It is well recognised that one of the best ways to focus the mind is to write things down. This can help you in your personal and working life. By writing we are not only using the conscious (thinking) brain but the subconscious (emotional) brain as well: the two parts of the brain working in harmony harnessing our rational thoughts and observations as well as tapping into our creativity.
Writing can help shape our thoughts and emotions in a way which is supportive and encouraging. It is especially useful to do when we are going through a difficult time for whatever reason. This is because by writing things down we are, literally, creating some distance from the emotions in our head and so have a better chance to see things more clearly and in a more supportive way. If, for example, you have a demanding workload and you are feeling taken advantage of, write down the different aspects of the situation such as what your job means to you, whether you would like to be honest with your employer and what this would entail, whether this is something that you need to accept about your role or just a one-off, or whether your employer is aware that you have too much work to do, etc.
Clients have often told me that strong feelings and compelling thoughts in the mind can sometimes make them laugh out loud when they see them written down. This is because strong emotions ‘make us stupid’, as Daniel Goleman, famous psychologist once said. Seeing things written down can allow us to step into our observing self and look at things from a different perspective. This is especially useful when the strength of emotions has corrupted our thoughts, typically by over-generalising, deleting the positive and/or distorting the facts: “I’ll never get over this.” “I always get things wrong.” “None of them like me.”
Of course, some strong feelings and some compelling thoughts are a natural response to something which is upsetting, often loss of some sort, and for these events, writing things down can help bring our compassionate self more to the forefront of dealing with that difficult situation – it allows us to acknowledge how understandable those feelings and thoughts are and to be able to better focus on other more positive and nourishing things to help us get through that difficult time.
When emotions are running high, our thoughts often race, and it can be helpful to use some structure to the writing. So, here is a suggested structure:
- I am feeling……………..at the moment. This is because……………….. The sort of thoughts I am having just now are…………………(If there is any temptation to dwell on the feelings and thoughts, do your level best to resist the temptation by just noting the feelings and thoughts instead – then continue writing using the rest of the suggested structure below.)
- It is understandable that I am having these feelings and thoughts because of the way humans are built. Strong emotions often chuck up a powerful cocktail of emotions and thoughts, frequently negative ones, and although they are very real, they are not necessarily a true reflection of reality.
- I have spent my time today doing……………
- Of these things, I recognise/have a sense that…………………depleted me and my energy and……………..nourished me.
- The things I am most grateful for today are………………….
- My best personal qualities, when I think of them (or think what others who care for me might say), are these:………………………………
- I am going to think about how I can do more of the things which have nourished me (today or in the past) instead of anything which depletes me and my energy.
- My priorities for the rest of the day and for tomorrow are………………………