Before You Write Your List…

Here are a few questions for you to think about before you start to write your list…

Are you focusing on your intentions, not your wishes?

Too many life lists are just wish lists – and as a result are never achieved because they lack intention. It would be lovely to whisper some French into the ear of a loved one but are you really willing to undertake many hours of evening classes to master the language? It would be fantastic to summit Everest but are you willing to undergo years of mountaineering training to develop the necessary skills? There really are no limits to what a person can achieve in a lifetime – but the genuine intension needs to be there from the start.

Do your goals have real, personal significance to you?

Your life list is something you are potentially going to invest significant time, money and energy into over the course of your life.  You must be committed to achieving these goals for yourself and not for others. Avoid the temptation of adding goals purely for ‘bragging rights’ as without genuine conviction you are much less likely to achieve the goal.

What specifically is your goal? 

It is important to consider what specifically about an idea excites you – what is the precise experience you are seeking? Do you simply want to ‘learn to paint’ or do you actually dream of displaying your artwork in a gallery? Do you just want to ‘visit Paris’ or is standing on top of the Eiffel Tower the precise experience you are looking for? Do you actually want to ‘learn to play the piano’ or would a short rendition of Chopsticks suffice? Consider every goal carefully and make sure that it describes the specific experience that you are looking for…

What are your enabling goals?

Think about the things that will enable you to complete your other goals. For example, in order to travel the world you may need to increase your savings, earn a passive income or even quit your job. To enable you to run a marathon you may need to exercise at least twice a week, eat a healthy meal every day or start by running a 10k or half marathon. These are probably your most important goals so spend time thinking about these…

Writing Your Life List…

Don’t write your list all at once

It’s often difficult to think of all the things you want to do in life in one sitting. For starters, try writing your list by yourself away from any distractions. Then take a look at our 1001 Ideas or the lists of other members for some further inspiration. Then keep re-visiting your list to add new goals – or remove goals that you no longer consider to be important.  You may want to discuss your list with your partner, friends or family for advice and support – and there may also be things you’d like to do together.

Brainstorm… and think big!

At this stage it’s important to come up with lots of ideas, ‘think big’ and not to limit yourself. Avoid thinking about your present situation as you have your whole life to accomplish your life list and you never know what your future ‘reality’ will be. Your list should not be bound by fear or realism. Ambitious goals, which for several years may seem unrealistic, may ultimately become easy to achieve once your life circumstances change. Brainstorm lots of goals before deciding which are the most important to you (the Favourites function (see below) is one way to do this). For your most ambitious goals it is worth considering breaking them into smaller steps e.g. if you dream of running a marathon you may want to set smaller goals such a ‘complete a half marathon’ or ‘exercise on average 3 times per week’ to achieve on route to your more achievable goal.

Keep a separate Favourites list

Try not to be impulsive when adding new goals to your life list. They may at first seem exciting and a ‘must do’ but after consideration you may decide they are not worth the investment of your valuable time, money and energy. Goalvanise allows you to add goals to a Favourites list for you to consider before promoting them to your Life List. This gives you time to think about whether you really intend to achieve those goals – or whether they may just end up distracting you from far more important and fulfilling goals.

Include goals that you’ve already completed

It is important to recognise the goals you’ve already achieved in your life so you can build a life legacy across your whole life – not just from the point at which you create your first written list. So take yourself back five, 10 or 20 years and think about what your goals were at that stage in your life. Include them. Then enjoy ticking them off straight away to celebrate your life legacy.

Don’t add easy goals just to improve your ‘score’

Achieving goals on your life list is not a competition so try to avoid the temptation to add easy or unambitious goals simple to beef up your life legacy. Your life list needs integrity otherwise you will become less inclined to keep achieving it. So try to only add goals which are genuine life goals which have real, personal significance.

Avoid “one chance only” goals

It’s best to avoid setting yourself goals such as ‘see the 100m final at the Olympics 2012’ or ‘run the 2012 London Marathon’ as you never know what your circumstances will be at that time. There may be a number of influences which prevent you completing your goal at that specific time or event. Of course you should set yourself a deadline, but by avoiding ‘one chance only’ goals, you will maximise your chances of achieving your goal – for example, by instead using ‘run a marathon’ this goal can then be completed at any time at any event.

Avoid goals that depend on luck or other people’s co-operation

Achievement of your life goals is down to you and you alone, so it’s best to avoid setting goals which are dependent on luck, such as ‘win the lottery’ or ‘survive a lightening strike’, as well as goals that depend on the cooperation of other people, such as ‘marry George Clooney’ or ‘have lunch with the President’.

Create a balanced list across all aspects of your life

It’s important to have a varied mix of goals on your list. Try to include goals across all aspects of your life as, for most people, fulfilment lies in more than just a long list of adventure sports or a detailed travel itinerary. We’ve separated our 1001 Ideas into categories that you could use to help you come up with goals focusing on all elements of your life.

Include some easier goals too

You should include some easier goals as well as the harder life changing ones. These easier goals will help to remind you that not all meaningful accomplishments are difficult or expensive. They will also keep you motivated as you will be able to cross something off that day or week if you put your mind to it. However… remember your goals should have personal significance so make sure these easier goals are genuinely things that are worthy of your time, money and energy.

Make your list public

All the evidence shows that you are far more likely to achieve your goals with a bit of public accountability. By sharing your goals with friends and family then you are not only likely to receive support and encouragement, especially in those moments when you feel the world is against you, but knowing that others are monitoring your progress ensures commitment and is extremely motivating. After all, if these are genuinely goals you plan to achieve then there is no harm in telling people and holding yourself accountable.

Set yourself a deadline

Life is far too short to wait to do something “someday”. If your goal is important enough to make it on to your life list then it deserves to be given a deadline – even if that deadline is many years in the future. By setting a deadline you are taking an important step towards an action plan to achieve your goal…

After You’ve Written Your List…

Review your goals: Are they measurable? Do you genuinely want to do each of them?

Avoid adding goals fuzzy, non-measurable goals such “be happy”, “be in shape” or “travel the world” as there will never be a single point at which you can say these goals have been achieved. Review your goals and make sure that each one is measurable – that there is a specific moment at which you can say “Yes, I’ve done it!”

Consider whether you are doing each goal because you genuinely want to experience it, rather than so you can just say you’ve done it. Do you honestly intend to invest the amount of time, money and energy it will take to achieve the goal? Will the goal provide you with a high Return on Investment (ROI) or would you be better spending your time, money and energy focusing on something else?

Be willing to change your list…

Your list will always be changing as you go through your life… and your journey towards achieving your life goals. It is important to let go of goals that are no longer a priority for you – this is not non-achievement but merely a reallocation of your scare resources of time, money and energy towards new goals which are now deemed more important.

Create an Action Plan…

This doesn’t have to be for all of your goals but perhaps you could make goal achievement seem a little less daunting by creating a plan for the year ahead. This plan could have the aim of achieving a varied mix of 5-20 of your goals. Or perhaps just make a smaller action plan to achieve several goals in the next few weeks. At the same time you could be working towards your enabling goals to make the ones for the future that little bit easier to achieve…

Get ticking and have fun!

Above all else your life list should be fun and should lead to greater happiness and fulfilment in your life. If it’s not fun then perhaps you have the wrong goals on your list. Remember that completing your entire list isn’t the aim – as with any achievement, the journey is far more rewarding.

Imagine that glorious moment as you summit your first mountain, as you throw yourself from the doors of the aeroplane, as you walk on stage at your graduation ceremony, as you unlock the door to your new house, as your own business receives its first order…

Now get going… there is no time to lose, as time is all we have…

“In twenty years from now you will regret the things you didn’t do far more than the things you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.” Mark Twain

To help us produce this guide we’ve considered advice from many goal setting experts and life listers and would like to thank:,,

About Jon Maiden

Founder of Goalvanise which enables people to create their Life List online, and inspires and supports them to achieve their life goals. Check out the Goalvanise blog here or my personal blog here.

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