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Swapping out your To-Do list for a Be-Now List

“The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be.” ~Robert Fulghum

For as long as I can remember, I have been an ardent keeper of a life to-do list. Always a set of invisible criteria in my head, and sometimes written-out in actual lists, my to-do list of life improvements has been sort of a North Star, guiding my direction and efforts.

This love of improvements in process stems from a longstanding and deep desire to be transformed in some magical way. Not because my life has ever been bad in an objective sense, but nevertheless, I always believed my life—and I—needed to be changed and improved.

In elementary school, for example, I can remember thinking ahead to a trip I was going to take in the summer with my friend’s family to Cape Cod.

I planned all the ways I’d use the following months to become the pretty wasp-y girl who I thought belonged on Cape Cod (grow out my hair, get a new cover for Bermuda bag…)

Or, when I went off to college in New York City, I looked forward to the very sophisticated, adventurous urbanite I would be (stop eating dinner between now and then to be skinny, buy this pair of boots and that jacket, develop an air of nonchalant cool…)

This was a pattern I replayed many times over: set my sights on a media-perfected image of a lifestyle or type of person, and then list all the ways that I needed to change to become more like that image.

All of these different factors would find their ways into resolution or to-do form. (Will lose weight, will be more extroverted and charming, will learn to be a better flirt, and so on.)

When the experiences I planned for came to pass, they each had their own reality, which was good, interesting, and full in its own way.

The problem was that, of course, they rarely looked like the Hollywood version I had in mind, and they did not transform me into the different person that I sought. Not surprising. Who was it who said, “Wherever you go, there you are”? 

This same quest for transformation also led me to explore many forms of psychology, spirituality, and mind-body therapies.

I think I was looking to bolster my external change efforts with internal “improvements,” and tried out all sorts of books, philosophies, programs, and regimes, ranging from Buddhism to psychotherapy, from juice detoxes to gluten-free, from extreme determination and goal setting to radical acceptance of what is…

Ironically, the real transformation I sought through all this work was a feeling of ease and balance— around who I was and what I achieved in the world.

I was working very hard in the hopes of achieving a “natural” harmony and ok-ness, so that I wouldn’t have to work so hard!

And finally, somewhere along the way, it began to dawn on me that the missing piece I was trying to get, via all these steps and changes and work, was already under my control: my valuing of myself and my own experience.

The simple truth, as Robert Fulghum says, is that “the grass is greenest where it is watered.” All this time I had been frantically flinging water over fences onto grass in the distance.

This realization fundamentally changed how I approach “self-improvement” and any changes that I want to make in my life.

I am still very open to wisdom, wellness philosophies, and inspiration of many kinds, and I’m grateful for the education and perspective this whole journey has brought me. However, I am now wholly focused on practicing it, being it, and enjoying it right now.

Instead of setting resolutions and working toward them, my goals are for how I want to be each day and each moment, how I want to feel about myself, how I want to value my environment and the people and opportunities in my life now.

Although I get this shift 100% mentally, the truth is that it is not always easy to practice—it goes against a lifetime of mental habits! To help me make this shift any time, I have created a set of tools and practices based around active questions. Here are some of the principles and questions:

Start with being and feeling now, and work from there to the external manifestation.

When we want something in our life to change, what we really want is to feel differently. So, I start by making room for and cultivating that feeling-state. I ask myself: How do I want to be feeling now? What would I have to believe in order to feel that way?

I test how that belief feels. Could I find evidence in my experience to support that new belief?

At the very least, even if I don’t fully convert to the new belief, its possibility has been planted in my mind, and some seeds of doubt have been planted around the old belief that was making me feel bad.

Make the proactive choice to accept what is now.

Usually whatever I am unhappy with now is not as bad as I think it is. Some questions that help me see this are:

What am I projecting about this situation that is making me feel so crappy? Can I be 100% certain that this perspective is true? What could be another possible way to see this situation? What gifts might this situation have for me?

Again, I may not convert completely to the new perspective, but at least I am aware this it is a matter of interpretation and choice. If I cling to the interpretation that is making me feel bad, I am aware that that is my choice.

Lastly, accept and envision what could be.

Concurrently with the above point, accepting what is now does not mean that I need to give up how I desire things to be. Over time I have absolutely experienced that lovingly nurturing a vision very much turns it into a reality.

Some questions that help maintain this vision are: What would I love to manifest in my life now? How will I feel and behave when that is a reality?

This space of envisioning my desires is an absolutely delicious place to hang out.

Armed with these guidelines and questions, I am super excited to live this mindset more and more. The beauty of this method is that I don’t have to remember how to break through; I just have to remember to ask myself the questions, and the shift occurs naturally. Thank goodness!

What do you think? Do you have special questions you ask yourself to shift your mindset?

Photo by Tiffany Dawn Nicholson

About Kate Howe

Combining a love of psychology and spirituality with beauty and design, Kate Howe creates projects in a variety of media to uplift and promote well-being. Her latest project is the Mood-Tuner app for busting bad moods: cheaper than a therapist and better for you than a pint of ice cream!

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  • hersheygiggles

    Phenominal!
    I had an epiphany about my life and I warmly and deeply thank you for your wonderful writing and perspective!

  • Wendi @ A Southern Yogi

    I loved reading every word of this. Thank you

  • Thank you for these words! I often tweak my life to-do list, but this article was a gentle reminder to be more present with where I am now. 

  • Thank you! This post was God sent.

  • LindyLou

    This is just so ME!!  I have piles of self-help books, I’m always looking for the next thing to lift me up. Thanks for helping me to see that I’m OK as I am NOW! 

  • Amelia

    This post resonated with me so soundly – even the wording was similar tithe thoughts in my own head. Thank you for writing this, it was really insightful.

  • megan

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

  • Great post! can easily identify with your personality type 🙂 that’s how I have always been, set a goal of how I am going to feel and behave at a future date and then start planning backwards to see what I need to do in order to feel that way…..but rarely have I met the expectations!

  • indy

    this morning i was thinking about the future and had a realization that’s very similar to what you’ve written here! having read this just now i understand that this is a confirmation that present-moment is what really matters! thank you so much!

  • Great post, Kate, and it ties in perfectly with current research into psychology that points to the down side of simply envisioning your goals, and not living in the now to take the concrete steps that achieve those goals: 
    http://www.spring.org.uk/2011/01/success-why-expectations-beat-fantasies.php. If anyone checks out the link, make sure you look at the related articles at the bottom that summarize the whole series about achieving goals.

  • YogaGirl

    This article felt as if it was written for me, but as I scan through comments, realize the article is just spot on for many. Thank you.

  • Fani Vogiatzi

    thank you for this post, it’s like you were in my mind, knowing exactly what worried me!

  • Thanks for the comments. I am so glad to hear this resonated with other people as well…
    Kate 🙂

  • i think that’s my problem – not accepting what is now. thanks for that!

  • so glad! gradually living more and more this way is huge shift to make and feels totally awesome!

  • yay! you’re welcome 🙂

  • Kate

    Thanks for the link! The balance between living in and celebrating we we are and what we have now, while still striving for “greater” things in the future, is truly one of the trickiest things to get right.

  • Kate

    The more you see that you’re ok now, the more you’ll be ok in the future as well. Nice how that works!

  • Amazing post, thank you for sharing!

    Your continual quest for transformation is one that resonates massively with me. I vividly remember how I spent each summer during my school years. I would tell myself that I’d exercise every day, eat healthily, learn how to apply make-up perfectly, experiment with trendy hairstyles, and then go back to school in September looking drop-dead gorgeous. I’d be a new, better Rebecca and everyone would be falling over themselves to get to know me.

    Needless to say, it never really worked out that way.

    I also realise now that I was missing something. I was always trying to be someone I wasn’t. I was trying to become a false version of me, rather than accepting and embracing the me I already was.

  • Meka

    Oh my God! This post just changed my life, literally. It made everything so clear. Im so excited to go on this new journey in life. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You.

  • I love the quote which you have mentioned in starting, this will for sure help me out to maintain my todo list and last but not the least thanks.