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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
With more than a week back in the so-called real world from our adventure into a no-connection part of Alaska, I’ll still mulling one of my favorite benefits of that kind of retreat, and it’s something I know you need to hear. And I know that because it’s something I always need to hear and remember again.
In case you missed it, my family and I went with my youngest sister to a wilderness cabin off the coast of Homer Alaska and spent three days totally unplugged. The Halibut Cove Lagoon public use cabins are an over 30 minute water taxi ride from Homer and landsend — literally the end of the road where the highway stops because so does the land. Homer is a fishing town and gorgeous tourist destination. Alaska’s marine highway brings passengers by ferry here, or you can drive down about 4 hours from Anchorage. With stunning views the entire way, it’s one of my favorite destinations.
Off the coast are a variety of coves, including Halibut Cove. And it’s there in a small lagoon that the state’s Kachemak Bay State Park has a trio of public use cabins. We took the water taxi, rented three kayaks and spent three nights there. The cabins book out seven months in advance, so making this happen took a lot of long term planning and being really on the ball in November for something I wanted to do in June. That’s harder than it sounds because in November, when the temperatures were very cold and the wind was already howling and the darkness had set in, I had to remember that June is a thing and that I really would want to go spend three nights in a cabin. Anyway.
One of my favorite parts of these unplugging trips is that the lack of incoming information lets me zoom out on what else is going on in my world. And, most importantly, it lets me see what things Im doing that are not in sync with how I want to spend my time each day. Whats important to me? What do I love? What am I dreading? What is an extra stress? What should I let go of?
In short, heading into nature like that for several days at a time helps me make a Not to Do list.
One thing you have to know about me is that I LOVE a to do list and a plan. Im not going to go into my system becuase you might think Im crazy and we cant have that now, can we? But it includes this perfect note book where each day I write down my big tasks and things I need to accomplish. Sometimes the list takes up a whole page. Sometimes it takes up half a page. And when I do the things, I cross them off. It is the very definition of a to do list.
But what about a Not to Do or a Dont Do list?
This was a concept given to me by one of my mentor, Jacey Eckhart. If you happen to be a military family member or veteran, you may have read something by Jacey or heard her speak — and if you’re in those communities and you havent, you really need to look her up. She’s never steered me wrong and her advice on military life and for veteran careers is thoughtful, on target and even very entertaining. She also taught me how to be a public speaker.
Anyway, Jacey told me that more important than a to do list is a not to do list. That kind of list gives you permission to stop doing things that just shouldnt be a part of how you spend your time. These are not necessarily things that you really loath but probably have to do, like folding laundry (although there are ways to avoid that if you really want to). These are projects you committed yourself to that arent the right fit after all. Or things you signed up for or said you’d attend but actually fill you with dread. Maybe they’re even tasks that don’t actually need to be done or that can wait until the weather is bad and spending the day outside no longer is a competing priority.
They are things that you have to give yourself permission not to do. And spending time in nature helps me figure out what they are.
And so during our trip after a few days of chewing over what might be on my not to do list, I hoped in a kayak with a cup of coffee and a chair, paddled over to a rocky pull out where the only sounds were Bald Eagle calls and the splashes of otters and loons, and made my not to do list on my phone.
I decided that Im going to back out of a project that has been like a weight around my neck. When a project feels like that it probably isn’t the right fit for you and doing it probably isn’t really serving anyone. I decided I’m not going to renew my membership in a local club. I always feel like I’m letting them down by not showing up, and I almost never have time to attend because the meetings are at a time that doesnt sync with my work schedule. I decided to end a business relationship Ive had for more than a year because it’s just not working for me anymore. And I decided that it’s OK to do this podcast just because I like it without worrying about if I ever sell my inspirational memoir book on all the life magic that happens if you spend at laest 20 minutes outside every single day. It’s ok for this to quote unquote just be a hobby.
And let me just say — the relief I felt after making these decisions and putting those things on my list? Huge.
So let me ask you this. If you gave yourself some time and space outside — a few days — to clear out that brain clutter and find some clarity on what things you should stop doing, what would you place on your not to do list? Would there be a lot of things? Just a few things? What would it feel like to take that load off your heart and mind? How much more time — and not just time, actual energy — would you have for heading outside or for doing the things you like? What kind of freedom would you feel?
July is a time we like to think about freedom in the U.S. — but here in Alaska it’s a time when you squeeze in as many vacation days as you can to take advantage of the sunshine and long daylight hours. You can see photos of where Im doing that — lots of running, some really pretty hikes and a few fun adventures — on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. And I’d love to see your photos too. Share them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.