On lists: Resizing the ego


Every morning excepting Shabbat I write a list. The lists are, without exception, ridiculous. Take for instance this morning:

Water spider
Curate library
Blog
Walk dogs
Pay bills/budget
Paperwork
Format novel for publication
Critique story
Journal
Free write
Write on current novel
Job ap
Paint trim
Meditate
Solicit reviews
Work on marketing

As can be seen at a glance, this is not all going to get done today. My tradition is to work all day after writing my list and then castigate myself at the end of the day for not getting the whole thing done.

I am going to propose a theorem: Self-castigation for failing to do the impossible is not a recipe for success.

And a corollary: Assigning oneself impossible goals is a failure of the ego.

I am not a literary Evil Knievel, jumping my motorcycle of concepts over the Grand Canyon. I am not a Hercules of lifestyle, able to clean out the Augean Stables of my life in one day. So why do I write lists which assume I can or should?

Yesterday I was reading my Siddur and came across a blessing for “releasing the bound.” Immediately I wondered what binds me. The question invited the answer. My ego binds me. My assumption that I either can or should accomplish the impossible every day is egoic.

What is the effect of trying to accomplish the impossible every day, the threat of self-castigation hanging over me at every turn? It is a diminishing of my energy. I spend valuable resources on setting impossible goals and then hating on myself when I fail.

What if I spent all that energy on being happily productive, I wonder. With the thought, my spirits lift and I feel renewed purpose.

We have circled back to Buddhism, the spiritual tool for ego-reduction. I’m off to meditate. But first, I believe I will water the spider.

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