Language is powerful -- and not just the words we say out loud.
On a daily basis, each of us has 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts -- unspoken words inside of our heads that make up a continuous loop of our internal self-talk, preconceived beliefs and various emotions, which shape how we think and feel about everyone and everything around us.
Now, in our digital era, the aforementioned thoughts are non-stop every second of the day across multiple platforms. While emailing a colleague from our laptop, we're also worrying about a family situation and perhaps even mindlessly "liking" a friend's social media post on our phones.
Whether or not you work in media like I do, the art of "good old-fashioned writing" with a pen and paper just seems antiquated. I'm used to Siri reminding me when I have a lunch date or a doctor's appointment and it just seems double to work to have to write something down (and my iPad takes up most of the room in my purse; who has room for a notebook?).
But in my journey of grief following my little brother's untimely death, I began journaling my innermost thoughts, most of which were negative as I grappled with depression. This is where I would vent, writing the things I was afraid to say out loud, whether it was my deepest fears about how my family would heal or my hopes and dreams for the future.
It was over the course of journaling, I noticed three immediate effects:
1. I slept better.The constant worrying, angst and anger which usually left me tossing and turning through the night slowly evaporated. By writing them down before I went to bed, I was, in effect, "releasing" them -- even for a few hours, my brain had "moved on" to other thoughts, thus allowing my brain to shut down.
2. I stopped over-analyzing. My family always teases me that I'm a "Nervous Nellie" -- constantly worrying and overthinking things. Many of us spend far too much time analyzing and reconstructing something that someone said or did to us, which is a breeding ground for our imaginations to run wild. It's so easy to twist and contort things into something that they were never were or meant to be. But writing down my fears helped my brain process things logically rather than thinking the worst.
3. I didn't like the majority of my thoughts. Is this who I am? Who I have become? Over the course of a few months, I found myself sitting on my floor immersed in rereading my innermost thoughts and fears and it just made me feel incredibly sad and heavy -- it weighed me down like a 3,000-pound ball. I've always heard Oprah rave about the Law of Attraction and Rhonda Byrnes' The Secret, so I decided to give it a read. I really connected with the fundamental teaching, which is that our lives are simply an amalgamation of what we choose to believe about ourselves; what we consciously think about is what we attract to us.
Excerpted from "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrnes
I made the decision there to start afresh with a gratitude journal. Along with the help and support of a few colleagues, we made a habit to express gratitude for three things each day. We would write our entries in list format, with a sentence or two explaining why we were are grateful for each. The key is that with each day, we needed to come up with three new things -- we could not repeat what happened the previous day.
Knowing and anticipating that I'd need to come up with three new situations or events that happened each day forced me to open my eyes and learn to be mindful of the "good" things as they happen ("I got a seat on the busy 6 train this morning" or "an unexpected call or text from a girlfriend").
So while my gratitude practice is nothing extraordinary or novel in concept, my personal experience of constantly racking my brain and mentally noting the "good" little things that happen on a daily basis has helped me develop a newfound appreciation of life (and if you're still not convinced, here is a collection of over 40 studies over the past decade on the positive effects of gratitude.)