The surprisingly effective question I’m asking myself every day

I’ve been working on a project these past few months, and for it, I’ve been keeping a new list in my bullet journal. To add to my lists of the little things I love, and favorite podcast episodes, and books I want to read, and the things that are saving my life right now, I’ve added a new one: the frustrating moments from my days.

It sounds out of place, right?

I’m an idealist by nature, an optimistic, glass half-full, the sun will come out tomorrow kind of girl. It doesn’t feel natural to keep a list of frustrating moments. In the moment, as I document these snippets from my days, it doesn’t feel good. It makes me feel like I’m screwing things up.

Some days, these precise reminders of how I self-sabotage, or let someone hijack my plans, or just fall victim to bad luck feel pretty gross. I can’t deny how things are going wrong; it’s right there in print, the handwriting my own.

But, because I’m also a rule follower by nature, I track these moments, even though I don’t particularly want to. I’m still tracking them, every day, choosing to attend to what’s frustrating me.

A sampling:

– accidentally waiting a week to respond to an important email
– not finishing my most important task of the day before predictable after-school carpool/dinner craziness
– spending 30 minutes writing a thoughtful and gracious email declining a collaboration because I don’t have time right now (the irony!)

I thought it would be one long exercise in self-mortification, and sometimes it feels like one. (See above.)

But you know what? After it feels gross for about 15 minutes, noticing the frustrating is strangely empowering.

Keeping this list has made me realize how often I deny what’s killing me. This sort of behavior looks so ordinary I didn’t even notice I was doing it, pasting over my frustrations with dismissals like It didn’t take that longIt wasn’t that badI didn’t mind too much.

But when my frustrations are out in the open, clearly articulated, right there in print, I can actually do something about them. (If this idea sounds familiar, it’s because I spend two hundred pages talking about this idea in my book Reading People.)

Nothing can change if I’m ignoring or denying things that might scare me. Noticing and naming my own tendencies towards self-destructiveness is the first step in pulling out of them. And I’m seeing how writing these things down is helping me change them.

I still write down my daily frustrating moments, but there aren’t as many to note as there were a couple of months ago.

Knock on something right now for me, because I can’t help but think that will change. I’m certain to enter a new season with new challenges, new frustrations. But noticing what’s killing me? It’s helping, right now.

I would love to hear about your experiences, both past and ongoing, with frustration, denial, facing reality, and change. Tell us all about it in comments?

P.S. When it’s frustration that gets the ball rolling, and one question to ask yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed. For more about my journal: this is the method I use.


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  1. Laurel Bandi says:

    I once read that “insanity is doing things over and over again expecting a different result” I find myself doing the same activity without changing any aspect of it… And getting frustrated and overwhelmed.

  2. Angela H says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I have been wanting to do a bullet journal and this post gave me some ideas of what to write in my journal. Thank you

  3. Allison Harke says:

    I love your posts about making lists to help keep track of the important things in life. I think that’s my biggest frustration right now – feeling as though life is speeding by and I’m disorganized and confused about what’s happening and where I’m going. Does that make sense?
    I also have a question: do you keep these lists as a seperate collection, or do you jot them down in your daily log as they come to you? I want to do this too!

  4. Birgitta Qvarnström Frykner says:

    Doing lists, hm, after almost 20 years of a burn out i am still there its cronical. I am an expressionist, and enthusiast ( yes still), always said yes to everything. Today i am a homestaying, struggling with to be between being my orginal true self and the one i am now. I have to chose carefully every day what i manage to do. My sons kids me by saying ” o is this the day to go to the post. The things i am not doing ( almost everything) is so annoying. I have learned the hard way to say NO. But i want my former life back. Never happens. One of my gifts is to make organisation plans and lists. But when the list is done. Then i’m tired and that day gone. So happy for books and internet, my way of still living in this world.

  5. Susan says:

    Oh! So interesting as a 9! I can see how allowing yourself to admit the frustration would be helpful! I’ll have to try that! Do you hide the list of what other people do to frustrate you? 🙂

  6. Shay says:

    As always, I find these types of posts thought-provoking and helpful, Anne!
    Curious if your family members do anything similar to this kind of list, and if they’re not the list-making-type, how you manage expectations?

    Obviously I’m aware we can only control ourselves, but we do live with people different than us, so just curious about your thoughts!

  7. Heather MacHugh Cooper says:

    Anne you are SO amazing I love your blog and I love how you have changed ME as a reader!! I can not tell you how impactful your book club reads and podcasts are! Anyways, I am guessing that writing a list like this might be like writing in a journal, once you let it out on paper it sort of is a release. I have a side business along side being a teacher and in that business there is always something else to achieve etc, this week I have decided I need to be kind to myself and not push for the next thing…’s hard to do, but it is giving me more time to read which makes me so happy! We as women do SO much for everyone around us and we are so tough on ourselves when we can’t achieve it all!! I will have to try out this list and see what it does for me.

  8. Claire says:

    I think this is a clever and important practice for an Enneatype 9. What a great idea! 9’s have so many different ways to be blind to frustrations and things that get in our way. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Holly says:

    I feel like I would find this so hard and that it would, as with you, make me feel not so great for a while. However, having read on I can actually see where you are coming from, which wasn’t something I was expecting when I first read your new question! That is a really strong & productive thing to do and I am so glad you shared it with us, maybe one day I will pluck up the courage to do the same!

    Holly from The Art of Being Holly xo

  10. Anne, I’m a bit older than you, okay maybe a lot older than you, even so what you wrote hit home. For the most part I’ve learned to allow myself to acknowledge my negative emotions, but sometimes I still want to dodge them. I’ve learned that’s never a good idea, they come back in a bigger scarier package if I don’t deal with them when they first arise. One question that has helped me move through tough times is, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” Just asking that question has been a powerful personal growth tool. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Andrea says:

    I love that you are such an authentic real blogger who still actually blogs 🙂 Love these types of posts. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. Tara Geffre says:

    I have recently started a blog and it has beenthe most cathartic experience I have ever had. I love this idea and will be starting it today! I’m also an optimistic gal so I think having safe place to put these thoughts is genius. Pretty sure my blog readers don’t want to hear about all the ways I’ve let myself down. Thanks again for this post. BTW I found it on Twitter where Gretchin Rubin (love her) added a link to your blog.

  13. I really love this post and while I do a “what have I learned this month”, and “what didn’t go well”, as part of my (very comprehensive) monthly review, I think keeping the page ready to note down frustrations is going to be very useful.

    I’ll tag you on Instagram when I start my page 🙂

  14. This resonated with me as well. I have been journaling for years. I have about 30, which I write in randomly, sometimes with purpose (I have specific journals where I write to both of my children directly). Recently, I found myself asking (and answering) the question of why I feel a certain emotion and what I need to do about it.

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