Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

How making a bucket list can improve your life

As university students, most of us are at a unique point in our lives; beyond school, but not quite in the real world yet. We are continuously encouraged to utilise this time to consider both our personal and professional aspirations for the future and envision the path we see ourselves taking. Such a task can feel daunting – perhaps impossible – but it can also generate immense excitement for what life holds when the constraints of the education system are a distant memory.

No matter how organised you are, the future is inevitably unpredictable – you simply cannot have a rigid life plan! That said, it would be naive to assume that you can’t set an extensive list of goals for yourself. Arguably, one of the best ways to strike this healthy balance between planning and spontaneity is by creating a bucket list. Sometimes called a ‘life list’, this is a long-term personal record of all the things you want to do before you die (‘kick the bucket)’.

Add to it when inspiration strikes or tick off any achieved goals

To make one, grab a piece of paper and take about 10 minutes writing down anything you wish to experience that immediately comes to mind. Ask yourself what you feel compelled to try at some point in your life and contemplate what you would do if you had unlimited time, money and resources. Have some fun with it and dream big! If you already have a bucket list, review it and save it somewhere that is easily accessible. This will enable you to share it with friends, add to it when inspiration strikes or tick off any achieved goals.

I separate my bucket list into four categories: places I want to visit, things I want to experience, skills I want to learn and general life milestones. Keep points simple. For inspiration, here are some ideas from my list:

  • Go to all 6 populated continents
  • Visit the Maldives
  • See the Taj Mahal
  • Eat steak in Buenos Aires
  • Go to a casino in Las Vegas
  • Go skydiving
  • Travel first class
  • Watch a Superbowl live
  • Learn basic self-defence
  • Learn to scuba dive
  • Get to a high competency in French and British Sign Language (BSL)
  • Graduate from university
  • Live abroad temporarily
  • Have a successful career
  • Have a family of my own

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone

But why bother to make a bucket list? Besides getting the creative juices flowing in the initial brainstorming session, it has enormous proven benefits that have been linked to success. For instance, bucket lists encourage you to stay focused. Having any sort of list naturally makes you want to cross things off, and psychologists say that being specific about your goals (breaking them down into digestible activities) is a catalyst for success. Therefore, bucket lists are efficient mental tools that can help you ‘keep your eyes on the prize’ and work towards living your best life. The feeling of triumph by accomplishing a goal is addictive, and will in turn motivate you to keep hustling.

Bucket lists also make us conscious of our limited physical lifespan so that we can maximise every moment of our existence before it is too late. This enables us to gain perspective, appreciate our values and see the bigger picture; you can start leading life, instead of letting life lead you. For instance, many people aimlessly follow society’s conventional life trajectory (get educated, work, get married, have children) without giving it a second thought, but this approach may not fulfil them personally.

Bucket lists are characterised by exciting activities which push you outside of your comfort zone. Naturally, we enjoy familiarity because it minimises risk, anxiety and makes us feel safe. However, no progress is ever made this way. They say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so venturing outside of it is what will ultimately teach you the most valuable lessons. Doing activities like bungee jumping, going on a safari and learning a language will make you a much more interesting individual … think of those people at dinner parties who have endless fascinating stories to tell!

You are still guaranteed to have made incredible memories

I look to my parents as exemplars of this because they both took the time to follow their passions before they later settled down to start a family in their late thirties. Before they moved into this stage of their life, they had made extraordinary memories and hit countless impressive milestones. This approach of not rushing through life is one I admire because, though the objective of a bucket list is ultimately to tick off activities, you would be doing it wrong if you were challenging yourself to charge through your list as quickly as possible. You have to live life at the moment and as they say: “the only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

Making a bucket list is a genuinely really enjoyable and rewarding activity, so it surprises me how few people take the time to make one. Identifying everything you’ve ever wanted to do (purposeful or random) promotes positive mental health, improves self-awareness and gives you control over some of the highlights of your life. You do have to be realistic with checking things off your bucket list. It is a luxury and some goals seem impossible to achieve, especially when you are consumed by the flurry of urgent day-to-day chores. Few people achieve every single thing on their list, but this doesn’t matter because you are still guaranteed to have made incredible memories having attained just some points!

I am extremely fortunate to have ticked off a number of incredible ‘bucket-list’ points already – doing my A-Levels, learning to drive, snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, speaking Spanish and getting to a high level of skiing have all been defining moments, but it is exciting to know that I still have so much to come! The main takeaway is: make your precious little time on Earth meaningful because “everyone dies – not everyone really lives.”

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