Life Lessons from Life Writing

Punji Pensive, by Indi Samarajiva
Jamie’s sick, so I’ll have to fix a casserole to take over.

This is such a simple and typical thought — the type that generally passes unnoticed, or at least unquestioned. Lately I’ve begun to notice these thoughts and question them. Increasingly often as such thoughts begin to form, I pause and rethink the situation.

Is that true? Do I have to (fix a casserole, do the laundry, write a blog post) now?

Generally, the answer is No. I don’t absolutely have to do that. But I want to. Usually I’ll simply go ahead and do whatever it is, but because I stopped to think about it, I realize I do have a choice, and I do the task with more awareness and presence. Any hint of resentment fades. My life has gradually become more peaceful, more joyful, and less stressful as a result. For that I am enormously grateful.

What does this have to do with life writing? I’m convinced this powerful thought-habit sprang from journaling. This isn’t anyone’s fancy system. I’m a self-taught journal writer,  just “doing what comes naturally.” What comes naturally is to ask myself questions when I feel out of sorts or whiny about something.

“Is that true?” is my favorite one. “Are things really that bad?” “Is that so?” I write an appropriate question in third person, as if to someone else. Then I answer it. Sometimes I write two or three questions before I feel finished. It’s amazing what I’ve discovered. This technique works equally well for current things I’m whining about today, and things I’m still whining about fifty years later.

Once I got in the habit of using this technique in my journal, it began to seep out into my thoughts at other times, and you’ve read about the results. If I weren’t already convinced of the value of life writing in all forms, the results of this inadvertent experiment would prove it to me. Try it. You’ll like it!

Write now:
promise yourself to spend ten minutes each day for the next ... week (or more — just keep it believable) writing about whatever is irritating you or causing you stress at the moment. You’re likely to get your best results with smaller things first while you build mental muscle. Whine your heart out on the page. Then write “Is that really true?” Think carefully, and write your answer without preconceived notions. Maybe it really is true! If it is, write “How else can you handle this?” or “What are your options?” Don’t wear yourself out. You don’t need to solve all the world’s problems. You are simply training yourself to think differently. To question your “have to” statements. I promise that if you stick with it, you are going to see some dramatic results in your thinking. You may not change your behavior, but you’re going to feel a lot happier about what you’re doing.


Karen Walker said...

Hey Sharon,
You and I are very similar in how we approach life and life writing. I, too, begin to ask questions when I am out of sorts. It helps my psyche, my emotional well-being, and eventually, my writing.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Karen, it's pure magic, isn't it? Another Power Question is "What am I supposed to be learning from this?" or "What can I learn?"

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon, You are so right. I have been writing in my journal over the years. That has helped me in two ways: I understand where I come from, my ethics tec, and I remember the past better. That helps me to shape my future. Also since my ideas get a shape,I can help others better.

How I wish I had followed this process since I was twelve years old...perhaps I would have better life! Alas!

Sharon Lippincott said...

We can't do much to change the facts of yesterday, but changing our understanding of them is the next best thing. I agree that beginning to journal earlier may have made a difference, but ... not sure I was ready to learn back then. I do believe that things happen when it's time and we are ready.