I was pissed. Furious. So I did what I always do.
Have you seen this quote?
Don’t annoy a writer. She’ll put you in her book and kill you.
Yep. Uh huh.
Nothing is as therapeutic as writing a story and making your frustrations go away. Because in storyland, you control the characters. You get to decide how the story ends. And while that might not happen in reality, it can calm you down and make life seem a bit more tolerable, at least in the moment. You might even approach the situation with a new frame of mind.
A study in New Zealand had participants write about upsetting events for 20 minutes three days in a row. A couple of weeks later, the control group had healed far better than the participants who dealt with the feelings on their own.
I’ve had an on/off relationship with journaling. For years, I kept a diary. When I look back at my life, my most difficult periods are when I thought I was too busy to write things down.
In one particularly rough patch, out of pure exasperation, I turned to journaling once again. Recently, I looked through them, and was surprised at how much the pain was evident. But I noticed something else too. I started finding solutions. I’d write about my troubles, but I always ended with a positive action. (That’s just my way.) I used my writing time to come to terms with my troubles.
And though it took weeks – months – in some cases, I could definitely see progression in my actions.
Does it have to be handwritten? Yes. There’s something about putting pen to paper. It gives you energy you don’t receive when you’re typing on your smartphone or your computer.
And it’s not just me who thinks this way. There are tons of studies that believe this to be true. Like this study that found different parts of the brain are stimulated by reading and writing. Or the study that found students who write out their notes on paper actually learn more than students who type their notes during class.
I type quickly. Though I haven’t tested it in a long, long time, I’m willing to bet it’s well over 100 words per minute. That’s a lot of content in a short period of time. And I know from experience it also allows my brain to speed up, and move in multiple directions at once.
But when I hand write, I slow down. I think about what I’m going to say. I’m anal-retentive enough that I like a neat page – no crossed out words if I can help it. That means I contemplate my thoughts before I put them on paper.
It gives me a chance to think. It gives my brain time to formulate what’s going on in my life, and see all around it to try and come up with solutions.
When I want a better life, I write. The number of written journals in my closet is testament to that. I know that if I want to succeed, writing every day is the perfect way to stay on track.
This is where I start.
Grab a journal – any notebook will do – and start writing
I’ve written on just about everything imaginable. I have spiral notebooks, the kind you bring to class. I have Moleskin journals, a stack of them that perfectly line up. I also have different sizes, different colors, different patterns.
I don’t have too many requirements for what to journal in. I prefer college ruled. They must be of high quality. I even like the response journals – like Q&A a Day 5 Year Journal. I browse through journals all the time, and when I find things I like, I buy them and keep them handy for when I need a little inspiration.
Write about your day
Every day is different. While many of my pages are filled with what I’m doing or feeling, I also add in a few personal notes too. I talk about the weather. I’ll mention if I went to a favorite restaurant. I’ll even talk about what I wore.
Looking back, I can easily brighten my mood by reading a few notes. Like when I mentioned a funny story my daughter told me. Or remembering who I went to coffee with. Or a spectacular sunset I watched as it dipped into the horizon.
Write about your dreams
Who says you have to have one journal? I don’t. I create separate journals for various aspects of my life. I always have one for personal and one for business. I like to record my goals and dreams – it gives me something concrete to refer back to, to witness all that I’ve accomplished.
For me, a dream journal is like a growing vision board. I can start it with an itemized list. But then I can take it to the next level by breaking the dream down and building to-do lists to help me get things done.
Nothing is better than looking back over a dream journal and say to yourself: I did it!
Write about your travels
Some of my biggest growth spurts, my most significant changes, have come to me while I’m traveling.
So much goes through your mind as you head off to someplace new, play, learn about a new culture, and do things you don’t usually do. I like to record everything: what I did, who I went with, what I experienced, what I learned. If it seems important to me, I record it.
Does it work? My travel journal when I spent six weeks in Europe was the starting point for my very first novel. It took me two and a half years to publish it, but I would never have done it without my travel journal guiding me along.
Write about your emotions
There are some things you can’t tell another person. It’s hard to throw a “tantrum” when you’re filled to the brim with emotion.
But your journal doesn’t care. You can write anything you choose – every bad word known to man. You can tell a person exactly what you think. You can write things to get out your deepest feelings, things you’d never be willing to say out loud.
Of course, there is the thought that someday, these journals may fall into the wrong hands. If you worry about that, burn or shred the pages after you’ve written them. The important thing is to free yourself and give yourself permission to let it all flow out.
Write about your relationships
I’m a list person. I love creating lists. 10 ways to … 7 reasons … 8 things … Yep, I post things like that on my blog all the time.
But I do it in my journals too. Why? Because it helps focus my mind.
I started writing lists about people in my life long ago. And lists seem to be a perfect way to reflect on how I feel about the people closest to me. It helps me appreciate those closest to me, distance myself from people that no longer fulfill me, even work through emotions for people that have wronged me. Nothing is more freeing than coming up with 10 reasons why you love someone, or 7 reasons why you should tell a person goodbye.
Write about your health
Skip the calorie counting journals. I never consume my thoughts with things I shouldn’t be doing. Instead, I like to track things that bring me to the top of my game.
I love to keep track of what I’m eating, how I’m feeling, and what works in my life. I track exercise routines, changes in my diet, or new apps or programs I’m ready to try.
Years ago, I was intrigued by the book by Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Body. Not so much by his dieting advice, but by the fact that he tracked everything in his life, every moment of the day, what he consumed, what he did. Then if he ever reached a point where he was feeling bad and couldn’t recover, he could go back to his best days and do exactly what made him feel good during that point of his life. What a great concept!
No matter how many happy, successful days I have, low points happen. It’s called being human. By creating a log of what I did when I was at the top, I have a reference point to incorporate those things back into my life when I’m feeling low. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never record my life Tim Ferriss style. But taking note of the big things has helped me along the way.
Write to start your day
I have a five in the morning ritual. I get up and meditate. I do a few yoga stretches. And then I journal.
This process has given me more clarity than anything else I’ve tried. It’s the best way I know to clear my mind and get ready for my day. It helps me work on me.
Years ago, Tony Robbins spoke words that resonated with me. He stated that every night before he went to bed, he wrote down three things he was grateful for, and it made all the difference.
Thanks to my iPad, I’ve often perused through Facebook or catch up on the news minutes before turning out the lights. Those are the nights my sleep isn’t the best.
But when I fill my mind with reasons I’m thankful for my life, peace – and sleep – come so much easier. A gratitude journal makes it easy to track things that are great in your life. Even if the only thing I’m thankful for is a cup of tea with breakfast, it’s something. And one tiny positive always leads to thinking more positively over time.