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When in doubt, make a short list.

Some habits are more important than others.

I remembered that yesterday.

After four days of staying up too late, eating too much, not working out, and having too many drinks, I felt terrible. Not just physically, but emotionally too.

My inner critic—normally an optimistic guy with a tinge of self-doubt—transformed into a relentless asshole.

Why you’d stay out so late? How come you didn’t meditate today? Who the hell drinks espresso and bourbon at the same time? Why are you so pathetic? 

This isn’t the first time this has happened. And it won’t be the last.

In fact, it happens nearly every time I travel and get out of my normal routine. Before I leave for a vacation or work trip, I tell myself I’ll do all the healthy things I normally do while at home. And then I proceed to ignore 99% of my healthy habits as I get swept up in the novelty of being on the road.

In times like this, when I’m full of self-loathing but also self-reflection, I try to do two things:

  1. Cut myself some slack.
  2. Make a short list for next time.

The slack-cutting is because, like a lot of guys I know, I hold myself to very high standards. While this could be considered a good thing in small doses, I tend to think it does more harm than good.

My parents joke that as a kid I’d often get so ashamed, I’d go stand in a corner without them telling me to.

The only thing is that it’s not a joke. I remember doing it all the time.

Apparently, I was and still am my own worst punishment.

So when I’m feeling particularly self-abusive, I try to remember that I’m human, it’s all OK, and no one is making me feel bad but me.

The second thing I do—make a short list—is because I like to remind myself of the Stuff That Makes Me Have A Good Day.

The short list is a small collection of habits that, when performed, pretty much guarantee I’ll feel good, even if I don’t follow any other “healthy” habit.

Here’s my short list:

  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  • Do 20 minutes of guided meditation.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes.
  • Write for 30 minutes.
  • Don’t have more than 2 drinks.

Those are the important ones. The 20% that leads to 80% of my “healthiness.”

I don’t know this to be true, but I like to believe we all have a short list.

A small list of things that can turn a shitty day into something of substance, if only we take the time to do them.

The trouble, at least for me, is remembering I even have a short list.

Perhaps it’d make a good tattoo?