Feeling Good Despite The Workload

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.


Feeling Good Despite The Workload — 4 Comments

  1. Thanks once again Trevor for another thought provoking article. In these days where there always seems to be things to be done if you get a name for yourself as a person who gets things done it seems to be rewarded by being given more things to do. It is at this stage we feel more like human doings than human beings! So for me I put a few things on my list of things I would like to be or how I would like to be feeling and then leave myself at the time a chance to work out what I might need to do (or not do!) to feel that way. Hey presto, the return of the human being. Working for a company remotely it can be a tall order as you are often not contacted for quite some time and phone calls are not returned because others are busy and those in the office are there stood over you with their demands and questions where as I am a distance away. When we meet on the phone and get a list of tasks and actions to complete I often get on with mine and have no idea where others are with theirs and as I am only part time I feel I must be behind and work harder only eventually to find out others have had changed priorities and are way behind me which can then be frustrating as you wait for them to catch up. Great idea of leaving things off your list too, that way we get to choose what we do and don’t do and this can then affect how we feel.

    • Thank you Jon for sharing all these ideas. Your point about working remotely is a great example of how our experience changes depending on what we are thinking.

      You describe how you feel under pressure to complete your tasks because you are thinking that you must keep up with the full-time staff. When later you discover you are way ahead of them, you then feel frustrated because you are thinking that you should have been kept informed of the true situation. Actual reality has taken only a single track but you experience it in completely different ways because of what you are thinking at the time.

      It works this way for all of us, so thanks again for a great example.

  2. As a perpetual list maker, I was really interested to read your blog Trevor! I, too, have believed that my satisfaction comes from ticking things off my many lists (sometimes I even add things that I have done but had not put on my original list, just so that I can tick them off!).

    Your blog made me reconsider this and I now feel that my satisfaction comes from reflecting on what I have actually achieved and taking pride in the task or project that I have completed rather than the completion per say.

    So, I wonder whether I would get more satisfaction from writing a “have done” list rather than a “to do” list!

    Or maybe, just consciously connect with that feeling of pride and acheivement rather than writing even more lists!

    • Susan, many thanks for your thoughtful reflections. For me, it is all about separating cause from correlation. What I mean is this.

      If you feel satisfied when completing things on your list, that’s great. Your feeling of satisfaction correlates with ticking things off. But ticking things off is not the cause of your feelings – the feeling comes from your thinking.

      Why is this distinction so important? Because then we can see that we are released from the tyranny of believing we can only feel satisfaction when we have ploughed through everything on the list. Instead we are free to feel satisfied whenever we entertain satisfied thoughts.