How To Create a Life List

‘What keeps me going is goals.” – Muhammad Ali

What is it that you want to achieve, become or be known for before you die?

About once every few years I go through the process of writing a new life list for myself. I find it helps me to reevaluate what I want from life and where I am in achieving it.

The big question I aim to answer is “When I die, what will I have achieved, become or be known for that will signify I lived my life successfully?”

This year I invited my husband to join me in the exercise. We each needed to come up with our own list of 100 items. The rule was that once we started the list, we had to finish it the same day. The beauty of this is that the first 20 were pretty easy, but once those goals I already knew about were out, I had to go more deeply and broadly. One of my personal rules of doing this is not to evaluate my desire as to whether it’s actually possible to achieve – the point of this step is to recognize that “X” is something I want for my life. It wasn’t easy, but around 10:30 I had my 100 and headed off to bed.

My husband is a scientist – very logical and practical. I had to push him a bit to participate and he only probably agreed to humour me, but the next morning he spoke enthusiastically of his list and suggested that I go through mine and categorize it, as he did his. Once I did this step, I could see a huge shift from a few years ago in what I see as important for my life’s happiness.

For example, previously my career goals were achievement and recognition oriented – getting a certain position, building my credentials, reaching a particular pay grade. This time around my career related goals focus on connections and developing and mentoring others to achieve their goals. Part of this shift is undoubtedly due to reaching many of those earlier goals (see – these lists do work!), but also I think the result of spending time with my father in his last days and seeing that at the end what he valued most was the love he had given to and received from others.

As the first time doing this exercise as a mother, things I want to do with Cohen, or teach him, are front and centre. In fact, I had to go back and add some goals that were purely for my own enjoyment.

My husband and I exchanged lists and found that we shared many of the same goals. Also, we each had some goals that the other really wanted us to achieve and would support us in, and had both named things we wanted to change in ourselves to make us a better spouse. All in all, it was a very rewarding exercise and doing it together made it moreso.

So, if a life list is something you want to create for yourself (and I strongly encourage you to do so), here are a few pointers to get you started:

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1)   Set aside a day where you will be rested, have time to focus on yourself and ideally in a setting where you feel inspired and can relax (this time around I was at my parent’s cottage, but other times the locations that have worked for me have been coffee shops, the backyard and the bath).

2)   At the beginning of your day get your blank piece of paper ready. To help you pull out your desires and wishes for your life consider these questions:

  • When I die, what will I have achieved, become or be known for that will signify I lived my life successfully?
  • What are some of the skills I want to build in my life?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What are the things that got me really excited as a child?

A few don’ts:

  • Don’t shy away from including goals that sounds like a long shot – suspend judgment and evaluation for the time being. The point of this is to note the desire is there, so if flying to the moon is a goal of yours then include it.
  • Don’t shy away from things that seem small or silly. Learning to do latte art appeared on my life list.
  • Don’t be afraid to be selfish. This is YOUR life list – it’s about YOU, so if there is something you want this is the place to name it.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you can only come up with a few initially – ponder it throughout your day and the others will come.

3)   As you go about your day, include activities where you are able to let your mind relax – this might be going for a walk or run, playing an instrument, meditating, gardening, cooking, having a nap… but something that refreshes you and puts you in the frame of mind to connect with yourself.

4)   As you build your list, make sure that it includes items from all the facets of life that are important to you – family, friends, career, health, personal, community…

Sometimes we have been running on autopilot or focusing on others for so long that we’ve lost the ability to identify our own desires and dreams. A fantastic resource is Creating Your Best Life by Caroline Adams Miller and Dr. Michael B. Frisch – it provides a research based approach to creating a life list that is supported by stories and exercises to help you deeply evaluate what is important to you.

5)   Don’t go to sleep until you have your 100.

6)   The next day review your list. A good life list should give you direction, hope and excitement for the future. Because life really is in the journey, not the outcome, make sure you have set goals that you will enjoy the process of achieving. Although completing the Ironman will give you a stamp of athleticism, if the idea of all that training fills you with dread, then maybe that goal needs some tweaking. Ask yourself what is was about that goal that made you write it down, and where else could you get a similar outcome, but a different process to achieve it.

7)   You may want to categorize you goals like my husband and I did. I used career, parenting, marriage, family and friends, personal, health, community and creative but you will come up with your own.

8)   Think about timing for each goal – are there some that you can and want to start working on immediately? Identify some steps you can take towards them right away.

9)   Share your list with someone else. When we share out goals with others it helps to keep us accountable and makes us more likely to achieve them. Post your list somewhere prominent where you will see it regularly and be reminded of your goals. During my mat leave, I set goals for the 10 months I was on leave and posted them on the fridge. Every time someone was invited into our house they saw that list and asked me about it.

Congratulations! You now have a lift list. There are many resources for refining your life lists and working towards your goals. In future blog posts I’ll share a bit around goal achievement.

 

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