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Perhaps the biggest part of living a conscious, intelligent lifestyle involves breaking away from social norms or limiting beliefs—and writing your own rule book.

This can mean taking a step back from consumption culture and choosing to live a more sustainable lifestyle, where having new cars, new shoes, or new toys doesn’t equate happiness. It can also mean consciously choosing your own spiritual practice to suit your individual needs and values; creating your own definition of productivity and success; or listening to your intuition rather than other people’s opinions about your lives.

But what about the things you choose not to do? Are they as critical as the practices and routines you actively incorporate into a conscious lifestyle? In a world where we are encouraged to always be ‘on,’ always doing and striving to achieve something new, choosing to abstain from certain situations or practices is just as critical in determining the quality of your life as the things you do.

It only makes sense, right? You can meditate every morning and practice gratitude, but if you spend the rest of your day doomscroling on Instagram and frantically answering every email, you can only get that far.

The Mindset Switch

That’s where the not-do-list comes in. It involves taking a step back, identifying daily habits, routines, or relationships that are impacting you negatively, and making a mindful decision to remove them from your life. But, more importantly, it also requires a drastic mindset shift, a move away from the relentless modern-day culture of always doing and an acceptance of slowing down, getting rid of the fear of missing out, and choosing not to always participate in what everyone else is doing.

The world-famous life coach Tony Robbins has often spoken about the importance of this switch away from long to-do lists and more strategic planning, that’s aligned with your bigger life purpose and individual goals.

“The biggest problem with to-do lists is that focusing only on what you need to get done does not guarantee that you’re actually making any real progress. To-do lists can keep you busy, of course, and there is a certain sense of satisfaction you get from checking off a series of tasks. But you can end up crossing off everything on your list and still feel like you haven’t really accomplished anything,” he says.

Real progress is made when you’re strategically cherry-picking the professional opportunities, social occasions, and daily practices you are bringing into your life, while simultaneously curating and removing everything that doesn’t help you get closer to your goals.

The Process of Elimination

Tim Ferriss, another great modern thinker, entrepreneur, and avid user of The Five Minute Journal, is a big believer in the power of a not-to-do list.

“Not-to-do lists are often more effective than to-do lists for upgrading performance. The reason is simple: what you don’t do determines what you can do,” he writes on his blog.

Here are some of his suggestions of things you should no longer be doing to improve the overall quality of your life and up your chances of improving your goals:

For starters, don’t check your email first thing in the morning as it can “scramble your priorities and plans for the day.” Ferriss also believes in not carrying your phone 24/7, as well as not working extra hours to fix overwhelm or an overloaded work schedule.

The real solution lies in prioritizing and simply leaving some things undone, as far as Ferris is concerned. This is where tools like The Productivity Planner and Daily Desk Pad can also come in handy, as they encourage you to assign yourself no more than five key tasks for the day, keeping your schedule manageable and avoiding anxiety and overwhelm clouding your working days.

When writing your own not-to-do list, there’s no rules or limits as to what you put down. You can look at the tasks and situations weighing you down at work and take Ferriss’ cue in establishing not-to-do’s like only checking your email at certain times during the day; determining a couple of hours or a day per month to spend away from your phone and other technology; or adding screen time limits on social media apps to avoid doomscrolling.

It’s equally important to establish boundaries and not-to-do’s in your personal life, too. Perhaps that means not saying "Yes" to every social invitation if you don’t really want to attend an event and need time for yourself, or not continuing interacting with people that show signs of negative or disrespectful behavior.

Watch Your Language

Clearly, there are plenty of benefits in choosing to take a step back from certain habits, situations, or even people. But it’s also worth considering how you go about doing that. Constantly using negation when you’re speaking, whether by saying “No” or “I don’t want to do this” can actually set a negative precedent, even subconsciously. So it’s worth paying extra attention to your language when making those statements and switching things up a little bit to avoid negation and establish a more positive undertone.

Instead of sharp no’s you can politely abstain by saying that you’re not able to participate in an event, or that something doesn’t feel like a good fit for you. It’s all about small, subtle tweaks. For example, instead of telling your coworker that you are not going to reply to their email, explain that you have set aside certain hours in the afternoon to look at emails and they should expect a response later on.

“I don’t use ‘no’ in my regular life with people or with my daughter. That doesn’t mean I say yes to everything, but I’m a very mindful speaker. I believe words hold great power and really influence our mind: no creates a fixed rather than a growth mindset,” explains Mimi Ikonn.

With a new year rolling out, embrace this alternative way of thinking that goals aren’t always about doing more. When setting your objectives, aims, and dreams, think holistically about what you should be doing more of, what you need to be doing less off—and what you need to be saying goodbye to. The only rule is that the power is in your hands and you are the one setting the rules of your life.

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