When in summer 2015 I went through a personal crisis in my life I needed to get back on my feet again. This is what I came up with: I created a list of actions that helped ground me. To my own surprise nearly all the items on the list weren’t TO-DOs but TO-BEs: how I wanted or needed to be to feel the earth again.
For example, I was longing to feel more connected and have better relationships, which resulted in ‘Minimum three lunch appointments per week with friends or ex-colleagues’ on my To-Be list. I resumed ‘practising piano or actively listening to music’ three times a week to contribute to my inner balance. The following month, I added daily ‘inspirational reading’ and ‘random acts of kindness’ to the list to better honour my values of curiosity and compassion.
Our normal To-Dos often do not reflect who we are. They come out of a perception of duty: I have to do this or that in order to keep up with my job and sustain my life, I should take care of myself and my family. There is nothing wrong with having a sense of duty and responsibility. But all too often, we neglect all the other important values that lie dormant in us only waiting to be expressed and fulfilled.
Here is a simple exercise that you can do: If you keep a handwritten agenda or calendar, circle all the To-Dos that represent meaning and purpose to you. Alternatively, in your electronic calendar you could choose a different colour or underline those tasks.
For instance, you plan to go for a hike next Saturday and it means something to you, such as being active or out in nature, then circle it in your agenda. Or you are meeting a co-worker next week and you want to appreciate the good work being done, then circle it.
Through this simple exercise you will become more and more aware about why you are doing something. Your activity will connect to values, become infused with meaning and feel more intentional.
Should you discover that not many items on your To-Do list seem to have much meaning, it will draw your attention to what might be missing in your life. Make it a practise to scan through your To-Do items and see if there is any action, perhaps a meeting with colleagues or in your family, that presents an opportunity to express at least one of your values, such as speaking up in a conversation or presenting a topic that is important to you. Once your activity becomes meaningful, again circle it. And of course, add new items to your agenda that clearly have a purpose and watch the number of circles grow over time.
Now, if you want to take this any further, try making your own To-Be list. That is, writing down what is meaningful and important to you in your everyday life, choosing the frequency per week and setting daily reminders.
You will find that to follow a To-Be list hardly takes any time. It is simply about reminding yourself how you want to be. Each and every day.