It Down, Make It Happen
by Henriette Anne Klauser
Help from Your
Writing down your dreams and
aspirations is like hanging up a sign that says,
"Open for Business." Or, as my friend Elaine
puts it, by writing it down, you declare yourself in the
game. Putting it on paper alerts the part of your brain
known as the reticular activating system to join you in
At the base of the brain stem,
about the size of a little finger, is a group of cells
whose job it is to sort and evaluate incoming data. This
control center is known as the reticular activating
system (RAS). The RAS sends the urgent stuff to the
active part of your brain, and sends the nonurgent to
the subconscious. The RAS awakens the brain to
consciousness, and keeps it alert—just as surely as
your baby's cry in the night, from all the way down the
hall, can waken you from a deep sleep. The RAS evaluates
the nonessential nighttime noises—the dripping faucet,
the crickets, or neighborhood traffic—and filters out
the nonurgent, waking you up only for the urgent. The
baby cries, and in a split second you are bolt upright
in bed, wide awake and ready to rescue the infant in
The keenest, most familiar
example of the reticular activating system at work is an
experience all of us have had at one time or another.
You are in a packed room; you can barely hear the
conversation of the person you are talking to above the
din of the crowd. Suddenly, someone clear on the other
side of the room mentions your name. And
that one word cuts through the sea of sound and your
ears immediately perk up. You turn your head toward the
speaker, eager now to tune in the rest of what he or she
is saying about you, straining to hear if it is good
news, ready to defend the bad.
That is a prime example of your
monitoring mechanism, your reticular activating system,
at work. You have just tuned in to something specific
and useful to you.
Although you may think you are
giving your conversational companion undivided
attention, the fact is your attention is fragmented and
subconsciously taking in the tower of babel around you,
sorting, sorting, sorting, even as you speak. Your name
when spoken stands out as prominently as a speck of gold
in a miner's pan of gravel.
The RAS is like a filtering
system of the brain. Writing it down sets up the filter.
Things start to appear—it's a matter of your filtering
If you have never owned a Honda
before, and you buy a blue Honda, all of a sudden you
see blue Hondas all over town. You might wonder. Where
are all these blue Hondas coming from? But they were
there all along; you were just not paying attention to
Putting a goal in writing is
like buying a blue Honda; it sets up a filter that helps
you be aware of certain things in your surroundings.
Writing triggers the RAS, which in turn sends a signal
to the cerebral cortex: "Wake up! Pay attention!
Don't miss this detail!" Once you write down a
goal, your brain will be working overtime to see you get
it, and will alert you to the signs and signals that,
like the blue Honda, were there all along.
Often a goal, once written,
will materialize without any further effort on your
part. But it doesn’t hurt to "prime the
pump." The more attractive you make whatever you
ambition, and the more you approach it in a spirit of
fun, the more others will want to play along to make
your dream a reality.
I call this playful spreading
of the word "polishing coconuts."
Scientists in the sixties were
monitoring monkeys on a remote Japanese island who were
cleaning sand off sweet potatoes by washing them in a
stream. When the critical mass of monkeys doing this
activity reached a certain number, primates on another
island began doing the same thing. Ken Keyes Jr. took
this experiment as a metaphor for an individual's
personal responsibility to think peace. You never know
if you might be the "hundredth monkey"
exploding the common consciousness into mass
I use the expression
"polishing coconuts" (somehow it is more
catchy than "getting sand off yams") to mean
how activity in one area generates movement in another.
When you show your earnestness and intention by writing
it down, something opens up. The word gets out. My sons,
James and Peter, own and operate a graphic design firm.
They are imaginative, creative, and indefatigable
workers and their business is thriving. At the beginning
of each month, they have a planning session where they
write down their goals for the month. Then every Monday
morning, they select and write on a dry erase board the
goals for the week. From that point on, they know that
their activities—often indirectly—will feed those
goals. What delights them constantly is the amount of
work they get from untapped sources.
Peter and James are gleeful
when they talk about the successes they have
"polishing coconuts"—when they are wooing
one account and another opens up from an unexpected
place. Peter gives an example: "We wanted to
generate more business for Bullseye Graphics, so we put
together a newsletter and sent it out to our existing
clients. Almost immediately, we started getting phone
calls, but interestingly enough, the phone calls weren't
from clients; they were from people not on our mailing
list. We were putting the energy out there, and the
phone started ringing—from new contacts."
They wrote down the goal: We
want more exposure, to get
our name before the public.
They set up a booth at a trade show; they sent notices
out to area companies who might need design help; they
approached new businesses with an introductory offer
giving them a deal on an identity package. Many of these
efforts and expenditures did not pan out directly, but
what was totally unexpected and could not have been
predicted was that one day they got a call from the Wall
Street Journal. The Wall Street journal
was doing an article on successful small businesses and
had been given their name by a local Kinko's copy shop
as two "movers and shakers." The article went
out on the Internet and gave them all kinds of exposure.
Finding a Perfect Marketing
My friend Holly was interested
in hiring someone to help her do an infomercial. I told
her to write down her goal, and then I started
"polishing coconuts" for her on my little
island. I called several fellow speakers for referrals
and they in turn led me to some of the best in the
industry. I contacted each of them, told them about
Holly, and got good advice from all of them. Then I
brainstormed some ideas with my pal John, who had just
done an infomercial, to get some tips from him to pass
on to Holly.
When I called Holly back with
all this information, she had hired someone—the
perfect match had called her. Did that mean my time was
wasted, that I was of no help to her at all, because the
answer came from a different quarter? Not at all. Bob
McChesney, my friend and teacher, calls it,
"stirring the pot."
Holly stirs up the pot by
calling me; I stir up the pot for Holly, and her former
publicist, who is now directing infomercials, calls out
of the blue, and offers to help Holly do exactly what
she needs. That's the way the world works, and how the
wheels are set in motion when you write down your goals.
creates a kind of Jungian synchronicity, a convergence
of meaningful events. Write it down to be clear in your
commitment to its possibility, and then activity here
will create related movement there.
Write it down to make it
You never know when your signal
will be picked up on another island.
Copyright © 2000
Henriette Anne Klauser Ph.D. Excerpted from "Write
It Down, Make It Happen: Knowing what you want -- and
getting it!" by Henriette Anne Klauser (Simon &
Schuster). All rights reserved, including the right of
reproduction in whole or in any form.
Henriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D. is one of America's leading authorities on communications and writing productivity. She is the author of the best-selling books Writing on Both Sides of the Brain (HarperCollins, 1987, now in its 20th printing) and Put Your Heart on Paper (Bantam, 1995, now in its 6th printing). Her new book, Write it Dawn, Make it Happen, (Simon & Schuster, 2000) is now available.
Henriette is the president of Writing
Resources (www.henrietteklauser.com), a seminar and consulting organization in
existence since 1979 with offices in Edmonds, Washington. She has taught at the University of Washington, California State University, Seattle University, University of Lethbridge (Canada), and Fordham. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, universities and national associations throughout North America. A past trustee of the Northwest Writers Conference, she is listed in the International Who's Who in Business and Professional Women. Her workshops have taken her around the world, including Cairo, Egypt and the island of Skyros in Greece.
Dr. Klauser has been featured in such diverse
publications as Glamour Magazine, Good Housekeeping, The New Age Journal, as well as an interview by USA Today.
In a world that is becoming more high-tech by the day, Henriette has dedicated her life to helping people think, write and work together more
efficiently while keeping the element of high-touch and humanity
alive in their communication.