How to Write Your Life List: 10 Simple Tips for a Better Life

Every day we make choices that shape our stories. We take chances! We do brave things! But maybe not often enough. Brave things are scary, and scary stuff frightens us. It suggests to our lizard brains that we’re endangering our ability to procreate.

In the couple of years since I started my life list project, I’ve learned a lot from all of you. More of you have written lists, more of you are taking risks, and some of you have started to give great advice on how to get started. Here’s mine:

1. Get your goals out of your head. You’re sitting down, right? Reading this on some sort of device that can be used to record things? Great. Please open a blank document, or grab a pen and paper instead. You don’t need to prepare, you don’t need to study, you don’t need a better pen. Just write the first thing that comes to mind. Here’s why:

“Because whether you realize it or not, you have all of these little things in the back of your head that you’ve always wanted to do and every few years (or months, or days, etc.) you re-realize that you’ve been meaning to look into taking a photography course and you think “oh yeah, I should do that…” And remembering that over and over is taking up useful space in your soul.” —Scarlet Lily

Do you hear that? Your soul is cluttered. That can’t be good for your complexion.

2. Relax. Don’t get hung up on what your list says about you. This isn’t about how intellectual, or sexy, or morally fit you are. It’s about listing some stuff that would make you happier. Just admit you want to be a backup dancer for Lady Gaga. Who cares? Lady Gaga is rad, and pants are overrated. If you put too much weight on what other people think, you’re doing a different exercise. An exercise you should consider doing with an expensive therapist instead.

3. Go to your happy place. Think about what makes you happiest. Baseball games? Visit every stadium within 1,000 miles. Long baths? Take one every Sunday for a year. Furry conventions? Let your flag fly, my fluffy friend. Spending more time doing happy things makes you happier.

4. Focus on yourself. Make sure your list items are about your goals and what you want, not what you want for other people. They can make their own lists.

5. Strap on a pair. You may hear a voice in your head saying that something you want is stupid, or too small, or not interesting enough. The voice may insist that your biggest dream will never happen. Why are you hanging out with that voice? That voice is a total dick.

6. Cut yourself a break. Then again, nothing on your list should make you cringe. This is the wrong place to punish yourself for being too lazy to hit the gym, or too ungrateful to call your parents more, even though all they’d do ask you if you’re ever going to move out. Anyway, if you don’t anticipate a task with pleasure, put it on your to-do list, not your life list.

7. Don’t worry about mechanics. Don’t think about how you’ll achieve any of this stuff yet. If you want to pose like Charlies Angels with Oprah and Alec Baldwin, write that down. By the time you get to 100 items, you’ll have plenty of doable tasks. Keep the seemingly impossible ones. Sometimes we’re poor judges of what’s possible.

8. Crib some ideas. Maybe you only come up with thirty things and then draw a blank. Go read some lists written by other folks, find some ideas that inspire you, and claim them. This isn’t cheating, because it isn’t a contest. Though if it were, you would totally win. You’ve always been such an able competitor.

9. Let yourself reconsider. You didn’t write your list in blood, which is good because that’s unsanitary, and also your list is bound to change. You’ll wake up one day and realize that you don’t actually want to jump from an airplane and plummet to the ground, you just thought it sounded badass when you wrote it down. Which brings us to our next point.

10. Make it your game. Your life list is a living document, and you make the rules. You can decide that the first rule of Life List is you don’t talk about Life List. You can add items to the list, or delete them, whenever you want. You may feel like you’ll never have 100 ideas, but once you do, you’re bound to think of more and wish you’d added them. And you should add them. Your objective isn’t to cross everything off, or hit the finish line, it’s to collect rich experiences for yourself.

Now go live a little. And send me a postcard.

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