Most of your to-do list is irrelevant

joy machine

This is day 28 of #30DaysofVulnerability: “Make a “joy and meaning” list: List the ingredients that you need in your life to feel like things are going well, and compare it to your to-do list.” More info here.

One of the little tips in Brené Brown’s The Gift’s of Imperfection caught my eye:

“One of the best things that we’ve ever done in our family is making the ‘ingredients for joy and meaning’ list. I encourage you to sit down and make a list of the specific conditions that are in place when everything feels good in your life. Then check that list against your to-do list and your to-accomplish list. It might surprise you,” she writes.

Okay, okay, I get the idea. We have to focus on the essentials. But it didn’t hit home until one evening when I was stressing about my to-do list and forced myself to follow her suggestion: 

Joy and meaning list:

  • A career I love
  • A happy relationship
  • Friends and family
  • Low stress
  • Health

To-do list

  • Be #1 on the writer’s leaderboard for Tech Cocktail
  • Get my work inbox to 0
  • Get my personal inbox to 0, and answer all my dad’s emails
  • Impress the people at the talent agency I have a (totally random) appointment with tomorrow
  • Never make my boyfriend upset
  • Go to gym class three times a week
  • Read one book a week
  • Work on my blog for 10 hours a week
  • Meditate every day

…you get the idea.

You may find related items on your lists – for example, “go to gym class three times a week” and “health.” Health is my real goal, so I need to cut myself some slack when I miss a class (which hasn’t even happened, except when my arm was broken). All my work-related to-do’s should be in service of “a career I love,” not the need to be perfect or hyper-efficient or inhumanely productive. Just because I don’t reply to one of my dad’s emails or say something when I’m hangry that I later regret doesn’t make me a bad daughter or a bad girlfriend.

These lists remind me of Shawn Achor’s concept of meaning markers, the symbolic goalposts in life that guide our actions. Sometimes, we forget about our real meaning markers and get distracted by “hijackers,” false sources of meaning that end up making us frustrated and unhappy.

In other words, most of our to-do lists have been “hijacked” – and if we want our sanity back, we need to find our way to what’s really meaningful.

Photo by Flickr user atomicity

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A blogging challenge for July: #30DaysofVulnerability 

30 days of vulnerability

Brené Brown, get out of my head!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection was custom-written for me. The chapter headings read like a perfectionist’s how-to manual: controlling everything, doing what you “should” be doing, defining yourself by your productivity. Except those are the things you’re supposed to let go of.

I’ve done month-long experiments in gratitude, optimism, and honesty, and I knew I wanted to do one in vulnerability, Brown’s concept of embracing the inherent uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure of life. She actually hosted a six-week course with Oprah, but it’s not available anymore. So I had to improvise.

As I understand Brown’s books, becoming more vulnerable is not a set of to-do’s, but really requires some deep soul-searching. So instead of a daily exercise, this experiment is a series of questions to reflect on – and if you’re like me, blog about. In the end, the goal is to move toward what Brown calls Wholeheartedness: living life with courage, compassion, and the feeling that you’re worthy of love and belonging – without shame. 

Does anyone want to join me in blogging #30DaysofVulnerability in July? I’ve created five prompts per week, but you don’t have to do all of them. If you’re interested, just tag your posts on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #30DaysofVulnerability. 

Week 1: Worthiness/self-acceptance

  • What are your imperfections? What are you ashamed of? Fill in the blank: I am not _____ enough.
  • When do you “hustle for worthiness,” or act energetically to prove that you’re worthy?
  • Whom or what do you feel you’re “supposed to” be?
  • What are the benefits of feeling worthiness, that you are “enough” just as you are?
  • What would you say to yourself about your struggles if you were your best friend?

Week 2: Letting go of control

  • Why do you want to control things?
  • What things in life are you afraid of losing? Instead of feeling fear, can you feel gratitude?
  • Who is there for you when things don’t work out? Share one of your answers to these questions with them.
  • What happens when you try to control things?
  • What would happen if you stopped trying to control things?

Week 3: Normalizing discomfort

  • How do you run away from discomfort?
  • Ask your friends, or post on Facebook or Twitter: When do you feel stress and anxiety (or whatever your typical discomfort is)? See what people say. 
  • What discomforts are a normal part of your life?
  • Why do you need to normalize discomfort, or understand that discomfort is a part of life?
  • If you’re able to persist and engage in life despite discomfort, what does that say about you?

Week 4: Changing priorities 

  • Why should accomplishment not be your main priority?
  • Make a “joy and meaning” list: List the ingredients that you need in your life to feel like things are going well, and compare it to your to-do list.
  • What does it mean to be courageous and “show up”?
  • What does it mean to be authentic?
  • How can you play, laugh, sing, and dance more?

Every day

  • When you wake up, say: “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”
  • Before you go to sleep, say: “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Photo by Flickr user  paolo di tommaso