I have never liked the term “bucket list.” People create bucket lists because they’re thinking about all the outrageous things that they want to do before they die.
All that says to me is that you’re thinking about dying instead of living. You’re thinking about how you’ll feel on your last day if you don’t do all these crazy, out-of-your-comfort-zone things.
Instead of a bucket list, I make a life list.
In 2006, I had a stroke. The doctors told me I was lucky to be alive, much less walking and talking. That was a significant medical event for a man in his 40s. If you haven’t experienced a day that could have been your last, let me tell you: It makes you think about your life, what you’ve done and haven’t done.
Around that time, Tim McGraw had that hit song, “Live Like You Were Dying.”
“I went sky-diving,
I went Rocky Mountain climbing,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.”
I am mortified of heights, OK? I am never going sky-diving. I am never riding a bull. I realized back in my 40s that many of the things people put on their bucket lists are things I’m never going to do. Maybe they’re things you never really want to do, either, but you feel like you’re supposed to do to prove you’re alive.
Instead, here are four ways to create a life list that you can use every day, not just as you think about your last day.
1. Be honest about what really makes you happy.
Yes, it might be bull riding. But maybe it’s just a fantastic meal with your spouse. One isn’t better than the other. And doing one doesn’t mean you’re more or less alive than someone else. Your life list should be filled with things that make you happy.
In many ways, I am a creature of habit. But I do have a sense of adventure in certain areas. I’m incredibly adventurous with cuisine. I love to try new foods, especially when I’m traveling. And I love to meet people who come from different places and get to know how they think about the world and about life. But I am not the guy who’s going to turn 60 and go hang gliding or move to Tibet and live in a monastery. Maybe you aren’t, either. It’s important to be familiar with what really makes your life fun. Then you can add things to your life list that make you truly happy. That’s the goal of this whole adventure after all, isn’t it? To be happy.
2. Have an attitude of anticipation and expectation.
Being excited about what’s ahead will keep you mentally young. I like to look forward to something as much as—or more—than I actually like experiencing it. I love the holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I used to love that in September, we would get a Sears Wish Book, the Christmas catalog. The pages smelled like Christmas. I would start circling things: I want a Superman outfit, I want this, I want that. I always enjoyed the anticipation of Christmas Day more than I did waking up and seeing the presents.
You need to maintain that sense of looking forward to something, whatever it is. Maybe you do want to sky-dive. I like to get excited about travel. We’re getting ready to take a trip to Scotland. I’m excited about all the places I’m going to visit, and that anticipation is part of what makes my life fun.
3. Stop looking backward.
Part of looking ahead and having anticipation for the good things coming in your life is realizing that you have to stop looking back all the time. I’m 60 now, but I don’t think we get old until we start talking more about what we did than what we’re going to do.
If you’re sitting around all the time, telling old stories, dwelling on your past victories or hurts, you’re old. I don’t care what age you are. Yes, as you get older it’s great to be with old friends and reminisce now and then. But when that becomes all you do, you’re in trouble. Stay interested in what’s happening now and get excited about the good stuff.
4. Experience this moment.
One of the things I’ve observed is how often people miss the experience in favor of that phone in their hands. You used to have to carry a camera, and that was annoying, but you got to live in the moment more. I have many experiences where the picture is in my mind, not on a page. In our digital age, with instant videos, I see so many people spending time capturing the event instead of living the event.
You’re standing at the Grand Canyon or Westminster Abbey, and you’re busy taking selfies instead of experiencing what’s happening. Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take pictures. But experience life in real time first. The images you capture in your mind are more important than the images you capture on your phone.
Between now and the finish line, you need to live every day as if there’s not a finish line. Then one of these days, you’re going to be surprised that there is.
Related: Envision Your Best Future