When I was in seventh grade, I attended an alternative school on a farm in Southern Oregon.
The very first thing our teachers gave each of us was a blank, hardbound journal. They encouraged us to write in it regularly, starting that very day. I took mine and sat under a bridge over a creek, where I began writing about my thoughts and feelings for the first time. For a confused 12-year-old brain, it was a godsend.
Writing helps you:
- Clarify your thinking
- Open up and get your thoughts and emotions out on paper or screen so you can stand back and analyze them
- Look back over a period of time—days, weeks, a year—to see what you’ve been doing, enabling you to look for themes, insights and issues
- Calm your always-on brain, your emotions and your body
- Discover ideas, thoughts and feelings
I’ve continued the practice of writing regularly for my entire life (thank you, teachers!). Sometimes it’s daily. Sometimes it’s three to four times a month. Whenever I have an issue I’m torn about or want to look at deeply, I start writing.
Sometimes it’s a basic diary of what happened the day before. Sometimes my entries are mundane—but even then, they have fired my brain and heart. Other times it’s about a topic I want to look at more closely—a relationship, a trend, an idea or a problem. I’ve always loved the bumper sticker that reads “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” We need to examine our thoughts more carefully, and writing things out helps us achieve that.
Today I wrote an entry titled “Never Get Old,” inspired by a great David Bowie song, about how I want to approach life and break conventions around aging that I learned from my grandparents as they got older. Bowie never got old and always stayed relevant and groundbreaking, didn’t he?
When I began a major career transition, my career coach, Ruth Luban, recommended that I start each day with a meditation and then a half-hour “free write.” “You will be able to go back and review and find the seed-path to your new career,” she advised me, recommending Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.”
A friend inspired me this fall by sharing that he starts his day with a five-minute meditation, followed immediately by journaling. “It helps me fire up my brain and get it working well,” he told me. At the end of the day, he meditates for 20 minutes to transition from his work day. It’s a spiritual practice, no doubt.
If you’ve read “Write, Open, Act: An Intentional Life Planning Workbook,” you know we’ve found great power in writing things down. There’s even a whole book titled “Write It Down, Make It Happen” by Henriette Anne Klauser, which notes the power of writing things out and links the process to “go! incidences”—signals and patterns that come to us—which Carl Jung called “synchronicities” and others call “messages from the universe.”
Great magic happens when you write down your life goals on an Intentional Life Plan—see what 177 people told us about the value of a written life plan. My wife, Melinda, and I have accomplished 90 percent of what we wrote down on our first Intentional Life Plan.
There is great value in physically writing in a journal. It slows you down in our hyper-speed world and enables you to think. I remember my ninth-grade teacher, Alan, advising me to hand-write to slow down my very active teenage mind.
These days I rely on different tools to capture my thoughts. I currently use a journaling app called Day One, which syncs across my computer, iPad and iPhone. I get off my work computer most days and onto my iPad to separate work and life. I like that I can easily add photos to my entries.
Sometimes I write in paragraphs, sometimes bullets. Sometimes I dictate. I don’t edit or care about spelling or Siri’s funny mistranslations. It’s all OK. I just want to get it out.
There’s even a movement afloat called “Bullet Journaling.” Writes Concepción de León in The New York Times: “We now know that the brain truly can’t be trusted to hold or remember more than a few thoughts at a time … bullet journaling organizes your to-do list, your schedule and your journal in one notebook while giving you free rein to design it according to your lifestyle. It has become a social media sensation over the last few years, with more than three million related posts on Instagram alone and a dedicated following inspired to create blogs and innovations to the original system.”
Fountain pen, paper, digital device—whatever your means, it’s your life, and writing it all down will enrich it immensely.