I’m sure you’ve heard it said that writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them but — as we dip our toes in the water of 2021 — maybe you’re wondering like I am: What good does it do to achieve our goals if we lose ourselves along the way?
What good would it do to hit your sales goals for this year but still not understand your unique purpose in the world?
How unhelpful would it be if you surpass your fitness goals for the year but never really feel at home in your body?
How disappointed would you be if you met your reading goals for the year but never expanded your mind to understand someone who doesn’t share your same experience?
While a simple practice of writing things down can bring great support to our goal setting, I believe it can also do something more powerful than that: It can take us deeper to what’s under the goals and help us ensure we don’t waste our energy achieving things that, in the end, we learn we never even wanted.
This is just one of the many gifts of a short, simple daily writing practice.
I don’t know about you, but for me, 2020 was a year filled with disappointed expectations, changed plans and frankly “failed” goals. In 2020 my team moved into an office space and promptly left when we realized, weeks later, we weren’t going to be able to gather in person. I canceled nearly 20 trips and speaking engagements that would have resulted in more than six figures in business. We spent tens of thousands of dollars filming videos for a course it seemed for a time we’d never be able to launch.
And yet it was oddly the year where I grew the most as a person.
I gave birth to my daughter in 2020, wrote a book that I’m proud of, ended the year with our highest revenue mark we’ve ever hit, expanded our team, took risks asking for partnerships I’d only dreamed about, helped authors launch bestselling books, and took the risk to create a new product that has helped hundreds of new writers develop a daily practice of writing.
It was a great year and it was a tragic year. At the end of it all, it left me thinking about how much I would have missed if I had achieved the goals I’d set out for myself.
Maybe it’s good for us to “fail” at some things we set out to achieve.
If you’re like me and naturally type-A but wanting to learn how to flex and flow with where life is trying to take you, I thought I’d share a simple writing exercise that’s proved tremendously helpful in keeping me unattached but also focused. This prompt is easy to use even for the person reading this who swears they’re “not a writer.”
Whether you journal regularly or haven’t written anything other than emails in the past few decades, this prompt is designed to help you use the power of writing things down to access the wisest, most honest part of yourself.
The prompt begins with a question: What is calling to my highest attention this year?
If you aren’t used to writing things down, your first instinct when you read this prompt is going to be to answer this question in your head. Let me tell you why you don’t want to do that: because writing things down accesses a different part of your brain, helping you get to newer, better, truer answers you wouldn’t get by thinking or saying them out loud.
So rather than think about the answer to this question in your head, sit down and spend five to twenty minutes free-writing and responding to this question: what is calling to my highest attention this year?
What you’ll find is that putting pen to paper helps you uncover what you really want to experience this year, rather than just what you’d like to achieve.
The second part of the prompt requires dividing your paper into three sections: facts, feelings, and thoughts.
As you think about what you want to experience this year, I want you to start by listing the “facts” or details that could make your highest attention possible. These will read more like traditional goals. So if your greatest attention is relationships, you could list things in your “facts” column like: “invest in 3 friendships” or “move to the next level in my partnership” or “get engaged” or whatever.
If your highest attention is “feeling at home in my body” perhaps you list things like, “get in a regular yoga practice” or “run a marathon” or “trauma therapy” or you could even write something as simple as “breathe”.
Now move on to the feelings column.
In the feelings column, I want you to list the ways that the “facts” column might make you feel. You might list things like: strong, purposeful, joyful, clear-headed, or secure.
And finally, in the third column — the thoughts column — I want you to list the things you have to believe about yourself in order to make the facts and feelings come to fruition.
Here you might say:
What I hope you notice as you complete the prompt is how the list of “facts” could change. The goals can come and go. But what remains the same is the way that you feel about yourself, and the thoughts you can choose to think that will scaffold you into that new reality.
The most remarkable part about this exercise is that you didn’t need a life coach or a pastor or a business coach or a teacher to tell you what to think or do differently in order to achieve a different outcome. You don’t need to get all the steps perfect in order to be proud of yourself at the end of the year.
Everything you need to achieve your goals — your highest purpose — is inside of you where it’s always been since the day you were born.
Here’s to leaving unfair expectations behind in 2021 and embracing the notion that we can create a beautiful life we’re proud of, setbacks and all.
About the author:
Allison Fallon is the author of The Power of Writing It Down, as well as of Packing Light and Indestructible. She is a speaker and the founder of Find Your Voice, a community that supports anyone who wants to write anything.
She has helped leaders of multinational corporations, stay-at-home moms, Olympic gold medalists, recovering addicts, political figures, CEOs and prison inmates use the Find Your Voice method as a powerful tool to generate positive change in their lives. You can follow Allison at allisonfallon.com.