Using a Bucket List for Goal Setting

Using a Bucket List for Goal Setting


Turn your wildest dreams into forward motion.

Do you have a bucket list—a bunch of things you’d like to achieve before you die? Many people have one, with items on it such as “visit Paris,” or “get scuba certification.” Doctors are now using bucket lists as a way to bring up advance care directives. In a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine, published last week in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, 91 percent of the patients surveyed had bucket lists, making them a surprisingly common opportunity for difficult, end-of-life discussions. But we don’t need to wait until we are facing down a life-threatening illness to use a bucket list for goal setting. For this week’s Healthy Habit, let’s look at how to use a bucket list as a way to calibrate happiness. As the researchers wrote, a bucket list “provides a very nice framework for thinking about your life goals, health and mortality.”

  1. What’s on the list? According to the Stanford study, bucket lists tend to fall into six general themes: travel, personal accomplishments (like running a marathon), life milestones (making it to a certain anniversary, for example), quality time, financial stability and daring activities (skydiving, anyone?).
  2. What’s most important to you? In the context of the Stanford study, this means having doctors suss out what is most relevant in a patient’s life and coming up with the best possible care plan based on that. For example, one patient wanted to bring his family to Hawaii and worked with his doctor to delay gall bladder cancer treatment for two weeks. The takeaway: What’s at the top of your list?
  3. Time-chunk It. Break the bucket list item that is most important to you down into smaller goals. Let’s say you want to go to Tahiti. Working backwards from that goal, spot smaller goals, such as setting a target date for the trip, creating a budget, and obtaining a passport. Put these mini goals onto a timeline, and break them down further into actionable items on a to-do list or calendar.

Ready to take action? You could write a bucket list in any old notebook ... Or, you can order a personalized bucket list from an artist on a site such as Etsy. You could also put technology to use and share your bucket list publicly on a website like, where users share ideas and support, or keep track of your list and goals via a mobile app, such as Soon, iWish, BUCKitDREAM or My Bucket List.

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