Why Making Lists Is Good for the Soul (and Your Mental Health)

posted: 03/11/16
by: Mara Betsch

I, like most women I know, have always been a fan of the to-do list. It keeps me organized and on-task, allows me to prioritize my day, and allows me to find immense satisfaction in crossing off each task.

But when someone gave me "The 52 Lists Project," I groaned internally. Though I'm an avid to-do list maker, journaling never really appealed to me. I'm not really a "feelings" person, and though I know that it's supposed to be good for your mental health, unfortunately, I also know one too many holier-than-thou people who can't stop talking about journaling (I think you know the type), and it put a bad taste in my mouth.

But, up one night and feel anxious, I reached for the book. The first list was easy -- name the goals you have for the year. And over the past 9 weeks, I've dutifully written down my favorite people, my favorite quotes, things that make me angry, and plenty of other navel-gazing topics. And, as much as I hate to admit it, this sort of list-making is something I look forward to each week, and it helps with evening anxiety.

Surprisingly, science totally backs me up. Here, in list form, is why making lists (not just to-do lists) is actually good for the soul.

1. It allows you to work through problems

The stress and anxiety we feel is often to due to things we're concerned about. Most people process information spatially, so by making a list, you're decluttering your brain and freeing up the mental energy to find resolutions.

2. It allows us to make a plan

Once we isolate what's really bothering us, lists allow us to prioritize what we need to do to accomplish our goals and sort out a plan to get there.

3. It rescues you from information overload

When you're trying to sift through details -- like planning a family vacation -- listing all the things you need to do or things you're worried about will allow you to separate what's important from what's not.

4. It helps us meet goals

Making a list is usually the first step in accepting that we need to make changes. A 2015 study found that students who wrote down their goals were actually more likely to achieve them.

5. It allows you to be creative

Research shows that when you mix work with pleasure, you're more productive. By listing potential solutions for an issue you have at work, with a friend, or even with a child, you can write down out-of-the-box ideas with no fear of people dismissing them. You may surprise yourself with the outcomes you come up with when you let your mind run wild.