“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans," John Lennon famously remarked.
I believe this is true: We either create the life we really want to have, or it creates us. Many go through life getting from one task to another — sort of drifting through life without being truly cognizant of the life we are making. And so days pass, unheralded. Months and then years slowly trickle by, and we realize that we haven’t done so many of the things we wanted to do. We are getting older, and still we have not lived.
I don’t want life to be that way, and I suspect neither do you.
We all have a "bucket list." It might be an actual written list, kept and added to for years. It might be in an Excel spreadsheet, or it might just be in your head. But it’s there. How many things have you crossed off? If you have things you’ve always wanted to do but have somehow never gotten around to, here are some strategies to help you get started:
Set shorter term goals for the month or year
Sometimes the problem is that we have too many things on our bucket list; we set too many goals at once. You might try choosing a certain number of things to complete this year or even just this month; how many depends on the types of goals they are. Smaller, simpler things may allow for ten in a year; larger, long-term goals such as learning how to play an instrument or speak a language may be more realistic if you choose only one or two for the year.
By the way, it’s okay to let things go from your bucket list. There is n o shame quitting something you no longer care about. Gail McMeekin, LICSW, a licensed psychotherapist and national executive, career and creativity coach suggests that you ask yourself which 'incompletes' in your life bother you. Is it that half-finished song or book that you have been writing for five years? Is it selling stuff you no longer need? “Release all the other ideas or projects,” she says, “like the scrapbook project that bores you now, the scarf you are knitting but you don’t really like the colors, or the career that you have never liked that you stay with out of fear. It’s decision time. Let go of things or embrace them as a priority. It will free up lots of new creative energy."
Be realistic and prioritize
Rate your bucket list items in order of which are most urgent and most dear to you. I use a one to three scale: One is most important, three is not so much. This helps prioritize which goals you want to concentrate on first. You can also decide which are more do-able at present. As with any goal-setting, knocking out the things that are easiest first will help you fulfill more of them, while imparting a sense of accomplishment.
Be as detailed as possible, and schedule them. Put them right on your calendar and make arrangements for those things that require outside planning such as a trip or flight lessons. Finally, make a note of all the prep work you can begin doing now to make it happen, such as setting up a savings plan or buying tickets.
Soul search and strategize
McMeekin suggests that you write a brief description of how you see your "Future Self." “What are the guiding lessons from your internal mentor for you to follow up on this year? How can you begin to be that person today? Set some daily affirmations to remind you of who you really want to be.”
I embarked on a number of lifestyle goals in 2011 — I called it my "year of living consciously," and even wrote about a couple of them here on CultureMap. My strategy was to concentrate on one goal per month. For example, I did a month of living sustainably, a month-long happiness project, a month of watching my spending, etc. I came up with a project I called “30 Days at a Time,” and committed to spend thirty days fully embracing different goals. It takes somewhere between 21 and 30 days to ingrain a new habit into your life, and I wanted to integrate several things into my life as well as give myself some challenges. All in all, I completed 10 30-day challenges — there weren’t a total of 12 because I usually paused for about a week in between the challenges.
Make it Public
It’s human nature — the minute we tell someone else our plans, they somehow become more real. It’s a lot easier to let that diet or workout routine or savings plan slide when no one else knows you’re doing it. Like marriage vows, making it public is declaring your intentions to the world, and it also enlists the encouragement and support of those around you.
With my 30 Days at a Time project, I decided to blog about it, sharing my journey as I set out to fulfill my goals. It really helped, because there were times I thought about giving up early or was tempted to abandon a project. Knowing people were watching and reading about what I was doing kept me focused. The encouragement I received was also a big boost, and several other people wrote that it inspired them to start their own challenges.
“Don’t put everything off, as we have no idea how much time we have or what are circumstances will be,” McMeekin encourages. “You deserve to have the life that you want.”