Travel the world. Run the New York City Marathon. Perform on Broadway. These are a few of the many items on my personal bucket list, the exciting list of dreams I have for the future. Keeping a bucket list can help us stay motivated and energized, but during uncertain times, it can feel overwhelming to consider everything we have yet to achieve.
Enter the “reverse bucket list,” an exercise from positive psychology that can help us combat our anxiety about the future. To make a reverse bucket list, simply write down all of the things you have already accomplished. Rather than list every goal you hope to achieve, recall past experiences that make you feel proud. Creating a reverse bucket list allows us a moment to bask in our accomplishments, and feel grateful for our past experiences.
Research suggests that recalling these positive moments can serve as a boost to our well being. A 2015 study from The Journal of Positive Psychology explored grateful recounting, in which participants recalled three good things that happened within the past 48 hours. They wrote about them daily for one week, and following the intervention, participants experienced an increase in subjective well being. When we create a reverse bucket list—an exercise in grateful recounting— we enhance our ability to access positive experiences, and our sense of well being can increase over time.
To make a reverse bucket list, grab a pen and paper, set a timer for a few minutes, and write down as many accomplishments as you can remember. While there is no limit to the number of items you may list, see if you can write continuously until the timer runs out. Keep in mind that no accomplishment is too small; you may list everything from trying a new workout class to landing your dream job.
If you need some inspiration, try asking your family and friends to help you recall special moments in your life. You may take a peek at your past photos, calendars, or journals. We often accomplish wonderful things in life, no matter how simple, and it can be easy to forget our wins amid our quest for success. When your reverse bucket list is complete, notice how it feels to take in everything that you have accomplished. Perhaps you take the activity a step further, and read it aloud to yourself or a friend. You may be surprised at how encouraging it can be.
I find that the reverse bucket list is extremely helpful for cultivating confidence and enhancing self-esteem. By taking a mindful pause to notice how far we have come, we can go confidently in the direction of reaching anything we desire.