If you’ve ever found yourself reeling at the breakneck speed all of your best-laid plans came crashing down around you as soon as something didn’t go according to plan… this post is for you. Alternatively, if you have ever felt overwhelmed or burned out to the point of virtual paralysis, you might find this tool helpful. In its most basic form, it is a list of things you have to do in order to support the person you are (or are becoming). But really, it’s a guidebook for getting and keeping yourself in a calm and capable state, with tasks organized by the time commitment required to accomplish them.
The instructions are pretty basic… start by getting to know your needs. But before you start, I want to clarify that this list is all about how YOU are going to commit to taking care of YOU. Try not to put anything on here that is dependent on another person’s reaction, compliance, or agreement in the moment, because the objective is to feel calm, centered, and aligned with yourself. Obviously there are some cases in which you have to rely on others for certain things, such as monetary or childcare obligations, and I would encourage you to address those separately when possible. This list is supposed to help you stay mentally present, and put forward the best and most authentic energy into every day.
I create short phrases or statements to describe the categories of things I need, based on the things I know that cause me frustration. For example, I know that I don’t perform my best when I look like a mess, so one of my categories is “Look and feel good”. I have everything from getting a massage to keeping up with routine medical care in there, including simple things like putting on a favorite piece of jewelry. Another category for me is “Create mental peace”, and that one is kind of a catch-all that addresses some of the ways I start to feel “behind” or otherwise not at peace. I include deep work with my planner and to-do lists in that one, as well as learning new things and spending purposeful time with friends and family. Purposeful because I CHOOSE to do it, not because I am OBLIGATED to do it… notice the very different energy between those phrases.
As you collect ideas to help you combat your own personal frustrations, start grouping them into categories based on the total time it takes to complete them. This means that if you have a 45 minute exercise class you just love to go to, but it takes 20 minutes each way to get there and back, list that one under the “1 Hour or More” category, not the “30-60 Minutes” category. On the other side of that coin are tasks that individually take a short amount of time, but together take an hour or more, such as the laundry. If you can toss your laundry in the washer and walk away, that task could go in the “5 Minutes” category. I would list that separately from folding, hanging, and putting the clothes away, because that generally takes me a bit longer. If you have to visit the laundromat or hand-wash and hang-to-dry items, best to list that in the “1 Hour or More” category, but maybe bring along something to do while you wait that helps move the needle in another area? The idea here is to make it easier for you to choose aligned actions that over time create the space you need to handle whatever life has to offer with grace.
Once you have a list that represents your needs, it’s time to commit to yourself! First, commit to modifying the list as you go… if something isn’t working, replace it with something that does. Then, commit to keeping this list handy and referring to it when you find yourself with a few minutes to spare. If you practice this during times when you’re not overwhelmed, the list should make it easier to keep doing those healthy things by taking the decision-making process out of it. You are building trust in yourself every time you choose to do something from that list, because you are choosing to care for yourself.
Now when you start to notice your anxiety creeping up, whether it’s nervous chatter, cravings for comfort foods, or whatever that looks like for you personally, create a new habit of stepping away for a few moments to check in with yourself and your list. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you are in control of your energy, and nobody else’s. You can trust yourself to take care of yourself, no matter what circumstances arise. You are only responsible for how you react. You are capable of handling these feelings. These feelings will pass, so what can you do in the meantime to support yourself, and start moving the needle back to a calm, comfortable place of peace?