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How to Make a Bucket List You’ll Actually Do: A Comprehensive Guide

surfing at sunset

There is only one success: to be able to spend your life in your own way. ~ Christopher Morley

The principle of the life list is simple. You list all the things you want to do in life, and cross them off as you do them. Try to do them all before you die.

It’s easy and fun to make one, but to create a list of dreams that will actually come true is not quite as simple as merely writing down what you want.

You may have made a life list before. Where is it now? Probably in a landfill, like most life lists. It’s too easy to let life get in the way. You get busy, tied up with more immediate concerns, and your dreams become less and less relevant to your actual life.

But not everyone’s list gets abandoned. John Goddard is known best for living out the ambitious life list he made at age fifteen.

Even though it includes many difficult and humongous items (for example, number 113 is “Become proficient in the use of a plane, motorcycle, tractor, surfboard, rifle, pistol, canoe, microscope, football, basketball, bow and arrow, lariat and boomerang,”) as of today he’s checked off 111 of his 127 goals, and some are partially complete.

Why did that 15 year-old boy’s list go on to define a lifetime of achievement and adventure, while most life lists are eventually forsaken?

Because he really meant it.  

The Two Keys: Intention and Integrity

Everyone has a purpose in life. Perhaps yours is watching television. ~ David Letterman

The most important rule:

Make this a list of intentions, not wishes. Most life lists are wish lists. They’re a joy to make, but most are only good for an afternoon of giddy daydreaming. This is because the authors have no real intention to do the things they dream about. For the few hours it takes to draft a list it almost seems like these goals really are going to materialize out of thin air. It’s like you’re at a grand buffet of experiences, taking whatever you want for free. I’ll take a Harley Davidson here, a Tuscan getaway there…

Making the list is easy. But ten years later, the hike in the Pyrenees, the Boston Marathon, and the million-dollar business never happened, because they were only what you wanted to happen, not what you wanted to do. A person can accomplish an incredible amount in one lifetime, but only what they actually intend.

Make sure the list has integrity to you. A list with integrity is one you take seriously. This is essential. You have to revere this list, working from it for years to come, rather than just drawing it up and slowly forgetting about it. So don’t add items on a whim. Think about what they entail. Do you actually want to go through the ins and outs of learning Italian, or were you just daydreaming after watching The Godfather?

Make sure each item has real, personal significance, and isn’t just “This would be kinda neat.” Anyone could add “see Mount Fuji” or “learn karate” to their list but if you aren’t prepared to pay for a trip to Japan at some point, or spend months in karate class, then these experiences aren’t personally significant enough for you to make them happen. Let them go. Pick something better.

Filling your list with frivolous, “hey why not” fantasies is the perfect way to make sure you don’t follow through. If there are too many items that don’t inspire you to act on them, you’ll stop working on the items that do, and the list will be doomed.

Keep the list pure: important items only.

Here’s the litmus test for potential list items: imagine yourself actually going through with it, including all the legwork. Imagine as many physical details of the experience as possible. If the thought doesn’t fill you with enthusiasm, if it doesn’t make your soul grin, it doesn’t belong on the list. Would you honestly enjoy reading the entire works of Shakespeare? In reality, few would, and few do.

Be audacious, but not unrealistic. Dream big, but know that at the end of the day consideration must be given to the amount of time and money each goal will require. “Own an NFL team” requires eight or nine figures of capital to make a reality, so unless you intend to spend years of your life striving to reach that astronomical level of income, leave it off. It won’t happen.

If you want to read Modern Library’s 100 best novels of all time, be aware that you are committing to thousands of hours of reading books that you may not like at all. Maybe tone it down and make a short list of classics that really do interest you. It’s far better to check off a big accomplishment than give up on a humongous one that you don’t really want.


Remember, every item you add to the list is going to make the rest more difficult to some degree. You can accomplish a lot in one lifetime, but there is only so much time and money (and patience) to go around. The smaller your list, the more likely you will honor it. After all, unless you want relatively little, you can’t do everything you want to do. If you aren’t sure you want to do it, leave it off until you are.

Whittle it down to the truly important, and try to picture what kind of lifestyle is going to be required support it. Cost-versus-benefit really is a factor here: it would be cool to stand at the North Pole, but the thrill of it probably isn’t worth the time or effort for the vast majority of people.

How to Keep the List From Stagnating

A list can be doomed from the start if the intention and integrity aren’t there. So before we get to the fun part, here are some crucial points to make sure you end up with a list you have faith in.

Forget trying to come up with exactly 100 items. Or any other specific number. The act of paring (or inflating) your list to such a clean number betrays a lack of intention to actually make these things happen. Notice Goddard’s list has 127 items.

Make all the items clear, check-off-able things. There must be a specific moment when you can say “YES! I did it!” without question.

Most of the lists you will see are full of vague desires like “eat healthier,” rather than doable goals.

Good items:

  • Vacation in Provence
  • Attend Burning Man
  • Learn to play “Stairway to Heaven” on guitar
  • Own a house outright

Weak items:

  • Travel the world (The whole world? Impossible.)
  • Exercise every day  (Miss one day and it becomes technically impossible.)
  • Stay in touch with people (Who? How do you know when you’ve done that?)
  • Be more forgiving (More than what? “Be” is not the best verb for a list of things you want to do.)

Be willing to change your list as life goes on. I think the reluctance to do this is why most lists get abandoned. At first this sounds like a prescription for non-commitment, but changes are necessary to maintain the list’s integrity. Inevitably, there will be items you come to realize are no longer important to you, and there will certainly be items you want to add.

But don’t take these changes lightly. Never add an item you can’t see happening. Even Goddard had “Appear in a Tarzan movie” on his list, which he now considers to be an irrelevant boyhood dream. It is still unchecked.

I find it quite incredible that he was able to plan his life so clearly at age 15, and I don’t think most people can do that. So don’t force yourself to make a “final” list. Do an initial period of brainstorming, then add items as they capture your heart. When you recognize that an item no longer compels you, think about deleting it.

Remember it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to finish the whole list. Goddard is in his eighties now; he probably won’t make it to the Moon like he’d hoped, but I don’t think he’s sobbing over a wasted life.

The list is forever a work in progress, bound to change a little as you change.


Reject the “Bragging Rights” motivation. Eliminate any items if you’re only doing them so that you can say you did. This is a list of experiences you want to have, not a legacy of reasons you should be admired. Be especially wary of goals like “visit all 50 states.” Does it really matter if you don’t set foot within all of the arbitrary political boundaries that make up the States of the Union? Isn’t the point to see the landscapes and people, not to tick off boxes?

Litmus test for this one: would you still do it if you weren’t allowed to tell anyone? Climb Everest? Read War and Peace? Really?

Ask “What specifically do I want to do?” Sometimes an idea might really excite you, but it’s not precisely the experience you’re looking for. For example, on my list I initially had “Attend Oktoberfest in Germany.” I’m sure it would be great, but all that I really want to do is drink beer from a ridiculously huge beer stein at a party in Germany. If I don’t make it there at the right time of year for Oktoberfest, I can still accomplish my dream.

Would a two-hour layover in Heathrow airport satisfy your “Go to London” goal, or is it an evening stroll along the Thames that you dream of?

With every item, dig deeper. What do you really want? Is “Visit Egypt” enough, or do you want to stand before the pyramids? Do you want to “take a singing class,” or do you want to sing onstage? Do you actually want to study marine biology, or just swim with dolphins?

Remember, this list is your life. Depending on how ambitious your list is, it probably represents how you’re going to spend most of the rest of your life. If you treat your list as things you hope to get around to, you won’t find the time and resources. If you’ve got thirty-five countries to visit, you’re not going to be able to sneak them into the same lifestyle you’ve been living, unless you’ve already got an excess of spare time and spare money, or you already make a lot of effort to travel.

As of right now, you invest all your time and money somewhere already, so these life list items will be taking the place of something, not simply added on top of your life as you know it.

The list will very much define your lifestyle if you’ve got some big goals. The course of your career, family life, and daily habits are all going have to be adjusted for these things to happen. At any given time, you should be “adjusting” towards at least one of them. “Bowl a perfect game” would be an incredible experience, but even the best pro bowlers seldom achieve it. If you don’t want to spend your years becoming a world-class bowler, best leave it off. Remember, each item is a target, not a wish.

Avoid goals that depend on luck or other people’s co-operation. “Have lunch with the Pope” is probably setting yourself up for disappointment. Same with anything weather-dependent. “Cross Tower Bridge in the fog,” is possible but would require some luck and patience, while “Wait out a hurricane in a cave” is a real longshot. For each, ask yourself “Can I make this happen?”

Don’t necessarily omit items just because you’ve already done them. Ok, this is optional, but I think it helps to remember that you aren’t starting from zero. You know which experiences you’ve had that were ones you always wanted to do. If they really were significant goals at one time, put them on the list, already crossed off. They deserve to be there. But be strict with these; don’t add “Go to Los Angeles” just because you’ve been there, unless you always dreamed of it.

Don’t add easy items just to improve your “score.” Everything should have real emotional significance to you. Don’t add a list of cities just because you know you’re going to visit them soon. And definitely don’t add stuff like “Get an oil change.”

Beware of “one chance only” goals. The scope of a life list is your whole life, so specific times or dates should be avoided. For example:

  • Run the 2011 New York Marathon
  • Lose 20 pounds by December 31

There is a place for time-specific goals in life, but I’d advise keeping them off this list, because they can become impossible, sapping the integrity of your list. “Run a New York Marathon” is probably good enough. Setting a target date makes sense, but keep it off the list. You can always make another attempt.

Add small items too. Small, easy goals are helpful because a) it reminds you that not all meaningful accomplishments are huge and difficult, and b) you can cross something off this week if you want. “Pay for the car behind me at the toll booth” or “Try sake” are great examples. But they do have to be experiences you really want, not straw men to knock off. Remember: integrity is paramount.

Keep a “To Look Into” list.
This is also an essential component to a healthy life list. Don’t be so quick to add something to your list just because it looks cool at first glance. Look into them first. Is it really worthwhile?

Remember that every item you add will take limited time and resources. You can make the really important things happen, but it’s too easy to keep adding exotic countries and neato skills to your list that you will never feel compelled to achieve.

Keep a running list of candidates for your list, but don’t put it on if you aren’t sure you intend to do it.

Tuscany, Italy Tuscany, Italy

The Fun Part

Now it’s time to begin the rest of your life. The only ingredients required are imagination, integrity and intention.

Here are the steps:

1) Brainstorm.

Have fun with this. Dream. There are certainly already experiences you know you want to have. Write them down. Don’t worry at this point about how you will make these things happen. Suspend fears about money, difficulty or criticism. But do make sure they aren’t frivolous.

Consider what you want to do in the following areas:

  • Travel (Tour China, see Angel Falls, camp in the Australian outback)
  • Skills and knowledge (Speak Spanish, learn to write calligraphy, know your constitutional rights)
  • Experiences (Drink in an Irish pub, play in a band, drive a Ferrari)
  • Career (Own your own company, become a partner at your firm, quit the industry you’re in)
  • Finances (Make six figures, become debt-free, donate 10% of your income to charity)
  • Relationships and family (Have a child, trace your family tree, get married)
  • Physical feats (Run a marathon, do 100 pushups, do a wheelie on your mountain bike)

Of course, no need to limit yourself to those.

Also, check out other people’s lists for ideas:

You don’t need to worry about getting every single goal down, you can always add items later.

2) Make an *official* list.

Pick a format. Pen and paper is just fine, but if your penmanship sucks you might do better to keep it in a word processor so it’s more attractive. You can also do it online, at 43 Things.

Add the items you intend to make reality. But keep your wits about you. Nothing gets on this list without these litmus tests:

  • Am I doing this because I want to experience it, or just because I want to say I’ve done it?
  • Do I honestly intend to invest the amount of time, money and energy this will take?
  • Can I picture this actually happening, given the lifestyle I intend to live?

Remember, without integrity and intention, all is lost. Keep it real. If you only end up with 11 things that you truly intend to do in your life, that’s great. Better than 100 wishes. What we’re trying to avoid at all costs is a list that you forget about or stop looking at.

3) Give it a once-over and cut anything that isn’t truly compelling or that you can’t see happening. Be brutal with this, because every questionable item you eliminate frees up time and money that can go towards the really important ones. By paring it down you are making it more likely to succeed at what remains.

4) Put it in a prominent place. Print it out, or do up a good copy on nice paper, and post it somewhere where you will see it every day. It deserves that much. Remember, it’s your life, not a side project.

Public accountability is great. Create some by showing people. Post it on your website if you have one.

5) Pick one item you can do fairly soon, and take a step towards it right now. You should have some items that aren’t too difficult at all, maybe something you can even get done today. If not, take a significant step right now. The bigger the better. Imagine what it would feel like to actually go ahead sign up for French classes today, or even book a flight. Always be working on at least one item, preferably several.

Crossing Them Off

As I mentioned, knocking off the whole list isn’t the goal. It’s just a collection of goals. Getting them all would be spectacular, but even fifty percent of the average person’s list would represent an incredibly rich and notable life, with an abundance of stories to tell.

Those moments when you do achieve them will be precious indeed. And they will be specific, glorious moments: heaving yourself up the last step of the Matterhorn, tying on your black belt for the first time, clapping shut the rear cover of Crime and Punishment. Dreams do come true, if you make them.


This Thursday I will be publishing my own life list, such as it is, and adding a permanent page on Raptitude where you can see its progress any time.

I would love to see yours, or at least hear some of your life list items. Please share in the comments!


Photos by JRob86, Adam Baker, Robert Thomson and Eric Perrone

Lisis September 7, 2009 at 7:59 am

Yay! I was hoping after this thorough analysis that you would share YOUR list with us. I can’t wait to see what’s on it.

I love how you caution against adding items just for bragging rights, or just because they seem cool, or things that are blatantly pie-in-the-sky. Gotta keep it real or it will never get done, and then we’ll feel like our life was one big disappointment.

I’m amazed by John Goddard’s list, and that he came up with it so early in life. It has inspired me to get Hunter to create a list like this which we’ll adjust as he gets a little older to include all the things he’d like to do.

I think one of the benefits of coming up with these things when you’re a kid is you still believe you can do anything you set your mind to. As we get a little older we start to focus more on our limitations and the practical realities (“Well, it might not be sensible to spend money on that silly dream…”).

Still, it is certainly worth a try. And even if my own full, unabridged list is seven items or less, those experiences would still greatly enhance the rest of my life.

Thanks, D!
.-= Lisis´s last blog ..Adventure: Lessons From Niagara Falls =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 10:05 am

Keep it real, that’s the ticket. I think you’re completely right: getting started as a kid is a great idea because they don’t self-censor like adults do. It would be especially powerful if he could achieve one of those items early on to see how great it feels.

Ian | Quantum Learning September 7, 2009 at 8:44 am

David, I’m amazed at just how full and comprehensive this post is! And such great advice.

I’m with Lisis here – can’t wait to see your list on Thursday!

The other thing I could add is start the list today. You’re never too old (or young) to start, but every day you delay reduces the number of days you have to actually do the things on the list.

Now I’m off to do mine!
.-= Ian | Quantum Learning´s last blog ..Living in denial – but for how long? =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 10:06 am

Oh for sure! The great thing about it is that it’s fun to do. I’d love to hear some of the things you come up with.

Nate St. Pierre September 7, 2009 at 9:16 am

Thanks for giving me the best mental image of my week so far: “…if it doesn’t make your soul grin…”. Love it.

I think that asking yourself if you would do something if you weren’t allowed to tell anyone about it is a great way to determine your internal motivation. I ask myself that one in an indirect way sometimes, but I think I’ll start to do it more explicitly, and see where things fall.

I have a few of your suggested links open – I’ll check them out. Can’t wait to see your personal life list. And maybe I’ll even think about doing one myself. :)
.-= Nate St. Pierre´s last blog ..You And A Friend =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 10:09 am

Yeah just asking yourself why you’re doing this stuff can reveal a lot. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with doing something for the bragging rights, but I think it’s not a real compelling motivation for a lot of people.

Hilda September 7, 2009 at 9:36 am

This is an excellent post David – you would make a Grrrreaat life coach!

Although I think it’s a great suggestion, I’m not going to do the exercise myself, cos when I turn my dreams into goals, they have this nasty habit of morphing into “shoulds”, and I actively resist anything that feels like a should.

Having said that, there are a few things I definitely intend to experience before my days are up:

1) own and run a holistic retreat centre
2) take part in a Free Hugs day
3) be able to stand up on a surf board for more than 2 seconds!

Really looking forward to reading your list on Thursday :-)
.-= Hilda´s last blog ..Thoughts become things . . . =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 10:12 am

Hi Hilda. Whatever gives you the best chance of seeing your dreams a reality. I have that “should” resistance too, but the things I really really want to do are just too attractive to me do feel any aversion.

Srinivas Rao September 7, 2009 at 10:14 am

I love this post. It reminds me of the movie, The Bucketlist. I think you’ve done a really great job describing how to create a list that we can actually cross off all the items on. While I’m all for letting the imagination run riot, I think sometimes we can lead ourselves to more disappointment and less accomplishment by doing that. Of course, as an avid surfer, I love the picture you selected. I’m definitely going to save this one for my personal archives :).
.-= Srinivas Rao´s last blog ..Learn to be stoked =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 11:46 am

Surfing is something that has always been so cool to me. As a snowboarder, it seems like such a natural thing to do. I’ve never lived close to the ocean at all, but that’s about to change.

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Jim Lochner September 7, 2009 at 11:42 am

David, I can’t believe how long it must have taken you to write this post. Thank you! Call it mid-life crisis or turning point in my career or what have you, but this is the perfect post for me and particularly today. As I stare ahead at a full day of writing that HAS to be done when I’d rather be out doing something else, I realize that I’ve let a lot of my life go by without accomplishing many of the things I’ve wanted to do. Time to dust off the trusty pen and pad, dampen the resistance forces that plague me anytime I want to think about things like this, and start on that list!
.-= Jim Lochner´s last blog ..A Land Flowing With Milk and Honey =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 11:50 am

Right on Jim! I love to hear that. There is so much out there, and there’s never a better time than now. Your adventures await… Godspeed!

Positively Present September 7, 2009 at 11:58 am

Wow! This is a great post!! I really, really enjoyed it and I think it will help me out a lot in making my own life list. Thanks, David!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..the difference between happy and not unhappy =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Thanks Dani. It sure turned out to be a long post, glad you liked it. Good luck with your list :)

Lori September 7, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Beware of one-chance-only goals is a great addition to this post, David. Not making a goal simply because a date is missed could be tragic! Thanks for including this one.

When I saw this topic appear in my inbox this morning, it was absolutely poignant. Just yesterday I was thinking of a short list of items I have been wanting to do or learn and that I needed to get more serious about achieving them. Then, voila! You appear. Sometimes I think you’re reading my mind, David. How do you do it?

Thanks for another great post.
.-= Lori´s last blog ..My Friday Shout Out =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Consider it a sign!

John September 7, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Truly astounding idea. A life list (I noticed you added 100 pushups – yeah that’s definitely going on my list) is what we all should keep in order to drive us to actually carry out our goals.

It’s decided. Wish lists are for chumps :) Can’t wait to see your list!
.-= John´s last blog ..The REAL Secret to Being Patient =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 3:42 pm

That 43things.com site is worth checking out. You make an online life list, and then it alerts the rest of the community when you make progress or achieve a goal. They cheer you on. If you ever need some motivation to knock off those last pushups, try it out. There are a lot of people doing goals like that.

Roberta September 7, 2009 at 3:15 pm

David, seems like this post came when I most needed it. I have a list (1yr, 3yr, 5yr & beyond goals), but those are still a bit vague, and placed in a drawer hidden from the world. I am a visual person so I have created a visual list on cork board with images, words, etc placed where I can see it every day.

After reading your blog it made me think to blend both of those together, to make my written list more clear and to place it along with my visual list so it is something I can see every day.

Like Nate mentioned above I also need to ask myself if I would still do something if I was not allowed to tell another person. Looking forward to your list Thursday, and giving myself a deadline of Thursday to create a couple to share with you and everyone else.

David September 7, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Can’t wait, thanks Roberta.

Jessica September 7, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Visit every single country? Impossible? Someone should tell Chris :P

David September 7, 2009 at 7:51 pm

I am a big fan of Chris’ and his goal. He will no doubt accomplish it. But visiting every country is not the same as seeing the whole world. We always have to pick and choose, there’s just too much out there.

brigid September 7, 2009 at 7:16 pm

I made my first life list about 4 years ago and accomplished all but one. There were only about 6 things on there (that was all I dared hope for at the time) but it is great to know that I actually did achieve them.
Since then I have a list as long as your arm, its wonderful! There are so many things I plan to do in my life. I have already accomplished a few, like surfing, snowboarding and ice skating on a frozen lake (not something we can do here in Australia) and several others.
Its a wonderful idea, and I will be checking out 43things to see whats there. I like the idea of life list where we can cheer each other on. Sounds cool.
Great post
.-= brigid´s last blog ..Helping to Keep Cool with Flowers =-.

David September 7, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Congratulations Brigid! Now that you’ve knocked off one list you know it can be done. 43things is pretty cool, I think I’ll put my list up there eventually.

Avi September 7, 2009 at 10:07 pm

I think what works even better is Scott Adams’ affirmations. I don’t remember which post it was, but it was on dilbert.com/blog
Instead of something like ‘To do list: 1. Learn Spanish’ it would be ‘ I, Avi, will learn Spanish.’

David September 8, 2009 at 3:18 pm

For sure, whatever it takes for you to internalize your list as intentions and not hopes or wishes.

Jeremy September 8, 2009 at 8:53 pm

This is a great post. You make some insightful suggestions on creating a doable list. I am going to do some brainstorming tonight. I haven’t even thought about “the list” for some time now.

You have my Fattitude of Gratitude
.-= Jeremy´s last blog ..A Fattitude of Gratitude: A Man, A Bike, An Open Trail =-.

David September 9, 2009 at 7:02 am

Right on Jeremy, have a good time.

My list is ready to go, I’m going to post it tomorrow.

Beth L. Gainer September 9, 2009 at 7:08 am

Hi David,

You have an absolutely fantastic posting here!! You’ve made a great distinction between lists of tangible dreams and lists of tasks. I have a list of tasks every day that I enjoy checking off, like going grocery shopping and cleaning the house, but I also have a list of dreams, some of which have been realized.

Thank you for a terrific, insightful posting.


David September 9, 2009 at 9:17 am

Thanks Beth. Right now, at the top of my life list is “Get bread.” :)

Jared September 9, 2009 at 7:13 am

Great suggestions on setting up a life list. I think only things that make me say, “Hell yeah!” will be on there.

This got me to thinking about how I met my wife. The night before I met her I went out on a date with this other girl, I asked her the same question I would ask most women on the first date, “What’s the one place in the world you have never been but would like to visit?” She said, “Las Vegas” then proceeded to pull her cell-phone out of her bra to answer it. Check please.

The next day I met my wife for coffee (had only met her 1 hour prior through an online personals site). I asked her the same question, she said, “Belize because I’ve always wanted to learn how to SCUBA dive!” I said, “Me too.” We got married 22 months later. Since then we’ve travel pretty much all over the Caribbean, MX, Hawaii, and dived every where except Belize, but it’s on our list!
.-= Jared´s last blog ..The Spiritual Power of Now =-.

David September 9, 2009 at 9:24 am

Hi Jared. Great anecdote, that made me laugh.

I loved the “Hell Yeah” article. I think it’s a great philosophy to have when there are so many possibilities competing for our time and attention.

Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching September 9, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Thanks David — as I was reading this I realized that most of my to-do list has to do with the way I experience the world — feeling alert yet peaceful and resourceful enough to take on any challenge I’m facing. And then presumably the good practical stuff out in the world will result from having that mindset.

David September 10, 2009 at 6:35 am

They are revealing, aren’t they? My list (which I just posted) has a similar pattern. It’s very travel focused. I want to get better at relating to people in different lifestyles, and hopefully that extra perspective will improve my ability to deal with the practical things of my own life.

Alison | Quest for Balance September 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Very cool… kind of like a NetFlix queue of things I want to do (movies I want to rent). : ) I’ve always got an internal list (which changes as time goes by), but rarely commit it to paper.
.-= Alison | Quest for Balance´s last blog ..Adventure: Lessons From Niagara Falls =-.

David September 10, 2009 at 6:36 am

Something special happens when you commit it to paper. It challenges you to do it in a way just thinking about it can’t.

Nicky September 10, 2009 at 5:43 am

There are so many things I’ve always planned on doing during my life, but have some how never put them on paper.

Thanks for this exceptional article. I got started on my list last night :)


David September 10, 2009 at 6:38 am

Thanks Nicky. I think it’s the same for most people. It’s pretty clear what you want to do, but unless you have it out in the open, it’s easy to let time slip by without it ever happening.

Curt Nelson September 16, 2009 at 5:30 pm

I have also just written a post about this subject on a new blog I am putting the finishing touches on. If anyone wants ideas for their list I currently have 100 or so things to do on my list.

.-= Curt Nelson´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

David September 18, 2009 at 8:16 am

That’s one great thing about having a list. There is always something you can do that you know for sure isn’t a waste of time.

Jesse Harding January 27, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Wow. What a great post. It’s nice to see a step-by-step guide for people who are interested in creating a list of their own, but don’t know where to begin. I wrote my first life list at the age of twelve, and five months ago I rediscovered it and rewrote it and started to try to cross things off. This post will definitely make me go back and reevaluate some of those items. Thanks for the remarkable insights.

joseph film September 16, 2010 at 4:04 am

Hey, I am doing something similar and read this for more ideas. My method is comprehensive and involves many techniques. I would like to share some of these techniques with you.
I must disagree that the old ” integrity, discipline and commitment ” strategy works best. If the desire is not worth the sacrifice to us there is a reason for this. If the desire does not seem realistic to us, there is a reason for this. Understanding the deeper mind is of the utmost importance here. ” Real skill is effortless ” Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Examples of techniques; 1. Write all the reasons why you would enjoy the desire in the present tense, as though it where happening NOW, yet include a specific deadline. 2. Write out 20 ideas of things that you can do that will get you closer to the desire. 3. Simulate the desire. ( regular daydreaming about the desire as though it where happening NOW. ( test drive that car, tour that house, posters of that perfect body etc.) 4. Record your voice describing experiencing the desire as though it where happening NOW. Listen to it on the tape recorder each day in the car. 5. Talk to people who have done the desire already about it. 6. Regularly practice gratitude for the experiencing of the desire as though it where happening NOW. 7. Write 20 reasons why it is likely that the desire will indeed happen. 8. Set yourself in motion by inching towards the desire by doing one of the ideas that will get you closer to it. 9. Speak as though it where already happening, regularly. 10. If roadblocks within the mind persist, write the top 3 things that are standing in the way of your experiencing the desire and then 20 ideas of things that you can do to dissolve each roadblock. Be patient with yourself so as not to make the desire into a stress of any kind. The desire exists so that you can enjoy it.
Thank you for reading my comment.

kiara December 7, 2010 at 9:40 am

I like some the items you added to help structure a bucket list. It’s a good addition to the viewpoints I recently wrote regarding setting up a list.

Rick January 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

“Make this a list of intentions, not wishes”

This phrase really resonates with me. On one hand you want goals that will push your limits, on the other hand they have to be somewhat achievable to motivate you to get them done. You have to know in your heart of hearts that you will complete them at some point and its not just a wish list.

I am systematically completing my bucket list one by one with this in mind http://www.squidoo.com/lifeofatwentysomething

Seth February 12, 2011 at 11:52 pm


Do you worry that a life list can get in the way of living in the present moment? I appreciate your openness to update the list, but I wonder if there’s still enough flexibility to more openly towards things without the list hanging on in the background?


kiara February 13, 2011 at 12:44 am

Seth, I know you addressed this question to David, but here is my two cents worth. I’ve both felt the underlying feeling you’re talking about, and seen the stress it causes in others. I think the issue is that if we make a list, or a goal and then get caught up in the busyness of living life, we fail to do the things on the list. Then a year or two goes by, we look at what we have not done, and feel like failures. Now the list becomes less a list of goals to accomplish or enjoy, and more a remainder (in our minds) of our failures. But if we are present enough in life to work toward doing the things on it, its not a monkey on our backs.

The opposite side of that, however, is the overachiever (we all secretly hate them–ok maybe not hate, perhaps are annoyed) who is just blasting thru their list, but is not enjoying anything on it. To them its just one more thing to get done, like a list of items on a grocery list. That is a true danger. I cannot imagine how it would feel to visit some list of great places, and then realize you cannot remember the feeling of being there, because you were too busy crossing it off, and moving on to the next thing.

Seth February 13, 2011 at 11:01 am

Kiara – I’m not as worried about the idea of not accomplishing the list and seeing it as a failure. I’m more concerned with not staying in the present moment due to the awareness of things I need to accomplish. They may be great things to accomplish and have a longer life span than a daily to-do list, but if there’s one thing that I find takes me away from the awareness of now, it’s thinking about the future. I’m still trying to find that balance between “just being” and doing.

David February 13, 2011 at 8:13 pm

That’s a good question Seth. My answer is no, not really. There are times when I feel like I’m not getting to where I feel I should be, but I’ve always had those feelings, even before I had a list. I’ve been practicing mindfulness for a long time and I’m quite used to relaxing into the process of things without getting too hung up on the destination. I know how to enjoy small things like walking from one room to another, for example, and that’s just how I live life now.

Seth Leonard February 13, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I guess that for me, dreaming of big picture stuff has a way of quickly trickling down to the moment so that the moment gets lost in needing certain things to happen. Perhaps it won’t always be that way for me, but right now it is.

Eduardo June 2, 2011 at 4:47 am

What if you don’t feel compelled to do anything (besides the ‘eh, that could be fun’ point), if you can’t think of something that makes you go yes-I-have-to-do-this?

David June 2, 2011 at 6:33 am

Then you can safely die!

Just kidding. Honestly I can’t imagine not really wanting anything. The list doesn’t have to be long.

Sally Thompson September 26, 2011 at 10:49 am

Very amazing.. I learned a lot from you.. Love to see more of your blog!

Anna December 31, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Thank you so much for this post, David.
I’m looking forward to several of the items on my bucket list this year (2012), including seeing Wicked in theatre (booked tickets, going as my birthday present); reading Nabokov’s “Lolita”, and teaching myself to juggle. I do have some big things like a trip to Australia on my list, but I’m looking forward to the smaller things, too.
It’s not just a matter of “ticking things off the list”… but I do find it helps to keep me focused on things I want to do and achieve. Sometimes, I do them having forgotten they’re even ON my bucket list – like the midnight walk on the beach I took last summer when I wanted to clear my head.
I definitely hear you on making it achievable, realistic, and personal to you. I hate hiking up ordinary hills, so why would I put something like “climb Mount Kilimanjaro” on my list?

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Alice June 12, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Love this, and I’m extremely happy that you made a point to say that people should never be afraid to delete items from their lists as their interests change. I love the distinguishing of intent and wishes. As a 20-year-old now, I’m hoping to keep that in mind as I start to work towards my own list at Alicesimpossiblelist.blogspot.com!

Thanks, David!

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