Self discipline and therapeutic writing

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Diary of a counsellor – Self-discipline and Writing Daily Pages

by Jim Byrne (c) 2014-2016

Posted on Friday 2nd December 2016 (Originally posted on Saturday 12th April 2014)

Introduction
Man-writing3I am currently (2nd December 2016) working my way through a three month course in ‘creative recovery’, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

For this reason, I thought it would be instructive to re-post a piece I wrote about this process a couple of years ago.

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What I wrote…

Today I want to share with you some insights into my own life; my own struggles with self-discipline; in order to help you to think about your own life, your own self-discipline; and to help you to become your own counsellor in this area.

In the past, I have posted about Julia Cameron’s wonderful system of Morning Pages (from her book, The Artist’s Way) – a writing activity involving stream of consciousness writing, designed to clear the clutter out of your mind, and to improve your creativity.

Of course, I have tended to advocate this system as a form of writing therapy, or being your own counsellor, using a process of self-reflection and emotional processing.

The problem is that we all have busy lives, and it is very easy to lose good habits, and to form bad habits.  So, even though I know the value of my daily pages as a writing activity (whereby I write two to three pages about whatever is on my mind) I do have a tendency to let this habit slip, especially when I am very busy.

CoverBut that is probably the time I need it most; being a counsellor who has to do a lot of very challenging emotional labour with my clients.

So sometimes I skip my pages; sometimes for days, or weeks, or even months.  This is like Popeye failing to eat his spinach!  Or Superman playing with Kryptonite.  It’s a good way to weaken myself; and to fail to take advantage of a good way to strengthen myself!

When I notice that I have let my pages slip, or drop completely, I sometimes try using ‘lines’ as punishment for skipping the writing of my pages.  Lines which include:

“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

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Why is the writing of pages so important?

But why not?  Why must I not skip the writing of my Daily Pages?

Because, as shown by the quote I recently put on my homepage:

Writing about your problems, in a diary or journal, can help you to process them and resolve them: “Diarists reported better moods and fewer moments of distress than non-diarists.  Those, in the same study, who kept a journal following trauma or bereavement also reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and unexpected difficult memories.  Writing can itself be an act of emotional processing so it can help in many situations of danger, extremity and loss of control.  People who keep diaries are admitted to hospital less often and spend fewer days there than those who do not (keep a journal)…”

Philippa Perry, How to Stay Sane (2012). (3b)

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So, if I return to writing my Daily Pages:

I will get better moods – automatically!  I will have fewer moments of distress than non-diarists (including about my business indicators, income, health, etc.!!!)

I will have fewer unexpected difficult memories, when I run into traumatic events.  By writing my pages every morning, I will be engaging in emotional processing, which will help me to stay emotionally healthy; to be happier; and to enjoy my work and my leisure; rest time, etc.

It will also help my physical health – thereby avoiding the GP and the hospital.

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the-artists-way“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

How to use penalties to keep up your good habits

Given what I know about the value of daily pages, of journaling, of keeping a diary, it would be a stupid act of self-sabotage to skip my daily pages.

So therefore, I must apply the “£2 down the drain” penalty to:

  1. My daily physical exercise (5 days per week);
  2. My daily meditation (5 days per week);
  3. AND MY DAILY PAGES WRITING (5 days per week).

If I fail to do any of these activities, by bedtime (on Monday to Friday), then I will either make up the deficit before retiring, or I will go outside, right there and then, and drop two £1 coins down the nearest drain.

That is to say:

£2 for my physical exercise (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my meditation (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my Daily Pages (if I have not written them that day).

This is now ‘carved in stone’.  From Monday to Friday each week I will do my meditation; do 20-30 minutes of physical exercise; and also write 2-3 pages of Daily Pages.

Make a commitment and then keep it!

This is my commitment.  I will apply the penalties shown above to keep myself on track.  I will also have a system of rewards.

If I do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I can go out for lunch in a café tomorrow, and also have a large Americano, and read the Guardian.

If I do not do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I cannot go out for lunch tomorrow, and I cannot have any coffee either.  Nor can I read the Guardian.

These three processes stand me in good stead.  When I have 3 or 4 clients to see in one day, I find I need to do all four of my exercise systems, in order to feel resilient in the face of my clients’ difficulties.  So this week, which was very busy, I did all four of my exercise systems every morning (taking about 30 minutes each time):

Warm-up exercises;

Zham Zhong (Standing like a tree)[1];

Press-ups and sit-backs; and:

Chi Kung (or Qi Gong).

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If you want to learn how to use these kinds of writing therapy approaches, then please see my book on Writing therapy: How to do it.***

 

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

[1] See Lam Kam Chuen’s book ‘The Way of Energy’, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chi-Kung-The-Way-Energy/dp/1856752151

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