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Sometime it's good to keep it in your head!

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  • Sometime it's good to keep it in your head!

    I am in the midst of my annual planning process. I follow the guidelines laid out by Jinny S. Ditzler in her book Your Best Year Yet. (I learned of this book on this forum.)

    I recommend this book quite highly for people trying to do the higher-altitude planning: one year and greater. This is my fourth year using Ditzler's methods and they have proved fruitful.

    While doing this planning I was surfing the web and chanced upon an article in the academic Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which, to put it mildly, blew my mind.

    First, writing or speaking (getting it out of your head) about negative life experiences increases life satisfaction. And thinking about negative life experiences decreases life satisfaction relative to the control group. These results did not surprise me, since I have read about similar findings before.

    Second, "private thought about a positive life event was associated with higher satisfaction with life than writing or talking about that event." [701] And the authors further suggest that "writing while systematically analyzing positive experiences is more deleterious to well-being and health than thinking while repetitively replaying these experiences." [705]

    As I do Ditzler's annual planning, I systematically write about my successful acomplishments and my failures and try to write about the lessons I learned from each. It's possible that this is not an optimal planning strategy. It's possible that it's better only to think about the successes and write about the failures.

    The evidence presented in this article suggests that some things are best kept in your head and other things are best gotten out of your head. It's good to get bad things out of your head and good to keep good things in your head. It's bad to keep bad things in your head and bad to get good things out of your head.

    In the terms of the article, I use "it is good" to mean that one will score higher on a life satisfaction survey and "it is bad" to mean that one will score lower on a survey. I use "good things" to mean happy life events and "bad things" to mean traumatic life events. I use "get out of your head" to mean write about or talk about into a tape recorder. I use "keep in your head" to mean think about.

    The connections between the experiments referred to in this article and GTD are tenuous but tantalizing. GTD is, allegedly, "the art of stress-free productivity." I feel that I have benefited enormously by systematic, regular practice of GTD's fundamental principle to get stuff out of my head. Let's assume that "stress-free" is a very free transation of "score higher on life satisfaction surveys."

    Now I make a leap that logic does not justify. If getting bad things out of your head is good, and if doing GTD is good, then, maybe, the GTD "stuff" is bad. That is, maybe the NAs and projects I am putting into my trusted system are painful and traumatic, akin to thoughts about negative life events. And just as writing about negative life events makes me happy, putting NAs and projects into my trusted system makes me happy.

    I do not believe that the leap made in the previous paragraph is entirely unjustified. It is painful to repetitively think about the report due next month that I haven't started, the cost analysis that is three months behind schedule, and the birthday gift I haven't yet bought. It is satisfying to get all these commitments organized into a single, highly analytical, system, allowing me to let go of repetitive, negative thoughts.

    The research also hints at a higher form of Allen and Ditzler's methods. Spend some time each day thinking--but not writing or talking--about your triumphant and happy times past.

  • #2
    Wow - thanks for the ideas! I'm looking forward to reading both.