Your house and your life will be full of lists. Most likely shopping lists, most infamously, To Do lists. We all make them. They are the most efficient way to remind your brain about the important, and the not-so-important things.
But did you know they can add an extra dimension to your journal practise?
We keep lists because they are an easy way to record a series of items, whether they are things we already possess, things we need to get (like shopping lists),things we need to do, or remember, or worry about, or understand.
Lists also allow us to create hierarchies within them. You can order your list in terms of importance or urgency. You can use each item as a heading, and include a sub-list beneath it. Or you can just scribble items down in the order they come into your head – which is in itself a kind of order, though the meaning of that order may only be understood by you. And yes, I do use mind maps too, but I don’t find them half so useful, because they don’t have the implied order that a list does. You have to impose the order on them afterwards, which seems a waste of time to me – why not do it as you go along?
I like using lists in my diary to gather together thoughts that are floating about in my head which don’t really fit anywhere. For instance, the other day, I made a list of all the items I wanted to buy which would need to be saved for: new spectacles, a juicer, a steam floor cleaner, and other things. Each of these items came from a separate train of thought: ‘I can’t see to read these days, I need to get an eye test’; ‘Maybe drinking green juice would help me feel better’; ‘Its really muddy outside and we are trailing a lot of mud into the house, and I am fed up with mopping the floor all the time, maybe there is a quick alternative.’
None of these things really go together. Normally, I would put them under headings like ‘Health care’, ‘Diet’ and ‘Housecleaning’. But I don’t have a place to record any of these ideas (I confess – mea maxima culpa – I don’t keep a Home Management binder or a GTD planner, shame on me!) They are all good ideas, but if I don’t write them down, they will get forgotten, and I will no doubt then waste valuable mental energy thinking them up again, or coming up with new solutions. Now I have a list recorded, I can forget about it until I need it.
Something else I have been doing for years is using lists to help with emotional challenges. I frequently get myself into a state of profound anxiety by worrying about half a dozen things at once. Or sometimes more! Usually, when I get like this, I find myself struck down with a migraine, so its something I prefer to avoid, if I can. Out comes the diary, then, and away I go, writing down a list of all the things I am worried about, and why. I may end up with pages of bullet points. Then I revue them. Usually I can see a pattern emerging, and I can work out that there are one or two core issues coming up that the sheer volume of worries are masking. Once I have identified what is really wrong, I can make a list of things I can do about the problem – because taking action of some kind, however small, always makes me feel better.
When I am feeling completely overwhelmed by everything I feel I have to do, I take the time to make a list of everything. Then I can identify the SHOULDS I am imposing on myself can rule them out, because they are usually neither Urgent nor Important* in the grand scheme of things. Also, writing all the things I have to get through somehow makes the mountain less intimidating. Life seems more manageable when you can get it down on a sheet of paper.
(*Knowing the difference between Urgent and Important is crucial when you have limited resources. Urgent is something that has to be done NOW. Important is something which needs to be done as a matter of priority for your future wellbeing/happiness/security etc. For example, Urgent could be putting the laundry in the machine because you won’t have any clean knickers tomorrow if you don’t. Important is getting your tax return in to avoid late filing fines. Of course, tax returns could also be Urgent, if you are within a few hours of the deadline, and the laundry might be Important if tomorrow is also the day when you have an interview for a potentially life-changing new job! But you can see the difference. Urgent changes your immediate future, whereas Important is more long term. Which is why a list helps you to identify which is which!)
I also really like using lists to explore an idea. I give myself time to visualise the concept in my mind, for example, that of Bear energy, which I was talking about the other day. Then I do a word association around that idea, writing down all the words and feelings and thoughts that pop into my head in a list which depicts what that idea means to me. I can then use that list as a starting point for exploring deeper meanings and related areas.
I mainly use lists to dump everything out of my brain because I invariably have a cranium so full of stuff that something has to be offloaded or I will go mad. Quick, thumbnail sketches of stories, plans, thoughts, worries, household jobs, recipes, things to tell my husband when he gets home, and food items we have just run out of, all end up on lists in my journal. It has only been through writing this post that I have begun to realise how addicted to lists I actually am!
The other thing about lists is that they are easily accessible when you read them back. Even a series of one word items can remind you of a whole Mind Palace of thoughts. And once these thoughts are outside your head, you can use your brain to come up with lots of lovely new ones! What liberation!
Tips for Keeping Lists:
- Make sure you label your list especially if it is connected with a word association or particular project.
- I often scribble lists on loose sheets of paper that I find hanging around the house, and stick them into my diary later – this means I feel I can be as messy as I want with the list because I am not messing up my nice, neat diary page. (When the list is stuck in, I can decorate it and make it nice if I like.)
- If you make several lists on several sheets, stick them in your journal together so they make sense on reading back.
- Give yourself space when you make a list. There will always be something else you want to add!
You could use any of the techniques with lists that I have mentioned above, but you might like to try this one, from the field of Gestalt therapy.
This technique can help you access unconscious feelings that are causing your trouble.
Do you have an ache or pain that has been grumbling away recently? A dogged headache that resists all medication, a sprained ankle, an aching hip?
Take out your journal and sit quietly, away from noise and distractions. (Give yourself plenty of time for this.)
Focus your mind now on the part of your body that is troubling you, and really dive deep into experiencing the pain, ache, or discomfort, or whatever feeling is going on there. Let the feeling fill you up. Connect with it.
Now take out your pen and, continuing to focus on the feeling. How would you describe the feeling? Whatever word first pops into your head, no matter how unlikely it seems, write it down. Now focus again and look for the next word. And the next. Keep going until your mind empties and no more words appear.
Now read back your list. Are there any words that particularly jump out at you? Any themes that seem apparent? Some unlikely or seemingly unconnected words may turn out to be linked to things that are going on in your life, in friendships, your career or family. They may remind you of emotional issues you have not confronted, or point to something in your life that feels unfinished, unfair or unsatisfying.
Now take some time to journal about the words that seem most meaningful to you. Allow yourself to explore what comes up and see where it takes you. You may find yourself planning a new adventure, resolving old conflicts, or seeing situations in a new light. It can be very enlightening.
You may feel this exercise is a bit mumbo-jumbo, but I assure you, it’s a great way to access things going on in your head ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak, and it can explain a lot. You may also find it difficult to start off with, but practise and you will find it easier over time. You might even want to have a friend help you by writing down the words that come up as you concentrate on your own body. And if you get a recurring pain in the same place, you can go back to your list and do the exercise again, and compare the two to see if something new comes up. You may even find, as I frequently have, that the pain you focus on is significantly reduced or even disappears as a result of its ‘being heard’. It’s is a great way to use lists, and I encourage you to have a go.