As highly sensitive people, we feel life’s presence, delight, sadness, hope, and fear so deeply that our feelings often sidetrack us in ways both large and small. Overlooking a small task or two in a state of emotional distraction won’t likely spell the end of the world but what if those tiny distractions become a pattern? A pattern so reinforced that it adopts the identity of a habit. What if that habit nestles itself so snuggly into the confines of your daily life that it stands the chance of disrupting the very foundation that the goals and dreams you’ve set for yourself are built upon?
Does this scenario sound familiar? It’s Monday, a fresh week. You have a single project that you’re committed to completing by Friday. Sometime between Monday and Friday, five, ten–maybe fifty things–arise that you did not anticipate. They become so emotionally taxing that by Thursday night you realize that the project you committed to isn’t anywhere close to being done. You didn’t just get sidetracked, you got painfully off course and are now stuck in the emotional weeds! To make matters worse, the potential consequences of not completing the project on time begin to pull at your attention. A firehose of feelings–guilt, shame, frustration, anger with yourself–blasts itself upon your conscience, making it all the harder to focus your attention on getting the project done in the limited amount of time you still have left…
Sensitivity Can Create Debilitating Distractions
Did you feel any sensations in your body as you read that story? I ask because I felt a knot build in my stomach as I wrote it. Or should I say remembered it? Yes, that pattern used to be the story of my life. I would come up with a plan to achieve a goal and have every intention of following through with it, only to wind up horribly sidetracked. This story repeated itself so often that it became mythic. Eventually, I even believed the myth that I was simply incapable of following through with most things I set out to do.
In fact, I embraced this myth to such an extent that I found a way to glorify the constant drifting from my intentions and priorities. I considered it “going with the flow of life” and justified it as a series of constant adventures. But what got lost along these adventures was my ability to focus on creating what I wanted in my life. I failed to realize that my mind and emotions function so much more efficiently with structure. Flying by the seat of my pants may have made life adventurous, but it also made it exceedingly stressful. Being highly sensitive to my stressful lifestyle made me the perfect candidate for misery. A state of being that cost me dearly and transformed my goals and dreams into seemingly unattainable fantasies. In a way, it was like trying to run the Boston Marathon, but instead of staying on course–every fifty feet or so–I would branch off in a new direction, until I was so far off course I had to ask my high sensitivity, “Why in the world did you take me to Pittsburg?”
Fortunately, along my travels, I uncovered a simple solution to my highly sensitive meanderings. This solution? I make a list of everything I wish to accomplish in a given week–
Lists: A Remedy For Sensitive Distraction
Wow, Jason, that’s so “ground breaking”! Pfft, it isn’t groundbreaking in the slightest. You motivational speaker and efficiency–uber type A–types have been telling us to make lists for years. What do you know?
WELL, let me finish, because you may have overlooked a keyword: EVERYTHING. I don’t only factor in the wants that I aim to accomplish, I pencil in my want nots, those typical distractions that I know might draw my attention away from accomplishing my weekly goals, the emotions I might struggle to dismiss, the ones that may begin to drag me off course. I add my worries and the bright shiny objects that call me away from my intentions.
Why? Because my beautiful mind and heart are reactive by default, they REACT Right Now–Immediately, ASAP–to whatever pokes and prods at them and makes everything feel like an emergency. In order to function on any sort of productive level, I need to put distance between my body’s reactionary response by purposely creating an intentional and MANAGEABLE response. In its written form, each distraction becomes one item and once I am able to see those items, I can prioritize my entire list into a much more manageable context, one where I am somewhat removed from my body’s constant, exhausting, and confusing reaction to life, so I have more capacity to take action in a thoughtful and deliberate way that feels gentler within my body.
I would not be where I am today if not for this very important and life altering strategy.
I’ve no desire to dive into the ocean of list making strategies beyond this. There are countless books, articles, and experts on the subject. But, I do encourage you to become an explorer and experimenter with its various techniques until you find what works for you.
Lists Help But Can Be Overused
Even if you’ve dabbled in list making before, keep dabbling. Feel free to use my strategy as a starting point as you explore. Incorporate what works for you from the wisdom of others and feel free to leave what doesn’t. As you hone your skills, be aware of how your list making feels to you. If certain aspects of it don’t feel right, search for something that feels better. Remember you are intentionally making your own lists, so choose to make them feel good.
Lastly, as a very wise person, who is highly sensitive herself, reminded me as I was writing this article: List making, itself, can become overwhelming, so be alert if it happens. If you notice overwhelm setting in, ask yourself, “How can I make this process less overwhelming?” For example, can I spread the activities on my list across more days? Or do I want to ask for help? Or do I just need to take a break from my list and then come back to it?
Image: Emma Matthews – Unsplash