I hate X, I have hated X from the day she walked into the cafeteria. How do I dislike her, let me count the ways.
There is no question that writing down your best revenge schemes is a delicious way to pass a dreary winter afternoon. But all that writing can lead to so much more. Obviously compulsive journaling about our nasty thoughts, tragedies, and evil impulses lead to fewer murders, but journaling can just as easily change up our thoughts for the better. Better for Society of course, but also better for our brains.
In the last few years it was discovered (notice the passive sentence, that’s how scientists write, in the passive form) that aging brains are not doomed to solidify around the information we learned Junior year in college, never to be changed or budged, the brain can change. The brain can stretch, learn, grow and otherwise continue to learn and retain newly learned information and skills.
First up for that brain plasticity practice was to obsessively work cross word puzzles. If crosswords were not sufficient, Sudoku puzzles began to proliferate on bookstore shelves. The link was specific puzzle work could slow general dementia. One crossword puzzle = better cognitive activity on all fronts. As much as I was interested in slowing brain deterioration, I wasn’t so committed to crossword puzzles, even if working them every day would make my brain stronger, faster and able to leap tall cliches in a single bound. So I waited Science out.
I didn’t have to wait for long. It was then determined that all that crossword practice just led to getting better at crosswords. Enter, journaling, an activity that not only improves your future brain but improves your life right now.
If you, like me, are a fan of bias confirmation, this new information is welcome indeed. For those of us who have spent our entire life scribbling in journals alternatively hating our hair, our thighs, and X, this is a delightful discovery: what we are already doing is actually good for us.
This almost never happens.
Instead of practicing math problems, the lima beans of intellectual activity, we can continue to do what we love, write.
However, to change thought patterns, and thinking, you can’t just write about just anything. You must be focused. Rather than recording random thoughts and impressions, your journaling needs to be more intentional, or transformational. Focused writing will not only improve your brain plasticity, as much or more than crossword and sudoku puzzles, but it will also improve your life right now.
Transformational journaling can change what you are thinking about, how you are thinking, and how you can respond in the future.
For example, X is terrible, X is poorly dressed, X said this, X ignored you, X paid attention to you. Journaling about X won’t change X. But journaling can change how you think about X and how you will handle X in the future. In other words, don’t complain about X, solve for X.
Go ahead and indulge in fantasies of killing X, torturing X all that, but once that’s literally out of your system, consider writing about real-world solutions. Ask different questions about X. Instead of writing I hate X. Write, what can I do to react differently to X today? What are my options when I comes to X? Write it all out. Have a conversation with X on paper. Write about the kinds of outcomes that are possible with X.
Today I said hello to X and she did not bite off my head.
Good start right?
All this work will not only help our brains but daily Journaling has undocumented (ironic) but apparent positive effects that lead to:
- Reductions in doctor visits
- Improved immune system functioning
- Better grades
- Faster hiring for a new job
- Lowered stress hormones
- Decreased blood pressure
- Improved problem-solving
- Reduced symptoms from some chronic illnesses
To achieve these seeming miracles, a person (you and me) needs to write every day. We all can do that, we’re writing every day now. But to transform our thinking and better manage our desired outcomes, we need to write down different questions and create more positive outcome statements (not affirmations, god helps us). It is the positive writing that is key.
Try it in your journal today. Write about what you want to happen, write about what your ideal future looks like. Explore how that feels and eventually, walk it back so you end up with an action .plan to achieve what you just discovered you wanted.
With a transformational approach to journaling, you can move your work from being all about X to putting yourself back into the center of your story, thighs and all. Your journal becomes a book of enticing possibilities with a workable plan for your future. You, not X, become the heroine of your own story. A better solution, a more exciting answer.
Catharine Bramkamp is a successful writing coach and author. She has published over 300 newspaper and magazine articles in publications like Modern Maturity (AARP), SF Chronicle and Santa Rosa Magazine. She was a contributor to two Chicken Soup Books and has published anthologies of her work, non-fiction works and novels. Her work has also appeared in a number of poetry and fiction anthologies. She has experimented with the self-publishing world since 2001. She has published and self-published seven books through companies like Author House, author assist companies like 3L Publishing and through traditional publishers like Write Life. Her poetry collection, Ammonia Sunrise, will be released in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press and her mystery novel, In Good Faith will be released by Write Life in 2011.
Catharine holds a BA in English from UCSB and a MA in English from Sonoma State University. She is a 25 year member of California Writer’s Club. She is an adjunct professor for the University of Phoenix. She works with authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their dream of producing a book come true. For more information on that, visit her at www.YourBookStartsHere.com
Catharine has lived in Sonoma County for 25 years and considers wine a food group. She is married to an adorable and very patient man who complains he’s never featured in any of her books. Her grown children who are featured in a few of her books have fled the county.