It’s not under wraps that writing is a good way to blow off steam. It’s why we take the time to tap out those mega-long Facebook statuses when someone cuts us off in traffic, or write rambling, emotional notes that we’re never going to send to the one who broke our heart. Writing is cathartic, but it turns out it’s a liiiiiitle more than just cathartic. There’s no way to write this without sounding cheesy so here goes: writing could totally change your life. Some recent studies reported in the New York Times show that there are mega benefits to writing and what they call “story intervention.” Let’s break that down.
So we all have these personal narratives inside us that inform how we interact with the world, other humans, etc. etc. And story intervention is when we, consciously or not, change those narratives — through writing, through positive thought, but for the purposes of this conversation through writing.
Many studies have been done to see how the actual process of writing leads to story intervention which in turn leads to increased happiness. One study out of Stanford asked African-American students adjusting to college life to write an essay or make a video about the struggles of that adjustment. Just having that creative outlet via which to self reflect led to better grades for those students. Another study reported on by the New York Times asked married couples to write about a recent fight they’d had but from a neutral perspective. The study showed couples that wrote about their problems ended up happier than couples who didn’t.
Dr. Timothy Wilson, whose book Redirect: Changing the Stories We Live By came out this month, has an explanation for this magic. He told the Times, “Writing forces people to reconstrue whatever is troubling them and find new meaning in it.”
James Pennebaker, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, elaborates on this, saying that the gist of the theory is “getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go. I think of expressive writing as a life course correction.” So basically, writing about your life causes you to reflect on your life and potentially even change your life.
Here’s an exercise you can try that was conducted at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute: write about your goals, maybe even about those New Years Resolutions you were so sure you were going to stick to a few weeks ago. Write about why you haven’t stuck to them yet. What’s stopping you? Why aren’t you exercising before work? Or writing every night before bed? Or cutting unhealthy habits out of your life once and for all?
Now, look back at what you wrote. Was it honest? Most likely not. But don’t worry, those little lies we tell ourselves are common! Now go through again, and this time edit your narrative to accurately reflect the real reasons you’re not doing the things you want to be doing. Maybe keep a journal by your bed. Maybe do this every day so you can keep tabs on yourself.
By being honest with yourself, acknowledging and shuffling your priorities, and writing, you can rewrite your story and rewrite your life. What really matters to you? How can you reorganize your obstacles (okay, excuses) to have a happier life? Grab a pencil and express yourself. Today is a blank sheet of paper, and you can totally fill it up with all kinds of goodness.
[Image via Shuttstock]