Every day millions of people make life lists. There are social networks based around the concept, blogs that chronicle people’s quests and movies like The Bucket List… all with good reason. People who set goals are scientifically proven to be happier and accomplish more than those who don’t set them.
It’s a brain thing. When you meet a goal you’ve set for yourself, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released. The dopamine then triggers signals that encourage you to set another goal and achieve it. So what are you waiting for?
Where to start
The key to creating a life list is using your imagination. We’re all aware of the limitations of reality, and if we operated solely from the world as we know it, most of us would think of climbing Kilamanjaro or writing a novel. And yet, regular people with regular jobs and regular lives do these things all the time. If you want to live big, you’ve got to think big, and that’s what life lists are for. They’re a chance to live out your dreams!
So clear your head of the day-to-day clutter, pretend money and time are no objects and grab a pen and paper. Then, make three lists, with at least three goals each.
First, what places would you like to visit? If you’re coming up blank (or can’t get past the fact that you’re broke), don’t over think it. Write down anywhere that has attracted you in a magazine or in a movie. Perhaps some place you read about long ago in school. Say you want to visit an ice hotel, travel through Asia or see the Southern-most tip of South America… Anywhere that has caught your eye and made you think “wow!” is a great place to note.
Second, what skills would be great to have (if not useful then just cool… to you personally)? Once again, don’t wrack your brain! Use the same strategy. If you’re a self taught cook, maybe you’d like to learn how to really use a knife. If you like to garden, maybe you want to learn to raise a bonsai. If you’re an adventure enthusiast, maybe you want to master snowboarding or water skiing. Start with what you know and work outward. Maybe you want to learn to make paella, speak another language and learn to tango, it’s up to you!
Third, what experiences would you like to have in your lifetime? On this one, the most important part is to put aside what anyone else may think is impossible or ridiculous or inappropriate. This is your list and your experiences are your call! If you’re not feeling connected, working from what you know is still a great way to start. For instance, if you’ve been frustrated with a job that stifles your artistic side, you don’t have to set out to change your career, but you can set the goal of painting a picture. Perhaps you’ve never taken yourself on vacation… a good two-fer (knocking off a place and an experience) would be to say “I want to take myself to Alaska on a cruise ship.”
Make it happen
Now that you’ve got your list – no matter how short or extensive – it’s time to set about checking your goals off one by one – and experiencing that dopamine reaction! But before you get started, there’s one more thing to know. The best part of a life list is that for every item you check off, ideally, you’ll be adding a new one. We all learn and grow over time, and new challenges and exciting ideas will always arise, imploring us to meet them. You’ll be surprised to learn that as you achieve your smaller goals, you’ll feel more comfortable setting your sights bigger, and going deeper, getting closer to who you really are and what you want your life to be about. Whether that means getting back to old passions or finding new ones, only time will tell.
Choose one goal from your list and each week, make a step toward achieving it. If you want to learn to speak Italian, sign up for Rosetta Stone online and complete the course. No matter what gets in the way, commit to a little time each week, so you’re never without a goal in progress.
Before you complete your first goal get started on a second (preferably from another list). Perhaps you want to look into visiting Rome (it was on your list, but seemed unrealistic before), especially now that you’re getting better at speaking Italian. Take an hour or two to do a little research online and send for some brochures. When they arrive, determine what your trip will cost, a timeframe for saving that amount and set aside a little money each week until you’ve got it. It won’t take up a lot of time or energy to set aside a few dollars a week, but you’ll have the knowledge that one day, you’ll meet your goal and fulfill a dream. Empowering!
Remember, the very idea of a life list implies the opposite of instant gratification. These things can – and will – take time to achieve. But the act of being active will have surprising results on your energy, your attitude and what you accomplish.
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