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A better way to do 'emotion-processing' journalling

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
journalling destroy your notes
Photo by Thomas Stephan / Unsplash

So the technique is just “write three pages about how you’re feeling, possibly in the format of a dialogue with yourself”. I won’t go into that because you’re probably familiar and really there’s not much to it.

The key difference: destroy the pages immediately afterwards in a very thorough way, and pay attention while you’re doing it so the memory is locked in. Destroy them even if all you wrote was “today was a nice day and I ate a sandwich”. Destroy them especially if you wrote something bland.

What is happening is you are teaching your brain that those three pages really are a completely safe place to be open and honest, because they always get destroyed, no matter what.

So the first few times, you might not get any benefit out of it, because you’re just in the “teach my brain to trust me to destroy the pages” phase.

There is a pretty common habit-building technique which is to start with a tiny habit — do two push-ups, write for 2 minutes, etc. Many people who swear by this method say that, once they’ve got started, they end up doing a full set of push-ups, or writing for an hour.

The flaw for someone like me is that I know 5 minutes of writing isn’t enough, and that it’s a trick to get me to finish the whole piece, so I resist the 5 minutes just as strongly as I would have resisted writing for an hour.

One way around that is to, for the first week or three, put hard end limits on the habit as well. Really do stop after 2 push-ups or five minutes. Set an alarm if you have to.

You’re trying to teach your brain that you really are sincere about the tiny habit being enough.

Honestly this would never work for me with writing because I have specific, quantified tasks that I need to complete on deadline — half-finishing is the same as not finishing. But for something like push-ups or a walk around the block, where there is always a difference between 1 and 0, I think it would be worth trying.

Even if none of these examples are relevant,* I hope you will consider as a factor not just what is helpful in the moment, but what teaches your brain helpful patterns for the future.

* I personally find unstructured Morning Pages one of the most reliable ways to completely tank my mood, but they work wonders for a lot of people, and you don’t know until you try.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #138 – subscribe to get the next issue in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


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