How writing a Pain List unblocks you

Everyone has at least 7 things holding them back from leading their best life — until they’ve finally dealt with them

This story is one of several reasons why I came to create Life’s Battle Plan. It includes one of the lessons — Day 7, to be exact — in the email course and workbook, which is a practical stage you must pass through after defining your dreams, on your way to making them real.

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

Life is full of obstructions that loom larger than they actually are. We fool ourselves into having limitations that aren’t necessarily real, until they become what we fear.

Like most people, I had a few things in my life I could not seem to budge, that stressed me out and caused me despair. Let’s call these items, written down, the Pain List. Writing them down is all some of us ever do.

Until I started taking my Pain List items seriously — until I started putting some of this stuff to bed – nothing new was coming into my life. My life didn’t feel like it was going in the direction I wanted it to go. It didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. In fact, if it was moving at all, it moved to a wasteful end.

What was underneath that was I had a history of learned helplessness in the face of obstruction.

“If I try, it’ll only end up in disappointment, so I prefer to dream.”

We learn helplessness by the way other people avoid or override our needs and interests. Dysfunctional people resist our unclear or maladroit attempts to remove obstructions to make our situations and relationships better. They typically respond in a way that shuts us down. In the face of getting shut down, some people get clearer and go for it another way. Other people, however, give up more easily.

The dysfunction of resisters (or, the resistance of the dysfunctional) is also their way of giving up, but they don’t always realize that. Most people are trying to protect themselves, frankly, and they do it through minor forms of negative control — often when they simply need to learn how to lead.

Entire cultures can fall prey to this. It takes insight to realize that obstruction might have good reasons, and resistance might have good reasons, but both obstruction and resistance are not permanent conditions. They are moveable and negotiable. A Hero isn’t always required.

Pain often comes from feeling helpless about a particular task, person, block, or outcome. It takes small, consistent effort and positive reinforcement to unlearn helplessness.

I had to do it, and I’m still working at it. For example, I’m very patient and persistent — so much so that I forego rewards I should take! — but I have a low frustration tolerance. Until I had the internal and external resources — including money and its ever-ready excuse — to start moving on the things I needed to clear, I was stuck in a mystifying holding pattern: waiting for something to happen, not recognizing when it was happening, and under-using my power to direct all creation in my life.

There is one positive thing this stagnation taught me, and it’s expressed in this poem:

The Just
by Jorge Luis Borges
A man who cultivates his garden, as Voltaire wished.
He who is grateful for the existence of music.
He who takes pleasure in tracing an etymology.
Two workmen playing, in a café in the South,
a silent game of chess.
The potter, contemplating a color and a form.
The typographer who sets this page well,
though it may not please him.
A woman and a man, who read the last tercets
of a certain canto.
He who strokes a sleeping animal.
He who justifies, or wishes to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for the existence of Stevenson.
He who prefers others to be right.
These people, unaware, are saving the world.

This is real life, too. You are always, ALWAYS living a real life. And you are always learning what works and what doesn’t. There are seasons of growth and there are seasons of dormancy. This is natural.

It’s time for you to breathe out the old, and breathe in new energy.

Create a Pain List — 7 to 10 things that you should have done by now, old business that was frustrated and remains outstanding, debts to pay, debts to call in, projects that need one final push to complete, applications for new opportunities that may not yet be lost. Things that may make you feel some embarrassment or shame, where you underperformed or let someone down.

Then analyze the first three steps you can take to get each bit of business sorted.

And then, immediately, act on the very first step of each of them.

Record the outcome and expectations of that very first step. Schedule the second step or its follow-up. Acknowledge this accomplishment.

When you resolve and complete any item on the Pain List, reward yourself, and release that negative energy. With any luck, the negative energy will already be released during the process of resolving that pain item. It so often is the case that doing something constructive about pain becomes, consciously or in retrospect, a pleasant and rewarding task.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Originally published on the blog at projectica.

Jane Sorensen (@janerette on most platforms) blogs about productivity and voluntarism and created a few tools to orient you to your own meaningful productivity — a printable, digital life planner workbook that you can edit as things change, and a downloadable, printable monthly agenda with a format like no other. Go see them at!