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Never mind the "to-do" list. Create space "to be".

We constantly strive to carry out - or are bogged down by - interminable to-do lists.

Shopping lists, email lists, work item lists... even when we want to motivate ourselves and others, we make to-do lists: 3 ways to start the day, 7 ways to achieve success, 10 books to read before the year's end, 50 places to go before you kick the bucket...

But how effective are these lists? According to psychologist and author Dr David Cohen, lists help us stay organised and focused for three reasons listed below:

  • We feel less anxious about the chaos of life

  • We have a plan that we can stick to

  • We can prove what we have achieved (provided it has been ticked off the list!)

The flip side is that if for whatever reason we don't get through the items on the list, we get anxious, overwhelmed and perhaps even burdened by feelings of underachievement. Still, we seem to thrive on juggling multiple task-lists.

January, of course, sees an increase in this activity as we add our new year's resolutions to the long list of to-do lists. As reported by Statistic Brain Research Institute, only around 9% of people felt they were successful in achieving their resolution but over 42% felt they never succeed and fail in their resolution each year. So for the majority, how helpful is it really to write all the things that we strive to do? What impact does this have on our self-esteem, mental and emotional health?

And what happened to the human beings that we were? It seems we've become human doings!

There is merit in listing things that need to be done, for instance at work or before shopping, so I'm certainly not insinuating all to-do lists must be binned. But as human beings, it is interesting to observe who we are when we give ourselves some real space. I find myself increasingly drawn to this. By setting an intention of being whatever inspires us (e.g. caring, integral, resilient etc.), we paradoxically do many things that point us in the same direction as the being we aim for. For example, if we aspire to be mindful and remind ourselves of that regularly throughout the day, then we will be caring towards ourselves and others around us, we will be mindful of what we eat, how much money we spend etc. As a secondary effect of being, we do things to support that.

Next time you have the urge to put pen to paper and write a list, try setting just one intention of who you aspire to be.

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