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Writing and Goals: Resetting the Compass of Your Heart by Patricia McAdoo

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Patricia McAdoo

Patricia McAdoo

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There is no age or stage at which we cannot embrace change, alter our views, review our lives and change our patterns of thinking. Nor is changing our lives all about career. It’s as much about reconsidering our relationships with our families, our partners, our friends. And to reconsider means standing back, taking stock, slowing down, standing still, taking a long pause to breathe and look around and listen to the yearnings we have deep down. Martha Postlewaite in her poem Clearing talks about creating a dense clearing in the forest of your life.

Here are two interconnected practices that can be helpful to do just that.

Fallow Time

If deep down, you find yourself wishing for something more, if you feel there is a disconnect between what you spend your time doing and what you spend your time dreaming about doing some day, when the time is right, then fallow time may offer the space in which to explore what it is you really want for yourself. Letting the ground lie fallow, empty of crops, is an important part of regenerating the soil so that more crops can grow. Fallow time is about not having a fixed agenda. It’s about leaving space to daydream, to mooch, to wonder, to explore, to trust your own judgement, to get acquainted with your sense of intuition. Who knows what might bubble to the surface if you give yourself some time and space in which to let your mind wander without distractions?


In Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem ‘Swineherd’, she writes about listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug. Isn’t there an incredible sense of stillness in that line? Listening to cream crawling to the top of the jug. I love one of the things the writer Anne Lamott wrote when she was summarising what she had learned by the age of sixty: ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.’ Giving yourself regular doses of slow time is good for thinking about what it is you want to do or be, time in which to unplug and switch off from everything and see what happens. So how might that work for you?

There aren’t many places on the planet where you can’t be connected online. But we all need a break from that too. We need silence. So try unplugging. Unwind; be still and observe what happens then. In stillness, we can switch off the endless drone of social media and just listen to the sound of our own heart, what it longs for. Through being still you might sense more opportunities to be creative, to open up new challenges and aspects of yourself you want to explore.

How can you introduce peaceful quiet routines that foster stillness and solitude? Having a good early morning routine helps. No phones ringing, no emails to be answered. It’s a time when you can meditate, write, exercise or do all three. You can use this peaceful time and space to create a sense of stillness and solitude, creating a clearing in all the busyness of our fast-paced 24/7 plugged in lives. If your life tends to be unpredictable – for example if you work shifts or travel frequently or work unpredictable hours – then build in what you can when you can and don’t beat yourself up about not achieving things if it’s been a helter-skelter kind of day.

Writing and Goals

In her research, Laura King has explored how writing about life goals and ideals led to higher psychological wellbeing including personal happiness and life satisfaction. People who identify their own internal goals function more efficiently, flexibly and in a more integrated way across all areas of their lives.

Writing Exercise: Dreams to Live by

The haunting lyrics of Ewan McColl’s song ‘School Days Over’, as sung by the irrepressible Luke Kelly of the Dubliners, paint a vivid picture of young dreams thwarted when boys must take their place in the coal pit and leave behind their school days.

Have you ever had a dream cut short because you had to do your duty? Perhaps you had to take care of an aging parent and give up a great job. Or maybe you ran out of money for college and had to go to work instead to support yourself. Or maybe you had children while you were very young and had to put your own dreams for career or travel on hold for a while.

What was it like to lay down your own plan to do something for someone else or for some other reason? How did you feel? What did you learn from the experience? Did you get to do what you want in the end? If not, what is stopping you now?

(c) Patricia McAdoo

About Five Ways to Better Days:

Five Ways to Better Days is a guide to using expressive writing to achieve health and happiness, bringing the reader through a programme of expressive writing and other important practical mental health and wellbeing strategies. In doing so it focuses on five key areas of positive psychology:

Gratitude: recognition and appreciation for what you already have in your life
Flow: how to immerse yourself in the present moment
Flexible thinking: how to appreciate other viewpoints and become more tolerant
Goals: how to identify what is most emotionally important and practically achievable in your life
Connections: how to value and deepen your connections with others

In an exceptionally practical way, each section of the book provides the reader with writing and non-writing suggestions, practices, ideas and activities to deepen their sense of wellbeing.

Linking the fields of expressive writing and positive psychology in a new and dynamic way, this book provides a practical guide for both the general reader and mental health professionals in counselling, health and social care settings. The practicality of the book also makes it an ideal book for workshops and expressive writing/psychology course material. The techniques provided are based on psychological principles but also on the author’s own knowledge and experience of the rich field of expressive writing.

Five Ways to Better Days is for anyone who wants to use writing to enhance their creativity and their sense of wellbeing, health, resilience and happiness.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Patricia McAdoo is a clinical psychologist and writing facilitator. She provides mental health awareness and wellbeing training in the corporate sector. Patricia is the author of Writing for Wellbeing (Currach Press, 2013) and has experience of print and broadcast media, including interviews on Nationwide and the Last Word, and she has written feature articles for the Sunday Independent and other publications.

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