The Dos and Don’ts of a To-Don’t List

Photo To Dont List

Creative example of a single mom’s to-do list

It was the perfect hostess gift; an artfully designed to-do list. If you want to make me smile, present me paper in any form; a pad, a journal, a notebook. There is something about a blank page that is so enticing. It invites me into myself. There, in my own quiet world of thoughts and emotions, I find joy by intermingling words into just the right form of personal expression.

It will probably come as no surprise that my Mondays always start out with a well-crafted to-do list. Under the headings of “Call,” “Do” and “Go,” are the tasks that I will look forward to checking off as they are accomplished. No more than a week’s worth of undertakings are addressed and can easily be accomplished. There is always a master list lurking in the background which provides material for the future, to be allocated into manageable segments.

So, it was with reckless abandon that I considered thinking outside the box and creating a to- don’t list. This single list would provide a handy way to remember all those things that I continually promise myself not to do and could be updated as needed. It would prompt me to keep close those comments and ideas from others that had sparked such enthusiasm in me the first time I heard them. A brief peek would keep me on the right path, progressing forward:

  • Don’t look back
  • Don’t procrastinate; just do it (thanks, Nike)
  • Don’t overthink
  • Participate, don’t anticipate (sage words from a new friend)
  • Don’t waste time
  • Don’t let perfection control me
  • Don’t stop learning
  • Don’t let expectations define me
  • Don’t put my head up when swallowing pills (kudos to Kim for that one)

By year’s end, I may be subjected to a few extra paper cuts, but I am content with what I have accomplished. What’s on your to-don’t list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lindita Light

Photo Lindita Light

I don’t even drink diet soda, so I was surprised that it would provide me with so much inspiration.

I am very aware that I have a tendency to go overboard. In every aspect of my life, I am able to overwhelm myself by mixing perfectionism with determination, then adding a dash of rumination. I can ruminate the heck out of any situation, replaying and rehashing every aspect of the issue at hand. The black sheep of the problem-solving family, rumination only serves to overcomplicate matters and leave a bad taste in your mouth.

It was time for me to take it down a notch and become a lean, mean, less minutiae-oriented machine. I would try to create a lighter version of myself; same sweetness and effervescence, but tastefully more carefree. I giggled to myself and called the project “Lindita Light”; “Lindita” after the name that my Spanish grandmother called me (adding ‘ita” after a name indicates affection) and “light” after soda performing with a sugar stand in.

So, it was with great confidence that I began my daily practice of paying more attention to becoming a lighter version of myself. I found that there was no magic potion, no elixir that would instantly transform me. On the contrary, it was a day-to-day struggle to remain steadfast to the promise that I had made myself.

Little by little, I seem to be making progress. Now, when I become transfixed on a subject, I am able to distract myself by doing something that requires focus. I tell myself that I can be determined and the best I can be without overdoing it. Though, at first, it was hard to swallow that I might be a bit of a micromanager, I work at holding my tongue and try not to impart my opinions to anyone at any time, whether they want them or not.

In the midst of my undertaking and while researching for this post, I stumbled onto something that inspired me to persist. In the early 1900s, a carbonated beverage called “Moxie” was trademarked and was the first mass produced soft drink in the United States. Coincidence or a sign to continue to drink in all I can, in order to become the best me I can be?

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Op

Photo Photo Op

Late again! She ran through the house, grabbing her coffee and her car keys. Her arms were full, so she held her breakfast, a whole piece of toast, in her teeth. She gave her mom a thumbs-up and barely paid attention to her comments, only hearing that her mom and her beau were going out again (this time to the opera), so she was on her own for dinner.

Meredith took a deep breath and started her car. Even though she hated the commute from her mom’s suburban home into the city each day, it was the only time she had any peace. Her mom meant well, but she was tired of her eye rolling every time Meredith ate junk food. Her suggestions that Meredith get a haircut or try some new makeup or lose a little weight were not inspiring her to act on any of them in the near future.

She knew she would have to stay late again to make up the time. At first, she had thought herself lucky to be able to come and go unnoticed and set her own hours, but later realized that it was a measure of her insignificance to the hospital department that she was a part of.

On this particular day, she watched her copies run through the copy machine and, for a few minutes, lost herself in thought. How did her life become so mundane? Her growling stomach brought her back to reality. Walking to the cafeteria, she almost tripped on a frame that lay in the middle of the hall. She picked it up and was quite taken with the picture of the handsome man smiling back at her, even though it was the one that came with the frame. She stuck it in her purse and continued on.

The usual long line greeted her at the cafeteria door. With a big sigh, she prepared herself for the wait, when she heard a man’s voice behind her say “…Anything good here? I noticed your employee badge, so thought you might have some recommendations…” Meredith was speechless. Was she hallucinating or did this man look a little like the photo in the frame? She finally sputtered a few words and before she knew it, they were sharing a table and dining together.

Everything about him was charming. She hung on his every word and almost forgot to eat. He said he was a new volunteer, still trying to figure out what his calling would be. He seemed so interested in what she had to say. She cared little about what time it was when she finally returned to work and spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming.

She surprised herself and her mom by being up early the next morning. She left right on time and couldn’t help but smile at her mom’s comments about her appearance. She had made sure to take extra time choosing an outfit, styling her hair and actually applying makeup. Maybe this weekend she would take her mom up on her offer to treat her to a new haircut.

Lunch couldn’t come quickly enough each day. All the next week, she found her handsome stranger on the cafeteria line. They’d trade smiles and sit together at the same table. She noticed that her lunch choices were now not only healthy, but half the size of what they used to be. From their conversations about her goals in life and how she could pursue them, she walked with a new-found confidence.

She purposefully kept the framed picture in her car’s glove compartment, away from her mom’s intrusive prying, so it was with surprise that she noticed it was gone that Saturday afternoon. She ran back into the house and, out of breath, asked her mom if she knew of its whereabouts. Nonchalantly, her mom responded “…I threw the picture away that came with the frame, cleaned it up and put it in your room, so you could make use of it…”

The words stung Meredith and as her mind raced through the past couple of days, she realized that yesterday, she had left her mom alone in her car when she ran into the drugstore to pick up a prescription for her. At that moment, she made up her mind that it was time for her to move to a place of her own.

Mondays were usually the worst day of her week, but Meredith rushed to the cafeteria with a spring in her step. She didn’t see her stranger, so waited at the entrance for a while. When he didn’t show up, she decided to sit and eat alone at their favorite table. Disappointed, she decided to walk over to the volunteer department to see if he was working today.

She realized that she only knew his first name and was startled when Sister Jean, the nun who sat at the front desk, stated that there was no Theodore listed as a volunteer. Determined to find him, Meredith took the time to describe her stranger and mention what little she knew about him. Sister Jean could only listen and nod, but felt as if she had to respond in some way to this agitated young woman. “…Did you know that the meaning of the name Theodore is God’s present?..,” she said softly.

Meredith smiled and thanked the nun for her time. She felt a wave of happiness wash over her and she walked back to her office with determination and wrote the resignation letter that she would send as soon as she was accepted into college. She called her sister and said she would take her up on her offer to live in her guesthouse if she took on some nanny duties for her nieces. It would be good practice for the teaching degree that she planned to receive.

She smiled, put her hands through her newly coifed hair, and said  “…Thank you…” out loud. She placed the frame on her desk and gazed at its cardboard backing. There was no need to replace the original photo with any other. In that way, she could picture just what she wanted to, as she made her way back into the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyonce and Me: Honing Our Zoning Skills

Photo Zones

Now that I have your attention, let me tell you about a ritual of hers. When she is on tour, Beyonce makes it a practice to return to her hotel room immediately after each concert, watch the video of her performance and note any areas for improvement. Her notes are then typed and passed out to everyone involved. In this way, adjustments can be made before the next show.

In his Ted Talk entitled “How to Get Better at the Things You Care About,” Eduardo Briceño, uses Beyonce as an example of how the most effective people alternate between the activity zone and the performance zone in order to achieve maximum success in life.

In the activity zone, our full attention is on deliberate practice in order to improve our skills. We develop new strategies, work to improve ourselves and use any mistakes we make as learning tools.

The performance zone is where we execute what we have already mastered. Our goal here is to minimize mistakes and get things done.

According to Briceño, working hard doesn’t always equal success. Many of us hit a performance plateau, satisfied that we are doing a good enough job, and neglect the activity zone. This is where those feelings of frustration and stagnation come from.

With little formal education and no financial backing, I watched my dad methodically elevate himself, rung by rung, up the ladder of success. The owner of a construction company, he read self-help books, learned from professionals, constantly pushed himself and never stopped being curious and inquisitive. That combined with street smarts and a bit of showmanship was the perfect formula that worked for him.

My interest in business sparked when I realized that it was an opportunity to have my dad all to myself. In a high school business contest, he helped me formulate a sales presentation for aluminum siding that won me first prize. The judges commented that my product selection and my innate knowledge of every aspect of it took them by surprise. Thanks to my dad, this began my relentless practice of striving for excellence (I can still hear him saying “…Do it right or don’t do it at all..”)

Our father/daughter dinners started when I began my career. I relished our time alone, the fancy Manhattan restaurants and his commanding presence. I listened intently to him as he chronicled the ups and downs of his day (never dull), answered my questions and advised me. Not surprising, many of his ideas and suggestions were the basis of an MBA, without the fancy titles.

We develop confidence through ongoing learning. I’ve learned that a curiosity and a willingness to explore, to observe and to reflect are just as important as the achievements themselves. Rather than keeping our heads down, we need to look up once in a while, pay attention and strive for that balance between the activity and the performance zones.

Let’s create momentum and put our energy into keeping it going. Let’s find a willing mentor, exchange ideas with others, read, take a class, explore and create a better version of ourselves.

 

 

 

Worry: Concerns Gone Crazy

Photo Worry

“…Stop!..” I yelled out loud and hoped that no one was behind me as I walked down the street. I was doing it again; replaying a worrisome thought over and over in my head until it took over all my thoughts. I promised myself then and there that I would make it a priority to overcome this pattern.

When I walked into work that morning and greeted the receptionist, I couldn’t help but notice the book that was sitting right in front of her. “… Where did that come from?..” I yelled, startling her. “…Oh, this is my go to book. I reread it anytime I need to …” she responded.

Before you could say “serendipity,” I was devouring my own copy of the book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. Little by little, it inspired me to learn how to combat those worry filled thoughts.

It seemed as though most woman I knew shared in this habit. There is something in our genetic composition that seems to trigger the worry gene. Unlike many men, who can be nonchalant about almost any subject, we seem to need to delve, working our Ifs, ands or buts off.

I pride myself on always doing the best that I can, but did not realize that I was allowing a bad habit (disguised as an inclination) to infiltrate my emotions. I could worry in the past, the present and the future. I could fret in black and white or Technicolor, creating an imaginary storyline that rivaled any soap opera. I was able to multi task by stewing in Spanish. My anxiety ridden thoughts were for you or about you, so that I also became adept at the art of worrying for two.

Dale Carnegie’s message and inspirational stories are as relevant as they were when his book was originally published back in the 1940s. The more I read, the more I realized that I could easily conquer worry using his techniques:

  • Shut the doors on the past and the future and live in day-tight compartments.
  • See the funny side of life.
  • Keep busy.
  • Examine the record: What are the chances, according to the law of averages that this event you are worrying about will ever occur?
  • Do the best you can.
  • Count your blessings, not your troubles.
  • Forget yourself by becoming interested in others. Every day do a good deed that will put a smile on someone’s face.

Worry was not going to have the chance to increase my stress levels, give me premature wrinkles or insomnia. Now if I am ever walking down the street and catch myself starting to stew, I just hum a song out loud as a reminder, with no concern as to who might be walking behind me. They can change their path, I’m not planning on changing mine.

Sheepishly Admitting to the Blaaaaahs

Photo Blah

It happens to the best of us. One sleepless night, one touch of a cold, one too many stressful days and we are transformed into someone we no longer recognize in the mirror. When did wearing two pairs of socks and a sweatshirt over mismatched PJs become our uniform? Why are the sticking uppers in our hair the size of Cleveland, Ohio? Who is that person under the covers at two in the afternoon? Where has the get up and go gone?

I am currently in the middle of a blah day (different from a spa day) and am reporting to you live. I can’t remember when I did not get up and embrace the day with a cup of tea, some quiet time and exercise. Today, the tea is the only constant and the only thing holding me up are the pillows propping me up in bed. My lap top is balanced on my legs and my fingers are the only things willing to move. I can think of a hundred things that I should be doing, but have no interest in pursuing any of them. I’m hungry, but not enough to move again and my head is pounding to the pulse of the cursor on my lap top screen.

All of a sudden, one of my high school teachers comes to mind. He would always suggest that when all else fails, take a nap and you are guaranteed to awake to a new day. Today, this seems to be the only logical solution. One hour later, I open my eyes, but cannot see; the world is black. Before I start to panic, I remember to remove my eye mask and am relieved to welcome the bright day still patiently waiting for me to join it.

In the whole scheme of things, a blah day is nothing more than a healthy reminder that we sometimes just need to reboot ourselves. We think nothing of shutting down our computers and then restarting them, but what about when we have an internal glitch; don’t we get a chance for a fresh start?

The day wasn’t what I had planned, but all in all, I’m glad I took the inner hint and surrendered to a temporary system shutdown. Once I shower and dress, I’m starting to feel like myself again. I’m up and running, reprogrammed and back up to speed. A blah day is just a spa day in disguise, but without the price tag. Embrace it and restore yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bend, Don’t Break      

Photo Bend Dont Break

I always have to stop and marvel at a tree whose branches are so strongly bent. Unaware of its peculiarity and against all odds, it just keeps growing.

I liken that to our sense of self. Life’s twists and turns may throw us a curve now and then, but we need to be able to know when to stoop down just enough to be able to handle the extra weight. It’s our strength that keeps us in a constant state of balance.

Those trees always remind me not to be so rigid. I need to learn to go with the flow, ride the wave, be more patient. That little bit of bend can be a great source of inspiration.

Consider Mother Goose’s dilemma as the baby was rocking away in the treetops propelled by the wind. The bough breaks and the baby falls, cradle and all. M. Goose, just one question: If the boughs would have had the decency to bend just a little, couldn’t this whole disaster have been prevented? But, then again, the fates of Humpty Dumpty, the three blind mice, Miss Muffet and Jack and Jill were all also met with an inflexible turn of events.

So, let’s keep in mind that it’s sometimes all right to acquiesce, accept that new kink in the plan, bend it a bit and just run with it. But consider those Mother Goose rhymes and remember not to run too fast; accidents do happen.