Do you find that when you write things that you want to achieve, you’re more likely to follow through with them? It’s a strange thing to consider: why would I retain something better after writing it down – it’s already in my head to begin with!
In this piece we will go over the following points:
The three stages of memory creation
How writing things down improves recall
Writing practices you can use to help achieve your goals.
THE THREE STAGES OF MEMORY CREATION
Stage 1. Encoding
Encoding is the input of information into our minds, sometimes referred to as “learning by perceiving”. Your brain is taking in a sensory experience and translating it into a memory, ready for storage.
Stage 2. Storage
Fascinatingly, our brains change every single time we experience, well, anything! Just as you would create a sticky note to remember to pick up bread and milk from the market, our brains make small biochemical alterations to store new memories. These memories are stored across several different areas of the brain. Think of your brain as a big warehouse. Except that instead of storing that kayak you bought in 2007 and used once, it’s storing that time the hot barista said “Enjoy!” whilst handing you your coffee and you replied with “You too!” … yep, thanks brain.
Stage 3. Retrieval or recall
The third stage of memory creation is recalling the experience we had or the information we stored. For example, if you sit an exam in college, the answer you write to a question involves retrieving the information you encoded and then stored by studying.
HOW WRITING THINGS DOWN IMPROVES RECALL
There are a few theories that are discussed when considering this.
One is that the act of purposefully putting time aside to write out your goals has a layered impact on memory creation. The more senses you engage, the better your recall of something is. Not only are you thinking about this goal, you’re creating an entire scenario to remember: you’re up at 6am drinking your lovely hot coffee in your front room (the nicest room of the house) as you take some time for yourself to think about what you really want in life. Think of this as the ritualization that leads to better, more reinforced memory creation, if you will.
Another theory is that the need to clearly articulate your goal in detail has a double-whammy affect. Not only are you writing down your goals, but the process itself forces you to re-visualize what it is you want, consider why you want it, and perhaps add in information you might not have considered if you just left this half-baked yearning floating around in your head. We distil the information out, and at the same time, re-absorb it in a better form! And this makes the journey forward clearer.
Yet another theory is that the reiteration of this goal by the conscious mind for the subconscious mind infers the high importance of the goal. You can just imagine our subconscious mind going, “He’s talking about wanting to run that Boston marathon thing again, I think he’s serious this time!”
Ultimately, we can imagine it’s a combination of the above theories (and likely plenty more — we’re not medical specialists or scientists!!) that makes writing down our goals such a fruitful practice.
WRITING PRACTICES YOU CAN USE TO HELP ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS
You might have heard about something called Morning Pages before. This is essentially a form of free writing, where you commit to writing three pages of whatever you want every morning.
While the practice itself feels relatively formless, free writing contributes to greater mental clarity, which is hugely beneficial if you’re not entirely sure what your goals are just yet. Think of it as a bit of a brain dump — you’re spilling out all those spinning thoughts onto paper so you can focus on what matters during the day. In this way, free writing can help us decipher what we really want, and what is really important to us. We love this video guide to Morning Pages by the glorious Amy Landino.
For those who love to be organised! And for those who strive to be! Bullet journaling is a method of personal planning designed by New York-based designer Ryder Carroll, who describes it as a way to "Help you track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future." For most it becomes a combination of planning, to-do lists, achievement tracking and creative expression. Known by devoted bullet journal-ers as 'Bujo' this writing strategy can be done daily, weekly or even monthly. Once you have a set up planned out that you enjoy the task itself can become very nurturing and grounding - personal a home for both planning and reflection simultaneously.
Letters to the future
Writing letters to your future self is a great way of cementing your goals, but it's also a fantastic tool for reflecting on your progress. Not only are you fulfilling the writing-down side of things, but you’re also scheduling in a reminder of those goals to pop up in your inbox. Set your delivery date for 1 month, 3 months or 6 months' time to check in on your own progress and plan your next steps!