Wednesday, March 31, 2010


In one of the comments on the Write2Vision post, someone wondered if the hardest part of visioning is putting the dreams into practice. It may be. You know the old quote:

A vision without a task is merely a dream;
A task without a vision is drudgery;
But a vision with a task is the hope of the world.

If we're going to bring to life a piece of our Best Possible Self vision, then we need to do some planning and goal setting. Despite the bad press good intentions get, writing down a goal moves it from imagination to intention. The written goal becomes part of our conscious lives, and we become more likely to achieve the goal. 

Recent research has discovered some interesting facts about writing and goal setting. First, people who emphasized approaching a desired future as they wrote narratives about life-changing decisions (versus writing about escaping an undesired past) reported a greater sense of well-being. Second, writers who use causal words tend to live longer than those who don’t. (Causal words and phrases include the words so, hence, in order that, in hopes of, and for the purpose of.) Finally, as I have mentioned before, people who note when, where, and how they will achieve their goal are more likely to do it.

Take a look at your write2vision journal entries. Ask yourself:
  • What specific goals are inside these visions? Make a list.
  • What goals are most dear to you? Or, what goals are you especially passionate about? Star these goals on your list.
  • How could you go about achieving these goals?
  • What one goal could you begin working on this week?
  • Write this goal in your journal and begin making a plan. Include lots of small steps!

Once I have a goal and a loose plan, I like using the write2dump exercise to plan my day. Each morning, I write one to three pages about what I hope to accomplish during the day. I often create a schedule to connect my writing goals to specific times of day. I also allow for times of rest and reward in the schedule. For example, I might plan to work on a current writing project for ninety minutes in the morning. I also plan what my reward will be. When I plan both the work and the reward, I am much more likely to accomplish my goal.

Now it's your turn. Write2Plan—then let me know how it goes! 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Last summer, a friend brought me a wonderful gift: four bulbs from her mother's garden. My friend helped me figure out where to plant the flowers. I was excited to see them emerge this spring. My friend cautioned me: it might take more than one year for the bulbs to take root and flower. Still, their presence gives me hope. 

In January, while I was still curled up on the couch, drinking wine and whining about the weather, my gardening friends were pouring over their seed catalogs and planning their gardens. As they looked out at piles of snow and saw rows of vegetables, I saw only snow. I knew my bulbs were there, hibernating. But with all the snow, I could not imagine what else I might plant in my tiny yard.

I love using the image of a garden to think about our lives. In the next week, we will be doing write2vision journaling, and the garden is a rich metaphor for these exercises. During the write2transform project, we've poked around in the gardens of our lives. We know what's planted and what is flourishing. We have sensed what is taking root, waiting to emerge. We have also found the fallow places—the strengths and passions we've left untended. This week, we get to take a look at the garden of our lives and imagine what we might plant next.

Psychology professor Laura King discovered that writing about one’s best possible future self improved participants’ moods, health, and ability to set and achieve goals. In the study, psychologists instructed participants to write a vision of their lives five years in the future, imagining that they had worked as hard as possible and everything had gone as well as possible. I've used this exercise with many clients over the years. I've seen it transform their lives. Like a gardener with a seed catalog and a sketch book, the exercise gives people the ability to sketch out the details of their happily ever after.

So are you up for the challenge? I certainly am! Here are the basic instruction for the exercise:

Imagine yourself five years from now. Everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your goals. Write in the present tense about your life.

In the original study, participants did this exercise four times. I like that. I found that the first time I tried this exercise, I experienced the same difficulty I had with imagining my garden. I was so tethered to the present that I could not vision the future. The second time I did the exercise, my tether was looser. Each try brought bigger dreams. As I worked at it, my description of my best possible life became more detailed. 

Here are some other hints for doing the exercise:
*Use as much sensory detail as possible. 
*Write about every area of your life—not just your job. Think about your living environment, what you wear, how you exercise, the foods you prepare and eat, and who you connect with. 
*Think about creative ways you could do the exercise. Instead of simply journaling about your best possible future, write an article about yourself, an acceptance speech for a coveted award, or a profile of yourself for a television news show. 
*Consider doing the exercise away from home. It's hard to see the seeds for your beautiful future when you are staring at piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills. Go to the art museum, a coffee shop or library and write there. You will be able to think bigger thoughts away from home.

Finally, and most importantly: have fun! Enjoy this exercise. I know I will!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I write professionally. Daily, I send words out into the world for public consumption. But, I journal for me. I write to connect to my life and hopefully transform it. I do not share these musings with others. I never expected I would want to journal with someone else. But I'm doing just that. 

Ten years ago, my husband and I began keeping a gratitude journal together. We take turns writing three-five things we are grateful about the other. Sometimes we draw silly pictures. We don't write daily. Sometimes years go by without an entry. But when one senses the other could use a little gratitude, he or she pulls out the journal, makes a list, and leaves it for the other to find.

Last summer I started journaling with both of my children. I wanted to share some of the writing exercises I'd been doing with the Dream Keepers and am now using for the write2transform challenge—write2thanks, write2delight, and write2build. I wanted the exercises to help my children practice gratitude and get connected to their strengths. Finally, as a writer, I also wanted a record of their thoughts and questions from their childhood in their own handwriting.

When I introduced the journals, my son complied but kvetched. He'd write terse, one-sentence answers to my questions. The whole process was painful. I didn't want to promote an exercise that he'd grow to hate—so I dropped it. His journal is stuffed away somewhere in his over-packed bookshelf. 

My daughter loved the practice and embraced it immediately. In the past year, we have filled one journal and are working on a second. As many of you know, my eight-year-old daughter has had to face some health issues. She developed seizure disorder when she was 3 1/2 years old. She was diagnosed with failure-to-thrive a few years later and put on a feeding tube in 2008. She's now been on the feeding tube for two years. I hoped the journaling would give her something to do while she was hooked up to the feeding pump. I also wanted her to start brainstorming about how she could eat more and get off the feeding tube for good. (We're still working on that one.) 

The write2connect project has been a great deal of fun for both of us. Maybe the best person to tell you about it is my daughter, Elly. This afternoon, I interviewed her about our journaling practice. Here's what she to say:

What do you think about journaling with me?
It's so much fun. And you can tell each other secrets and talk in there and say stuff. It gives you interesting things to think about. It's kind of like a diary but a little different. 

What have been some of your favorite entries: 
I like thinking about stuff we can do on holidays--St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, and Christmas. I like learning about each other, too. I also like writing about when we both were little. I liked writing about what I am good at, too. I like it when my mom asks questions.

What advice would you give to someone starting a project like this?
I'd tell them that you'd love to do it because it keeps you from being bored. It's good to do when your homework is done. If you had a friend over one day, you could journal with them. You can journal with anyone you want to. Your brother or sister could get their own journal so that they can journal with your mom. 

Any tips for our readers?
*You should use a lot of colors to write with. Use a pen to write with because pencil markings are harder to see. 
*You have to have a good mind to ask questions because sometimes you don't know what to ask. So, don't worry about writing every day.
*If you just met someone, ask them what they like to do because you want to know more.
*If you are journaling with your mom, ask her what she'd like to do one day. Or just write about interesting stuff. Anything that you want to write about. 

So there you have it. I'd be interested in how others use their journals to write2connect!

Thursday, March 11, 2010


When we moved into our home, the cement pot with the green trim was already there. The pot quickly became a favorite spot to plant petunias. In the summer, we'd often end the day by watering the flowers and then sitting on the steps, near the pot, to appreciate the early evening warmth. As you can see from the photo at left, it also became a great place for pictures. Every time my daughter had a brand new outfit, we'd pose her right there, next to the purple petunias. 

Last fall, that all came to an end. I woke up one Saturday morning—my favorite day of the week—to the scene you see below: a smashed pot. No doubt some drunken college student thought it would be a funny prank. I didn't. And while the event didn't ruin my day, it certainly made an impact on me. I couldn't avoid the scene of the smashed pot on the front sidewalk. 

Sometimes life is like that. We wake up hoping for a happy, carefree day—and life hands us broken stuff. The write2build task has been harder than I thought it would be. Despite my plan to write about my strengths, broken stuff kept showing up in my life. My daughter got sick, dashing any hopes of getting work completed. Another friend moved away. Mother nature handed us day after day of gray, gloomy days. I'd show up at my journal planning to chronicle my strengths and end up complaining. I was mad at my life and mad at myself for not being able to write my way out of it.

But then it hit me. Before I could write2build, I had to write2dump and write2release. Once I paid attention to the broken stuff, I could write2build. Learn from me, dear writers. Pay attention to what your soul needs. We're still writing about our strengths, but if you need to vent, do it! Write2dump, write2thank, or write2build—do what works for you!

This past week, singer Brandi Carlile and Indigo Girl Emily Saliers released a new song called, Let it Go. In the chorus, they sing some good advice for those of us who are writing2transform: 

and that old time war of words,
just the sermon in your head,
Let it go, let it go, let it go

Blessings writers!

Monday, March 8, 2010


The last five days have been a whirlwind of activity—finishing up an editing project, getting my son ready for National History Day, and speaking at the UWM Spring Writer's Festival. Between the public events, I was baking cookies, doing laundry, and answering email. With all that going on, I forgot to journal—not just once but twice! 

And guess what? I missed it. I write nearly every day professionally. But journaling is different. Anais Nin said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection." Journaling allows me to sit at the feet of my own life and learn from it. When I don't journal, I feel disconnected from my own life. 

For the past four or five days, we've practiced write2forgive or write2release. And didn't that feel good? I loved letting go of all that yucky stuff that has been clogging up my mind for years. Today we turn to writing to discover our strengths and make sense of our successes or write2build. 

According to a recent Gallup study, 99% of workers whose managers focused on their strengths were engaged in their work and productive. Recent studies in psychology and education have validated the importance of working from and on our strengths rather than “shoring up” our weaknesses.
Most of us have rich descriptions for our problems. We can talk endlessly about our flaws—physical, emotional, and intellectual. We often diminish our own role in achieving success, attributing our hard-won successes to luck. 

Is that you? Can you talk for hours about your failures but brush off your successes? Do you underestimate your strengths? I know that I do. Well, no more! For the next few days, we will write about our strengths. When thinking about strengths, I like the definition that educator Jenifer Fox uses: talents plus passion equals strength. If something we do is truly a strength, then we are going to be good at it and feel energized when we do it. 

There are many ways to write2build. Here are a few ideas: 

1. List all of your achievements. You might even want to create a timeline in your journal, recording all of your successes. 

2. Look at your significant successes—graduating from college, losing weight, or achieving a promotion at work. Describe in rich detail the strengths and skills that you used to achieve these successes. 

3. Create a list of your strengths. Write about how you have used or will use your strengths. If you have trouble getting a list of strengths, take one of the strengths inventories, such as the VIA Character Strengths Inventory.

4. Make yourself into a superhero. Come up with your own superhero identity based on your strengths. Describe yourself, your super powers, and your adventures in detail. You might even want to add pictures.

I'm including a link to a book that I've found helpful in exploring my strengths, Strengths Based Leadership

As always, I look forward to hearing how this great journaling adventure is going for you!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Write2Forgive, Write2Release

Big confession: I didn't like the last exercise. Instead of honoring my morning writing time, I put off journaling until later in the day. I didn't want to start my day by delving into difficult past experiences. I'd procrastinate until the last possible minute. When I did get to writing, I'd turn on the television to keep me company. Not something I'd recommend! It's too distracting. But that was the point—I wanted a distraction. I didn't want to give my full attention to writing about the past. Oh, I'll revisit the icky stuff in my mind—sometimes multiple times a day. But I didn't want to write about it. 

Writing to make meaning of the past gives us the opportunity to let go of all that has hurt us and move on. Rehashing the same events keeps us stuck. We cannot appreciate the present or envision the future  because we're prisoners to the past. Here's how I put it in my eBook, Seven Simple Strategies for Transforming Your Life Right Now

We spend much of our precious present mulling over what should of, could have, would have been if only we had or she had or he had done whatever. It should come as no surprise that people who ruminate over the past—play it like a movie in their heads day in and day out—usually feel more depressed and anxious than those who don’t.

We let go of the past when we forgive ourselves and others. We cannot say yes to today when we are burdened by the pains of our past. We need to accept—and forgive—the past. Most of us have struggled with health and relationship difficulties, encountered
work problems, and faced disappointments. Some of us have experienced great tragedy and trauma in our pasts. We all need to come to terms with our pasts—to unhitch our lives from the difficult past experiences that bind them. As novelist Gina Berriault said, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Another person defined
forgiveness as, “giving up what is rightfully ours.” When we forgive a debt, we release
the other person from paying us the money that is rightfully ours. When we forgive someone who has hurt us, we let go of our right to blame him or her. When we forgive ourselves, we let go of the regret and self-punishment that we feel we deserve.

So here's the next journaling challenge: write2forgive and write2release. Dig into the attic of your past, and clear out the frustrations, failures, and hurts. Forgive yourself and others. Here's one way to do it:

Make a list of everyone you are mad at: people, institutions, and situations. Then make a list of the failures you remind yourself of regularly. For each item on your list, write a sentence something like this:
I forgive _______ for _______. I release it.

If you cannot do this exercise for whatever reason, don't give up on journaling! Go back to one of the previous exercises. Or simply write 3 pages about anything. Julia Cameron calls this morning pages. I call it write2dump. Whatever name you give it, the purpose is the same: get your thoughts and feelings out of your head and onto the paper.

I'll be back in a few days with a new exercise for you. Until then: write on!