A bucket list is not helpful if all the goals just sit unfinished forever. It is time to start turning your dreams into a reality.
Time and time again we hear people mention the wish lists for their lives, wide-eyed with an excitement in their voices, the crackling of the wheels turning in the brain and an overwhelming feeling of hope. Then what happens? Unfortunately, that thought needs to turn to action and that’s where the need for “instant gratification” scores a touchdown while hard work is left to watch from the sidelines.
Don’t worry, it’s happened to me too. But, there are some techniques to help ensure your success.
1. Be Accountable
Want to have better odds at keeping the commitment you made to yourself? Hold yourself accountable. You can do this by publicly announcing the contents of your bucket list or at least your active pursuit of one of your goals—share it with your family, friends, and even a couple of acquaintances. Not only will your enthusiasm be contagious, but sharing will make you feel obligated to complete a goal; you don’t want to be seen as the person who goes back on their word.
If you have started your list with friends, your children, or a spouse, make a plan to meet once a month to discuss the progress you have all made and to determine steps you will take before the next time you meet.
Having monthly bucket list get-togethers with friends causes you to be answerable to someone, and it could be a huge support when you encounter challenges with a goal you are working on.
I held myself accountable by starting this blog and letting the entire world know my intentions. Even in the beginning when the readers were few, Bucket List Journey held me accountable every day. People would email asking what I was doing next, or they would congratulate me on one of my ventures. I have been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of one of my readers, on a sexy Playboy-style cruise with a stranger (I actually went!), and even was sent a gift card to a restaurant in Portland. Each interaction pushed me forward and strengthened my commitment.
2. Pick Starter Goals
You are probably looking at your long list of aspirations, confused at where to begin. Focusing on too many goals can be distracting, so start by picking two to three to work on, at least one long-term and one short-term. If you can’t decide which ones to start with, read your list again to identify what excites you at the moment, what gives you goose bumps or a thrill in the pit of your stomach.
My first tandem goals were going to the movies by myself and driving through the hills of Tuscany. Of course, the theater task was completed almost instantaneously, which made me feel like I was making progress, whereas traveling to Italy took over a year and a half.
Once the short-term goal was completed I immediately replaced it with another easier item while still continuing to make progress on the larger goal.
3. Deadline Your Objectives
Setting deadlines can help escape the “someday” syndrome, a common excuse for why you won’t begin today because you will get to it someday. The goals you choose to currently work on should have a deadline different than “in your lifetime,” as it will create a sense of urgency to propel you forward.
Push yourself, but also be realistic.
If you have just accepted a demanding new job that will require six months of training, then your dream of going to a month-long silent retreat in Bali may have to have a longer deadline than a year. Spend some time calculating what is practical: if you are committed to a half year of training for your position, then allow yourself three months for full transition into the new position after the training period. Then assess how long it will take you to complete the goal from this point, and that’s what your deadline should be, keeping in mind that you will be able to complete little steps along the way.
If you are putting a deadline to your entire bucket list, then it’s not really a bucket list by definition, because your lifetime is the deadline.
I recommend creating mini-lists within your list, for example:
- Seasonal Bucket List – Some items will only be able to be done in certain seasons, like seeing the tulip fields in Holland or dogsledding in Greenland. Each year create a winter, spring, fall or summer bucket list.
- This Year’s Bucket List – Instead of making a New Year’s resolution, on the first of the year break your list down to the items you want to complete in the next twelve months.
- 30 Before 30, 40 before 40, or 50 before 50 – Choose goals that you want to do before reaching a certain age.
4. Break Down Goals into Actionable Steps
Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s not worth even beginning if you are only able to make a small start. If your bucket list goal is completing a marathon, put on your running shoes and walk around the block. If it is learning how to speak Italian, memorize one word a day or even a week.
Every accomplishment starts with one single step; it doesn’t matter how big or small, as long as you are making the effort to move forward.
Creating these types of baby steps is especially helpful when you are trying to tackle a larger, long-term goal. It is less daunting to focus on each small task, plus you will get a confidence boost with each little milestone reached, as you will realize that you are one step closer to your goal. When you are looking at the big picture in its entirety, it can seem overwhelming and intimidating, which can promote procrastination.
Breaking it down into bite-sized pieces and concentrating on each one individually makes it seem more doable. For example, if your goal is to go hunting for truffles in Italy, this could be broken down into the following steps:
- Get a passport
- Research the best location for truffle hunting
- Determine when truffle season is
- Request time off from work
- Book a truffle hunting tour
- Research flights to Italy
- Book a flight to Italy
Take these steps, put deadlines to each one, and create a schedule. I can easily create up to a hundred steps for a large goal. This may sound tedious, but if you have committed to doing one thing each day, one hundred steps takes only just over three months of time before you are standing at the top of that mountain or crossing that finish line.
5. Start Today
The more you procrastinate, the less likely it is that you will be able to do all the things in life you wish. Change that procrastination into determination by starting today. Make the first step of your chosen starter goal something you know you can complete within the next twenty-four hours.
If your dream is to walk the Great Wall of China, begin by researching the best path. If your wish is to learn to crochet a scarf, start by finding a nearby class or set of instructional videos.
Don’t wait for what seems like the “perfect” time, because that time is today.
Sometimes we try to bargain with ourselves: “I will take that dream to Ireland to sleep in an Irish castle as soon as ______.” You can fill in the blank: when your child turns eighteen, after your business has a more efficient staff, or possibly when you are debt-free. This bargaining tool makes us feel that our goal is actually possible, but the steps to achieve it will be taken at a later time—someday.
Someday is not a guarantee.
It is never too early to begin, don’t wait for that someday that may never come.
Celebrate Your Success
When you are working toward a goal there are bound to be challenges. Being so focused on the task at hand can turn these obstacles into set-backs, especially when you are not taking opportunities to celebrate small victories.
When you reach a benchmark, stop to celebrate your progress.
Let’s say you check off booking your hotel in Switzerland today, then reward yourself with a delicious piece of Swiss chocolate. You wrote your packing list for a trip to Venice in the spring—that’s good for a scoop of hazelnut gelato.
Marking our achievements, celebrating even the small successes, keeps us energized and encourages us to keep going forward with our goals.
Don’t only give yourself kudos for making the big check mark next to a large goal on your bucket list; recognize how far you’ve come and celebrate the journey all along the way.
After putting a big bold check mark next to an item on your list, make sure that the incredible memories and powerful feelings related to them don’t slip away. Keep a memory book filled with keepsakes, post photos on social media, or write in a journal.
Do anything that will keep the memory alive and motivate you to achieve the next dream.
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