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6 ways making lists can be an act of creative and mindful self-care

liz lamoreux

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I love a good list. From lists of favorite things to lists of 10 places you should visit in Paris to gratitude lists to your favorite songs in high school, I love them all.  

List-making can actually be an awesome self-care practice. The act of slowing down and focusing on writing a list pushes you out of the swirling thoughts in your mind to bring your attention to just one thing: writing the list. A list can connect you to the present moment and the beauty and gratitude waiting to be found in your daily life.

It can also be a great writing practice and warm up before you dive into a writing project or it can even be the bones of an essay, a blog post, or a poem. I often encourage women who have the "I want to be writer" dream deep inside them to begin with lists. Get some words on a page because writers have to write and push through just dreaming about writing.

Here are a few list-writing prompts to get you started with your own list-making practice.

The "Want To Do" List

When the "to-do" list starts to feel heavy and even overwhelming, it can be helpful to create a "Want To Do" List.  

You can make it really doable and include items like: take-out for dinner, stopping by the park on the way home from school pick-up, taking a 10-minute nap, and reading before bed.  

Or you can fill it with the dreams and desires you have right now and add things like: a weekend getaway, less time on devices each weekend, more whole foods in your diet, or more time with everyone together in the evenings.  

Having a "want to do" list pushes you to notice what you need and separate it out from what must get done each day. You could make this list every day in a simple small notebook (I love Field Notes and pocket Cahier Moleskines) and begin to notice patterns as you listen to what you need.

 
list making as self care
 

The What I Did List

When I get to the end of the day and have that "I really wish I'd gotten more done today" feeling, I sometimes make a list of the things I really did today. When I start listing things, I begin to realize that I accomplished so much more than I thought I did. This is a simple one but can make a profound impact on your internal self-talk. Try it and see what you find.

I Want to Remember List

Pausing to pay attention to what you want to remember can be a beautiful daily practice. It invites you to really notice the moments of joy and growth and realness that make your life what it is.

This practice is a great one to pair with scrapbooking or a simple album of photos and words. And it is one that you can do with your family. I love asking my daughter a version of this question that is age appropriate for her, like, "What did you love most about today?" Making lists like these can help you to see the positive moments in your life, which is especially helpful when you're going through a tough time.

Gratitude Lists

Here's the thing: writing a gratitude list every day will change your life. For real. So even though this one has been around for a long time (Remember learning about this on Oprah in the 90s?), it can be a lovely and supportive practice. 

Psychology professor Robert Emmons explored the idea of keeping a gratitude list in one of his studies. He found, “subjects who wrote down one thing that they were grateful for every day reported being 25 percent happier for a full six months after following this practice for just three weeks” (from “6 Surprising Reasons Why Gratitude is Great for Your Health,”). If this isn't a reason to try this one, what will be?

To begin this practice, simply answer the question, "What am I grateful for today?" and make a short list. Try to write down at least five things you're grateful for each day, and notice how this practice makes you feel. You might even want to journal about that very idea once a week to see how this practice affects you. My daughter and I have been making these lists together for a few weeks now (about 2-3 times a week after dinner), and I'm already noticing the ways that throughout our days, we each bring up things we want to add to our lists.

 
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List Journals

My daughter and I also love these "My Listography" journals that are full of fun list prompts that invite you to think about so many things. There are versions for parenthood and lists about the future and books and movies. They are an accessible way to give yourself a few moments of slowing down and thinking about yourself in the middle of your day. And they are simply fun!

A List of Here

Another list I make sometimes is actually one of my favorite poetry prompts. I call it "a list of here," and I literally just make a list of what I'm noticing in this moment. I like to list somewhere between 5-15 observations. This is a really beautiful mindfulness practice as it centers you in the middle of your day and brings you back into your body and heart as you take time to simply observe your surroundings along with your inner self-talk. Over the past year, I've started sharing them on Instagram with the hashtag #alistofhere - feel free to join in!

I hope you'll try list making as a self-care tool in your corner of the world. I really believe that it can help you slow down and notice your life in a new way. And it can help you get to know yourself better, which is a pretty awesome thing, don't you think?