Write at twilight to keep a stronger hold on your memories

You'll have easier access to your memories if you record them in a journal in the evening (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/blackzheep)

You’ll have easier access to your memories if you record them in a journal in the evening (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/blackzheep)

Do you like to write your diary in the evening, reflecting on the day’s events, and capturing your thoughts and feelings about what’s happened to you? Or are you into morning journaling, wanting to share your thoughts with the page before you go about your day? Well, a study shows that people who write down autobiographical memories at night are more likely to remember them a month down the line than people who scribble down their life events when they wake up.

A diary after dinner: how the time of event recording influences later accessibility of diary events is a piece of research, published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, that looks at the best time of day for recording events to enable them to be remembered at a later time. “Improvements in long-term accessibility” of memories recorded in a diary were greater at night than in the morning. “Participants [in the study] who recorded their memories in the evening before sleep had best memory performance,” according to the research findings. The study explained this as memories becoming more consolidated during sleep, whereas other interference and distractions during the day could affect this process for people who journal in the mornings.

In conclusion, I’m reminded of this quote by Norbet Platt: “The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought. This in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.” So putting pen to paper at night helps embed those thoughts even more deeply.

Why not let World Book Day inspire you to write…?

World Book Day 2015World Book Day is that time of year when children are encourage to talk in rhyme, read their favourite books, visit libraries, engage with their favourite authors, and dress up as a book hero or villain.

But why let World Book Day be all about the kids? Awareness Days mark something to be celebrated, and sometimes one can capture our souls more than others. World Book Day, for me, is about optimism and adventure and creativity and imagination. It’s about remembering something wonderful about our past, and possibly creating something for our future. World Book Day always encourages me to write. Something. In honour of all the words and pages and books that have gone before me, that have inspired me, and have held me when nothing else could.

I work with people who would love to have the freedom to write and yet feel blocked, stuck, stupid, unworthy. All core beliefs that leave them in non-writing. World Book Day can be just the excuse you need to get your pen out and scribble on a scrap piece of paper, or your poshest notebook. Whatever needs to emerge will emerge. Just as I rocked up to write a blog post about writing and World Book Day without a plan or an outcome. Just in honour of a feeling.

Related post: Why reading a good book can be therapeutic (and not just on World Book Day)

Writing therapy boosts ‘courageous coping’ in cancer patients

Expressing the unexpressed in writing can be a healing and resilient experience for people battling cancer. (pic courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/freedigitalphotos.net)

Expressing the unexpressed in writing can be a healing and resilient experience for people battling cancer. (pic courtesy of Sura Nualpradid/ freedigitalphotos.net)

The act of expressing thoughts and feelings in words and song lyrics can help cancer patients find more resilience and coping strategies to help them live with the disease. Two recent therapeutic writing projects shows just how effective writing your pain down on paper can be.

The first project, a ‘Therapeutic Music Video’ (TMV) was run by the Indiana Nursing School in Indianapolis for adolescents and young adults undergoing stem cell transplant treatments for cancer. The aim of the TMV project was to encourage the patients to explore their thoughts and emotions about their disease and treatment through the creative process of writing song lyrics and producing a music video. Oncology Nurse Advisor reports that the project helped patients express what had remained unspoken, allowed them to reflect on their experience of illness and treatment, and helped them identify what was important to them (friends, family, spirituality, healthcare professionals).

The 113 patients took part in 113 sessions over six weeks, where they made music videos and share them with loved ones, so they could also gain a new perspective on the cancer patients’ experiences.

The study found that that the TMV group reported “significantly better courageous coping”, especially through feeling better connected and supported by family and medical staff – helping to boost their feelings of resilience in the face of their disease.

A second study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that expressive writing could boost quality of life for renal cancer patients. The report authors concluded: “Expressive writing may reduce cancer-related symptoms and improve physical functioning in patients with renal cell carcinoma. Evidence suggests that this effect may occur through short-term improvements in cognitive processing.”

In other words, the chance to give outer expression to inner conflicts, struggles and challenges can, to some extent, be healing.


Is Facebook becoming the ‘confessional’ of the digital age?

Seeking ‘likes’ from friends can encourage acceptance and forgiveness for our deeds. (pic courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/freedigitalphotos.net)

Facebook: a platform for perfectly groomed self-promotion, or an explorative ‘confessional’ place to discover your feelings and identify ways to improve yourself? Most of us might think the former, but a researcher into the creative industries thinks otherwise.

The act of posting your achievements for all your Facebook friends to admire, from your latest DIY success to the number of miles you’ve run this week – as well as sometimes admitting to some mistakes you’ve made along the way – can apparently make you more self-reflective. And this can lead to more self-awareness and personal growth, according to Dr Theresa Sauter from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation in Australia.

Showing off what’s been good about your day proves that you’re doing OK in life. And sharing what hasn’t gone so well shows awareness that your behaviour may not be top notch – especially when friends can ‘like’ or comment on what you’ve posted, says the research.

“It can become a therapeutic tool that helps people discover how they feel and how they can improve themselves,” says Dr Sauter.

I think there are two interesting ideas to emerge from this piece of research. (more…)

Why gratitude can improve our sense of self-worth

thank you

Gratitude can boost a sense of self-worth. (Pic: istockphoto.com/anyaberkut)

Never underestimate the power of thank-you. Gratitude bestows the giver and receiver with a sense of self-worth that is totally missing when a thank-you is absent or forgotten. This has been proven in research carried out by Francesca Gino from Harvard Business School. She discusses her findings in an article on the Harvard Gazette on The Power of Thanks.

Her psychology experiment showed that receiving an acknowledgement of feedback without gratitude produced a 25% level of self-worth among the receivers. However, 55% of the test group that received a thank-you alongside the feedback felt higher levels of self-worth. And more than double those who were thanked were likely to help the person out in the future (66% versus 32% who didn’t get a thank-you).

She says she hates to miss an opportunity to thank-you, as it is always worth the effort. “Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too.”

Other articles I like on the subject of gratitude are The transformative power of gratitude on Psychology Today and How gratitude can change your life on The Change Blog. They’re full of tips on how to make gratitude a welcome, mindful and compassionate part of your life.

A simple tip is to keep a ‘gratitude book’. Write 10 things you’re grateful for every evening and spot what a difference it can make to your wellbeing.

How to express your true feelings in words on World Poetry Day

anima world poetry day

Let poetry capture the DNA of your thoughts and feelings. (pic: istockphoto.com/LoopAll)

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” Robert Frost

Today is the UN’s World Poetry Day, a celebration of creativity, diversity in language and individual expression in the written word.

Whether you journal regularly, scribble down a few thoughts occasionally, or craft some beautiful prose when the muse strikes, the act of writing your thoughts down without censoring what’s coming out of your pen can be tremendously therapeutic. Here’s how to get in the healing mood for writing in rhyme –  though poems don’t always have to rhyme:

  • The act of putting pen to paper and letting it flow can be cathartic. Grab a pen and let your thoughts flow onto the page. 
  • A poem is a way of accessing a deeper part of yourself that you perhaps intuited was there but didn’t know for sure if it existed. Let it have some space on the page. 
  • Don’t worry about crafting. A poem can be a few lines long, so there’s no pressure to write a lot. 
  • Don’t censor as you write. Tell your mind to get out of the way and let something deeper come through. Let the feeling have its rise and fall.
  • No one ever sees your words but you, so don’t write as if someone were looking over your shoulder.
  • Choose ink colours that represent your mood: try red for anger, blue for sadness, or orange for power. Then experiment with colours you don’t like so much, and see what emerges.
  • Stand back and allow the true message to filter through you. Writing a poem can be surprising and revealing when you read it back.
  • Enjoy your words. Giving your thoughts a poetry shape can leave you with a huge sense of achievement.
  • Appreciate the little piece of you that has found expression in the world.

Can food journaling help you lose weight?

nutrition diary

Keeping a food journal can help you track patterns of emotional eating. (pic: istockphoto.com/nndrin)

Anyone who keeps a journal knows that writing your thoughts and feelings down every day can help identify patterns in your emotions. The daily act of journaling can be healing because it’s an outlet for what’s pent up inside. And it can help you come to terms with difficult events in your life.

Journaling is also proving to be a tool to help you make seismic changes in behaviour. A self-confessed ’emotional eater’ in the US, Charmaine Jackson, has revealed that daily food journaling helped her shed half of her body weight. You can read her full story on CNN. She meticulously recorded everything she ate and drank – and what her mood was like – over five years and 14 journals. She noted she would turn to food when she felt stressed or wanted to cheer herself up, and she would mindlessly munch on junk food while watching TV. “The food journal was my truth serum,” says Charmaine. “It made me be honest with myself.”

Charmaine combined food journaling with exercise and advice from a dietician. But we can see from Charmaine’s story that a food journal has these benefits:

  • You become aware of your eating patterns and bad habits.
  • You can track the emotional reasons behind what and when you eat.
  • It can make you more mindful about eating.
  • It encourages you to take responsibility for what you’re eating.
  • You can feel empowered to make meaningful and lasting changes.

So, instead of tucking into a family pack of crisps next time you’re watching a movie on the sofa, why not reach for pen and paper instead?