11th June 2021
How to Write a New Life for Yourself: Using journal writing to improve your life
By Renata Taylor-Byrne
“Writing in a journal reminds you of your goals and of your learning in life.
It offers a place where you can hold a deliberate, thoughtful conversation with yourself.”
Robin S. Sharma
In this blog I want to outline some of the invaluable benefits of writing about yourself and your life, and then briefly explain some of the writing strategies recommended and described in Jim Byrne’s book: “How to Write a New Life for Yourself: narrative therapy and the writing solution”.
Firstly, writing about yourself brings order and understanding into your life. Would you like to create some new structure and certainty in your life, after the constant changes that you have been experiencing as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic? One of the most effective ways to make sense of all the changes that have taken place, is to reflect on what has been happening to you and how your life has been changed.
Writing about your experiences, including your losses, acknowledges them, processes them and helps you move beyond them. Getting in touch with your feelings helps you to reconnect with yourself. And in the process, you find out who you were, the things that shaped and changed your life, and the reasons why you want to create new changes or goals for yourself.
“I think writing really helps you heal yourself.
I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person.
That is, if you write what you need to write, as opposed to what will make money, or what will make fame”.
Scientific validation of writing as therapy
Secondly, the benefits of the writing therapy process have been scientifically assessed. It’s worth knowing that there are very real benefits to our bodies and minds which have been systematically researched: The benefits of writing things out of our system was investigated by Dr James Pennebaker of the University of Texas. He thinks that regular writing (he calls it ‘journaling’) strengthens our immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research has shown that regular writing reduces the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker also believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, and this means a reduction in the impact of these stressors on your physical health.
“My wife Cecily Adams was dying of cancer, my daughter Madeline was struggling to overcome an autism diagnosis, and my father was dying, all at the same time. Writing the journal was a cathartic experience, and an extremely positive one.” Jim Beaver
Philippa Perry (2012) has described the findings about people who keep a diary, and write about the events of their lives. Apparently they have stronger immune systems than those who don’t write them, they are admitted into hospital less, don’t need as much medical attention, and the function of their livers becomes more effective. Their ability to manage their emotions and moods also becomes stronger.
How to get started with your journal writing
Jim Byrne’s book has a section which can help you if you feel unable to start the writing process, and he describes the different life transitions which he used on his own writing therapy, and which he has used for many years to help his clients heal and deepen their understanding of their lives. He describes the main life stories as: ‘The story of my origins”, “The story of my relationships” (especially your relationship with your mother), “The story of transitions” and the “Story of career difficulties”. He also describes the starting points used by other therapists, for example Noppe-Brandon (2018) who focusses on life stages.
And he describes the writing process developed by Julia Cameron. She is described by the New York Times as the “Queen of Change” and for many years has led workshops all over the world for creative people who are blocked in the self-expression of their creativity.
“Julia Cameron (1992) teaches a daily writing process that is designed to help the writer recover a sense of safety and identity; a sense of power and integrity; a sense of possibility and abundance; a sense of connection and strength; a sense of compassion and self-protection. These goals are achieved by writing three pages of ‘streams of consciousness’ each day.”
She describes her technique as “writing Morning Pages”. It’s a technique whereby you write three pages (in your own handwriting – not on the computer) every day, early in the morning. She suggests that you just write down anything and everything that is on your mind: (she calls it stream-of-consciousness descriptions of whatever is on your mind or going through your mind).
Key benefits of journal writing
To summarize, the three different ways that writing about ourselves can benefit us is by:
(a) Helping us process and fully digest past experiences which we need to complete (for example, making peace with past traumas or upsets, or forgiving people whose negative behaviour affected us badly).
(b) Enabling us to clarify our values and goals and the way forward for us in our careers.
(c) Helping us master the challenges we face daily, by fully expressing them in writing, problem-solving and writing about strategies to support ourselves – a self-coaching process which gets our problems outside of our heads, and onto paper. By putting our problems outside of ourselves, we can see them better and find solutions to them more quickly.
Here is a link to Jim’s book: https://abc-bookstore.com/writing-therapy-exercises/
The Coaching-Counselling Division
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services
01422 843 629
Email: Renata and ABC Coaching