❝Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted.❞ -Jules Renard
My attention is split between the falling snow outside and simply watching people. I'm at a coffee shop, and I'm supposed to be journaling about my past. Not long ago, I did some self-reflecting and thought I should enroll in a self-help journaling program. It sounded like a great idea as I was thinking it through, but now it's time to actually write; I'm second-guessing my decision-making skills. Thus, I'm people watching and looking at the snow instead of journaling.
Eventually, I get into the swing of things. For the next several days, I'm a journaling machine. I split my past up into different periods. I write about several emotional events that happened in each of those periods. I try to relate how those events have shaped who I am today.
Then it hits me. Events that felt like isolated incidents now fit into the big picture. Being alone in my room trying to draw comic book characters is related to my drawing pictures as part of this column. A conversation with my grandma about a building in downtown Fargo, North Dakota, was related to me going to technical school to study drafting. Helping a friend in college save a semester's worth of time was related to my calling of helping people live lives they would be proud to look back on.
I had no idea that writing could be so powerful, but I'm glad I did it.
BENEFITS OF WRITING
Writing is a great way to organize your thoughts. Turning your thoughts into sentences and paragraphs by writing gives you much of the same benefit as talking to a good listener. Both a good listener and writing your thoughts down in a journal help you articulate what you're thinking. Often, this is the first time you've tried to articulate yourself before. And if writing is almost as good as talking to a good listener, writing is definitely better than talking to a bad listener - and most people are bad listeners (it's not our fault; it's how we're wired).
By articulating your thoughts, you're able to simulate the world so you can plan to act in it. You can make sense of troubling events in the present and in the past. Thinking helps you gain clarity, and writing helps you think.
For some people, thinking, either by writing or speaking out loud to a professional listener, is very rare. Some people believe they think, but all that is is our inner dialogue ruminating from thought to thought.
Organizing our thoughts is where thinking happens.
Articulating and organizing thoughts is how we think. There is a difference between the thoughts that pass through our minds and real thinking. Thinking is connecting the dots. Thinking is making sense of the various thoughts we have throughout the day.
WORKING THROUGH TROUBLES
When things happen to us, either good or bad, but especially bad, there are a lot of thoughts floating around our heads. Connecting all those dots is how we can make sense of what's happened and allows us to create a cause-and-effect story. Thinking and writing help us tap into old memories that we have while at the same time allowing us to add more information that we've learned to further make sense of the story.
Making sense of adversity that's happened to you helps you learn the lessons that were there for you to learn. When you do that, you can actually grow from your adverse experiences, and you can do that through writing. Writing allows us to let go rather than hold on.
UNDERSTAND THINKING PATTERNS
When you write regularly, you'll notice that over time you start to discover different themes that show up again and again. You start to see your thinking patterns. This is important because you can't challenge any automatic thoughts if you're unaware of what's going on in your mind. With practice, you will understand the general themes of your thinking patterns, and you can begin to challenge those automatic thoughts.
Once you've decided that writing and journaling might be something you want to try, what do you write about?
It's quite simple. Anything.
You might start with something short and relatively easy, like a gratitude journal. With a gratitude journal, you simply write down things either at the end of the day or the beginning of the day for which you are grateful. The important thing to consider with a gratitude journal is that it's far more beneficial if you savor the gratitude rather than view writing as a chore. Once it becomes a chore, it will lose its effectiveness as you will no longer want to do it. You can download the version that I use, and there are many other versions available elsewhere. However, you don't need any guide; you simply need something to write on.
Others find it beneficial to write daily. For this, you just simply write down what happened during your day, where you are, who you were with, and how you felt. The whole process need not take anymore than, say, ten minutes. Derek Sivers, Penn Jillette, Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, and many others advocate this journaling style.
A very helpful form of journaling is when you need somebody to talk to but don't necessarily want to open up to anybody close to you. In this way, you are effectively using your journal as your therapist. When using a journal in this way, it's important that you find a way to do it anonymously because if it's not anonymous, then you will filter yourself, and it will be less useful.
Intuitively, many of us know that talking about things that are going on can be good for us. At the same time, though, we feel like we need to be confident and sure of ourselves all the time, which makes us less likely to reach out to someone for help and talk about what's going on.
Journaling is incredibly useful, and there's no one way to do it. Play around and find a way that works for you.
You only have one life; live intentionally.
If you know someone else who would benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Spread the word, if you think there's a word to spread.
Related Money Health® Reading
References and Influences
Ben-Shahar, Tal: Even Happier
Daily Stoic: The Art of Journaling
Delucca, Gina & Jamie Goldstein: Positive Psychology in Practice
Emmons, Robert: THANKS!
Haidt, Jonathan: The Happiness Hypothesis
Klontz, Brad & Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Pennebaker, James & Joshua Smyth: Opening Up by Writing It Down
Peterson, Jordan: 12 Rules for Life
Peterson, Jordan & Raymond Mar: The Benefits of Writing
Sivers, Derek: Benefits of a Daily Diary and Topic Journals
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.