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August 13, 2008

Lists and Happiness, a deligtful combination. Now with 100% more cat hair!

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Lists are the stuff of life, my life anyway. I have lists on everything -- the discarded pages from my page-a-day calendar find their way into my bag when I scribble on the backside of a long-past day, a to-do list, a grocery list, ideas for something. Then there are post-it notes everywhere with my scribble, they're even stuck inside the pages of my spiral notebook which itself holds lists. There is a smaller notebook, too, yellow and fuzzy and it fits better in my handbag and was purchased specifically for holding my many lists and pen scratches.

Months ago my friend Courtney told me she was trying a new goal-setting list that's moving around the internet. It's called 101 Things To Do in 1001 Days, and was started on the website linked to the list. There's also a nice feature (handy for all sorts of things) that calculates your start date and end date if you plug in the days, scroll down this page and you'll find it. On that website you can get started on your own list and browse through the "101 Things" lists made by other folks, too. Sometimes browsing through the goals set by other people can be really inspiring -- or exhausting, depending on where you fall in the "harried and overworked" spectrum.

I love lists, I make them all the time for all sorts of things. I have New Year's Lists and Birthday Lists (my birthday is almost exactly halfway through a calendar year, so that works for me as a check-in on my year's goals) and above all this, I have my 100 Things To Do Before I Die list. I didn't think I would make up a 101 Things in 1001 Days list since my own personal system works fine for me.

Then a few days ago I was talking with Courtney and she mentioned the list again and I thought maybe I would just do it as an exercise. It took me a surprisingly long time to come up with a solid list of real, measurable tangible to-do's that fit my criteria -- I didn't include work-related tasks, and I kept my 101 Things to very specific, quantifiable items (instead of "become more physically fit" I have "Using the hand-held weights I already own which are currently holding down the coat closet floor in dust and darkness, lift weights while watching The Daily Show a few times a week.") But aside from that one (and maybe one other) there weren't many daily or logistical tasks on my list -- I already take vitamins, I already have a schedule that contains most of my obligations. What I needed was a little happy-goal list, not stuff I have to do but things I'd like to do/have/try so that I'm living, not just tasking.

Making this list was a good activity for me. I think all of us reach little plateaus in our lives where we're just listless, or restless, or uninspired, or exhausted maybe. All of the above? And it never hurts to just take some time out alone to make a list, a good list, one that refocuses your attention and makes your life feel more like a car you're driving (with a roadmap!) instead of feeling like you're an unwilling and lost passenger on a chicken bus dangling over the edge of a precipice.

Or hey, maybe that's just me.

Different things work for different people. (Also, "Me: Master of the obvious.") What works for me won't always work for you and what works for many people makes my head hurt. Even identical twins have differences and personality quirks (I know this from dating someone who was an identical twin and then meeting his brother. YIKES ALMIGHTY. Behold! Tell your twin about the healing powers of a bath!) But even though I logically know we're all different folks with different strokes (and bathing habits), I tried for a long time to be someone I wasn't because I thought I needed to be like other people. For example, I now know I can't multi-task but I spent years -- YEARS!!! -- trying to convince myself I could become a multi-tasker if only I had the right day planner or email system or gadget or whathaveyou. It did not work. I am not a multi-tasking individual. I am a single-focuser, with excellent attention to one thing at a time. I sure wish I could get my money back from all that crap I bought to help me multi-task, I could be single-tasking on a beach with that cash!

And I have finally learned and accepted that I am not an extrovert. I mistakenly believed for most of my life that I needed to get an A in comportment, play well with others, always smile and act nice and be sociable (even when I really want to be alone in bed with a good book). This display of attempted social gymnastics is exhausting for just about anyone but particularly lethal for an introvert. A couple of years ago -- before I understood what an introvert really was -- I found myself fielding a lot of "You should get out more..." comments from folks (always people and their well-meaning advice!). I acknowledged my my tendency to spend time alone and I made a concerted effort to get out more. I put it in my lists -- attend stuff! Do things! Go places where others congregate!

Through that experience I learned definitively that I am not a socially extroverted person. I also learned that I can hide in all sorts of ladies' rooms for very long periods of time and make rather fabulous origami toilet paper creations. I also learned that I sweat when I am nervous, I say weird things that make strangers think I need intensive in-patient therapy and I spill drinks. THAT IS SO AWESOME. A few weeks after my toilet paper origami ordeal, I read that a true introvert is usually defined as someone who gets their energy from being alone. Extroverts, on the other hand, commonly get their well of energy refueled from being around other people. NOW THAT MAKES SENSE. It is safe to exit the ladies room and go home and paint my toes in peace -- I'm an introvert! I am refueling my well of energy!

Still, I'm not sure I would ever figure anything out if it weren't for a list or a goal or a to-do item, even the ones that seem like failures get me somewhere. I now know I'm someone who can go on vacation alone and LOVE it, because I put it on a list one day and tried it. I know I really do not enjoy sushi and can cross that right off any future to-do lists forever. But (from the same bullet point) I discovered I adore well-made tempura, especially when they do whole vegetables like string beans and asparagus. And thanks to a list item of yore, I am VERY certain that I won't be getting that part of my body hotwaxed again, thankyouverymuch.

My new 101 Things list is still only partially done, I'm at #71 (though I have to admit most of my items are more short-term than 2.75 years, most are things I hope to cross off in a year's time or less.) It's been good to get my brain out of chicken-bus-passenger mode and into driver's seat mode. It was relaxing to take some time out and just be silent and make a long list of stuff: goals, things I want, things I hope for, things I would like. Places I may want to go, stuff I want to do or see or watch. Yarn I'd like to try, practicing my French, next year's vacation destinations.

And I do enjoy a good list! I hope you'll share some of your 101 Things, if you do decide to make it a goal of yours. I shared some of my 100 Things To Do Before I Die, but most of that list is private. I plan to update it this year, too, since some of my to-do's have changed, some have been crossed off and some just don't appeal to me anymore.

Lists. Is there anything more hopeful than a list? (Except maybe a cat?)

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Posted by laurie at August 13, 2008 9:21 AM