It may not be altogether surprising to learn that I am of a disposition whereby I take great pleasure in writing a good list. I like to see the tasks ahead of me, to tick them off and to have a tangible indicator of jobs done, of progress.
I have a list of my weekly runs and cross each off as I complete them, a process which holds me to account, even if only to myself.
I have to-do lists at work, lists of jobs around the house, lists of various activities to complete. As you may have noticed from my posts, I like to retrospectively list out the things I’ve achieved each week – the new things I’ve tried, the places I’ve been to and the people that I’ve met. I have to admit that I’m also a retrospective task-to-list adder – putting jobs onto my to-do that I’ve already completed, just to have the satisfaction of ticking them off!
This week I was reading about this process of list making and it seems that it’s actually rather good for the brain. At a time when we are faced by a constant barrage of information from all areas, a list offers a manageable, finite ordering mechanism that provides a means of coping with the world around us. The list is perfectly designed for our mind to process; we are drawn to it intuitively, we process it more efficiently, and we retain information from it with little effort.
In his book Lists of Note, Shaun Usher reflected on the idea of a list-less world, ‘just a world full of things, muddled and overflowing, without a sense of purpose or collective identity’ – a truly terrifying prospect for a listophile like me!
Lists not only help to order the world around us, they also actively help us to ‘get stuff done’. The so-called ‘Zeigarnik effect’ describes our tendency to have nagging thoughts about those things that we start but fail to complete. The writer Roddy Doyle suggests that we write to-do lists in the knowledge that they will stimulate this effect, ‘because the act of writing tasks down should prompt us to get them done. Our unconscious will nag us to complete things, simply because the list exists.’
And the process of completion, the social psychologist Robert Zajonc tells us, proffers such a positive feeling that it proliferates our desire to repeat the action – to list, to tick off, to feel satisfaction, to list again.
This recent reading has informed my analysis of my week from a health and fitness perspective. While there have been some short-comings (a glass of wine too many perhaps and possibly one or two cashews more than is good for me), by listing off my achievements and reflecting on the targets I’ve met I’m able to order and neatly package my week around whatever small successes I may have had and gain that feeling that I’ve got stuff done.
So what have I achieved?
- On Monday I went to my ballroom dancing class. It was the last of this series of classes and although I was sad for it to come to an end I enjoyed revising all of the dances we’ve done to date.
- I’ve successfully ticked off all of my runs this week, completing 43.4 miles of a proposed 41.
- In doing so I’ve run several new routes, running between work and R’s house on Tuesday evening, to Tower Bridge on Friday morning and to Limehouse today (Sunday).
- I’ve run intervals on the treadmill for the first time in months and done a long-overdue weights and abs session followed by a quick swim on Wednesday.
- I have been out for a run before work for the first time this week, completing 12km with Anna at 7:45am on Friday morning and surprising myself by really enjoying it.
- I’ve successfully completed my first ever 17 mile run with my marathon partner Becks and felt alarmingly ok in terms of my muscles and aerobic fitness by the end (although with some hip and knee pain, which I’m seeing a physio about in the morning).
- Oh and some rather big news, I’ve moved house! R asked me to move in with him so Saturday saw plenty of packing and unpacking, walking up and down stairs (I was moving from the top floor of a three storey house), and heavy lifting. I know this isn’t officially exercise, but it felt pretty energetic and I was suitably tired by the end of it!
A week well spent I think. Now all I need to do is to write my to-do list for next week…