Writing is the most accessible form of self-expression. It allows you to take a step back from your own thoughts and feelings, especially when they start to all blend together and stop making sense because you can’t tell them apart.
If you think journalling is too much of a push for you, this simple exrecise will allow you to express yourself, review your day and gain an overview of how you feel without committing to having a full journal.
Writing is really the best thing you can do for your mental health – it’s simple to start and lets you empty out all that junk rattling around in your mind.
Writing will allow you to…
- open up your creative expression
- release locked emotions
- grow in self-confidence and self-understanding.
Exercise #1: The quadrant method
Take a blank piece of paper or a new page in a journal.
Draw a straight line down the middle vertically and a straight line across the middle horizontally.
In the top left quadrant write: DID and in the top right quadrant write: SAW.
In the bottom left quadrant write: HEARD and in the bottom right quadrant: DOODLE.
It should look something like this:
Now start writing in the top left quadrant, the DID section. Write in bullet points 7 things you did today.
It can be anything, such as the little things: “I did the dishes” or “I went shopping” or it can be the big stuff, like “I bought a new house today” or “I spoke in front of an audience for the first time today”.
Next write 7 things you saw today in the SAW quadrant. Again, it can be small or big, from “I saw my uncut hair in the mirror” or “I saw my neighbour” to “I saw the most amazing triple rainbow” or I saw my ex on the train”.
Move on to the bottom left and write 1 thing (one thing only!) that you heard today in the HEARD quadrant.
It can be a sound you heard, like I hear our upstairs neighbours with two kids under the age of three crying all the livelong day, or it can be a piece of a conversation you overheard. The last thing I wrote in this quadrant was: “I heard my (3 yo) daughter singing along to her favourite TV-show”.
Lastly draw a doodle in the DOODLE quadrant. Just draw. Don’t worry about it.
It doesn’t have to be a thing and it doesn’t have to look like anything. I most often start just drawing in one continuous line and see what kind of shape I end up with. Crisscrossing the lines and varying the shape is just fun and therapeutic in a small way.
And wallah! You’re done for today.
Exercise #2: Use some prompts
Using prompts is a great way to just get your creative muscles limbered up – especially if you feel like free writing (sitting down with a blank page and writing down whatever is in your head for 10 minutes) is too daunting.
You can still stick to a time limit, 10 minutes is usually more than enough and it will prevent you from just rambling on long after you’ve emptied your mental trashbucket.
This isn’t to say that you can’t keep going if you’ve hit the 10 minute mark and still feel like it’s gushing out of you. Just don’t keep pushing if there’s nothing there or if you feel like you’ve had enough.
Start by writing the prompt on the page and then filling out the rest of the sentence or answering the question.
Some prompts to use:
- 3 things that made life better this week
- This time last year…
- One thing that I’d like to say that I haven’t
- What has changed about me since last year?
- The time I failed at…
- What’s one thing that hasn’t changed about me?
- I’m nervous to admit this…
- Describe an area of the house you grew up in
- The last thing that made me smile was…
- If I knew what I know now…
Exercise #3: Improv writing
This is definitely for when you’re most accustomed to writing and don’t feel so self-conscious about what you put down on paper. Just like how improv-acting or improv-theatre isn’t for everyone.
And that’s okay. If you feel attracted to this kind of writing, go for it! If you think this is more meh, then fogettaboutit!
When you want to just spin a yarn with improv, take a magazine, book, email, instructional manual, whatever you can get your hands on and flip through it.
Pick a word. Any word. And start writing.
The key here is to be quick in your selection process, don’t think too much about which word you choose, and quick in getting the words down.
Don’t overthink it, don’t edit yourself, just let ‘er rip.
And again, if you want, limit how long you write for – 10 minutes is a good time to set for yourself. Even if you end up going over or under that.
Exercise #4: Retrain your brain
Your biases are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they’re your brain saving you from having to spend cognitive energy on simple repetitive tasks that you do often.
Like how you’ve learned to swerve that pointy coffee table corner without having to think about it. Or how you always order a latte at Starbucks and an iced mocha at Espresso House because you’ve tried every drink in both places and have decided on your favourites.
Our biases help shape our habits and enable us to use our cognitive capacity on new and bigger choices. Like what to have for dinner, where to go next summer or which job offer to accept.
The bottom line is, that your brain is very fond of things that it already knows and will use that information (no matter how out of date) to make future decisions.
You can use this simple writing exercise to retrain your brain to focus on growing rather than strengthening existing biases.
Take a piece of paper and scribble SEVEN THINGS I DON’T KNOW at the top and write in seven bullet points what you don’t know right now.
It can be simple, like “I don’t know what I’m going to have for dinner tomorrow” or “I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the end of the week”. It can also be bigger life things like, like “I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgage” or “I don’t know how I’d feed my family if I lost my job”.
This is a really great way to train your brain to go into problem-solving mode. The more you train it, the easier it’ll come to you when you need it.
This is an especially good exercise to do in the evening if you have a specific nut to crack. You can take your problem and shape all the questions around that one problem – and let your brain mull it over while you sleep.
So, it might look something like this…
SEVEN THINGS I DON’T KNOW
- I don’t know how I’m going to pay the mortgage.
- I don’t know how I’m going to find the money to pay for the mortgage.
- I don’t know how I’m going to get a raise so I can pay for the mortgage.
- I don’t know what it would feel like to earn enough to pay for my mortgage and a new car.
- I don’t know how I’m going to afford food AND the mortgage.
- I don’t know how much I’d need to earn to pay off the mortgage in 10 years.
- I don’t know how I can negotiate better terms on my mortgage.