Recovering from a Breakdown:
The Power Of Lists

by Beth McHugh

Having successfully achieved a routine of doing one or two activities each day, where do we go to from there? Making a list of the tasks to be accomplished each day is a tool that the most successful business and academic leaders utilize to assist them to become high-achievers. If these people need and use lists, that tells us just how important lists are as we go about our own daily routine.

The lists we will be using to help us recover from breakdown are essentially the same as the list a CEO might formulate for her day's workload, except that ours will be tailored to our specific needs. One of the goals that we need to achieve when we are ill and vulnerable is to build up our self esteem. A carefully drawn-up list can help us to accomplish this. It is what actually goes on the list that is so important to a person in recovery.

What to put on your list:

  • Always include a goal that is easily achieved, yet is of great benefit to you. For example, in the very early days of recovery you might include "making the bed". The reason for placing this on the list is that very early on in the course of the day, you will have already achieved one of your daily goals. This will encourage you to do more.
  • Cross off items as you achieve them. Don't make the mistake of going through your list at the end of the day and crossing off what you have done. Cross each item off as you achieve it. This will give you a continual sense of achievement throughout the day, and also encourage you to move onto the next goal.
  • Don't put too many items on your list. Be realistic about the number of things you can do. Do not try to be perfect, or drive yourself to do the number of tasks you could achieve if you were well. Remember you are recovering, and as such are on "light duties". Five or six tasks are plenty at this stage.
  • Draw up your list when you go to bed at night. By making your list up before you go to sleep, your brain will subconsciously accept that you have a purpose for the day ahead. Having a purpose means that you will reduce the likelihood of feeling a sense of "nothingness" about your life and your achievements. You will have a direction for the coming day— a sort of "mental health road map".
  • Feel good about those items on your list that you have managed to achieve at the end of the day. Transfer any items that were not accomplished onto your list for tomorrow. Remember, a list is just a list. Nothing more. Praise yourself for all the crossed off items, don't make too much of the unmarked ones. Just resolve to do them tomorrow. As Scarlett O'Hara said: "Tomorrow is another day!"
  • Sometimes there may be items that never seem to get done, and keep getting put on the next day's list forever. Take a careful look at these items. Perhaps they are too big a task for you at the moment. Perhaps they could be achieved if you had sufficient help. Look at what you need to do in order to achieve this particular task. By breaking it down into smaller, achievable goals, just as you did when you were starting out your program to recovery, you will make ensure a successful outcome.

Other articles by Beth McHugh:

Beth McHugh Recovering From A Breakdown - The Power Of Small Steps I
Recovering From A Breakdown - The Power Of Small Steps II
Recovering From A Breakdown - The Power Of Lists
Recovering From A Breakdown - The Power Of Motivational Statements
Recovering From A Breakdown - Benefits Of Helping Others
Recovering From A Breakdown - The Power Of Counting Your Blessings

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Beth McHugh chose to make a career change, switching from science researcher to psychologist, as a result of encountering life problems of her own. Her personal journey of self-discovery, involvement in support networks and academic training have all made unique contributions to the ideas and methods she employs as a counselor. Beth offers email counseling, and frequently publishes articles on various mental health subjects. More of her articles can be found at