post written by: Marc Chernoff

20 Things that Belong On Everyone’s TO-DON’T List


20 Things that Deserve to Be On Everyone’s TO-DON’T List

Your greatest fear should not be of failure,
but of succeeding in life at all the wrong things.

This morning as Angel and I were driving to meet a coaching client, another driver a few cars in front of us tossed a large disposable cup out the window.  Suddenly, a motorcycle directly in front of us pulled over near the litter as we passed.  When traffic stopped at the next red light, the motorcycle driver pulled up to the driver that littered and handed him his trash back.

The motorcycle driver then shouted, “Being too lazy to put trash in a trash can… put that on your TO-DON’T list!”  And then we all drove off.

Wow!

Besides the fact that this motorcycle driver is my new hero, he also reminded me to check and update my own TO-DON’T list.  Angel and I have discussed the TO-DON’T list concept on our blog before, and most recently we focused on it in the Productivity chapter of our book.  As you may have guessed, a TO-DON’T list’ is a list of things NOT to do.  It might seem a bit amusing, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for keeping track of unproductive habits and thought patterns.

The bottom line:  If you get decent value from making TO-DO lists, you’ll also get significant returns – in productivity, in improved relationships, in emotional stability, and in heightened levels of happiness – from adding certain things to a TO-DON’T list.

And since I just updated my TO-DON’T list, which is in essence a universally applicable list, I figured I’d share it with you today…

  1. Don’t be lazy. – The world doesn’t owe you anything; you owe the world something.  So stop daydreaming and start DOING.  Develop a backbone, not a wishbone.  Replace laziness with determination.  Laziness is being unable to find the time you have.  Determination is being able to find the time you don’t have.
  2. Don’t cower from life’s necessary challenges. – We work hard to discard the parts of our lives that were painful, difficult, or sad.  But just as we can’t rip chapters out of a book and expect the story to still make sense, we cannot rip past chapters out of our lives and expect our lives to still make sense.  Keep every chapter of your life intact, and keep on turning the pages one at a time.  Sooner or later you’ll get to a page that brings it all together, and you’ll suddenly understand why every page and chapter before it was needed.
  3. Don’t just take the default path. – Be a voice, not an echo.  Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes.  Find the courage to bring your ideas and dreams to life.  Don’t compare your progress with that of others.  We all need our own time to travel our own distance.  It’s perfectly OK to be different.
  4. Don’t wait for the perfect time. – There’s never really a right time for anything in life.  There’s always going to be something in the way, someone coming to visit, someone leaving soon, the time of the year, the weather, the money, your mother, your brother, etc.  Whatever it is, there will always be something or someone whispering, “Now is not the right time.”  Do it anyway.  Don’t wait for the perfect time; it doesn’t exist.
  5. Don’t put on a mask. – You can’t let people scare you.  You can’t go your whole life trying to please everyone else.  You can’t go through life worried about what everyone else is going to think.  Whether it’s your hair, your clothes, what you have to say, how you feel, what you believe, or what you have…  You can’t let the judgment of others stop you from being YOU.  Because if you do, you’re no longer YOU.  You’re just someone everyone else wants you to be.  (Read The Road Less Traveled.)
  6. Don’t hide your humanness. – Sometimes you have to deal with issues and show others your awkward, uncomfortable side.  It’s perfectly okay – it’s a natural part of being human.  And the good news is that these tough moments will often show you who will accept you at your worst and who won’t.
  7. Don’t make everything seem like a chore. – Life is a privilege; act like it.  Instead of feeling like you “have to” do so much, incredible shifts in energy levels, happiness, and effectiveness can happen when we focus on the fact that we ”get to” do all of these things in our lives.
  8. Don’t try to conquer everything in a single leap. – Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?  Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  So just take one tiny step today.  You won’t regret it.
  9. Don’t focus on past problems. – Never let the ghosts you knew in the past overcrowd the possibilities of the present or have you over-complicating everything in the future.  In life, the test often comes first, before the lesson.  Take a deep breath and think… Your past was never a mistake if you learned from it.
  10. Don’t think about what could have been. – Chances are if it should have been, it wouldn’t have been.  So say it out loud:  “There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.”
  11. Don’t let stupid little things get to you. – Stop focusing on how stressed you are and remember how blessed you are.  Just do your very best.  Appreciate each step, and forget the rest.  And remember that good things take time.  Stay patient and stay positive.  Everything is going to come together, maybe not immediately, but eventually.
  12. Don’t try to hold on to everything. – Life changes.  Everything is not meant to stay.  Remember, giving up and moving on are two very different things.  When things aren’t adding up in your life, it’s time to start subtracting.  (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
  13. Don’t neglect your present joys. – If you don’t appreciate what you have now, someday you will find yourself close to the end, and thinking, “Why didn’t I learn to treat everything like it was the last time?”  In other words, your greatest regret will be how much you focused on the future, at the expense of every present moment of your life.  So don’t hesitate too long.  Don’t love too late.  Don’t expect too much.  Don’t appreciate too little.
  14. Don’t just take. – If you have a lot, give your wealth.  If you have a little, give your heart.  Just give what you can.  No one has ever become poor by giving.
  15. Don’t wait for someone else to do something about it. – Realize that our lives begin to end the moment we silence and restrain ourselves from addressing the issues that matter.  So speak up.  Don’t hide your thoughts and feelings, especially when you can make a difference.  Say what needs to be said.  Do what needs to be done.  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and twice as capable as you have ever imagined.
  16. Don’t always try to be right. – There are many roads to what’s right.  So be selective in your battles.  Oftentimes peace and compromise feels far better than being right.
  17. Don’t judge before you know. – We tend to judge others by their looks and behavior, and ourselves by our intentions and ideals.  Do your best to judge less and love more.
  18. Don’t hold on to hate. – If you want to forget something or someone, never hate it, or never hate them.  Everything and everyone that you hate is engraved in your heart and mind.  If you want to let go of something, if you want to free yourself, you cannot hate.  You must forgive.
  19. Don’t place irrational conditions on your love. – Unconditional acceptance is something we want, but rarely ever give out. When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that’s true love.  Period.  When you do something out of true love, you don’t count the cost.  (Read The Mastery of Love.)
  20. Don’t neglect your close friendships. – I think if I’ve learned anything about friendship, it’s to hang in, even when it’s inconvenient.  Stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you.  Don’t walk away, don’t be distracted, don’t be too busy or tired, don’t take them for granted.  Close friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together.  Incredibly powerful stuff!

Your turn…

What would you add to this list?  What’s one thing YOU need to put on your TO-DON’T list today?  Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with us.

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40 Comments

  • Timely post for me. Many thanks.

    I need to add three things to my TO-DON’T list – ideas I strive to live by, but often fall short:

    1. Don’t listen to others when you go off path, so long as you know why you are going a different way to others, and why it’s right for you, forget all other opinions. An amazing number of people will resent the freedom that a person creates in their own life when they choose to be true to themselves.

    2. Don’t think that the number of possessions equals substance. You’re buying into a game that will own you and defeat you in the end. Back out now and have the courage to show the substance of who you are, not what you have.

    3. Don’t waste time bragging or proving you are right. We all have information to share - it’s as simple as that. And we can all show we know more than others if we want to. But it’s been proven that treating others well reaps better results than being a top down dictator.

    BTW, I actually started my TO-DON’T list about six months ago when I read about it in your book. Great tool for filtering out the wrong habits.

  • Thanks for these great To-Don’ts. Here are mine, (just 10 so far):

    1.) Do not speculate nor fabricate - get actual facts. Analyze.
    2.) Don’t be an island - learn to let others enter your world. They may have brighter idea to help you become happy, content and successful.
    3.) Don’t say something you might regret in the future.
    4.) Don’t insist to quarrel or forcing your idea. Only a fool looks forward into fighting.
    5.) Don’t settle for being just a second best. Be the best!
    6.) Don’t sacrifice important things to wealth and popularity. There are things that are more valuable - family, dignity and heart.
    7.) Don’t follow the norm. Be brave and deviate!
    8.) Don’t cry over spilled milk (this is just like your #9)
    9.) Don’t get easily discouraged. Success doesn’t come in an instant.
    10.) Don’t forget to find reasons to smile everyday! There are a bunch of reasons from waking up in the morning till the minute we set our eyes to sleep at night.

  • To-Don’t Lists… I love it!

    Often we try to add things to a list in order to achieve what we want. Stopping what we don’t want to do (no matter what it is) allows the space and the energy required to start other things or to invest more in what we choose to.

    My one BIG To-Don’t: Stop thinking so much (and start actually DOING)!

  • My to-don’t: Don’t allow possessions to rule you - let them go if they serve no purpose to the greater good of your well being.

  • I have a long list of to do list. But I haven’t thought of a to don’t list…

    1) I have to admit. I’ve been very lazy these past few weeks. I do get lost in thoughts and doing convenient things. I keep on delaying the productive tasks that I need to do.

    3) I should stop comparing myself to others. That it’s ok to be different and just do things that will lead me to the path that feels right for me.

    18) Hate is a heavy weight on my heart. I don’t want to hate a lot. It’s a negative feeling.

    20) I love my close friends so much. It’s ok to have a few close friends that I can count on. It’s the quality that I value. Not the quantity. A healthy relationship is a give and take. When they need me. I will be there. I make it a point to catch up and let them know that I’m thankful for their time and effort for me.

  • #6, 15 & 16

    #6 is so important. It’s weeded out a lot of false friendships, fair weather friends, users and takers. The ones who stuck around, those were the true gems I treasure and started reconnecting with, knowing I’ll never take for granted the importance of them again. The number is small, but happier and much better quality.

    It may be unconventional, but I highly recommend a full-out freakout just once, to see who’s left when the dust settles, stares at you directly and says “feel better now?,” and then moves on with you and never looks back. This is who you want in your life.

    #15 I strongly recommend. Anyone who’s able to make a difference should strive to, no matter how small. You never know the impact it can have on someone’s life or the unexpected ways they’ll pay it forward. I’ve seen this firsthand. Whatever you put out into the world comes back to you threefold. Try to make it something good.

    The best part of my job is writing about someone simply because I know it’ll make them happy and I have nothing to gain from it. And the unexpected aftermath were some of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.

    #16 Don’t always try to be right. This is so true, and makes for a happier relationship. Trying to come up with a solution that makes all parties happy is a fun challenge for me that energizes me and makes me more creative. Though it does need to be preceded by the actual option of compromise. Not everybody is open to it or understands how it works.

    For my Don’t list, I’d add:

    1) Don’t keep secrets from people. Be as transparent as possible. People know when something’s not right, and secrets always, always, always come out eventually. People forgive mistakes. They don’t easily forgive lies, coverups and betrayal.
    2) Don’t eat junk food. My stomach is still reeling from that bag of chips I ate last night. :D
    3) Don’t take anything for granted. Everything is temporary.

  • My Big To-Don’t: Don’t hold back because of perfection. No one is perfect, and what we do won’t always be perfect. You get more marks for effort than you do for one perfect one.

  • All the things you say on this blog can make a very bad day seem better. Great source of positivity!

  • Here are some other to-don’ts :

    1. Don’t try and do too much and then berate yourself when you don’t achieve it all. Just focus on what is important, do your best and learn from it.

    2. Don’t forget the impact you have on other people. Being right doesn’t mean that your behaviour is right. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

    3. Don’t lose your sense of humour. Being able to laugh at yourself can be a good way of defusing what might otherwise become a difficult situation.

    4. Don’t forget it is better to work to live than to live to work. It’s great if you enjoy your work but don’t forget the real reason you do it and then remember to enjoy that too.

  • Not a comment on the to-dont lists, but a thank you for your efforts in general.

    I’ve being receiving your email updates for a while and that most of them are so relevant speaks to the lack of something in me.

    Your email updates, blog and now book are just timely reminders for me as to why it’s important to not be so afraid of life to keep moving forward.

    Thank you.

  • This is an excellent article! Many thanks…

    I have started implementing new changes in my life these to-don’t list ideas helped me a lot today.

  • Great list! Great post!
    Your list is mine, and so is every other don’t do item other visitors included.

    Haven’t written the list, but I live all the don’ts as I do the Dos.

    Have a great day! Sorry I am not present enough. I love your posts.

  • I am still working my way through a solid list, and this is great inspiration to finish.

    1. Don’t ask permission. Act without permission, then apologize as needed. Many aspects of my life are going smoother now that I just do what I think is right, even if the timing may be off.

    2. Don’t make plans without factoring in mistakes. Accelerate your failings, mistakes, and miscues. Yes, I said it. If you learn by mistakes and failures, then failing more rapidly and making more mistakes gets you to learning faster. Therefore, if you don’t like something in your life, fail your way out of it.

    3. Don’t worry so much. Write down all your worries from last year (if you can remember) and then put a check next to each one that came to pass. Not many.

  • I loved your list today and I got an initial kick out of what you said the motorcycle person said to the litterer, but then realized when I say things sarcastically and/or judgmentally, it usually leaves the recipient stewing over his resentment at ME instead of the issue and me with a bitter “I got him” taste in my mouth. So although that provided a little “venting” by the motorcycle person over things HE doesn’t like, did it really help the problem? First, SOMETIMES we do something (like toss a cup out the window OR snap at a customer) b/c we are so preoccupied with some other worry in our life or we just dealt with a nasty customer or are trying to figure out how to pay this month’s rent on minimum wage, that we unconsciously throw the cup out the window or snap at someone or appear to be daydreaming — something WE DON’T NORMALLY DO. So we as the observer, don’t know if this is a one-time mistake or a long-standing mistake.

    One day when I was worrying about my dieing husband I didn’t notice the person behind me so I didn’t hold the door for them. Wow — did they make a sarcastic comment. I was so fragile at that point that their comment of self-righteousness brought tears of sadness to me. Then I made a comment back to hurt THAT person. Then I couldn’t stop letting their sarcasm to me “live rent free in my head” so I was miserable and angry and resentful for days. So DON’T ASSUME THAT THAT PERSON’S BEHAVIOR is their normal behavior. (See No. 17 above - “Don’t judge before you know. – We tend to judge others by their looks and behavior, and ourselves by our intentions and ideals. Do your best to judge less and love more.”) Also, as someone once said, treat everyone the way we treat “professionals” like doctors and lawyers — Sometimes we unconsciously take out our own resentments on everyday people when we would never say that to someone we think is higher/better educated/the right class/race/religion, etc.

    He could have gone up to the person and said WITH A SMILE “did you drop this by accident?” or “there’s so much litter on this strip, could you throw it out when you get where you are going”. (On the other hand, we should speak up to the decision makers or people in our circle on the issues that are really important. I struggle with these issues myself all the time and especially when things are going roughly for me I have to learn not to lash out at others, but instead ask — in a respectful way — for respect and consideration. As someone said, don’t let yourself behave in bad ways just because someone else does. And finally, we don’t have to join every fight we are invited to. That’s on my to-don’t list.

    Thanks for your emails. They are so thought-provoking!

  • I needed to read this! And think I need to focus on #6 and #20..

  • Thank you for another incredible article!

    1. When I don’t get a client, I need to stop thinking I did something wrong and just say “next.”

    2. I need to stop beating myself up when I make a simple mistake and realize it’s OK, because I am human!

  • Don’t forget to count your blessings everyday.
    Don’t forget to be grateful.
    Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.
    Don’t take the elevator, walk instead.

  • In many ways this list is more powerful than any of my “to do” lists because it speaks to the part of me that reacts out of hurt, resentment, fear, and lack of self esteem. My mind reads “don’t” but from it comes the powerful desire to turn it around into the right positive action. I loved number 4…”don’t wait for the perfect time.” The perfect time is now.

  • Here’s another:

    Don’t assume that what you hear is what the other meant to say. Always clarify, especially if what they say offends you.

  • This is such a great list. I woke up thinking about it.

    I just want to expand on #15… Don’t passively accept injustice. Take a stand when it’s necessary and warranted, no matter how hard it is, or how much you wish things were different and people would do the right thing, or how much you wish you could just have peace. Only a fool passively sits down and expects someone else to stand up for them and others when they won’t stand up for themselves.

    Thank you for this list! It’s a great way to focus on what’s important.

    Melissa

  • Thanks Marc and Angel,

    I have enjoyed reading your posts. They have made me more aware of my daily actions and people around me.

    Keep doing what you love. You are making a positive impact on everyone that reads your posts.

  • 1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!! I know, I know, I am stealing this one from some famous Farmer (Old MacDonald?) but right now it’s so true. I just started a humor blog. Every morning I run to check the hits and comments. It’s become my barometer for if I am a good writer or funny. It’s crazy but I have put all my energies, time and creativity into it and now I am feeling quite vulnerable and not very present with other arenas in my life. I suppose this is how obsessions and addictions develops? 12 Step Program for Bloggers anyone?? Regardless, my mother used to tell me not to put all my eggs on one basket in elementary school and I had one best friend (I’m too old to have had a BFF!) and when she was sick and not in school, woe is me! Well guess what? That phrase grows with you. Today it’s not just about having only one friend, it’s about balance and moderation. Sooo important to a healthy life. So even if you adore omelets, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

    I love this profound blog and all the wise readers who leave their own awesome input!

  • Don’t waste time feeling overwhelmed.

    1. Think about your goals.
    2. Think about what your objectives should be for today based on your goals.
    3. List your objectives.
    4. Prioritize your list of objectives.
    5. Act upon each objective, most important to least important.
    6. Acknowledge your progress.
    7. Start again tomorrow.

  • What about when you are ill? So ill at times, it’s hard to do anything? Also worried about finances because you’re too ill to work or “not be lazy”? It is so so terribly hard to resolve so much when you don’t have the energy for it. I don’t look ill but have a very very painful chronic illness of my digestive system. When I get flare ups I can barely move. My husband divorced me after 3 decades of marriage and only at times does he have any empathy for this. He is supposed to be paying me for alimony but only gives a little here and there. It would cost a fortune to hire an atty and he is self employed so no guarantees I would get anything anyway.

    Almost 60 now and have little saved up, poor health to work and SSI is so small you can’t live in it. I am dating using an online service , which is a whole other story, but even if I meet a wonderful man who is going to want to take on someone who is ill? This all leaves me “stuck” financially and terrified. My two children are helping but that’s not fair to them. I pray and pray for something to come along to resolve this but it’s been over 2 years and nothing. I have always been there for just about anyone but boy is that forgotten when you need help by most.

    I love your column and it helps me emotionally, but basically I know what could happen. I NEVER thought I would be here. Some so called friends have actually made me feel worse. Yes they are out of my life now but not without much disappointment. I will never understand THAT! So what to do? No one including myself knows. It’s just plain dreadful.

  • Cute idea! Here are two more that came up for me:

    #1 Don’t think you can do everything—choices have to be made!

    #2 Don’t think anyone else knows more about what you need to do that you do!

    Thanks for the ideas! ~Kathy

  • Hi Stephanie!

    Okay, you’re hysterical. I love your Don’t put… I’ve been the exact opposite for a really long time. I had so many things going on at once that required equal attention that I was overwhelmed and scattered most of the time until I got to where I hated all of them and wasn’t happy. It took a while, but I finally whittled it down to only one project to focus on, with the rest as background noise to check in on occasionally or eliminated altogether. Some wasn’t my choice, but the decision on the ones that were my choice took a while. It’s made me more focused and productive, and freed up time to balance it out with fun things.

    What is the link to your blog? I’d love to read more of your work.

  • Great post! I love the idea of a ‘To Don’t’ list.

    Some really great things to avoid to. I particularly liked ‘don’t try to conquer everything in a single leap’ - it was brought to my attention recently to look to nature for inspiration. Nature does not try to accomplish things in one step, instead it’s a gradual process, whether that be the sun gradually coming up and gradually setting or a seed slowly growing into a plant. Nature does not rush. Nor does it have unrealistic expectations. We should take some inspiration from this! Step by step. Little by little. This is how great things happen.

    Zoe B

  • I love this! Nice head twist Marc… my current to don’t list would include:

    a) Don’t make assumptions about about others’ behavior because you just don’t know what’s going on in their lives.

    b) Don’t make judgements about not making progress just because you’re not getting the results you want. The next action you take could be the tipping point for achievement. And,

    c) Don’t forget to be playful and have some fun. Life’s too short to be heavy and somber all the time.

  • @Graduate280: Great perspective. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more. We really do have to be extra kind, because it’s impossible to know what someone else is going through.

    @All: Thanks so much for sharing your TO-DON’T lists with us. Angel and I just read them all out loud. Love it! Such incredible ideas on living well. I hope to read even more in the coming days. :)

  • “Don’t always try to be right.” is good advice. Realizing that you don’t always have to be right makes your life easier and helps you in relationships.

    Martin

  • Some personal DON’T’s that come to my mind:

    1.) Don’t think you have to do all alone and that you are the only person in this world who can solve your problem and has the best ideas. Sometimes I simply forget that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel again, but that someone most likely already found a good solution to my problem. And talking to other persons, whoever they are, whatever profession they have, if you’re listening carefully, you can’t find many inspiring stories.

    2.) Don’t think too much about what you could do. Personally, I’m a person who’s brain is continiously working. I even think about how I could think less :) And although I have a lot of great ideas I’m enthusiastic about, too much thinking often keeps me from actually bring them to life

    I need to print out this posts and all the comments and go through it in detail. This is so inspiring, thank you very much

  • I have a mental to-don’t list most of the time. #13 is my favorite here.

  • Don’t put off fun for another day. Life should be sprinkled with big fun and little fun.

    Great list. Thanks!

  • Marc and Angel,
    Thank you for this blog! I read, and apply your postings to my life on a daily basis. You are always spot on with what I need to give myself permission to work on, and reassurance that I owe it to myself to do so. Today I especially need to work on #’s 5 and 6. I lived the first 45 years of my life putting on a mask, and being untrue to myself in fear of not being accepted. I do not have to do that today, despite the disapproval of some people in my life. Thank you again for inspiring me, and providing me with tools that I desperately need in order for me to change, learn, and grow. You are helping me to become the person I really am, and loving who that person is. God Bless!

  • “Laziness is being unable to find the time you have. Determination is being able to find the time you don’t have.”

    This is exactly what I needed to read. It may just become my new motto.

  • Hi guys, I’d just like to say thank you for this (and so many other posts) this is definitely the best site on my reading list.

    I have reblogged this post on my site with full credit to yourselves, hope you don’t mind :-).

    Much Love
    AJ
    xx

  • This is a very interesting read. I’ve tried making lists like these, but I figured that what works way better for me is more of a positive and doable variety of these kinds of don’ts. For example, the first point “don’t be lazy”, I would replace with a to-do, progress and goal list for the day, week or month. Instead of “don’t neglect friendships”, I would write “see at least a friend per week”. I have a tendency to forget to nurture relationships, but I stumbled upon a simple math: if you see one different friend per week for three months, you’ll stay in touch with twelve different friends!

    Thank you for sharing this food for thought.

  • Great reminders! Thanx :-)

  • Great list!
    My “To Don’t”:
    Do not say ‘No’ if ‘Yes’ is better and possible.

    When I felt irritated me when the kids forgot something at home, my mom once reminded me to help while you can. It could have been that it was not possible… Some kids do not have parents, some parents work far away, etc. However, then… not just when your children ask…

  • Great list and really well put.

    My not to do list includes 1 more thing

    1) Don’t be like everybody else.

    Be yourself. Be you. Everybody else is taken. No need to become a copycat when you were born unique.

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