Making Lists in Recovery to Calm a Busy Mind

Making a list is one of those super simple, organisational skills that helps get all those thoughts and to-do lists out of your mind and onto paper. Writing lists is super simple, helpful and mindful recovery tool.

It is easy to lose track of those racing, fleeting thoughts that you tell yourself you must remember. Taking five minutes out of your day to make a list when you have a cluttered brain is a great grounding and visual exercise that can calm and focus your busy mind, making you a better planner – and importantly feeling strong and focused in your recovery.

The practice of making lists is a simple, mindful recovery tool.

Starting recovery and moving away from dependency and addiction is a process and a significant transition period with many ups and downs. There is always a lot to think about, plan out, and remember to do while establishing sobriety and developing new healthy habits.

You may find you have a lot to keep on top of, people to connect with, appointments to make, and even household tasks and self-care that will improve the overall quality of your life. Often, these types of tasks and activities get neglected when struggling with an active addiction so implementing a practical tool like list making can help keep you on top of practical tasks and activities and start focusing on your inner personal development and awareness.

List making

The practice of making lists is a simple, mindful recovery tool. List making is also a good stress management and grounding exercise as it provides you with space to clear your thoughts of all the things you feel you need to do and to calm your busy mind. Recovery tools like this complement and reinforce supports you may be receiving such as addiction counselling and self-help group support.

The purpose of list making is to organise your thoughts on paper rather than keeping them jumbled and floating around in your mind. Rather than trying to keep mental sticky notes, get into the habit of writing them down onto physical paper. This can help you to get organised, make it easier to plan out your day, and free up the space in your mind for more important things in your life.

List making like this teaches you to become assertive and practical in your everyday life on the path to recovery. When you find your mind racing or are feeling overwhelmed by the tasks of recovery, start list writing to calm your mind.

There is nothing complicated about starting to write lists and there is no right or wrong way to do it. You might discover that the list in your mind is, in fact, far more manageable when you are viewing it visually on paper.

Consider list making using a diary, journal, small notebook, post-it notes, or an app on your smartphone – as long as you keep it somewhere accessible, handy, and visible. Tick items off as you go and keep adding to it as needed.

You can also consider utilising your recovery journal or diary for list making if this is something you are already using. Learn more about a recovery diary and journal here! 

Begin getting used to list making by keeping your note pad somewhere that is easy to access, like your bedside locker, work desk, or kitchen table, and leave it open so that you can add to the list spontaneously whenever you think of something.

There are no rules about writing lists, so write freely to get out whatever is on you mind. You can create recovery and sobriety related lists and notes about how to keep your boundaries strong, people, places, and things to avoid or manage, situations and events that may be triggering for you, goals and motivations for staying strong in recovery, and reminders of why you are in recovery.

‘There are no rules about writing lists, so write freely to get out whatever is on you mind.’

As you move into a more confident and self-aware space in your recovery and sobriety, list-making exercises can become a hugely beneficial tool. You may even begin writing lists about your triggers, boundaries, traumas, flashbacks, red flags, regrets, amends, recovery goals, inspiration lists, gratitude lists, motivation lists, activities to catch up on, and your life goals, dreams, and bucket lists.

In-fact, you can create lists for just about anything when it comes to recovery, healing and embracing life again.

Read more articles about mindful recovery tools ‘The daily recovery ritual of tracking sobriety one day at a time and ‘The 10 Minute daily recovery check-in in 6 simple steps.’

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy

Orlagh Reid

Orlagh Reid is an IACP accredited Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Addiction Counsellor, Gottman Couples Therapist and Fertility Counsellor in private practice based in Co. Kildare, Ireland and worldwide online via DOXY. She specialises in addiction, recovery, well-being and clinical sexology. To find out more or to book an online consultation visit

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy MIACP Therapy Ireland

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