Writing out your intentions – for your career and otherwise – might be the best thing you can do to start creating the life you want to live.

Last week I read an article in Harvard Business Review by Utkarsh Amitabh entitled “The Right Way to Make a Big Career Transition.” Among the interesting suggestions Amitabh makes, one that resonated with me involved envisioning your future to the extent of writing your future autobiography. Amitabh shared:

Before leaving Microsoft, I actually sat down and wrote a sort-of autobiography. I reflected on what the most defining events along the way would be. I was intentional about describing (in great detail) what I wanted to be remembered for and the way I spent my time. Eventually, how you spend your time is who you become. Conducting this thought experiment gave me more clarity on what mattered most to me and why. This doesn’t need to be 100 pages long, but it does need to give you an idea of what you want your journey to be.

This activity is like one I encourage clients and colleagues to do that requires them to envision their life one year from now by imagining walking into a room of close family and friends and considering:

  • What they have accomplished and what they are doing now, including who they are doing it with
  • Where they are living
  • How much income they are earning
  • How much fun they are having
  • What difference in the world they are making each day
  • How they feel

I suggest they consider the qualities, beliefs, attitudes, and skills necessary to live this future life. Then, I ask them to write, preferably by hand, in as much detail as possible, what their life is like and how they feel. While some clients resist completing the exercise longhand, writing by hand actually increases neural activity, helps us learn, and forces us to slow down and be intentional, according to Nancy Olson in her Forbes article “Three Ways that Handwriting With A Pen Positively Affects Your Brain.” In “The Psychological Benefits of Writing By Hand,” Aytekin Tank writes:

When you write by hand, you write more thoughtfully. Such mindful writing rests the brain, unlocking potential creativity, says neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre. “Recent neuroscientific research has uncovered a distinct neural pathway that is only activated when we physically draw out our letters,” she writes. “And this pathway, etched deep with practice, is linked to our overall success in learning and memory.”

This is a fantastic activity to do as we approach the end of the year. The videographer I work with, Daniel Bennett, recently recounted his experience. He couldn’t find the document, but he remembered the things he’d written and shared with me how many of those goals he envisioned he not only met but exceeded.

The power of this exercise lies in getting clear about what you want in your life, much in the way Utkarsh Amitabh describes in writing his future autobiography. When you envision your life one year in the future, what do you see? Remember, when we set our sights short, we fall short. But when we dream big, the sky’s the limit.

For additional email best practices, check out The Muse founder Alex Cavoulacos’s article “Finally, the 23 Unwritten Rules of Email.”

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