What Are Your Top 5? A Critical Question For Highly Sensitive People (HSPs)

As a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) or empath, your time and energy is a limited and precious resource you have to spend wisely.  This seems obvious, right? Yet, we live in a society that fosters the opposite idea.  We hear the silent chant – do more, be more, never stop – leading us to believe we can do everything if we just “try hard enough” or have “better time management.”

As a Highly Sensitive Person or empath, this message is especially troublesome.  You have to be even more mindful about where your time and energy goes due to your ability to get overwhelmed easily and absorb the sensations (i.e. emotions, energy, etc) around you.  You have much to contribute and give to this world, but if you are not clear about where your greatest gifts lie, or your point of highest contribution, you will spend your days feeling both overwhelmed and dissatisfied with life.  

Think about it.  How often do you engage in activities or spend time with people who aren’t really nourishing you — or worse – draining your energy?  How much time or emotional energy do you put into your job compared to your family or partner?  Do you spend more time on Facebook than face-to-face with your loved ones?

HSPs have the tendency to absorb the energy of those around them.  They are finely tuned to their environment and those around them.  If you are not engaging in what you feel is your highest contribution or with the people who nourish you the most, how do you think this will impact you?

This exercise in self-reflection may help you identify the next steps to right this imbalance.

Instructions for “My Top 5” Activity 

1) List all your activities, priorities, obligations in the present moment and near future.

  • Examples include: family, travel, children, pets, spiritual practice, recovery, self-enrichment, romantic partnerships, health/wellness, work, friendships, volunteering, social commitments, moving, school, home improvement projects, sleep.
  • For the aspiring minimalists, analyze your list to see if anything that has been taking up your time is a result of too many belongings.  (i.e. Does maintaining your home take up a lot of your time because you have too many possessions or excessive clutter?)

2) Of this list, put a check next to the 5 most important items.

  • You can ONLY pick 5.  There may be many things you value on this list, but for the sake of this exercise, you can only pick 5.  If it helps, think about where your priorities lie in the coming month or week.  What you pick are your “Top 5”

3) Circle the top 5 items you spent the most time, mental energy, or emotional energy on in the past month or week.

  • Be painfully honest with yourself, yet have self-compassion as well.  Use discernment and kindness.  There is no benefit of this exercise if you are not able to see yourself clearly.  It will only perpetuate the cycle of overwhelm and emptiness.

4) Assess the similarities and differences between the 5 items identified in Step #2 versus Step #3.  Where has your energy and time been going in relation to what you value?

  • Engage in some self-reflection and be curious about any discrepancies. For example, have you been putting more energy to work than family?  Is this because you have a demanding boss you need to set boundaries with?  Is it because you use work to avoid dealing with relationship conflict?
  • Are you an introvert or Highly Sensitive Person finding yourself spending most of your time and energy being around other people or caregiving others?  What gets in the way of you carving out some alone time?
  • If what you circled in Step 2 and 3 are the same, good for you!  Please continue what ever you are doing.

5) Identify ONE change to get your actions more in alignment. What would be the one change with the most impact?  

  • Many people (especially recovering-perfectionists, like myself!) do this exercise and then identify a gigantic color-coded list of potential changes and to-dos. Oh goodness, what a great way to get back into the doing-too-much mindset!
  • Thus, I challenge you to identify one change.  This single change may be all you need to start to feel more balanced and in alignment with the people and activities most important to you.  In most cases, you’ll also experience a ripple effect.

6) Be specific about the change you identify.  We want the change to be something you can measure, something concrete and tangible, otherwise you won’t know when you have ‘accomplished’ it.  



Stay in touch with family.

Call my sister this week.

Take better care of my body.

Go grocery shopping today.

Have more downtime.

Commit to the most nourishing social engagement this week and politely decline the rest.

Get support.

Find three potential therapists and call them by the end of the month.

Do less.

Identify one activity I can remove from my schedule.

7) Bring in support and accountability (i.e. friend, therapist, partner, professional organizer) to implement the change, if needed.

  • HSPs benefit greatly from genuine and authentic connection.  Bring people into your life that can support your goals and embrace your natural temperament.

Why Does This Matter?

Living in alignment with your priorities is one of the best ways to feel satisfied with your life, especially as an HSP.  Just like HSPs can feel imbalance more strongly than others, we can feel balance and beauty in our life more deeply as well.  Putting your energy into what is important to you creates a sense of internal peace and alignment, resulting in feeling good about your choices (and yourself).

Highly Sensitive People crave congruence.  We tend to feel anxious when things don’t match up or feel out of balance.  However, we may often attribute this anxiety to external things or being overwhelmed (which may be partially true) without assessing the level of congruence within ourselves or between our priorities and our actions.

This is an ongoing process.  There are a million and one obligations taking us away from what’s important to us for various reasons.  Which is why we have to keep reassessing our lives and revisiting this concept on a regular basis to ensure we are making the choices to support our best life.

Over the past month, have your actions been in alignment with what’s most important to you? Why or why not? What will you do to remedy any imbalance?

If you want to go more in-depth (of course you do, fellow HSPs), check out the Values Exercise.


Arianna Smith, MA, LPC



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