The most common critique that I get about my writing pertains to my tendency to use big words. I’ve been making efforts to remedy this ailment, but today, please indulge me. Here’s a short blog post with one big word that I just learned: “reify.”
In previous posts, we have emphasized the importance of setting goals in order to be hopeful. My goals might be for the short-term or the long-range. I might set goals for myself or for the collective good. I might have a high or a low probability of reaching the goals I set. But one thing seems clear. I will have almost no chance of achieving my goals if they are ill-defined and amorphous. And that’s why I’m so pleased to have stumbled on a useful new vocabulary word.
To “reify” is to turn the abstract into the concrete. To announce, “I’m hoping things will turn out favorably” is laudable but probably won’t bring about much change. But a strategy of translating desires, or even complaints, to concrete goals -- perhaps even with sub-goals -- with visible endpoints is a recipe for success.
It is understandable when a patient tells me he “wants to get better”. But the same patient will optimize the likelihood of creating a path towards wellness and harnessing the requisite motivation to embark on that path if he concretizes his goal into detailed benchmarks or outcomes such as: “I will complete my course of chemotherapy” or “I will follow the recommended diet that will make my regimen more tolerable.” A neighbor who has the best intentions to enhance the environment will improve her chances of bringing that dream to fruition if she says I want to clean up the local parks or devise incentives to promote recycling.
Well-defined endpoints are also helpful because they allow us to determine when we can insert a checkmark in the proverbial box and conclude that we have accomplished that which we set out to do. This, in turn, can create a positive feedback loop where our favorable experiences spawn a sense of mastery and belief in our capacity to have a meaningful impact on our world.
The addition of relatively small specifications to broad goals, which usually involves a decision to discard intellectual laziness and to reflect on an idea until its logical extension has been reached, can transform vague concepts into viable goals. So in setting out to be hopeful, let’s not just “try”…whatever that means. Let us reify!
Several readers asked me to convey their good wishes to Manny and requested an update on his status. On the last day of his radiation treatment, the pain score of his headache had already dropped from a 10 to a 6. By no means a complete response, but enough to get him home for dinner and homework with his kids. Manny’s mom was at the bedside when we parted. There, she stated that her son is “the most inspiring human being in the world.”
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