NOTE: One final time (and you may also refer to the Introduction), this is my disclaimer regarding the specific use of profanity or unusual words from this point on. I chose these particular words because using a common language most often used by patients themselves, especially when in distress, makes the rules much more accessible. Also, the use of rhyme and these specific emotionally-charged words ensures that my patients remember the rules. If you find profanity to be offensive, then my guess is that you are actually breaking one of the rules (most of them!) and not just in this context but across other areas of your life. I challenge you to explore this distress as it may suggest that you have a tendency towards judgment.
Review of the “BUCKET”: By now you are probably catching on. The bucket is you and all the things that you actually have control over and are thus responsible for – your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Past the edge of our bucket, we have no control. Bucket-jumping is tempting or irritating (depending on who is doing the jumping!), but ultimately does not serve us well in our relationships. We are only responsible for what we have control over. Period. Remember, CONTROL/POWER = RESPONSIBILITY.
Explanation: Again, I need to clarify this rule because it is often misunderstood at first glance. This rule does NOT mean that we don’t care about feelings or your feelings. The fact is, this entire field of mental health was created to address and aid in our feelings. This rule simply means, let’s not take our feelings so seriously, and let’s not allow our emotions to dictate the decisions in our lives. Feelings are fickle, transient, and the come and go unpredictably because they are based on our thoughts. We are thinking all day long and when we are not aware of or paying attention to our thoughts, we call them “automatic” thoughts. This can be problematic when our automatic thoughts are maladaptive or unhealthy negative thoughts. They become our default and we often do not even realize that we are feeding these thoughts because they have morphed into our “truth” and we no longer question them. Danger! Danger! The only truth we have is that thoughts CAN be changed. I would be a wealthy woman if I made a dollar every time a patient said, “No doc, I didn’t do X, Y, or Z, because I didn’t ‘feel’ like it.” In trying to get depressed people moving, the nature of the beast is that we don’t feel like doing anything! So, if we can just commit to leaving feelings out of it, and go to the gym anyway, or go out anyway, then we have a chance at beating the monster that possesses us.
People with anxiety avoid, and avoidance behaviors are the single culprit in perpetuating and sustaining anxiety feelings and disorders. Why do they avoid? Because going out, socializing, being in noisy crowded places makes them feel too anxious and uncomfortable. So, this is when we learn, “Fuck Feelings!” Let’s acknowledge the feelings (i.e., MINDFULNESS – this means learning to 1) pay attention, 2) on purpose, 3) in the moment, 4) without judgment), and have compassion for ourselves. Perhaps reminding yourself that you are having a moment of suffering, but everyone suffers, and you are going to choose to be kind too yourself instead of beating yourself up with nasty thoughts of how useless, stupid, or scared you seem. But let’s not get stuck in how we feel for that fleeting moment. Once we have identified the negative emotion, and once we have acknowledged our resistance, let’s just commit to go do the thing that we know (intellectually at least, if not emotionally) will lead us towards our desired outcome of being healthier, happier, more peaceful people.
This rule has been the single most helpful, life-changing rule for most of my patients who have been able to grab onto it and start changing behavior. Having the permission to feel like shit and being validated for that, but then having guidance to go do the opposite (i.e., the harder thing) is a simple concept. It challenges our tendency to do things we are comfortable with and avoid things we don’t like. Going skydiving may not significantly impact your life in a meaningful way, however, if you have difficulty in social interactions, driving, shopping, and other essential activities of daily living, then mastering this rule may just change your life. And for all of you out there who are feeling anxious just reading this, or are skeptical, let me also warn you that sometimes when you start doing “exposure exercises” (these are therapeutic activities intended to help you face your feared situations, thoughts, places, people, etc.), sometimes things feel worse before they get comfortable. Stay in this because it will pay off. It’s not rocket science. It’s basic behavioral modification, and it works with dogs, children, and us (adults)!
Well, there you have it. You are now familiar with my 5 Bucket Rules. Many of my patients learn them, teach them to their wives, husband, children, and coworkers so that they all speak a common language and work together on a healthier approach to thinking and communicating. I hope that this will reach you and your loved ones. Each of us may not have the power to change the whole world, but by having a little positive influence over the people in our immediate lives, perhaps we can make it a better world. At the very least, we alleviate some of our own unnecessary suffering, and perhaps that of a few people we love most.