Before joining the SUCCESS magazine team as associate editor, personal development wasn’t a concrete part of my life. I had certain rituals I knew made me feel better (writing in a journal, going for long walks and drinking a lot of water each day), but I never thought of myself as someone overly concerned with self-improvement.
Related: Rohn: 13 Ways to Improve Your Life
But as I became more familiar with personal development while working at SUCCESS, I began to really appreciate what it entailed. Around the same time, which happened to be at the new year, I came across a book called The 52 Lists Project. It’s about taking a little time for yourself each week for a year to fill out a different list. At the end of the week, you take action on one of the items on it—for example, after listing your goals for the upcoming year, you spend a week working to achieve one of them.
I have journaled incessantly since age 14—I typically finish one or two journals a year. But list-keeping was a new concept for me. I already had two journals I wrote in regularly—one an ongoing journal, the other a five-year project in which I write one line a day—so I thought a third journal, why not?
I’m now a little over a month into the list-keeping project. And for reference, these are the five lists I’ve kept so far:
- “List Your Goals and Dreams for This Year”
- “List Your Favorite Characters from Books, Movies, Etc.”
- “List the Happiest Moments of Your Life So Far”
- “List the Soundtrack of Your Life Right Now”
- “List What You Would Like Your Life to Look Like in Ten Years”
Here’s what I’ve learned so far from keeping lists:
1. It holds you accountable.
If I wrote something down, that means I must believe it, right?
Some of the lists I kept encouraged me to strengthen my character—namely, the second one in which I had to think of my favorite characters from books, TV and movies. At the end of this list, the writer is encouraged to pick out someone who has a particular personality trait they admire and work toward improving that trait the following week.
Related: 7 Steps to Shape Great Character
I chose Rory Gilmore from Gilmore Girls, both for her tenacity and her independence. While I consider myself independent, I do lean on others at times. I decided to channel my inner Rory and take a trip to a local hiking trail by myself one weekend. Sans hiking partner, camera and headphones, I found I relished being alone. I had quiet time to reflect without feeling the need to chat with my hiking partner or take photos for Instagram.
(Also, I felt accountable to find new music—the list for the “Soundtrack of Your Life Right Now” made me realize that my iTunes library is seriously outdated.)
2. It’s cathartic.
When I journal, I basically take all of the rampant thoughts spinning around in my head and regurgitate them on paper—there’s no method to my madness. But for this project, I had to really contemplate what I wanted on paper. Each list has 30 spots for entries. This seems like a lot, but when you’re listing how you’d like your life to look in 10 years, the slots fly by. I found it relaxing to mull over the lists each week and spend 30 minutes in my PJs, sipping coffee and jotting things down.
And, as can be evidenced by the fact that I now keep three journals, I find the process of writing by hand with an ink pen (only Micro Point uni-ball Gels and Odelae journals for me) incredibly soothing.
3. It boosts confidence.
While working on the “Happiest Moments of Your Life So Far” list I found myself smiling nonstop. I tend to be overly critical of myself and I overanalyze everything, so when it came time to list my happiest moments (such as getting an article I worked hard on published in the Chicago Tribune, first saying “I love you” with my fiancé, and successfully throwing my mom and dad’s surprise 35th anniversary party) I was able to step back, ignore all the stressors in my life and feel as though, in the grand scheme of things, my life is pretty great.
4. It eases anxiety.
I experience my fair share of anxiety each day. On my drive home or while lying in bed at night, my mind will tunnel into a deep, dark hole of what-ifs and worries. I try to temper this anxiety by writing in my journal, but I found list-keeping eased my anxiety even more.
I’m hyper-organized and don’t like feeling as though things are out of order. Writing lists helped keep my anxiety in check because I was putting organization to my endless thoughts. Sure, I have things I want to achieve in 2016, but writing them down in a list made them feel a.) much more real and b.) as if they were actually achievable. I have been referring to my list each week to remind myself of the things I want to change, such as watching less TV, being more spontaneous and not spending money on frivolous things. (I’m still working on that last one…)
Have I convinced you of the merits of list-keeping yet? If so, write on! You won’t regret it.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer based in Chicago and the former features editor of SUCCESS magazine. Her work has been published in The Cut, VICE, Inc., The Chicago Tribune and Business Insider, among other publications. When she's not writing, she can usually be found drinking matcha tea into excess, traveling somewhere new with her husband or surfing Etsy late into the night.