Why You Need a ‘Not Now’ List in Your Life

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 24 October 2022
  • 5 minute read
Why You Need a "Not Now' List in Your Life | The Health Sessions

Tell me, does this sound familiar?

You’re all fired up to start a medical diet, to see if it could help you manage your symptoms better or perhaps even ease your pain. It’s not easy changing your eating habits, but you feel determined. After a few weeks, you read somewhere how this exercise program has really helped people with your condition to improve their health, and you’re intrigued. Then your mum tells you about the amazing benefits of cold water therapy. How hard can it be to add that to your wellness routine, right? So you decide to give that a go too. It’s only after you’ve mindlessly taken a bite of that chocolate chip cookie that you remember you were trying to go gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free in the first place.

Making too many lifestyle changes at once is rarely a recipe for success. Sure, you can combine multiple healthy habits into one – like moving your body outdoors, preferably in nature – to get the most benefits with minimal effort. But it takes time for a new routine to really stick and to have a positive impact on your health and happiness. Building new habits requires focus, brainpower, motivation and discipline, while your brain prefers to conserve energy by running on autopilot. That’s why, as James Clear so eloquently put it, “the best way to change your entire life is by not changing your entire life.”

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try that fitness program or wellness therapy – just not before your first habit (the medical diet in this case) has become a behaviour you no longer have to think about.

“The best way to change your entire life is by not changing your entire life.” – James Clear

And it’s not just your health habits that could benefit from a ‘Not Now’ List. When you live with limited energy due to chronic illness, there’s only so much you can do in a given day, week or month. Trying to fit in all the things you wished you could do, often only leads to post-exertional malaise or some other form of worsening of your symptoms. And that results in getting even less tasks done than you’d like. In the long run, setting priorities and focusing only on the chores, appointments and goals that matter most to you will give you a better sense of achievement than struggling (and failing?) to try and do it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I know all too well how much it sucks to constantly having to say no or feel like you’re missing out. I love to dream big, so despite living with both mild and major limitations for 25 years now, I’m still drawn to all the seasonal activities, the shiny new business ideas, the bold fitness goals and the lifestyle overhauls. But in my experience, consistently taking one small step at a time has gotten me much closer towards my goals and dreams – and with much less feelings of disappointment, failure and self-doubt – than making too many drastic changes at once.

Why You Need a "Not Now' List in Your Life | The Health Sessions
Photo and top photo by Monstera via pexels.com

That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on all those wonderful plans and ideas – just not now. For example, I would love to offer you audio or video versions of my articles and ebooks, especially for everyone who finds it hard to read long-form text. But that’s a whole new skill to master that would take up too much of my energy right now, so I’m putting that aside for (at least) the next 6 months. Having a ‘Not Now’ List helps to remind me what I want to focus on during this period – which is writing new ebooks – and not get distracted by all the other interesting things I could be doing. Or worse, get frustrated by the fact that I might have been able to do it all if only I were a 100% healthy. That would be a waste of my energy and general good mood.

And by saying ‘not now’ to certain things, we’re also saying ‘let’s make this work!’ to other goals, people and events that matters to us.

So what could a ‘Not Now List’ look like?

That of course depends on your to do’s, wants and needs, but here are some ideas:

1. When it comes to supporting my health and happiness, I will not look for that one magic cure right now. No new supplements, complimentary therapy or health app for the next month(s). Instead, I will build this one simple habit first __________________.

(If you’re looking for inspiration, making time for real rest, eating vegetables with most meals, walk training or adding mindful micro-breaks to your day are great places to start).

2. To conserve my limited energy, I will not go to every event, school activity, sports game or after work drinks I’ve been invited to, no matter how fun it sounds. During the next month, I will focus on these people, tasks and events: __________________ , and the rest will go on my ‘Not Now’ List.

3. This holiday season, I will not put up all the Halloween decorations/send Christmas cards/make over-the-top meals/join the Black Friday madness, whatever stresses you out.

To reduce holiday overwhelm, I will only focus on holiday traditions that matter to my family: ____________________ , whether that’s decorating the Christmas tree together or gathering with family around a simple but nourishing Thanksgiving meal.

Why You Need a "Not Now' List in Your Life | The Health Sessions
Pin this tip for later.

You can make a physical ‘Not Now’ List or just a mental one, whatever works best for you. Studies do show that writing things down by hand leaves a stronger imprint in your memory than typing those same words. So jotting down your ‘Not Now’ List on paper can be a good choice for you if you tend to struggle with FOMO, decision making or setting healthy boundaries.

I’d love to know, what do you think of this idea? And what would you put on your ‘Not Now’ List this season? 

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