When I was 23 (and newly dumped), I thought about this new frontier of life that was now open to me (the one where I wasn’t constrained to being a stay at home wife), I sat down to write a bucket list, which included: finish graduate school (check), write a book (check), do yoga teacher training (check), sing in church choir (check), and travel to Europe (check, check, and check), and now that I’m approaching a new phase of life (and the thought of not being 23 anymore but rather 30 is looming very closely), I’ve decided to update my bucket list, with the following rules established:
- Keep it between 3-7 items: Barry Schwartz discusses “the paradox of choice”, which basically means that, when you have too many choices in front of you, it’s actually more difficult and causes more anxiety to make a choice, so instead, you should limit yourself to three-ish choices–things like selecting a college to attend, picking a mate (maybe this is why the Bachelor always fails?), or even selecting what to make for dinner–when we have too many things to choose from, that produces anxiety, so it is actually better to limit the number of choices we give ourselves (the Germans, of course, already knew this–that is why you can only order three kinds of beer–a dunkel, a pilsner, and sometimes a wheat).
Some people will go really, really crazy when creating a bucket list and put a billion items on it: pet a dolphin, sew my own bridesmaid dress, run a marathon, learn to cook macaroons, walk through a drive- thru, take a French cooking class, plank at school, plank at work, plank at the carnival (actually, planking isn’t a thing anymore), start my own YouTube channel, learn how to basketweave underwater, touch the hand of a celebrity, get posted on Reality Steve, use a fake name at Starbucks, watch a meteor shower, plant a garden and cook a whole meal with the herbs, etch my name in the side of a tree, read 60 books in a year, crash a wedding, etc., etc. (right, this is why people’s Pinterest boards are so lengthy). What usually happens is, when we make a to do list for ourselves that is a billion things long, we start to feel overwhelmed, and rather than spending our time tackling those tasks, we just spend time feeling overwhelmed and adding more to our list. So, keep your bucket list between 3-7 items, and when you cross one, or all of them, off, re-visit your list and perhaps add a few new items (right, because the best part of creating a bucket list, after actually doing the thing, is putting a strike through and admiring all of your accomplishments).
- Vary the types of activities on your list: Unlike our parents and grandparents (who like stuff), as Millennials, there are three things we want to invest in: relationships, experiences, and education. I think there are a few issues at hand. First of all, we have the Internet and social media, so we can flaunt our social statuses on there, rather than having to have people over for dinner parties to show off our top of the line China plates. We have things, like VenMo and BitCoin, so we actually never physically see our money. And, we live in a world where going places is much more accessible to us (that’s why it is acceptable to wear yoga leggings on an airplane now). To us, we’d rather be going somewhere different, doing something adventurous, with people who enhance our existence. So, when I’m putting together my bucket list, I think about (a) who do I want to spend time with, (b) where do I want to go that I haven’t been, and (c) what do I want to learn more about?
- Add a long term, a mid-term, and a short term option: Long term goals are important, because they keep up continually thinking about how our present conditions will impact our future actions; building towards something greater in the future gives our current situations meaningfulness and purpose. For example, a long term goal I’ve had for a while is to visit all Colorado CorePower Yogas; obviously, that is not a goal that I will be able to accomplish in one day, but the challenge encourages me to visit studios and teachers that are outside of my regularly scheduled classes (I think I have 5 studios left!).But, we also need mid term and short terms goals; sometimes thinking about 10 years in the future is too vast, and we need more immediate check points to keep us focused, motivated, and on track. This is why we set resolutions; it may seem too difficult for us to give up marshmallows for the rest of our lives, but we could certainly do that for 30 days…
I always think about the success of those crash diets–if I want to keep off the weight, rather than doing a 30 day cleanse, I need a lifestyle change (otherwise, after the 30 day binge, I go right back to my old habits and put the weight back on). I used to think that quitting bad habits cold turkey was the best way to go, but now I’m thinking that adjusting your habits in small ways will eventually incur greater success; it’s like training for a marathon; you don’t start by running 100 miles in your first day–rather, you start with an incremented training program and increase your distance every day. So, maybe we set a short term goal for ourselves to drink an extra cup of water everyday, and then gradually increase that until we had met the recommended 64 ounces. Or, we limit our dining-out to three times a week, then two times a week, then only once on special occasions. I think we’d find more success in reaching our long term goals by splicing them into more manageable increments.
- Choose things that are probable: While it sounds really cool to someday shake hands with the Queen of Norway or to compete in the Summer Olympics, or to break a world record, for the average person, these are not probably, and would most likely sit on our bucket lists for our whole lives. The point of creating a bucket list is to curate a list of things that you want to do that would then encourage you to actually go out and seek those opportunities. Like, unless something really drastic happens, there is no way I’m ever going to be on the Billboard Top 100’s chart, so I might as well invest my time into learning how to cook or something.
- Be flexible: I’ve had this very interesting relationship with Time as I’ve gotten older. As a young Millennial, I always felt this need to go-go-go, that life is too short and there are too many things in the world to see, to experience, to learn that if I wasn’t constantly working towards those goals, then I was wasting my life away. I think part of this comes from spending so much time in school; up until this time, our lives have been sliced into four-year segments, where we have markers and expectations to meet, so when we are thrown into the real world without any structure and any real deadlines or maturation points, we freak; living with this gotta-do-it-all mentality ultimately lead to a very stressed out-sleep deprived-malnourished Britany; I think the shift for me happened when I was on vacation one time and was so focused on snapping pictures of the places I “went”, that I never actually experienced the place, and when I came home, I couldn’t actually recall what the picture was of. While our lives are indeed short, and we do have a finite amount of time, we are also granted quite a bit of opportunity to go places and to do things. Sure, on my death bed, I might be a bit regretful that I never got to see the northern lights, and I might have wished that I had learned the fox trot, but of all the other experiences I did have, I won’t feel too robbed or depleted.And, on top of that, I also have to recognize that I will never be able to do it all at once; the purpose of having a bucket list is to keep me engaged and entertained, so if I do it all at once, I’m going to have to keep adding new stuff (eventually I think I would run out of checklist items to put on it). For example, singing in the church Christmas choir has been on my bucket list for a few years, but obviously that is not something I can check off in June (although the rate things are going, we will be seeing Christmas decorations in May).
- Go after it: And last but not least, go after the things you put on your bucket list; invite people on your adventures, set aside money in your savings, block out times in your calendar. Spice up your life.
(…In case you are wondering, my current bucket list includes: attend Financial Peace University, visit New Orleans, learn to cook one new item a month, maybe have a baby someday?…)