The Power of a List


Clearing out a wardrobe, I found three vision boards I created five or more years ago.  I also found a notebook where, for a while, I would write out affirmations.  Neither of these worked for me.  I think that vision boards can be quite limiting and the rote writing out of affirmations reminded me more of a teacher who regularly gave me the phrase I must stop talking in class to write 200 times.

I do believe that there is power in the simple art of writing out a list

I review mine on a monthly basis and I am no longer surprised at how many things I can tick off.  Not a list on your computer, I’m talking a good old-fashioned pen and paper routine.

Step One: 

Get a copy-size notebook.  You will be writing a lot down in here.  This is a sacred space, where you explore topics.  Have a pen that you like to write with, trust me, it makes it easier. 

Step Two: 

Find a place where you won’t be disturbed.  Set a timer and for ten minutes.  Write, in bullet point form, everything that you want right now.  Don’t hold back, get it all onto the page.   

Step Three: 

When the timer goes.  Get up and stretch, drink some water, look outside. 

Step Four: 

Read over what you wrote and pick three points that stand out to you. 

  • On a new page, rewrite the first point. It’s time to get really clear about this. 
  • Ask yourself, Why do I want this?
  • When you’ve finished answering, ask Why?
  • Ask Why
  • Ask Why six times in total
  • Why Why?  It helps you understand the underlying motivation or need.  And this is what you want to address.   

Here’s an example, shared with permission from a client:

“I want to buy a new car”

Why do I want this?

Because my car is ten years old and it’s old and I’d like a new one.


Because I need a new car, mine is old


Because I think it’s too old


Because I see other people driving newer cars, I think I want a new one.  I want a new one because other people have them and they can afford them


Because people might think I don’t have money if I don’t have a new car.  There are lots of new cars on the road


I feel insecure and I wish I didn’t

 I feel insecure and I wish I didn’t. 

Here is something worth working with.  

  • How can I feel more secure in myself?
  • What am I in control of? 
  • If I do need a new car, what is in my budget?    

The list isn’t an exercise in minimalism, rather it is an exercise in understanding what your motivations are and where they come from.  If insecurity, shame or jealously fuel your choices, wouldn’t it be great to discover this and address the power of these emotions so you’re not ruled by them?

Step Five: 

Your list is a work-in-progress.  Write down everything that you want to call into your life.  Then review the points, choose one or two and do a deep-why-dive into them. 

This is an example of radical self-inquiry.  Understanding yourself better than before, figuring out your motivations, and being open to learning.

Step Six: 

I check in with my list once a month.  And I am no longer surprised at the things that have come my way or worked themselves out.  By working deep on some of the bullet points, it seems to make way for other things to come into my life. 


  • New tasks, especially creative ones, can often feel scary and daunting until you get started. Start
  • Just start
  • It’s an interesting exercise to see what comes up and discover motivations, emotions and different parts of yourself.
  • Don’t discount something until you try it and follow through all the steps
  • There’s no better time than now to start.
  • You’ll discover your own approach to list making. I put this together in the hope that it may inspire you to see the power behind your own words.  You can use this as a guideline and adapt. 
  • What’s important is that you
    • A –  Give it a go
    • and B, have fun when you do it.  I promise you, it’s nothing like a writing exercise from school.

I’d love to know your experiences of the list.  You can let me know here, how it went for you.


Cath O’Brien is a creative coach, mindfulness facilitator, andworkshop facilitator.  She works with clients 1:1.  Sign up for her newsletter Curiously Connected for weekly connections and updates on offerings.

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