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Keep Your Bucket List to Yourself

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I’ve seen a lot of people talking about bucket lists lately, especially after the 2007 movie The Bucket List came out. The idea of a bucket list is that you keep a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Another similar type of movement is called the “43 Things List.” There’s even a site called 43 Things where you can publicly pronounce your goals.

The idea is that by putting your goals out for the world to see, you’ll feel the inspiration (or pressure) to reach those goals. It certainly seems like it would be a good strategy. However, the theory has a major flaw.

Derek Sivers spoke at TED recently about why making your goals public is not a good idea. Sivers explains that telling people your goals gives you a great feeling. It’s almost as if by talking about your goal, you get a similar feeling to what you would if you’d already achieved it. But it’s this great feeling that makes you less likely to actually achieve the goal. Sivers states, “Telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen.” Scientists call this phenomenon “Social Reality”—your mind is tricked into thinking a task is already achieved based on the reactions of people around you when you talk about it.

In the movie, The Bucket List, the main character, Carter Chambers (played by Morgan Freeman), may have initially gotten it right, because he appears to have kept his list to himself. It’s only when his Bucket List is accidentally discovered by his hospital roommate, Edward Cole (played by Jack Nicholson), that Chambers begins to achieve his goals. (That might speak to the importance of having a close-knit support group in reaching your goals.)

Other well-known steps for achieving goals are still relevant, such as:

  • Small Steps. Life coaches recommend breaking your goals into small, achievable tasks. Martha Beck encourages us to consider a strategy called the 4-Day Win. She describes a 4-Day Win as “a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.”
  • Perseverance. John D. Rockefeller once said, “I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” Perseverance is key to achieving goals.
  • Celebrating Success. Annabel Candy writes in her inspirational blog, Get in the Hot Spot, about the importance of celebrating success. She recommends reveling in today’s success because as Scarlett O’Hara reminds us, tomorrow is just another day.
  • Have a Vision. One prescription from Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is to begin with the end in mind. Basically, this means to have a vision of what you expect to achieve. One way to do this is to use meditation such as Kathy Freston’s guided meditations to help visualize and achieve goals.

According to Sivers, the one bit of advice that we frequently hear but should be wary of is to share your goals with others. In fact, Sivers suggest that in order to achieve them, we need to keep our goals to ourselves!

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About Marly McMillen

  • Great post Marly. Indeed bucket posts are everywhere these days but I only recently heard the expression so thanks for explaining why it got so popular!

    Ah, to share or not to share there’s the question! I say share but be selective in who you share with. You need to share with people who get your vision and some people just won’t. Friends and loved ones can quash your dreams because they don’t want to see you fail.

    Wether you share them or not we all have to take responsibility for making our own dreams come true:)

  • When I talk about “goals” with my friends, it always seems ends up being about WEIGHT LOSS. How much can I lose? How much do I need to lose? How much have a gained, since I can’t seem to actually lose anything!

    I believe sharing attainable goals is the key. Sharing something this is far reaching may be fun to reflect and dream about with friends and loved ones, but make sure you put it in context. “Yes, this my grand, far reaching, wish/hope/desire for the future…. promise to let you know if/when I accomplish it! Until then, assume I am working on it.”


  • Annabel – great point. The trick is to be selective about what and whom you talk to!

    Jill – I feel the same way, our family dinners always devolve into discussions about diet. Oh please! Or we will start talking about never eating sugar again, etc. I like the idea of keeping it to myself and just doing it. Get it done kind of mentality!

  • gail

    As someone who has used 43 Things as a virtual vision board for years, I have to say that articulating goals is essential to achieving them. Publishing them – to actually put them up somewhere you see them, chart your progress, and receive feedback – appears to do more good than harm. I cannot say that simply describing a goal has ever confused me into thinking it was done already. Achieving one’s dreams is a daunting task – and 43 Things is a way to bring you and your dreams into the same space. I used to work at a desk in an office by the railroad tracks, flickering fluorescent lights over my head, and get to spend a couple of weeks a year doing the things I loved. Now I live on a tropical island, perform wedding ceremonies, and host honeymoons in a treehouse. I used to chase after liars and cheats for a living, and now I am in the business of happiness. Pinch me, I don’t think I’ll wake up and find myself back in my cubicle.

  • It’s interesting to me that in reading the bio for the author of this article, it seems to me she would benefit from having a Bucket List and making it public. She shares that she believes it’s important to change, but lacks the motivation to do it. By putting your list of goals out there for others to see, you discover that there is motivation for you to work on them. As people question you about the progress and offer suggestions or support, you do move toward completing your goals.

  • Keeping your (personal) goals to yourself can be an effective strategy, for sure. However, a different strategy may be effective for different people. For myself I have realised that it is just as easy, if not easier, to ‘dream on baby!’ when keeping things to myself whereas sharing them with others will trigger me to actually take some action. It is not only the accountability that comes with sharing (you can’t keep on saying ‘one day’ can you?) but also it offers other people a chance to support you. You’re not alone. And in turn you can support others in trying to achieve their goals. Isn’t that the most wonderful thing about being part of a community?

  • Thanks to Gail, Todd, and Tangerine for your recent comments! This is a great opportunity for me to say that if you’ve found something that works well for you, such as talking about your goals publicly, that’s great! The goal of this article is to let people know they have other options and that it’s not necessary to publicly state their goals.

    Like Tangerine mentions, it may not be one way vs. the other. You may find some goals that are best kept to yourself and others that you want to share with a small group. And all of you are so good to point to the importance of community in helping to reach goals.

    It’s all about commitment and follow-through and finding what helps you achieve that.

    Thanks to all for the great discussion! Marly

  • Dana

    The article seems to support sharing and going public, rather than keeping your goals to yourself. You can just as easily fool yourself by going it alone as you can fool a life coach for validation on goals that will never get done.

    It isn’t just having the availability of different methods to achieve your goals (whether its done online or not), they promote self-discipline. It’s really about being honest with yourself and making the decision to change your life.

  • Great article…made me think of the life span of certain lists:

    -As kids, it’s all about “Santa’s List”
    -To make it through school and in the workforce, you can’t do without the “To Do List”
    -Once holy matrimony takes hold of you, it eventually becomes the “Honey Do List”
    -And, when you ponder the end, whether it’s near or not, you inevitably start penning that “Bucket List”

    At Q & Hey Bucket List there is a question posed about ” Your Bucket List”–some interesting comments ensued.

  • Harris – that’s such a cool thought. I never thought of our lives as a progression of lists. I would add that it begins with our parents and a list of names they’re considering for their baby. Any other life lists we can think of?