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How Ditching My To-Do List Helped Me Learn to Stay Present

At the start of one of my favorite workout classes (okay, the only workout class I really take), our instructor asks us to set an intention for the class. She even gives suggestions for those of us who are particularly stuck, like “let go,” “joy,” “peace,” etc. Ever since I started taking the class almost two years ago, more often than not my intention is to “stay present.” I made this my intention not only because it sounds really “zen-like,” but also because during workout classes I tend to compare myself to every person in the room and think about my mounting to-do list, and the intention to “stay present” seemed like a good way to counteract that. It sometimes worked, it sometimes didn’t.

When January 1st rolled around, I wanted to apply this intention-setting to my year because let’s face it, it was going to be tough to create goals when really my only goal this year was to be a good mom to my baby. And that’s when I had an aha moment: my intention should be to stay present because what better way to be a good mom than to be totally focused on my baby?

But this is where it got a little tricky because unlike my exercise class where staying present didn’t always work out, I couldn’t let my mind wander when I was taking care of my little one. And as I soon found out, babies are wonderful teachers in letting you focus on the now because you have to be completely attuned to their needs. Babies don’t dwell on the past (they can’t remember) or worry about the future (what worries?) all they’re able to focus on is their current needs, which at this age is a rotating list of: am I tired, am I hungry, do I need to poo? That’s it. And as my baby’s caregiver, I found myself being able to stay in the moment with him and easily assess what he needed. It was like magic! Except it wasn’t. It was me finally being able to stay present.

As a chronic scheduler, the idea of “not scheduling” and focusing more on my baby’s “patterns and rhythms” terrified me. I had visions of a well planned and structured to-do list by my son’s 2nd week birthday. And while I did take a stab at this type of scheduling, it was much more of calming method for me than an actual roadmap. Jack did what he wanted when he wanted, and yes… it did happen to fall into a familiar pattern, but not always. And yet, even if he didn’t do everything “on time” (as in, when I planned it or when the app said he should), he still accomplished everything he needed to. In fact, when I winged his schedule and instead went by his own cues, he ended up sleeping better at night and being more engaged during the day. I was following his needs and wants and not what I thought he should be doing. I was staying in the moment with him.

Staying present means letting go.

And for me, that meant letting go of to-do lists (gasp!) That is terrifying for me, but I soon realized I actually get more stuff done and am happier when I break away from a steady routine. And this doesn’t just apply to motherhood, by the way. Since my husband was out of town this week, I decided to forgo my usual to-do list and just see where the day took me. I normally start my day with pumping (and making said to-do list) and then meditating and doing some yoga— all wonderful things to help me “stay present.” Instead, I slept in and when my son woke up (smiling and happy, I might add), he and my dog cuddled in bed for a bit until my son showed signs of being hungry and we got up to eat. Did I stress out about not having time to meditate and stretch? Yes, have you met me? Was it an even better morning than rushing through my normal tasks? Absolutely. And guess what? Later in the day when Jack was napping, I still found time to meditate and do yoga! I was still able to accomplish what would’ve been on my to-do list, but because I wasn’t tied into doing it at a certain time (or even while wearing appropriate clothes!), it still got done. And on that particular day doing it before dinner was great because it gave me the extra boost of energy I needed to stay up later.

Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to say goodbye to to-do lists forever. That would just be insane. But, it does mean I look at them a little differently now. I’ve realized that they’re more of a hobby and stress reliever than a necessity. I know what I need to get done, but by not strictly adhering to the “schedule” and focusing on what’s happening instead of what should happen, I let go of expectations and am better able to be there for my son, myself, and everyone around me. And that’s what staying present is really all about.

Now, time will tell if I’ll be able to apply this method to my workout class. I truly hope so.

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