Derived from the phrase, “to kick the bucket,” bucket lists are essentially a compilation of things to do, try, or see before you die. If you have never made one before, imagine creating a list of New Year’s resolutions that you try to hold yourself to accomplishing over a lifetime. If you love animals, maybe you want to ride an elephant? If you are a traveler, maybe you want to take your motorcycle across the country, or sail around the world? The list can be as long or feasible as you want, which is perhaps why so many people find bucket lists problematic.
Like New Year’s resolutions, my bucket list is intended for my ideal or best self. When I feel good, capable, and have the resources, it inspires me to take initiative to do things I otherwise can’t or won’t do for myself. When I am my every-day self or feeling even slightly below average, the list becomes more evidence of what I “should’ve” or “could’ve” done, and a glaring reminder of how much I have left to do. It becomes a pressure or burden in my life instead of a reminder of good things to come.
If you read parenting websites, Fast Company, or lifestyle blogs, you might have seen a new way of bucket-listing become increasingly popular over the last few years—The Reverse Bucket List. What’s the difference? Instead of writing down a list of things you hope to one day achieve, you write down a list of things you have already accomplished. The exercise forces us to revisit positive, meaningful, and proud moments from the past, reminds us of the progress we have already made, and gives us a gentle reminder of what we are capable of.
When I first tried it, I could feel myself resisting the experience. It felt unnatural to be both humble and bragging at the same time. With every positive memory came a reminder of what I had yet to do, or something I had lost along the way. I realized coming up with as many positive memories as I had bucket list goals was going to be impossible. I had been building one list all of my life, and the other for about two months.
With a little more practice, I found a system that worked better for me. I set a specific amount of time aside each month, and I shoot for 5-10 items list-worthy in that time. I include moments that are big, such as graduating or a first job, and moments that are small, such as bringing an extra coffee to someone having a bad week. I have found that I have more gratitude, positivity, and patience for myself.
If you’re still skeptical, you don’t have to take my word for it. In a 2015 study from The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers verified that “grateful recounting,” or the practice of remembering good things from one’s life, make positive memories easier for us to access. Over time, the continued practice is shown to enhance well-being and promote satisfaction. With results like those, you can think of your reverse bucket list as an investment in accomplishing your actual bucket list!