Catchy title, eh? It seems as though “DO THIS” articles are quite the rage lately. Say these 10 mantras daily to de-stress. Use these 5 techniques to be happier. Do these 15 exercises to look fabulous. And my current favorite, “live by THIS diet and never diet again” (wait a minute...). If you haven’t seen a “DO THIS” article, it can look like this:

1. Meditate for 20 minutes every day

2. Don’t ever eat past 7pm

3. Exercise regularly

4.  Take bubble baths

5.  Journal

6.  Get enough sleep

7.  Drink more water

8.  Read

9.  Use this mantra throughout the day

10. Avoid gluten and dairy

11. Go for long walks

and my three favorite:

12.  Just breathe (okay...I thought I was?)

13. Just let go (Oh, great news! It’s THAT easy?!)

14. Take more time for yourself (I would love to, but you just suggested I do the 13 things listed above)

Whew, I’m exhausted! That’s a lot to do! Not to mention a lot of rules, commands and absolute words (every day, daily, regularly, don’t ever, always, avoid). Side note, when did we pay less attention to our raw gut and more attention towards seeking the advice of others? (You just smiled...)

As a reforming strategy QUEEN, I admit that I like to be productive, sometimes, to a fault. For years, I have littered notebooks and journals with to-do’s and strategies for just about everything under the sun

·      Do-this for tummy aches

·      Things to-do when I am feeling nervous

·      Exercise/nutrition plans

·      Work and personal productivity lists

·      Mantras to say when I am feeling down

·      Strategies for “letting go” (this one makes me chuckle, now. Yes, Erin… let’s plan how to be spontaneous, that makes GREAT sense)

It wasn’t until recently that I woke up one morning, and just like many mornings, I was exhausted. Lying in bed, I felt burdened as I looked at my lists of “should-do strategies.” It was a BEAUTIFUL Vermont day, and all I truly wanted to do was to get lost in nature with my dog. But, with all of these productive things I felt I should do, I wasn’t sure I had time! Then the BIG question came. I thought to myself; “Am I using my strategy and to-do lists to be kind to myself and to stay productive, or am I using them as mere distraction tools to keep myself busy enough to avoid my thoughts and feelings?

After reflecting on this question with curiosity, I decided to tuck my lists away (challenging) and set out to climb my favorite mountain with my furry friend. And when I reached the pinnacle, I sat, I stayed, and I let myself feel. Now, my dog is not the only one who “SITS, STAYS, and HEE(A)LS.”

A wonderful aspect of my profession is having the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people. I have noticed that despite the fact that we are all so preciously unique to this world, most of us seem to have the same fundamental desires and yearnings, even if they present themselves in different ways. AKA, although it often feels like it, I guarantee that you are not alone in how you feel, think, or act. Even if you have not decorated yellow notepads with endless productivity strategies, I will take an educated guess that you have an itch or two… and you scratch the itch from time to time with your distraction tools, whatever they might be. You grasp onto people, habits, and things when you feel uncomfortable or uncertain. There are behaviors and practices that you utilize in your life to distract yourself, not wanting to stay present. But, let’s be honest, they aren’t quite working for you, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading articles for guidance, or making should-do lists.

Currently, I am working with one, consistent strategy list:

1.  Be kind to yourself and to others

2.  Be gentle to yourself and to others

3.  Approach everything with a sense of humor

4.  Keep your heart and mind open

5. Be patient with yourself and with others

6. Be honest with yourself and with others

7.  Approach everything with curiosity

8. The only constant thing is change

Do I still get itchy? Absolutely. Do I use my distraction tools to scratch from time to time? I sure do! Sometimes I feel like a fish, dangling in front of a baited hook. However, I’ve found that it is my choice whether to bait myself, or not. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. However, I bite the hook less often. And when I do scratch to avoid staying present, I am usually aware that I am doing it (which makes it MUCH less satisfying). I DO find that when I choose to stay present, it is NOT by being overly productive or distracting myself. It is by sitting and staying.

In reflection, I encourage you to ask yourself the question “Am I utilizing certain tools, habits, or strategies to practice kindness to myself and to be productive? Or, am I using these tools to avoid the reality of my feelings and thoughts? Or, perhaps, the answer is “both?” You are the only one who knows.


Erin M. Kershaw, M.S., ASCM-HFS