Psychology proves that writing your plans for anticipated hurdles increases your chances of overcoming them
In the year 1992, a British psychologist was looking for the answer to the following question:
“How to boost the will-power of people who are exceptionally resistant to change?”
In order to conduct an experiment, she traveled to two of the busiest orthopedic hospitals in Scotland where she recruited five dozen patients, all of whom had just undergone a knee or hip surgery.
Just to give an overview; both these surgeries are one of the most painful ones during and after the operation. In these operations, doctors have to slice joint muscles and saw through bones before re-arranging and putting them back in place.
Without giving the patient any time for the bones to naturally heal and the pain to subside, the patients are required to undergo physical therapy almost as soon as the operation ends. The reason is that if they don’t exercise, the scar tissue will clog the joint and it would in turn become immovable and eventually far more painful. The pain that patients have to undergo is so immense that it is an extremely recurring sight for them to skip physical therapy and refuse to exercise.
All five dozen of these patients were old, with an average age of 68. They earned less than $10,000 yearly and none of them had more than a High School degree. They were essentially poor and had waited most of their lives before they got this surgery. Most of them had a finality outlook on their lives; they did not have the energy (physical or mental) to start something new or turn over to another chapter in life as they thought that they were most definitely nearing their end.
In her experiment, the British psychologist gave each patient the usual booklet which highlighted their exercise routines for each week. But in the end, she added an extra 13 pages, one for each week, in which she wrote:
“My goals for this week are ___?”
She appreciated the patients to write down their weekly goals and to be as specific as possible. Giving the example that if their goal for this week was to take a walk, then they ought to mention where and when- like which park or street and at what time?
After the 13 weeks, the psychologist piled up her results and found out that those patients who wrote down their weekly goals had evidently healed faster than those who didn’t. And this difference in healing speeds wasn’t just fractional, but manifold in several aspects.
Those patients who wrote down their weekly goals began walking twice as early and started getting in and out of chairs three times as fast as those who did not write their weekly goals.
The psychologist found this quite interesting. The written word, as she perceived it, had a kind of Holy aspect to itself. We, as humans, find it quite hard to contradict something that we have written down ourselves. We consider it as somewhat of a treason against who we are.
On the other hand, if we merely say or think about something, we still do not consider it as some kind of a moral binding or obligation to do that. The writing part, somehow has a contract binding morality to it; as black and white and somewhat official!
Writing specifics matter the most:
To research this concept, the psychologist gathered the booklets of the patients that wrote down their weekly goals. What she uncovered through this was fascinating, to say the least!
She discovered that as the patients became more and more specific in writing down their weekly goals, there chances of faster and swifter recovery became far brighter. She mentions in her research that a particular patient wrote the following as his weekly goal:
“I will walk to the bus stop tomorrow evening to meet my wife from work.”
Although this does satisfy the basic requirement of where and when, and that is primarily what the psychologist had asked for, but this patient went even further to write about the route that he would take, what clothes he would wear, which coat would he take along in case it rains and which pill he would take if the pain becomes unbearable for him to continue.
This increased his chances of recovery to many times than someone who just wrote the “where and when” part because in being as specific as he was, he also addressed many problems that might occur when he undertakes the journey.
For example, the primary and most integral problem: Post-surgery pain! In writing detailed plans, he addressed his pain problem by writing that he would take this particular pill along with him and take it in a scenario where the pain would become too excruciating to bear. He also addressed other minor problems like what would he do if it rains? And the answer was to take a coat along.
Several others who wrote detailed plans were found to heal many times faster. Like one patient who wrote in the first few weeks after the surgery that he would exercise on his way to the bathroom. He even mentioned how he’ll take the first step fast so that he does not give in the urge to sit back down and has no other option than to continue walking.
In being as detailed as possible, these patients were addressing and planning on problems that each and every patient had to endure, but they were able to cope with them and overcome them far more easily and swiftly because they had planned accordingly. They had a strategy and at times a backup in case that strategy failed.
The written word helped them have the psychological bonding through its perceived Holiness and their proactive planning allowed them to overcome obstacles methodologically. This technique is not merely confined to healing, but can be used by everyone in their day-to-day matters.
You can keep a notebook along which will help you keep track of everyday responsibilities and also allow you to tackle your problems in a better way. Once you test the holiness of the written word, you’re bound to become addicted to it and that’s when the magic actually happens!