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Stop Living Your To-Do List and Start Living Your Bucket List

Right before my dear friend and mentor, best-selling author Debbie Ford, passed away at age 57, she told her sister, “Travel more!” From that moment on, I, a self-proclaimed overachiever and perfectionist, vowed to work less and live more. Here's how you can do the same.

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Stop “shoulding” 

Our to-do lists are made up of long lists of “shoulds,” like, “I should change my linen once a week, exercise regularly, spend 30 minutes daily reading with my children, or have a date night with my partner.” All those things can be positive and healthy, but there is a dark side to “shoulds.” They are masters at manipulation, pushing us to live in accordance with societal norms, our need to fit in or “get it right,” or unrealistic, outdated, or non-serving expectations of ourselves or others. They can have us compromise our truth, disconnect from our vision, and overcommit to things that are not in alignment with our integrity. Although successfully crossing items off your to-do list might bring moments of fulfillment and happiness, they will generally be short-lived. Living from your “shoulds” seals in your fate of living a less than satisfying life. Before you know it, you will be back on that hamster wheel running as fast as you can looking for your next to-do that will prove to the world and to yourself that you are enough. These are the sneaky reasons you never finish your to-do list anyway.

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Make a U-turn back to yourself 

To move from your to-do list to your bucket list, instead of looking to the external world or other people for your truth or how you should be living your life, you must make a U-turn back to yourself. What are your dreams and visions? What is on your bucket list? There are many benefits of a bucket list: It inspires you to think outside the confines of your day-to-day reality, it connects with your passion, it taps into your dreams, and it helps you step into a world of possibilities. And here is the key in crafting your bucket list items: They do not have to make sense, and you don’t need to know how to make them happen or when. Bucket lists are often open-ended. Unlike the items on your to-do list, which can feel exhausting or heavy, your bucket list is grounded in spirit and inspires you. It lights you up from the inside out and acts as a motivational force that will move you powerfully forward toward the future of your dreams.

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Counter your excuses

For most of us, the minute we decide to live outside our comfort zone, be spontaneous, or “just go for it!” a pesky voice inside our head pops up telling us why we shouldn’t, can’t, or are just not capable of doing what we aspire to do. ”I am too busy.” “I don’t have the time,” “My family needs me.” These are just some of the common excuses and rationalizations that automatically arise and try to convince us to back down from living our grandest desires. Our excuses are automatic, pre-programmed, sometimes unconscious defense mechanisms. Although they can be true, they are not the only truth. Yes, you are busy. Yes, your family needs you. But that does not mean you can’t take that trip to Paris or spend an hour on self-care. (These are the self-care moves for even the busiest moms.) When we empower our excuses, we diminish our possibilities. Believing that our excuses are the only truth sabotages our ability to live by our bucket list. That is why it is critical to become familiar with your favorite excuses….so, when they pop up, you can identify them and counter them. Unless there is some circumstance that makes something physically impossible for you to do, then remember anytime you say, “I can’t” what you mean is “I won’t.” To live from your bucket list, you must replace “I can’t” or “How can I?” with “How can I not?” Check out the secrets of people who’ve crossed major things off their bucket list.

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Own your light

Our excuses are generally a cover-up for something deeper. Underneath our excuses can be laziness or complacency, but more often than not, underneath our excuses lies insecurity, anxiety, and mostly fear. Fear of failure, fear that you will lose control, fear that you will not be able to handle it, fear that you will be embarrassed, or fear that you will be abandoned all keep us in the confines of our to-do list. Believing that we are not good enough, smart enough, or capable enough whittles away at our confidence and spontaneity. In order to achieve your grandest desires, you must embrace your magnificence and own your light, all of the positive qualities that you wish you had or admire in people who you see are living by their bucket list. Every quality that we see in others is in us too. The question is, do you have access to it? Most of us focus on what we are not instead of what we are. Yes, we have “negative” qualities that we don’t like or want to be. But, we also have a list of positive qualities that we don’t own. We see them in others, but not in ourselves. There is no quality that we can see in others that is not in us. To live by your bucket list, you must own your light! How will you ever be able to climb Mount Kilimanjaro if you don’t own that you are adventurous, brave, or strong? How could you get up on stage and do stand-up or sing if you don’t own that you are talented? If you want to manifest a “bucket list” experience, then you must own that you have the qualities necessary to achieve the goal.

Take on living your list

A list is just a list unless it is infused with life. Once you have you created your bucket list, you must be proactive and take responsibility for living it. Often bucket list items are big. Although some may happen serendipitously, most take weeks of planning, months of preparation and training, or years of wanting and waiting. To move from living from your to-do list to your bucket list, you must make living from your bucket list a priority. It must become an organizing principle from which you plan your life. Take on living one bucket list item at a time. Let the manifestation of that item be your organizing principle. Let it inform your choices and actions. Create structures, tangible steps, or a support team that will lead you to the manifestation of your bucket list event. Here are 50 things everyone should do before they turn 50.


Live by the bar of “unrecognizable”

It is one thing to achieve a bucket list item, and quite another to live from your bucket list. To live from your bucket list, you must be willing to give up the you you have known yourself to be for who you can become. You must consistently challenge yourself to be unrecognizable, asking yourself questions like:

  • What can I do today that I never thought possible or always wanted to do?
  • What would I commit to doing if I was living by the bar of unrecognizable?

Living from your bucket list, you will be deeply changed by every accomplishment. As you spiral up in the excitement and afterglow of each achievement, your feelings or worthiness and confidence will expand, as will the magnitude of what you see is possible in your life. Living from your bucket list is a dynamic process. As you continue to grow and evolve, so might your bucket list. Be present to your list as you dance in the delight of each bucket list triumph. Celebrate yourself and claim the moment. Acknowledge who you have become and what is now possible. Ask yourself, “What would I do next if I was living by the bar of unrecognizable?” Let that answer be the inspiration that guides you to your next bucket list item.

About the Author:

Kelley Kosow is the author of The Integrity Advantage: Step into Your Truth, Love Your Life, and Claim Your Magnificence (Sounds True; November 2017). Lawyer turned Master Integrative Life Coach, Kelley is a motivational speaker as well as CEO and program and workshop leader of The Ford Institute, a personal development organization that has helped tens of thousands worldwide. For more information, visit, and follow Kelley on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

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