These insights are inspired by an podcast interview Tim Ferris did with Arthur Brooks. Brooks talks about the Reverse Bucket list at about xx timestamp. More resources and bios at the end of the post, or as links.
You are probably familiar with the concept of a bucketlist: a list of to-do or to-acquire items, that you check off as the year or life progresses. Checking-off these items by some deadline (often, death) is seen as a win. Arthur Brooks, who is a xxx, wrote such a list at the age of 40. He wanted to write books, travel to lecture, teach at a top university and so on. Eight years later, he had achieved every item on the list, but those achievements brought him only fleeting joy. At most a month, he says. As soon as one item was checked off, he would start the quest to accomplish the next one. Satisfaction was eluding him. He references Mick Jagger’s apt song.
I’d devoted my life to climbing those rungs. I was still devoting my life to climbing—beavering away 60 to 80 hours a week to accomplish the next thing, all the while terrified of losing the last thing. The costs of that kind of existence are exceedingly obvious, but it was only when I looked back at my list that I genuinely began to question the benefits—and to think seriously about the path I was walking.
The mistake, he says, is in thinking that satisfaction comes from having more. In fact, such satisfaction is inefficient and temporary. The trick is to want less. In that way, you increase your satisfaction permanently and securely. He likens this to an equation: satisfaction = haves divided by wants.
Reverse Bucket List
To aid this, Brooks suggests a “Reverse Bucket List”. Write down the things you want (his examples include ridiculous ambitions, desire for money, power). These are the type of things that are “natural goals”, but we don’t have to be owned by them. Rather, we should learn to manage them. Then, consciously detach yourself, by crossing off the items.
By crossing them off your list you make the decision to not have them as a rootless desire, but something that will be consciously managed by experiencing the ambition in a different part of your brain (specifically, the preforontal cortex, which can be seen as your executive manager).
Brooks says you have to know the intent of your voyage. But if you are super attached to it, you are going to freak out if something throws you off. And you won’t recognise that it’s the voyage itself that is the adventue of life, not actually reaching that particular destination. Intention (wanting to sell x copies a book you wrote) is fine, but attachment is not.
What goes on the list?
Go back to the list as often as necessary and ask yourself “Am I living up to this? Am I truly coscious? Am I practicing the detachment that I committed myself to?”
Some references to a reverse bucket list are to the act of writing down things you have already accomplished, and crossing them off as a reminder of what you have already done. I do this with my daily to do list, if I end up doing stuff that i hadn’t itemised as a to-do task. Probably has some small psychological kick, but it’s very different from what Brooks is talking about.