capturing the beautiful calamity of healing in therapy

Go make LIFE happen!

Although it’s definitely not exclusive to psychotherapy, I am a huge fan of the ever-popular bucket lists. In fact, I love these lists so much that I regularly update my own and incorporate the technique into my therapy groups and individual sessions. I value having goals and dreams, and the bucket list represents a very tangible expression of these visions.

Bucket lists serve multiple purposes. For one, they help orient us into the future. In as sense, they refine why exactly we’re living and what exactly we’re living for. Learning to live in the present is essential, but part of overall mental health is learning how to take care of our future selves and be excited for what lies ahead. Optimism is a necessary ingredient in all of this! The bucket list helps us examine our own routines and patterns in a different light; we have to make changes; we are forced to think, act, and behave differently to achieve novelty. We are out of our comfort zones, and even if it feels strange, we learn to ideally fall in love with the process.

To me, there is nothing more exciting than watching someone feel excitement for all the limitless options that could potentially be in their hands. In many ways, the excitement alone can represent a pivotal breakthrough for moving through the “stuckness” that plagues so much of our mental health deficiencies (depression, anxiety, substance use, etc.) Mindfulness is essential to our well-being, but excitement and passion for our future and for our greater lives is the icing on top of our mental health cakes.

As I’ve mentioned before, I do believe living a good life breaks down to a very simple formula (three ingredients to be exact), and bucket lists allow us to entangle all those components. If we don’t live proactively, if we don’t evolve in our personal lives, we risk succumbing to an auto-pilot existence, to a treadmill movement designed by other people and other ideas. This kind of trance is one often devoid of the passion, desire, and novelty humans intuitively crave. As humans, we are blessed with our cognition, and that means are blessed enough to live lives extending beyond just eating, sleeping, and procreating. Of course, it’s a choice. It’s not inherent, and it’s certainly not handed to us. If we don’t choose to extend our lives, to challenge the norms, to create a happiness and fulfillment outside of meeting basic necessities, we face the inherent risk of mental health deterioration.

Why are you living? And what are you living for?

For anyone getting started, I recommend creating a  3-month, 12-month, and 3-year list. Start small, and throw at least five items on each. There is no goal “too silly,” and there is no goal “too insignificant.” In fact, the empowerment that comes from achieving the smallest goals often launches our creativity to create greater and bigger dreams.

You have to make the commitment. You’re doing this for yourself and for your well-being, after all! It’s your “life homework!” Any goal that you don’t realistically believe can be achieved in those time frames can be saved for the “lifetime, before-I-die” list.

To spur your creativity, ask yourself, How do I want to grow in my relationship, career, or general life? What would I like to try doing? Where would I like to go? What can I do this very weekend that I’ve never done before? What calculated risk excites (and somewhat scares) me? Examine ALL arenas in your life: mental, physical, spiritual, interpersonal, and financial. Where can be improved? What would you like to change? Where would you LIKE to be compared to where you are right now? How are you going to get from Point A to Point B?

Writing it down creates a sense of realness, and if pen and paper feels too old-fashioned, the online world can help. A few of my personal favorites include: Day Zero Project, Bucketlist, and Bucketlistly. Whatever you use, make it real, print it out, and revisit/revise it often! Cross them off as they are achieved. Edit as necessary. Document as you go along. All of these are great tools, but the best tool in the world won’t help you achieve your dreams if you don’t make a commitment to them!

Learning how to make and set accurate goals is a critical life skill. The reason so many resolutions and promises fail to launch is because we make them too grandiose, vague, and ambiguous. Traveling the world and falling in love with your soulmate are exciting ventures to think about, but they aren’t really concrete, and they aren’t really realistic. Instead, “I will take one trip this year” and “I will make an online dating profile” create a sense of tangibility and reliability. For more on making specific goals, I recommend looking into S.M.A.R.T planning.

The goal of therapy is to launch you to the life you know you want to have. The rest of the path is yours to pave. The goals are for you to achieve. Get out there. Make movement. And, remember one of my favorite quotes: A dream without a plan is only a wish.