While December and January are, classically, the months of list-making, writing a list to clarify what you need might not be your plan. List-making this time of year starts when we are small: we encourage children to make wish-lists, what they hope for as presents. As adults, we make shopping lists and, as the New Year approaches, lists of goals (its own kind of wish list). It’s during these months we ask what we want to have and what we want to accomplish.
But in the midst of writing down “what I wish” and “what I’m going to do,” we can completely overlook “what I need.”
Isn’t that why wish lists don’t satisfy and why goals often go unmet? We’ve been too caught up in hopes and ambition without being honest with ourselves about where we are and what we need in the present moment. What you need is not as glamorous as Pinterest gift idea boards or new calendars with goal charts. What you need probably won’t get any social media likes. But what you need is foundational. If you don’t have protein, you won’t have energy and dessert won’t sit well. It’s that simple. We can’t enjoy what we want to do or the things we want to have unless we have what we need. And while we all know this in our heads, we also (often this time of year) forget.
To determine what you need, we suggest opening a blank document, pulling up your notes app or finding a scrap of paper. Taking ideas from your head to the page solidifies them–makes them concrete. We say it all the time at Find Your Voice, but it’s true: it’s the magic of writing.
So get out your notebook and clarify what you need by asking these simple questions:
(1) What time of day do you find yourself feeling “off” (anxious, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, exhausted)? What part of the day just seems to push you over the edge?
Maybe it’s early morning–when there seems to be too much to do and on top of it the dog is whining to go out. Maybe it’s afternoon, when the coffee has worn off, and you can’t keep your eyes open. Maybe it’s school pick-up or right before eight when you pour yourself some wine. Maybe it’s halfway through your Netflix show–which you keep watching anyways.
Write about that time of day. Start with yesterday. What happened leading up to that feeling? How did you cope with the feeling? Did your feelings resolve? How or how not? Tell the story of that hour like you would tell a friend.
Then go back a few days–maybe back to the weekend. What happened that day? Take ten minutes and tell that story. Who was involved? What did you eat?
Now go back a week to that time. What happened? What were you doing before and after? Don’t skimp on the details.
(2) What are the connections between these stories?
Other than time of day, what are the parallels? What makes each an emotional moment? Do you have similar thoughts? See similar people? What do you see as the main themes? Spend at least fifteen minutes thinking about what makes these moments similar.
Then, take a break from your writing. Come back in an hour or tomorrow. You have one last question to think about:
(3) Can you imagine a different ending to these stories?
Yes, just those three stories–the three days where you had moments that inspired certain feelings (or no feelings). What could have changed those situations? Can you imagine a situation in which you felt energized, content, productive, or loving? What would that take?
Write about it. Be ridiculous. Be serious. Be all the things. What would it take?
Chances are, the new story you’ve imagined has some impossibilities involved (a dog that doesn’t need to go out in the morning, a different school pick-up time, less work at work, etc.). But, if you look closely (and keep imagining), you might ALSO be able to spot something that is attainable (an earlier bedtime, a babysitter, a different schedule at work).
Obviously, what you come up with will not fix all your life problems. It certainly won’t get you everything on your wish list or guarantee that you’ll reach your goals come 2020. But in a small way, it will inch you towards getting your needs met.
And that is an inch well worth the effort.
Looking to clarify what you need all year round? Sign up for Monday Motivation for a weekly, reflective writing prompt. Follow the Find Your Voice Instagram account for another weekly writing prompt, plus plenty of other inspiration.
And if you need more help writing during the holidays specifically, check out our holiday blog series: