I have a strict ritual each night before I go to sleep. I wedge my body in bed among the pile of cats, prop myself up against a couple pillows, and make a To-Do List.
The list generally consists of mundane but necessary tasks for the next day: Make dentist appointment, trim bushes, clean cat hair off the bedspread. Occasionally, I even compose a list of lists: Make grocery list. Do list of bills. Write list of island vacation destinations I can't afford.
The average person might mentally organize these tasks. But without a written itinerary, I'm likely to sink into the couch, staring vacantly at a cobweb in the corner of the ceiling and pondering, "Wasn't there SOMETHING I was supposed to be doing?" Perhaps I'm ADD, or a bit OCD. (Could it be both, one compensating for the other?) The point is, if I don't put everything in writing, carve it upon Sherry's Stone Tablet of Commandments, I'm not likely to follow through.
Lately, I've listed two items consistently each day: 1) Walk and 2) Write. (Not to be achieved at the same time. Though I am a multi-tasker, I'm forced to keep both hands on Ringo's leash in order to salvage the lives of small animals we pass.) After several consecutive weeks of this routine, even the most disorganized individual would have these activities engrained forever. Yet I continue to scrawl them on my nightly To-Do List, and dutifully check them off once accomplished.
Why? Because they are currently Matters of Great Importance.
We all have priority goals. This list (a mental compilation for those who aren't ADD/OCD), is fluid, changing as our lives change. For me, getting in shape and finishing a new novel have recently taken top rank. I still need to accomplish numerous other items on my list each day. But walking and writing, these two things necessary to reach my top goals, take precedence over a multitude of others.
In one of the most memorable movie scenes ever, Jack Palance tells Billy Crystal in City Slickers that the secret of life is One Thing. "Just one thing. You stick with that, and everything else don't mean shit."
"That's great," replies Billy. "But what's the one thing?"
"That's," Jack tells him, "what you have to figure out."
Other than general survival, I'm not sure there's simply just one thing. But we all need to narrow down our goals, pinpoint exactly those which are most important to us at any given point in our life. Choose what matters most. Tell ourselves the steps we need to take to get there.
And everything else, the hundreds of things we need to do or want to have, should fall below those priorities.
Want to buy a new house? Then a Caribbean cruise drops down, way down, on the list. Want to lose weight? Then that frozen pina colada, sadly, may have to lose out in the list of priorities.
Whether they're written in ink or simply stored in the forefront of our mind, life goals must infuse our daily thoughts and dictate our agendas.
The Matters of Great Importance to us are just that. The rest--even the momentary enjoyment of that tempting pina colada--don't mean shit.