Make the dogs’ grooming appointment. Add Eddie Vedder’s new solo project to Spotify playlist. Review I&RS action plans ahead of next meeting. Request day off for March Madness.
Man, it feels good to strike through our to-do lists doesn’t it?
Whether that flick of the pen is done with violence or gentleness, through frustration or pride, taking control of our often Byzantine workaday existence by eliminating tasks does more than end a process. It starts one.
We feel a sense of relief to have crushed that list because our brains reward us by releasing dopamine. That high we feel is as real as whatever Snoop was puffing on during the halftime show, and we want to feel it again.
So we add more things to our list and chase that, well, “dope” again.
But if we need to finish things to feel satisfied, then doesn’t that mean we are perpetually unsatisfied?
In his new book, The Practice of Groundedness, Brad Stulberg challenges readers to flip that paradigm by creating a “not-to-do” list. A way of tricking the brain into reminding itself that we can feel a sense of accomplishment by not doing, reverse engineering the dopamine dump and removing the anxiety of the unfinished.
Beat myself up about being tied to my office on a particular day.
Respond to an irrational parent voicemail immediately and aggressively.
Check school email after 5 pm.
Hold off on checking in on a teacher who is clearly struggling.
Then, post your not-to-do list in an obvious and accessible place so as to remind yourself that not doing is as willful and cathartic an act as doing.
Now, if you’ll excuse me.
Obsess over every word in every blog post.