Let’s talk about one of my favorite emotional management tools. Let’s talk about making lists. 

List making might sound kind of simple— too simple, maybe, to be an effective tool. 

That’s the thing. It is BECAUSE list making IS a simple tool that it works so well. 

The more straightforward a tool is, the more likely we are to actually USE it. 

The reason many more supposedly “sophisticated” emotional management tools stay in our tool boxes is because, when crunch time comes around, they’re a pain in the neck to remember and utilize. 

So why is list making so effective? 

Because we are already doing it. All the time, in fact. 

Every moment of every day, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not, our brains are always doing two things: asking questions and making lists. 

Our questions and our lists direct our focus. 

Our focus, in turn, largely determines our mood, our level of motivation, and ultimately our behavior choices. 

What kind of lists do we make in our heads? 

We make lists of reasons to like— or dislike— ourselves. 

We make lists of our perceived options in a situation. 

We make lists of what could go wrong— or right— in a situation. 

We make lists of places we’d rather be and activities we’d rather be doing. 

Chances are, as you’re reading this right now, you’re working on a list in your head. You might be listing reasons I’m right (or wrong) about this whole “list making” tool; you might be listing the times in the recent past when you’ve made a list in your head; or you might even be listing comments you plan to make on this post, after you’re done reading it. 

See? We make lists literally  all the time. 

So how are your lists working for you?

Do the lists you habitually make tend to support you in feeling motivated, focused, and happy?

Or do the lists you make in your head tend to make you feel suspicious, drained, or angry?

Understand: the lists we make in our heads are never the SOLE determinant of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. 

But it is absolutely the case that we can fine tune our list making ability, in order to make it more likely that our lists fuel and support us, rather than exhaust and frustrate us. 

There is no reason our lists have to consist mostly of how much things suck. 

There is no reason why our lists have to emphasize what we can’t do. 

There’s definitely no reason why our lists have to enumerate reasons fo dislike ourselves. 

The kinds of lists as habitually make are heavily influenced by the people we grew up with. Children tend to make mental lists similar to those of their parents. Certain types of lists tend to run in families. 

Who taught you how to make mental lists, and what should go on those lists?

Were they worth modeling? 

We are never “stuck” with what we were taught or what we saw modeled when we were young. 

Your life does not have to run on autopilot. You do not have to function in “default” mode. 

We can choose what lists serve us in our everyday lives. 

Lists of what could go RIGHT. 

Lists of the things we appreciate or respect about people. 

Lists of what we know and do well. 

Lists of our strengths and successes. 

There are lots of lists that can empower, support, soothe, and productively focus us…if we get into the habit of consciously choosing which lists to make in our heads every day. 

But don’t take my word for it. Like every single tool or skill we discuss on this blog, the proof is in the pudding. 

That is to say: try it out. 


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One thought on “The effective emotional management tool you’re ALREADY using.

  1. A great tool and one which I was unaware of – despite making lists in my head everyday. Lists and Thoughts can get mixed up so easily so it will be tricky to keep them separate. Thanks Doc.


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