Creating a ‘not to do’ list

I’ve had a lengthy on-off relationship with journalling, with this year marking an engaging 12 months where journalling is concerned. Often I’ll write about mindfulness practice, my dreams and thoughts. I also write down three things I’m grateful for each day and three things I’d like to achieve. Recently, I stumbled across the idea of noting down three things I won’t do as part of a daily practice.

What no longer serves you?

The idea is simple and has revolutionised the way that I approach life. Usually I’ll go back through my journals and look at thought and behavioural patterns and see if there’s anything I’d like to do differently, but often with the mindset of doing rather than not doing. By looking at what I won’t do, this presents me with a greater chance to look at what no longer serves me and on a daily basis I can offer myself a reminder each morning to not follow a certain thought pattern or behaviour. It is a practice in letting go rather than trying to do more.

The difference between a ‘to do’ list and a ‘not to do’ list

Sometimes what we want to do in a day can be very action-orientated and goal-driven. Even when the item on our to do list is to practice something like self care, we are always driving forwards. For some, this may add a layer of pressure to achieving their list of to dos. On the flip side, looking at what not to do, the sensation can be one of release. What unnecessary habits, thoughts or tasks do you partake in on a daily basis? Do they enrichen your life in any way or do they drag you down? Focusing on what not to do in parallel with a standard to do list can help build equilibrium. Instead of continuously accumulating, you also allow room for things to exit your life, building a rhythmic flow in which there is time to live rather than drowning in an endless list of to dos.

What types of things could be placed on a not to do list

To start, I like to look at behaviours or habits that no longer serve me. Of course, this will be highly personalised so what I share may not be applicable to those reading this post. But I hope it will give you a flavour of what you could write down on your not to do list. Sometimes I am prone to anxiety which leads me to complain about some topic or other until the anxiety passes. So for one day I decided to note down that I wouldn’t engage in complaining behaviour. I knew within myself that it wasn’t a habit that served me in any way. It did not alleviate my anxiety rather than help it to grow. Through practices such as mindfulness, I instead chose to sit with my anxiety, acknowledge it, treat it with care and watch it exit. As a result of not complaining, my anxiety had no fuel to feed upon. It came and went like a breeze instead of lingering for days on end.

Another not to do was take my phone into my room at bedtime. I’ve written previous posts on phone addiction and unfortunately this past month I have ended up back in bad habits. Looking at my phone is not conducive to a good night’s sleep and the knock on effect of such a habit is considerable. A poor sleep means poor functioning the following day and can knock out my sleep cycle for a week or two. So the phone stays out of the room.

Remember, your not to do list is personal to you, so make it your own.

Things to watch out for when making a not to do list

It is incredibly important not to use your not to do list as an avoidance technique or act of suppression. Some things have to be done such as paying the bills on time, otherwise more trouble could follow. When using a not to do list for behavioural or habitual changes, it’s important to really look at the motive behind not doing something. If I use my earlier example of not complaining when feeling anxious, make sure that you have another way to deal with the feeling you’re experiencing. For example, although complaining can be seen as something negative, if it made me feel better and less anxious, then maybe this would not be a good thing not to do. Some people may think to write to ‘be happy’ and ‘not be sad’, but what you feel is what you feel. It’s more the actions you take off the back of the feeling that can be looked at. So please be sure not to avoid or suppress.

Final thoughts

Creating a not to do list has been amazingly liberating. Coupled with my to do list, I feel invincible. It has helped me to really focus in on the things that matter and to leave anything detracting from my focus behind me. For some tricky habits to break, I write the same not to do item daily. By engaging in this repetitive thought pattern, I am training my brain to create new habits and release ones that no longer benefit me. Letting go allows more space for joy, compassion, love, happiness and freedom.

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