Mental Health Boost: Making a Bucket List

Making a bucket list could be one of the best things that you do in your life.  Many people have a rough one in mind and some have jotted a few things down on paper, but formalising your list could be the decisive nudge you need to actively ‘tick off’ items in that list.  For some this can lead to positively life changing experiences.

For the uninitiated, a bucket list is a list of things that you want to do in your lifetime (before you die).  The name plays off the phrase to ‘kick the bucket’ and, although the origin is contested, one theory is that the phrase comes from one kicking the bucket out from under one’s feet when committing suicide by way of hanging.  So, to phrase it another way, a bucket list means things to do in your lifetime before you kick the bucket. Right, now we’ve gotten the cheery bit out of the way, let’s crack on with the good bits!

Make it Official

The first tip that I could offer in regards to making a bucket list is this: if you’re interested in doing it then do it properly.  Draft out a list, add to it, edit and finalise. Once you’re happy with it, do something to make it official for your own purpose. You may want to type it up in an easy to access document or write it down in a regularly used diary.  A friend of mine laminated a large print of his and made it centre stage on his bedroom wall. Each person will prefer their own way but the most important thing is that it is easily accessible and will be viewed regularly. This will keep it in your mind and even act as a sub-conscious motivator when you need it.

In going through this process, it’s likely that you will have pushed a few positive buttons in your brain.  When thinking about what we want in life we will also need to consider what we love doing in life. Thoughts of what we love doing can stimulate the brain and help to form positive associations between what you want to do and the process to get there.  For example, phoning around and organising a language class to learn Spanish will be much more pleasant when you love the idea of learning another language. This should not simply be viewed as a ‘to do’ list, it’s more akin to a system of ‘levelling up’ your happiness, with the completion of an item on your list being the confirmation of success.

Work Out a Realistic Time Scale

I’ve already alluded to the fact that this is not just another list, with, of course, the time scale being over a lifetime as opposed to a few weeks or a year.  This means that once you have a good idea of how many items are on your list, you should work out how often you want to tick these items off. As a tip, try to work towards at least one thing every year.  If you are less frequent than this then your list runs the risk of slipping by the wayside. Personally, I’ve had some years where I’ve ticked off three or four items and others when I’ve only been actively working on one or two items.  This is normal as some opportunities may come in clusters whereas others may take a long road of planning to achieve.  

This brings me to my next point.  On odd occasions in your life, you will need to fundamentally shift your daily routines to one side whilst you put yourself first and work towards one of the bigger items on your list.  This happened for me after my first three years in teaching and was around the time that I first started to formalise my bucket list. Now, three years is not usually a long time in a job and many teachers, for example, have been in their profession for upwards of thirty years, but this was undoubtedly a time to change for me in that specific moment in time.  

My frustrations both in and out of work put me in a position where I did not feel that I could honestly give the students the education that they deserved.  I felt that an abundance of negativity was beginning to overflow into my teaching and this wasn’t fair to the students or myself. The only thing I could do to solve this was to focus on making me happy again.  I needed a fundamental change so I took the necessary steps to realise an ambition of travelling New Zealand (item #25).

Of course, I’m not saying that people need to give up their job and dwelling to go to another country.  For some people, the fundamental change could be a reduction in work hours to accommodate evening classes, or cutting out particular luxury goods on the shopping list to save money for a dream family holiday.  The scale of the shift will depend on you as an individual, but the most important thing is that you are actively taking steps towards those ‘dream’ items on your list.

Make it Visual

One of the small but definitive points of satisfaction will come from ticking off the item once you have done it.  I don’t mean a metaphorical tick either, I mean physically ticking it off on your list so that if you showed someone they’d be able to clearly see what you have completed and what you still want to do.  The friend I mentioned earlier in the article (with a large scale laminate print bucket list) used a marker pen to cross through and tick the items he completed. Such a simple act is your own signature of confirmation that you have done that item – you planned it, you enjoyed it and therefore you succeeded.

Even though this process is important, don’t feel like you are restricted in using this system and feel free to be creative with it.  Some people might gain a lot of joy simply from devising such a system (I know a few like this)! You may prefer to adopt a system whereby your list allows space by each item so instead of simply ticking off the item you can place a photo next to it.  Using this system – or something similar – is the real gold standard of confirmation!  When viewing your list and planning your next items, looking back at the memories you’ve made in completing items of your list will also give you a huge dose of euphoria.  As with anything, however, resist the temptation of letting your camera take centre stage when completing an item on your list; you’re there to enjoy the moment first and foremost and you want to look back at a photo of something you enjoyed because you really experienced it.

What to Add

This brings us around to the part where we talk about what to put on the bucket list.  I’ve talked about taking time to realise what you want and what you love in life.  Another beauty of creating a bucket list is that it is a personal statement about you, and no statement can be wrong.  It’s a good place to start by viewing other people’s bucket lists (I’ve provided a few of my items at the bottom of this article) to give you ideas for your own but that’s all they are; ideas.  Nobody can tell you what to put on your list. Don’t omit an item because you’re worried that others might think it’s boring or not understand why you want to do it. If it is something that will ultimately make you happy in the long run then put it on the list.

If you want to start a process then a mind-map should help.  Put a ‘bucket list ideas’ bubble in the centre and begin with the major headings of areas about which you are passionate.  For example, you may love books / literature and have a desire to write something yourself. In this case, literature is the main heading coming off the central bubble and the more specific ideas can off-shoot from that heading.  If you think of more details then you can add sub-parts to the idea – this will help to narrow down each item to go on your list.

From this you can start creating a rough draft of your bucket list.  Try to keep the items realistic and attainable, but still a fun challenge to do.  Whilst there’s no limit to how many items you can put on your list, I’d recommend no more than around 100.  If you go beyond that then it may dilute the pleasure of completing an item as well as increasing the administration associated with fulfilling the item requirements.  As a reference point, my list is currently 55 items long, I’ve ticked off 20 of them and I am actively working on 6 long-term items. The objective of completing the remaining 35 items is very realistic whilst providing a pleasing challenge.

Before I end this article by showing you a select few items from my own list, I sincerely hope that, if you haven’t already, you seriously consider making your own bucket list and start taking steps towards your maiden ‘tick’.  For those of you that begin this journey, good luck and enjoy the numerous pleasures that await you!

The list below gives you an idea of some things that could go on a bucket list.  As well as a few more obvious choices, I’ve tried to add a couple of more specific items to me whilst not giving anything too personal.  Finally, i’ve balanced the displayed items so that I could show you a few that have already been completed mixed with those that have not.  Hope it helps!

#1 = learn a second language
#6 = run a marathon   ✔️
#15 = do a skydive   ✔️
#16 = take a photography course
#18 = coach a sport abroad   ✔️
#28 = go to Canada and see the Niagara Falls
#33 = buy a house near the sea
#34 = visit Barcelona   ✔️
#41 = watch a British and Irish Lions match live
#45 = Visit Dublin and drink proper Guinness   ✔️
#51 = learn to cook properly with an evening class


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