How a Few Minutes of Writing Can Build Resilience and Transform Fear

You may have heard that journaling can make a big impact on our emotions and mental state. Psychologists have been studying expressive/therapeutic writing for 25 years and it has been shown to improve both mental and physical health. 


But one teacher at the University of Toronto has stumbled upon a form of journaling that can transform fear and anxiety into success…and change lives. John Peterson had his students combine expressive writing with goal-setting and the results are highly encouraging. 


One student quoted in this NPR article about Peterson's technique said it “completely turned [her] life around.”


Peterson calls his technique “past authoring” and ”future authoring.”


During writing, students contemplate important life events from their past and the emotions surrounding those events. Then they pinpoint their motivations and craft future plans that include specific goals and identify ways to move through obstacles. 


This combination of reflection and goal-setting is the key to the exercise's transformative power. Among the results this technique has produced are decreased drop-out rates, a closing of ethnic and gender-group achievement gaps, and higher academic achievement.


The exercise also builds resilience, the quality that helps us bounce back after a loss or obstacle, and the more resilience we have the less fear and anxiety is present.


Try this with your child(ren). Set aside 10 minutes a day (perhaps after your 5–10 minutes of mindfulness) where you can sit down and journal. You could have set questions, like the ones listed below, or you could approach it more generally, writing about a past event that is “up” for you at the moment, one that you might like to do differently. Then, once you have written about that event and the related emotions, set concrete goals about how you would like to change in relation to that event. 


Here’s an example: perhaps your child has had a fight with a friend. Have them write about how they felt about the fight and the circumstances surrounding the fight. Then, ask them to reflect on what they might want to do differently. Finally, have them set goals about how they want to act with that friend in the future or how they could resolve the conflict. Ask them to write those goals down.


One great thing result from this kind of journaling is having a written record of the goals; it allows you to see the progress you have made over the months. 


Here are some reflection questions you can use with this exercise. Not all the journaling has to be about past events; you can also reflect on future dreams and wishes:


1. Why do you ______________________? (forget to turn in homework, avoid speaking up, get angry when something unexpected happens…choose an issue you are having and address it) 


2. What makes you excited to get up in the morning?


3. What is the main issue in your life right now?


4. What makes you happy?


5. What is your biggest dream?


6. If you could master one skill, what would it be?


Or, come up with your own. I would be happy to incorporate expressive writing into our sessions. Just ask!Happy writing!


Tags: writing resilience anxiety fear journaling