The Power of Your Pen
February 9, 2020
by Kim Childs, CPPC
As I’ve said here before, a simple practice called Morning Pages changed my life in 1997. Done at the start of the day before other agendas beckon, they are a fundamental part of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, a book I’ve taught and used with clients for nearly 20 years. The idea behind them is to meet ourselves on the page and see how we’re doing each morning by writing, uncensored, by hand, for about 20 minutes until three pages are filled.
While most of us are more used to typing than writing these days, there is a visceral difference when we use a pen.
“When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves,” says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. “We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection to ourselves and our deepest thoughts when we actually put pen to page.”
Throughout the years, my clients and I have had powerful experiences with these pages, where questions, complaints, fears, revelations, worries, insights, and ideas share space with “to do” lists. One of my clients says that the pages “take the weight off” the issues he’s writing about. Another says she notices a qualitative difference to her day—and less obvious mind chatter—when she does them.
I firmly believe that we learn more about ourselves and make room for healing when we vent, process, celebrate, plan, and voice truths – both inconvenient and profound – on the page, and there’s ample research to support this. If daily journaling sounds daunting, there are other writing exercises that I recommend to my coaching clients for greater clarity and self-growth.
Here are some to choose from:
–At night, list three things that went well for you during the day and note why they went well. This exercise comes from Martin Seligman, the “father” of Positive Psychology, who says that it boosts optimism and reduces depression over time. Adding why things went well helps us to replicate successful strategies and acknowledge our own agency.
–At night or in the morning, list three things for which you are grateful, and why. Create a new list each time, calling the items to mind with heartfelt gratefulness. The leader in gratitude research, Robert Emmons, has found that a practice such as this benefits both mental and physical health. It also inspires us look for things to write down throughout the day, making us conscious appreciators.
–Write affirmations or statements of your ideal self or life, and post them where you’ll see them often. Make sure you believe them (i.e. they are true or could be true in time with behavioral or attitudinal shifts) by editing the statements until resistance evaporates and finding evidence to support them. Example: “My work makes a difference in the world in ways that delight me and inspire others.”
–Write a letter to yourself that starts with “Dear (Name), I love (or admire/respect/appreciate) you for ________ and later transitions to “And I forgive you for _________.” Have Kleenex and lots of self-compassion on hand.
–Write a personal mission statement to guide your actions and choices. One way is to start with “I think the world needs/would be a better place if _________________” and follow with “and I can _________ by ________.” Mission statements should reflect your deepest values and pull in your strengths and abilities. Example: “I think the world needs more kindness and I can help by writing about it, appreciating people, and practicing kindness with everyone I meet.”
–Re-story a painful event from your past from a new perspective, recalling the events in a factual way and looking for the learning, growth, changes or blessings that resulted from the event. Learn more about that technique here.
–Set a timer for 20 minutes and write about your Best Possible Future Self. Repeat for a few days, and whenever else you like. This exercise, adapted from researcher Laura King, is a snapshot of your life in a future time when all of the areas that matter to you have gone as well as they possibly could. Write in the present tense, as in, “I am living in a home filled with art and collectibles from my world travels. My health is excellent and my work as a coach is fulfilling and lucrative.” Add details to make it more vibrant. One student who’s been doing this exercise was told that it could actually lead to the fantastic future she’s scripting. Her reply? “Even if it doesn’t, it’s still fun.” Exactly. The very act of writing in this way can boost our mood for the rest of the day, while it directs us to choices and decisions that can craft the desired future.
Intrigued? Find a favorite pen, a notebook or journal, and start writing. It’s best to begin with one practice and repeat it consistently before adding another.
Kim Childs, CPPC, is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, Creativity, and Midlife Transitions. Click here to learn more and schedule an initial consultation.