In Write It Down, Make It Happen, Henriette Anne Klauser, PhD, explains how simply writing down your goals in life is the first step toward achieving them. Writing can even help you understand what you want. In this book, you will read stories about ordinary people who witnessed miracles large and small unfold in their lives after they performed the basic act of putting their dreams on paper. Klauser’s down-to-earth tips and easy exercises are sure to get your creative juices flowing. Before you know it, you’ll be writing your own ticket to success.
With Write It Down, Make It Happen you can find the perfect mate, buy your dream house, get a great new job, wake up happier, travel the world, or even have a better relationship with your teenager.
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About the Author
Henriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D., is the author of the popular books Writing on Both Sides of the Brain and Put Your Heart on Paper. As president of Writing Resources, Dr. Klauser gives presentations and leads work-shops on topics of goal setting, writing, and relationship building for national associations, government agencies, and universities, as well as several Fortune 500 companies. She is the mother of four children and lives in Edmonds, Washington.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter Three: Gathering Ideas: A Suggestion Box for the Brain
Once you start writing your goals down, the brain will send you all kinds of new material: innovative, energizing ideas for planning out and expanding those ambitions. That is the good news. Now for the bad: You will forget the best of the plans and ideas if you don't come up with a system for recording and reviewing them.
Flash floods of insights come and go quickly.
"The horror of that moment I shall never, never forget," says the king in Alice in Wonderland. The queen's quick retort: "You will though, if you don't make a memorandum of it."
I recommend that you purchase and carry with you a small memo pad to gather your ideas immediately as they come to you. In many large companies, wall boxes inviting comments foster creative contributions by employees. Similarly, this tiny notebook in your pocket will become a kind of suggestion box for your brain, inviting ideas by the fact that you carry it on your person.
One example of a small memo book that helps get the job done is a wheel book.
"You can't build a house without a wheel book," is the expression my close friend Nancy used when she was constructing a residence in Texas from the ground up.
"Wheel book" is a nautical term. Nancy's husband Eric is a retired navy captain; at one point they lived aboard a forty-one-foot sailing ship. The navy uses a large thread-bound green memo book to chart the activity at the helm (in the wheelhouse), and smaller versions to track jobs to be done around the ship. Every conscientious individual on the ship carries one, from captain to chief to seaman. A wheel book assures accurate accounting.
The first contractor Nancy was working with in Texas constantly promised things on which he did not follow through, frustrating Nancy immensely until she hit upon the solution: he needed a wheel book to write things down.
When Nancy gave the contractor a wheel book, his performance improved immediately. Since then, the motto "You can't build a house without a wheel book" has become for me a catch phrase to embody the necessity of capturing on paper the strategies surrounding any big task I am working on. Whenever I have a goal in motion, a dream under construction, I carry a wheel book devoted exclusively to that project. In fact, I often emblazon Nancy's credo across the front of a small book as I christen it for a new adventure. "You can't build a house without a wheel book" applies to constructing more than new residences.
Although a wheel book keeps track, in one convenient place, of the people to call and jobs to get done, it is infinitely more than that.
Having a place to record your musings, and keeping it and a pen nearby, sends a signal to the brain, "I am ready for your input."
Carrying a little book with you honors the ideas that come to you, and when you do that, the part of your brain that comes up with these suggestions will be so thrilled to get a little attention and respect that it will send you even more. You will become a hotbed of lively suggestions sparking your imagination continually.
A tidbit journal is another kind of collection box for ideas. In Put Your Heart on Paper, I describe how Sara Rashad used a tidbit journal while traveling, as a place to jot down images and phrases she saw and heard during the day. Later, at night, she would transfer those tidbits to her larger format journal, expanding the narrative. Sara said that carrying this little book with her was not just for remembering details, but made her pay attention in a sharper way to what was happening all around her. She said it put her "in tune with every moment."
When I gave a two-week workshop in Skyros, Greece, to an international audience, I brought with me from the States tiny books, replicas of old-time school composition books with marbleized covers. Across the front of each little book I wrote each student's name and the word "tidbits."
I told them to take the book wherever they went and jot down concepts as they came to their mind, perhaps images they might want to write up more thoroughly later, or plans to put in motion once they returned to their own countries.
By the second day, they told me warmly that having a place to record their impressions was keeping all their senses alert. It was helping them notice more, be more aware. It was encouraging them to think.
I still chuckle when I remember how I'd see my students everywhere on the island, making "tidbit" entries on the beach, at the taverna, at the folk museum. One night we all went dancing at a nightclub on the edge of the Aegean called Skyropoula. There was Briano, a member of the class, in the midst of all the merriment, sitting in a corner with a glass of retsina, as eager as a cub reporter, capturing his fleeting thoughts on paper. What a happy look he had on his face.
By the end of our two-week session together, they knew this wasn't just something to do for a summer course, but for the rest of their lives. They were astonished at how carrying those little books in their pockets had changed their entire experience of being in Greece.
"I found myself," said Nonnie from Surrey, with delight, "as living twice as much as I did before, because I was paying attention more."
That's because carrying a tidbit journal makes you keener to the workings of the RAS (reticular activating system) we talked about in chapter 1. Having a wheel book or a tidbit book ready at hand stimulates your thalamus to alert the cortex: Wake up. Open your eyes. Look and see. Be present to the signs all around you. Life is on your side.
And keeping track of these signs by noting them makes them mount up.
Changing the Conversation
The "suggestion box for the brain" does not have to be a spiral or a sewn, bound book. It is just as effective for some, more so when the "ahas" you experience are captured and corralled on loose index cards.
During a recent business trip to Manhattan, I had the opportunity to visit with John Sexton, the energetic and charismatic dean of New York University Law School, and my former high school debate coach.
I had read an article about John Sexton in The New York Times Magazine that mentioned his peripatetic habit of noting on the go, and was curious to learn more about it. He was happy to tell me about the "Sextonian suggestion box," which is both portable and potent.
The dean carries a stack of unlined, white, jumbo index cards in his breast pocket. He pulls out one card at a time to make a note as something occurs to him, recording only one comment per card, with the card held vertically.
Once he has written something down in black ink on the white card, he is free to move on to other considerations. It is, as he himself likes to say, "a done deal."
He writes on the cards anything that he doesn't want to forget, either personal or professional.
"If I am not thinking about family, I am thinking about school; something will come into my memory bank. Or maybe I'm trolling to see if there is anything that I ought to be doing, or I ought to have done, at home, or to set something up at school."
Before it escapes him, he jots it down.
The dean says he gets his ideas while walking through Washington Square Park, or when he's in a car going to an appointment. Sometimes an idea hits him in the middle of the night, or while shaving.
"It might be a thought about a major new direction for the school; something unusual, an inspiration."
Wherever he is, a card is nearby. He grabs one and writes down the elusive thought.
"Or perhaps, an idea is developing, and in conversation I'll get a 'cut' on it I hadn't thought of before. Sometimes those ideas survive discussions with a colleague, and sometimes they don't, so what I will do then is write the idea on a card to make sure it survives."
Sexton throws out the cards that have to do with appointments, or "if it's just an information thing"; others he gives to the appropriate faculty member or keeps on file until the job is done.
For John Sexton, however, his system of index cards is dramatically more important than a running "to-do" list, easily dispersed and delegated.
They are integral to his whole style of leadership. The dean has profound philosophical reflections on the part they play in his vision of community leadership at a great university and the whole notion of a leader. He calls it his "aspirational mode."
"We have always understood culturally at some level the power of the word and the role of a leader to see things better than they are. Making it concrete actuates it. If you articulate something that is within the community's reach but not yet actuated, the articulation of the goal can move the community toward that actuation. And the same is true of yourself. If you articulate a need, an opportunity, or a concept, you'll start your mind going through the various stages.
"It's not a question of getting the opportunities," he says with emphasis, "it's a question of noticing that opportunities are there."
Leadership depends on spelling out for others the opportunities that are there, and on asking the questions. The job of the leader, he says, is to force the community to ask the right questions.
"You are never going to get answers or creativity if you don't ask the questions."
Sexton is emphatic about this.
"I would put it this way: another way of looking at the cards is that they create an agenda of questions that I am asking. I am not going to get answers unless I am asking the questions, and unless I am putting myself under the burden constantly to want to know why, or how.
"The cards force me to constantly be in a different kind of conversation with the community of people here."
That conversation is action-oriented, leading him continually to ask the questions that challenge, that push toward the possible.
Collecting Compliments: You Can Bank on It
As anyone knows who has ever had a collection, from bottle caps or baseball cards to rare coins or stamps, things seem to multiply when you have a place to put them. Before I ever published my first book, I went to the bank and opened an account called "Bestseller" for depositing book payments. I was nervous about doing that, and felt silly at the time it had a zero balance for a while. But because I had a place to deposit them, I soon found myself collecting those advances and royalty checks. Today it gives me great pleasure when I am selling books at a convention and a new fan asks, "To whom do I make out this check?" I grin from ear to ear and say proudly, "Make it out to the Bestseller Account."
Compliments are like money in the bank. They both give you a sense of security and they build up a nest egg you can draw upon in times of need.
Designate a container to hold them, a place for them to go, and you will watch your deposits grow.
With his usual good cheer and exuberance, Marc Acito once showed me a tall, faded green antique accounting book he found unused in a secondhand bookstore. He told me he had fired his inner critic, and hired a cheering squad instead.
"I decided to write down the names of all the people who have supported me in one way or another. I've got two hundred and ten names here. So far."
He points to an early entry: Reaction to Younger than Springtime.
"I was a freshman at Carnegie-Mellon. The first time I ever sang in front of the class, a woman in the front row sighed. That's on the list of successes. It's a moment, a tiny moment."
Because he has this book now to record them in, he keeps coming up with names, collecting compliments.
"My ear picks up on them more attentively. Somebody says something nice after a performance; a fan asks for my autograph; I get a flattering letter from a friend; I record it in my Accounting Book.
"I write down what people say about me. I put quote marks around the words, with their names at the bottom, just to remind me, to give again the boost I got when I first heard it."
You don't have to be involved in the performing arts to track the kudos and compliments coming your way.
I started one for myself and gave one to each of my children, challenging them to fill the book up with all the nice things people say about them.
As Marc discovered, a Compliment Book can foil the Critic, the inner voice that sows the seeds of doubt and despair. When you falter in your dream, consulting a compliment book reminds you of the character traits that others notice about you. Collectively, compliments are also signs and signals, "Go! Incidences." You have more strengths than you might realize you do, until you see them all together and notice the pattern of praise.
Filling in the Blanks
This whole book is about becoming a magnet, a receptor an adventure going out to happen. When you arm yourself with a collection book, the magic seems to happen even more.
That's why it can be a treat to "fill in the blanks" of a book fashioned along a definite theme. The blanks put you on the lookout for good things happening.
Years ago, I ordered an "Opera Journal" from the Rizzoli bookstore catalog. It is a gem of a little book very elegant, with Victorian pencil art, scrolls, and flourishes decorating its three hundred gilt-edged pages. It charmed me to no end. Its small clear sleeve, the Lilliputian pages, and the interesting separation of sections enchanted me. The first half of the 2 3/4 by 4 1/4-inch tiny tome is a "Subject Index," a place to list performances and principals in alphabetical order. The second half is set off by a picture of cherubic angels holding up a sign that says, "Here the Journal Begins." This section boasts numbered pages, cross-referenced to the listings in front. A guide in gray type runs across the top of every page in the journal section reminding you to include the essentials: the name of the "opera," the "date" of the performance, and the "place" where you saw it. It was that last column that flummoxed me.
Since moving to Seattle, the only "place" I ever went to the opera was right here. Indeed, we have a world-class opera company, and we do attract the top international voices, but I kept thinking how boring it would be to list only "Seattle" across the top of every page under "place."
Like Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest because it was there, I set my cap to putting some variety in that last column, because it was there.
Soon after, my friend Nancy, at that time living in San Diego, invited me to come for a visit. I told her I wanted to come during the run of La Traviata, and she was delighted to buy tickets for herself as well as me.
That performance marked the first "different" entry in the "place" column.
A few weeks later, I was asked to give a workshop in New York; the company had two dates available. I checked the Metropolitan Opera schedule before deciding on the second date, which coincided with Rita Hunter singing Salome. This was fun. I made up my mind from that point on to arrange my New York engagements whenever possible around opening nights and debuts of my favorite singers.
I extended my plan to other work-related travel. The blank lines in my little book were the mother of invention. I kept coming up with more and more ideas of how to fill that "place" column imaginatively. My editor for Writing on Both Sides of the Brain lived in Minneapolis; we needed to meet in person for the final, in-depth editing. I scheduled the dates with him to parallel the "Met in Minneapolis" tour. By day, there were exciting yet intensive meetings with my editor, by night I managed to attend six Metropolitan operas in a row. (Each night I said, "Opera doesn't get any better than this," and the next night, it got better.) I like to think the rhythm of the majestic music showed up between the lines in my work.
My greatest coup was when I did a presentation in Cairo, Egypt, and managed to coordinate it around a spectacular Aida done outdoors in Luxor, in the desert. The backdrop was the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut in the Valley of the Queens. Now that was a "place" worth recording.
The Opera Journal from Rizzoli had taken on a life of its own, and filling in its blanks was changing my life.
I started wondering about the alphabet part of the book; what else could I use it for besides organizing by name titles of operas, artists, and composers? I decided it would be nifty to include autographs there.
So I started a campaign to meet the stars backstage and get their signatures. At last count, I had fifty-one autographs, including such luminaries as Placido Domingo, Jerome Hines, Kiri Te Kanawa, Carol Vaness, and living composers such as Alan Hovhaness, Carlisle Floyd, and Daniel Catan.
Now I need to order a new Opera Journal; this one is full. Full of fun and full of adventure and travels I never dreamed of when I first sent away for it.
And that's what any or all of these suggestion boxes for the brain can do for your life, too. Whatever your particular suggestion box is wheel book, tidbit journal, or index cards keeping track on paper changes the conversation in your own head. It helps you to pay attention, to embellish your ideas, and record your inspirations. It pushes you toward the possible.
1) Get a small, pocket-size memo book to write in. You don't have to be in a workshop or a new country to capture useful thoughts and notice life happening all around you. Portable pages prompt your brain to give you ways to move your goal along and encourage you to keep track of compliments, "Go! Incidences," and the signs and signals that you are on the right path.
2) For one week, substitute large index cards for the memo book. Write only one thought, one aha! per card; then note any other ideas surrounding that key one as they occur to you. At the end of the week, ask yourself, How was this different from other systems I've employed? Do I want to keep using it or go back to the other way? Did it add to the number of insights I had? Was it easier to sort and file? Continue with the modus operandi that works best for you. Switch off once in a while.
3) Find in the store or custom-make a fill-in-the-blank book that reflects an interest of yours, or one that you would like to develop. The applications are limitless: hobbies, athletic events, investment data. And then watch what happens as you create ways to make entries. Motivated by an urge to fill in the blank spaces in a wine or cigar book, for example, you might find yourself trying out unusual labels, and soon become a connoisseur.
Or try this clever idea from a friend of mine who relocated to a new neighborhood and was having trouble making friends. She bought an address book and determined to fill it only with new acquaintances. Her book became a vehicle for meeting new people.
Get a book like this for yourself even if you haven't moved; promise to enter only people not in any other address book you already own. Watch how fast it fills and how rich in friendship your life becomes.
When you have a suggestion box for your brain, you will find yourself living twice as much as you did before.
Copyright © 1999 by Henriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D.
Table of ContentsContents
1 Write It Down, Make It Happen
2 Knowing What You Want: Setting Goals
3 Gathering Ideas: A Suggestion Box for the Brain
4 Getting Ready to Receive
5 Addressing Fears and Feelings
6 Getting Unstuck: Writing Through to Resolution
7 Doing It Easy: Listing
8 Focusing on the Outcome
9 Changing Your Environment: Get Near Water to Write
10 Scripting Your Daily Life
11 Becoming Committed
12 Stacking Goals: Raising the Bar
13 Starting a Group: What by When
14 Taking the Initiative
15 Writing Letters to God
16 Resistance Has Meaning
17 Creating a Ritual
18 Letting Go, Creating Balance
19 Giving Thanks
20 Handling Breakdown
Thanks and Ever Thanks
About the Author