Discover how wish lists work and how to use this tool to advance your goals.
Maybe you made wish lists when you were a kid and daydreamed about birthday and holiday gifts. Maybe you wanted to make sure that your parents picked out the right color clothes or the right version of a video game.
As adults, our birthday wish lists might evolve into Pinterest boards, bucket lists, wedding registries, and lists of goals and New Year’s Resolutions. Wish lists can be a valuable tool for anyone of any age to identify and work toward meaningful goals.
A wish list is a tool to keep track of what you want. These lists are often organized by theme–potential travel destinations, hair care products, and what you’re looking for in your next apartment. Wish lists can be fun, serious, private, shared, organized, messy, detailed, vague, practical, and/or fanciful.
You can keep a wish list in many formats–in a notebook, on an app, or as a collage. The list acts as a repository for and reminder of your wants. For instance, it can remind you to request a certain amount of vacation time when negotiating a job offer. The list can also keep wishes (or goals) at the forefront of your mind so you’re motivated to keep working toward them–if you remember that trip to Italy you want to take, you might be inspired to figure out a better savings plan or to ask for a much-deserved raise.
Wish lists could be a step toward creating clear written life goals. Writing down goals may help you achieve them (Matthews, 2007). Wishes, of course, aren’t quite the same as goals and can be as pie-in-the-sky as you want. Still, bringing wishes into written, spoken, or visual awareness seems like a prerequisite to making them real. After all, what is a goal but a wish with a plan and intention?
Ideas for Your Wish List
Wish List for Your Next Relationship
Similarly to a job wish list, a relationship wish list can remind you what you deserve and what matters to you when searching for romantic partners. Instead of looking for someone of a specific height or hair color, or someone who shares all your specific interests, try listing qualities like, “is attractive to me,” or, “someone I enjoy spending time with and feel intellectually stimulated by.” This strategy may help you avoid settling for less than you deserve while opening the search up to potentially great partners you may never have considered otherwise (Ury, 2022).
Books to Read
You could make a goodreads.com account for this list. It can help you keep track of new books you want to check out from the library; you can even set a reading goal for the year. If pen and paper are more your speed, a basic notebook or a reading journal work just as well.
Movies to Watch
Similarly, letterboxd.com is a good place to keep a watchlist of movies so you’re not stumped the next time a friend says, “So…what do you want to watch?” Basic accounts on both websites are free.
Wish List to Curb Impulse Spending
Groening et al. (2021) argue that keeping wish lists (especially private ones) might prevent purchasing items by allowing shoppers to “cool off” their excitement about the item or by making them feel that they own the item already (and so, don’t need to buy it). Adding an item to a wish list also introduces an additional decision point (to place the item on the list or not, and to buy it or not), which gives you extra opportunity to rationally consider whether the purchase is a good idea (Popovich & Hamilton, 2014).
Reverse Wish List
Just as you can make a list of what you want and need, you can make a list of deal breakers. It’s important to articulate what we will and will not tolerate–in other words, to set boundaries. For example, if you just got out of a troubled relationship, you can write down all the features you won’t accept in a new relationship.
Gift-Giving Wish List
You can keep wish lists for others as well as yourself. For example, if a friend says they want something, it’s a good idea to write down their birthday somewhere you can find it.
How to Make a Wish List
When making a wish list, you don’t have to be practical or realistic–you can write down anything you want. You can try the strategy of setting a timer for 5-10 minutes and writing down everything that comes to mind, without self-censoring. A wish list is a great place to dream big. There’ll be plenty of time to edit and rank items later if you want to.
When you review the list, you can amend anything that seems too out there. If something on the list seems out of reach at the moment, you can leave it on the list as a longer-term goal while acknowledging that a more modest goal is more attainable right now. A second draft is also a good time to do research. If you’re making a wish list for a car, for example, you can read online reviews and search available models.
Wish lists aren’t just for kids–they can be a powerful tool for people of all ages to clarify and remember their goals and desires. Wish lists can allow us to exercise our imaginations, expand our ideas about what we deserve and what is possible for us, and begin turning our half-conscious desires into active goals and real achievements. Making a wish list can also be an act of hope and an investment in a brighter future. Given the uncertainty of the modern world, many of us could use a little wish list whimsy.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.