Hack Those Unfulfilled Intentions

One thing I like most about personal productivity/personal development/self improvement blogs is that they try to turn wishes and dreams into plans and actions. They work to remove the stumbling blocks that keep “someday I want to” from turning into “today I will” or, even better, “yesterday I did.”achieve anything meaningful, stumbling blocks are thick on the ground.

Often, we don’t work on important projects – projects that would benefit our lives on a large scale – because they seem too big, too complex, too much for us to handle. Despite these projects’ importance, or perhaps because of their importance, they intimidate us. Although we may not like to admit it, we’re scared.

Fear is a powerful adversary. It works to keep us from going after what we want, and many times we don’t even realize that we’re afraid. It’s easier to say “I’m too busy” or “I’ll get to it after I take care of X and Y.” But the fear gains power from our unconscious: in order to master it, we must acknowledge it.

Once we define what fears are keeping us from achieving our goals, it’s far easier to find the motivation to push those fears aside. The idea that we’re letting an often irrational fear dictate our actions is repugnant to many of us.

For me, one of the most powerful ways to go from “someday I want to” to “today I will” and “yesterday I did” is writing. The following are some simple ways to use writing today in order to conquer those fears and move toward your goals.

1. Define your stumbling blocks using freewriting.

This is a term you may remember from high school or college English or Writing courses. For those GTDers among us, think of it as an old-school ubiquitous capture technique. To freewrite, simply take out a piece of paper and your favorite writing implement. (If the pen and paper method is too low tech for you, you can certainly open your favorite text editor or word processing program instead.) Then, set a timer for fifteen minutes. Why fifteen minutes? The best ideas don’t come right away; your brain has to warm up.

Next, begin writing whatever comes to mind, and keep your pen (or fingers) moving at all times. If you don’t know what to write, just write “I don’t know what to write” over and over again until you have another thought.

It sounds kooky, I know, but once your pen starts moving and your brain stops trying to edit what you’re writing, something magical happens. You begin to dredge up unacknowledged ideas and thoughts. And since your pen is already moving, these ideas and thoughts flow right onto the paper almost without you realizing it.

2. In the morning, write a paragraph in which you describe the “ideal today.”

Do you have 5 minutes to add to your morning routine? Try this: take 5 minutes to write a paragraph describing the ideal today. You don’t have to forget about all of your responsibilities; keep them in mind as you write. However, focus on how today could be the best day possible. How would you feel? What would you say, think, and do? How would you act toward your significant other, your coworkers, your family, your friends?

If you can’t find time each morning to write a paragraph, that’s okay. It’s unreasonable to expect yourself to go from time-starvation to time-abundance in a day. Start by writing a paragraph at the beginning of each week. You could incorporate this into your weekly review, for example.

3. In the evening, write a paragraph in which you describe your “actual today.”

You can build on the gains you make in number 2 by taking a few minutes to reflect on your day each evening. To do so, answer three simple questions: 1) What did you think, say, and do today? 2) How does it compare to the day you envisioned this morning? 3) What do you think accounts for the similarities and differences between your “ideal today” and your “actual today”?

Many personal development specialists have explained the value of reflection, so I won’t belabor that point. I will, however, emphasize writing’s unique utility for reflective exercises. Writing these paragraphs forestalls the tendency to revise history. It’s no use telling myself that I really didn’t care about accomplishing X today; it’s right there in my “ideal today” paragraph.

Mental reflection can easily be forgotten; in contrast, a paragraph provides a written record that you can review later. Once you have gone through this “ideal day” vs. “actual day” exercise a few times, you may discern patterns in your thoughts and actions. Perhaps you always seem to pile too much into each day, leaving you frazzled and perpetually disappointed. Perhaps you tend to spend each day focusing on urgent tasks rather than important ones.

Or perhaps you’ll find that you are on track to meet your larger goals, even though you may still have a long way to go before you reach them. You’ll never know until you write. Good luck.

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4 Responses to Hack Those Unfulfilled Intentions

  1. Loren,

    Very nice article! I have stumbled this. I will come back to read more.


  2. loren says:

    Thanks so much, Desika! I’m glad you liked it. If there are other writing/personal development topics you’d be interested in seeing at Writing Power, drop me a line, and I’ll see what I can come up with.


  3. Very cool post, Loren. I’m going to try this tomorrow, I think!

    Good form.

  4. loren says:

    Thanks so much, Bob. Be sure to let me know if there are other writing-related topics you’d like me to cover at Writing Power.


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