The Power of the Pen (or pencil)

When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love. ~ Marcus Aurelius

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Coming down early in the morning, I would usually find my mother sitting at the kitchen table writing in her calendar book. She had a separate place in which she would keep her schedule of appointments. This simple book, usually provided by the insurance company, was her recollection of the events of the preceding day. I might have called it a diary if I had ever seen what was in the pages, but I didn’t dare peek. All I knew was it was a daily habit in the mornings that seemed to leave her happy to begin the rest of her day. What do you do when you arise in the morning? Whether you take a walk while the air is still fresh and not yet thick from the stream of exhaust pipes heading to work, sit quietly and meditate, or take time to write in a journal, my mother’s example and Aurelius’ advice are worth noting.

Before I began keeping a formal journal, I would write my thoughts on notebook paper whenever I was especially upset or overjoyed about something. I didn’t always have a real person to talk to, but I always had a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. I don’t know what happened to my earliest papers, though I know I eventually destroyed several of them in an act of cathartic release, but as I found myself in need of an outlet and not enough money for a therapist, I began writing in a journal again and discovered some wonderful things.

Have you ever kept a journal? If you’re a man, you are not magically excused from journaling, as if it will hold no value for you. I’m just going to nip that theory in the bud — great men keep and have kept journals. Winston Churchill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Andrew Carnegie…there is an example for every kind of fella. So, back to my question. Have you ever tried journaling? Maybe you men, women, and young people who think that’s not for you need a little convincing. Let’s start with the research that shows the value of keeping a journal and then consider the types of journals you might want to keep.

There is no lack of firsthand testimony from avid journalers, but I know people like hard facts, so I’ll give you this.

  • People with PTSD who journal are shown to be helped (as are individuals with anxiety and depression unrelated to PTSD). (Baikie & Wilhelm, 2005)
  • Journaling can help change negative thinking to positive. (Robinson, 2017)
  • Creativity is a side effect of journaling, while the left side of your brain is busy. (Grothaus, 2015)
  • Patients who journaled expressively about events healed 76% faster from a medical procedure than those who did not journal. (Broadbent, 2013)

It’s pretty impressive to see the impact simply writing about feelings has on people. What else could you write about, though, if you think you don’t really have anything too expressive or emotional to write about?

Maybe you’re a gardener — keep a journal of your lessons in the soil.

Maybe you’re a poet — keep a journal filled with your thoughts of poetry.

Maybe you’re a do-it-yourself type — keep a journal filled with projects you’ve tried, the failures and the successes.

Maybe you are a thinker — keep a journal so you can fill pages with your thoughts of possibilities.

Maybe you are thinking you’re nothing special — keep a journal to record all of your doings and you’ll see that you are indeed something special with much to be grateful for in your life.

The possibilities for journals are numerous: pregnancy journal, dream journal, food journal, exercise journal, project journal, gratitude journal… No one ever has to read your journal or you might pull the pages together to share with someone years from now. Imagine sharing your memories of childhood with your grandchildren! Making it happen is really very simple, you just sit down and write something, anything, and let it take on a life of its own. Don’t overthink this.

My theme for 2019 is impact, and I can clearly see how journaling can positively impact a person’s life, most likely the lives of other people, too. So, what are we waiting for? Do you have a spiral notebook? That’s all you need. Maybe you’ll want a few different notebooks — if you have different topics you’d like to address. You don’t have to be a ‘writer’, and, in fact, you will do your best writing if you don’t think about spelling and punctuation or grammar. Just write. Do you have children or grandchildren? Get them to write, too. It’s a gift that can follow them through life.

If you want to sleep better at night, spending a few minutes before you go to bed filling a page with your thoughts might be some of the best medicine you’ll find. Emptying our heads of all of the thoughts that have built up all day means a better night’s rest. Don’t believe me? Give it a try for two weeks. Let me know how you do. This is something we can do for ourselves and benefit others at the same time. In the morning or in the evening, what better way to remind ourselves of what a joy and privilege it is to be alive — to think, to enjoy, to love.

 

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