This year, ditch your resolutions for something bigger.
You’ve done the whole New Year’s resolutions thing. New year, new you, right?
The thing with these resolutions is that people often abandon them by mid-March. We’ve all seen the gyms fill up in January, only to empty back to normal as early spring sets in. So what makes change stick, and what makes someone see their goals through?
Resolutions tend to fail because you’re looking at something you want to change about yourself. A bucket list, on the other hand, is something you want to do. Bucket lists are aspirational. They inspire you to strive towards an accomplishment and lead a purposeful life. Setting long-term goals with various timelines helps us create a driving force in our life that takes us out of our comfort zones and the day-to-day grind that can bog us down.
Some lists grow us personally. Some lists grow us professionally. And some lists grow us in our relationships with others. The important thing is creating a bucket list that works for you.
Find the Driving Force
As life coach Carolyn Paris spends time with her clients, goals naturally come up. “Guiding people through the practice of interrupting the negative cycles that keep them in the same patterns in order to experience a fun, satisfying, powerful life is the cool part of consulting,” she says.
Carolyn doesn’t necessarily ask clients to make a bucket list, but she does ask what seems impossible but, if it were possible, would make a significant difference in their life. Once clients answer that question, she then focuses on the “why.”
Often in the “why,” one will find the driving force behind what they want to obtain. The first step is determining the why, then declaring it, writing it down, reviewing it, and taking consistent action towards what you are seeking. Once you’ve done that, you share it with others.
“By nature, we want to grow and improve our situation or experience on Earth, so just by our very nature we’re always wanting to stretch,” Carolyn says. “I think the benefit of having a bucket list is really about self-examination. Rather than being on auto-pilot, maybe fulfilling someone else’s dreams or purpose, when you make your bucket list you have to do self-examination and say, ‘What do I want? What will give me joy? What will give me satisfaction?’”
Part of this is deciding what, exactly, will challenge you and how long it might take to accomplish your goals. Once you begin working towards the goal, it’s also important to take time to reassess and examine your progress.
The whole idea of a bucket list, of course, comes from the euphemism “kick the bucket.” Looking at the idea from that standpoint, bucket lists are about setting up things you want to experience, getting the most out of life so you can look back knowing you’ve lived to the fullest.
“My coach always says, ‘Our goals and our commitments give us our future and our actions,’ and I think that is such a strong statement,” Carolyn says.
Make the Most of Your Bucket List
For Michele Spry, who owns Midway Electric with her husband, Brandon, her bucket list started in 2013 with the desire to write a children’s book, run more, and travel to all 50 states with her high school sweetheart.
“This year, Brandon and I both turned 40, so I created several bucket list items that I really wanted to accomplish by the year we turned 40,” says Michele. “As I hit 40, I realized I’m not getting younger, and I want to live life to the fullest. I don’t want to live and not enjoy everything I’ve done.”
After a trip to Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island in October, Michele has now been to all 50 states with her husband. “I really wanted to travel, and, for me, I really wanted to see the United States,” Michele says. “I don’t really care about seeing the world — this is the place we love, and I really wanted to see what all it had to offer.” Their travels included a trip to Alaska, on Anchorage’s 100th birthday. “Seeing the sunset in Alaska at 11 p.m. was amazing,” Michele says. “And we’ve seen the sunrise in Maui, Hawaii at around 3 a.m. It was incredible. Getting to experience what each state has to offer I think has been the best part — and that we get to do it together.”
Michele released her second children’s book on July 4, a month before she turned 40. When she released her first book, “Tom T’s Hat Rack,” in January 2013, she was nervous about what people might say. “Writing the book was a scary moment for me, but it was something I had set out to do, and from that point forward I wanted to create my own bucket list and push myself to live life to the fullest,” she says.
For her running, Michele started with a goal to do 13 5Ks in 2013. Suffice it to say she conquered that challenge, completing 62. Since then, she’s been making decisions to be healthier and get her steps in through running and walking challenges at both in-person and virtual races.
This year, she wanted to do 40 5Ks to celebrate her 40th birthday. She is well on her way to crossing that off her bucket list as well, having already completed 31 virtual 5Ks and 2 live races so far this year.
Michele says that bucket lists help you lead a purposeful and positive life. List items can even be small creative things that are inexpensive, such as sitting on a historic park bench in a train station. “No matter if you’re talking about travel or you’re talking about races or daily life, it forces you to find something good in everything,” Michele says. “That’s the great thing about bucket lists: they force you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to try things and do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
Rachael Sparks, an empowerment coach, works with her clients to help them live an authentic life. “It’s more [about] identifying their values and knowing what they want to do with their life so that they can specifically start working towards that, rather than the direction society keeps pulling them.”
Rachael likes to have clients make a bucket list because it gives people motivation and something to work towards, taking the blinders off the 9-to-5 grind many of us are in.
“I really think the main idea behind a bucket list is having direction and purpose and clarity,” Rachael says. “It kind of is validating to who we are to know that our life does have purpose and things to look forward to.”
When clients come in for coaching, she asks them what five things are on their bucket list. These types of conversations help create a snowballing momentum.
“Anytime that we can create something or have an idea and execute it, we become more empowered,” Rachael says. “And so the more empowered we are in our everyday life, the more we live the life we deserve and we know that we want. It’s just one more tool for living an empowered life.”
One difference she uses to distinguish between a goal and a bucket list item is that goals can provide motivation and a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, like bucket lists, but bucket lists take you outside of your normal life and give you a taste of something completely different — they stretch you in a way that enhances your worldview and your perspectives.
With bucket lists, it’s also important to have a sense of accountability. “If you just have a friend, a spouse, a family member, a co-worker, a colleague, a life coach — that person can help you to really get out of your own head and get your stuff down on paper and hold you accountable to reaching those goals in your life and ticking those things off your bucket list,” Rachael says.
Diving into the Unknown
Mary Stanford and her husband, Dwain, own and manage Captain Nemo’s Dive Shop in Columbia, where they teach scuba diving, sell equipment, and run a diving travel program. “We have quite a bit of experience with customers expressing their desire to scuba dive because it is on their bucket list,” Mary says. “The ocean is a healing, calming, and profound life force that calls to many of us.”
Unlike other common bucket list items, Mary says, scuba diving is accessible to most people. Mary says it’s fulfilling for them to see people achieve this bucket list goal and experience the positive change it has in their life.
Bucket lists can offer a new perspective on the goal setting and resolution building that comes with the new year. Mary, working firsthand with so many bucket-listers, gets to see this work in action. “Accomplishing something you have as a goal is powerful, satisfying, and, in some cases, life-transforming,” she says. “Without goals, time passes and nothing gets done. We have lots of people that say, ‘I wish I had done this years ago.’”
Kick-starting Your Own Bucket List
Whether you love jumping off of things or hunkering down with a good book, you can start your bucket list today. We offer up a few different lists — find the one that inspires you and go to work!
Go on a safari
Take a random day or weekend trip
Visit a national park
Raft the Grand Canyon
Visit the Sistine Chapel
See the Northern Lights
Bike across the state
Learn a different language
Create a travel blog
Start your own business
Invest in a new business venture
Learn a new skill
Start a volunteer program
Use all your vacation time
Obtain your next degree
Start a work book club
Apply for your dream job
Plan a girls’ weekend
Run a marathon
Try a new hair style
Travel to a new country
Take a cooking class
Go to a festival
Redesign or organize your home
Revamp your wardrobe
Throw a dinner party
Adopt a pet
Cook dinner together — have each person cook something special
Get family portraits taken
Plant a garden
Visit the library once a week
Teach grandma how to text
Have your kids plan a family weekend
Turn your living room into a “home theater”: order pizza, pop some popcorn, and have an old school movie night.
Camp out in the backyard
Buy a family pet
Out of Your Comfort Zone
Try a new local restaurant
Take a Dancing, painting, or wine tasting class
Attend a poetry slam
Write a book
Befriend a stranger
Take an acting class
Volunteer for a cause
Participate in an open mic night
Take up photography
Host a party
Go to lunch by yourself
Read every book written by your favorite author
Create your own recipe
Attend the opening of an art gallery
Build a house with Habitat for Humanity
Do a charity walk
Make a time capsule
Take a CPR class
Attend a free concert
Research your family tree
Write and send handwritten letters