Yesterday, being the beginning of a new month, I decided to make a list of all the things I have to do. It soon became quite a long list! Some items were single tasks; others were complete projects in themselves.
Making a ‘To Do’ list is a typical human activity – I’m sure you’ve done the same. It can help us feel better organized and less likely to forget important things.
Yet as I looked at my list, I could see that a whole lot of work was involved. Anticipating all the effort that would be needed was hardly motivating. I tried to imagine what it might be like at the end of the month. Perhaps when everything had been ticked off the list, I would feel a sense of satisfaction?
A sense of satisfaction is a great feeling. It seems to combine the feeling that life is complete, with nothing missing, with the feeling of peace now the hard work is over.
But experience tells me that finishing a ‘To Do’ list doesn’t bring anything more than a flicker of satisfaction. More likely the ‘reward’ is the writing of the next list, and then the pressure to achieve starts all over again.
What if it could be different?
The good news is that it will automatically be different when we separate two things:
1. We can make lists whenever we like. We can choose what to put on these lists and what to leave out. But simply doing things on a list will never bring a sense of satisfaction – see 2 below.
2. All our feelings – including the sense of satisfaction – come from whatever we are thinking at the time. So the feeling that life is complete comes from life is complete thoughts. In the same way the feeling of peace comes from peaceful thoughts.
It is tremendously liberating to see this distinction because it means that we can feel good (eg. satisfied, complete, at peace) at any time. The feeling is independent from wherever we’ve got to on the ‘To Do’ list.
I know that it often looks as if finishing a task makes us feel satisfied but this is an illusion. You can sometimes spot the illusion when you feel satisfied for no obvious reason, or, conversely, when you feel bad even though you’ve completed a significant task.
So now, when I look at my list for July, I smile because I know I can feel good before I finish the list, or even before I finish the first task. Phew!
It’s the same for you. Whatever you have on your list (or in your diary), your feelings come from your thinking. You may well want to achieve everything on your list for other reasons but feeling good doesn’t have to be one of them.