#56 When to-do-lists become intrusive thoughts
How are night-time intrusive thoughts so powerful? As I try to wind down my focus to (hopefully) be able to fall asleep at night, the mental barriers I’m probably spending 10% of my daily food intake’s worth of calories on keeping up start falling. And with them gone, everything I’m trying to avoid starts rushing in.
As I play this nightly game of: defence mechanisms down -> guilt and regret start overwhelming me -> eventually I fall asleep from emotional exhaustion, I’ve started to think if there’s a way for me to not sing this exhausting lullaby of “hey Lizzie, remember everything you didn’t do today?” with an extra special chorus of “you’re just weak and lazy and should’ve done so much better”.
Although to-do lists scare me and remind me of darker times in my working life (where I would micro-plan and analyse and tick off everything), so I almost actually never use them consciously during the day, the list of everything I “should’ve” done, had to do, avoided, forgot, skipped, did poorly, delayed, took too long on unwillingly comes into focus with amazing power every night. Why? I hate to do lists, I want them off my brain.
There’s something about 1am Elizabeth that reverts back to this default of suddenly being able to remember tasks I’d completely forgotten I ever wanted to do. As the list grows, the maths on it is never pretty, I doubt I’ve ever exceeded 10% completion rate. And as a girl who used to cry at at 98% exam results being too low, this is mental torture territory. Every night.
And so, I’ve tried a little perspective shift. (If it sounds silly and too small, it’s because I’m silly about this to start with, so somehow it works). I no longer think: “Lizzie, you were stupidly lazy today and you need to work 10x harder for the rest of the week to make up for this shocking behaviour”, but I pick one thing/theme I was good at that day. Some days I’m a good cleaner. Some days I’m a good student. Some days I’m a good friend. Some days I’m a good reader. Some days I’m a good YouTuber.
Instead of feeling like a terrible student for half of the week because I’m not studying, then like a terrible YouTuber the next 9 days, then a terrible adult for not doing my laundry for a week, a terrible friend for not answering a message for days - I think that my days, and sometimes weeks now have themes. This week, I’ve been a good student (I have an exam tomorrow). I’ve been a terrible YouTuber (done nothing for that) - but it doesn’t matter, now’s not the time.
The hot, clenching grasp on my chest is still there to some extent, especially because deep down I feel “I could’ve filmed if I really tried”, but I keep on repeating that I can’t be everything in one day - that would be insane.
When there’s so much going on - as there is for absolutely everyone I know - I think it’s fine to sometimes be a bit shit at a lot of the roles on the to do list, and we’ve probably been good at some version of ourselves every day.
Stupid - but maybe helps? If you already have self respect: what’s your self-soothing mechanism for avoiding guilt when falling asleep?
🪄 Quote of the week
“We’re not trying to be free of our stuff, we’re trying to justify keeping it.”
Michael Alan Singer, with Readwise