“The only thing more important than your to-do list is your to-be list. The only thing more important than your to-be list is to be. ~” – Alan Cohen
During this year of uncertainty, ever-changing rules and regulations, and adjusting to new ways of living, I’ve tried many ways to cope and to maintain a sense of structure and productivity. I am the type of person who feels their best when they are busy and when they feel like they are working towards a clearly defined goal. As a result of this personality trait, I have become an almost obsessive to-do list writer.
I will write things on my to-do list that I have already done, just so I can feel like I have achieved more at the end of the day. I write things on my to-do list that I don’t need to remind myself to do, things such as:
- Go for a run (I do this every weekday morning, I won’t forget)
- Work (How I’d suddenly forget this after nine years in the working world I have no idea, something would be terribly wrong)
- Uni (again, definitely not something that is going to slip my mind!)
I also add mundane chores to the list, things that sort of need doing but can wait a day, things that need doing every day that I’m fairly certain I would notice as I move through my house.
I thought that by doing this I could preserve the façade that I was being productive in lockdown. Look how busy I am, I have ten things on my list, and I’ve ticked all of them off, aren’t I a good adult human? Well… not really.
I often still wouldn’t complete things on my list, even if they were the simplest tasks, and then I would expand on the lists, writing down every thought I had or every topic I wanted to write about. A few weeks ago I realised something; I can’t remember the most basic things, no matter how hard I try.
Being both a psych graduate and mental health student, my brain started diagnosing me with every conceivable mental health issue. I was worried that I had been damaging my limbic system and that I had hippocampal atrophy. I even wrote an email to my professor who specialises in neuroscience to ask for her help and advice, luckily I didn’t have the nerve to send it.
As I bought yet another notebook, I realised that I haven’t been using my brain like I normally do. I have been relying so heavily upon notebooks and lists for an entire year that my memory is starting to suffer.
I have always had a memory that I was proud of, I can remember details from events or specifics about my childhood home that freak my mother out a little bit. I also have a history of dementia in my family and preserving memory and cognition, in general, are important to me.
I know that endless lockdowns can result in us resorting to mundane entertainment, binge-watching TV shows over and over again but our brains are so important. I’m not suggesting reading War and Peace or becoming a Sudoku champion.
Just that it is important to do things to challenge our minds while our lives are limited, step away from the to-do-lists, engage your brain in art, and music, and joy, and love! I say this as a fulltime student whose brain should be getting all the workout that it needs, I still struggled with not using it for the simple things that should be second nature to remember.
We may still be trapped inside, but we can still live big lives, we can still prioritise our mental health and our brains, we can and should still look after ourselves.