When we treat everything as equal, it means nothing is a priority. It all gets jumbled together, and we begin to lose sight of what really matters. We believe we should be able to exhaust all the opportunities available. Because we don’t want to miss out on anything, we treat everything as if it’s important—even when it’s not. This leaves us feeling like a dog chasing its tail.
The word priority did not exist until the fifteenth century. It simply wasn’t a word. And then when it did finally merge into conversations, it was always singular—never priorities. And it stayed that way for about five hundred years, until suddenly it became plural.
And so we began our cultural belief that we should be treating more things on our list as priorities—even priorities that don’t really belong to us. As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism, noted, “Illogically, we reasoned that by changing the word we could bend reality. Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things.”
In reality no one needs #allthethings, just the things that are truly fulfilling to them. It’s hard to let things go, especially when there’s a little bit of safety or comfort involved. Focusing your time, getting rid of some of the noise, and lasering in on your priorities sometimes takes some discomfort. I know this myself firsthand.
We need to discover the priorities that are unique to us, but first we have to take hold of this truth: we must be willing to not have it all
To-do lists tend to be unorganized and long because there’s no filtering system. We simply add items as we think of them. When we scan our jumbled lists looking for our next task, our brains push us to choose the easiest wins—searching for a faster dopamine payoff. You see, dopamine doesn’t distinguish between important and unimportant; it just knows that crossing items off our lists feels good. And that means that the important tasks on our lists end up waiting to get crossed off. Let’s be honest, it’s usually those longer tasks that will move us toward the life we want. Our true priorities continue to get pushed farther and farther down on our lists, forgotten and undone.
When we are focused mainly on short-term wins, we aren’t making sure our day fits our bigger vision—our North Star visions of our lives. Instead, we end up spending large chunks of our time responding to fires simply because it feels so good to get that dopamine. This is why we feel busy. All. The. Time.
To-do lists take energy away from the important tasks—the ones we must accomplish to create the impact we really want. We need to curate a list that highlights the route our North Star is guiding us toward, where each day we use our energy to get closer to our purpose and the big dreams and goals that go along with our North Star. We want a priority list. A priority list helps us look at the limited time we have so that we can choose where to spend our precious energy.
A good priority list takes the same amount of time to create as a to-do list, but because you filter it through your priority levels, you consciously choose where to spend your energy—and where you don’t. The list is structured for you to begin your day at the top with the highest priority tasks and work your way down. The feeling of overwhelm vanishes because you understand exactly where to start and what tasks you want to focus on next. You have a clear path for your day.
Dominoes can knock down lots of other dominoes, they can also topple dominoes 50 percent larger than themselves
To make big changes happen, we simply need to start small and allow the dominoes to fall. Little steps lead to giant leaps toward the life we want to live. Every day we need to line up our priorities, find our lead domino, and push it over to make the next big thing happen. Small wins lead to big victories.
Instead of dominoes, though, let’s use our routines. Let’s create a process where we line up our habits in a logical order to help us build this momentum. The idea is to complete a number of things without even thinking about it—each domino knocking down the next.
In some ways, you probably already do this. Think about your morning: you get up, brush your teeth, shower, put on deodorant, and so on. How often do you have to think actively about each of these steps? The reality is, you probably don’t—you’ve created a routine for yourself. So why not design a routine with intention? A routine that allows the space you want for what matters most.
Routines afford us space and time for what matters to each of us. And because they run on autopilot, we don’t have to use up precious brainpower—they just happen. One habit springboarding the next, creating a seamless routine.
It’s hard not to wallow when you think you’re getting cheated. When it seems like everyone else has what you want without even trying—getting married, receiving a promotion at work, or running a thriving business. It can feel like you are the only one in the whole wide world not finding success.
The good news is that it’s not really true. Everyone wasn’t pregnant; it was just my perception. Technically it’s called frequency illusion, which is the phenomenon where an idea or concept you’ve been thinking about suddenly seems to pop up everywhere even though you never noticed it before. You might have experienced this when shopping for a new car. Suddenly that brand of car is next to you at the light and turning in front of you and parked across the street. When it’s a car, it can feel like a funny coincidence, but when it’s something big, like trying to get pregnant, it can feel like the universe is playing a mean joke on you.
Our brain can overlook countless items in our surroundings, but once our brain takes notice of something it considers significant (in my case, pregnant women), it starts to pull those occurrences out of the background noise. Because of our selective attention, it feels as if they are appearing again and again in our world. Really, the truth is, those things were there all along; we just didn’t take notice. It’s our mindset kicking in.
Changing your life circumstances isn’t always possible. Sometimes all you can change is your perception or opinion about the situation. The bottom line is, you can’t control reality, but you can control how you react and respond to it. Tough times and hardships are inevitable in everyone’s lives, but how we view what we’re going through is completely up to us.