One of the negative effects of living a busy life is that you constantly have a running list in your mind of all the things you need to do. It’s an additional stressor that you often don’t even know you have – you just know you feel stressed and overwhelmed. I see it frequently in my clients. They come in looking frazzled, finally manage to relax during their massage therapy session, then slowly start to feel frazzled again as their brain begins reminding them of their to-do list. I recognize the pattern, because I go through it, too.
Even worse than feeling overwhelmed is when you forget to do something. For me, that’s where the stress come from – the fear that I will forget something important.
I recently listened to an episode of Hidden Brain that discussed the “checklist manifesto.” The idea behind the checklist manifesto is that we are more likely to be successful in anything we do if we have a checklist to follow.
We are all fallible. We want to believe that we can remember to do everything we need to do, especially when we’re doing something routine. But sometimes we forget a step.
Think about the last time you flew on a plane. The pilot, co-pilot and crew went through a pre-flight checklist before takeoff, and they went through a checklist before landing. These checklists, first developed by the U.S. Air Force, reduce the potential for errors during takeoff and landing. Would you feel comfortable knowing the flight crew was preparing to land by memory or would you feel safer knowing they have a written set of steps to follow?
This idea was brought into the surgery room. Although many surgeons at first resisted and said a checklist was a waste of time, hospitals saw a noticeable improvement in surgical outcomes. There were fewer errors and complications, patients were more likely recover.
What does a checklist have to do with massage therapy? The benefits of therapeutic massage are not only physical, there are mental benefits, too. Chief among those mental benefits is stress reduction. However, that stress reduction takes longer to kick in and lasts for a shorter period of time when a client is overloaded worrying about tasks she might forget. If my client is trying to remember whether it’s her day to pick up her son from daycare, her brain is focused on what she needs to do later in the day rather than telling her muscles to relax. Once she is finally able to “turn off” her brain, she truly relaxes. But once the massage is over, she suddenly remembers she forgot about to pay the water bill earlier in the day, and that relaxation is gone.
It’s not just surgeons and pilots who can improve their work by using checklists. I use this in my practice to make sure I am doing everything I need to do to keep my business running. Do I need to order more lotion? Do I have enough clean towels and sheets? Did I confirm my appointments for the day?
In a world in which we are all trying to fit as many things as possible into a mere 24 hours that, we can all use a little help. Whether you call it a checklist or a to-do list, making a list of what needs to be done ensures you don’t forget anything. This takes a big burden off your brain, which also takes stress off you. And anything you can do to lessen your stress is good for your body and your mind.
If you want to learn more about this topic, you may be interested in reading The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Gawande is the surgeon who brought the use of checklists into the surgical theater. His book talks about the application of checklists not only in hospitals, but also a more a practical application in everyday life.