Expressive writing can open up powerful ways of tapping into and exploring our inner worlds: what we are feeling, what motivates and drives us, as well as what might be causing us to become stuck, clinging onto unhelpful entrenched beliefs, and holding us back from living the life we wish for. Added to this, the fact that regular writing helps calm the mind and according to research, even helps physical wounds heal more quickly, and it’s a potent route towards shedding unwanted ‘mind-clutter’ and fine-tuning into the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
Making time for expressive writing regularly feels focusing and meditative, helping us be kinder to ourselves. It can even unearth anxieties we didn’t know we had, freeing our mind of the burden of having to drag these around, a bit like a sack full of rocks! ‘I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn’, Anne Frank famously wrote in her diary. She found that she could communicate her thoughts far better by getting them down on paper, and the process of capturing the words in black and white seemed to instil in her a renewed, more positive sense of herself.
Regular writing promotes mindfulness which is beneficial for wellbeing. The process involves a slowing down which cannot be recreated on-screen, a conscious setting aside of space and reflective time in which to allow our minds to wander, without pressure, writing whatever presents itself, no matter how trivial it may seem. Done regularly, this content builds up into something of substance that you have created, a story emerging that belongs to you. What’s more – regular ‘free-writing’, or allowing words to flow uncensored without conforming to form, structure or grammar, can produce illuminating results, revealing thoughts and feelings that may have been lying just beneath the surface of our consciousness, a bit like opening a locked door and shining a light inside.
Start a Journal
Buy a lovely notebook to record your writing in. Even the process of choosing this book is an important reflection of your self-care, and should bring pleasure – you’re investing in yourself, a small act of kindness and a commitment to making space for focusing on you! Begin your journal writing with a five-minute ‘free-write’. This is a bit like stretching before a run, and really helps get the creative juices flowing!
Find a quiet spot away from distractions and write without stopping for five minutes. Write whatever’s in your head, trying not to censor yourself. Write what comes with no planning; thinking too much can switch on the inner critic! Give yourself permission to write anything – you don’t even need to reread it. WHATEVER YOU WRITE IS RIGHT: IT’S YOURS, AND NO ONE ELSE NEED SEE IT.
When you’ve finished, read what you’ve written. Perhaps you’ve focused on an insecurity: writing it down allows you to accept and then tackle it. Maybe you’ve written random words – that’s great, too. With practice, your mind will learn to feel relaxed and your potential for uninhibited reflection and creative expression will grow.
Now try these exercises to help tune into your authentic voice, and contemplate with honesty what you can take from your life for your most fulfilling future – as well as what might be holding you back.
Think of a time in your life when you felt really at peace, and calm. Take some time to focus in on exactly what was going on for you here, inside and What were the factors that made everything so right for you? Write it down. Take 10 minutes
What is it that gets in the way of achieving this in your present life?What small steps could you take to head towards that state again? Notice if you tend to talk yourself out of doing these things – why might that be?
- Things I Treasure Most
This is such a simple exercise, but for everyone it’s unique, personal, and encourages the kind of thinking we want to nurture: coaxing out the positives in life that give us a boost, tuning us into the positive – no matter how tiny.Start a list of all the things, people or moments that you feel grateful for – big, small, ordinary or extraordinary. Start writing and see what comes up. From clean sheets to loyal friends, free wifi to freedom of speech, we can always find something to celebrate in the moment. Studies have shown that tuning into the positive in this way can bring a multitude of benefits including better sleep, greater confidence, happier relationships and increased resilience. Sometimes it’s easy; other times, when feeling low – harder. Maybe that’s the times when it’s most useful to do this, reminding ourselves of what we do have. You can keep adding to it too. Write for 10 minutes
- My Space
Imagine a corridor, in the place where you work (if your work environment isn’t like this, it doesn’t matter, you can create the image that fits for you. If you don’t work, you could instead think of a friend’s home). Walk into the office of a colleague, real or imagined, you respect, admire and like. What’s it like? How does it make you feel? Write about it for 5 minutes. Now leave the room and walk into your office. What’s that like? Write for 5 minutes.
When you’ve finished, think about how the two are different.
If you could write a wish for yourself from this exercise, what would it be?
- A Letter
Think about your most energised, bright and sparkly version of yourself, full of joyful summery optimism, with a spring in your step. What might this version of yourself want to say to your ghostly-pale, most burnt-out and ‘running-on-empty’self? Write for 10 minutes
Draw four columns across a double-page. Create four headings:
– How I treat myself
– How I treat others
– Times when I should say no
– Times when I should say yes
Create four lists. You can keep adding to them. The important thing is to spend time reflecting on what you’ve written, and noting what jumps out at you. This will help you become more mindful as you go about your day, thinking about the actions you take, and the bad habits you make – no matter how small, that all contribute to how you take care of yourself. Pick one of the negatives from your lists and make this the first bad habit you are going to replace with a more healthy alternative.
If your Fairy God-Mother were sat on your shoulder, whispering one golden nugget of advice – only for you – into your ear, what would it be? And what would you say to her in return? Write it down.
The process of recalling our past, being mindful about the here and now and contemplating our best future takes time, self-awareness and honesty. You’ve put effort into these writing exercises, and they will remain yours for future reflection. Make use of every new discovery about yourself – and keep writing!