The Power of List-Making

I have been making myself a daily to-do list since March 1 as per my 31 day challenge. I reasoned that producing and using a to-do list would help me better enact my monthly intentions. See Matters of the Heart: Take Two. Ironically, my to-do list had absolutely nothing to do with my intentions. It contained mundane things like change sheets in master bedroom, sign paperwork, pay bills, clean and organize desk, rsvp to the party, etc.  Sometimes I listed everything I needed to do. Other times I listed only the most pressing things I needed to deal with. Writing down what I needed to do freed my mind from constantly having to remember everything allowing me more energy to connect better with my family. Or, at least, that’s what I’m betting on.

First and foremost, making lists reduced my anxiety. I am a very anxious person and I have a tendency to avoid things that are new and unfamiliar. Just this morning I conquered the first thing on my list, which for most people, would not produce a fight or flight response: researching how to register a new used car. Yup. But as soon as I started to research the steps I needed to take I felt better. Unfortunately, tomorrow I need to actually take the steps and that alone gives me anxiety. I rarely deal with either my insurance agent (I think that’s good news) or the RMV (I do everything online). Ugh. Somehow putting it on my list takes the edge off.  And if you’re overwhelmed by too many mundane tasks a list can help you prioritize.

The other benefit I discovered from making lists is how focused it keeps me. Sometimes, when I finish one chore or errand, I go blank. I have to think about what I need to do next.  Time is possibly  wasted or worse, I may even forget to do something.  I have been a more efficient person since using my to-do list every day. I now have special lists for certain days of the week that keep certain areas of my life in check.

The other wonderful benefit of making lists and using them (Yes, you actually have to use the list!) is the increase in my satisfaction with my day and myself. Crossing off each thing as I complete it makes me feel accomplished and in control. But I also don’t fret if I don’t get to everything. The list is a guide, not a punishment. Undone errands can be forwarded to another day. Life is messy and things change. We just got hit with a massive blizzard that has resulted with all three kids being home from school both yesterday and today. Let’s just say my to-do lists changed these last two days. Oh, and they have St. Patrick’s Day off too. Uncle!

I believe the power lies in making and using this list EVERY DAY. Even if all you get done is one thing. Don’t wait until you’re inspired or feeling overwhelmed and then forget about it when you return to your “normal”. I use a pretty inexpensive spiral bound journal. I write down the date and write down things as soon as I think of them. Sometimes I write my list before I go to bed or before I start my day and I add to it as I need to. I carry it into the kitchen and place it next to my coffee-maker so I can refer to it during the day.

Now, has it helped my to connect with my family better by freeing up mental energy to better focus on my intentions? Well, I cannot offer any scientific proof, but I do know that when I’m anxious and feeling overwhelmed I would be less likely to respond to bids for attention from my family, greet them warmly, not be sarcastic, and practice active listening. I believe I am calmer and I will continue to make my to-do lists and I will let you know my final thoughts at the end of March.

What about you? Do you make daily to-do lists? How do they work for you?

-Jen

 

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Active Listening

March is already one week in and I have been practicing my active listening skills, one of my intentions for the month of March. I’ve become more aware of both my good and bad listening habits over the last few years, but there is nothing like raising a teenage girl to inspire you to get serious about bringing your A game to the listening department.  My relationship with her has been down right confusing and unpredictable at times. It’s like walking a tightrope between showing her what she should do versus getting her to figure it out herself. My desire to become a better listener stems from a desire to connect with her where she is and not where I want her to be.

I think my worst listening habit is formulating a rebuttal to what someone is saying while they are talking or interrupting them with a similar story that” I just have to share”. And despite the fact that I have been conscious of this for awhile and practicing both not interrupting my family and friends when they talk, nor formulating what I’m going to say next, my oldest daughter seems to have a knack of saying things that make my mind explode with a million things that need to be dispensed to her immediately or she will become homeless and destitute . Motherhood is fraught with anxiety.

My daughter so desperately wants to be independent but at the same time I see a lot of ambivalence from her which manifests itself in the tension between us. I am trying to listen in a way that allows her to feel heard and yet challenge her with thoughtful questions that allow her to have ownership over her thinking as she tries to figure out who she is. My husband and I had a great conversation with her over the weekend. She shared quite a lot with us and demonstrated deep perspective on issues affecting her and her classmates. I focused on rephrasing her ideas to demonstrate I was listening and I empathized with certain situations; however, as we were connecting more deeply I felt her testing us with a few opinions with which my husband and I immediately disagreed. At the same time we both said, “Studying is NEVER a waste of time”.  Sometimes, a parent just has to lay it on the line.

Active listening and being a parent can seem to contradict each other but I am hopeful that it will help reduce the tension between us. She needs to know she is a capable human being who makes good decisions on her own. Active listening doesn’t mean I agree with everything she says. Every family has certain values and/or boundaries that they operate from. I try to ask her questions that get her to think about these values. Once in awhile I offer up my opinion, especially if it’s very important to me. It’s a two-way street. I feel more hopeful now that I am actively practicing active listening. I can’t wait to report back to you at the end of the month.

-Jen

 

 

Matters of the Heart: Take Two

Happy March everyone. It is an unusually balmy, although overcast, day here in New England. In fact, it’s been an unusally mild winter. I took advantage of this mild weather to take a nice long walk and noticed the swells of tender buds almost ready to burst open on certain bushes. Spring is making it’s voice loud and clear and I’m all too ready for it.

During this long month of March I will be focused on strengthening connection with those around me. These are my following daily intentions: active listening, not using sarcasm, warm greetings, and responding to bids for attention. I will create a check-list to help me stay focused on these intentions and refer to it at least once a day.

My 31 day challenge will be to make a daily to-do list and use it to guide my day. I am already an avid list maker but plenty of days go by without one. It is my hope that using a daily check list to get things done will help me stay better focused on my four daily intentions. Without a list, I sometimes forget to do important things and then I start to berate myself. This negative state is not conducive to cultivating warm connections with the people around me. Also, lists keep me from feeling overwhelmed. They give me a sense of control. And, as I’m checking off things I’ve completed, I gain a sense of accomplishment. This sense of accomplishment places me in a more positive frame of mind that will support my intentions to connect with others. Well, at least, that’s my theory. I guess I’ll find out by the end of March if I’m right.

Wishing you all a beautiful March.

-Jen

Connection

“Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering…” – Brene Brown

 

Connection is my core belief. I believe God is experienced and known through everyday ordinary moments when I connect with my family, friends, community, and the natural world. Every day is full of opportunities to connect. Every day. Unfortunately, I haven’t always recognized many of these opportunities and I have dropped the ball, so to speak, by allowing insecurity, irritability, or laziness to steamroll over my better self.

My intentions for the month of February had been to make more of an effort to respond to bids of attention from my husband and to greet my family and friends (especially my children) warmly. I also wanted to let go of sarcasm. I want the people in my life to feel they are valued by me. I want them to feel that they matter. These are three simple ways  I wish to connect with the ones I love. While I was more aware of opportunities to connect with my loved ones during February and I did seize many opportunities to connect with them, I did not give it the attention I so desired  due to the deaths of two loved ones coupled with our trip to the Southwest. Their deaths forced me to think even more deeply about connection and I now wish to use my deeper awareness to practice connection with daily intent and reflection. I have decided to move these intentions to March.  Despite connection being my core belief, I realize I need to develop better skills to make meaningful connections.

 

Imagine if we all became more aware of opportunities to connect and acted on them. They are usually present in the most mundane of circumstances. The other day I witnessed a missed opportunity to connect between a cashier and a bagger at my local grocery store. While I was checking out, the bagger was trying to explain the passing squiggles and/or flashes of bright and dark spots he sometimes experiences in his vision. He asked the cashier if she ever experienced anything similar and she gave a curt no. He seemed taken aback that she had never seen anything like that and asked her again as if she hadn’t understood the question. He even qualified it with. “Well, haven’t you ever seen a bright spot after looking up at the sun?” She gave him another curt no. (It sounded like, “You’re weird and if I have experienced something similar to you than maybe I am weird too.  So, no, definitely no”.) Maybe I’m reading too much into this exchange. Maybe she has never once had any kind of visual disturbance or at least was unaware that she had. Plus, there’s the whole teenage factor at play here.  I felt like I was watching a game of ball where one person desperately wanted to play catch but the other person did not and kept dropping the ball. I felt bad for the bagger and I quickly chimed in, “Those little squiggly things you see in your vision are called floaters. They’re very common. I’ve experienced them throughout my life.” He seemed relieved to feel heard. And really, that’s all any of us really want: to feel heard. I pledge that I will foster true connection with my loved ones this March through non sarcastic responses, warm greetings, responding to their bids for attention, and active listening. Active listening is very important to true connection. I will go into more detail in another post.

 

How to you actively connect with those you love? Have you ever missed an opportunity to connect?

 

-Jen

Life Had Other Plans for My February

February did not exactly go as I had planned. I knew part of the month would be challenging due to travelling to Las Vegas from the east coast for a gymnastics meet. I knew I would be anxious and tired and I had made up my mind I would be kind to myself about not meeting all my February goals and intentions during my time away. What I did not expect was the death of both my mother-in-law and my maternal grandmother just nine days apart. My mother-in-law passed away four days before our trip and my grandmother passed away the day after we returned. It was a lot to process. Then there was the memorial service, the wake, and the funeral.

Despite not keeping my goals and intentions front and center I was still conscious of them. I did respond to my husband’s bids for attention and found myself making an extra effort to smile at my oldest daughter in the morning (if you have a teenage daughter you may understand how challenging this can be). I did not eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, but I did eat slightly more than usual. I’m not sure if I’ll bring these goals and intentions into March (a redo) or create new ones. I’m still processing these deaths and they may take me into a different direction. I have a lot to think about.

Matters of the Heart

Happy February! My goals and intentions for this month are once again inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project. First, my 30 day goal (oops, 28 day goal for this month) is to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I tend to average 3 servings a day which is not great. As there is some heart disease in our family I know I need to increase my daily intake. I also wish to reduce my cancer risk.

I already eat oatmeal with blueberries pretty much every morning and I have been for a couple of years now. I also eat a big salad pretty much every night with my dinner. At other times I may have an apple or a banana and occasionally I make a fruit smoothie. I plan to increase my consumption by adding more vegetables to my lunch, eating fruits and vegetables for snacks, and having two vegetables with my dinner.

In addition to my 28 day goal for February, I will be adding the following daily intentions: responding positively to bids of attention, greeting family members warmly, and letting go of sarcasm.

Responding to bids of attention is a great predictor of a successful relationship. There are times when my husband will want to share an article or a joke with me and sometimes I get annoyed because I’m cleaning the kitchen while he’s sitting down reading the news. It’s funny, because I’m not annoyed I’m cleaning while he’s sitting until he interrupts me to stop what I’m doing to see what he wants to share with me. I have a tendency to become irritable when I’m in my cleaning zone, but he’s simply trying to connect with me. Sure, it’s not the best time to make a bid for my attention, but I don’t have any control over his timing, but I do have control over how I respond. When he makes an attempt to connect with me through these small bids for attention I am not going to drop the ball. Responding to his bids of attention makes our relationship stronger.

I also plan to greet family members warmly. I don’t want the first things my kids hear from me when they wake up or come home from school to be,  “Who left that mess in the basement?” I want to make sure they see my eyes light up when I see them. It’s a little tough right now with my oldest teenage girl. Her moods sometimes scorch the Earth when she enters the room. I feel on edge almost immediately. This morning I greeted her with a bright smile and got nothing in return. I did not lecture her. I simply kept the smile and continued my morning routine. My intentions are about my behavior, not hers.

And my last intention is to drop the sarcasm. Sometimes sarcasm just does not go over the way you intended and it can sometimes leave people confused with your intentions. I come up with some good zingers now and then, but sometimes they’re just good zingers to me. Proving my wit is not worth the pain or confusion it may cause someone I care about. I’m trying to build better connections, not fray them.

Do you have new goals and or intentions for this month or do you focus on a few for the entire year? How’s it going for you?

-Jen

Thoughts on a Cold Winter’s Late Afternoon

Gray clouds blanket the sky and a whistling wind whips the edges of the house determined to find a way in.  Soft music plays in the background and candles glow as the winter light fades away.  A deeply peaceful and cozy comfort spreads throughout the house. It’s as if I have crawled into a Thomas Kincaid painting and settled in for the night. Dinner is mostly prepared and the night is wide open to whatever finds its way to our attention. Happy sigh.

But I digress. Today, I decluttered and cleaned out my car.  My mini van now looks 14 years old instead of its very mature age of 15. She wears her rust spots and coffee stains with pride. She is also waiting to have her smashed driver’s side quarter panel repaired. Yes. My sixteen year old never saw the mailbox. Don’t worry. The mailbox is in perfect condition. I also gave the hall bathroom some much needed attention and found several bottles for recycling. And they were all lying at the bottom of the bathtub. Evidently, my children are not bothered by showering with empty shampoo, conditioner, and body wash bottles. I also cleaned out the refrigerator again. A couple days ago I declutted our cedar closet and have several bags put together for donation. I’m feeling pretty good about all my mini accomplishments for the month of January.

On the other hand, my husband is regularly leaking the news to me. He can’t help himself. The things I’m hearing are disheartening and very worrisome. I accidentally flipped my car radio to NPR while waiting for my middle child to get out of gymnastics. I listened for two minutes. The news itself was concerning but the act of listening to  the news felt jarring after having not listened to it for a few weeks. I realize I can’t go through life not paying attention, especially now, but I feel I need to do something better with the news. I tend to listen to a wide variety of news sources but it can be overwhelming. And I have it in my Facebook feed.  Hmm. Something to think about. But I also realize that for some people this choice of following the news or not is secondary. Many people “are the news” – they’re caught up in things beyond their control and they cannot opt out of their situations. And then there are those people whose stories don’t even make the news. They lie on the cutting room floor or never make it that far. I need to do more than just consume the news.

-Jen