A simple list that can change how you think about your day. (& no, it’s not a gratitude list.)

things i did list

This Journal post is modeled from a lesson taken from Rawness of Remembering: Restorative Journaling Through Difficult Times. For more information about Rawness of Remembering, please check out http://www.esmewang.com/rawness today.

In general, the ever-popular gratitude list has tended to not work for me. If listing the things that you’re grateful for on a daily basis is something that you practice and feel good about doing, by all means: CONTINUE DOING IT. However, today I’m going to share something that I’ve found useful, and is a bit of a variation on the standard gratitude list.

The reason that the gratitude list is difficult for me, especially during difficult times, is that 1.) it’s very hard for me to feel grateful for anything when I’m depressed, in extreme physical pain, or otherwise suffering, and 2.) creating a gratitude list then makes me feel guilty for not being happy about all of the wonderful things that I have in life, of which there are many.

These days, I’ve been keeping something that’s not a gratitude list. I call it a Things I Did Today list.

This is what the Things I Did Today List looks like:

Today I did _________, and it accomplished ____________.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

Here’s why I like this exercise:

  • Instead of a gratitude list, which tends to be focused outwardly upon the world’s bounty, the Things I Did Today list reflects yourself and the things that you’ve accomplished.
  • The Things I Did Today list is concrete and factually based. I may be grateful for love, but sometimes I don’t feel that love, even if I know that I am, in fact, loved. Intellectually recognizing that I “should be” grateful for having a roof over my head can, in fact, backfire; if I’m feeling terrible, not feeling a gut-level gratitude for things that I know I should rejoice in often makes me feel worse. On the other hand, the Things I Did Today List is a useful tool for me because it’s a bit more difficult to argue with.
  • The prompt for the list is extremely simple, and can range from incredibly small things to larger things. Examples: “Today I brushed my teeth, and it accomplished a day’s worth of hygiene.” “Today I talked my friend through a problem, and it accomplished her feeling better about her breakup.” “Today I fed the dog three times, and it accomplished her having food in her belly for the day.” “Today I put up a blog post, and it accomplished my having written something when I hadn’t written anything in days.”
  • In difficult times, I tend to lose any sense of what’s happened in any given day; by the end of the day, I often feel as though it’s been a complete waste–as though I haven’t done a single worthwhile thing all day. Keeping an actual record of things I have, in fact, done reminds me that such a belief is often not true, even if all I did was empty the dishwasher, feed the dog, and take a very long nap.

Do you think you’ll give the Things I Did Today list a go? Let me know in the comments.

Find out more about Rawness of Remembering here.

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  • I love this idea. I’ve been wanting to do a ‘what I did today’ list for a while, and I really like your reflective spin on it. Gratitude is hit or miss for me, so I’m excited to give this a try.

  • Thank you for sharing this technique! I so need this in my life to celebrate and acknowledge the little victories of everyday life, especially on those days when I feel pathetic and my attempts never enough.

    My energy level fluctuates dramatically and a chronic mood disorder often distorts reality.

    I too have found gratitude lists most unhelpful and guilt inducing, especially when others insinuate that depression is the result of not being grateful enough.

    Too often I become hung up on an unrealistic daily to do list. I look forward to celebrating daily accomplishments in my journal moving forward.

  • I absolutely love this post. It’s what I’ve been doing mentally for a couple years now and it brings more joy than a gratitude list for the same reasons you’ve mentioned. Going to save this for the future to get people to understand why that doesn’t work for me, as like you’ve alluded to this is most often what is suggested (even when you didn’t ask for it or at least that’s what I’ve experienced). Much appreciated.

  • This is so interesting to me, as I tried an accomplishments list for a while before I stumbled upon the gratitude list idea. For me, I found it gave no room, and therefore no credit, to the “being” parts of my day – the parts where I rested and drank water and lit candles. And thinking about it now, I suppose these are all accomplishments, yet I tended to veer towards the practical and concrete – I went to the bank, I rang the insurance company, etc. I have found the gratitude list gives me more permission to celebrate the non-material – the parts of my day when I notice nature, or honour my body’s needs. It’s so wonderful that we are all different isn’t it, and that there are a myriad of different ways of coping. It makes life so interesting. xo.

  • I also find the Gratitude journal difficult to keep up. Ends up feeling forced sometimes and then I feel bad because like all of us I have so many things I should be grateful for!

    The great thing about doing a What I Did Today list is that, for me, sometimes things I truly feel grateful for that day (as opposed to what I should feel grateful for), make the list. For example: “Was able to appreciate spending the day with G.” G. is my grandson, and chasing after him all day is not always a gratitude-producing event. But sometimes it happens, and I am able to truthfully put that on my list.

    I highly recommend this alternative to a Gratitude list!

  • Thank you for recommending this! It does work better for me than a Gratitude list. I find the “what I did today” list very helpful; it helps me beat back the “you were a lazy slug today” self-talk.

  • I really like this spin on things. So simple. It keeps you focused on ‘today’ and ‘now’ activities, rather than the generalised overarching gratitude lists that seem to feel redundant after a while. Thank you.

  • SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.

    This is one of those small “tweaks” that you can make that will have a huge impact. Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to watching my world change.

  • I love this idea. I just started the gratitude list as well and I do enjoy doing it. For me, it reminds me that I am blessed. But I do see your point about it. I am going to do this idea of things I did today. I can see it helping me from being hard on myself. Also, I am in the process of writing 100 Ways to the perfect journal series on my blog. #100WTTPJ. It’s me sharing ideas that I see and what other people share about how they use their journal. This is a cool idea, I can’t wait to direct my readers to your post. Thanks for sharing.

  • I love this idea! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I’m going to add this prompt to my journaling, it’s important to celebrate all our accomplishments, big and small.

  • Hi, Esme. I think keeping a “Things I Did Today” journal is a superb idea. I just started one. I happened upon part of your book reading today at Book Court. Wow. You certainly have your complement of exceptional gifts and daunting challenges. I am an aspiring writer who has managed a substantial career in the non-profit world, supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Barely a soul in that world knows that clinical depression and the trait of HSP (google Elaine Aron if you’re unfamiliar) are defining aspects of my sense of self; I find interpersonal relations in the fishbowl environment of a highly stressed and somewhat under-educated corporate culture to be increasingly toxic to my overall well-being. I have something of an exit strategy in the works, but it will take a while. One of my dreams is being published and compensated for written work. I’ve had 3 letters to the editor published in the NY Times; an essay published in the local paper on Martha’s Vineyard about a visit there (both events happened decades ago); and an essay about Cobble Hill Park published in a local paper. So some validation of writing chops. I have scads of barely written in journals capturing bits and pieces of my life’s journey; some sort of memoir percolating; and an incessantly capricious desire to identify myself as a writer. I will be 60 on October 3. I want my next decade to be glorious. Recompense for my miserable 20’s and early 30’s, when vitality and looks were subsumed by the noonday demon (I’m thinking you MUST be familiar with Andrew Solomon). I was just diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in my left leg. I am 50 lbs overweight but without my albeit leisurely and irregularly implemented bouts of swimming, cycling and walking, I’d be 150 lbs. overweight. So not too thrilled with this recent development. My conditions, however, may compare favorably with yours, and you seem to be – thriving! So thanks for the inspiration and here’s to resilience! (and yes! things I did today seems far more accessible on a daily basis than the gratitude list exercise).

  • I call that my Ta-Da list!
    – moved from bed to sofa – ta-da!
    -showered- ta-da!

    Some days that is all there is!

  • I’ve been keeping such a list for years, (not always with the ‘what it accomplished part, but sometimes) and I’ve been doing it for much the same reasons you list here: difficult days, the irrefutable nature of something done, and the numbness about things. I too list things like “brushed teeth” or even “made breakfast”. Writing it down can seem like the ink-based equivalent of burning sage and waving it around- it chases away demons and loudly squeaks: “Done!!” into a roaring headwind. I will follow you. Many things you write strike a chord. Thank you.

  • I’m experimenting with this, and digging it! I often feel like I’m not Doing Enough, and hopefully this will help allay those anxieties. 🙂

  • I started doing a daily “got done” list at the beginning of the year. I deal with chronic illness and my symptoms vary from day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Not completing my daily “to do” list doesn’t take into account all that I actually did accomplish and was discouraging. I too felt like gratitude feels forced sometimes and when I’m not feeling well or am having a particularly bad symptom day it’s hard to find gratitude for anything. Doing a daily “got done” list has been so beneficial to me. I see just how much I do every day, even when it doesn’t feel like I accomplished much. It also helps me feel better on a flare up day, which might come after doing too much. I can look back and see that the few days prior I did a lot, so that’s likely why I need a rest day. This technique is so helpful. It’s helped me to feel so much better about myself.

  • I love this idea! Some of us spend a lot of time on maintence. Taking care of ourselves, our children, other family and pets is a real responsibility that hardly gets any notice or credit. I feel the same as you do about gratitude journals. They are “guilt journals” for me. Thank you!

  • Grateful I came across your essay today. The graf on the Identified Patient made me FREEZE. Then I wrote it down. And saved it. And fwded it.

    Developing a mental health/illness/culture project/work over the next year and I’m sure I’ll be coming back to your work again.

    Perhaps we’ll communicate.

    Thank you again.