Life’s Not a Checklist | Choose Joy

I’m a list-maker. I like to check off to-do items until I have a glorious check-marked page with nary an empty box in sight. I like to do these things as soon as possible. They’re just jobs or errands or (fill in the blank) separating me from leisure time.

Do you see the problem here?

Let me elucidate: Life’s about the journey, not so much the destination. So I get done with my items, and then I’m like, “Now I can enjoy myself.” Except I should have been enjoying myself all along. Reading the scriptures shouldn’t be a checkmark item: it’s how I feed my soul. Running is my therapy and I actually enjoy it. I love having things cleaned. Do you see what I mean? A person needs to enjoy life, not rush through it in order to get it off the list. Because then you realize that you’ve only experienced half of everything. You’re “done” but what’s the point? Now you have a few leisure hours, but to what end? Watch meaningless TV? Stare at the wall?

I’ve been pondering this for a while, the fact that life’s not a checklist. I know during Christmas season we tend to become so super-focused on what we need to get done, that we stop enjoying the doing. Make sugar cookies with the kids: Check. Breakfast with Santa: Check. Play in the snow: Check. When you live to check items off a list, you stop paying attention to the moment. Everything becomes a chore when nothing should be a chore.

How to Take a Moment

I’m pretty single-minded when it comes to running. So during Thanksgiving break, I was getting myself ready, and my 3 and 6-year-old nephews wanted to play in the snow (they come from a part of the U.S. with very little snow). Now, I was eager to run, shower, and tackle the day; I had things to do. I couldn’t just hang out outside indefinitely. But then I told myself to enjoy this, both the snow and my adorable nephews whom I love fiercely. I just went outside with them and we played, and I let everything else go. Maybe I had to truncate my run because I didn’t have time for a longer one, but do you know what? It was worth it.

If you have a hard time letting go of the checkmark mentality, here are a few things I suggest:

  • Remind yourself why what you’re doing matters. As you’re cleaning, remind yourself that you feel good when things are clean. If you’re shopping, remember how much you like to have a fully stocked pantry.
  • Have fun. Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to enjoy something. It’s okay to have fun in the snow or build towers with your kids or just talk. Maybe it’s not checking something off that super-long list you have, but it has value.
  • Take time. You’re busy, I’m busy, we’re all busy. But what will you remember more, having a perfectly completed to-do list or spending time with your family? What will have more value? Giving time to others is always valuable.
  • Do something deliberately playful. Being playful might not come naturally, but do it anyway. Have an impulsive wrestling match with your kids or dance to some music. That playfulness will help you take yourself—and that checklist—a little less seriously.
  • Do an act of service. Part of the problem with checklists is that we get wound up in ourselves and our goals. Do an act of service, and I guarantee that you’ll suddenly have a broader perspective.
  • Throw away your list. If push comes to shove and you find it impossible to lose the checklist mentality, then toss that thing. Do what you can remember and enjoy life. Yes, there’ll be chaos for a while, but it won’t kill you. You’ll be okay and learn to live less hectically.

I’m working on this, the not rushing of things, even when those things seem onerous (like cleaning the bathroom). It all has value, and I should enjoy it, all of it. Life is glorious; it’s meant to be lived and experienced. Don’t rush through, friends.

Choose Joy.

—A

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