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5 Reasons Your Bucket List May Be Sabotaging You

bucket list

How many items do you have on your bucket list? How many of them have you crossed off so far? Depending on your age or your opportunities to travel and have experiences, you may have checked a lot of things off your list… or very few. However, there’s a little problem with your bucket list – it may actually be sabotaging you.


Your Bucket List May Be Working Against You


1. A bucket list doesn’t create urgency


A bucket list is a list of things you want to do before you “kick the bucket,” in other words, die. But how often do you sit and think about dying? Not to sound morbid, but for most of us, the thought of our own death is far away. Because of this, there is no sense of urgency to accomplish the things on a bucket list. So it just becomes a “someday” list of things you’ll do at some point in the future.


Instead, go through your bucket list and start putting dates next to the items. Create urgency. Make an actual plan to achieve these goals. Don’t wait until “the perfect time” to cross things off. There will never be a perfect time, and the urgency of daily life will keep getting in the way of these “someday” items.


bucket list


2. Bucket list items are often too big to be practical


Most bucket list items look something like this: write a book, run a marathon, learn a new language, go backpacking through Europe, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, etc. However, like any goal you want to achieve, it’s not so simple to just write a book or run a marathon and then check it off your list. It takes a great deal of planning and preparation. It also takes commitment to a timeline, and it takes weeks and maybe even months of consistent action to accomplish.


So if you really want to check off these items, then you need to deal with them in a more realistic, practical way. Break each item down into a plan you can actually do, and then create real, actionable steps to accomplish each goal. Otherwise, the bucket list is just a bunch of dreams that are too big and overwhelming to actually achieve. Don’t let your bucket list remain undone; make it work for you.




3. A bucket list can cause an “all or none” attitude


If you’re like most people, you have a limited number of vacation days each year, and when you use your vacation time, you want to make the most of it. However, depending on what kinds of items you have on your bucket list, you might not feel like you can accomplish them during your vacation time.


For example, maybe you want to go backpacking through Europe. That’s fine if your vacation is several weeks long, but most likely you’ll have one or two weeks to work with. So it might be tempting to think that you can’t do it at all. However, don’t give up just yet on that dream to backpack through Europe. Just break it into parts. Do Italy this time, or pick a region like the Balkans, and do it bit by bit. There’s no rule that says you have to cross off each item all at once… and on your death bed, will you be happier that you visited only one or two countries in Europe, or none at all?



Getting rescued in the high mountains of Northern Thailand after my friend’s scooter broke down. We still look back on it and smile at the kindness of strangers.


4. A bucket list creates pressure to have the “perfect” experience


What happens when you finally do one of the things on your bucket list? You’ve spent time thinking and dreaming about it, you’ve been preparing, you’ve imagined how happy you will feel and how perfect everything will be, and then, what if it doesn’t go exactly as you pictured? Because you’ve built up so much significance in your mind about this particular event or experience, you’ve also set yourself up for the possibility of a major let-down if it’s nothing short of epic.


Instead, don’t invest so much emotion into the imaginary picture. Plan well so everything can go as smoothly as possible, but also be prepared for setbacks or things that are out of your control. If you’re flexible and keep an open-mind, you can even look at the parts that don’t go as planned as just another part of the adventure. Plus, we all need something we can look back on and laugh about, right?



Boodle Fight at the TBEX Conference in Manila


5. A bucket list can cause you to undervalue experiences “not on the list”


The other side of this is that if you’re focused too much on epic bucket list experiences, it may cause you to miss out on other experiences that aren’t on the list. This has happened to me a few times now – not missing out, but realizing that I had undervalued places that weren’t on my list. In fact, some of the most amazing travel experiences I’ve had have been to places that I had little interest in seeing at first.


One perfect example is the Philippines. I’ve been living in Taiwan for over five years now, and until recently, I never had much desire to go to the Philippines. Even though it’s only a two-hour flight away, I just assumed there wasn’t anything worth seeing or doing there. The only reason I finally went was because of the TBEX bloggers’ conference in Manila that included a five-day familiarization trip afterward. As I wrote in another article, I realized how wrong my assumption was. The Philippines is AMAZING, and I can’t believe I almost missed out on it just because it wasn’t on my list of places to see. In fact, I loved it so much that I’m already going back in January! So don’t let your bucket list keep you from trying other places that aren’t on the list.



Snorkeling in Boracay, Philippines


So Should We Throw Away Our Bucket Lists?


I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a bucket list. I still have one, although it’s quite short because I like to stay open to all experiences. What I am saying is to actually USE this list, but don’t let it restrict you or affect your other experiences or choices. A bucket list can be a great motivator, but it’s not a list that you just keep carrying around with you until you’re on your death bed. If you’re going to have a bucket list, then it should be a working list, one that motivates you to start crossing items off now, not later.


Really, the point is just to start having experiences, whether you can cross them off your list or not. Even if you can’t cross things off your bucket list, don’t let that keep you from trying new things. Just start with SOMETHING, anything. Start taking small weekend trips to new places, start saying yes to new experiences, start writing that book, even if you can only write one chapter a week. Don’t take for granted that you have so much time to “do it later”. Stop missing out, and start living now.

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  • I’ve never thought of these aspects, but I agree with you! Your post gave me a food for thought!

  • I love this post. I think I am doing a lot of things wrong with my bucket list. For example I want to do a Nile Cruise instead of doing it I spend a week in The Netherlands and leave the items on my bucket list for some time in the future. I need to put a time frame as you said.

  • I agree that a bucket list can keep you narrow minded. I’m a firm believer in having goals, including travel goals, yet making the most out of every single day.

  • These are all really interesting points, I’ve never thought of a bucket-list from this perspective, but you make a good argument! I still enjoy having a bucket-list, because it acts as a means of staying excited about possibilities in the future, but yes I agree that it most often becomes a “someday” list which we push under the couch anyway.

  • I’ve never maintained a bucket list myself, and I agree with many of the points you’ve made. I’m glad that your open mind helped you discover how amazing the Philippines are! I hope to visit myself one day.

  • Yes, let’s make it a To-Do list instead!! I will definitely start putting dates on my list now!

  • I too believe in experiencing the experiences that come your way. I have a bucket list but that is when I get that kind of time. With regular compulsory routine life completing bucket lists may be difficult.

  • This is great. Sometimes it better to just go with the flow 😊

  • Great post – I couldn’t agree more! Especially items 2 and 5!! I’ve just written a post about travelling Australia bit by bit instead of waiting until you can afford the time and money to do a round-OZ trip and I’ve been amazed at the response from people who haven’t quite ‘got’ that you don’t have to do it all at once. And I’ve been reluctant to make a Bucket List because I’m afraid that will stop me considering new places until I’ve ‘finished’ the Bucket list. Yes, I get that you can update the BL, but if you’re going to change it every 5 minutes, it might be easier to just make an annual travel plan – the key is to just do it!!

  • Just going out and travelling and doing is a great piece of advice. We can often get stuck analysing things and soon talk ourselves out of doing the very thing you set out to in the first place. It’s best to take small steps to keep motivated. Keep on travelling!

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