There is a great deal of historical reference and academic research that demonstrate the power of the written word. Although human civilization survived and grew without the written word, when writing first came into civilized society it provided an accelerant for learning, growth, and innovation. Writing down thoughts and ideas has been proven to make them more concrete in our minds. In addition, the written word improves our ability to understand and internalize which will more effectively enable a change in our behavior.
In today’s world there is plenty of advice from personal development “gurus,” life-coaches, kitchen table psychologists, etc. who would tell us that goals not written down or plans that are only talked about rarely materialize into an accomplishment. Written words enable us time to reflect, think more clearly, and in turn, take action more effectively.
On the issues of personal and professional development, planning, and attempting to have a meaningful impact, I am in the camp that believes without writing things down and revisiting them from time to time, there is little hope that we will make meaningful, measureable progress on any endeavor. “Winging it” is not a sustainable proposition in today’s world that continues to grow in complexity and intensity. Written goals and plans help form the foundation for steady progress.
There are two areas of practical application to leverage the power of the written word that I want to address in today’s blog.
(1) A Personal Journal: Throughout history, there have been numerous examples of people of impact who developed the habit of keeping a journal to help shape their attitudes, reinforce their direction in the important areas of life, and continue to make progress towards reaching their full potential. There are a number of techniques, tools, and resources available to help us, but at the end of the day, we need choose one that works for us and develop the habit. It has been proven beneficial to take a few minutes each day to write down some thoughts around pressing issues in our lives, relationships that need strengthening, and personal goals that seem unreachable. We will be following in the footsteps of some pretty effective people and we should be confident that we will make progress in our ability to have a positive impact.
(2) Written letters to others: With today’s abundance of online chatter, it should not be lost on anyone that we rarely are givers or receivers of a genuine, well-thought out letter of appreciation, thanks, or encouragement. With the exception of the nice birthday card, holiday greeting, or a line or two of abbreviated text via social media, we probably have not received or given a well thought out letter in a long time. Some researchers have found that receiving a written word of encouragement is more effective than any other form of communication.
Over time, I have found two helpful reminders that put a little fire under me about personally raising the bar in reaching out to others with a thoughtful and meaningful written letter:
(A) When I look back over certain periods of my professional life, I spent more time and effort writing year-end review comments to team members or writing employee goals than I had in writing a note of encouragement or appreciation to other people in the more lasting areas of my life…perhaps you have too.
(B) Observing the example of others who are raising the bar. A number of years ago a close friend shared a story with me that has stayed with me and consistently reminds me of how important the written word can be to strengthen relationships. When he and his siblings went away to college, his father wrote them a letter every single day for four years. It was not a short letter. Each letter was a full, single-spaced, two sided piece of paper describing how proud he was of them, that “the family” was behind them, and how he continued to encourage them to reach their potential. Every day in their mailbox, they received one letter, except for Monday, when they would get two because the mail did not come on Sundays…for four straight years. My friend described many of the wonderful things their father did for them and their family over the years, but that single act of letter writing throughout their college years which demonstrated such dedication, commitment, and encouragement had the greatest impact during their very formative years.
That story continues to be a good reminder to me and hopefully to you, that we should raise the bar on our efforts and effectiveness with the written word to the people that matter most in our lives. I can almost guarantee they will appreciate it.
As we build some habits around the importance of the written word, we will build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for us to be more effective in the essential things in life.