Writing is your one true time capsule for personal growth
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I’ve never been to therapy. I would – I just never have. The value of it, as I perceive it to be, is to understand the root causes behind your actions and the drivers behind your thoughts so you can better understand and organize your mental triggers to live a more fruitful life. If there are elements of this process that can be done in a self-guided way, I’ve found none better than writing. The more I’ve thought about this and the more I’ve engaged in this process, the more I come back to 2 key benefits of writing for personal growth and self-discovery…
1) Writing gets your best ideas out of your head.
Many of us, particularly introverts, generate far more eloquence and awareness in our thoughts than we do in our speech or actions. Therapy is a way to prompt extraction of this internal value through deeply personal and challenging dialogue. Taking this internal value and externalizing it can also be done through our writing. The big difference being that the dialogue goes from 1:1 to 1:many (or 1:0 if you choose not to publicize).
The audience for this purpose is almost a moot point because the value remains the same – learning more about yourself and the world around you so you are better equipped to deal with it. This can only be done when your best ideas get out of your vault and packaged in a more coherent way.
2) You can see your growth
Why do we take so many photos of our experiences? Photos of our travel, our kids, our birthdays, our food – everything we do gets documented these days. With connected personal devices for the tech and social media for the distribution, it only makes sense that this has become a standard part of our lives. Then every so often we get a reminder on Facebook of a friend’s birthday dinner 6 years ago and we fondly reflect on how far we’ve come.
Writing serves a similar purpose, just less visual and more personal. I think anyone reading this, no matter the age group, would say the things that occupied our thoughts 10 years ago are vastly different than what occupies them today. Distilling these thoughts on paper is a way for you to string together your journey beyond the obvious milestones, like graduation, getting married, having kids, and progressing from job to job.
The deeper thoughts that consume your brain space get forgotten soon after your circumstances change. How exactly did you feel waking up each morning going to a job you loved (or to a job you hated)? What about how you felt during 3 am feedings of your infant? Or on your wedding day? You’ll always remember bits and pieces, but the bulk of the experience is just a speck in your memory the more that time passes. We protect these memories through photos and videos because it’s easy, but those are only proxies for what was actually going on in our heads. Words on paper make all the difference in making sure your past doesn’t disappear, and making sure that every year you are a better human than you were the year prior.
The Windy Road to Journaling My Cognition
I’ve worked in tech for over a decade. For most of that time, I’ve been prideful of my work and motivated to grow personally and professionally. However, in the period of time preceding my personal sabbatical, I felt a debilitating sense of fatigue, disconnectedness, migraines, and apathy in my day to day.
For several months, maybe even a couple years, I dismissed this as something I simply needed to power through as an accepted reality. I can’t begin to describe how dangerous this thought process can become over time. While I’m not a doctor and won’t claim any deep understanding of the physiological effects of working to the bone without purpose, at minimum I have enough information to conclude that there is some chemical effect in the brain which can be extremely harmful if not addressed and properly managed.
For me, the combined responsibilities of a high stress job, a commute, and parenting a young child resulted in caffeine fueling the day, alcohol fueling the evening, sleep deprivation, a decrease in exercise, and a diet favoring convenience over nutrition. Any of these things in isolation could be harmful, but in conjunction could be crippling.
The result for me was dizziness and blurred vision through physical movement as simple as walking, as well as a noticeable lack of concentration, focus, and energy when engaging with others in both professional and personal settings. Eventually this lead to me making a conscious decision to separate from my job, focus on my general wellness and become deliberate in how my limited time on this planet should be spent. So I started writing as a means to crystallize my thoughts into storytelling and prevent them from vanishing out of my stream of consciousness.
Seeking Help or Going it Alone?
Positioning writing as a substitute for therapy is in no way discrediting actual therapists or any other mental health professionals. They are the ones who know what they are doing, and I may very well seek one out myself someday. But there are millions of people who wait far too long to seek outside counsel for this particular brand of struggle. Many who seek to improve start out with some self-directed guidance, and it’s only my opinion that writing is an option that should be strongly considered for that purpose.
Documenting Your Own Evolution
Keeping tabs on how our thoughts change over time reveals a very interesting finding in how we chase our goals…
We tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can accomplish in a year.
It’s frustrating and deflating to have a to do list for the day only to get to a third of what you planned. Unfortunately, our internal measuring stick most often scores us on the daily, not the yearly. Taking a retroactive view to see even the most subtle areas of our growth becomes far easier when our experiences, thoughts, and motivations are written down. It preserves snapshots of our state of mind so we can not only trace our growth, but project how we might continue to evolve and live our best lives.