The Spiritual / Emotional Side of Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done, David Allen's Breakthrough Book

I have been implementing Getting Things Done for about a month.  There is one aspect of this program that I didn't expect from reading the book. Specifically, implementing GTD's program of "closing open loops" very quickly oriented me to processing open emotional loops.

For perhaps the first five days of the program, I was simply getting my physical world more orderly--filing loose paperwork, creating folders (digital and physical) in which to house my various lists, next actions, etc. This was fantastic.  However, very soon into this program, as I began writing down what was "on my mind," I realized that there were a number of matters from my past that were taking up way too much space in my psyche.  I just kept thinking of them throughout the day, somewhat randomly.

Closing Emotional Loops, Letting Go, Cutting Cords, and Relating Appropriately to Now

For me, these psychological open loops involved sorrow of past loves lost, regrets for actions I took that hurt someone, little annoyances that kept floating through my mind, general worries, fears, etc.  This sounds rather dramatic, but it isn't.  I'm convinced I was simply becoming aware of the "mental pollution" that most of us hardly notice and assume to be normal.

Here's what I did to clear out the cobwebs and let these matters go. It was quite simple, actually.

  • First, write down each item that keeps recurring in your mind in your GTD inbox.
  • Then, create a next action that will formally put your attention on this.  For me, this often would look like, "Write a journal entry about XX."
  • Each journal entry takes about 10-20 minutes to write and process.  I would start by simply writing about the feelings and regrets.
  • Then as I continue writing, I would say that topic XX is "healed" or "closed" or "done" or "I'm letting go of X" or I "CUT, CUT, CUT, CUT, CUT, CUT from the negative energy associated with XX" or "I cut these cords that are no longer healthy" or "I relate to XX appropriately now."
  • I just sprint out the journal entry as fast as possible.
  • Then I go back through it, including the title, and morph the entry to reflect the new state of mind.  So I might still have the apology I wrote in there or the expression of feelings, but the title would eventually read, "I am closed and healthy and whole about XX" or "I am completely at peace about XX."
  • I also usually get up and walk around some during this process.  I move my hands around my body with a cutting motion to symbolize how I've CUT from the old emotions, attachments, thought habits, etc.  It's like I'm taking a sword of light and cutting the negative cords and energy that I have clung to or allowed to persist way beyond their sell by date.  (It is great to let this stuff go!)

Some of the journal entries might take me a couple of days.  The first time for about 10-15 minutes to write the first time and read and begin cutting the unhealthy energy ties, the second time to just finish and complete the process.  But this isn't epic.

One or two of these processes have required me to revisit the topic a week later.  Rereading or tweaking the entry, standing up and making those "CUTS" with my hands, but generally it works quite well with one heartfelt effort.

I don't save these journal entries.  I delete them.  This is not about having a record of my thinking; this is about letting go, getting whole, getting healthy, making clean breaks with the past, accepting mistakes, and just getting square with life!  For me, deleting this stuff is part of letting go; no lingering over and rereading this stuff.  (However, in Microsoft OneNote, deleted items stay in the system for 60 days.  This works well in case I need to pull one of these out and reprocess it one more time.  As I said a moment ago, this is rare.)

I probably had about seven really pressing matters like this that needed processing.  It took a little over a week to process those and flush them out of my mind.

In this video, I talk (among other things) about this technique of purging your mind of unhealthy mental loops.

Brainstorm To Clarify Confused Situations

The above may sound rather dramatic or esoteric, but it isn't.  I use this approach for items large and small, not just lingering negative emotions. For example, I also use this journaling/writing approach to get greater clarity on areas of confusion or next steps that aren't clear.  I just put down a next action of "Brainstorm on XX."  This could relate to your career, or living situation, big life decisions, etc.  By getting the matter out onto paper (in Microsoft OneNote in my case), it clarifies your thinking significantly vs. just mulling on the matter in your head.  After brainstorming, you may just decide to let the matter go, or turn it into a project, next action, or whatever.  Unlike the journal entries about regrets and negative emotions, I don't feel strongly that these written brainstorming sessions about practical challenges should be deleted.  Sometimes that makes sense, but sometimes they should go into your journal or into other reference files as appropriate.

So that's it.  Write a journal entry on each item that keeps floating around in your head.  Get your mind and spirit right and appropriate in how you relate to your past, present, and future.  No more spinning in mental circles!

Frankly, it has been remarkable how different my mind feels after having done this.  I realized from the GTD process that I wasn't relating to these experiences appropriately.  I was "brooding" about the past. I realized that this actually reflects an unrealistic perfectionism about life--that every relationship and action you have taken should somehow be perfect.  Well, we are learning here on earth; we sometimes make mistakes.  I realized I had quite unrealistic expectations for how things should work out.  I was mentally "relitigating" the past.

I continue to process items as they come up, and there are definitely some more to look at and relate to much more appropriately.  Nonetheless, GTD, to me, feels like it has helped break an emotional logjam that I hardly knew existed.  It has helped me flush out negative emotions and attachments from the past and get much closer to a "mind like water" state--where tensions, worries, regrets, and an ambient angst have faded to the background.  Can I get an amen? Amen.

(PS I'm reading David Allen's quasi sequel to Getting Things Done called Making It All Work.  Interestingly, he mentions in that book the value of journal entries to flush out negative emotions and get to a state of relating appropriately to mental/emotional aspects of your life.  It is cool that I stumbled onto this just through the process, then to read that David Allen himself recognizes this as an aspect of GTD.)

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