instead of to-do, try to-feel: a better list practice

Determining how I want to FEEL, instead of what I want to DO, has been one of the most game-changing habits I’ve incorporated into my life.

— about the daily to-feel list —

Making a to-feel list is the first part of a four-part mindset practice that I do every morning. (I’ll talk about the other three parts in future posts.)

Early in my day, I take a minute or two to identify my emotional state. At this point, I’m not setting any goals, I’m just checking in with myself to get an honest, accurate reading of how I’m feeling in the moment.

Once I’m clear about where I am as I start my day, I then determine how I want to feel.

Sometimes I simply want to stay where I am. Sometimes I want to raise or lower my energy. Sometimes I want to turn things around for myself, or prepare to go in a new direction. Sometimes I just want to experience something I haven’t felt for a while. (Maybe I’ve been very serious and sober for days, and I want to loosen up and feel lighter, more playful.)

Once I have some ideas in mind, I write out the following sentences in my version of a bullet journal:

  1. Today I will feel _______.
  2. To that end, I will _______.

In the space of #1, I list up to three words that describe how I would like to feel.
(To streamline this process, I review a reference list of words describing feelings I frequently desire. I also go “off-list” whenever another desired feeling presents itself.)

In the space of #2, I list some actions and/or strategies that are likely to to lead me into feeling the way I want to.

Once I’ve completed those two sentences, I review my master task list and choose what I will do with my time during the day. Sometimes I’m lucky, and I can plan a full day of activities that are naturally aligned with my want-to-feel list. When there are incompatible must-do tasks on the day’s agenda, I take a few moments to figure out to change the task, or my attitude toward the task, to better suit my desired way of being.

Making these changes doesn’t involve scolding, or forcing, or tolerating, or pep-talking my way into being okay with a task. Instead, I think about what lies behind and underneath it. I look for aspects of the task that are already in alignment with my desired feelings. And I look for ways to tweak my approach to the task to make it more appealing.

I’ll give you an example.

This morning (a Monday in mid-March), I was coming off a great weekend, one that allowed me to get a lot of outdoor time, plenty of sleep, and some deep quality time with my husband. In order to have all that, however, I had blown off some writing work I intended to accomplish over the weekend. On top of that, my Monday morning date with the scale revealed that I’d over-indulged with a few more treats than I should have when we had run away for an impromptu day trip.

(1. How are you?)

My emotional situation, then, was that I was starting the day feeling rested and recharged … but also like I’d lost some ground.

I know myself pretty well. That flicker of awareness — that “I’m starting from behind!” mindset — told me that I was in danger of rushing, in order to catch up. I know that rushing turns my mood brusque and impatient. I know that when I’m feeling impatient, I end up trying to multitask. And I know that multitasking diminishes my effectiveness, especially in relation to writing.

(2. How do you want to be?)

With this in mind, I wrote this* during my morning routine:

Today I will feel calm, flexible, and creative.

(3. How can you get there?)

Then this:

To that end, I will:

  • remember to breathe
  • stay focused on one task at a time & move through each task one step at a time
  • eat clean food & drink clear water to keep my energy up (and un-do some damage)
  • trust my normal routine to guide me through a productive day
  • take advantage of the being-not-doing windows I’ve built into my normal routine, (to better leave space for creative thoughts to bubble up)
  • look for little opportunities to laugh and connect through the day, to maintain my good mood
  • tackle something challenging, that requires physical energy, because I’m starting from a good place (and the exercise wouldn’t hurt)

Equipped with this set of strategies for the day, I turned to March’s master to-do list.

As I mentioned, I had a lot of writing to do. (Mostly social media / blogging work.) These writing tasks were well-matched to my desired feelings list. If these were the only tasks on my to-do list, it would be easy to stay calm, flexible and creative.

4. What’s in your way?

My master to-do list, however, also told me that I needed to do laundry, make dinner, run some errands, and get started on deep cleaning the bathroom, (which is the area of my home that I concentrate on in the third week of each season.)

To be honest, I didn’t want to spend any time on any of those tasks. (Nor on my smaller, daily home keeping tasks.) If I were trying to make deadline (for example), I might have pushed these non-writing tasks to another day, but postponing such things just because I’m a little behind where I want to be is not a sustainable way to create the life I want.

5. How can you align it with how you want to be?

I took a breath. (Following the advice I’d given myself a moment before.)

It only took a few seconds to remind myself that having these mundane, everyday chores DONE would make it possible for me to feel calm and free me to feel creative. Figuring out how and when to fit these tasks around my priority work (the writing) would allow me to practice being flexible. Almost instantly, I realized I was already in alignment.

In order to better DO said chores, I looked back to to the strategies list I’d already made. (My answers to the prompt, “To that end, I’ll …”) Almost magically, my strategies were especially applicable to the mundane, everyday tasks.

Of course it’s not magic. I chose my strategies for the day knowing that I was was facing some potentially frustrating conflicts. I was setting myself up for success even before I picked up my pencil. In truth, all of this could be done without writing anything down. It’s a natural process. On a good day we all do this kind of thing unconsciously.

But not all days are good days.

Before I started this daily practice, I often found myself paralyzed on bad days. On such days, it felt like everything had gone to hell and there was nothing I could to make it better.

But there is. It may be harder, but it’s possible. And it’s most possible when you have already blazed a path for yourself by consistently and faithfully figuring out how you want to feel, then making it happen.

As always,
~ Verity

P.S. Yes, I did get everything done, though, at the time of this writing, there’s more work to be done in that bathroom.


*In truth, I did not write exactly what you see above, in the example I’ve shared. What I actually wrote is in my own personal shorthand, which I’ve developed over time. I know what I mean when I make my quick notes, but I feared it would be gibberish to anyone but me. For the purposes of this blog, I wrote each item out in an expanded form, so that it would make sense to a reader.

This is what the practice really looks like in my book of days:


~ the weekly to feel list ~

The to-feel note format you see below is a recent expansion of my practice. I designed it for use at my Instagram account, @seasonalists. This #tofeellist is an overview of what I want and expect from the coming week. I post this note once a week, on Sundays or Mondays, whenever I update my book of days for a new week.

This week:

And from weeks past:

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The concept of the to-feel lists is adapted from the “core desired feelings” embedded in the work of Danielle LaPorte, an entrepreneurship expert I adore. (She is one of my favorite virtual mentors.) My introduction to her philosophies came via her book, The Fire Starter Sessions.


Cozy Corners & Hideaways

A note to any visitors:

I’m just getting this blog set up. There isn’t much to see yet, and it’s probably too early to be inviting anyone over, but I couldn’t resist the theme of this weekly photo challenge.
Over time, I hope to make Seasonalists into a cozy corner / hideaway / favorite place … for myself and for anyone else who wants to create a life they love. If you want to learn a little more about my plans, pop over to “About Verity Mews“.  There may be some other pieces in place by the time you get here via this post. Feel free to take a peek at anything you see, and forgive me my mess.
                                                   ~ Verity

I realized, just recently, that — even though I’m a grown woman (and then some) — I still indulge myself with a habit I developed when I was a very young girl.

In most every important respect, I was an only child. (My siblings were adults when I was born.) I was also sheltered. For me there was no running the neighborhood, or inviting school friends to our place, or going on sleepovers.

I suppose I should have felt lonely, but the truth is, I was a happy little girl. I had good companions in my animals, my books, and a transistor radio. And — as long as I didn’t cause any trouble, and stayed within shouting distance — I had a lot of freedom to entertain myself however I liked.

What I liked was to make myself hideaways filled with my companions and other things I found beautiful.

My beautiful things were potions I made, trinkets I collected, and little projects I could do. They still are.

Body powder, made with corn starch and mini-poms scented with BPAL perfume oil.
I’m a silver woman. The little goddess is from a swap I made years ago.

In the warm months, these secret spaces were usually outside — behind a curtain of willow whips; under the arching branches of an ancient hedge of bridal veil; in the back corner of a farm yard, where an aspen had fallen to make a bench.

In the never-ending winters, though, I was confined to indoors. Luckily, we lived in a series of old houses, with lots of odd cubbies and nooks for me to explore and to decorate with my little comforts.

The mister contains linen spray made from vodka, water, and more BPAL.

As an adult, I’ve had homes where a spare basement room, or a backyard shed, could be all mine. (I had a “she-shed” back in the 90s, long before they became a thing.) Even when we were young and just starting out,  I had a big closet into which I could retreat.

When we moved to Carolina, though, space got tight. Really tight.

You see, we are resettling as a family — which sounds like no big deal — but our family consists of my husband and me, our adult daughter, our adult son, and his intended bride. (Plus two big dogs.)

My old boy, from his customary spot on the bed, wasn’t sure what to make of me taking these photographs.

None of us know yet where we will settle within the state. (A city? A smaller town? Coast? Mountains? Piedmont?) The “kids” still need to finish college degrees. All of us need some time to familiarize ourselves with an entirely new culture and habitat.

For all these reasons, we are currently renting and sharing an apartment in a central but temporary location near Raleigh. It’s a big apartment, but space is at a premium … particularly because my husband telecommutes from home. His “home office” is also our bedroom.

Until about a month ago, my only cozy corner was the lowest shelf of the bookcase we built into a shallow nook of the living room. I did what I could with a couple of cushions, a votive candle, some flowers and, and a few pretty baubles that didn’t stand out as too feminine for the aesthetic of the rest of the room.

Carnations and baby’s breath are an economical way to bring fresh, long-lasting blooms into a space.

It was okay, but the space is too open to the communal living area to be considered a hideaway.

I took another look at what was available in the apartment. The only real option was to carve a small corner out of our already overstuffed bedroom. (There’s already a king-size bed, and a massive, L-shaped, work desk, bearing multiple monitors.)

There wasn’t much space to work with. Its availability to me would be limited to non-work hours. Late at night, I knew, I’d have to be quiet, and keep the lights dim.

It wasn’t ideal, but I was desperate for a place to just be.  I decided having a part-time retreat space was better than not having one at all.

After about a month’s worth or puttering, and trying out various arrangements, I came up with this:

It looks more like a vanity area than anything else, but you’d be surprised by how many different things I have packed into those decorative boxes. You can’t see it in this photo, but one key to the usefulness of this space is a lap pad (with its own LCD light) which slides down between the wall and the chair when not needed.

In this corner, sitting near the window, in a low-slung, arm-less chair at the foot of our bed, I can knit; draw zen tangles, dangles, or other doodles; read; compose letters and cards; write sections of my novel longhand; and keep my book of days. I can preen. I can drink coffee or wine, and eat from a secret stash of fine chocolates. I can do my nails. I can watch one of my programs on the small TV we have in the room. I can cuddle a dog. I can meditate. I can daydream. And, at night, when I’m full up with all these other good things, I can just unwind quietly, while listening to my husband breathe.

It’s one of my favorite cozy corners ever.

Here are some responses to the WPC prompt “favorite place” that I particularly like:

Lakeside SwingCoastal GeorgiaWith The Wild ThingsMy GardenCopper PotOsborne HouseGet Lost

I may add more, as I browse more responses.

About Verity Mews

Here at Seasonalists, I go by the name Verity Mews. Yes, it is a pseudonym. Yes, it’s a bit of a pun.

Verity means truth. The persona “Verity” may be a fictionalized version of myself, but this project, at its heart, is a way for me to share some of the truest things I have learned in my lifetime.

Mews, of course, is a homonym for “muse”. It’s my transparent way of saying that — in creating Seasonalists — I am hoping to act as a muse … for myself and for any readers who happen upon the space.

~ Motivations ~

In my other writing life, I am a fiction author who writes supernatural horror. I am fascinated by the endless possibilities of the genre, and I love the work. Still, it’s not good to limit oneself to only dark and scary things, nor is it really possible for me to do so.

The truth is, I enjoy pastel colors, and bunny-rabbits, and a good cuppa, just as much as anyone. I’m making Seasonalists so that I have a place where I can unabashedly write about my love of such nice things.

~ Qualifications ~

I’ve spent much of my life (outside of writing) being extraordinarily domestic. I’ve raised a couple of children of my own, and had a hand in raising another dozen or so. I’ve done public school and home school. I’ve been a classroom assistant, a scout leader, and an educational opportunity coordinator. I have provided daycare and eldercare. I’ve been happily married (and passionately in love) for nearly 30 years.

I have lived on farms, in large houses, and in small apartments. I have kept and cared for animals ranging from show dogs to chickens to salamanders. I’ve gardened extensively in the past, and I expect I will again. ( Even if I am not in possession of a garden in this particular phase of my life.) I have spent untold hours cooking, cleaning, crafting, organizing, and caring for others.

And I’ve studied the domestic arts intensively since I was a little girl.

(One of my earliest memories is clipping an article from a magazine about how to make scented dividers for one’s lingerie drawer. Mind you, my only lingerie at the time consisted of pjs and day-of-the-week panties.)

Ever since then, my preferred genre for guilty-pleasure reading has been in the vein of how-to and self-help. I have read countless articles and scores of books about doing things better and faster.

But I didn’t just read. I implemented. I experimented by trying out dozens of systems and methods in my day-to-day life. No one author’s approach worked perfectly for me. Over time, though, I figured out how to winnow, adapt, and synthesize the ideas I read about to better fit my personality and my life. I built my routines from the raw material I found within all those resources, and I came out with something that uniquely suits me.

~ Intentions ~

Here at Seasonalists, I will share my routines. I will share techniques, methods, and systems. I will share tips, and tricks, and suggestions.

I I do not want to tell anyone what kind of life they should have. Rather, I want simply to make it a little faster and easier for others to create a life they love.

~ Disclosures ~

I think it may be important for my readers to know that the journey to where I am now wasn’t smooth. I have worked hard to build a safe, loving, beautiful, world for myself and for those I share my life with.

My family of birth was complicated. I lost my father at a young age. There were stepfathers, and half siblings, and many others who came and went. There was a great deal of love and beauty, but there was also alcoholism, violence, and mental health issues. There was too much transitioning, and not enough stability. In high school I earned A’s or F’s, and only barely managed to graduate. I became a very young, very unwed mother. Then I had an ill-advised, short-lived, early marriage.

In my life, I have been on welfare. I have worked in disreputable joints. I have been a stay-at-home mom. I have had respectable jobs, (but no career other than writing.) I have been poor, and I have lived a comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle.

Family has been everything to me, and I have been estranged from family. I am committed to some of the best friends in the world, and I have “broken up” with people I thought were life-long friends. I’ve been left behind, and I’ve walked away. I’ve taken advantage, and I have given more than anyone should.

Somewhere along the way, I got a mental health diagnosis of my very own. It took a while before I learned how to deal with it.

I try not to dwell on these less than ideal truths, but I will not pretend they don’t impact who I am and what I do.

The take-away is this: If I could get from where I started to where I am, then you probably can get to where you want to be too.

~ * ~

TLDR: To paraphrase some famous lines from a movie I haven’t seen: I have a particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long domestic career. Skills that make me a font of knowledge for people who want to create a life they love.

And I’ve reached a point in my life where I’d like to share those skills with others.

Welcome to the Seasonalists blog.

Verity & Mr. Mews
Verity & Mr. Mews