Counting your blessings and Writing Wrongs: how to increase your well-being

When Jenny and I were completing our Certified NLP Practitioner’s course, one of the exercises we were required to do was to write a Daily Journal. Part of the Daily Journal focussed on confirming 3 outcomes for the following day, the other part focussed on reviewing the past 24 hours, identifying the best bits and the learning points. John Seymour , our trainer, was confident that this exercise would make a difference to our lives, and informal research amongst our peer group at the time confirmed this to be the case.

Around the time I started writing my journal, I read an article, ˜Writing Wrongs’, in the first issue of Psychologies magazine by Professor David Servan-Schreiber of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In the article, about the value of writing things down, he quoted a clinical study which showed that “..those (patients) who had spent just 20 minutes a day writing about their problems, for three days in a row, were feeling better, taking fewer drugs to relieve their symptoms and seeing their doctor less often”. His ‘journal rules’ are as follows:

1. The journal must remain strictly confidential
2. It must be honest (don’t waste time lying to yourself)
3. You must write it on a regular basis and stick to your timetable.

As a Positive Psychology student, my interest is weighted more towards counting my blessings than writing about the negatives. Nevertheless, I don’t doubt the value of Writing Wrongs in specific contexts (and, interestingly, I thought Servan-Schreiber’s explanation of the impact of the process of writing on images stored in the brain made sense of why NLP works).

If, like me, you are keener to try identifying good things in your life than you are to dwell on the bad things, here are the instructions for a 10-15 minute exercise, courtesy of Chris Peterson*

1. At the end of each day, before going to sleep, write down 3 things that went well during the day. Do this every night for 1 week.
2. The 3 things can be of relatively small importance (my friend told me a brilliant joke) or relatively large importance (my friend just got married).
3. After each positive thing, answer in your own words the question ‘Why did this good thing happen?’

You may be interested to know that Peterson’s own research shows that if you continue to do this exercise beyond the suggested 1 week, you can increase your happiness and decrease your symptoms of depression over the long-term. 10-15 minutes of your time every day doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for such a reward, does it? Go on, have a go, you know you’re worth it….

* Peterson, C, A Primer in Positive Psychology(2006) p38.

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