Life List How To: One Way to Start

28th February 2011

It feels a little strange to write about this, because I’m hardly in a position to offer advice right now. Please think of this as something I’m sharing because it helped me sort the army of emotions advancing on my psyche. If you’re feeling equally defenseless in the face of something Big and Bad, or even if you’re just a little befuddled, I hope this will be useful.

Emotions First

When my best-laid plans for my family went awry, my impulse was to respond with a frenzy of planning, and list making, and goal setting.

Instead I napped and took too many baths. Sometimes I napped in the bathtub, which I recommend. Anyway, once I’d restocked enough energy to think about anything but impending doom, I thought now might be a reasonable time to reassess my priorities.

Fortunately, I came across a well-timed article by Martha Beck about using the emotions you’d like to experience to guide your goals (I think it’s the same one Lara mentioned in comments). You look at how you want to feel overall, and then choose activities that support those objectives. I thought it would be a smart organizing principle for deciding what to do next.

Three Steps

First, I needed to figure out how I wanted to feel besides “not like this.” So I did what the article suggested, and here’s how that process unfolded for me:

1. I made a list of all the things I’d like to feel that I’m not right now: content, rested, sane.

2. I decided the main thing I want is more peace, but that seemed too one dimensional, so I made a little outline of all the other emotions that define peace to me. Mine looked like this (forgive the inherent cheese, it’s the nature of the beast):





-Laid Back
-Well Rested

3. Next, for each emotion, I wrote down things that have evoked that feeling in the past. Holy hell, my friends. This was genuinely startling.

I realized how many things I genuinely love that I rarely do. For example, I thought about times I’d experienced joy, and I kept coming back to swimming. I particularly love swimming in natural bodies of water, and I almost never do it. This is ridiculous because we have a cabin a block from a river. Apparently I’ve been denying myself joy because it’s too much of a pain. Joy gets too much sand in the car.

I also realized how many mundane bits of happiness I needlessly deny myself. I used to love getting dressed in the morning, especially if I was feeling blue. Looking pulled together is like armor, it makes me feel so much more confident. Over the years, as my schedule has shifted to accommodate the people around me, I started to rush through grooming, to be stressed about how long it took. I stopped ironing, resisted the urge to change an outfit that wasn’t working. Getting ready in the morning became a chore, because I felt like everyone was waiting on me. Now when I feel time stress rising, I stop myself and think, “You enjoy this.” And I let my shoulders unhunch.

What’s Your Question?

The best thing about this process is that, for a while at least, it has given me a single question to ask myself about any decision in front of me. Will this make me feel more peaceful? If the answer is no, it’s off the list.

I need to make more time for water.

What’s the question you ask yourself before you make decisions? Or do you have another guiding principle for goal setting? I’m all ears.

82 thoughts on “Life List How To: One Way to Start

  1. Meg Waite Clayton

    >Or do you have another guiding principle for goal setting?

    Mine goes something like: Is this part of who I want to be, or who everyone else expects me to be.

    Lovely post, and lovely photo. I’m glad to have stumbled onto this blog this morning.

  2. Nicole

    this applies mostly to daily, mundane decisions but I try to ask myself “am I doing myself any favors with this?” As in, am I laying the foundation for a future regret, or will I be happy with myself later for having done/completed whatever task.
    At the end of the day, I like to be able to look back and say “Thank You” to that day’s ‘me’.

  3. Megan G

    I haven’t even finished the post yet, but:

    >I particularly love swimming in natural bodies of water, and I almost never do it.

    I think about this so frequently. I complain about how I never do it, while proclaiming how good and strangely grounded it makes me feel.
    I live 1 mile from Lake Michigan. Sigh.

  4. Rev. Back It On Up 13

    It may not be how you feel right now, but at least in this medium, you are handling yourself with tremendous composure. Terrible things can happen to any of us at any time – I admire the grace with which you seem to be handling your situation.

    Best of luck to you.

  5. Ange

    Maggie, I love this.

    Two weeks ago I took a look at myself and realized I felt frumpy, so I’ve started a goal of “dressing with a purpose”. Instead of just getting dressed in the morning, I’m going to make sure I have nice clothes that fit me well so I can feel good the rest of the day. It’s such a little thing, but it makes such a big, huge difference.

    Now I’m off to read the Martha Beck article.

    Much love to you.

  6. Peeps

    I have a hard time with panic and anxiety and perfectionism, so I ask: am I enjoying this? what would I enjoy right now? who am I doing this for and why? It’s difficult to give ourselves permission to do things purely for our own enjoyment or mental balance sometimes. To not do them out of obligation or performance. It’s a strange discipline to put our own small pleasures first and lay aside certain obligations to indulge ourselves in a much-needed way. I love the way you’ve broken it down so that it’s easy to understand ways to gift yourself in small steps.

  7. Cassie Boorn

    Every time I make a decision from “should I got out with friends tonight” to major life changing decisions I ask “Is this worth the energy I am going to put into it?”

    If I am giving more than I am getting I head the other way.

  8. Kristina

    I can’t think of anyone whose advice I’d trust more. (Well, ok – anyone on the internet whose advice I’d trust more. But I do mean that.) I don’t know if it’s just me being super hormonal right now, but it sounds like you’re doubting your right to give advice on stuff because of what’s going on with your family. Which, granted, sucks massively – I cannot even imagine what you are going through right now. But your getting divorced doesn’t negate everything you’ve done in terms of getting others to start their own life lists, and the tremendous impact you’ve had on so many people. I hope you never forget that. I mean, I jumped out of a plane because of you.
    And if I misread this and you’re like, wtf? then I apologize. In any case, I totally need to do this because I am in SADD-rut City.

  9. Senora H-B

    Thank you so much for sharing this today. “Joy gets too much sand in the car” seems to have been my mantra in the last few months. Good heavens, it’s ridiculous! When did I become so pragmatic? Why don’t I take more walks with my dog?

    As for goal-setting, like others I think: what good will this thing/activity/book do for me or for others. If it won’t, I try really hard not to do it. (Can I argue that reading chick lit does me good?)

  10. Dana

    Thank you, I needed this today.

    And I second Kristina above. Regardless of the horrific thing you are going through right now, you give good inspiration. Don’t forget that.

  11. Megan G

    One more thing: I’m thankful for this post because I’ve written before about how making and even executing things on my life list seemed shallow, that the things I truly wanted – sense of deep connection, family, home – weren’t easily cross-off-able. But starting with those desires first and identifying actions under them makes sense to me.

  12. Jo-Anne

    Thank you for reaching out and sharing this. I’m at a point where I feel like I’m stumbling along and would rather have more centeredness in my life. This is a very self-loving way of looking at things.

    Would anyone have a link to the article Maggie has mentioned? My Google-fu must be off as I’ve not been able to find it online.

  13. michelle k.

    M –

    The thing is…you will be fine, better than fine. It’s cheesy, etc…I’m in the middle of a break up and finally asked the folks around me to provide me with compassion. The kind of compassion they themselves, should they find themselves in this situation, would want bestowed upon them. And, you know what? It worked. Even my ex now shows compassion and I feel pretty darn good about being able to ask for what I needed.

    The air mask on first is the best way to describe it. You have to breathe in order to get anything else done.

    You’re doing great just as you are right now.

  14. jen

    holy crap. seems so simple. thank you for taking the time to share this right now. you have definitely made me open my eyes a little more about happiness and the little moments and falling into that bad pattern of denying yourself simple things because life crap gets in the way.

  15. Jess W

    Let me start by saying Thank You! Thank you for sharing such a personal time and ways that you are coping. You are so very strong and such an inspiration to me! Such a beautiful article!
    I too find myself often making decisions based on avoiding the extra hassle rather than embracing the joy! This has really put me into a mind frame to begin making other considerations before I say no!

  16. Cindy

    Usually, I’m a big pro vs con list maker about decisions. But when the new job place called to offer me the job, the word “yes” just fell out of my mouth before she could even finish the sentence. Some times you just know what the right answer is.

  17. julia

    when my sister was going thru a break up and moving towards divorce, I went out to her (we live on different coasts). Friend after friend was full of love and support BUT also an overload of advice about divorce attorneys, 401k plans, visitation schedules .. and all delivered in desperate whispers, “just agree now to put all that money in the kid’s 529 bcs we all know that you’ll be on top of that, but he won’t. And he WILL get married again and he will have more kids and he will be in the position of saving more for one kids college than the others…”

    I would leave the coffee shop having a panic attack. “sure, I like your friend but OMG why is she trying to FREAK YOU OUT! That is NOT going to happen!”

    I think you are great at maintaining your focus. It’s hard sometimes.

  18. sugarleg

    right after I dab up away the hot tears threatening to stream down my face while hide here in my cube trying to not get caught, I am going to write myself some answers to these questions in my handy purse journal. thank you Maggie. thank you.

  19. Bonnie

    As I read this, I remembered doing something similar myself. I startled when I read the line about swimming because… that’s the first thing I came up with, too. Then I started doing it, and it worked.

    Swimming (especially in nature) is magic.

  20. Kelly H

    For what it’s worth, I think you’re exactly on the right train of thought here. When you feel yourself falling into your old habits or not making choices that give you joy, try to practice the habit of doing so. I say this because, I sometimes think we have to “fake it until you make it”. You are at Z but you know you want to get to A. But sometimes, it’s hard work and changing routines and people (other than yourself) making sacrifices. And you have to work at it … work at making those changes something just automatically happens in your life. Some days you just don’t want to do the work to get from Z to A as much you JUST WANT TO BE AT “A” ALREADY!!! But I can tell you, it will be worth it.

    What you wrote, I think can apply to so many different struggles people have in life and I so appreciate your words. Thank you.

  21. Amy

    I really like the idea of letting emotions guide your goals. I think it’s really a good way to go about things.

    Also, having been down the divorce path, I wrote this post about things that helped when my life fell apart. It feels a little self-promotion icky to share it, but having been there, it’s just a list of things that genuinely helped me:

    Still holding so many good thoughts for you.

  22. sara

    My motto is, “Do what makes your heart happy.” A good piece of advice passed down from my mom when I can remember to sit still and listen instead of freaking out and worrying.

  23. sarah

    Oh, girl. Some of your best introspective writing is coming, and it’s going to serve us all well. I know this.
    I had a similar epiphany on my 29th birthday. When I was a kid, I was only allowed to dress myself on my birthday (apparently underoos weren’t appropriate attire on their own in 1979). Nearly 30 years later, when I was a married, homeowning, master’s degree earning adult I carefully chose my favorite clothes, and busted out all my favorite jewelery, and selected my favorite foods to be served and activities to do. And when my mother asked me, jokingly, if I had picked out my own clothes, I proudly said yes! And quickly realized that I was a grown up and my life could be like this EVERY DAY. What the hell had I been thinking? I had been buying things to wear & eat, and saying yes to things to do out of obligation, and crowding out the things that made me feel good. It changed everything.

  24. Debbie

    Hi Maggie,

    First, I just want to say I’m so sorry about your separation. I understand the pain that goes into that decision, because my husband and I made it one day last year. Things worked out in spite of it all for us. I hope that regardless of what happens for you, you will have the abundant joy and peace that you so long for.

    I also want to say thank you, so much, for this post. I’ve been feeling some extreme burnout that has crippled me emotionally. I am a ball of anxiety right lately. I’ve been a bit more on track, and I feel like this post has some real gems in it that will help me to reorganize my approach to living, because I have being doing ‘living’ wrong lately.

    Thank you thank you thank you. It’s a testament to your graciousness that you can be suffering but then turn around something that can inspire all the rest of us. You are an incredible person, I am so inspired.

  25. Min

    When I cannot make a decision, I flip a coin. While the coin is in the air, I blurt out come on heads (or tails). I tend to overthink my decisions and that gut instinct of blurting out has led to some really great and interesting choices.

  26. Mara

    My father died in December (other salient facts – my mother died 12 years ago; I have a stepmother who has been around since I was 8 and whom I love like a parent, but who is a wishing well of need into which I throw pennies; I am 40) and since then I’ve been feeling an almost desperate need to condense things into mantras that I can recite to myself. The one I’ve happened upon lately is this: “Show up. Bring love.” Your post dovetails with this nicely because it reminds me that one of the people I need to show up for and bring love to is myself.

    Thank you for the reminder in the middle of your own difficult time. I love your blog and have always found it a charming and uplifting place to hang out.

  27. Jen

    I tend to ask myself “what would you do if you were not afraid?” (stolen from “Who Moved My Cheese?” some years ago) and also “What are you waiting for?” (c/o Phantom Planet song of the same name.)

    Good luck, Maggie.

  28. Tina

    Hi Maggie,
    I’ve been reading along and not commenting because I never know what to say when someone I don’t know is going through something so hard. Which is weird because, well…I’m a therapist. Anyhoo…from one of many strangers who reads your blog and finds inspiration in it, I just want to say I am sorry for what you are going through and I wish you the best.
    As for guiding principles? The past several months I have eliminated the word “should” from my vocabulary. I never realized how often using this word or even considering this word interferes with my life and how I live it. “I should have done this…I should be feeling this….I should be doing this…”etc. I’ve replaced it with “could”. I could have used my time more wisely and caught up on laundry but I chose to take a bath and read instead.
    Also? As cheesy as it sounds (and really, when you are looking at yourself it’s kind of impossible to not get cheesy) I have tried to remember that noone can make me feel what I choose not to feel. Just taking the words “make me_____” out of my every day lingo has been life altering. Instead I try to think “I feel pissed off because X”. It’s incredibly liberating in a way I never expected.
    I love the idea behind this post and I’d like to take a stab at making this list myself. I was so inspired to make a life list from your blog but when I set down to do it, I could hear crickets chirping in my head!

  29. Snithia


    This post was very helpful! So great! Your timing was perfect (husband is in hospital with some kind of biggish things). I’m in a tornado of emotional storms too–so I reacted and turned off the phone and started watching a Masterpiece Theatre program on Aparteid–which was, weirdly, surprisingly–I know, sounds weird–calming and peaceful! (Title: Endgame)

    Anyway, my question to myself: (see above Apartheid note)..what surprising events, moments, or places will I accidentally “run into” that will surprisingly provide those calm, peaceful feelings!!??? What will help me recognize them?

    Or maybe it’s not so surprising: I’m reminded…in times like this: go watch good stories, helpful stories, funny stories.

    In S.F. I used to see multiple movies a week–they transform my emotions…and I’ve forgotten that trick!

    I agree with Kristina: one of your wonderful skills is giving great advice. That’s just you! No matter what. Thanks again and also for the article reference!

  30. Katie

    I take issue with the second part of your first sentence. It’s not whether or not things in your life are going well that qualifies you to give advice. It’s how you approach them. Wisdom doesn’t just exist in the good times. You’re totally qualified to give advice and share what works for you, even in bad times.

  31. Jen

    Hi there Maggie,

    I was on vacation last week and was so terribly sad to read the post with your news. I am so sorry that things have to end – but if there is ANYONE who can make it through something as befuddling as a marriage ending, it is you, you, you.

    I wanted to add to this post that, for many years, I couldn’t decide whether to stay in the US or live in France. And I bounced back and forth for my 20s, spending a year or two here, then a year over there. And in all of that turmoil, I had to prioritize what I wanted basically every year. If I could say that I was happy with 2/3 of the following aspects of life, I was a happy girl:
    * who I’m with
    * where I am
    * what I’m doing

    I found that one of those could suffer (i.e. I was in love, living in Paris, not loving my job- worked out ok. Or I was in Brooklyn, working at an awesome tech company, no companionship- still fine). But as soon as more than one of those things were troubling (i.e. Out of love, in Paris, not loving my job), I had to change some big things in my life. Hence all the bouncing around across the ocean.

    Obviously you’re doing a wonderful job organizing your thoughts, but I thought those three main questions might be good food for thought as well.


  32. monica

    Maggie, you are courageous and wise and a woman of great integrity. Don’t ever forget what a mighty girl you are. None of us can predict how life will go, no matter how good we are or how many “right” choices we make. Unfortunately, we all have to go through things falling apart at various times in our lives. You are doing it with such grace.

    I am so sorry you are going through the devastation of of your family breaking apart. I admire your ability to share this vulnerable time in your life, to share what’s getting you through it, and to ask for support. I wish you and your family the best. I can’t wait to see where you go from here, because I know it will be amazing.

  33. Elly

    Oh lady, I’m sorry that you are in a not so happy place, but I’m super glad that you are taking it as it comes, and making something of it. Baths, and naps, and swimming! I’m glad to hear you’re taking care of yourself. Happy thoughts, hey x

  34. LisaAR

    Mighty girl is right. Do not think for a second that because you are going through a challenge you have no right to give advice or share ideas. If THAT were true, no one could write anything! Your advice here has clearly struck a chord with your readers, me included. I will have to think on what my question should be. Baby steps.

    I thank you so much for your sharing and caring here. Not only is your writing worth the read, but seeing these comments renews my hope in what an online community can be. One of the biggest negatives of our cyberworld is the amount of dreadful, hateful, simply mean comments that exist on various posts. Here…there is none of that. Only the shared spirit of support, compassion, and understanding. THAT ROCKS. Thanks to everyone for that.

    Maggie…you are a mighty girl.

  35. Alicia

    I try to make sure everything I do, I do with grace and thanksgiving. After a couple of really hard years, I realized that I wasn’t seeing any of the good in my life, only the bad. I started to be more thankful. And then I started letting things that used to bother me wash away with a deep breath. I used to be quick to getting really mad and showing it. Now it’s deep breaths, walking away if needed, and kind words in the face of anger or pain. It doesn’t always work, but it’s helping me see the world in a different way.

    Also, realizing that I can’t do everything that I want or need, or someone else wants me to, and that IT’S OK TO SAY NO. I don’t care if there are dust bunnies in my bathroom, but I do care that I had a second story with my daughter before she went to bed. And if my MIL doesn’t like the dust bunnies she can come clean them up herself.

  36. Bea

    Printed this out so I could write in the margins and answer all the questions. Thanks for writing–exactly what I needed

  37. Robin

    This post couldn’t have come at the a better time. I keep coming back and looking at this picture. I want to go to there. Where is that?

  38. Lauren

    I’m curious – maybe when you get more time or emotional build up – how you go about altering your life list. I struggle with this beause I feel like writing something down adds more finality. I liked what you said about realizing, while in the act of trying to acheive something, that maybe this wasn’t what you thuoght it would be, and altering it on the spot and saying “that’s what i meant and it’s totally good enough”. But what about looking back at it and removing things? Adding things in their place? Sometimes I worry that doing that means I’m just not pushing myself enough, or I’m not sticking to my goals.


  39. Rina

    Long time reader, now de-lurker: I am going to guess that you’ve seen this — and maybe even read it. But I just finished “The Happiness Project” this weekend, and I thought it was helpful to give myself a framework for what needs to change, what I need to do, and how I’m going to do it on a day-to-day basis. (Note: I’ve also used YOUR life list to begin my own life list, and think about longer term goals!)

  40. sarah

    Swimming = weightless. We all need to be free of gravity (and other weighty things) on a regular basis. Also swings. Oh, and twirling.

    Thanks Maggie, for helping me put things in perspective and feel just a little bit less crabby today.

  41. abby

    Brene Brown’s “I Thought It Was Just Me” taught me to ask: “Is this coming from something I am ashamed of?” once I’ve gotten to the activity-making part of the list.

  42. jessa

    I’m going to try these three steps too. I’m in a funk right now, feel stuck..emotionally, physically, relationship-wise, name it. You are such an intelligent and beautiful woman and you will pull through this. I will too.

  43. Sonia

    If you’d only know how helpful this post is to me. I am so happy I found your blog today. Will definitely come back for more! Thank you!

  44. Rebecca

    You are so right about “joy gets too much sand in the car.” I want to camp more and ask my friends for what I want out of our relationship.

    I’ve been thinking about you (in a “I hope she’s feeling better today” kind of way, not a creepy way) and again, let us know what you need from us.

  45. Lisa

    Hi Maggie,

    I was wondering if you are a water sign? I learned last year that my astrological “element” is actually very healing for me. I am a fire sign and I did something shocking: sunbathing. without sunscreen. For 30 minutes a day – it was jubilation. It really helped my psyche and made a terrible year more tolerable. It probably goes without saying that I grew up in Santa Cruz! Seriously, though I think I am on to something…

    xoxo Lisa

  46. heather

    Thank you, Maggie. I feel stuck right now, and maybe this exercise will help me get….unstuck. Thank you, too, for continuing to share with your readers even while you’re going through such a rough time. It’s really, really appreciated.

  47. Jenica

    “joy gets too much sand in the car”. Oh, man, have I ever lived that sentiment. And it’s time to stop.

    Thank you, Maggie, for a making me laugh and kicking me in the pants at the same time.

  48. Heather

    This summer I realized how much I love to swim in general and in natural bodies of water in particular, and decided to stop feeling uptight about a bit of flab and enjoy. I realized first that no one particularly cares what I look like, second, when you can walk to something that you enjoy, there is no reason not to do it and third, that things that make me feel joy are worthy of high priority in life.

  49. denise

    i’ve experienced a lot of turmoil the past 7 years – some impossible seeming situations, including a divorce. i’m also bipolar and prone to serious bouts of depression.

    i don’t think anyone can be happy every day. sometimes there are bad days, weeks, months. it can be quite exhausting to try to be happy.

    when i am down or have something bad happen, i retreat for a while. go to a quiet place in nature and sit with my feelings. i don’t judge them or think it is wrong to not be happy, i just feel them and they pass. it can be kind of a brutal process, but it’s better than the lingering agony of ignoring them. i give myself permission to feel bad sometimes.

  50. r8chel

    “Apparently I’ve been denying myself joy because it’s too much of a pain. Joy gets too much sand in the car.”

    It’s amazing to think how often I sacrifice joy in favor of the path of least resistance. How silly!

  51. Rebeca

    I also get all dolled up whenever I am feeling down. It is refreshing, empowering and most important of all: a present to myself.
    I have been having a hard time myself lately, so believe me when I say this seems hard to fetch, but there will come a day when you look back at all this as a huge growing stage in your life.
    Some days are harder than others, but things do get easier, and soon enough we will both be smiling once again.

  52. Margie

    Maggie, even at really hard times like this, you have wise advice. Thanks for this lovely and helpful process. You can come swim in my lake in Indiana anytime!

  53. Tricia

    Maggie, I’m so sorry, and I’d like to echo the other comments about how your advice will continue to be welcome, appreciated, and on point, like this post.

    I also love to swim outside; every time I do, I feel like a kid. Which is what I try to remember when I’m feeling out of touch with myself – I try to remember myself as a kid and recapture that joy of riding a bike or just running to run and feel the wind or swimming in the ocean, because it just feels good to move and be outside. Sometimes all it takes is a long walk around the neighborhood.

    Take care.

  54. Meg

    Swimming in that river has brought me a lot of joy, and a lot of peace, not to mention some really important transitional moments in my life. So you let me know if you want a buddy, as soon as it gets warmer. There is a really good rope swing there.

  55. G.

    Maggie, since reading your blog last year, I’ve been doing so regularly as it’s inspiring, well-written and funny. I’m very sorry for the difficult times that you are experiencing at the moment, and grateful that you are sharing with us how you are dealing with it.

    It’s particularly helpful for me, because I’ve recently broken up with my fiancé, and it’s been hard to navigate this unfamiliar and painful territory. The relationship that culminated in my failed engagement lasted for most of my adult life. The breakup has led to a lot of internal questioning, as I’ve been wondering where things started to go wrong, which decisions were wrong, etc. So now, the question that I ask myself every time I’m about to do something is, “Will this contribute to me becoming the person I aspire to be?” The question seems silly, but the few seconds of reflection before each task have seemed to be helpful. For example, it has stopped me from feeling tempted by alcohol to numb the pain many, many times.

    Wish you courage and peace, Maggie.

  56. Sheri Bheri

    For me it’s not about decisions, but if I have something scary coming up, I take one aspect of that scares me and I HANDLE it!

    When I was going back to work after 1 year off for mat. leave, I was freaking out over how I would handle EVERYTHING. I find CHOOSING what to have for supper the hardest thing. So while my little one napped, I made a list of a 4 week rotation of meals, including grocery lists for that week. So I never had to think about what was for supper. I used it for a couple of months, and then I was okay. Because I knew that one thing was Under Control, I was better able to handle the rest.

    Take care Maggie!

    Although indoor swimming is not as nice, it’s still better to swim indoors in bad weather than to wait for good weather to swim outdoors (IMO).

  57. cousin Colleen

    I’m both pressed for time and utterly speechless right now, but I wanted to say how very much I admire and respect you, Margaret. Let’s all claim wonderful things for the next five years. (I think we’re all ready for some tremendous growth.) And let’s plan to do some swimming sometime relatively soon.

  58. Kathleen

    “Joy gets too much sand in the car…”
    That right there, sums up why a lot of people aren’t doing, being, experiencing, what they want and need.
    Certain events in my life prompted a new motto for making some decisions.
    “If not now when?”
    It seems to be a fairly large brush with which to paint with but it works for most situations.

  59. Clair

    Will this decision make me happy? Not immediately happy, but deep down in my gut, three years from now still knowing I made the right decision happy. Stopping to think about that has made for some interesting life choices, but all for the best so far.

  60. mp

    A few months ago I started asking myself a question: “One year from now, will this matter?”
    Sheepishly I have to admit that I was asking myself that question while I was buying clothes. Was I going to buy something that would be thrown to the wayside or was I buying a piece that I could love for a long time?
    And then I started doing it when I wanted to purchase things for the house. And then I started doing it more when I’d worry about what to read what not to read, where to vacation where not to vacation. When to argue when not to argue.
    If I think something will matter for a year, but not for five years…well then the whole cycle starts over again.
    It’s been something that has simplified my life. And simplicity, I have learned, gives me a sense of peace.
    I hope you find your peace Maggie, you’ve helped so many others down that same path. Love from Texas.

  61. Anna

    I’m a water lover too! At the end of last summer I looked back and realized I had only swam in the ocean once. The summer is supposed to be doing fun things and I had obviously spent my time doing things other people consider fun. So now when people ask me what I’m doing this summer I say “Swimming in the ocean!”

    Thank you for this post. What a fantastic way to look for the life you want.

  62. Danialle Foy

    I research the crap out of it. In fact, I separated from my husband a year ago this April and because I had no idea where to begin to heal, I just knew I needed to: I READ. Some books that saved me and continue to be applied:

    Debbie Ford: Spiritual Divorce
    Broken Open: Elizabeth Lesser
    And for some general fiction that just made me feel better: How to Sleep Alone in a King Size Bed.

    Each book led to the next. These comments and your posts are helping more than anything! :)

  63. JustMe!

    This is just amazing. I’m going to totally steal it from you and try to work through it myself – it’s just the kind of soul searching I know I’ve been needing. Many gratefuls for putting a template to it. It’s so easy as a Mom of young children to forget yourself, but a forgotten Mom doesn’t make for very happy or fulfilled children, in the long run. When I think down to road to when my daughter has kids, I hope she doesn’t ignore herself the way I’ve been doing, so I guess it’s time to be a better role model!

    Hang in there.

  64. Marigoldie

    After a difficult separation, I trudged to the rec center with my brother and his family. Floating in the hot tub alone, I had a specific thought: “Wow, stuff that feels good feels good.” A rather nutty epiphany, but still. In my case, I wondered if I would’ve been a better partner if I’d pampered myself a little more. That blew my mind.

    All the best to you as you go through this.

  65. Melissa

    Lady, please do yourself a favor and go to Austin, Tx and jump into Barton Springs. It is a magical lap!

  66. Franca Bollo

    Hey, we both live in the city. I’m working on checking Swim From Alcatraz to Aquatic Park off my Life List. Last I heard the bay was still considered a natural of water. Come train with me!

  67. Jasmin

    Maggie you are such a strong, courageous inspiration, even though maybe you don’t feel that way right now. Thank you for sharing your life in such an intimate way with us all.

    the questions I ask myself before any decision: “am I being true to myself? does this make me happy?” it sounds silly but sometimes the most important things are indeed simple and silly. I’ve been through enough crap to have earned the right to ask myself that question, and know that I truly deserve pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment in everything I do.

    thank you, thank you, thank you. also, I might be a *teensy* bit intoxicated, but you know what? this glass of wine is giving me pleasure. so fuck it.

    huge hugs.

  68. Amy in KC

    If there is something I feel I must do that I don’t really want to do, I ask myself “Will this make me happier, healthier, or smarter?” If the answer is no, I don’t do it. Of course there are some exceptions. Taking my boys to soccer practice after working all day long comes to mind. But it does help, mostly!

  69. Steph

    Love this. Love you. Can relate to the water thing — my go-to for distress is a hot bath. Sleep cannot be overrated, either. Love to you through all of this.

  70. Bogard

    While I love this idea, I can’t say that the first thing that springs to mind in view of separation/divorce is how to work in more time to swim. Emotions come and go, but your actions are what matter. I think doing what needs to be done, no matter how you feel, gives the results that count. Being happy isn’t always possible–I’m not sure that it’s a worthwhile goal.
    And I agree with Sheri–the scariest/ickiest thing is the thing to do first.

  71. Manisha

    Maggie – I’m so sorry about all this in your life, but it does seem like you are focusing on the positive potential for yourself.

    I used to always just say ‘I go where the river takes me’. That doesn’t always work, in fact, it really only works when the choice I made turns out to be a good one.

    Lately, when emotions well up, in particular when other people do things that upset me, I’ve been stopping the upsurge of negativity by telling myself that I’m watching theatre and all the performances. Surprisingly, this brings me a heck of a lot of peace.

    I hope you find tons of peace right now, or this week, or when it’s right!

  72. Laurie

    I like this so, so much, Maggie. I’m going through something very different, but difficult, and I really think this could help me, too.

    It’s a gift to others as well as to ourselves to write through such difficult times, and I really appreciate that you’re doing it. All the best to you and yours, and thanks.

  73. nanne

    i hate to bring up that old chestnut of “when you are on deathbed, what will you wish you had done…or what will you regret..” but, when faced with big decisions, i do tend to refer to that.

    i also like to give myself A LOT of time to ease into a decision, to really think rather than react..

    i also always want my children to be proud of me, not necessarily like me, but never have to be ashamed of my decisions (and there have been times that i have teetered on the brink of what might have made them not respect me)…

    will i respect and like myself after a big decision.

    if a coca cola, a hot bath, hanging out with friends and a bottle of wine don’t make it better…think, think and re-think before i make a huge decision.

    AND, i still make stupid choices…

    best of luck, sounds like you are doing ok!

    nanne in indiana by way of alabama

  74. Tana Griffith

    I always stitch when things are bad. It doesn’t always make me feel better until I look at the beautiful work I have done while I was feeling terrible. Something good can come out of bad times.

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