Before You Make Your To-Do List, Make a To-Be List
As you crawl into bed, thump your pillow to make the perfect little cave for your head to rest in, pull the covers up tight under your chin, and let go of that big sigh that indicates the day is finished, how do you look back on the waking hours you just experienced? How do you measure the quality of your day?
Measuring Your Day by What You Do
Most of us will measure our day by what we did. We will reflect back and count the things on the to-do list we were able to check off. The more check marks, the better.
How well we did will also come into play as we reflect back on our doing. The more praise we received for it, either the self-provided kind or that offered by others, the higher we rank our day in terms of quality.
Most of us will measure our day by what we did.
We may compare our daily accomplishments to those of the people who trudged through the hours with us. “Did I do more or better that Jim, John, or Mary?” No matter how much we goofed up, if Mary goofed up more, than we can sigh with relief and call it a good day as we close our eyes for the night.
The Not-So-Good Days of Doing
What happens, however, if you never got done what you wanted to get done or if what you did was simply more of the same old drudgery that fills most of your days? If you didn’t do what you had planned well or, heaven forbid, you screwed up royally and had others chastise you for it, chances are you are thumping your pillow a little harder than necessary.
Your ability to fall asleep may also be disturbed as you ruminate regretfully over all the things you did that you wish you didn’t. Tonight you may be giving Mary something to smile about.
So is it safe to say you had a bad day when you didn’t do enough or do it well enough? Only if that is how you choose to measure life quality, the way I did for most of my life.
Learning the Hard Way
I have given the Marys of this world plenty to feel good about over the years. I have spent many nights abusing my pillow and tossing and turning as I reflected back on the dids and did nots of my waking hours. I spent my days as a check mark addict, a praise dependent, and a competitive comparison seeker.
I was compelled to set one goal after the other; to constantly add “just one more" thing to my mile long to-do list. I believed I had to do in order to feel like I was enough. So I did and I did and I did until I could do no more.
We seldom determine the value of our life experience by how we are or on the beingness of it all.
I got sick. I was forced to cut back on the doing and face the reality of my situation. Now, I consider myself a pathological doer in recovery.
Most of us still measure the quality of our daily experiences, the quality of our lives by what we do. We seldom determine the value of our life experience by how we are or on the beingness of it all.
What would happen if we did?
A Day Based on Being Rather Than Doing
What if you and I ignored the urge to check out the check marks on our to-do lists before getting into our PJ’s and brushing our teeth? What if we sat quietly somewhere before bed and reflected on how we were that day; how we felt and how others seemed to feel around us rather than on what we accomplished and who we did more than? Would the quality of our day change?
The Important Questions to Ask at the End of the Day
I know the quality of my life has changed since I began to measure my day differently. In fact, my life improved almost immediately when I began, at the end of the day, to reflect on the questions that really matter. Here are some questions worth asking yourself:
●︎ How was your day? Really?
●︎ Were you feeling peaceful and calm at certain points of your day? If so, you can give yourself lots of points for that.
●︎ Were you loving and compassionate with Mary when she spilled coffee all over the stuff you were working on, or did you refrain from honking your horn at the slow driver in front of you that made you fifteen minutes late for your appointment? Give yourself even more points, if you said yes. Your day score is getting better.
●︎ Were you mindful and aware of the beauty around you? Did you appreciate it? Did you whisper a few words of prayerful gratitude? If so, better still.
●︎ Did you seek stillness and quiet at some point for a few minutes at least? Did you take a moment to just breathe and observe the life force within you?
●︎ Did you reach out a hand of support or offer a few kind words to another, not because you had it on your to-do list, but because it was something you were inclined to do from the heart?
●︎ Did you smile often? Did you laugh? Did you find moments of unexpected joy? Did you seek them?
●︎ Did you love what you were doing or most importantly did you love the people around you?
Congratulations! All these things make for a great day.
Is There Room for Improvement?
Even if you have big beautiful checkmarks beside everything on your to-do list at the end of your twenty-four-hour time block, there may still be room for improvement in the being department. How would you answer the following questions?
●︎ How was your day? Really?
●︎ Were you tense, irritable, stressed out in the process of the doing?
●︎ Were you experiencing rage, impatience, or resentment for more than a few minutes today?
●︎ Did you complain or criticize a great deal?
●︎ Did you consciously seek to do more or better than someone else?
●︎ Were you unkind or unloving to anyone or anything, including yourself?
●︎ Did you fail to reach out to someone you knew was in need?
●︎ Did you forget to notice, let alone appreciate, all the beauty of life that was going on around you and in you?
If you said yes to a few of those questions above, maybe it is time to work on improving the quality of your day and of your life.
Take Heart: Tomorrow Will be Better
Don’t be too hard on yourself, though, for you are not alone. Many of us will answer yes to those questions if we are being honest. Most of us spend too many moments of our day diminishing its quality by getting too wrapped up in doing. Even in my recovery, I find myself slipping from time to time back into unhealthy doing.
The quality of your life is determined by who you are, not by what you accomplish.
Recognizing the problem is the first step to healing. The good news is, from that awareness, we can grow from the less than good days of being. We can begin to experience life the way we were meant to, with peace and joy.
All it takes to begin the change is three simple steps.
Steps to Improve the Quality of Tomorrow
The first step is to be more conscious, before you drift off to sleep, about how you are living your life regardless of the things you get done or do not get done. Use today as an example. Reflect, learn and grow from the hours you just experienced.
Next, than doing. Of course you will have to do something but prioritize the living component over the doing component for the upcoming 24 hours.
Finally, write a to-be list instead of a to-do list for tomorrow. It may look something like this:
Tomorrow I will be
●︎ a person who seeks reasons to smile and laugh
●︎ a person who simply wants to be
The quality of your life is determined by who you are, not by what you accomplish. We are, after all, human beings not human doings.
Let’s base the value of our day on that small bit of wisdom and live accordingly. Just be.
Now settle down and have a good night’s sleep. You have earned it!
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