The distance between you and your dreams is not very far at all.

I grew up with learning challenges. So when I got to college, I vowed to start fresh and make my family proud. But instead of improving, I did worse … a lot worse.

I was ready to give up when a friend invited me to spend the weekend with his family. His father took me for a walk on their property and asked, “How is school?”

Instead of lying, I broke down and told him the truth. I wasn’t smart enough. I couldn’t work any harder. I wanted to quit.

“Why are you there?” he asked. “What would you like to eventually be, do and have?”

When I had no response, he took out a piece of paper and insisted I write down my dreams. When I finished, this man read my goals out loud one by one. It felt like an eternity. But finally he looked directly at me, placed his two index fingers just 10 inches apart, and said, “Jim, you are this close to everything on this list.”

Before I could say he was crazy, he placed his fingers on my temples, and whispered again, “This close.” He revealed, “Your brain controls everything in your life. It’s the key.”

He brought me into his library and handed me several books. When I told him there’s no way I could read them all, he read my dreams out loud again.

I can’t tell you how it shakes your core to have another man incant your dreams to the universe. It messes with your soul something fierce. And because many of the items on that list were things I wanted to do for my family, I agreed to read those books.

This man is the reason I am who I am today. He’s the reason I discovered that I needed to learn how to learn, and I have spent my entire life teaching others exactly that. But I almost didn’t listen to him.

That bucket list changed my life. And if you are brave enough to create a list of dreams and really, truly chase them, amazing things can happen.

Not sure where to start? Here are my best tips.

1. Write it down.

Letting your dreams out on paper collects them in one place and releases any guilt you feel for not having done them yet. Don’t worry about editing your list yet. Carry your bucket list around so you have a constant reminder of what you want to accomplish.

2. Have a variety of goals.

When creating our bucket lists, many of us forget our own priorities. These should be items you want to do, not items you think you should do. That said, a bucket list is more fun if you have a variety of goals. Pick great feats like running a marathon and small upgrades like making your bed every day. Add broad goals, like doing something newsworthy, as well as specific ones. You can also divide your list into categories: relationships, health, entertainment, career, etc.

Still think your list is too general? Imagine you’re on your deathbed and you never did X. How would you feel? If you wouldn’t care, out it goes.

3. Plan it out.

Your bucket list is just a wish list until you start completing it. Take time to appreciate completing each goal instead of panicking that you haven’t completed the full list. To help accomplish your goals, start the very day you write it. You can also motivate yourself by assigning deadlines to specific goals. Stay on track by setting aside time each week to work on your list.

4. Make it a living document.

A bucket list is never set in stone. Every few months, review and revise your list. Don’t be afraid to add new goals, improve existing goals or remove goals you’re no longer passionate about. But don’t delete an item just because it’s too hard. A bucket list should challenge and change you. It’s not a place to give up on your dreams.

5. Hold yourself accountable.

Most of us write our bucket lists and forget about them. Avoid this by sharing your list. Many people start a blog to keep themselves accountable and share their journey with others. Publicizing your bucket list also allows people to share opportunities with you. Want to go to Rome for a month? Perhaps you have a friend who’s done so already. You might even come across others who are working on their bucket lists, which will give you new ideas and motivate you. Keep in mind, though, that you don’t have to share everything.

6. Let go of your excuses.

We all have reasons we don’t pursue our dreams. It’s not the right time. We don’t have the money. But these are just excuses to not go after what we want. Commit to letting go of your excuses and working on your bucket list. Still afraid? Imagine the worst possible scenario and write it down. When you read it back to yourself, you might realize how absurd your excuses are. Write every reason you’re not chasing a goal, and then write ways to combat these obstacles. Remember, where there’s a will, there’s always a way.

7. Have fun.

Every step of the way as you create your bucket list, ask yourself, “Am I having fun?” If the answer is no, it might be time to stop. A bucket list shouldn’t overwhelm you with more responsibilities. It should enrich your daily life so you can live the meaningful life you want. If it starts to stress you out, don’t be afraid to step back for a while or trash it altogether. You can always rewrite it. If bucket lists aren’t for you, write yourself an imaginary obituary. This will give you an idea of the legacy you want to leave but can be less overwhelming than a list of items you might not complete.

Finally, celebrate all your accomplishments, no matter how big or small. Don’t get so caught up in finishing your bucket list that you start living in the future. It’s about making the most of today, every day.

Creating a bucket list can help you make the most of your life. But if you really want to reap massive rewards, you must master your brain. Learn how with my Kwik Brain podcast.

Photo credit: Todd Domenic Cribari,
Grooming: Mariah Nicole,