Introducing the Towering Mr. List

I woke up at 5:00 this morning, and I was lying there in bed, thinking about my to-do list.  And just by thinking about what was on my list, I triggered waves of anxiety.

Grrrr…I HATE that!  It makes me so mad at myself.  I hate that I can just think about what’s on my list, and my whole body goes into fight/flight/freeze mode.  Racing heart, clenched stomach, sweating palms.

So this morning, I tried to do some thought work with myself.

The first step in the thought-dissolving process is to pinpoint the thought that triggered you.  For me, it was, “You have to get everything done.”  ‘Everything’ means everything on my to-do list, which wouldn’t realistically be possible even if I could set aside 3 full days to work on it without any new incoming tasks.  My to-do list is LOOOOOOOOOOONG.  But even if I know logically that I couldn’t get it all done no matter how much time I have, I still FEEL like a lot of the items on the list are very urgent, and just thinking about them all brings on waves on anxiety.

As I lay there, I started to ask myself the rest of the questions in the thought-dissolving process, (is the thought true? how do I react when I’m holding the thought?, etc.) but I was inspired to try a different tack, a different coaching tool.

I personified my to-do list.

In other words, I imagined a cartoon character of a towering list, a huge strip of paper about 40 feet high, named Mr. List.  Huge, tall Mr. List.  And at his feet was a little cartoon version of me, only about 6 inches high.  Mr. List had a voice kind of like the Grinch, and there was Grinch-y music in the background, and he was stomping around, singing, “You can’t get everything done,” over and over to me.

Guess what happened?  I started getting more and more anxious.  In fact, I thought, shit, this isn’t how you’re supposed to do this personifying tool.  The personified character is supposed to have a benevolent message for you, but I’m just making myself feel worse.

Stomp, stomp, stomp.  Swaying back and forth.  “You can’t get everything done” – ba boom – “you can’t get everything done” – da dum.  Over and over and over.

Aaaaack!  I had just created a monster in my mind.

But then suddenly I had the most amazing insight:  Mr. List was TELLING THE TRUTH!!!

And the truth is – drum roll – I CAN’T get everything done!

It sounded so mean and taunting and scary as Mr. List stomped and sang at me, but he was actually telling me the truth!

And once I could see the truth, I realized that the lie which was causing me so much suffering was the lie, “You can get everything done.”  And the reason that was causing me so much anxiety was because if I CAN get everything done, then the obvious corollary for me is, “You SHOULD get everything done.”

And as I took this in, the most amazing sensation of peace and lightness and relief flooded through me.  Mr. List wasn’t taunting me – he was trying to get me to stop fighting reality.  I can’t get everything done – that’s reality!  And accepting reality is SO freeing!

What a heavy burden I have been heaping on my shoulders for years, believing the lie, “You can get everything done.”  It was making me work like a madwoman, never satisfied with the results.  I don’t have to do that anymore!  In fact, to take it one step further, I SHOULDN’T get everything done today.  That would be crazy to even try or push myself towards.

So today I’m singing along with Mr. List, “You can’t get everything done – da dum; you can’t get everything done – ba boom!” with so much joy and gratitude in my heart!  And the wonderful thing is that when I’m not stressed out and anxious, I can get a whole lot more done.

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