Lists Help You Mind Your Mind

I am increasingly convinced I am losing my mind.

While one may mistakenly interpret the previous conclusion, the hard facts are no longer debatable. The noises residing inside my head are taking over. And my only defense seems to be the noble act of making lists.

Yes, lists. Picture independent entries hand-written on a scrap piece of paper. Literally, an analog solution resurrected in a digital world.

Entries are brief, and to the point, ominously beckoning to cross them out, putting them out of their misery. No entry wants to be left behind.

The noises in my head are not imagined. Research in 2011 said our brains consume 5 times the information consumed per day than in 1996. Since then I’ve added social media to my life, my cell phone is rarely beyond reach, and there is a crazy device in the house answering my questions. No wonder my brain acts like a bag of microwave popcorn at the one-minute mark – indiscriminately shooting kernels in all directions.

Today I am armed and doing battle against the machine of distraction with a lead pencil and piece of paper. While not glamorous, the old-school solution is changing my life for the better. And the result is I am happier between the ears.

Getting started is easy – find a piece of paper and a writing instrument of choice. I prefer a pencil for the visceral feel of lead on paper. Paper, too, is a personal choice. At home, I am keen to the 3 x 5 lined cards sold in those cellophane packages. Lines make me happy.

The first step is to begin. Put your tools in an open area where you can get to them before a thought is flushed from your brain by an oncoming train of thought. Running is an acceptable tactic when necessary – don’t count on your mind to remember later. Again, this is a battle you must win.

Secondly, reward yourself by crossing out your accomplishment. After stroking through the letters, step back and let the moment wash over you. You’ve earned your victory – and freed up brain space.

Third, come to terms with your new friend. Commit to the long-term with your new friend, understanding your shared dependency will make you a happier person. The simple acceptance and practice will dramatically reduce the number of haunting moments – the ones where you get home from the grocery store and realize you forgot the item you initially set off to get.

I love my lists. I now manage my work life with a small journal, keep my weekend list on 3 x 5 cards. And I only write in pencil. And nothing feels better than looking at a long list with dark graphite scratched horizontally across each entry.

My brain might be getting taxed. I may be reaching the limits of ability to effectively process massive amounts of sensory input. But so long as I have a pencil and paper, I’ll be able to hold onto my mind.

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