How writing helps you find solutions in your stress

Woman writing in journal

The other day I heard a song from Kelly Clarkson called Piece by Piece. It’s a story about a young mother confronting the father who left her at six years old.

It’s an emotionally charged song. Kelly wrote the song based on her own experience of her father abandoning her at the young age of six.

The song intrigued me.

Many song writers write about painful experiences, that’s certainly nothing new.

But she took it a bit farther than just a cathartic experience to ventilate her emotions.

She turned the song into a declaration of what kind of parent she would be. She would find a father for her children that would be the father he never was.

Kelly made meaning out of the experience by writing about it, sure.

But she went a step further to spell out how she would move her own life forward in a very prescriptive way.

That’s about as therapeutic as it gets.

Writing about your experiences and trying to make sense of events in your life is nothing new. It’s one of the first things many therapists pull out of their toolbox when they work with a new client.

Writing is the best and easiest way to capture data spinning around in your head where only you can see it.

How can I help you if you can’t tell me what you’re thinking and feeling beyond right this minute?

You can’t change your thoughts until you know what those thoughts are.

In order to make progress, you have to interact with the thoughts and feelings that are getting in your way.

Writing is the best way for you to collect meaningful data about your thoughts.

Trying to remember how you felt last week on the fly means that you’re relying on anecdotal information and what you might remember.

Good luck with that.

You’ll have an average of 50,000 thoughts fly through your head just today. How in the world are you going to pull out the important ones you need to work with?

If you were doing a science experiment, you would record your data along the way, right? You wouldn’t wait until you present your findings to try to remember how it all went down.

No, you would have listed all of the possible results and logged the events that led to the outcome.

So at a minimum, writing is a way to capture raw data without judgment so you know what your variables are.

Here’s another great thing about writing.

Recording your progress and your impressions along the way helps you see the patterns in your thoughts.

As you look back on your writings, you’ll start to see similarities in how you perceive certain events. Or you may see that you respond a certain way when confronted with specific stressors.

You may have never noticed these similarities before because it all just floats around in your head with all the other stuff you’re managing today.

Writing helps you pinpoint exactly how your thinking is holding you back.

Once you do that then you can decide what thoughts and patterns will be more helpful for you.

It’s like putting a puzzle together.

Once you’re in the act of writing, your brain starts to make associations that it doesn’t do in any other way.

The words you use when you reflect on something can prompt you to remember something else. So you write about that, which prompts yet another remembrance.

It’s a living, active process.

Writing engages the part of your brain that processes thinking and decision-making.

Leadership expert John Maxwell says that writing marinates your thinking. That’s such a great description, isn’t it?

Those associations you make between words and thoughts take you down a path of discovery and help you find solutions you really can’t find any other way.

So how do you do this?

What if you’re not a “Dear Diary“ kind of person?

Think of it less as a journal or a diary and more of a recording exercise. You don’t have to be Hemingway, here.

Here’s an idea to get you started.

  • Spend a few minutes this evening reflecting back on the day.
  • Think about one thing that was difficult for you or that tripped you up today. Just one thing, please.
  • Write down the emotions you felt when it happened: sadness, frustration, disappointment, embarrassment, whatever you can identify.
  • Try to remember what thoughts went through your mind.
  • What did you tell yourself right in that moment?

Don’t judge it, just transcribe it.

Write down any other things that come to mind.

Now just do that again a few more times this week.

At the end of the week, go back and look at what you wrote.

You should see patterns emerging.

  • What specific behaviors do you see in how you responded to things?
  • What words did you use in what you told yourself in those moments?
  • What were your most common emotions?
  • What interesting observations can you make?

Use that information to figure out what’s not working for you and the behaviors you’d like to see.

This is how you start making real change in your life because you’re making one small change based on evidence you’ve already captured.

Even if you’re not a writer, you can use this powerful skill to help find solutions to the things that keep getting in your way.