overall I felt less like a coiled up spring. It actually changed things for me. How many times have I (and perhaps many other teachers) said “I get ill every October half term, like clockwork”?! I say it to myself (and anyone else who’ll listen); I can feel myself leading up to it and guess what, I get ill at October half term. Try not saying it (or saying the exact opposite) and see what happens…
So I became more trusting of myself and my ability to deal with things, I felt calmer and more confident. I would enter into things (that normally concerned me) much more at peace and with far less concern. And yet here I am, years later from first watching that video and today, this very morning I realise I’m doing it all over again. These ‘to do’ lists that are supposed to help me out, now cause me to talk myself into not being happy or satisfied until they are completed. But they’re never completed, are they? Because I keep adding to them – how ridiculous is that?! And then when the list gets longer, I feel intimidated and that satisfaction/the entitlement to sit down (feeling contented that my day is done) are becoming further and further away.
Why have I convinced myself that my list needs to be completed? Why do I tell myself ‘I will be happy when…’? At my wise old age I have realised: it’s just one of those things I do. I make things up to myself a lot. I know that now but noticing when it happens is still a challenge and a working progress. In life so far, I’ve always been a perfectionist, had high expectations and been quite hard on myself but what exactly has that done for me? I think it just makes the days harder to get through and it gives me more to be dissatisfied with when I fall short of my own targets… It certainly hasn’t made me a better wife/mother/person.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like this. Don’t we all just need to treat ourselves more like we would treat a friend? Supportive, patient, unconditional, etc. I would never talk to a friend the way I talk to myself in my head… I think everyone could do with going a bit easier on themselves sometimes. Perhaps that’s how you become happier in the ‘now’? I’ll let you know…