Writing is magic, and words have power – whether we’re speaking them out loud, writing them down, or thinking them inside our heads. How we talk to and about ourselves matters, and being aware of what we’re saying is the first step towards changing our mindsets and, consequently, our lives.
As a writer, I find that when it comes to self-development, I learn a lot more about myself by doing exercises that involve writing things down. Meditation, mantras, and visualisation are all great tools that can be done with nothing more than our thoughts, but if I really want to see change, I simply have to get things down on paper – things I can review at a later date, or on a regular basis. I explored many writing exercises, tools, and techniques in my book, Write Your Life: The Ultimate Life Hack For Achieving Your Dreams, which gave me the idea to write this blog post. Are you ready to write your way to self-development and personal growth? Do you want to change your life? If so, grab a pen (or your computer) and let’s do this.
1. Define What Success Means For You
Success. It’s a powerful word, isn’t it? And, if you’re anything like me, it’s not a word you often apply to your own life. The sad thing is, many of us don’t consider ourselves to be ‘successful’ in our careers or our home lives, or in any other part of life, even if we’ve already achieved so many things. We think that once we earn a certain amount of money, we’ll be successful. Or once we move to a bigger house, we’ll be successful. Or once we have our own family and have raised our kids, we’ll be successful. We each define success in different ways, but most of us still find it hard to use the word when talking about ourselves.
What can help is coming up with your very own Success Sentence, which – if you couldn’t guess – is a sentence that sums up success for you on a personal level. Some people may write ‘Success for me means earning £100,000 a year’. Some people may write ‘Success for me means earning £50,000 a year’. For some, it won’t be money-based at all. They might put ‘Success for me means doing what I love for a living’ or ‘Success for me means having the ability to move to the country I’ve always dreamed of moving to’ or ‘Success for me means raising my children to adulthood’ or simply ‘Success for me means being happy’. Whatever success means for you, write it out now in your Success Sentence. Here’s mine:
Success for me means doing what I love for a living, earning enough to live comfortably with no debt or financial stress, and having the ability to give back in a meaningful way.
If you write out your Success Sentence and realise you’ve already achieved what you’ve written down, add I am a success onto the end of it and then do a happy dance. If you aren’t yet successful by your own definition, don’t freak out. It just means you have something to aim for. It can be useful to write out your Success Sentence on a piece of paper and put it somewhere in your house where you’ll see it every day, reminding yourself why you’re working so hard and what you’re working towards. Put it next to your bed, on your desk, or tape it up on the inside door of your wardrobe. You could even make it into a wallpaper image for your phone or the desktop on your computer.
2. Remind Yourself How Awesome You Are
Whenever we feel down, useless, or stuck in a rut, it can be difficult to remember all the great things we’ve already achieved in life – things that show us the potential we have to accomplish really cool and interesting things. Instead we focus on the negatives: the dead-end job we hate, the house that’s crumbling down around us, the salary we thought would be a lot bigger by now, the fact we haven’t gone on a decent holiday in years, and so on and so on. Well, it’s time to stop focusing on the negatives and start remembering the positives.
I want you to get your journal or open a Word document and write down every single ‘success’ you can think of that you’ve already had in life. Basically, anything that you feel proud of, anything that you saw to completion, and anything that you accomplished despite having a load of obstacles thrown in your way… it all counts as being successful. Did you earn a degree at university? Have you bought a house? Given birth and raised a child? Started your own business? Overcome one of your biggest fears? Run a marathon for charity? Rescued an animal? Got your dream job? Won a competition? Been interviewed for a newspaper or magazine? Helped someone out when they really needed it? All of these are successes, and they all need to be remembered, but most importantly – they need to be written down! Just thinking about them isn’t going to cut it. I want you to write them down and look at them regularly to remind yourself just how freaking awesome you actually are.
Then, once you’ve written down as many as you can think of, whittle them down to your Top Ten Successes. You can do this in several ways: go by how you feel when you remember the achievement, go by how many people your accomplishment impacted, how much it changed your life, how fun it was, or how difficult it was to achieve. Your top ten doesn’t have to consist of earth-shattering, life-changing events; if they meant something to you, that’s all that matters. At this stage I’d also recommend writing a little paragraph or two about your accomplishment, reminding yourself why you did it, what you had to overcome in order to do it, and why you’re proud of it. This can be a real eye-opener of an exercise, as you might remember things you’d forgotten, or you might start thinking of things from years ago in a different light. Give yourself some time to complete this exercise; you might need quite a while to remember all your past successes, and besides, it’s fun!
3. List The Things You’re Grateful For
Writing down the things you’re grateful for, every single day, can be a complete game changer. It can reset your point of view, transform your mindset, and make you think more positively in general. It really can be an amazing eye-opener when you start listing all the good things you have in your life. And they don’t have to be big things, either. Yes, family, friends, pets, a good job, a roof over your head, food in your cupboards, and clothes in your wardrobe are all good things to be grateful for, but why not try digging a little deeper and seeing what else you can come up with? The gorgeous sunset you catch through the window, even if only for a second, the thank you card you receive from someone after you send them a present, an invite to an event from a person you haven’t seen in ages, a compliment given to you from an unexpected source (or anyone, really!), the air we breathe, the fact that we’re even alive, when it took so many millions of things happening in a certain order and at a certain time for us to even be born…
Thinking these things can be powerful, but writing them down is ten times more powerful, especially if you do it every day and read them back to yourself every so often as a reminder.
So, here’s an exercise for you: list ten things a day (preferably in the morning, before you get going with your day) that you’re grateful for. Try and make it ten new things every day, but don’t worry if you repeat some of them. After all, some will be obvious things that you’re grateful for every single day. Start by listing the main things, then start to dig a little deeper, then really think outside the box, and make sure they’re all things that are specific to you and the things you have in your life. Once you start, you’ll find it difficult to stop, and that in itself is pretty awesome – after all, even when things seem bad, or if you’ve had a bad day, or there’s a worldwide pandemic going on, there is always something to be grateful for. Hundreds of somethings. Thousands. Millions. We’re simply reminding ourselves of them, as sometimes it can be incredibly easy to forget.
Then, at the end of each day, write out the answers to the following questions:
What was the best thing that happened to you today?
What did you learn today?
Who were you happy to see/speak to today?
What made you smile today?
What unexpected good thing happened to you today?
What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
Again, doing this daily and getting into a routine of doing it before you go to bed every night really helps. In fact, try doing exercise one in bed every morning, before you even look at your phone, and do exercise two in bed every evening, once you’ve switched off your phone and are unwinding from the day.
4. Visualise Your Winning Moment
You may think visualisation is just a silly practice that has no effect on your actions or behaviour whatsoever, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, there have been many studies on visualisation and, in particular, how it helps athletes improve their performance and achieve success – simply through imagining themselves playing the game or running the race.
How does visualisation work? In layman’s terms (as I am most definitely a layman when it comes to science), when we complete an action – such as reaching out and picking something up – the same part of our brain is activated as when we simply visualise doing that action. In effect, it can’t tell the difference. So, if you’re an athlete and you want to get better, faster, or stronger but you can only physically practice for so long before you wear yourself out, or you only have access to the gym or the field for so many hours a day, sitting at home and simply visualising that run, that game, or lifting those weights, can help you improve – in some cases, almost as much as the physical practice does. It sounds crazy, but study after study has shown this to be true, from weightlifters getting stronger to athletes getting fitter and even musicians improving their playing. We can physically improve our skills simply by using our mind – sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it?
You can do this yourself, and you don’t have to be an athlete or part of a sports team in order to benefit from it; you can do it with pretty much anything. Many businessmen and women visualise their success, but they don’t simply imagine themselves just after they’ve given a great presentation, with everyone in the boardroom clapping; they visualise every little part of that moment in great detail. Just as an athlete will visualise how he feels when he’s waiting at the starting block, the breeze against his skin, the sound of the crowd, the vibration of the starting pistol when it goes off, the feel of his muscles straining as he starts to run, the sweat on his face, the sensation of his lungs almost exploding as he pushes himself to the max, the rush of adrenaline, the thrill that washes over his body as he passes the finish line, knowing that all the other racers are behind him… the businesswoman too will imagine every single part of her presentation: how she will stand, how she will smile and make eye contact with everyone in the room, what she will say, which slides she’ll use, which questions she’ll ask, as well as any questions she might get asked and how she will answer them. Then she’ll visualise the relief as she finishes the presentation and everyone in the boardroom applauds her, the subsequent deals that get made or the subsequent raise or promotion she gets… and so on.
No detail is too small to imagine, and the more time you spend imagining whichever scenario you’re visualising, the more your brain will think you’re actually doing it. Repetition equals rewards, and the more you visualise something (with exactly the same thing happening each time), the more your brain remembers that pattern and the easier you’ll find it when you actually come to do it; your brain will think it’s no biggie (real science talk there) as you’ll already have ‘done’ it several if not hundreds of times before. If you’re visualising something like playing a sport or an instrument (things that require regular practice), visualisation shouldn’t replace your practice; it should be done alongside it to give you the best possible results.
As with meditation, visualisation should be done when you’re alone, unlikely to get interrupted (so put your phone on silent!), and when you’re either sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and start visualising the thing, right from the start. When you’re finished, take a few moments to breathe deeply before opening your eyes again, and give yourself a few more seconds to adjust back to the present.
So, what goal do you want to visualise? Think of something you really want to achieve, and then go to a nice, quiet room where there are no distractions (if this is at all possible! If not, perhaps wait until everyone else in the house has gone to sleep), and either sit or lie down and close your eyes. Visualise every single part of that moment of success: what happens, how you feel, what you can see and hear, who’s there, how people are reacting, and so on. Then, open your eyes, give yourself a moment to come back to reality, and pick up your pen or go over to your computer. Now, I want you to write down every part of that visualisation, and make sure you write it in the present tense and from a first-person point of view, as if you’re doing it right now. For example, ‘I stand up in front of the crowd and look down at my notes, taking a deep breath before starting my speech.’ Visualise this moment as much as possible, and read your written version as much as possible, expanding it as and when you think of more details to add.
5. Write Your Perfect Day
I’m sure you’ve been asked the following question – or similar – at a job interview: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” And you’re expected to answer something like, “Ideally, I’d want to be in a management position by then, taking on more responsibility within the company and helping the business grow,” whereas you’re actually thinking, “I’d like to be thousands of miles from here, sipping cocktails on a beach while beautiful people bring me cake.” We think about this question when it comes to work (usually because we’re forced to), but many of us don’t think about the question in terms of our lives – at least, not in any real detail. We might think ‘I want to have two kids by the time I’m 35’ or ‘I want to have moved to a nicer house in the next three years’ but most of the time our answers are vague and wishy-washy.
Well, it’s time to get into the details. Grab a pen or your computer keyboard and answer the following questions in as much detail as possible. For this exercise, I want you to imagine yourself five years into the future, and I want you to imagine – or visualise – your perfect day.
What would your ideal day look like?
When would you wake up?
What would your morning routine consist of?
What does work look like on this ideal day?
How about exercise?
If money was no object and you could do absolutely anything you wanted, anywhere you wanted to do it, what would you do?
If you run your own business, what is it and how much do you earn?
How do you give back to your community and/or the world in general?
Write down the answers from a first-person point of view and in the present tense, as though you’re actually five years in the future and writing your perfect day as you go about it. Now you know what you’re aiming for, and perhaps you’ll have more of an idea of what you need to do in order to have this ideal lifestyle.
I hope these exercises have helped you become a little more aware of your thoughts and beliefs, and have shown you how writing can help you with your self-development, personal growth, and goal setting. If you liked this blog post, you can find more writing exercises and techniques in my book, Write Your Life: The Ultimate Life Hack For Achieving Your Dreams, and you can also get a free accompanying Write Your Life Workbook PDF when you sign up to the WTA mailing list, Write Your Week.
Have you tried any of these exercises (or similar)? Leave us a comment and let us know how they worked out. And, if you’ve found this blog post useful, please share it with a friend who might benefit from these words as well – thank you!