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The Power of Writing Down Your Goals

Melanie Bragg


  • The author describes three examples from her own life where putting her goals into words, writing them down, and truly believing in them helped her bring these goals to fruition.
  • The author recently stumbled upon a diary entry she had made 24 years earlier, and she saw that her 18-year-old self had accurately formulated how she would approach her career.
  • As an exercise in a Jack Canfield personal growth program, the author was asked to list 104 things she wanted to achieve. Five years later, she found that she had achieved almost half of them.
  • When the author was just starting her exploration of mindfulness, she wrote a book chapter projecting how these practices would impact her life. Her hopes have largely been realized.
The Power of Writing Down Your Goals
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This month I want to relay three memorable defining moments when I realized the incredible power of writing down my goals. Each time it happened, what I had been told and had learned about goal setting came to fruition in my life. The power of forming the goal, writing it down, and then believing it was possible made it come to fruition, even though in all three cases, I had not even looked at the paper the goal was written on again for years.

The first instance was Saturday, September 4, 1976, when I was 18 years old; I wrote something in my diary that I did not see again until I was 42 years old. In 1976 I had one and a half years of junior college under my belt and had spent the spring semester in Europe, mainly Paris. I was about to continue my education the following January at the University of Texas at Austin. On that day, I wrote (on my beloved electric typewriter in cursive font):

I’m going to really crack down in school. All the things my father has pounded into my head for years are finally beginning to make sense to me. He always said if I was a lawyer, I could probably do anything I wanted to do after that. I believe he is right. I still want to become an authority on art history, but I think if I can hack it through law school that would be the best thing for me. I could be independent and have my own career. I might also be interested in rape cases and women abuse cases. I think the law profession needs some compassion and more women. I think I can do it.

I did not ever look at this entry again until 24 years later, when I was moving and stumbled on that page while perusing some old paperwork. By that time, I was 42 years old and had been a lawyer for 17 years. I had worked my way through college and law school, become the first woman president of the Houston Young Lawyers Association, had done criminal law every morning for more than ten years, and had become a national children’s advocate through my bar association work. I also had started my own practice and had all the independence I ever wanted to have (and still do.) I had created a fulfilling and satisfying career for myself. I was part of the first wave of women entering the profession, which sure did need us. I had become a compassionate woman who was devoted to helping our profession.

The two key parts of the diary entry are when I said, “I believe he is right” and “I think I can do it.” My belief was strong. I believed in myself, and I believed in my father’s wise counsel. A strong affirmation of belief is required to make your goals happen.

Finding that page again after 24 years, I was overcome with emotion when I saw what I had written—long forgotten but so very powerful. I realized then the absolute power of writing down your goals. It puts your intentions out in the universe.

Jack Canfield, the co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and my beloved mentor, recommends reinforcing the intentions stated in the goals by looking at them often, but I learned that day how powerful it was just to write it down and forget about it, too.

Another example of the power of writing down your goals occurred when I was working in a Jack Canfield personal growth program, and we were asked to make a list of 104 things we wanted to achieve. The list was comprised of all kinds of things from business to personal, financial to frivolous. I did not look at that list for about five years, but when I did, I was again shocked at how many of the goals I had achieved with so little conscious effort. Out of the 103 items, I had achieved about 45 of them. That is a pretty good number seeing as many of them were goals that would have required a lot of luck to achieve—like meeting Barbara Streisand. (On the other hand, I did meet the volleyball player and podcaster Gabrielle Reece, who is married to my surfer hero Laird Hamilton, at the Vosges chocolate store at Chicago O’Hare airport.)

The final example is also one that really makes me laugh when I think about it. In 2005 I got to publish my first chapter in an ABA book called How to Capture and Keep Clients: Marketing Strategies for Lawyers. My chapter was on “Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work.” In 2015 the ABA was putting together the second edition of that book, and I got to write an expanded version of that first chapter. I also wanted to do a new chapter about mindfulness—I was at the beginning stages of doing that work in my life and sharing it with lawyers. At that time there was not that much written about mindfulness for lawyers. I read a book about mindful business, but I was basically on my own.

I titled the chapter “The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line.” Rather than just talking about wellness, I really wanted lawyers to understand that mindfulness could help them prosper—I know that making money is a big priority for us. Yes, we do have altruistic hearts, but we also work hard to make a good living. I have joked about this to myself that in creating the chapter, I just “made some stuff up”—presenting mindfulness as a path to a more prosperous law practice was really an expression of my goals rather than my experience.

I taught my first mindfulness CLE in 2017 at the GPSolo Division Spring Meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the group of about 12 lawyers who attended stayed an extra 45 minutes on a beautiful sunny day. I realized then that this is content people want and need. In 2017 I started writing my bimonthly “Mindfulness 101” column in GPSolo eReport and pretty much have walked the walk and talked the talk on creating a steady, daily mindfulness practice and have continued learning and growing in my dedicated efforts.

And all the while, as my chapter promised, my practice has become much more successful, and my relationships with my clients have gotten so much better and less stressful. As I really committed to my personal growth, a funny thing happened—I learned to set boundaries and to deal with clients in a much different way than I had in the past. I became more productive as I focused on energy management rather than time management.

I know now that while I was sincere about the premise of that chapter when I wrote it, I really had no idea at the time that I was for sure right that the “practice of mindfulness will increase your bottom line.” Now, I am living proof that it will increase your bottom line because I have experienced it in my own life. It feels so much more secure and stable to be practicing law and living life this way. I wrote it and lived it and became it.

I want to share the good news with you and encourage you to write down your goals—no matter how outrageous they may seem at the time. In 2003 I was at a Jack Canfield Best-Selling Author program in Santa Barbara. He gave us an assignment to set some BHAGs—big hairy awesome goals. Being the prudent and rational lawyer, I raised my hand and said, “Jack, do those goals need to be reasonably foreseeable considering my situation and life circumstances?” Jack smiled and said to me, “You need to take my self-esteem class.”

I was puzzled for a while, but now I understand what he meant. Be outrageous. Be brave. Think of what you want and write it down. Now that you know about my three defining moments when I wrote things down with no direct intentions and how they manifested, just think how powerful it can be when you really have the intention! Jack says to write your big goals down on the back of your business card and carry them in your wallet or purse. Look at them every day. Watch the magic unfold as your dreams come true. I am living proof, and you can do it, too. I want to hear your goal-setting stories! Please contact me with your questions or comments at [email protected].

Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer's Soul

Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer's Soul

Defining Moments: Insights Into the Lawyer’s Soul
By Melanie Bragg
ISBN: 9781641054195
Product Code: 1620777
2019, 241 pages, paperback and e-book
$29.95; member price $23.95