Counselling in Wokingham – Making Lists

Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 –
Welcome to my counselling blog. You can find more information about me by clicking one of the links at the top of this page

When I was a student, studying for my finals, I struggled to apply myself. Somehow there were always a lot of much more interesting things to do than revision. But revision had to be done, and I found it helped me to write out a list of all the things I ought to revise and then to prioritise and schedule them to spread my workload. This gave me control of the situation and enabled me to reward myself (probably in the Gardener’s Arms) when I’d done my quota of revision for the day.

Writing lists can be helpful in all sorts of practical situations; when a problem feels too big it can help to break it down into manageable chunks and attainable targets that take you towards the goal you want.

List1 Lists don’t just help in practical, task-oriented problems but can also help you manage your thoughts and feelings. One example might be in dealing with bereavement. You might write a list of the things you loved about the person, so that you can look at the list and celebrate their life. You might also write a list of the things they would be saying to you if they were alive – or the things you can do now, that you couldn’t do when they were alive.

If you are inclined towards depression, it can be good to have a list of the things you can do that help you feel less down – just small things perhaps, that won’t necessarily snap you out of a bad mood but which might just help you to deal with it a bit better. You might combat low self-esteem with a list of the things you’re good at or proud of, or fight jealousy in a relationship with a list of great memories or things to look forward to.  If you are trying to give up smoking, or deal with some other form of addiction, it can be useful to have a list of things you can do when you feel like a cigarette.

Lists can be mental lists or actual, physical lists. Physical lists are better in a couple of ways. Firstly, the act of creating the list is more satisfying – you might enjoy using a computer to do this, make it look professional, or attractive. Secondly, you don’t have to remember the list – if it’s a list of things you like doing to cheer yourself up there may be too many little things on the list to remember. But a danger of written lists is that others may find them. I remember as a kid, my delight in encountering my father’s list of “Ten resolutions for my old age” – for weeks my brother and I had a great time pointing out anything my father did that even remotely resembled something on the list that he’d resolved not to do. I’m sure he wished he’d kept that list better hidden.

list2Lists can be short or long. A short list can focus you on the most important things – maybe the list of things you need to do to improve your relationship should be like this; your partner might want a hundred things on there but that might be too daunting; concentrating on three things is much more achievable. On the other hand, long list can force you to be creative and change your thinking. If you decide to beef yourself up by writing a list of things you are good at, go big – go for a hundred – or better still, a hundred and nine. That will make you think outside the box and will force you to engage in the task in a different way – to think differently about yourself.

So lists can help in many different situations, but they don’t always work. In fact, my revision lists way back in my student days were only partially successful. Typically, I would feel great after writing out my revision schedule, and for a day or two would study productively. But then I would treat myself to a day off, things would slip, and I would find myself, a few days later, repeating the exercise with some of the less essential stuff removed from the list. In my defence, it was a very hot summer (1976) and my room overlooked our back garden, where one of my housemates, a very attractive Italian girl, had a habit of sunbathing in a bikini, or sometimes less. In retrospect, it’s remarkable that I managed to emerge from such an ordeal with any sort of qualification, so maybe the list did do some good after all….

About Paul Cockayne

Counsellor, musician, iPhone developer, games-player, cheese-lover....
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