To-do lists cause anxiety and depression

Picture of a to-do list on a smartphone

Has your to-do list become your enemy.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

To-do lists cause anxiety and depression

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Counselor.

Is your to-do list getting you down?

I’ve been struggling with my to-do list for a long time. I probably should say to-do lists, plural. I do a lot of different things in a day. I spend my day teaching classes, doing supervision, and of course, as a licensed mental health professional, I see a lot of clients. To-do lists have become a big problem for me and almost everyone I know. I think I may have found a solution for this problem.

Rattling around in my brain all day are those ideas for creative things I would like to do. There’s a blog post, a YouTube video, and that novel I’m working on. There are also all those topics that pop into my head that I need to research because no matter how long you have been working with clients, someone will present with a new problem that you wish you knew more about.

Trying to remember six things I want to do when I’m done with this session fills my head up so much I can’t concentrate. As a result, I have learned to use a little pad that sits next to me on my desk as a sort of external hard drive.

Every time an idea pops into my head, I quickly write it on the pad, which means I don’t have to remember it. Then, when the list gets full, I tear off the sheet and toss it onto a pile on my desk. That pile has become the home of my to-do lists. Periodically I go through those notes and try to create one or two consolidated to-do lists. The sheer number of things waiting on those pages to be done used to be overwhelming.

The to-do list phobia syndrome.

My pile of to-do lists became so large that I started placing a book on top of them just so I didn’t have to look at them. I’ve learned from the work I’m doing with both counseling and coaching clients that I’m not the only one who struggles with massive to-do lists. Many of my clients tell me that the length of their to-do list is making them anxious, and at the end of the day, when they look at the items they have been able to complete and see how many remain, they become overwhelmed and depressed.

Does the sheer length of your to-do list make you feel like a failure? I do know, of course, that the reality is that many of those things on my to-do list don’t absolutely have to be done. I need to show up for my counseling appointments and my classes. I need to turn in my timesheets and do my billing if I want to get paid. But all those other things that I feel like I “must” or “should” be doing were making me anxious.

Before long, I think we will have to add a diagnosis for a new phenomenon I’m calling “to-do list phobia.”

Do you delete emails with the word “do” in the subject line?

Have you reached the point where as soon as you see the phrase in the subject line containing the word “do,” that email goes straight to the deleted email file? I had begun ignoring any communication which began with “I need you to do something for me” or “please do this as soon as possible.”

In fact, I was beginning to toss to-do lists of my own making directly into the recycle bin in the hopes that having written down the desire to do this at some point in the future would be enough to keep that thought from returning to my brain.

If you’ve reached the point where just looking at your to-do list, knowing that you have one, and seeing how little you have gotten done on it in the course of the day is leading to anxiety or depression, you have probably contracted a case of “to-do phobia syndrome.” By the way, that’s not an official diagnosis. Still, I see enough people obsessed with productivity and terrified by the undone things on their to-do lists that I think it’s helpful to look at the results of too many things on a to-do list as a productivity impairing syndrome.

How to make your to-do list your friend.

I have found one thing that seems to change my to-do lists from adversaries punishing me for my shortcomings into welcoming friends who encourage me to enjoy the things I do.

One reason I think to-do lists become the enemy for many people rather than helpful friends is that they view those lists as things they HAVE to do. That’s the way I had been looking at it. I get to my desk each morning and would find the list with ten or more things I HAD to do today. At the end of the day, looking back at the things I scratched off, I had finished maybe three out of the ten items. Thirty percent of the items completed feel more like a failure than a success.

Start making lists of things you WANT to do.

I stopped thinking about my to-do list as things I should do or must do and started looking at them as things I WANTED to do. Accomplishing three things that I wanted to do today feels pretty good. I know I won’t live forever. However, part of my life philosophy is that I try to keep moving forward rapidly enough to stay ahead of the Grim Reaper. It will never be possible for me to do all the things I want to do in this lifetime, but I’ve sure been able to do a lot of them.

What would it look like for you if you stopped beating yourself up with things you had to do and started looking forward to things that you wanted to do? If the things on your to-do list aren’t things you really want to do, maybe it’s time to re-examine the direction your life is going.

Does David Joel Miller see clients for counseling and coaching?

Yes, I do. I can see private pay clients if they live in California, where I am licensed. If you’re interested in information about that, please email me or use the contact me form.

Staying in touch with David Joel Miller.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For more information about my writing journey, my books, and other creative activities, please subscribe to my blog at davidjoelmillerwriter.com

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available on Amazon now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

For information about my work in mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please check out counselorssoapbox.com

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Finicky.

Finicky.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Finicky.

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“Sam: I’ve never considered myself a finicky eater. No pie ever crossed my path and survived.”

― Jaime Reed, Living Violet

“For the most part, physicists and mathematicians have settled on a fine division of labour in which the former complain about the finickiness of the latter, and the latter complain about the sloppiness of the former.”

― Sabine Hossenfelder, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray

“Life is not complicated or finicky, it will gladly take you anywhere you choose to go.”

― Mark W Boyer

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you.  Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Finding yourself – the search for you

Searching for yourself.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Finding yourself – the search for you

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Who are you?

Trying to find yourself is a challenging task. I remember back in the 1960s when a large portion of the student body at the local college and colleges everywhere were psychology and/or sociology majors. In retrospect, I think that most people were either trying to figure out who they were or they were trying to fix what was wrong with them.

In these uncertain times, with the world changing yet again, it’s never been more important to get a clear picture of who you are and what really matters in life. Let’s look at some of the challenges you face when trying to find yourself.

One personality test won’t define you.

It’s tempting to try to divide people up based on one or more theories of personality. We used to try to define people by specific personality characteristics. For example, you could take a test and find out if you are an introvert or an extrovert. Increasingly we find the answer to who you are is much more complex than one or even a dozen personality tests.

The characteristics we use to describe personality are far more likely to be on a continuum rather than discrete categories. People are extroverted in certain situations but behave more like introverts in others. You may be anywhere along the continuum of introversion – extroversion, or you might be better described as an ambivert, someone who sometimes likes to be around others and other times needs to be by yourself.

Who you are will change as you grow.

Long-term research has also shown us that personality types are not fixed. Basic personality characteristics change slowly across the lifetime. One research article I read suggested that changing a personality characteristic takes about five years of intensive work. On the other hand, reading a book such as Learned Optimism and following the principles can change your level of optimism in a very short time.

The basis of cognitive behavioral therapy is that changing your thinking results in a change in feelings which will alter how you behave. Those connections also work in reverse. Changing your behavior, say you start exercising more frequently, will begin to change your feelings, and those new feelings we’ll begin to alter your thinking.

Whether you prefer the Big five personality characteristics, Myers Briggs categories, Enneagrams, Character strengths and virtues, or attachment theory, there’s much more to defining yourself than selecting a label from a theory.

You can’t define yourself by your occupation.

There was a time when almost everyone could answer that they were a farmer. Some families, for generations, would define themselves as soldiers. Today our occupations are much more diverse, but still, if you ask most men, they would define themselves by their occupation. We have subdivided the occupation of merchant into many categories. Is anyone hoping to become a redsmith or a cordwainer?

Women used to routinely describe themselves by their relationships. They were either a wife or a mother or both. Over the last 100 years, more or less, the options for what women could do has expanded. With more choices than ever before, it has become difficult for many women to define who they are.

In your life, you will fill multiple roles.

Who you are will be both defined and shaped by the roles you fill. In various settings, you will perform the tasks of these various roles. You will spend a certain amount of your life as a child, an adolescent, an adult, and eventually a senior citizen. The role of senior citizens is changing also. In your lifetime, you are likely to also be a student and possibly a teacher. Most of us become relationship partners, and many people will fill the role of parents.

Roles such as parents are becoming increasingly nuanced and harder to define. Parenting goes beyond being a mother or father. Some people also become stepparents or spend part of their lives in a blended family.

During various times in your life, you may be called upon to be an employee, a supervisor, a manager, or a business owner. While none of these roles is the whole of who you are, filling those roles can shape or define your understanding of yourself.

You’re not your problems or disorders.

The more we learn about neurodiversity, the more we realize that everyone has potential that can be developed and that we all have challenges to overcome. We should think of people as more than the sum of their challenges.

It’s better to think of people as someone with bipolar disorder or who has depression or experiences anxiety rather than the bipolar or depressive or whatever other label might be applied based on your challenges or disabilities.

How do you define yourself?

Spend some time learning about who you are. While you’re going to be you for your entire life, that person has the potential to change and grow.

Staying in touch with David Joel Miller.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For more information about my writing journey, my books, and other creative activities, please subscribe to my blog at davidjoelmillerwriter.com

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available on Amazon now! And more are on the way.

For more about my books, please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

For information about my work in mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please check out counselorssoapbox.com

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Alert

Alert.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Alert

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“I steeled myself to focus only on the present yet remain alert to what might come next.”

― Nicholas Sparks, Dear John

“After a traumatic experience, the human system of self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if the danger might return at any moment.”

― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

“In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you. Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. I’ve also included some words related to strengths and values since the line between what we think and what we feel may vary from person to person. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings, strengths, and values.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Acclaim

Acclaim.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Acclaim

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubbornness of an incorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed.”

― Albert Einstein

“…what matters in life is not whether we receive a round of applause; what matters is whether we have the courage to venture forth despite the uncertainty of acclaim.”

― Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in blood of his followers and sacrifices of his friends.”

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you. Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. I’ve also included some words related to strengths and values since the line between what we think and what we feel may vary from person to person. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings, strengths, and values.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Inspirational    Post  From David Joel Miller.

MLJ Day 2015

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

― Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you. Today seemed like a good time to do this. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you please share them.

Accuracy

Accuracy.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Accuracy

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

― Plato

“It takes less time to do a thing right than to explain why you did it wrong.”

― Longfellow

“A woman’s guess is much more accurate than a man’s certainty.”

― Rudyard Kipling, Plain Tales from the Hills

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you. Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. I’ve also included some words related to strengths and values since the line between what we think and what we feel may vary from person to person. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings, strengths, and values.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Fretfulness.

Fretfulness.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Fretfulness.

Sunday Inspiration.     Post by David Joel Miller.

“Pick the day. Enjoy it – to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present, and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.”

― Audrey Hepburn

“We are but older children, dear,

Who fret to find our bedtime near.”

― Lewis Carroll

The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”

― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

Wanted to share some inspirational quotes with you.  Today seemed like a good time to do this. There are an estimated 100,000 words in the English language that are feelings related. Some emotions are pleasant, and some are unpleasant, but all feelings can provide useful information. If any of these quotes strike a chord with you, please share them.

Look at these related posts for more on this topic and other feelings.

Emotions and Feelings.

Inspiration

Why willpower doesn’t always work.

Picture of tools

Willpower or won’t power?
Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Why willpower doesn’t always work.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Counselor.

How much do you rely on willpower?

Often people tell me they’re planning to make a change in their life. We’re almost to the end of the year, and many people are making New Year’s resolutions. We go through this process every year. What I know is that in a little more than a week, we will be into the new year, and already many of those resolutions will have fallen by the wayside. How come just using your willpower doesn’t get you there?

Willpower is a tool.

Willpower is one tool you should have in your toolbox, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Willpower can definitely help you get certain things accomplished. But there are plenty of times when applying more willpower to the situation won’t work. It’s like having only one size wrench in your toolbox. Sometimes you need jeweler’s pliers, and sometimes you need a pipe wrench. Sometimes you shouldn’t be applying a wrench to something at all.

There’s a difference between willpower and won’t power.

Not knowing the difference between these two skills is the equivalent of picking the wrong tool for a job. Willpower works more like a hammer and breaks through resistance. Won’t power operates more like a seatbelt. Sometimes we need to use a third tool which goes by the name of “habit.”

What is willpower, and what is it useful for?

Willpower is the ability to force yourself to do something difficult or painful for a benefit that is far off in the future. For example, if you want to be a great athlete or even a moderately good athlete, you have to get up early and get to practice. Willpower will make you do it even when you’d rather stay in bed.

I use willpower when I get up in the morning and clean my cat’s litter box. I don’t really look forward to cleaning litter boxes. But I know I have to do it; otherwise, my office will smell. Using willpower is the right tool to apply to these kinds of situations.

Won’t power is a different skill.

When I walk by the kitchen, I hear the chocolate cake calling to me. “David, come have another piece of chocolate cake.” For the purists out there, I don’t actually hear voices, but thought pops into my head just as reliably as if the cake was talking to me.

Won’t power is the ability to not do something pleasant now for a benefit off in the future. Most people with addictions suffer from a lack of won’t power along with a lot of other problems. Won’t power is the ability to say no to the cravings even though drinking you’re using right now might relieve your discomfort and make you feel a lot better.

Won’t power involves surfing the waves of craving.

When you have the urge to do something right now that would be pleasant, or that would reduce your discomfort won’t power is the skill you need to apply. Cravings to do something right now that you know may cause you problems in the future are like waves on the ocean. They come up sometimes gradually and sometimes rapidly. As the wave rises, it can feel like it’s going to overwhelm you, but if you apply your won’t power, some people describe this as their stubbornness, and you don’t give in to temptation; eventually, the wave of craving subsides.

There’s a third tool you may need in your life.

When we look at people’s efforts to use willpower to get themselves to go to the gym and exercise, we find that willpower is an unreliable tool. The willpower you need to get up off the couch, pack your gym bag, and go out and get in your car to drive to the gym is substantial.

But once you arrive at the gym and walk through the door, it takes relatively little willpower to change into your gym clothes and start exercising. One way we reduce the amount of willpower needed to engage in any exercise program, or any other self-improvement program for that matter, is habit.

The more times you get up and go to the gym, the easier it gets to remember to do it each day. I think of it as like sanding down a rough board. The more you stand, the smoother the board gets. The more you engage in a habit, the more likely you are to continue that behavior.

Want to make it easier to remember to go to the gym?

Make use of the tool of habit. Start planning the next day’s activities at night before you go to bed. Pack your gym bag and put it in the trunk of your car. I don’t recommend leaving it where it can be seen because that helps other people create the habit of stealing your stuff. Maybe leaving it in front of the front door, so you have to trip over it on your way out, will work for you.

Watch out for serial correlation.

Serial correlation is something I learned back in business school. Fast-food restaurants and big-box stores still factor this into their planning, even if they don’t call it that. If you go into a restaurant to redeem a coupon three weeks in a row, you’re probably a regular customer. This can work for you in the case of going to the gym or walking, or any other positive activity.

We also see serial correlation working in the opposite direction. If you miss a day at the gym, it becomes much harder to go the next day. Skip going to the gym several days in a row, and you’ve created the new habit of staying home.

Habits are another important topic.

Habits influence humans a whole lot more than we often think. Many people have habits they aren’t even aware of unless someone else points it out to them. If you decide to embark on a self-improvement program in the new year, spend some time looking at habits. Study how you create them and how you break them and why they’re built into the human thinking system. I’ll try to help you out with this with a couple of blog posts in the new year about habits.

Does David Joel Miller see clients for counseling and coaching?

Yes, I do. I can see private pay clients if they live in California, where I am licensed. If you’re interested in information about that, please email me or use the contact me form.

Staying in touch with David Joel Miller.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For more information about my writing journey, my books, and other creative activities, please subscribe to my blog at davidjoelmillerwriter.com

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available on Amazon now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

For information about my work in mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please check out counselorssoapbox.com

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

The Future of Counseling

Counseling Questions

The future of counseling, therapy, and coaching.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

The Future of Counseling

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Counselor.

The fields of counseling, therapy, and coaching are changing.

I had already seen some changes in the field starting to happen even before Covid. But because of the emergence of the new virus and the measures we had to take to cope with that virus, not only the field of counseling but society, in general, has undergone some significant changes. Reminds me of some of the other changes I’ve seen in my lifetime. People may bemoan the loss of a simpler life, but once you’ve installed running water and electricity in your home, there’s no going back.

Most of what I am talking about here applies primarily to mental health counseling and therapy. But some of the changes are starting to spill over both from and into substance abuse counseling and life coaching. Some of what I am observing may simply be the result of where I practice and the clients I see. But what I hear from other practitioners seems to convince me that the changes I’m seeing are spreading throughout the country and the fields of counseling and therapy.

Some of these changes started even before Covid.

There’s a common conception that therapy, the talking cure, was primarily designed for upper- and middle-class white people. However, many people of color or those of lower socioeconomic status have experienced counseling as something done to them rather than with them.

Recently, I have noticed an increase in clients who reported they were skeptical of counseling until a family member or friend talked them into it. Their previous experience with therapy had often been mandated and unpleasant. If you are forced to go for therapy with a school counselor who tried to convince you to change your behavior because you had gotten into trouble, it’s hard to look on counselors in the future as your ally.

There’s an increasing diversity among counselors.

When I went through the graduate program, it was unusual to have more than one or two male students in the class. Traditionally the helping profession was largely the province of social workers, who tended to be primarily female. Even among marriage and family therapists, it always seemed to me that the preponderance of the practitioners were female. However, the number of male counselors entering the field has recently noticed an increase.

Clients are becoming more diverse also.

During the last few years, starting even before Covid, I’ve noticed an increase in client diversity. It appears to me that there are a lot more African American clients coming to voluntary counseling. I’m also seeing a slight increase in the acceptance of counseling and therapy by people of Asian ancestry. As with all other innovations, it appears that the younger the person, the more likely they are to accept new alternatives.

Distance or remote counseling is here to stay.

When I first went to graduate school, the idea of doing counseling in any other way than a forty-five-minute session in an office would have been looked at as downright unethical. There were always a few radical therapists who might do “in vivo” sessions. They might take a client for a bus or train ride to help them overcome their anxiety. But in general, all sessions had to be done in the office.

At the beginning of Covid, I encountered a lot of clients who wanted to make appointments but only if they could have in-person sessions. As a result, many therapists were reluctant to try to conduct sessions by any means other than in person. But across the last three years, the acceptance of using technology as an alternative to in-person sessions has grown.

The use of distance counseling is now so common that beginning in 2023; counselors will need to take a continuing education class focused on the laws and ethics of distance counseling.

The business of therapy has changed.

How therapy is conducted, who conducts it, and how it’s paid for have all been changing. The things we call counseling, therapy, and coaching have diverse roots. Medicine, psychology, social work, systems theory, and self-help groups all contributed to this confusing thing we now call counseling and therapy.

Who does the work of talking with people, and what qualifications they need have been changing at an ever-increasing rate? Here in California, where I work and practice, marriage, and family therapists were first licensed in 1963. Before that, social workers were the only one of the three “sister professions” working in this state. The situation in other states has progressed in various orders.

Most of what we now call counseling or therapy stems from medical doctors following in the tradition of Sigmund Freud of attempting to solve thinking, feeling, and behaving problems using a thing called “the talking cure.” Some of the ways this work is done today have also been informed by the field of psychology and self-help groups, notably Alcoholics Anonymous.

The traditional model was one professional working with one client in a small treatment room, typically hidden from everyone else in an effort to maintain that thing we call confidentiality. However, recently that model has been seriously disrupted as insurance companies have funded treatment, group counseling and self-help groups have become more common, and technology has offered options to the one patient, one treatment provider pattern.

In an upcoming post, I want to talk more about how the business of counseling has changed and how I expect to see it continue to change in the future. Thanks for reading my writing, and here is wishing you a happy life full of meaning and purpose.

Does David Joel Miller see clients for counseling and coaching?

Yes, I do. I can see private pay clients if they live in California, where I am licensed. If you’re interested in information about that, please email me or use the contact me form.

Staying in touch with David Joel Miller.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For more information about my writing journey, my books, and other creative activities, please subscribe to my blog at davidjoelmillerwriter.com

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available on Amazon now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

For information about my work in mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please check out counselorssoapbox.com

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel