39 plus one........... Lesson 8 - Asking powerful questions and the magic of the pen

39 plus one........... Lesson 8 - Asking powerful questions and the magic of the pen

How would you show up if you believed more positive things about yourself and that your voice mattered?

What would you do if you KNEW you could not fail?

What would you write about if you weren’t worried about what others would say?

These are versions of some of the questions that I have answered over the past year. In doing so, I learned my most profound lesson, and I am still feeling the impact of it, and working on a way to share this experience with you my readers, as well as anyone who wants to experience it first-hand. They say the pen is mightier than the sword. I have also found it to be mightier than my fears and my “negative” experiences. I have found it to be a great tool to for empowerment and forgiveness, as well as achieving my goals. And to those who (like me) found their handwriting has deteriorated over the years with lack of use, don’t worry – the keyboard works almost as well!! This lesson is about the value of asking powerful questions, and the magic that occurs when we write down not only the answers, but when we write about our hopes, fears and dreams.

I started to do some research on the impact of “writing stuff down” earlier this year after I finished the first draft of my book. If I am honest, after I wrote that book I felt limitless. Aside from the great feeling of having achieved a goal that I had for most of my life, there was something powerful about writing my story, some parts of which I had not told anyone. I wondered if it was just me or if this was something that anyone could experience, and so I did some research. It turns out that there have been a number of studies done on the impact of writing on our mood, on how we view our past and our potential, on whether or not we achieve our goals, and on our lives in general. It appears that journaling our thoughts, or writing about difficult periods in our lives (expressive writing) can have positive impacts, even physical impacts. I came across an article by Polly Campbell (link is below) that spoke about this and that stated “When we write about our biggest traumas, most intense life events, or even just a major stress or conflict, we gain some emotional distance from the events of our lives so we can see it with greater perspective and clarity.”

That emotional distance can be very helpful when considering traumatic events, when we think about the stories we believe about ourselves and our abilities, and even our fears. The events and fears that seem so huge in our head seem more manageable when they are on paper in front of us. Telling our story, especially writing it down can really change our lives.

When our writing is combined with powerful questions, such as the ones above, there is the potential for real transformation of our thoughts and our efforts, and we can move forward in surprising ways. In practical terms, this can be as simple as journaling about the questions we have for ourselves, or using journal prompts and being really honest in our writing – as I like to say – no one is looking over our shoulder, so we can pour out our hearts and destroy the paper afterwards if needs be, or keep in a private journal. These can be introspective – about the reasons we fear doing something. For me the question I asked myself which sparked this blog: what did I learn from that? I was able to look back at experiences which may have been negative or positive, and gain a lesson from each one, and this even helps me look to the future, and changed how I experience the now.

Alternatively, there can be goals that we are setting for ourselves as we work towards our dreams – savings goals, fitness or lifestyle to give a few examples. It is no coincidence that when we write out our goals and regularly review them we are over 90% more likely to achieve them. There is great value in writing in many parts of our life, and I am exploring this for myself with more journaling, some new ideas for blog posts, even a November novel writing challenge.

I would encourage you to try it, and see how writing can transform your life. I am including a few journaling exercises in this post to get you started journaling – no matter how much time you have!

Here are a few ideas for writing depending on how much time you have, so that you can see if you get any improvements in your mood, in how you view situations in life, and in achieving your goals.

1.       You have 1-5 minutes and you want to feel more positive and joyful, or remember more of those little moments – the 2 sentence journal (based on an idea from “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin). This “does what it says on the tin”. For those who don’t want to commit to long journal entries this simple trick can help you feel more positive, more grateful and more joyful or can help you remember the little moments in life. In her book, Gretchen Rubin spoke about doing this about moments with her daughters – making a note of funny things they said or did, or moments that she wanted to remember, in a couple of sentences. You can also use these 2 sentences to write about something that has brought you joy during the day, or something you are grateful for. Do that for a few weeks and you will notice that you pay more attention during the day to those things that make you laugh or bring you joy and gratitude.

2.       You have 1-5 minutes and want to focus on the things you are grateful for, or the small wins in projects you may be working on. If you want to write more than 2 sentences, you can write 3-5 things that bring you gratitude every day, and this works well when you do it in the evening. As I mentioned above, this trains your brain to look through your day and find the moments to be grateful for, giving you a naturally more positive outlook. Focusing on small wins in projects gives you the energy to continue, especially if it is one that takes a while. For example if you are trying to be healthier, you might notice that you got to the top of the stairs without feeling winded and this is a small win that can keep you focused on your healthy journey. Try this for a few weeks!

3.       You have 5-15 minutes, and want to explore a specific problem or tackle your thoughts around a particular relationship (work/personal) or prospective project. Since you have more time here, you can tackle a bigger issue. This may be something you do only when you are trying to work this issue out or you can have a regular journaling practice up to 15 minutes a day. You can write a letter to the person expressing your feelings about the relationship. You can write the things that are worrying or scaring you at the moment about a particular situation. You can brainstorm ideas around a project you want to work on. DO NOT CENSOR YOURSELF. It is very important to write openly and honestly about your feelings, or when brainstorming write all the ideas – even the ones that seem unrealistic, as this sparks ideas in the brain. Try this for a week and see if you are able to solve a problem you were working on. Another idea I had from a coach recently was that if you have an idea and all you can think about is reasons why it won’t work, write those reasons down one half of a sheet of paper. On the other half write the reasons why it could work, why you want it to work and what you could do to minimize the things that you perceive are standing in your way (ie – the reasons that you have already written on the first half of the paper). This is another great brainstorming idea, and allows you to quiet some of those fears  you have around starting the project.

4.       You have 15-20 minutes are more, a few times a week. Since you have a bit more time you can tackle a traumatic or stressful incident that has occurred in your past. This exercise is based on some research that was done by James Pennebaker, looking at the positive impacts of expressive writing. Explore your deep thoughts and feelings about these incidents for 20 minutes, and do it over a few days, and you may start to see connections to other incidents in your life. You can write continuously, don’t worry about grammar or sentence structure, and do not self-censor. Also, really take the time to do this over a few days. It may be too much to write all at once.

Below are the links to the articles and references I looked at when I was doing some of my research on the power of writing. I would love to hear about some of your experiences with keeping your journals – email me at 39andcountingblog@gmail.com or send me a facebook message, or comment below. I am also planning to run a course where you could achieve more empowerment through various other forms of writing, along with great accountability and a a supportive community. If you are interested then please email me.

Until then I send you big love from a small island.

Here is the article by Penny Campbell, and you can read more about James Pennebaker here. And if you have fallen in love with journaling, here is a site that has a number of additional prompts.

PS sometimes I like to go to the beach and sit on that bench to do some writing. Where would you write?