Why it can be a good idea to stop making to do lists
How much do we need to to do?
How little can we get away with?
I used to be an avid list maker and it’s a habit that is still somewhat with me. To do lists, shopping lists, packing lists, meal lists, idea lists, I have notebooks full of them. It always felt like a way to stay in control, to reduce the anxiety that something might be forgotten.
But over time it warped, as these things tend to do, into a more dubious presence. Lists demanded to be filled, added to, adhered to and obeyed. The fed the sense in me that things had to be done perfectly in order for everything to be ‘right’.
The need to do more, and more, and more, always pushing, always adding is something we can fall prey to not just at the festive season but in our general life. It is a demanding need that can absorb us completely, leaving little room for rest or reflection.
A while ago I attended a special class with a very learned and experienced yoga teacher, Leslie Kaminoff. He described a shift in his attitude from his younger days, always thinking ‘how much can I do?’, to more recently thinking ‘how little can I get away with?’. I loved this. It made me laugh with such a sense of relief. It was so nice to hear a yoga hero happily say that their personal practice didn’t include ten minute headstands and the most extreme version he can attain of every asana.
How little can I get away with doesn’t mean becoming lazy.
I’m not suggesting that ‘how little can I get away with?’ Should become everyone’s guiding life philosophy. There are always moments for hard work and discipline. Great things are achieved when we challenge ourselves to give it our all, but there are also moments when it is a useful question to have tucked away in the back of our minds.
We don’t always need to move to our extremes. When we consider what constitutes the least we can do to find a good outcome, we’re focusing in tightly on what we really want to achieve and how simply we can go about it.
We pare down, discarding all the bells and whistles for the distractions they really are. We find a way to arrive at where we want to be without expending energy that might be better reserved for a different task. Can you pare down today? What do you really want to achieve, and how do you want to go about it?
Sometimes we just need to get out of our own way.
When we approach from the direction of doing less, I think it can encourage a more instinctive way of moving. Rather than running through a check list of perfect alignment cues, forcing our body to mimic an idealized shape, we leave some space to concentrate on feeling instead.
How do your hips react to this shape? How do your shoulders and spine move? Where do you feel tension and where do you feel space? What experience do you have with your body in this position? If you’re already feeling a good quality of stretch and avoiding pain, then that’s it, you’re there, that’s enough. All you need to do is breath and feel.
It can feel quite radical to stop thinking ‘what can I add?’, and instead consider ‘what can I take away?’, or more simply ‘is this enough?’. It can get us out of our head and into our body, into our appreciation of the moment. Can you start to trust yourself and allow your intuition to guide you to what you need?
Surrender is an act of will
It’s my intention to try and surrender my reliance on lists. There are golden moments to be had away from the pressure to obey self imposed rules. A plate of pasta rather than an elaborate meal that lets you flop on the sofa to giggle at silly films; knowing that forgetting something is rarely a catastrophe; a day of going with the flow and doing whatever appeals to you most.
These things never appear on lists, but they’re moments that make life beautiful. Living at the extremes is exhausting if we hover there too long, it’s unnecessary and unsustainable. The ‘little’ we can get away with can end up really being the perfect amount.
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