A few days ago, a friend and I were having a kind of philosophical conversation about life, our year and our achievements (one of these conversations you usually have at the end of a year).

“Do you have any particular dream or thing that you would like to do or accomplish in your life?”, he asked me.

“Mmmm, well, uhm, surely I have, surely – I just can’t think of any now, but yeah, surely I have.”

He smiled.

Apparently, my answer is the most frequent one. People often think and express what they would like to do at some point in their lives, but hardly ever do they take them seriously enough – which is a pity because, as Eric Elias showed us so clearly in his experience in a plane crash, we really don’t know how much time we’ve got (no fatalism intended).

“So you don’t have a bucket list?” he asked.
“A what??”

I have to say that now I feel a bit embarrassed about my answer because everybody I’ve talked to since then seems to know about it (a note in my favor: I’m not a native English speaker) and at least half of them have watched the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman called… The Bucket List.

There is indeed an advantage to writing things down instead of leaving them just floating on the air. The simple fact of making a list of things we would like to do before kicking the bucket – or before the end of the year, for that purpose – is reminder enough of where we are standing and how far we’ve reached.

Yet this simple act of sitting down and making a list seems to consume just too much energy so we leave it for “later”. My super clever art teacher became aware of this fact a few years ago and took quite an effective initiative: she uses post-its and pastes them at the back of her closet door, so every morning when she opens it, she is reminded of the things she has promised to herself she would do this year (well, it isn’t a bucket list per se but a way to stick to her New Year’s resolutions).

Still, I wonder: is writing them down just enough? Last year, my husband and I realized that we were not travelling as much as we could, that we lived close to some fantastic places yet we never seemed determined enough to take a long weekend and just go. So we made a list of places we wanted to visit in 2016:

 

The list was just that. There wasn’t a plan or a schedule, just a list of desires – but hey, we noted them down.

Disappointingly, we are approaching the end of the year and this is how our list looks now:

 

What happened? I don’t know. We just didn’t do it. What is clear to me – at least in our particular case – is that unless we set ourselves some deadlines, our goals are likely to slip as sand through our fingers.

In a recent post in this blog, we mentioned the importance of setting goals and how to do it effectively, and deadlines are of particular importance, especially to those that are easily distracted or carried away, for whom “there is always time” and if not done this weekend, the next one is still good (BTW, this attitude is what took my brother almost 8 years to get rid of a dining table he hated).

Digging deeper on the bucket list concept and trying to be inspired with ideas, I found that there are at least a couple of sites that serve the purpose, and ideas vary from swimming with dolphins, seeing the Northern lights and skydiving (these three seem to be the most popular ones), to getting married, graduating from university, and “cover someone’s car with Post-it notes” (why would someone want to do that???).

I still haven’t decided whether to make one or not. I find advantages but also disadvantages.

Disadvantages of doing a bucket list

1. We may just focus on the destination and forget about the journey

I’m not sure it is a very good idea to do something just to cross it from a list. Let’s say that my goal is to see the Northern lights (the Aurora Borealis); is there a chance that I turn down any other spontaneous activity just for the sake of achieving that single purpose? And will the act of seeing the lights and crossing it from the list give me more pleasure than an entire trip to Norway, where the lights are just a part of it and I am open to any side-adventures?

2. What if our expectations were too high?

What if we design our trip around our purpose (the Northern lights) and we get disappointed?

What if our purpose wasn’t a trip but something more personal, like getting a PhD – for which we would need to invest a few years of our life –  and then we find that it hasn’t radically improved our job opportunities or quality of life?

Advantages of doing a bucket list

1. It may give us a sense of purpose and direction

On the plus side, we will know what we working or saving money for so it may keep us motivated and active (if we take the list seriously, of course).

2. Getting our reward

Even though the journey is important, getting there or achieving that one thing that was in our list, and having that feeling of achievement must feel really good. We may get that comfortable feeling of “I did it!” which, in turn, may also improve our self-confidence

 

Anyway… I still haven’t decided whether I want to make one or not. Maybe for now, I’ll try sticking to my annual goals and see if I can meet them (better one thing at a time, right?).

What do you guys think? Do you have a bucket list? How many items have you managed to cross out yet? I really look forward to reading about your experiences!

By Nerea Gutiérrez

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