List Making and What You REALLY Want: A Journaling Exercise


List making is such an ingrained part of our daily lives that we often don’t consider it a journaling technique.  More than just a reminder of what we need to do today, lists are an excellent way to generate a lot of information in a succinct manner very quickly.  In her book, Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams suggests creating a list on a chosen topic that is 100 items long.  Why?  Like many other journaling techniques, list making benefits from giving yourself the time and space on the page to work through that which is at a conscious level.  As you keep writing past a point at which you might have otherwise stopped, you tap into information that lies just below the surface in your subconscious mind.  You may be surprised by what shows up towards the end of your list when the conscious mind has exhausted its efforts and the subconscious has an opportunity to weigh in!

You can write a list on absolutely any topic whatsoever.  A few ideas include:

100 things I am grateful for

100 things I need to/should do

100 things I’m afraid of

100 things I would do if I had more time

100 things I’m worried/stressed about

100 topics to write about

100 things that I love

100 things I want to make

Your list can be about anything at all that sparks your interest or feels like it might be therapeutic for you.  When I’m feeling overwhelmed, for example, I love to make a list of 100 things I need to/should do.  Getting these things down on paper gives me a chance to capture them.  From there I can sort through them and choose what to tackle now, what to save for later and what to forget about altogether.  It is a very centering, clarifying process.

When making your list, feel free to repeat yourself as many times as an item pops into your head.  The fact that it is entering your thoughts more than once is something to note in and of itself.  Also, don’t worry if your list entries don’t make sense.  Just keep numbering on the page and continue writing.  This process benefits from moving swiftly, letting whatever pops into your head make its way on to the page.

Once you have completed your list, it is helpful to go through what you have written and put your items into categories.  You will probably find that your list breaks down into 5-7 categories.  For example, if you wrote a list of 100 things I’m worried about, you might find that 30% of what you worry about relates to money and finances, 20% to health, 20% to your relationships, 20% to daily tasks that need to get done and 10% to your job.  This can give you some clarity about what you want to do next.  Maybe you choose to tackle some of those daily tasks that are weighing on your mind but are also easy to cross off the list and then resolve to taking a serious look at your budget and financial outlook when you have more time over the weekend.  List making can help you focus your energy and generate productive and inspired action based on what comes up for you.

For today’s exercise, we are going to make a list of 100 Things that I Want.  Take out your journal and pen, and when you are ready, began making a list of 100 things that you want.  These can be tangible things like a new house or a jet-ski, but they don’t have to be.  Maybe you want a career that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning or for your partner to stop nagging you about the way you load the dishwasher.  ANYTHING at all that you want right now in this moment, put it down on the list.  Remember, repetition and nonsensical entries are just fine.  Don’t overthink, just write.  Keep going until you reach 100 items.  This should take you 20-30 minutes.

When you are finished, set your pen down and begin reviewing your list.  Notice that for every item, for everything thing that you want, there is a feeling state that you hope to achieve by getting this thing.  For example, if you wrote down that you wanted a million dollars, what you really want may be a feeling of security or comfort, or perhaps freedom.  If you wrote down a cabin in the woods, perhaps what you really want is a feeling of peace or connection with the natural world.  Or maybe you said you wanted to start running or practice yoga on a regular basis.  Maybe your underlying desired feeling is vitality.  All of our desires are fueled by a way we want to feel.  Go through your list and begin identifying what feeling states you desire based on the items on your list.  You will probably find that most of your items fall under 5-7 desired feeling states.  When you are finished categorizing your items into feeling states, tally the number of items that fall into each category.

Now that you’ve categorized and tallied your items, notice what it is that you really want, the desired feeling states that lie behind the items on your list.  These feeling states are available to us all the time in our daily lives, and by finding ways to access them more frequently in small, attainable ways, the easier it is to move in the direction of the things that will help us feel the way we want to feel.

When we are unaware of the feeling state that lies behind the want, we can get into a position of thinking that getting a particular thing is like a magic bullet.  More money=freedom.  A cabin=peace.  Running=vitality.  As I’m sure you’ve experienced in your own life, this is not necessarily so.  There are people with plenty of money who feel trapped.  There are people who own cabins who feel anxious and upset.  There are people who run regularly who feel exhausted.  Sometimes what we think is just the thing to fix everything is actually not.

But when we are in touch with how we want to feel as a starting point, that can change everything.  Beginning with our daily lives, if we desire a feeling of peace, maybe we begin a meditation practice or simply find more moments for quiet during the day.  We note what peace feels like and move in the direction of things that generate a peaceful feeling inside of us.  Freedom may be as simple as going for a bike ride or making what you want for dinner tonight rather than what others expect you to make.  We note what freedom feels like and move in the direction of things that make us feel free.  You have the power to consciously move towards things that make you feel the way you want to feel.  And away from things that don’t.  Find the feeling and continue to move in that direction.

Most importantly, this way of being keeps us from the “waiting to start living” syndrome.  In his book, A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, Eckhart Tolle says:

The “waiting to start living” syndrome is one of the most common delusions of the unconscious state. Expansion and positive change on the outer level is much more likely to come into your life if you can enjoy what you are doing already, instead of waiting for some change so that you can start enjoying what you do.  Don’t ask your mind for permission to enjoy what you do.  All you will get is plenty of reasons why you can’t enjoy it.  “Not now,” the mind will say.  “Can’t you see I’m busy?  There’s no time.  Maybe tomorrow you can start enjoying…”  That tomorrow will never come unless you begin enjoying what you are doing now.

There is no reason to wait to feel the way we want to feel.  There is no magic bullet.  We can dance and play with these desired feeling states beginning with what’s right in front of us in this very moment.  Maybe, as it turns out, you won’t need that yacht after all!  Maybe it was a feeling of adventure and aliveness you were after.  Where can you find that now?  Today?

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