When Julie was writing in her notebook recently, a nine-word observation by her subconscious appeared on the page. As a result, she made a simple change that has reduced her everyday stress.
Each evening, Julie prepares four sides of paper in her notebook. Three are for her morning pages – the stream-of-consciousness brain dump long extolled by Julia Cameron – with a fourth for notes and a daily check-in before she goes to sleep – a simple reflection on the day, how she feels, how things have gone, and what she’d like to see happen. She writes about the kids a lot here: one is away studying, the other trying to take the first tentative steps on the road to independence. Sometimes she writes to her father, who passed away a couple of years ago. She also writes a list of things she needs to do: work stuff, house stuff, kids stuff, partner stuff. A big list of all the stuff.
But when writing this todo list recently, Julie’s subconscious mind sent a memo:
This all seems like a lot to think about…
The words just appeared on the page in front of her. She looked at them and pondered, then closed her notebook and got into bed.
The next day when Julie was writing her morning pages, this appeared:
When I was writing down all the things I want and need to do yesterday, I see there seems quite a lot. I think I’m trying to do too much. One of my faults. I’m enthusiastic about these things and want to do them all, which is good, but I think I’m also a bit panicky about forgetting them or letting things slip. I guess I can focus on the ones that are really important, then come back to the others as and when. It doesn’t matter if I don’t work on them all right now. I’m working myself too hard. And for what?
Julie realised that she was trying to think about everything, every day, and this meant that much of the stress she experienced was self-imposed and unnecessary. She was simply trying to spin too many plates. By doing so, she was setting herself an unattainable goal, and failing to reach that goal created feelings of anxiety.
As she realised that reducing the number of plates she was trying to spin each day meant she could give greater attention to each one, she stripped things back.
These days her list is a lot shorter, and as a result she gains a sense of fulfilment at completing it, rather than anxiety at those things she hasn’t got around to. Some things, it turned out, could look after themselves, others simply weren’t her responsibility, while others still could be ignored with no ill effects.
We all have plates to spin. It might be difficult to lose some, but in the long run this could well be for the best.
How many plates are you trying to spin?
Can you put some down before they fall?
I’m a novelist and scriptwriter, Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow and Advisory Fellow, workshop lead and creative coach. Click here to get the lowdown on updates, insight into projects, and a look behind the scenes on creative stuff. You can also follow TFW on Twitter, or like the Facebook page.