You only ever need to do one thing


Yesterday I was having one of those days where my mind spun with all that I was sure needed to be done. I sat at my kitchen table, staring out the window, trying frantically to access peace (as if “frantic” could ever be the way to peace).

There was so much I should be doing, surely, but it felt like there was so much that there was no point in starting — with such a huge to-do list, anything I did would only constitute a drop in the overflowing bucket of what must be done.

This is a familiar place I can go to when more than “the usual” is on my plate, and that’s the case for so many of us at the holidays. Even though I’ve made a conscious decision to do things more simply this year, I still travel for Christmas and, grrr — traveling? Not my favorite thing. I like being there, I just don’t like getting there.

As I backtracked and took a look at what I’d been thinking yesterday morning, I realized I was focused on the sheer hell that plane travel would surely be, and what a drag it is that every year I endure this, and how with everything going on in our world I have an extra layer of fear right now, and on and on.

And then I felt selfish and self-centered for not being able to be a “bigger person” and have gratitude that my parents are in good health and I have this opportunity to see them at the holidays.

This is a good example of what our minds tend to do (my mind is hardly unique in its patterns!). When we fixate on something we’ve decided will be unpleasant, reinforce the expected unpleasantness with fearful thoughts, and then judge ourselves for having the thoughts in the first place, we get into a vicious loop.

When we’re operating from that loop, it looks like only eliminating the circumstance we’re convinced is making us unhappy will restore our sanity — or, only making the exact “right choices” within that circumstance will keep us safe, secure, on steady or virtuous ground.

If feeling good is dependent on either eliminating circumstances or choosing the “correct” ones, we’re on a slippery slope. So much is out of our complete control, even in areas where we do have a good amount of legitimate power over what happens.

So when we approach our lives this way, it’s kind of like we’re either focused on the finish line, when the race will be over and (if we do it right) we’ll have won, or we’re looking for a way to bow out of the race altogether. But I don’t want to run! we think. Why does there have to be this stupid race?

As I sat obsessing about the “right way” to handle my commitments, I looked over at my boyfriend, who was sitting in a chair in the living room laughing heartily at something on TV.

How simple it is for him, I thought. He doesn’t analyze everything the way I do. He just does what needs to be done and doesn’t make a big thing out of it. (He would tell you this isn’t exactly true, but it was what I thought in the moment.)

And then I noticed the mostly blank wall behind him. Since we moved in August, I’d been meaning to hang pictures on that wall, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t important enough to take precedence over everything else I needed to do.

But, I realized, I wanted to hang those pictures. Of everything I could have been doing in that moment, hanging those pictures felt like something I wanted to do. And, looking at the mostly empty wall, I realized that hanging the pictures — only that — was all I was called to do in that moment.

Just that one thing.

Back in August, during that last chaotic week before I moved to my new home, my friend Mary Montanye asked me via email how the moving preparations were going, and I told her I was mega-overwhelmed. She responded that when she was in the process of moving, she’d found it helpful to “just take the next indicated step.”

Those words spurred me on like you wouldn’t believe (thank you, Mary!). And yesterday, hanging the pictures and admiring them afterward, noticing how much more it feels like home in the living room now that the pictures are up, my mind began to quiet itself.


Pictures are up!

I was reminded that all I ever need to do is one thing. No matter how big the project, how sprawling the to-do list, I only ever need to do one thing.

And here’s the trick: Only when I am in the process of doing that one thingΒ am I able to see clearly that it is being engaged with the process that I crave, not getting to the finish line or eliminating the task.

When I am caught up in thinking about all that needs to be done, and not actually doing the one thing that presents itself, I am disconnected from the rewards of the process of doing. I believe that the only reward comes from “having done it”.

This is why when I hear people say things like, “I hate writing, but I love having written,” something in me cries, but that’s no way to live! If we can’t find ways to make the process rewarding, we’re forever focused on the finish line, and therefore missing most of our lives.

And the process looks like this: one thing, one thing, one thing. (And yes, sometimes our “one thing” CAN be eliminating, or rescheduling, something on our to-do list! The key is in taking the action, rather than obsessing over it.)

I’m curious about how this works for you, and particularly about how you might apply “just one thing” to anything you have planned for the holidays.

And if, like me, you’re an introvert who’s needing a little more comfort and simplicity at this time of year, you might want to check outΒ this post that I wrote last year at holiday time.

Top image Β© Jessie Eldora Robertson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

15 thoughts on “You only ever need to do one thing

  1. Thanks so much for this vivid reminder, Jill! I’ve been trudging around in the slippery muck of similar fixation so far this week. Hey, your pictures look so fine on that wall that I can feel some of your satisfaction with having clued in and then done that One Thing!
    Some fifty-plus years ago in college, I read Thomas Carlyle for a survey course and was stunned to find this simple, powerful idea conveyed in his words about ‘The Everlasting Yea’. Little did I suspect how often I’d need to be reminded to practice it — all my days — much less how it would begin to ease out into all the world as a form of wise mindfulness.
    So tonight, with a happy nod to you, “ONE THING” is posted on my fridge and the loo mirror, and maybe soon on the front door too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So happy to hear that, Kitty! (In fact, I’m going to take your example and post “one thing” on my own fridge and maybe elsewhere!) Very interesting to hear that you came across this idea in Thomas Carlyle’s work. Yes, I think most of us need a reminder to practice this on a daily basis. It’s such a sanity-restorer. Thanks so much for reading and sharing, it’s great to hear that the post spoke to you! πŸ™‚


  2. Hi Jill, You blogs are always so useful. Hope you enjoy each and every one thing, up to and through the hols! I want to approach it this way too! Cheers, Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Hilary. You write such useful (and often funny) blogs. I read this one and then went back to the post you linked to and read that one. Laughed out loud over the suggestion you made for taking a walk. How if it was cold enough no one would join you. I am also someone who loves people deeply and love to have high quality conversation with a few good friends or family members, but I am also one who finds herself very enjoyable, too, and need to make time for me as well. Have a great (and nourishing) holiday season, Jill.


    • Thanks, Mary — I’m glad you enjoyed the posts! Yes, I do enjoy my solitary walks and they’re especially replenishing when there’s a lot going on around me (although walking with a good friend or two is nice as well!). Thank you for reading and inspiring — and I hope you, too, have a wonderful holiday, with plenty of time for you!


  4. Brilliant. As always! And so, so true. Thank you from a stressed out soul who has been trying to do this too (’tis the season!). Am learning to give my body what it tugs at me for (and not delaying it, or judging it)- the little indulgences, which turn out not to be indulgences at all, but simply actions of good self-care, evidenced by what you described above: mind quiets, body calms- during and afterwards. Strange how that works, doesn’t it? πŸ™‚ Another wonderful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kathryn! You are so right that those “little indulgences” really are not indulgences at all so much of the time — just simple self-care that we’ve been trained not to allow ourselves! I love this: “Am learning to give my body what it tugs at me for (and not delaying it, or judging it)”. Acting on that body wisdom makes such an amazing difference! Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading — wishing you perfect access to “inner calm” this holiday! πŸ™‚


  5. Me too me too! I love this post, Jill! Especially appreciate your point that “it is being engaged with the process that I crave, not getting to the finish line or eliminating the task.” YES! I totally trick myself into thinking that reaching the finish line will complete me.

    But as you so wisely noted, when I am actually in the process of doing that one thing, I can see clearly that this focus, this present-moment awareness, is what I’m really longing for. It’s the sweetness of staying here and now.

    To answer your question, the way I’m applying “just one thing” over the holidays is to do a minimum of 30 minutes of writing on my book each day. That is a short amount of time that feels doable even on full days, and it gives me a sense of being present to my writing during a time when it would be tempting to toss the good habit out the window.

    Happy holidays! xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Caroline — I’m happy to hear the post spoke to you! And yes, “the sweetness of staying here and now” is such a great way to put it. It’s the only place we can truly be, and therefore the only place where we can actually feel real satisfaction (though our minds will tell us otherwise!).

      I love your 30-minutes-a-day writing goal! Sounds like a wonderful way to show up and be present for both you and your writing during the holidays. Thanks, as always, for sharing, and happy holidays to you too! πŸ™‚


  6. This is a wonderful post. This message of concentrating on only the next step has been following me around lately. First from Michael Hyatt who said figure out the one brave thing you need to do today. Then a book I read about when you say Yes to something you automatically say No to something else. Now your post. I think that’s a sign that this message is for me. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ebony — it definitely sounds like this message may be “up” for you, so you’re seeing it everywhere! πŸ™‚ I love it when that happens for me; it usually signifies a positive shift that’s about to happen in my life. Thanks so much for your kind words and for taking the time to comment!


  7. Oh my goodness, your words have helped slow me down and be in the moment. I’ve been obsessing about an event that is several weeks in the future and making myself miserable. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.