6 Tips for Editing Your Life List

16th January 2014

Editing your Life List isn’t cheating, it’s growth. I know some people feel like their Life Lists are set in stone, and presumably those people are still saving for the tribal band tattoo they wanted when they were fifteen.

Every year or so, I go through my Life List and make sure it still makes sense for me. A few of the ways I approach the editing process:

1. Break goals down.
“Become conversational in seven languages” has been one of my favorite goals. So erudite! So chatty! But I’m stalled. I currently speak English and Spanish. I keep saying that “someday” I will tackle the rest. Someday what? Someday I’m going to sit down and learn five more languages in an evening? Maybe on a Tuesday in 2023?

So I changed the goal to, “Learn French.” I have, in fact, taken French classes. I have also been to France, and would like to return. Hence, I will learn more French until I can have a conversation. And once I do, we can talk about those other four languages. In French, si vous préférez.

2. Make symbolic goals more tangible.
“Buy stock on my own” was on my list, because to me it was a symbolic marker of someone who had their shit together financially. Turns out I don’t want to know how to buy stock. I do not care. I want to keep my checking account balanced, and know I’m on track for retirement. New goal? “Get my financial life in order.”

3. Consolidate.
“Get organized and own less crap” is the same as “Become a tidy person,” in my mind. But the latter is what I actually want.

I don’t want to clean out my apartment, I want to change my relationship to material things. So I kept “Become a tidy person,” and added organization and closet clearing to the sub-list.

4. Examine your motives.
I tried “Start a daily meditation practice” and it didn’t stick, but I don’t feel too worried about it. I deleted the goal because the whole point of meditating was to worry less anyway? So it worked. Everyone should try meditation.

I also had “Write 365 thank you notes” on my list, because I wanted to get back into the practice of writing them. Gratitude makes you happier, and more evolved, and increases muscle tone. Read the studies.

Anyway, I didn’t feel excited about it. Turns out I just like to think of friends finding real mail in their mailboxes. So I changed my goal to “Send 365 pieces of real mail.” And now I’m all set up for success. Stamps!

5. Speak for yourself.
Hank was really into robots for about three weeks, and we decided to make a robot zine together. I added it to my list, because awesome. Then when I sat us down to do it? He was into it for 10 minutes. So instead of forcing him to draw robots as some sort punitive exercise for being an indecisive six year old, I removed it from my list. Zen parenting, om.

6. Own up.
One of the questions I ask myself is, “Do I want to do this, or do I want to say I’ve done it?” Often it’s the latter. Case in point? Multi-day biking trip. Would I do it? Sure. If someone showed up at my door and said, “I have arranged an all-expenses-paid biking trip, Maggie Mason! Here is your bike. I have packed your bags and your food and lodging await.”

Rad. I shall pull on some spandex forthwith!

But. Assuming that doesn’t happen, do I want to go on a biking trip enough to plan it myself — or spend a year pitching it to potential backers? Do I want to spend a lot of money on an adequate bicycle, recruit friends, arrange for lodging and food, set aside vacation time, find child care?

No. I will never do that. Delete.

Have you edited your list recently, or did you have it tattooed on your person? If so, pics please. And if you don’t have a Life List yet, you should make one on Go Mighty, which is our community site. Come hang out.

12 thoughts on “6 Tips for Editing Your Life List

  1. robyn

    YES! I keep forgetting to go back to my Life List and edit. I’m thinking this spring, once baby girl gets here and I get my brain back (at least a little) and both kids are down for a nap at the same time (HAHAHAHAHAHAH!) I will re-visit, edit, and then pat myself on the back!

  2. Amy M

    Thank you. I do a good Life List cleanse about once a year. Write a book? Not right now, thanks. If it feels clunky on my list and something I hope I will feel more “into” again later? Delete.

    I love having a tidy list of about 100 things that excite me right now. It reminds me that opportunities are everywhere and boredom is silly.

  3. Allie

    Yes! I need to work on my list. There are some things there that used to excite me but don’t anymore, and some where I need to have more quantifiable goals. These are great tips.

  4. randomumblinguy

    Okay, so first… I just want to say that feel like I have walked into a woman’s book club or something…

    Hopefully you accept me. I am a new reader of yours and I just wanted to say that I loved this article. I started a 101 in 1001 a few years back when I first arrived in Kuwait and found myself with the resources and geographical advantage to see and do some things I never thought I’d be able to.

    I started tacking items off the list immediately. As time went on I realized that my priorities continued to change, quickly and frequently (maybe that means I was (am) a little lost)and all these things I wanted to do didn’t seem as interesting. I started replacing things like “drive a Ferrari” with, buy a diamond ring and “go bungee jumping” (which sounds terrible to me) with “pay for a stranger’s groceries”.

    But then I started doing all these other cool things that weren’t even on the list, so I would go back and delete something and add items that were already in motion or, in some cases, things I had already done. I don’t consider that cheating. If I had known in the past that cool idea I had in the future, I would have added it to the list right then.

    Point is life is too short to stick to rigid lists and the fact that you are making a list at all means you realize this and you are trying to make the most out of every day on this precious world. How does that saying go… “Live, Love, Dream”?


  5. Kristina

    I think I can help you add a checkmark next to one of these, Maggie — I emailed you with details.

  6. Lilybett

    I did a major delete and revision after a child entered the picture. There are still things on the list I want to acheive for myself but now there are also family-oriented goals – things I want us all to do together.

    I’ve also had to revise my work goals as my situation and the industry has changed. It hasn’t changed for the better and suddenly those lofty goals I set for something approaching eminence and awesomeness in my field seem ridiculous in the face of being put on reduced and casual hours. At this stage I’m just working towards tenure.

  7. Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists

    I’ve been thinking a lot out this exact concept. Each year, I think a major review and revision needs to take place, as changes happen and priorities change.

    This year, I’m trying to align my To Do List more with my desires (a la Danielle LaPorte, like Rebecca mentions) than with some pre-conceived idea I had of success for my life.

    Sometimes, this means editing a To Do and sometimes it means tossing it out entirely. Either way, clarity and decluttering is freeing.

  8. Kellee | FreeTime Ltd.

    How well do I know myself? SO well that when I started to put together a Life List I made a note at the top that I was allowed to change my mind about any or all items on my Life List. I knew that my goals would change over the many, many years I’ve left to live (knock on wood), and I also knew that I would feel guilty about crossing anything off unless it was part of the deal at the beginning. So I gave myself permission to change my mind. I should probably do more of that in life.

  9. Kanae

    I agree with #6. I think I often put things on my list just to say that I did it because it may cause people to look at me differently. The question is do I really want to do it. Probably not.

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