Lessons from the Journey: “It Feels Good to Check Things Off a List”


From my own 193-country journey to the stories of many other people who were kindly willing to share, The Happiness of Pursuit attempts to extract and convey the lessons of modern-day quests. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: We are motivated by progress and achievement. It feels good to check things off.

Lists are both fun and motivational. We enjoy breaking things down step-by-step and incrementally conquering big challenges.

In 1994, 16-year-old Kristen Goldberg made her first and only life list. This was years before The Bucket List had hit theaters, and Kristen didn’t know anyone else who was making a list. It just seemed like a fun project.

Twenty years later, Kristen is still following the same list—no modifications permitted, even though some items might not be as important to a 35-year-old woman as they were to a 16-year-old teenager.

You don’t need a bucket list, by the way. But if you’re pursuing a quest or big goal, there’s a key principle you can adapt: incremental progress feels good.

When I was going to every country in the world, I kept up with my tally in Evernote. Going down the list and seeing more and more “X” marks was highly motivating. I was getting there! I had a long way to go to get to country #193, but eventually I got there… and the milestones along the way felt good.


Other lessons:

The Happiness of Pursuit is available from or your favorite local bookseller. You can also join me on tour in your choice of more than 40 cities.

Image: Ian&

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