I’m a big advocate for writing things down. I have a journal collection that now spans decades (though I slacked heavily shortly after I met John and only in the last year or two have I picked it up again!). I write details on the back of every photo I’ve ever printed (names, dates, locations etc). In college, I could bang out a paper at the last minute in just a few hours. I still tend to write my shopping lists on paper – despite having every list making app available literally at my fingertips on my phone.
Despite all this writing, my handwriting is a mysterious scribble that can only be understood by me. (Apologies if you’ve ever been the recipient of a card or letter from me – odds are you are still trying to figure out what I wrote but are too polite to ask!). Writing is just a huge part of who I am, and always have been.
I promise with all this writing, I’m not just anal about details! Something I’ve noticed over the years, is that when I write things down they become more concrete in my brain. The act of writing (as opposed to typing or just thinking about something) creates memories that are more firm. It’s a long running joke with my friends and family that I have an insane memory and I’ll never let you forget something. Mention one detail, “oh that night we went to ______” and I can often tell you who was there, what we ordered and where we went afterwards. I might even be able to tell you what I was wearing! Possibly what you were wearing too! I’m not special, I don’t have super abilities or anything – the reason I am able to remember these types of details so clearly even years after an event is because of my dedication to writing things down.
The reason I’m telling you all this isn’t to pat myself on the back for being a pen-wielding computer of memory but because writing things down can be an incredibly important way to work through our feelings, including our issues with food and solidify new habits! I have a few clients who definitely don’t love it when I suggest they do a writing exercise – but every one of them who is willing to do it ends up seeing benefits from it!
This is also one reason why I often ask folks who are having trouble losing weight or are unhappy with their food choices to keep a food journal. It’s not about calories or fat grams – it’s about becoming aware of what we are putting in our bodies and not hiding from ourselves. Writing it out makes it all the more real! It’s a great way to get to know yourself a little better and see what you are really thinking about.
Here are some of the benefits writing can bring to your life:
- Self – exploration & clarity. Writing things down helps you figure out how you are feeling. If you tell me you don’t know why you’re overeating when you get home from work, I’ll suggest you “dump” all your thoughts out on paper (without judgement or trying to write fancy – just get them out!) and I bet you’ll discover something there that gives you an answer. Writing helps us tap into parts of ourselves that we have a hard time accessing otherwise. Getting to know yourself better is one of the best ways to change yourself for the better.
- Better Memory. Write things down so you don’t forget! Ideas and thoughts can be fleeting – what you think you’ll remember later, you’ll forget as soon as you stop thinking about it and you’ll wonder what that great idea was! How many times have you walked into the grocery store thinking that you’ll remember all the things you needed and promptly arrived home missing some of the important ones?! (Oh, is that just me??) Write it down to make it come to life.
- Firmer goals. Writing down goals makes them more likely to be achieved. If you write it down, it becomes more real. It becomes a commitment to yourself. It’s a lot easier to ignore that you had a goal of not eating cupcakes at work when you only thought about the goal – writing it down gives it concreteness that will help hold you accountable.
- Stress relief. Writing can help us release stress and feelings that we are having difficulty letting go of. Ever experience that release that comes from talking to a good friend about something that has been worrying you? You can get a similar release of stress by writing about an experience (or your thoughts/feelings). It’s very cathartic to write everything that is going on in our brains!
- Concrete evidence. Writing serves as a record of our progress. At the time, writing acts like a stamp on your memory and helps you let go of feelings and situations that are troubling you, but read those same writings months or years later and you will be able to see how far you’ve come in areas of your life. Sometimes we forget exactly where we were when we started and it’s easy to gloss over how much work it took to get where we are, but if it’s written down, you’ll have that to look back on, which can be a powerful tool to keep your motivation up!
- Cultivate positive feelings & self-esteem. If you’re someone who has a habit of thinking negatively about yourself, writing exercises can help you become aware of when/how you do that as well as help build more positive feelings for you – one thing I love to suggest is for clients to write a gratitude list before bed each night, a list of the things they did well that day, or things they love about themselves (physical or otherwise). For some these tasks are very hard at first – it’s hard to come up with things you love about yourself when you’ve been putting yourself down for years – but over time, it gets easier and in their day to day lives they feel more powerful, supported and able to go after what they want. This is such an awesome thing! Writing at bedtime inserts those thoughts gently into your subconscious so you wake up feeling the effects of that good stuff.
So you’re probably wondering what kind of writing can be helpful? And how to get started?
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Buy yourself a pretty journal or notebook. I don’t know about you but I’m more excited to write when I like the notebook. Call me shallow, I’m ok with that!
- Set aside one day a week or a certain time of each day where you will dedicate to at least 15 minutes of writing and stick with it. Put it on the calendar. If you’re more introspective in the morning, maybe that’s a good time to write. If you feel more free on the weekends, that might work better for you.
- Find a place that you enjoy writing. I always got more journal writing done when I left my home and went to a coffee house/cafe or outdoor park or beach. I’m more inspired in those types of places and don’t enjoy the distractions that can come from being at home (ug, I should really do those dishes!). When I was single and lived in a house with a bunch of friends, my room was my writing retreat. Find what works and inspires you!
- Decide what kind of writing you want to do. It doesn’t have to be formal or in a certain format and it can change however you like. You can write in prose, poetry or just random thoughts. It’s ok to have spelling errors and wacky punctuation. It doesn’t have to sound pretty or smart – it’s just about getting what’s in your head down on paper and seeing where it takes you.
- What should you write about? It’s up to you, really! You can just write about your day – what did you do? Who did you see? How did that make you feel?. You can write about things that are worrying you, bothering you, things that happened that made you happy, things that happened that frustrated you. You can write down goals and use a journal as a way to track your progress with them. You can even use a journal to draw and color and tap into your creative side! You can write down old memories – maybe for you, writing could be a way to document your personal history! (This is where my genealogy hobby intercepts my coaching business, haha!) Where did you grow up? Who were your best friends? Where did you go to school? Who was your favorite relative? What sort of food did your family eat? etc. Lastly, you can also look for writing prompts if you’re the type who draws a blank when you put pen to paper – just do a google search “writing prompts for self-discovery” or “writing prompts for goal setting” etc. Insert whatever subject you might want to explore and when you find some writing prompts that interest you – write one down on each page of your journal and then as you have time to write you can fill in each prompt.
- Shameless plug here – Join the September 14, 2015 round of the 12 Day Detox program. It’s a whole foods based program that will help you connect with your body – but each day there are writing activities that can help you get started writing!
That’s really all you need to get going! One word of advice – try to not have judgements about what you are writing or how your writing should look or sound. This is just for you and no one else needs to read it (unless you want them to). You don’t need to censor your thoughts – we do enough of that elsewhere in our lives! Lastly, just do it! Commit to doing some form of writing for at least a few months (whether it’s daily or once a week) and if you don’t see a benefit from it after that, go ahead and stop, but I’m guessing you will be able to come up with at least a few positives that have come from it!