Let’s start with what this post isn’t about.
It’s not about meditation, a gratitude journal, or how a morning routine will change your life.
It’s about how paying attention to your life enables you to to bend it toward that which makes you happy.
My Great List didn’t start with a master plan, it started with a random late night moment.
How It Began…
At around midnight on December 28, 2017, I sat in a quiet, dark house and half-watched an old King of Queens episode on TV.
For no apparent reason, I grabbed my phone and opened Workflowy, an app I use to track all sorts of list.
I pulled up a blank screen, stared at it for a second, and thought about all the things I’ve read about gratitude journals, “morning pages,” journaling, and the power of being grateful.
Then I decided none of them were for me.
But, perhaps inspired by a reflective mood as the year wound down, I wondered what might happen if I wrote down some things in my life that were great.
What would it feel like? What would I learn?
Because I believe in the power of forcing yourself to come up with ideas, I decided to give myself a format.
I challenged myself to write a “Great List,” that included the following three items:
- Write five things that happened today that were great.
- Write five things about my current life in general that are great.
- Write five things I’m looking forward to that I expect to be great.
I wrote down 15 corresponding sentence fragments for myself to complete:
Then I started filling in the blanks.
It took me about 10 minutes to do, didn’t feel earth-shattering, and I shut off my phone and went to sleep.
The next day I had no plans to do another edition of my Great List, but I found myself 24 hours later back on the same couch, watching another mediocre King of Queens episode, and once again reaching for the phone.
While I hadn’t noticed any impact from what I did the night before, it wasn’t difficult and I figured I might as well try it again.
I wrote down the date and time, and spent 10 minutes coming up with a new list of great things in my life.
As I’ve seen with countless projects in my life (including my For The Interested newsletter), the value in any project is often only unlocked when you do it consistently.
So, two days of writing a Great List became three, and four, and so on.
After doing it for a week, I added something to the routine.
When I finished writing that day’s list, I’d go back and look at the list I had written on that day a week ago.
What I discovered surprised me.
There were great things that had happened to me just seven days earlier that I had already forgotten.
It’s amazing how quickly we move on and forget things we enjoyed.
I also noticed some patterns.
There were things I mentioned as being great (or predicted will be great) twice in a one-week span without realizing I was repeating myself.
Clearly there were some things I wanted to happen or looked forward to more that I may have thought.
By the time I had done the Great List for a week, I knew this experiment was going to continue for a while (and wind up inspiring a blog post).
I committed to do it for at least 30 days — curious to see what I might learn and how it might impact me.
Which brings us to today.
I’ve strung together 34 consecutive days of writing a Great List and have learned a ton in the process.
Following is a break down of these lessons and what you can expect to learn about yourself if you try something similar.
I highly recommend you do.
The Great List Format Drives Action
What differentiates the Great List from a typical gratitude exercise is that its format leads to action.
The “It was great…” part of the list forces you to identify daily exactly what you enjoy in your life.
Those become markers of things to do more of — especially when the same things appear over and over again.
The “It is great…” part of the list forces you to consider what ongoing skills, luck, and good fortune you have in your life.
It’s a way to identify the advantages and strengths you can lean on to help you get what you want in life.
The “It will be great…” element may be the most important and unique part of the exercise because it does two valuable things.
It not only shows you what excites you, but it helps you reframe things you may be anxious about as positive upcoming experiences.
Declaring something will be great in advance shifts your perception of it away from anxiety and toward excitement.
The other powerful side effect of the “It will be great…” portion of the list is it can become a super-powered To Do list.
For example, your To Do list might have on it to clean the house tomorrow.
But if your Great List says, “It will be great to enjoy a clean house tomorrow night,” you become much more likely to clean the house the next day.
I stumbled into this phenomenon on accident and was surprised to discover almost anything I predicted would be great on my Great List wound up happening the next day — even things I had previously avoided for a while.
It turns out sending a message to myself the night before about the benefits of doing something (“It will be great!”), made me significantly more likely to do it.
The Great List Is A Better Way To Measure Of Work-Life Balance
When people talk about work-life balance, they typically focus on how they balance their time between the two.
But is that the balance that matters? Or should we be more focused on where our joy comes from?
Because the Great List is a way to generate and track data about what makes you happy, it’s also a way to measure the satisfaction you get from your work compared to your life.
While you can break it down daily, I found it more valuable to look at everything I posted in aggregate and see how many great things related to my work and how many related to my life outside of work.
I worried my balance might tilt a little heavily toward the work end of things since I love what I do (and spend a lot of time doing it), but I was shocked when I broke down the results.
Of the 510 things I wrote about being great so far, a whopping 74% were related to my life outside of work and only 26% were related to work.
I was stunned, but it’s a reminder that what makes us happy tends to not be tied to work — even if we love what we do for a living.
The Great List Helps You Discover Interesting Patterns
As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised to see certain things come up over and over again in my Great List.
These recurring themes provide valuable insights into what you want and what makes you happy.
When you look back over the entire month you’ll see connections by analyzing the words you used and how frequently you used them.
For example, apparently sleep’s a lot more important to me than I thought.
The word “sleep” appeared in my Great List in some capacity on 9 of the 34 days of this experiment.
That means 26% of the days of my life I’m either crediting a good night’s sleep with making me feel great or looking forward to having a good night’s sleep.
On the work front, I know I love writing my For The Interested newsletter each week, but I was surprised how big a part of my life (and happiness) it’s become.
The word “newsletter” was mentioned on my Great List 30 times in 34 days — it’s clearly something I think about a lot and derive a lot of value from.
Other words that showed up a lot for me included “dinner” (14 times) and “walk” (15 times). Again, their prevalence in my Great Lists is a reminder of how important it is for me to continue to make time for them.
The Great List Will Change Your Definition Of Great
A funny thing happens when you spend 10 minutes a day thinking about the great things in your life — it changes your definition of what the word means.
As the days rolled by, the stuff I mentioned on my list varied wildly from major life moments to miniscule details.
I wrote about how great it was to secure a new business opportunity…and then how great it was to stop coughing for an afternoon.
I wrote about how great it is to have a supportive family…and then how great it was to play a video game.
I wrote about how it will be great to see what my newsletter becomes in five years…and then how great it will be to have clean laundry.
When you spend enough time looking for great things in your life, you discover great is a more malleable word than you imagine.
You Never Know What Else It Will Change
There’s one last thing I got out of this Great List experiment, but I can’t say with 100% accuracy it’s a direct result of the list.
For the past month, every element of my life has gotten better and easier.
Stressful situations have been less stressful, happy situations have been more enjoyable, and things I might normally dread have somehow become things I look forward to — or at least don’t dread.
I can’t say this is all due to the Great List, but I have to believe it’s played a large role in it. It can’t just be a coincidence.
Spending 10 minutes a day to identify great things in my life that have happened, are happening, and will happen has shifted my approach to life in an incredibly positive way.
I can’t promise the same will happen for you if you give the Great List a try, but there’s only one way to find out.
What have you got to lose?
I bet it will be great.