Health & Medicine

Shilagh Mirgain

Shilagh Mirgain holding a bucket with notes taped to the sides.

Shilagh Mirgain wants you to create a bucket list. She first wrote hers long before the hit movie of the same name arrived in 2007 — and the UW Health psychologist has been encouraging people to develop their own ever since. Bucket lists, she says, are about more than traveling the world. They can contain childhood dreams, things you’d like to learn, and what you want to be remembered for.

Bucket lists can seem very light-hearted. What’s their value?

In the business of life, it’s easy to just get on autopilot. Over time, you can lose touch with those deeper yearnings, those curiosities, those longings that may have been with you in childhood. Reflecting on a bucket list helps us get back to the core of who we are and what really helps make our life meaningful. I think about bucket lists as a North Star to guide your life. What do we tend to remember at the end of our life? It’s not work, usually.

How can we follow through on our bucket list items?

Coming up with an actual list can be really fun. I really recommend having it someplace visible, where you see it regularly. We can’t do it all at once, and there are some things that the you today can’t achieve, but that the you 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, can achieve. It’s what matters to you, not to anyone else. … I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a year and a half ago. The climb was very hard, and near the end I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it — but that sense of “this is on my bucket list” allowed me that extra oomph to get to the top and achieve it.

How do you feel about the rise of bucket lists on social media?

I can imagine that those are definitely post-able moments. However, I think there’s probably a downside, like, “Oh, everyone else is achieving this and it looks easy.” I think it’s impor- tant to keep believing in yourself, keep listening to what’s right for you, and know that these things don’t happen overnight and that’s okay.

Can you explain the psychology of bucket lists?

There will be naysayers, so I think you want to be a little protective of who you share it with. People who bring to your awareness all the reasons why it’s not going to work or why you don’t have what it takes — those would not be the people to share it with. There will be obstacles. Right before we achieve it, we’re tested. So we have to reaffirm our commitment to it.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Madeline Heim x’18

Published in the Winter 2017 issue


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