Writing a Must-Have List

Growth that lasts is, of necessity, a long, slow process. The human mind is designed to incorporate learning in small doses, absorbing and consolidating new information before taking in more. Over time, learning becomes cumulative, meaning you build on what you have already learned. At the same time, you are discarding what is outdated and obsolete. If you take in more than you can handle, as is often the case in today’s smart-phone driven culture, the mind reacts like a freeway clogged with traffic: learning stops. That is why it is best to make changes within a six-month time frame.

Thinking about where you want to be far in the future can stimulate the imagination, but it is not as effective as thinking in the here and now because the reward is more immediate. (We humans love immediate payoff.) To reach any objective, motivation has to be internal and it is easier to sustain interest when what you want is closer at hand. Also, what you want today may not be what you want in a year or five years from now. For example, do you recall a time when you set a long-term goal that did not materialize because of circumstances beyond your control; or, more likely, because your values changed?

Getting to the Super Bowl

Your “Super Bowl” is what you desire with your whole heart and soul. Reaching this goal would fulfill your fondest hopes. Bill Parcells, a former coach in the National Football League, knew his players’ dream was to reach and win the Super Bowl. Before Parcells came on the scene, players on the teams he was to coach focused on getting to the Super Bowl; as a result, they never reached their destination. This concept is also true when you focus on getting rich, rather than on what you want to do. You fail to achieve financial security.

First, Parcells made sure the players loved football. If they were in the game for any other reason, they needed to leave. Once he established who was passionate about the game he instructed those players to concentrate on the down they were in, achieving five yards at a time; not the quarter, the half, the game, or the next game. His experience with players taught him three rules you can apply to yourself when you want to grow:

  1. Be brutally honest. The only way to change people, Parcells discovered, was to tell them what they were doing wrong. If they didn’t want to listen, they didn’t belong on the team.
  2. Confront others. Confrontation is necessary and healthy, Parcells says, a critical function of turning around any organization or person. You must be respectful as well as firm, however, letting others know that you want them to succeed. People respond to the direct approach. As proof, his players say that what they remember most about Parcells is his statement: “I think you are better than you think you are.”
  3. Set small goals. When people set small, visible goals, Parcells says, and they achieve them, they get it into their heads that they can succeed. They break the mental habit that causes them to lose, and this gets them into the habit of winning.


To achieve what is important to you, acknowledge what you feel and think–what you really feel and think–as opposed to what you believe or were taught you should feel and think. In fact, one of your six-month must-haves could be to develop more self-awareness. Another advantage of clarity is that you see others without the fog of idealism or excessive negativity clouding your judgment. This will help you to overcome obstacles that previously blocked growth.

Why Writing Works

Writing is an aid to growth because it is an activity you do alone. When you talk with others about what you want there is a tendency to censor what you say, especially if you are sensitive to disapproval. Nothing shuts down the subconscious more quickly than cynicism, so be careful with whom you discuss your heart’s desires.

Another word of caution: writing will bring up contents from the subconscious, thoughts and feelings that will surprise you. Be prepared to experience turmoil and self-doubt before you find the voice that wants what is best for you. This is the Self that is described in fairy tales as the jewel of great price. The hero of the story has to go through many difficult trials before he or she finds the treasure that breaks the witch’s spell. Psychologically, this is when you overcome the fears that keep you from being true to yourself, chiefly the fear of poverty, criticism, and loss of love.

Before you write your must-have list, circle a date on your calendar six months from now. Then write down what you know you can achieve by that date. Include tangible and intangible items on the list, such as weight loss and peace of mind. Let the list sit overnight, then read it again, deleting what sounds unrealistic and adding what is doable.

Next, ask yourself if what you want are must-haves or if they are motivated by external factors, such as what family members or others will think of you when you have these goals. If the list passes the requirement of internal motivation, write a sentence about each goal in the present tense. An example would be, “I am aware of what I think and feel.” If work and money are on your list, write a sentence that gets to the bottom of the issue, such as, “I reach my full potential and make the money I need.”  Reaching your full potential implies that you will take more risks. As for money, using the wordneed as opposed to the money you want ensures you will have all you truly need.

When it takes longer than expected to achieve any goal, remind yourself that the subconscious is slow to believe the new is true, whereas your thinking mind accepts newness more readily. If you have believed for a long time that you are not deserving of the changes you want to make, for instance, there will be resistance until the subconscious lets go of the belief that deprivation is your lot in life. To overcome this fear of success, you may want to get professional help with developing a self-image that attracts what is best for you, the most important “must-have” of all.

Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Her website is workwithpassion.com

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