Finding Your Adjectives

Last night, my mind was so cluttered and loud I knew there was no way I’d get to sleep without a bath. I was being slammed in all directions and feeling this way about this and that way about that and everything else about every other thing. Yikes! I had to sort it all out.

I lit candles, filled the bath with almost hot water, sunk in to my chin and thought. No iPod, no other distraction. Just me and my head.

I identified three things that wanted my attention the most: 1) Who am I? 2) What do I want? and 3) Will I ever be warm again?

The answer to #3 is probably not until spring and #1 is an ongoing process, so let’s move on to #2.

What do I want? Well, the bath helped me see that I want things that I really don’t want, but it was late and I let it be and fell asleep. Then riding the recumbent bike today, I read the latest column by Martha Beck in O Magazine, “Words to the Wise,” and I pursued the question further.

Beck writes that we can say, “I want to lose weight” or whatever other goal we think we want to pursue, but the real question is why? What’s behind that goal or dream?

She suggests we first identify a goal. A typical noun-verb one. (If you’re playing along, make sure you pick your most ambitious one.)

Second, create a fantasy about what your life would be like if you realize your goal.

Third, identify at least three adjectives that describe this fantasy. As Beck says (and she’s right), this is not easy. You can’t say, “Well, it’s hard to describe” or “It’s hard to explain.” List three adjectives that you think will define your accomplishment at the end of your journey. What would happen and how would we feel if we really achieved our goals?

“They don’t have to be eloquent,” says Beck. “Use simple words like ‘energetic,’ ‘focused,’ ‘delighted’ and ‘fine.’”

Finally, drop the fantasy you imagined and concentrate on the adjectives.

“You might notice that these three words bring your stated goal into shaper focus. For instance, if your New Year’s resolution is to lose 10 pounds – a noun-verb goal – but your adjectives are “strong,” “confident” and “healthy,” you might realize that your actual aim is to get fit.”

Ah…that’s the kicker. My goals often aren’t the goals other people envision for me, and I need to take back ownership of what I want. That’s what this exercise showed me today.

When I was in the tub last night, I realized there are many things I think I should want to do or be. But today, when I stepped back and gave them a noun-verb identification, some of them just rubbed me wrong. They didn’t feel right to me.

As I moved on to the fantasy, I felt the reality in my gut. Then in step three – the adjectives – most of the “whys” of my goals became pretty clear.

“So if you find yourself longing for some idealized goal, take a moment to go fishing for adjectives. Then use them to identify the aspects of your life that are already drawing you toward your heart’s desires.”

When I reflected on my adjectives, I realized many of the things I do in my everyday life already fulfill many of the goals I’d set for myself. They just don’t necessarily reflect what others think I should want to do.

The bottom line is that I like the way my life is grooving right now. I like the way things are working out. I like feeling who I am from the inside out. Adding other people’s goals to my agenda doesn’t feel right. Does this ever happen to you?

What’s your idealized goal (and you don’t have to write it here…just think about it)? Is it really something you want or does someone else (or society) want it for you?

This time of year is about peace. I’m choosing to find it within myself. That is my wish for all of you, too. Do what you want to do because it’s what you want to do, not because someone else says you should.

12 thoughts on “Finding Your Adjectives

  1. Oh, I like that, Lynn! You know, I think that helps make me realize what's making it “stick” this time: the adjectives aren't “1xx pounds” or “size x”, they're ones like “strong” and “healthy” and “delighted.”

    Though I must say, I've always have trouble with the “what do I want?” question. Because when I look deeper to what I *really* want, it's usually something I have already.

  2. Great post, Lynn. It deals with some very good questions that we (I) need to explore. Sometimes I get confused about what I really want, but I also am very happy with most of what I have in life–except for my weight.

    I'm going to do this exercise very soon. You understand the essence of what it is that can hold us back in so many ways. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh my gosh, Lynn, I just read this Martha Beck piece last night! I came away feeling much the way you describe — I'm already doing a lot of things that make me happy (hurray!). I just need to rectify that with feeling like I have to satisfy what (I think) others are thinking. That's OBVIOUSLY going to take some work, lol.

    I can't remember who/what introduced me to Gretchen Rubin and her “Happiness Project” blog — it may have been you, because I think you'd really like it. If so, thanks; if not, check it out! She writes beautifully about the ups and the downs of discovering who we are and what we really want. (If you're like me, you should be prepared to get drawn deeper and deeper into the site, because she has articulated so many things my heart, soul, and mind have been asking.) I hope you enjoy it.

    I am so excited for you and inspired by you. Thank you and happy holidays!

  4. Oh, I appreciated this also! I especially enjoyed doing the fantasy part, and totally got into it, in vivid detail. One idea would lead to another, then another. Wow, it gave me all kinds of motivation.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Ouch. This one hit a little close to home. Sometimes when I am doing yoga, when I should be thinking of nothing, my mind wanders to how impressed my older brother would be if he could see me doing X, Y, or Z.
    I am 48 years old! And still thinking about ways I can impress the big brother….
    Now, thanks to you, I am going to sit down and try to figure out what I want, instead of what my family wants me to be.
    I guess I am disappointed in myself that their opinion matters to me.
    Thanks for the great post.

  6. Maura, thanks for the recommendation. I'll check her out.

    Andy, I totally get what you mean. I, too, try and live up to some family ideal and I catch myself doing it all the time. All my best as you work through your need to please your brother. Please be patient with yourself, though. Promise? 🙂

    I hope the Beck article is online sometime. If it does, I'll post it.

  7. This brought to mind another strategy for figuring yourself out. Even though it was developed by Toyota to figure out root causes for product failures, the 5 Whys are an excellent personal development tool too. It's just like it sounds, you just keep asking yourself Why? Each time you answer, you ask why? again, and then again (5 times, obvs). You can get to some quite uncomfortable places this way if you are honest with yourself. But it's worth it to understand your own root causes of behavior or feelings.

  8. I really enjoyed this post and have definitely gained a follower in me. I like the 5 why's. I use this process in my work, so why not on myself? I will use this for my next post. Thanks!


  9. Lynn, I jsut came across oyur blog for the first time this morning and I have spent sometime milling around. I love it! I feel like I identify with so many things here.

    I love this post inparticular right now. Adjectives can by dirty words really when used incorrectly. The adjective I was always “supposed” to be was skinny….that's whay my grandmother said. The more that adjective was pushed the more it was untrue.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post!!!

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