Every morning, my two boys grab their bags of cars and trucks, dump them out on the floor, and happily line them up into traffic patterns. At the end of the day when it’s finally clean up time, my husband and I patiently hold the bags open while they put them back into the bag one-by-one. Fancy car. School bus. Dump truck. Excavator. They name and claim them all, and despite our attempts to speed up the process, they bristle when we try to rush them.
The intentionality in which my boys put away their toys every night makes me think about how we tend to rush through our day, without taking the time to “name and claim” what actually happened. Even if your evening routine includes journaling to reflect on the day, we rarely take the time to drill down to the specific ways we could have been more intentional with how we spent our time, attention, and focus.
Short writing prompts are an effective way to get to the root of a mindset block that may be preventing you from moving forward in a certain area of your life. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and try these three writing prompts to live more intentionally.
1. Write a breakup letter to your stuff.
If you’re finding it hard to start your decluttering journey, or you’ve stalled or lost motivation, writing a breakup letter to your stuff is a powerful exercise. It can show you where you are still holding on, and what your stuff really means to you. I learned about this exercise through Courtney Carver and it is very eye-opening. Start with “Dear Stuff” and see what comes up.
Here’s my letter:
It isn’t your fault, really.
I put a burden on you that you were never meant to carry.
The burden of my happiness. My greed. My pride because other people wanted you but I was the one who possessed you. My relief in distracting myself for a little while longer from the things I didn’t want to face.
You were unknowingly part of a fantasy life I created where my broken pieces and dark places were hidden beneath your shiny veneer. You held so many promises– that you would fix it somehow, that you could make me into the person that I longed to be. Smarter. More beautiful. Envied by others. Better. For a while I believed it, until the realization came that nothing outside of me could do the work I needed to do on the inside.
I let you go with appreciation, knowing that you did serve a purpose. You allowed me to understand the power you held over me, and no longer have. I could let you go with gratitude because I no longer fear that I am nothing without you. You do not define me.
I used to think that you were pointing me in the direction of my best life, and I listened to your voice telling me where I should go and why. As I let you go, the noise is silenced and reveals a quieter, but stronger voice within me, which is guiding me and growing stronger every day.
Thank you, and goodbye.
2. Write a letter from your fear.
Have you ever given your fear the space to speak and tell you what it has to teach you? We spend so much time and energy pushing it away, it doesn’t occur to us to stop, turn around, and face it head-on.
In the Fear Unmasked meditation by Sarah Blondin, she tells the story of a girl who finally asks the fear suffocating her to speak and tell her what it wishes to teach her. To her amazement, her fear responds. “I wish to tell you you are alive. I wish to remind you of the life inside of you longing to be lived more fully…I am but a fierce and loyal reminder that life–your life–is in your hands…I am here to serve your greater good.”
In a recent podcast interview with Rachel Hollis, author Elizabeth Gilbert recounts how she takes workshop students through an exercise where they write a letter from their fear. It starts very simply: Dear , I am your fear and this is what I want to tell you…. Gilbert recommends spending at least five minutes allowing fear to speak and respectfully listening without interruption.
When I did this exercise, I was surprised with what came up for me. I am ready to pursue writing and teaching as a career rather than a part-time hobby, but my greatest fear is my ability to handle the responsibilities of being “all in” with this pursuit and missing out on the important moments with my boys. As I wrote in my letter, “You can’t do it all, so what is going to suffer?”
I know that I will have to be very intentional with my time and energy in order to reach my career goals and still live in accordance with my values. Seeing my fears written down was extremely powerful and allowed me to feel more confident in taking my next step.
3.Write a letter to yourself to learn from your past and determine your future.
I turned 40 a few weeks ago. Like everything else during COVID, the day was not what I had originally planned. Despite feeling blessed for everything I have, I still felt a sense of loss because I wasn’t celebrating this milestone the way I had hoped. I decided to write a letter to myself to remind myself of everything I had learned over the past year. You can read the full letter here, but here is a small excerpt:
On this very special birthday, I just want you to know that I am proud of you. You have learned a lot about yourself and what you are capable of this past year.
You have faced your fears and the dark parts of yourself you’ve avoided in the past. You brought them into the light even though it hurts sometimes. You are done with beating yourself up, with shrinking back when you have something stirring in your heart and tingling on the tips of your tongue and your fingers.
You are learning. You are growing.
It is so easy to focus on what hasn’t happened in a year like 2020 that it’s hard to remember the ways we’ve grown and changed. In order to know how we want to live going forward, it’s important to reflect on where we’ve been. A birthday letter or an end-of-year letter is a great way to do this.
In addition to writing a letter to your recent self, it is also a helpful exercise to write a letter from the perspective of your future self. Writing your own eulogy can be a powerful exercise to help you live more intentionally because it can show you the areas where you want to direct your time and attention so you can look back on your life without regrets. If you want to see the specific questions I used to write my own, you can find them here.
Name it to Claim it
These writing prompts don’t take much time, but they can be powerful tools to uncover what may be blocking you from living a more intentional life. Whether it’s the stuff reflecting your fantasy self, the fear that is keeping you from pursuing the dream that won’t let go, or things in your past that you’ve seen as mistakes rather than opportunities to learn, these writing prompts will help you gain clarity and confidence as you move forward on your journey.
About the Author: Emily McDermott is a wife, mother, and simplicity seeker, chronicling her journey at Simple by Emmy. She loves to dance, write poetry, and spend time with her husband and two young sons.