By Lisa Calhoun
You know how it feels when you’re climbing up a hill, and that hill is you? Me too.
International researchers are pointing to a surprisingly quick fix that can create lasting change and significant results. It’s not therapy—which is a $15 billion industry, growing at twice the United States’s GDP. It’s not a sabbatical. It’s not saying no more often. Nor does it require committing to a new discipline, like meditation or yoga.
Better mood, better health, better performance
Directed writing about personal moments in your past, your present, and your future is correlated with improving your mood, reducing symptoms among cancer patients, improving academic performance, and better memory. The application of this technique, a form of narrative therapy sans therapist, also can provide direct business impact, according to management professors like Michaela Schippers at Erasmus University.
All you need are a simple journal and a commitment to re-read what you wrote.
Here’s how it worked for me
I may not have believed this would work if I hadn’t done it. I stumbled on this secret by accident a couple of years ago.
I told myself I should write a book to help promote my public relations agency. It seemed like “the right thing to do,” and a lot of my entrepreneur friends were doing it.
Annoyingly, as I wrote, I kept returning to moments in my childhood that had nothing to do with public relations! At one point, I had chapters on topics like social media and thought leadership, and then more chapters on growing up in the South, not being able to understand the kindergarten teacher’s accent, and being told I couldn’t go after my dreams because I was a girl.
Public relations handbook or personal history? No contest. I took the advice of close fiends—I mean, friends—and focused on who I was, where I was, and what I wanted to be. The book wrote itself. I discovered that the ways events occurred in my past weren’t always as I thought they were. I took the opportunity—forced by my own subconscious—to rewrite my narrative from a more current understanding of how the world and I work together. My book evolved into How You Rule the World: A Female Founder’s Survival Guide. (I gave up on the PR book and now send out copies of Ed Zitron’s excellent This Is How You Pitch or Peter Shankman’s outstanding Can We Do That?!).
As I saw my path on paper, I was able to connect the dots of my own story. Within a year of writing How You Rule the World, I launched an online magazine for female founders. In weeks, several of the articles had hundreds of views. Female founders across the country started writing me. A few months of marinating in that, and I realized that I have another business in me around venture capital for women entrepreneurs in the Southeast. Meanwhile, at the agency, my team engaged around creating The Content Marketing Field Guide—building a better book together than I would have authored on my own. These fun worlds were hanging in the spaces between the words I hadn’t let myself see before.
Giving destiny your address
If you’re interested in trying this, it’s easy enough to start. You can go on your own—or you can fork over $30 on SelfAuthoring.com and use their tool. The essence of the activity is:
- Focus on an aspect of yourself you’d like to work on or that keeps suggesting itself to you. It can be a fault, a past experience, a virtue, or a future vision you can’t quite get your hands around.
- Write about that for 15 to 20 minutes, not editing yourself.
- Re-read what you wrote.
- Ask yourself, are there other ways to see this? Entertain the questions that come up. If there’s more to say, write it. Wait a couple of days, and go look again. Consider sharing it with close friends and asking what they see.
- Repeat this until a pattern emerges for you.
Fast, free, and systematic
David Epston, one of the founders of narrative therapy, says, “Every time we ask a question, we’re generating a possible version of a life.” Once you accept the version that resonates most with you now, you’ve effectively recast your thinking process. You have a new set of internal tools. Acknowledging, then accepting, yourself opens the door to your next opportunity in your own mind, possibly by rewiring your memories in a new order. What I love about this process is that it’s relatively fast, free, and systematic. It’s at your own pace and as private you as want it to be. Narrative therapy is one tool that can help you iterate your experience faster in pursuit of your own best path.
Like Aldous Huxley said, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”
This article originally appeared at Inc.com