Make It Plain – The Practice of Writing

I’ve heard of the benefits of writing your goals and dreams down. From a scriptural standpoint, there’s Habakkuk 2:2 (AMP), “And the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by.” From a scientific standpoint, there’s the correlation between writing and deepening neural paths. Also from a physiological standpoint, there’s the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine into your system, which is responsible for personal focus and goal achievement. So here I am, ruminating about some of my hopes and dreams, and subsequently, goals.

Goals are dreams with a deadline. I cannot say where I first heard this, but it’s a true statement. The benefit of writing down these goals and dreams is that it strengthens your desire for them. It clarifies your vision. Simon Sinek, a renowned ethnographer, says in his book Leaders Eat Last that it’s important to define your “vision” — that is, to “make it plain” — in order to achieve goals. For dopamine to be released into your system, it’s needs prompting; it needs a measure for progress, a benchmark that gauges your progress. He uses the analogy of running up a hill to an apple tree. From a distance, you see the tree and think, “Wow, that apple would be nice to have.” So you start making your way up the hill. Every time you look upon the tree ahead, bam, you get a shot of dopamine. You keep going, and again, a shot of dopamine as you see yourself making strides toward your goal. Then you finally reach the tree and you feel a sense of accomplishment, of pride (which is the chemical serotonin). Without a clear vision, you cannot make real change, real progress. God’s command to “Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets” is to encourage progress and promote accountability (“that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it]”). There’s something to this practice of writing.

I have dreams of a balanced life. Don’t we all? I’m most fortunate to feel that my life is mostly “play” because I love graphic design so much. No doubt it’s work; but for the most part, it’s play for me. It comes naturally. I have few hobbies because I’m so content with my trade. The discontentment I currently feel lies in my disproportionate allocation of time and energy to select aspects of my life. I see where I’m neglecting my spiritual walk, which is still very much important to me. I’m not as kindly and confidently considerate of my health, as I should. I don’t play with my dog, Charlie, nearly enough, nor as much as I want to (I love my baby, *smile*). I’ve slacked in keeping my home, and I’ve neglected my love for cooking. I see to my right an unopened block printing kit that I bought months ago to revisit my love for printmaking. To my left, my tackle box of decade-old oil paints, thinners, and glosses. My blend of Grumbacher and generic brand brushes reside in a rusty nostalgic Nabisco saltine cracker tin sitting atop of my office bookcase, next to my stacks of paper swatchbooks, the tools of my trade. There are things in play that are prompting my accounting of time and energy. My health isn’t [thankfully] out of control, but I’m severely obese and my heart (physically and metaphorically) is under great pressure. Heart issues run in my family (again, physically and metaphorically). Physically, stress and lack of rest are taking its toll on my heart and body. GERD and angina flare up. The metaphoric part is equally important to the physical, for it’s the heart that is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Bouts of melancholy riddle my life; sometimes from unknown origins. In the end, I see the root causes being a lack of love for myself.

Funny, I found myself the other day pouting before God, about how I’ve don’t have yet what I want. Self-pity, party of one. I stopped myself while at the office to work out my emotions, as I’ve found this the best way for productivity. (I’ve found that avoidance of inner angst simply distracts you from your work at hand. Taking a little time to work through your thoughts and emotions typically gets you back on track more quickly.) I began to write. I acknowledged how down I felt for not being the woman I wanted to be: healthy, debt-free, in a thriving relationship, loved. Then I wrote out what I really felt, “I’m sad that I don’t already have what I want.” I drew a giant arrow upward toward that statement, writing below it, “SERIOUSLY?!!!” Oh my gosh, I was whining. Seriously, whining. I instantly associated my pouting to that of a kid whining over not being given immediately what they wanted. It humbled me. It redirected my focus from the “end” to the “means”. Just as you wouldn’t place a malnourished child in front of a buffet without risking their health, you do not instantly grant one’s wish for wholeness without preparing their heart to receive it. It’s liken to the Biblical parable of the new and old wineskins. I’m thankful for the clarity I gained that day, as it took away the guilt and shame I felt from having not yet attained those desires, and also reframed my understanding of progress. I gained hope in the realization of progress — I was in fact reaching those dreams; but most importantly, I gained hope by refocusing myself from the attainment of goals to the Giver of Life. I do not need to idolize things in my life; they are false measurements of status and character. No matter where I’m at in this journey, I have everything for Him and in Him and by Him. He has my best in mind by pacing my progress. Without knowing how to own the changes in my life, I wouldn’t be able to possess them. Feed a malnourished child heavy whole foods and they’ll puke. Temper them into eating such food, and their body will acclimate. I needed to regain my vision. Writing it down helped to “make it plain”.

The dreams I have for holistic health and being in a healthy romantic relationship are valid. They are desirable. There’s nothing wrong with having them. But without love for myself, they are in vain. You do not fix a metal ship with wood (another saying I’ve heard of, but do not know of its origin). Subsequently, nothing in this life will ever satisfy your soul other than the love of Christ. Even romantic love is meant as a complement, not a supplement. The holes we have in our hearts need to be filled with the same materials for which we were created with — God’s word. We were formed from the dust He spoke into existence and brought to life with the breath of His spirit. The way I achieve change is by focusing myself on His love and truth about me. His love and truth form the basic principles for my existence, my true topography.

I’m convicted to treat myself with greater love. To love myself as He does. His love for me has been shown in reading of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey. Dr. Covey proves that without correct maps to navigate one’s personal topography, we cannot make significant strides in the right direction. That is, if you are climbing a ladder, gaining height with each step, it makes no difference how high you are if you’re climbing up the side of the wrong building. Or if you have a correct map for the city of Detroit but find yourself driving in Chicago, then well, you’ll remain lost. No real progress will be made. Identifying my own topography and making correct maps — the principles by which I define myself and progress — has been God’s objective all along. To this date, I can see where He’s guided me in building a firm foundation. I’ve come so far and have greater things ahead of me, for I know whom leads me; I have assurity in the path He’s blazing, and confidence that the end result will be worth the difficulty and pain. Owning my thoughts and decisions and aligning them with His love and truth are finding me in a much more beneficial and desirable situation than I would have ever been on my own. My striving for wholeness really wasn’t gaining me traction. Again, like a whining kid , squirming in place, making a spectacle of myself jumping up and down in a fit of frustration, all the while not gaining one ounce of ground or pleasure. By gaining a clearer vision of what’s at hand, finding the discipline to persevere and traverse unknown lands, I’m realizing my true dreams. I’m gaining ground. I’m gaining evidence of my hope. I’m increasing in faith, both in myself and God.

It’s this firm foundation that leads me to want to visualize my dreams and set goals. I have hopes of losing weight, gaining a more shapely figure, feeling unashamed of walking (imaging life without the sound of chafing thighs!), and gaining the ability to bend over with ease. I dream of incorporating more time for fine art in my life. I genuinely miss printmaking, painting and drawing. What I miss most is the freedom to explore creatively. I dream of playing with Charlie at Shakespeare park, of seeing him at a more healthy weight and higher spirit as a result. I dream of having the financial stability and capability to adventure further into my design career — to have a safety net with which to take risks. Part of that dream is to move outside of the Gulf Coast states to broaden my perspective of design, business, and life. I dream of owning a home debt-free and being wealthy enough to give charitably, freely. I dream of enjoying exercise, of exploring new forms of exercise, of going skydiving, rock climbing, and surfing. Jogging a hilly trail is on my to-do list, as also owning and using (*wink*) a car bike rack and a nice bike. I want to sit in a theater or plane and not worry about crowding the persons to my left and right; to have adequate elbow room without pulling my arms in. I long for a healthy romantic relationship, where I’m confident enough to be transparent at all times, and find a man who’ll adore me. I dream of being able to love him intensely and liberally. I dream of respecting him with faithfulness, love, thriftiness, and generosity. I dream of making a home with him and our future family. I dream of mothering my future children and serving my Mom and in-laws in their older age. I dream of owning a business, a branding and marketing firm; of mentoring young designers and general business people, and developing relationships with seasoned vets of a variety of industries. I seek to positively influence those in my life, to let them know they’re loved and exhort them to attain all of whom they are and meant to be; to be “iron that sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:1) and love (an oil of gladness) to a wounded soul. I dream of leading, not following (though also following where I’m called by authorities in my life). I dream of finding and keeping balance between my career and family lives, to be an invested mother in my family’s life while also embodying the qualities and values of a dedicated designer and entrepreneur  — the person whom I am — giving example to my children of being wise, optimistic, capitalistic, and dedicated.

I think that I’ll need to wait before documenting goals. Just writing out these dreams is churning more ideas and dreams in my heart and mind. As Dr. Covey exhorts in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I’m needing to start with the end in mind (“first creation” and “second creation”, read the book to find out more about this) and be proactive by writing a personal mission statement — a mapping of my personal topography, establishing healthy principles to base my ambitions and goals on; simply, gaining a true north.

I highly recommend that you practice the habit of writing. It strengthens your neural connections, gives clarity to your vision, promotes the appropriate release of dopamine, and allows you to envision what life will be like when you are proactive. Note, being proactive is different than being productive: proactive means making purposeful strides to the desired outcome. People can be productive, but not always proactive. I will share my personal mission statement in a later post. It will lay a foundation for my dreams and goals.

Jennifer Wiggins
Principal, J. Wiggins Designs. Jesus lover. Proponent of design, strategy, & servant leadership. Believes God & art call us into a story greater than ourselves.