The importance of adjectives.

@postaday 160; #postaday2011.

When I was a cub reporter, a newbie, ambitious and eager to be the next greatest feature writer (as is every squeaky-clean new journalism graduate), I’d suffer alongside the city editor as they went over my story, dissecting it sentence by sentence, until it no longer was my story but theirs. First they’d suck out the adjectives. Then subjects were placed before verbs. Nothing dangled. Just the facts. It was so irritating. I didn’t feel trusted. It’s the sort of exercise that can snuff a kid’s ambitions and it keeps a newsroom lean and mean.

After a while you get over it and you do it yourself. You pull out anything that ends in ‘ly’ and you clean up the story so the editor has little left to do. But you always leave something in, just so they feel like they did something. Sometimes they do nothing and you’re pleasantly surprised. Eventually you figure out what they want. Everybody’s happy.

Today I read a story about setting goals, but not limiting them to subjects and verbs like ‘fly a jet.’ Instead, the author, Martha Beck, suggested using adjectives, specifically those that describe how you expect to feel once you accomplish your goal.

So what if I were to achieve a goal of writing novels? Write a novel. Write two novels. Write a series of novels. How would I expect to feel after achieving any of that? Significant. Confident. Disciplined. Successful. Happy. Rich. Famous.

The author then suggested that you look at those feelings you expect, those adjectives, and assess what is going on in life NOW that might make one already feel that way. Maybe I’m already significant, confident, disciplined, successful and happy. Maybe I should realize that although having goals are very nice, and achieving them are truly significant, I shouldn’t be disappointed because the holy grail always seemed to be beyond my reach. I could look around and see that there are lesser things, day-to-day things, that give me a dose of feel-goodness.

When I’m swimming, my mind is set to plan and achieve short-term goals. Make it to the other end of the pool. Snap a flip turn solidly on the wall. Relax. Stroke deliberately, slowly, work on form, watch my arms and hands in the water, commit to memory the sensations, program myself for the day when I’ll need to be strong and fast. Eventually, I’ve covered a distance much longer than I had expected. An inner attagirl for me!

When I’m riding my bicycle, I take one look at the hill before me, taking the whole distance in, and then I put my head down and focus on the three to four feet in front of my wheel. I look up to be safe, but the distance is no longer my concern. It’s the immediate asphalt before me. My mind observes the terrain, I soon anticipate the bumps, I’m surprised and disappointed at the appearance of a broken beer bottle or litter. It is the practice that prepares me for future challenges. It keeps me from giving up.

When we achieve our goals, do we take the time to bask in those sensations of joy, happiness, accomplishment, confidence, and yes, even some chest thumping? Or do we too soon look at what we can do next? We need to spend a little more time with ourselves as we enjoy the sweetness of accomplishment.

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. for your biathlon, your century ride and launching your C25K program, attagirl. outstanding performances on all fronts! oh, and last night’s supper was pitch-perfect, especially the salad. 🙂

  2. Reblogged this on Lavagal and commented:

    This blog entry gets a lot of hits. It’s a great read as we set our goals for 2013. What are yours? How do you expect to feel upon achievement? Luv, Me.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: