Why You Should Replace Your To-do List With a “To-Be” List

The simple swap can reduce your stress and improve your mindset.

Photo by Andi Rieger/ Unsplash
Photo by Andi Rieger/ Unsplash

Is your to-do list as long as mine? I doubt it, but it could be. What about the hours of screen time you put in each day and the deadlines you’re up against? And how long is your list of shortcomings and the things you haven’t done? When you’re trying to relax, how often do you tell yourself, “Don’t just sit there; do something?” And how many times have you thought about what you can’t do because of job grievances that stand in the way?

Are You Driven or Are You Driving?

When we toil as if we’re a car going 80 miles per hour with no brakes, we allow the car to drive us. And our engine will eventually burn out or we’re going to go off a cliff. If you stop to think about it, some of us treat our cars better than ourselves. As you can see in the opening paragraph, much of what we demand of ourselves is negative and oppressive. In the same way, the human body wasn’t designed to be driven; it was designed to be drawn, which requires both gas and brakes.

When you’re driven, you become slave to mental oppressive mandates and the external demands of your career. Most of us are not aware of it because we’ve grown accustomed to being on autopilot and lost the attunement to our surroundings and ourselves. We hit the ground hurrying and rushing from the moment we wake up, shaking our fists at the clock because there aren’t enough hours in the day. As we frantically and mindlessly toil on a task—concerned the boss won’t like the finished product or we won’t meet the deadline—we’re out of our present mind, stuck in future worries or past regrets. These external and internal pressures backfire, undermine our ability and create unnecessary stress.

When we’re drawn, we’re at the wheel, attuned to ourselves and our surroundings in a calm, nonjudgmental way and focus on what’s happening right now. We’re anchored in the present moment, driving the car instead of allowing it to drive us. We focus on the opportunity nested in a difficulty, and we’re mindfully productive, making conscious choices that enable us to scale obstacles that stand in the way.

The Perspective Less Taken

We need gas and brakes working together to be effective in our lives. Those of us who live with the gas full throttle (also known as the fight-or-flight response of your sympathetic nervous system) will be more stressed, more tired and sicker. But if we apply the brakes (also known as the rest-and-digest response of your parasympathetic system) in coordination with the gas, we will be happier, healthier, and more productive. Five minutes a day in which we still our busy minds and center into the quiet places inside sets the compass of our heart so we are drawn, even in times of upheaval.

You can’t have a front without a back, a top without a bottom, or a right without a left. The language we use reflects how we treat ourselves in the course of a workday. The following list describes what a healthy, balanced life with both gas and brakes might look like. Notice when we flip the narrow, oppressive words, it frees us up to understand how we can reset the imbalance in our lives. article continues after advertisement

  • Focus on your accomplishments when you ruminate on what you’ve avoided.
  • Place as much emphasis on being in the present moment as thinking about the future. When you’re trying to relax, learn to tell yourself, “Don’t just do something, sit there.”
  • Create a to-be list—watch a sunset or a bird nesting—alongside your to-do list.
  • Find the shades of gray when you get caught in all-or-nothing thoughts. “I didn’t get the promotion; I’ll never reach my career goals” becomes “I didn’t get the promotion, but there are many other steps I can take to reach my career goals”
  • Make your list of “tallcomings,” your positive qualities, equal to or longer than your shortcomings.
  • Have lifelines, pauses to smell the roses, on the way to your deadlines.
  • Take health days in addition to sick days.
  • Create a gratitude list of all the things you’re thankful for to offset your litany of grievances that stand in your way.
  • Stack your positivity deck—pinpoint the opportunity in a difficulty—to offset your negativity bias.
  • Get outside in nature for green time after prolonged periods of screen time.
  • Find things you can control instead of ruminating over what you can’t control.
  • Step back and look at the big picture when you get stuck in the small stuff.
  • List the things you desire when you’re stuck on the things you dread.
  • Stack cans instead of cannots.
  • Let yourself be drawn with passion instead of driven by pressure.

As you go through your week, start to notice the language you use to describe your daily experiences. Chances are, you’ll notice your stress needle is tilted in a negative direction. When that happens, flip the wording around, and break the stress code to a more balanced life—and you will automatically have a to-be list alongside your to-do list.

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