The Great Power of Putting Your Feelings In Writing

Put it in writing.

As one of the founding fathers of modern psychology, Dr. William James spent his entire professional life studying human behavior. He wanted to know what made people tick, and he wanted to know what brought out their best. So he wrote scores of text books.

Near the end of his life, however, Dr. James was an old man dying on a hospital bed. Time was running out. But one day he received a plant from a friend. In his weakened condition, Dr. James wrote a note of thanks for the plant.

As he wrote the note, he said it suddenly dawned on him that the “deepest craving in human nature was the craving to be appreciated.” It was so obvious that he had overlooked it in all of his research. So Dr. James got off his deathbed and rewrote one of his books.

He said the craving to feel appreciated is seldom if ever totally satisfied. If you go out into the world and make people feel appreciated, Dr. James said you will have power — not power over them, but power with them.

I think he’s right. When you make people feel genuinely appreciated, you stand out from the crowd. After all, most people don’t bother to do it. They figure you already know that you’re appreciated, so there’s no need to say it or write it.

They’re wrong. Even though people might know they’ve done a good job, and even though they might know they’re appreciated, they need to hear it and they need to read it.

And often times, the notes you write are more powerful than the words you say. Written notes take a bit more work than simply saying something, and written notes can be kept and reread for years to come.

So I’m urging you in today’s Tip to put it in writing. And if possible put it in your own handwriting — partly because it’s so rare and partly because it’s so personal.

Of course people make all kinds of excuses. They tell me they don’t know what to write or how to write. So let me give you a few guidelines.

TELL THE IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE HOW IMPORTANT THEY ARE. Your notes will be saved and savored for years.

I learned that after the deaths of my grandparents. Somehow or other it became my responsibility to help settle their estates and organize the auctions of their worldly goods. And there, in a place of prominence, were all the letters I had ever sent them, from age 18 up until the present. My grandparents were extremely important to me, and I had told them so over and over again.

Carl Coleman witnessed a similar incident. While driving to work one day, another driver crashed into his bumper. The female driver of the other car got out of her car, all distraught, admitting it was her fault. But she dreaded facing her husband because her new car had come out of the showroom only two days before.

Carl was sympathetic, but he had to exchange license numbers and registration dates. She went to her glove compartment to retrieve her documents. Tumbling out of the envelope, written in her husband’s distinctive handwriting, was a note that said, “In case of accident, remember Honey, it’s you I love, not the car.”

Do you think that note calmed her fears? And do you think that note affirmed her importance? Absolutely. People are important, and they need to hear they’re important.

As simple as that sounds, lots of people don’t “get” it. I hear parents say, “We’ve given our children everything they’ve ever wanted.” And I hear managers say, “We’ve given our employees everything they’ve ever wanted.” The problem is — they don’t know “if” they’re wanted. So put it in writing.

YOU SHOULD ALSO WRITE OUT YOUR THANKS. A spoken “thank you” is nice. It’s almost always welcome and appreciated. But a written thank you may be kept and read over and over again. It continues to feed people’s spirits.

There’s a story told about a situation that supposedly happened some years ago about 11:30 at night. I can’t vouch for the story, but they say an older black woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway. She was trying to flag down a car in the midst of a fierce rainstorm as she stood by her own broken down car.

A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled days of the 1960’s. He took her to safety, helped her get assistance, and put her in a taxi cab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but she took down his address and thanked him.

Seven days later, someone came knocking at the young man’s door. To his surprise, a giant color TV was being delivered to his home.

A special note was attached. It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband’s bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others. Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole.”

When people do nice things for you, you should say something. You should say “Thank you.” That’s the bare minimum if you’re a civilized human being.

But writing out your words of thanks is real class. It shows your willingness to go the extra mile for their extra mile.

When I’m conducting my program on “The Relationship Recipe: Rapport, Respect, and Recognition,” I often ask people to think about the last phone call they’re ever going to make. In other words, if they only had five minutes left to live, and they could only make one phone call, I ask them to think about who’d they call and what they’d say. And then I ask why they’re waiting. They should be making that call now.

In a similar sense, you should be thinking about whom you’d write and what you’d say if you could only send one more note. You never know how much time you have. DO IT NOW.

That’s what one Japanese fellow did. Perhaps you remember. It was the biggest airtime disaster in history, where 520 people were killed when the plane crashed into a mountain.

As the other passengers were putting on their life jackets, this 52-year old businessman took out his pocket calendar. He wrote down his last thoughts as the plane headed toward the mountain.

What do you think he wrote about? Do you think he fretted over how they would ever get along without him at the company? Who would run the corporation? And what will they say when I don’t show up tomorrow morning?

This is what he wrote. He wrote his last words to his family. He said, “To think that our meal last night was our last one we will ever have. It’s been wonderful to be a part of this family.”

To his daughters he wrote, “Please take care of your mother. You’re so kind and capable. I know you’ll do just fine.”

To his teenage son he wrote, “I’m counting on you. I appreciate you so much.”

And to his wife he wrote, “We’ve had such a wonderful life together. You made it all possible. I want to thank you…”

That was the last. The plane crashed. But oh what a legacy of love, respect, and belief he left behind — all because he put it in writing, and he did it now.

Your hand, your pen, your words have the power to change a life forever. Just do it.

Action:  Write two notes in the next 48 hours. Tell one person how important they are to you. It could be a coworker, a customer, a friend, or family member.

Tell another person “Thanks” for something he or she has done. Even if you said it before, write it out and send it out.