My “Things Not-To-Do” List

 

pen-calendar-to-do-checklist.jpg

My Things Not-To-Do List, otherwise known as my Anti-Goals exercise, is a practice much like making a regular To-Do list. It goes like this:

Make a three-column table putting titles at the top of each column as below. In column one, make a list of everything you hope to accomplish exactly as you would with a regular To-Do list. Make it as extensive as possible.

 

Things I Want to Do

1-Organize my taxes

2-Organize my finances

3-Pay my daughter’s college bill

4-Pay regular bills

5-Send my son his flight information for spring break

6-Buy new vitamins

7-Water the plants

8-Do my laundry

 

 

Things Not-To-Do

1-Organize my taxes

2-Organize my finances

3-Pay my daughter’s college bill

4-Pay regular bills

5-Send my son his flight information for spring break

6-Buy new vitamins

7-Water the plants

8-Do my laundry

 

Things To-Do

1-write a blog post

2-eat applesauce

3-sit on the couch

4-breathe

5-listen to the plow trucks

6-Do my Not-To-Do List exercise.

7-See what I am doing

8-Feel my feet on the floor

 

We are very familiar with what it feels like to make a usual To-Do list. I use this as a model because our brains are comfortable with this format. Much of my work is about tricking the mind out of its usual way of thinking, and replacing it with a new thought pattern, since we are clearly creatures of habit. This is a type of self-inquiry because it takes something we generally assume to be true and twists it around itself, so that something we deem to be correct no longer registers as correct, or vice versa. It is the same thing as disproving thoughts, putting them up against some kind of reality check.

The first column is utterly familiar; we can do it in our sleep. The second list is completely antithetical to everything we consider normal and ok (that is, reneging on all our most cherished responsibilities), and the third list is our reality check. In my two books I present this way of approaching life. It is about changing the value placement of things we think about, retraining our mind to value what we do in real time rather than what we believe we should do. This in no way means we will stop doing the things we feel we need to do; we will most probably do most of them. But, at the time we are generally worried about something, stressing, feeling pressure to “make sure” we get things done, we are meanwhile acting in real time in some fashion or another (and for the most part not valuing or devaluing those tasks). Not only is our mental stress a non-contributing factor to the things we will accomplish, but it feels awful to walk around believing we shouldn’t be doing the things we are doing because they aren’t the things we believe we should be doing. This is a built-in stress pattern that can be improved upon with this type of practice.

So, let’s begin. When completing the first-column list, “Things I Want to Do,” include everything you can possibly think of, large and small. Write them down without any judgment in any direction, in other words, like a meditation practice. Don’t cling to the task or push it away in your mind; have no attachment to it one way or another. In the second list, “Things Not-To-Do,” copy down everything that was in list one. Now do list three, “Things To-Do.” Here you want to write down everything and anything you are currently doing, in the exact way you are doing it. This will be unfamiliar to your brain, a bit counterintuitive and take some time to get used to. I guarantee it will feel good on some level, to align what you are doing with what you should be doing, which is the point of the exercise. Now really study lists two and three until you can internalize the messages they are trying to relay. To top it off you can make sentences like, “Right now I shouldn’t be____________,” and “Right now I should be _______________.” You will notice that there will never be anything on your Things Not-To-Do list that you are currently doing. If you are currently doing something, it would have never appeared on your original Things I Want to Do list.

Try this out (and let me know how it goes!). Do it any time of day: first thing in the morning, mid-morning break, after lunch, before dinner, during dinner, before bedtime, in the middle of the night, whatever meets your needs. For me, this practice has been life-altering because it turns my mind upside down on itself. I am also a long-time participant of meditation related exercises like dropping out of thought, not clinging to or pushing away thoughts, pretending my mind/brain is a basket I can turn over to dump out all the thoughts, etc. I have many I use. However, I find this the most liberating because it feeds the mind what it wants. We are rule followers; the mind likes to have something it has to do. It likes should thoughts; it is addicted to them. So why not let it have its way! Let it be addicted to a thought pattern that is on par with reality. Turn the usual instructions around so your mind is tricked into believing it is right on track. When what we think is “level” (a Byron Katie ism) with how we truly spend our time, we are at peace.

This method is safe because our actions occur on their own for reasons I have described in the articles I have written on this blog, as well as in my books. Time moves involuntarily, i.e., without our effort, and we are just in our actions with each tick of the clock. Additionally, the effort we identify with as our actions, or as something we need to make our actions occur, is only tension, which creates an illusion of real doing. It is a muscular contraction. You can test this out by coming out of your clenching, internal muscular compression (in the moment), and see that your body is still in the space it is occupying doing whatever it’s doing. This feeling of mental and physical straining is not what is causing our actions to occur. Thus, it is safe to tell yourself you should be doing what you are doing and know that you will still do everything you are supposed to do. And, if you do not end up doing the things you want to do, then you were not supposed to. Finally, column one gives you your list of things you hope to do. You are just shaking things up a bit by reassigning the shoulds. Have Fun!

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