Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Jonathan Mead from Illuminated Mind.
We have a tendency to look at what’s not done and wish we could have done more. We’re used to looking at our lists or projects, seeing all the uncompleted things and being overwhelmed or disappointed. Even on full-power, total ass-kicking days, we can sometimes get discouraged by what is still unfinished.
What I’d like to propose is that we try something different: look at all the undone things on your list and smile at them. You are blessed with the awesome opportunity to enjoy engaging in those activities tomorrow, or the next day.
Instead of frowning at all the undone stuff, smile at it. Things need your attention, and that’s a good thing (you’d probably feel kind of lonely if nothing did). Your contribution and action is being requested.
Imagine what a shift it would be to take this perspective, smiling and looking forward to what is not checked off.
Checking Behind The Unchecking Things
We often don’t look behind the unchecked things because we’re so focused on getting them done. Let’s look a little deeper.
Unchecked things really mean…
- You have an opportunity to kick some serious ass doing those things
- You can participate in shaping your reality
- Your contribution is wanted and needed
- The journey is not over (wouldn’t it suck if it was?)
- There are more awesome things to look forward to
Taking this view releases a lot of the stress and shifts your experience from undone to can’t wait to do.
Instead of seeing all of your projects or pursuits as tasks to complete, you will begin to experience them as unexplored forks on your path … each of them waiting for you to walk down and see what new stones can be unturned, new experiences you will encounter, new paths you will cross with others, and opportunities to explore and grow.
When you do this, you move away from a place of having to do or requirement, to a place of getting to do or anticipation.
How to Smile At That Unfinished List
If you’re delightfully anticipating all of the undone things on your list, you know you’re on the right path. But if that’s not what you’re currently experiencing, here’s a way to shift your experience:
Open up whatever tool you use to manage or track your meaningful action: notepad, Charlie’s planners, etc.
Once your list is open, take a moment to look at all those things you haven’t done. But instead of starting to scramble to take action, take a long, slow breath and smile as you exhale.
How does that feel?
A bit different, I can imagine.
Now, you could stop here. And even if you just made this a simple practice, looking at the get to do things and smiling, that would be enough to transform your experience. If you feel some resistance to this practice, I recommend just starting with that.
Embrace the Adventure Within Unfinished Things
However, if looking at your To Do list and smiling offers little or no resistance and you’re feeling great about it, you can take it a step further to make it even more powerful.
After a few deep, joyful breaths, start imagining all of the new adventures the things on your list might lead you to. What new resourceful connections might they lead you to? What new growth experiences might you encounter? How will you feel enjoying exploring each step of action that you take toward your goal? How will the path to your goal be just as, or even more, delicious than the achievement of it?
I realize that this might be a little challenging if visiting the DMV is the number one thing on your list, but see if you can use those normally unenjoyable things as a challenge to exercise your imagination. Who knows, maybe you could turn something that’s usually a dread into something tolerable, or even pleasant. Allow your expectations to be suspended for a moment. That tends to help a lot when you do this practice.
When you make this a habit, you’ll find that each day becomes more of a exciting new leg of your path, and a further expansion of you following your bliss.
You’ll find that you progress from looking at your list and feeling disappointment to:
- Acceptance, then
- Gratitude, then
- Anticipation, then
- Excitement and joy
The things you have yet to do shouldn’t be felt as a burden; they should be a cause to celebrate.
Imagine that each thing yet to come is going to enhance your current experience. Of course it will always lead to another desire, and another thing to add to your list. So, we both know that our lists will never be complete. That would be pretty lame, anyway.
Since we know that we’ll never get everything done and our reach will always exceed our grasp, it makes more sense to enjoy our anticipation of the next leg of our journey. Don’t you think?
I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Photo Credit: Edwin Dalorzo
Mars Dorian says
I respect your view on this, Jonathan.
It’s really hard to have an attitude like this – whenever I see my list of unfinished things – I say: crap, I need to get it done – now !
It’s true that life would super-boring if there was nothing to do, but that will never happen anyway.
When I look at my path before, I realize how much I have yet to accomplish.
But I appreciate your take on this nevertheless, it keeps me from punching my hands against the wall. Punch Punch.
Jonathan, I LOVE this re-framing of our to-do lists and a reminder is sitting on a post-it note on my monitor as we speak!
I know one of the big things that’s kept me sighing over my list in the past is the idea that what I’m aiming for is “NOTHING LEFT TO DO”.
I’m starting to get what an impossible and elusive state this really is and your post reminds me that I don’t ever really want to get there.
“Nothing left to do” will mean I’ve exhausted my inner visions and desires and that I have no plans for any future adventures.
And as a bonus, smiling at tomorrow’s journey co-exists very nicely with the feeling that I’ve done “enough” for today.
Jonathan Mead says
Yeah, it’s weird how we somehow get caught up in this idea that we want everything to be done. As if that’s possible.
Sometimes we might want stillness, but that’s something distinctly difference from everything done… stagnancy.
Tallulah Flyte says
I love this. Anticipation over expectation.
We tend to get really caught up in the planning and execution of fulfilling our exact expectations, leaving little room for surprising, but exciting opportunities – including what’s going on when we’re just trying to get things done. We’ve got to remember the big picture instead of always being laser-focused on our to-do lists.
And, it’s true the simple act of smiling can be a big mood booster 🙂
Thanks for the great article.
Jonathan Mead says
Yeah, it’s a pretty awesome shift. I think the biggest thing for me is being more curious, rather than having a fixed mindset.
Mike Roberts says
good one. I HATE looking at my todo list and seeing items left behind. But most days there are tasks I don’t get to and when this is the case, I feel somewhat like a failure.
I’ve never thought to smile at the unfinished items, to love those pesky little bastards. I will try this.
Yael Grauer says
As someone who often runs around like a chicken with its head cut off, I really like the idea of reframing things! I wish I could look at my list and say, “WOW, look at all these great things I get to do!’
But I think what gets to me is the neverending tasks covered with red tape. Spending many hours and accomplishing very little… I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to reframe that…
Jonathan Mead says
You’re right, sometimes it won’t apply. There are certain things that just aren’t incredibly exciting or fun to do. And trying to make them fun is just cheesy and bleh.
We also have to be careful of how much we accept stuff like that in our lives as well. If that seems to be the majority of our daily activities, we’re probably compromising on some level.
Hooray! A trip to the DMV! Maybe I can turn the heel on the socks I’m knitting!
Sandra Lee says
Jonathan, Terrific photo to start that really sets the tone. I love the fresh perspective you bringing to “unfinished tasks.” It inspires me to see that anything can be transformed simply by shifting one’s perspective.
These days I am using the rule of 3 and sloughing off everything else, so to-do lists don’t haunt me!
Beth Cregan says
This post is timelt for me.I am usually so down on myself and my list of unfinished tasks but I started this week by listing the progress I had made it all areas of my life. I also declared I would remain positive about the daily progress I make, no matter how small. My attitude this week is really evident in my work. Not sure it takes any more energy to remain positive but the results are so much better. Love your blog!
Well said Jonathan! I shall look at my unfinished lists differently today.
Your post also reminds me of the need to look beyond the completion of goals and so avoid the risk of a sense of anticlimax.
Jonathan Mead says
Yep, there is always something beyond goals. Well, there is actually always something beyond everything. And that’s called transcendence. The trick is transcending and including, rather than transcending and obliterating.
Katie Brandt says
Wow – that is a scary thought for me – smiling at that list. What really helped me want to give it a try is the bullets you hand for what that list really means.
Thanks for sharing!
Ali Hale says
Really nice piece, Jonathan — and quite a challenge for me. (I found myself thinking “Well, it’s alright for *Jonathan*, maybe *he* can smile at his list … mutter mutter mutter…) 😉
I guess the closest thing I’ve done to this is writing down the things I’ve accomplished (a “done” list?), rather than just ticking items off a to-do list.
Jonathan Mead says
It can definitely be a challenge, especially when you have all sorts of ideas and expectations around what you should be doing, or what you should have already done.
That’s when it’s time for a deep breath, and getting back to what really matters… enjoying where you’re at on the path. 🙂
Glad you liked the post Ali. It always flatters me a bit to hear you say that.
joe Wilner says
This is great advice Jonathan, I live by checklists or todo lists and have learned to focus on what I have done instead of what I didn’t get completed, but this adds a new dimension. This advice can provide the opportunity to stay enthusiastic and motivated toward those unfinished items, and maintain a energetic approach to continue working through the list. Thanks!
Kirstine Vergara says
What you’re suggesting is kinda hard to do. For me, unchecked list means that I was not able to manage my time well. If the expectation is high, I don’t think an unfinished work will gather me some commendation. But I guess I’m going to give it a try – smiling at the list eh. Perhaps this way, I can stop stressing myself out and possibly be able to Maintain a Balanced Lifestyle
Barak Rosenbloom says
Nice article Jonathan! There’s something simple and powerful about the simple act of smiling. It triggers whole new patterns and really can shift the world.
I gave up on to-do lists, and now have “could-do” lists. I get excited about all of the things I could be doing today, or could be doing next. It makes it a choice again.
Claire Lane says
What a great idea – put a positive spin on the things we haven’t quite managed to get to, rather than a negative spin.
After all, we often can’t change the situation but we can change our attitude to it.
I love this, and will make sure to use it next time I look at my to-do list.