My 12-year-old grand-daughter is a compulsive list-maker. From the time she could string three letters together, she has made lists ' lists of homework to be done, lists of chapters to be studied for her exams, lists of items to be tidied up in her room, lists of people to ask over, lists of activities for the week, lists of just about anything and everything. Bits of paper scattered around the room, or tucked away under the pillow, Post-it notelets stuck to the mirror, strips of cardboard used as bookmarks, all bear witness to lists that have been made ' and, of course, never followed! Her propensity for making lists is a source of great amusement to us but the fact is that list-making is only too common a feature with many of us.
So why do people make lists' The simple answer, of course, is that fearing a lapse of memory, people seek reassurance through noting things down. They insist that they need these lists to achieve any sort of efficiency. Lists serve as a necessary kind of aide memoire, something to remind them of what is to be done. This is what I have always believed but a friend of mine insists that this is not strictly true. List-making, she insists, is basically a piece of self-deception. Firstly, it pleasantly occupies the time during which the list maker might have been doing one of the urgent things listed. And secondly it demonstrates what a busy person he or she is, a person who has a score of items to deal with, many of which would be left out if not listed! This friend bases her hypothesis on mutual acquaintances who, though blessed with remarkably good memories that require no jogging by any memorandum, are nevertheless avid and inveterate list-makers.
But those of you who do not have this list-making urge need not laugh too loudly. The truth is that most of us indulge in some form of self-deception!
Take the matter of eating and dieting. 'I'm trying to lose weight,' an acquaintance will say, absent-mindedly biting into a pastry that you have offered her, 'and I have cut out all starchy and fried foods. And,' she continues as she helps herself to yet another pakoda , 'I must say I feel much better for it.'
Or take the matter of smoking. 'I've finally kicked the habit,' a friend will boast. 'I have a cigarette just once in a way when someone else is smoking.' Never mind that the 'once in a way' is just about every evening.
An afternoon nap is another area where people deceive themselves. 'I never have a siesta,' someone will say virtuously. ' I have a bad back and, on doctor's orders I just lie down with a book for half an hour after lunch.' The truth, of course, is that within minutes of this therapeutic lie-down, the walls are being shaken by snores!
Diets, siestas, addictions, lists or whatever, self-deception, it would appear, is the name of the game.