Thursday, June 23, 2016

One A Day

Write one page a day. It’s not exactly original advice, and I certainly can’t take credit for it, but it is advice that I have both given and failed to follow on many occasions. The context in which it is usually given is for those who wish to write fiction - and it certainly applies there, since a page a day will net you about a novel in a year, give or take - but it has applications beyond the obvious as well. The idea of writing a page a day can be quite therapeutic.

For starters, it’s a matter of discipline. People who are struggling with depression and similar issues often have a hard time maintaining motivation for doing necessary tasks. To be honest, it can be a trial just to get motivated at all, let alone staying motivated, and then it’s so easy to get frustrated when you don’t manage to accomplish some task you had set for yourself. It’s easy to give up when you’re that kind of frustrated, and far too easy to quit. That is, in fact, the usual run of events. Star, fail (or seem to fail), get frustrated, decide you can’t do it, and quit. Rince and repeat until you just stop starting at all.

Writing a page a day is easy, though. Children can do it. Children do it all the time, as part of their regular educational activities. It’s a small accomplishment that can be a real accomplishment, helping to push away the specter of surrender and defeat. You set yourself a goal of writing a page a day, you write a page a day, and you win.

So what do you write? Anything you want to write. Anything you need to write. For the purpose of this exercise, you have no teacher and no one will be grading your paper. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. You don’t even really need to worry about content. You’ll get there, but start with just writing something. The first goal you want to reach is accomplishing a goal, any goal. Get a little positive reinforcement going so that you can build up momentum, and use that to propel yourself to bigger and better things. If stream of consciousness gets you through the day, let loose your inner Cheshire Cat. We’re all a little mad here, and that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes embracing that is exactly how you overcome that.

Once you have the habit going, you can turn it into something even more productive. Start keeping a journal. Keep track of things that matter to you. This doesn’t need to be a Dear Diary thing. I’ve seen perfectly working journals that were just daily lists. It’s your journal, and it only needs to be exactly what you need it to be. If you need to write paragraphs about your day, do so. Mix it up with poetry and a little artwork? That adds spice and flavor. If bare bones, no frills lists are more your style, follow your enumerated heart to its box-checking content. What matters is that you are expressing yourself in healthy ways and through a method that is also achieving a goal.

If I may make some small suggestions, though, there are pieces your journal should contain, regardless of format. In order to get the best out of this exercise, it needs to be sure and cover at least two functions: addressing what is bringing you down, and addressing what can help you back up. Writing down your problems can help you to see them in a fresh light, and often lets you see that they are smaller and more manageable than you might have believed. When we keep things locked up inside of our head, they tend to grow. We can’t really see them in there, and proportions get tricky. On the other side, listing the positives helps you to remember that the positives exist. Sometimes these may be solutions to the problems that presented themselves when things got written down. Sometimes the positives may be nothing more than, “I saw a new flower by the sidewalk today,” and that’s fine too. No one leads a perfect life, and some days will be more struggle than others, but there is always something positive. Look for it, find it, and write it down. If that positive is nothing more than a flower, you found a positive. Remember that, and let it help you through to the next positive.

In reading these pages, you are looking at pieces of my journal. You get to see mine because helping you helps me. That’s the way my brain is wired, but yours doesn’t have to be. If there is someone with whom you can share even pieces of your journal, that’s a trust that should be cherished. If you’re not at that point, don’t let that concern you. Find that point within yourself. The important thing is that you be honest and, if that means absolute privacy, then write in absolute privacy. Use these tools in the way that you need to use them.

It has been said that you should sit in meditation for at least twenty minutes every day, unless you are too busy in which case you should sit for an hour. The point is, your health is your greatest treasure, and you must treat it as such. When you think you are too busy to take care of yourself is precisely when you most need to be taking care of yourself. For the record, it took me about twenty minutes to write this. I’ve been writing my entire life, so remember that when making comparisons, but a few minutes a day can go a long way toward your own mental health.

Take care of yourself, and you can better take care of those around you. Try this exercise for two weeks and see how it works. If you have further thoughts or questions on the matter, I would live to hear them. I hope it helps.

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