Write Your Way Through Challenging Life Transitions, with Leia Francisco

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In life, change is inevitable. While some changes are chosen, others are thrust upon us without warning. Our special guest today, Leia Francisco, teaches us how to navigate new directions with grace, wisdom, and even joy. I find her visionary work personally helpful, and I’m honored to have her here at Journaling.com.

Leia Francisco is a coach, teacher, and writer of transitions. Her book Writing through Transitions: A Guide for Transforming Life Changes is now in its second printing. Leia holds a Master’s degree and is a Board Certified Coach. Leia has been a faculty member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute, where she’s taught transition writing for over a decade. Her certification program is a highly individualized, self-paced training that prepares others to develop their own signature transition coaching or workshop. Leia lives in the beautiful hill country of Texas.

Leia’s work will transform the way you engage with changes in your life. To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Transition Defined

Leia makes an important distinction between the terms change and transition. Change, she explains is an external event such as getting or losing a job, buying a new home, or becoming a grandparent. In contrast, transition is interior and represents the emotional and psychological landscape we travel in order to get to a new place in life. Transition is a response to change.

Our responses to change are unique, and each is inspired by singular circumstances. How we engage with our interior response, Leia suggests, determines how much meaning we glean from the  transitions in our lives.

People can feel like they are stuck when really they are being stilled.

Leia Francisco

How Writing Helps Navigate Transition

In the midst of whirling swirling change, writing grounds us and helps us to feel a sense of control.

Writing supports us in times of transition by:

  • identifying skills and strengths.
  • shining a light on our emotions.
  •  providing clarity.
  • accessing new parts of the brain which helps us gain additional insight and creativity.
  • providing distance on the paper between us and our emotions.
  • revealing progress through a written document that can be repeatedly revisited.
  • centering and structuring our ideas.

The Transition Process in Three Steps

When contemplating personal transitions, Leia encourages us to think in metaphor.  She compares significant transitions to what it feels like to move from one home to another. 

Step 1: Letting Go

Sticking with the house metaphor, this is the stage when we look over our possessions and decide what needs to be sold or donated.  It’s important to grieve at this stage.  It can be painful to part from items, people, emotions and ideas we’ve carried with us.

Now is also the time to identify which treasures we’ll bring with us. Not everything has to go! Leia observes that when we experience a cataclysmic change like divorce or the loss of a job, there is a tendency to think we’ve lost everything. The truth is, we leave behind some things but not all.

Writing Prompts to Navigate Step 1

  • Journal about the most significant losses signified by this transition. What do these mean to you?
  •  Write about the treasures you’ll keep and bring forward to your new destination.
  • Make a list of supports available to you as you embark on this transition. Write down whoever and whatever can nourish you in this time—friends, family, pets, nature.

Step Two: Limbo

This is a time of questions and uncertainty. But it’s also a period of tremendous opportunity. You’ve shut the door of your old home for the last time and said all of your goodbyes. It’s not quite time to move into your new place. Maybe you’ll have to spend a few weeks in a hotel. Now is the time to visualize your way forward.

Fear can rise at this stage. This tendency is normal and okay. Fear, Leia reminds us, is a way we protect ourselves. Embrace fear as a legitimate companion on this part of your journey. Receive this emotion without being overwhelmed. At the same time, challenge fear, rise and show it your strength and power.

Leia acknowledges that this time of uncertainty can be particularly difficult because on the surface we feel stuck. This may be a good time to read old journals and acknowledge that you’ve come further than you might have realized.

Writing Prompts to Navigate Step 2

  • You’ll need all the psychic energy you can muster to engage fully with this stage. Lighten your load where you can. Write about obligations that can be dropped or limited.
  • Identify and write about self-care techniques you will implement. Writing down these ideas makes it more likely they’ll be actualized.
  • What wild and crazy thoughts have you had this week? Write about them. Open that creative valve and think about your circumstances in bold new ways.
  • Answer the question, “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?”
  • Use metaphors to write about this upside-down season. Perhaps this period of transition makes you think of building a house, starting a garden, or fixing a car. Metaphors can help us understand thoughts and feelings that are otherwise difficult to name.

Most people want to skip this middle stage. I get it! It’s extraordinarily uncomfortable to be in between and without a map to show where you are headed. But Leia points out that completing this stage is vital in ensuring our transition is a meaningful one.

Step 3: The Change

You’ve arrived! You are in your new house. But you are still unpacking boxes. There’s not enough furniture to get comfortable just yet, but you are close.

In general, Leia cautions, people are wired to want to get on with the change. They may try to pass through this stage too quickly. It’s important to pause, to consider where you’ve come from and where you are headed next.  You might journal about the following:

  • Write about the change you’ve faced.
  • What has this change meant to you?
  • What resources did you rely on to navigate this transition?

When we have processed the change fully and deeply, we have transitioned.

Your Action Plan

Throughout each of these steps, Leia makes a plea for patience. Answers will not come overnight she reminds us. Transition is a slow, deep process. In the midst of this season, people can feel like they are stuck when really they are being stilled.

Give yourself permission to complete each step with mindfulness and intention. Writing is an invaluable tool that will make this work easier.

Journal Therapy: An Innovative Tool for Self-Discovery, with Kathleen Adams

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Psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Journal Therapy, Kathleen Adams, joined us at Journaling.com to talk about journaling techniques we can use to facilitate self-discovery. Kathleen is as knowledgeable as she is passionate about the benefits of therapeutic journaling. Our conversation was a delight, and we are so pleased to have the chance to share her important work with you.

Kathleen is the New York Times bestselling author of Journal to the Self and eleven other books on therapeutic writing. Kathleen is well known in the therapeutic journaling community and is a pioneer in writing for growth, healing, and change. She is also founder of The Therapeutic Writing Institute (TWI), a distance-learning training institute for facilitators of therapeutic writing.

You can listen to Kathleen’s podcast interview by using the play button (below.) Or continue reading for the highlights of that conversation.

Journal Therapy Inspires Deep Growth and Understanding

In 1985, Kathleen taught her first journaling class and knew immediately that the healing art and science of journal writing would be her life’s work. 

Kathleen explains that therapeutic journal writing is a versatile technique that helps manage the same issues other forms of therapy address, including:

  • personal growth
  • life management
  • problem solving
  • mood management

Journal therapy is the use of life-based writing for healing, growth, and change.

Kathleen Adams

Kathleen’s “List of 100 Things”

Kathleen’s methodology relies on a wide-range of original techniques to address a variety of needs. One of our favorite suggestions is Kathleen’s “List of 100 Things.” This technique is so straightforward and effective you’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it before. 

Here’s how it works:

  • Jot down one question that’s on your mind.  What are 100 things I want to try? What are 100 things I want to write about? What are 100 ways to communicate better?
  • Number your paper from 1 to 100.
  • Write the first responses that spring into your mind. Keep it simple. Use bullets, phrases, and abbreviations.
  • Throughout this exercise, it’s okay, even helpful, if your responses repeat themselves.
  • Keep your pen flying. Kathleen recommends getting ideas onto paper within twenty minutes.
  • Take a look at your responses and synthesize them into themes such as wellness, professional goals, family life, and creative pursuits.
  • Calculate how many items appear under each theme to discover what percentage each idea represents. Kathleen notes that sometimes what we think will be a dominant category turns out to be less significant, and new unconscious desires can come into the foreground.
  • Process this information and then act on those discoveries. If 50% of your statements are about a need to be in nature and your home is in an urban area, it’s time to act! You might decide to make time to play in a wild setting one weekend each month or after work if that’s feasible. 

Actualize Abstract Feelings

Kathleen points out that journaling is an opportunity to make our abstract ideas and emotions concrete. By letting our ideas exist outside of ourselves, they become actualized, and we have a record we can return to and learn from.

“Writing lets us read our own minds and hearts,” Kathleen explains. Don’t you love that?

Tips from Kathleen

Kathleen’s advice is simple and true. With a smile in her voice she says, “There’s no wrong, just write.”

On a practical level, she suggests recording the year and date of every entry. Another thoughtful tip is to make an index that enables you to follow major themes in your writing with ease.

Your Action Plan

Learn more about Kathleen’s work. Visit her online at her Center For Journal Therapy.

  • For more information, listen to the podcast interview with Kathleen.
  • Write your own “100 Things” list today!
  • Explore Kathleen’s latest endeavor, Journalversity, a learning community for journal writers and facilitators worldwide that provides professional development (CE courses for therapists) and personal growth online classes.

Discover Journaling’s Positive Effects on the Brain, with Dr. Dan Siegel

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As journalers, we know that a well-tended writing practice inspires clarity and feelings of well-being. As it turns out, there is a scientific explanation for why this is so.  Journaling.com spoke recently with Dr. Dan Siegel, a renowned thinker in the field of mindfulness, about how autobiographical writing helps people integrate their right and left brain hemispheres and provides a sense of clarity and calm. It’s a tremendous privilege to welcome him to Journaling.com.

Dr. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. He is also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. Dr. Siegel is the author of five New York Times bestsellers including his newest book Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence.

You can find out more by listening to our interview or read below to see highlights from our talk.

The Power of Autobiographical Writing

Autobiographical writing can be thought of as a portal that leads to deeper self-awareness. Researchers suggest this form of expression may result in outcomes that are different than other modes of self-reflection such as talking with friends or a therapist.

Dr. Siegel points to the work of Dr. James Pennebaker whose groundbreaking research shows that expressive writing stimulates activity on both sides of the brain. It’s believed this is because the acts of thinking and feeling stimulate different regions of the brain than the acts of writing and typing do.

To illustrate Pennebaker’s findings, Dr. Siegel offers this example. Someone wanting to write about their adolescence in order to make sense of a significant event would first consult their autobiographical memory registered in the right side of brain. The right half of the brain, Dr. Siegel explains, includes “memory of self in time.”

Now suppose that person wants to do more than just remember that event. Suppose they want to explore and contextualize that moment in time. The drive to process and contextualize a story, Dr. Siegel notes, relies on the brain’s left hemisphere.

The process Dr. Siegel describes invites both hemispheres of the brain to perform their specialized functions. Both halves of the brain collaborate to make sense of an experience.

Mindfulness training helps us to formulate a coherent narrative and that understanding and awareness of patterns in one’s life provides an increase of mindful awareness.

Dr. Dan Siegel

The Benefits of Integrating Both Hemispheres of the Brain

Well-being, which Dr. Siegel describes as health, happiness, and a sense of purpose and meaning, can be achieved through right brain left brain integration.

Integration, as described by Dr. Siegel, is the act of establishing a meaningful link between two different things. In simpler terms, he explains that integration is unlike a fruit smoothie in which items are blended to make a new whole. Instead, integration is a fruit salad where separate parts remain separate and identifiable, but are made into something different and desirable.

In the case of the brain, Dr. Siegel notes that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Just like families, classrooms, schools, and nations, he says, our brains achieve improved well-being as a result of integration.

Autobiographical reflection through journal writing creates this integrated state between the left hemisphere, which has the drive to make sense of things, and the right side of the brain which stores “engrams or neural representations of experiences encoded through memories.”

Dr. Siegel observes that when integration is achieved people become:

  • flexible
  • adaptive
  • resilient over time
  • stable
  • energized

Dr. Siegel has observed that when people process and find meaning through writing, the brain becomes integrated and the individual is able to move through their life with greater calm and clarity.

Mindfulness

Much of Dr. Siegel’s research entails examining the connection between autobiographical reflection and mindfulness.

The word mindfulness is used in different ways by different people.  For his purposes, Dr. Siegel describes mindfulness as a focus on:

  • the cultivation of an open caring awareness.
  • an acceptance of what’s presently happening even if it’s hard or painful to hear.
  • turning attention away from preexisting biases that remind us of what we wish things were.

Integrate Mindfulness and Your Personal Narrative

Some of the meditative traditions from which mindfulness was derived consider the personal narrative a negative distraction that counters mindfulness. But Dr. Siegel challenges this idea.  He suggests that mindfulness training helps us to formulate a coherent narrative and that understanding and awareness of patterns in one’s life provides an increase of mindful awareness.

Cultivate Wisdom

Dr. Siegel refers to academic research on wisdom to make an interesting point. In more than one study, researchers have visited different towns worldwide to ask, “Who are the wisest people in your village or town?”

 In all cases the knowledgeable community members were noted for their

  • self-awareness. 
  • understanding that a meaningful life centers not only on what is happening inside of oneself, but it is also about helping others and asking the question, how can I be of service to others?

Dr. Siegel connects the dots to show that journaling is an invitation to cultivate our own wisdom. The clarity that journaling provides helps us achieve new levels of integration which allows our connection with other people and with nature to grow.  

In closing, Dr. Siegel provided a resource tool that he designed called the Wheel of Awareness which could be used to enhance your journaling practice.  Dr. Siegel describes this tool as a “visual metaphor for the integration of consciousness.” You are invited to download a copy. When you visit Dr. Siegel’s website you can sign up to receive a free downloadable Wheel of Awareness PDF with a written guided meditation. There you’ll also gain access to three separate Wheel of Awareness guided audio meditations led by Dr. Siegel.

Your Action Plan

Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act, with Carolyn Koehnline

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Author and certified journal therapist Carolyn Koehnline wrote Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act to help people approach the act of decluttering with mindful intention. Carolyn’s collection of essays, paintings, and poems provide comfort in the midst of decluttering. She’s written a marvelous book, and it was a pleasure to talk with her on our podcast, The Power of Journaling.

Carolyn is a certified journal therapist, licensed psychotherapist, personal coach, and the creator of Gentle Approach Coaching. For twenty-seven years, she’s supported people in clearing clutter from their homes, heads, hearts, and schedules. She is the author of three books: Confronting Your Clutter, a children’s book called The Bear’s Gift, and her newly released book, Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act. Carolyn is a faculty member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute and the Journalversity. In addition to her private coaching practice, she offers self-paced solo courses, group online classes, and provides workshops in a wide variety of settings.

To hear our discussion, listen to the podcast below. Or continue reading for highlights of our conversation.

Defining Clutter

Carolyn describes clutter as a subjective term which she defines as any object, emotion, or commitment that drains energy or distracts us from priorities.

Kinds of Clutter

Clutter can appear in a variety of forms which are oftentimes interconnected. Carolyn identifies its most common manifestations as:

  • object clutter
  • head clutter
  • heart clutter
  • calendar clutter

Often, she observes, the old items that wind up in our attics and basements represent decisions we don’t want to make or experience. These objects reflect internal conflict and confusion and can come to symbolize a former profession or relationship or any passage of time being grieved.  

In her work as a decluttering coach, Carolyn finds that turning toward an object with full attention, and taking time for a meaningful goodbye, can help release this kind of emotional clutter.

Make decluttering a transformational act

Carolyn Koehnline

Journaling to Make New Space in Our Lives

Journaling plays a meaningful role in Carolyn’s clutter-clearing practice. To help untangle and resolve conflicted feelings, she recommends writing for 5-10 minute stretches when possible.

To decide whether an item should stay or go, Carolyn suggests reflecting on a few simple questions which can be used as writing prompts.

  • How does this item make me feel?
  • Does this object deplete or boost my energy?
  • How does the stuff I’ve accumulated impact important relationships?

Customize a Plan That Works  

A number of impressive decluttering experts are writing books to spread the message, less really can be more. What stands out in Carolyn’s approach is her emphasis on the idea there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits all approach. Rather, she shares methods and tools to help determine an individualized approach to the decluttering process. “We are all different,” she explains. “The more you tune into your inner voice the better the process with go.”

Decluttering is a Sacred Act

Carolyn inspires us to make the act of decluttering a joyful, sacred process. When we clear out clutter, we make space in our lives for something new. She offers a few simple tips to guide our thinking.

  • Dedicate this process to a meaningful objective such as spending more time with family or pursuing creative endeavors. Infuse the process with meaning.
  • As you work your way through piles, avoid negative thoughts which deplete you.
  • Along the way, energy may slag. Pause. Repeat your intention. Write it down in your journal if you like. Remind yourself that the purpose of this action is to grow spaciousness in your life.

Create a Soul Space

In her book, Carolyn describes the soul space as any place that nurtures curiosity, inspiration, and reflective thinking. Children are master architects of this sort of design—they know the magic of a well-engineered blanket fort or treehouse where possibilities for playful exploration feel infinite. As adults, a decluttered space which reflects who we are and what we care about can serve a similar function. When we establish a sacred space, Carolyn explains, we make room to go to a deeper place in our selves. The voice that emerges will be a voice we can trust.  

Pace Yourself

As we work our way through piles of “stuff” it’s easy to think we should be farther along than we are. Carolyn urges us instead to trust the pace with which we work.

It’s helpful to check in with your journal periodically. Track progress there. Record when you’ll take your next break. Write down small goals that can be checked-off when completed. Use your journal to celebrate decluttering victories—large and small.

Action plan

  • Learn more about Carolyn’s work. Visit her online at Gentle Approach Coaching.
  • For a limited time you can order a signed copy of her new book, Clearing Clutter as a Sacred Act.
  • Create your own soul space, and spend meaningful time there regularly.
  • Write about any object, head, heart, and calendar clutter in your own life and make a plan to tackle these at a comfortable pace.
  • Listen to my interview with Carolyn (above).

In creating spaciousness in our lives, we invite new opportunities and experiences. Be kind and compassionate to yourself as you work your way through this process.

If you enjoyed this interview, you might appreciate listening to Lea Fransisco’s podcast. We discuss how to write your way through challenging life transitions.