My wife and I are deep into planning our current quest—to spend a year traveling Europe, essentially LIVING our bucket list. With such a massive (and sometimes overwhelming!) goal, it’s easy to get caught up in the minor details. But there are really only one or two important objectives we absolutely NEED to accomplish to make our dream a reality.
Thankfully, we’ve had a strategy at our disposal that I am 100% confident will help us reach our goal (the same strategy I’ve used to become a runner, to coach state championship gymnastics teams, and to help friends and clients achieve their goals). So whatever your quest—whether to run a marathon, visit a new place, or spend a year traveling abroad like us—I know this strategy can help you live YOUR bucket list, too.
So without further ado, let’s dive right in!
THE STRATEGY REVEALED
1) Choose Your TARGET
For most of us, this is the EASY part. We know what we WANT; and perhaps more importantly, we know that we aren’t experiencing it.
But really take the time to dream during this step. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and ask yourself this question:
If I had a magic wand, which item on my bucket list would I make happen in the next 6-12 months?
Example: I want to visit the Alps next summer and hike some of the high-mountain passes.
I encourage you to grab a notebook and write your answers during each of these steps. Few things are as powerful as the written goal (especially when reviewed regularly); so go ahead and pull out a notebook, grab a cup of coffee, and write down your target!
2) Uncover Your OBSTACLES
Here’s where we face our reality. We know that any dream worth pursuing is going to come with its fair share of challenges.
So go ahead and accept that the ride will be bumpy, but rewarding; and create a plan to deal with the obstacles that you might face. Ask yourself this question:
What might prevent me from achieving my goal?
Example: I am not active, and wonder if I am in good enough shape to do it.
What you come up with is likely to be rooted in fear and self-doubt. THIS IS NORMAL! But don’t stop here. Know that with a solid strategy, any fear can be overcome and any goal achieved. You’re doing a great job!
3) Identify Your ENABLERS
Enablers are the under-the-radar secret weapons of a big dream. They might not be things you often think of first when you dream; but once achieved, they will literally make ANYTHING possible.
Important enablers might be time freedom, financial or location independence, better health or relationships, etc. Take a look at your TARGET from Step 1, and I bet that one or more of these enablers I have listed would accelerate the realization of YOUR dream. But don’t take my word for it! Ask yourself:
What could I change in my life to radically improve the odds of my success?
Example: I need to lose weight.
Now we’re really starting to focus in on your important objectives! And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, be encouraged—EVERYONE who’s ever accomplished something big has been overwhelmed at this step. You’re in good company!
4) Get Clear on Your ESSENTIAL ACTIONS
Not all action is equal. The harsh reality is that we can spend a lot of time “working on our goals” but not achieving any of them. And that’s because, when we are really honest with ourselves, there are only a small handful of actions that are truly vital to us hitting our targets.
So be honest, think about the enabler you came up with in the previous step, and ask:
What non-negotiable action must I take consistently to create the change necessary to overcome my obstacles and achieve my goal?
Example: I need to exercise regularly so that I can lose weight.
What this provides is MASSIVE clarity. Once you’ve uncovered the 1-3 essential actions necessary to create your enabler and achieve your target, then you’ve surged ahead of 95% of the world’s dreamers. Give yourself a pat on the back!
photo by Jean Henrique Wichinoski
5) Create a “BLACK HOLE” LIST
I call this a “Black Hole” list, because it’s the list of things that suck your time and dreams straight out of you, never to get them back. Think about the essential actions (EA’s) you came up with in the previous step, as well as the types of things you might find yourself tempted to waste time on. Ask yourself:
What action POSES as an essential, but in reality is only distracting me from what I really SHOULD be doing?
Example: I do NOT need to buy lots of equipment or spend a bunch of time researching “How to get into Body-Building Shape.”
Perhaps this question proves one of your “essential actions” to actually be a fraud. If so, congratulate yourself—you just saved a TON of time in the future.
If your EA’s still look good, then simply list a few things you WON’T do as you pursue your goal.
6) Turn Your Essential Actions into DAILY COMMITMENTS
Each of the steps up to this point have been centered on preparation—investing time on the front end to ensure that the steps you end up taking actually lead you directly towards your goal. But now, we get to dive into action.
It’s HUGE to make sure you don’t just leave your target in goal-form—no matter how empowering it may be. YOU MUST TURN YOUR GOALS INTO COMMITMENTS! So, why don’t you do it now? Ask yourself:
QUESTION: What can I commit to doing every day to take the essential action necessary to achieve my goal?
Example: I will go on a walk every day.
This is where you get to choose how you will turn your essential actions into habits. Be specific on what you will commit to, and don’t leave room to “make deals” with yourself (i.e. convince yourself it’s okay to compromise on your dreams).
I’m proud of you for getting this far. I have no doubt you will achieve your goal!
7) SIMPLIFY Your Commitments Until They are Impossibly Easy
This step is usually the hardest, because it is easy to over-think. So let me give you this warning:
I HAVE SEEN TOO MANY WELL-INTENTIONED, MOTIVATED PEOPLE FAIL TO ACHIEVE THEIR GOALS BECAUSE THEY START AT A PACE THEY CAN’T SUSTAIN, AND THEN GIVE UP!!!
I can’t stress this enough. You are more likely to fail by starting too quickly and committing to TOO much, than by starting EMBARASSINGLY slow, building some early momentum and collecting some quick wins, and then increasing gradually as your confidence grows.
So do yourself a favor and simplify your commitment right now. Ask yourself:
QUESTION: How can I make this commitment SO SIMPLE that I cannot fail?
Example: I will put on my walking shoes every morning and walk to the mailbox.
Honestly, the smaller the better in the beginning. I hope the “walking to the mailbox” example makes that clear!
If I’m going to lose you at any point, it’s probably going to be here. But I plead with you—TRUST THE PROCESS. It will work if you work it!
8) Turn Your Commitments into ROUTINES
I love this step, because my success routines get me excited to wake up every morning.
You’ve got plenty of routines already, and habits that are deeply engrained in your daily life. So ask yourself the following question:
What current habit can I ANCHOR my new commitment to so that IT becomes a habit?
Example: Every morning after I drink my coffee, I will put on my walking shoes and walk to the mailbox.
The best anchors are those that you already do every day, without fail, and preferably at the same time. Some examples are turning off your alarm clock, brushing your teeth, putting in your contacts, drinking your coffee, etc. Pick one, and start a new routine!
9) Leave REMINDERS to Serve as SAFETY NETS
Let me tell you a little secret—YOU FORGET THINGS. I forget things, too! But your dream is WAY too important to be left to chance.
So remove the possibility of forgetting to fulfill your commitment by asking:
How can I create a reminder that ensures I don’t forget to keep my commitment?
Example: I will set my walking shoes on the kitchen floor next to my coffee pot so I must see them when I make my coffee.
You won’t believe how powerful it feels to perform your commitment every day—WITHOUT EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT—until you put this tip into practice. Create your reminder, and watch your goal go into auto-pilot!
10) Create ACCOUNTABILITY by Making Your Commitments Public
Shared goals are powerful. I’m not talking about the kind where you tell everyone you know, so that you are forced to “eat crow” if you don’t accomplish what you said you would. Fear of failure can be a powerful motivator, but we can do better than that.
Instead, find a handful of people who will give you accountability in the form of encouragement, inspiration, and daily check-ins. Ask yourself:
Who will help me stick to my commitment, and how can I ask for his or her support?
Example: I will find a friend who wants to see me succeed and check-in daily to update her on my progress.
I’m stoked to see that you’ve made it this far! You’ve put in all the grunt-work, so what do you say we make it fun now?!
11) Solidify the Habit and MEASURE Your Progress
Each step to this point has created a framework for success. So now it’s time to start adding a picture to that frame.
You should now be implementing the strategies from above and performing your habit daily. As you do, one of the best motivators will be the ability to look back on your progress and remind yourself of all your “wins.” So now is a great time to ask:
How should I track my performance so that my progress will provide motivation and encouragement?
Example: I will download a habit tracker app that allows me to keep track of my streak of keeping my commitment.
I LOVE looking back on my streaks of success. Using this tactic, I remind myself that I am capable of accomplishing things I never thought I could!
12) CELEBRATE Your Milestones
The reward isn’t just in the accomplishment of the goal (although that will be a great day, won’t it?!). No—a major benefit that you gain from this process is the growth that happens inside of YOU.
So take the time to regularly celebrate the growth that is happening, and remind yourself that you have already accomplished so much. Ask yourself:
How can I reward myself for keeping my commitment?
Example: For every week I perform my commitment daily, I will allow myself an hour to read travel guides, browse hiking equipment, and even do some things that might be on my “Black Hole” list.
The best rewards will be small, but motivating. NEVER choose a reward that will set you back in the pursuit of your goal (for instance, do NOT reward yourself by “taking a week off”). Choose a reward that you will look forward to on the days you are lacking motivation or feel you can’t go on, and let IT keep you going!
13) REVIEW and Tweak Regularly
The entire strategy I’m sharing with you is a gold mine; but THIS might be the most important piece.
If you don’t take a few minutes to regularly ask how you are doing, how can you be sure you stay on track? Let’s make sure you stay on target by adding in a regular time of review. Ask yourself:
How can I build in a regular time of reflection to make sure I am moving forward toward my goal as I would like?
Example: Every Sunday night at 8:00, I will look back on the previous week and set my intentions for the coming one.
I do my review weekly, on Sunday nights; and during that time, I look back on what went well, what didn’t, and what I need to change during the coming week. This allows me to repeat my successes, NOT repeat my failures, and make sure I start the new week pointing directly toward my target.
14) UPGRADE Your Habits as You Improve
This step is what gives you WINGS. The point of starting with an incredibly easy commitment was to simply get started! But the intention was NEVER to stay there.
As your commitment becomes comfortable, keep stretching a little bit at a time. But be sure to apply the same principles you did in the beginning, and never stretch too much at once. Ask yourself:
What is the next right step to increase my commitment?
Example (During Sunday Review): This week, after I put on my walking shoes and go outside, I will walk to the end of the street.
I do think the best time to ask this question is during the regular review time you created in the previous step. Doing so allows you to commit to a bit more each week, if the previous week was a success.
15) Continue until You CONQUER Your Summit
What’s going to ensure you reach your goal? ACTION.
Keep at this process—jumping back to previous steps when necessary, reviewing regularly, and continuing to accelerate your commitment—until you’ve done what you set out to.
Along the way, keep reminding yourself of how much better you are getting each day; and know that the TRUE success is the change that is happening inside of you.
I’m proud of your commitment to your goals, and would love to hear more about them. So jump over to the comments and let us know:
What bucket list goal are you committed to, and which of these steps are you most excited about applying to help make your dream a reality?
Afterward, please stop by and let me help you upgrade your bucket list from beaten to BULLET-PROOF!
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Brett Aplin is the founder of The Growth Sherpa, and is on a quest to help transform one million stuck dreamers into Summit-Level Goal Achievers.
Get his FREE e-Book, “7 Minutes to Clarity,” and discover how you can start living your bucket list every day.