Start Simple – Make a List

by Joshua Hoe

I talk with people all the time who are triggered by feeling they have way too many things to do and way too little time to them in.

I have struggled with this a great deal myself.

In my old career, I used to work 100 hour weeks and travel all the time, I never felt like I had real time to recover, it always seemed like there were 100 projects pending and that I had time to maybe finish 80 (if I was lucky).

But the truth is, with addicts, this is just another form of catastrophizing (when you look at problems as impossible to overcome, when you see things only as the worst possible outcome).

For me, all it took was getting  the discipline to write out the list of what needed to get done every time that I started to feel triggered.

Writing A List

Three things happen when I write out a list.

First, simply be writing it all down, it proves that I  don’t have a never-ending amount of things to do. It might be a long list, but it is still a list with a tangible amount of things on it.

Second, it allows me to start prioritizing the things that are most important to accomplish first.

In medicine they call this triage and it is how they decide how to apply resources in most emergency rooms.

By seeing which items are most important, I am taking control and starting to make progress instead of letting my tasks control me.

Third, it helps me manage my procrastination.

By getting in the habit of writing a list every day, and keeping to it, I don’t spend the whole day in paralysis because my tasks seem to large to conquer. Instead, I spend the day marking items off my list.

Often I promise myself that I will do something fun (but not triggering) when I finish off the list (instead of spending he day doing nothing I do something fun when I finish my tasks).


I disagree with people who think powerlessness is universal.

You have power, just not over the urges for your substances or behaviors.

When it comes to your substances or behaviors, you are powerless but not helpless – you can call people, surrender, engage your relapse plan, do positive cognitive behaviors…all kinds of things.

When it comes to the rest of your life you have just as much power as anyone else.

It is probably true that none of us has as much power as we would like (or sometimes think that we have) but we are not universally powerless.

We are powerless over our substances or behaviors.


I used to think advice like this was paternalistic and insulting.

Now, I realize sometimes I need to remember the simple things.

In my case, I am certainly an addict that is good at some complicated things and really awful at many of the simple things.

I used to be less disciplined and much more paralyzed by my daily tasks.

I certainly wasn’t making lists. And while maybe I thought I was “beyond” that kind of thing. It turns out I wasn’t.

Not at all.

This is why I say all the time that there is no place for cynicism or sarcasm in recovery.

Humility is a HUGE weapon in recovery (and one I am not so great at remembering).

So, now, I humble myself, and do simple things that I maybe forgot about.

And it makes everything work better for me.

I hope that it will help you too.

What are your thoughts on making lists? Or on paternalism and powerlessness in recovery? Would love to hear your opinion, feel free to leave a comment!

As always, we do not identify ourselves with any particular program or organization and we hold no leadership role in any particular program or organization. We are not therapists and do not pretend to be. The purpose of this blog is to share experience, strength, hope across the recovery community.


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