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The Power of Writing It Down

(A two-page document because the power can't be contained in a smaller space)

"Power" my eye! That should read "necessity". Let's face it. As we go through life, life gets busier and we encounter the need to "write it down" and make a to-do list. We may even get a bit systematic and prioritize what we've written down, set due dates, lay out strategies and so on. Later in life we "write it down" just to avoid losing track of the basic things we need to do. Somewhere on life's journey we may even discover the need to "write it down" so as to remember what we did. Whatever the purpose, "writing it down" is an act of necessity. Necessity, my eye! Substitute "absurdity" and you'll be closer to the truth. We write down stuff but never "git-er-done". We spend money to write or type anything and chaotically "post" it anywhere we want. We jot down end-of-year "goals and resolutions" we never reach or keep. We invest great mental effort in mission statements framed and posted on walls everywhere in a business, statements that nobody can recall from memory to motivate and drive their actions. So as not to admit defeat, we will take ourselves through "strategic planning" to create an impressive document that ends up not changing anything. Does any of that sound familiar, and does it seem absurd to invest so much energy to produce so little change? I'd be a certified cynic for the above if there wasn't much reality in the descriptions. There are so many failures to act after all the above initial steps are taken. What kind of "power" could there be in the act of "writing it down"? Well, experiencing it as personal power makes one aware of its existence. Here's my story. On my way to my first LMI National Convention I decided to complete my "Master Dream List" exercise required for one session. My professional expertise was probability and causation. I left that "dream stuff" to the psychoanalysts. Nonetheless, I began to "free associate" a life's wish list while my wife wrote items down. I still have that dream list somewhere, and it amazes me how many of those then-nearly inconceivable events have actually come to pass without me even performing the required rituals of re-reading, strategizing, tracking and keeping score. What other cause could I claim but "magic"? It should be clear that I'm a skeptical convert to the power and initially my best explanation was indeed "magic". I'd say, "Just do it and you'll be surprised". That's not what a trained behavioral scientist should use as an answer. The scientist knows that when a consequence follows an event only sometimes, then the event can't by itself be causing the consequence. What must happen along with "writing it down" so that the power propels things forward to the goal? Here's my best thinking that's coming from decades of involvement with psychology. Let's assume that "writing it down" represents a public, verifiable statement of expectation. Expectation by itself is a profoundly powerful force but it won't make anything happen. It needs the help of four (4) other ordered forces: Circumstance, Intention, Action, and Consequence. Expectation takes hold of things somewhere before "Action". Let me note here that an accumulated psychological literature of 100-plus years is devoted to these topics, so I won't attempt even limited characterizations. However, I will state that "power failures" attributed to the "worthless" writing down of lists, goals, missions and such are just-as if not more likely a result of failures in the other four surrounding areas. Let's try an example.

More and more of us expect to retire at some point in our lives. Write down "I will retire in the year 20XX!" and you now have a written goal or publicly stated expectation. I bet the magic didn't happen and you're still working. And the magic won't happen unless and until "circumstance" and "intention" are aligned with the "expectation" you have expressed about what presently is a "wish". For example, do your financial circumstances provide a solid enough foundation from which to actively pursue your retirement life? Personally, because I have so much left to offer business people I view retirement as "early death". I intend to do everything but "retire", and I don't know anybody, myself included, who "intends" to die. I expect to die when some really important part wears out. And besides that, I'm having great fun doing what I'm doing. I love the pleasurable consequences of my actions. For me "retirement" is an unrealistic expectation with no power to propel me forward. Psychologists use the term "environment" rather than "circumstance" for very good academic reasons, not worth the effort of delineation but useful to direct you to further study in "environment and human behavior". Likewise, actions and consequences are the foundation of all things "behavioral" in my field. That includes Behaviorism, Pavlov, Watson, Skinner, behavior modification, management-by-objectives, behavior therapy and so on. Circumstance, Action and Consequence proved to be popular scientific topics because observable things lend themselves to the rigors of science. Not so for Expectation and Intention! Even though you can write down a rendition of your expectations and your intentions as well, the reality is that both of these are internal conditions that are quite hard to define, manipulate, control and direct. But I am also convinced that these factors and mental processes are the source of "the power" to makes things happen in your world. Specifically, when you "write it down" you perform an action that has consequences (people express approval and you feel good), but now you discover that the power demands a circular, not linear process. That means you circle back to check circumstances, expectations and intentions so as to actively re-state, modify, integrate and affirm the internal states. Another action and consequence will accrue that will have you looking at circumstances again. By using the power of this circle (a wheel image works too) you propel yourself forward to some destination. The "power of writing it down" happens when integrated into one whole, dynamic process: that includes: o Having a keen, focused AWARENESS of our circumstances, o Applying DEVELOPMENT to our internal application of the forces of expectation and intention. o Using a PLANNING SYSTEM to direct our energy into actions, and finally o Realizing that "consequences" include tangible RESULTS and intangible EMOTIONS that invariably modify Circumstances. When these processes happen seamlessly, we are experiencing the power of "writing it down". Three, two, one! Ready or not, here the future comes. May the power be with you! Al Raffetto January 30, 2008


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