Nature Journaling: Infuse Your Writing with Words from the Wild

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Any opportunity to examine life through a new lens is a gift. The time we spend outdoors provides a different vantage point. The smells and sounds that flood the senses as we walk in nature shifts thinking and puts us into a more mindful state of being.  

What is Nature Journaling?

Nature journaling is simply the act of recording observations we make in the wild. These can be about the sky, bird songs, and trees we encounter, or about internal revelations that surface as we walk. Sketches, paintings, poems, and narrative text are all methods used to record these moments.

The Benefits of Nature Journaling

  • Nature journaling sharpens our focus. When we stop to record observations, we look more closely at details. We see more. We notice patterns.
  • Time in nature helps declutter and quiet overactive thinking.
  • New ideas and creative inspiration grow roots in the wild.
  • Inspired learning takes hold as we learn to identify new birds, insects, flora and fauna.
  • As we cultivate deeper awareness of nature’s cycles and rhythms, we become better stewards of the environment.
  • Time outdoors is invigorating and infuses all forms of self-expression with vibrant energy.
  • Multiple studies show a correlation between time in nature and mental health.

How to Get Started

Just like most journaling techniques, there is no right or wrong way to keep a nature journal. Some journals are filled with words, while others burst with bits of art and treasures collected on walks.

You may choose to journal while you are out on your walk. If so, you’ll only need a lightweight journal, pen, and art supplies. Or perhaps you’d prefer to carry home a few souvenirs from your walk—an acorn or a bird’s feather as reminders of moments to write about when you return home.

Nature Writing Prompts

Its liberating to be out in nature without an agenda, task list, or actual plan. And yet it can also be grounding to enter a new environment with one’s eyes turned to a goal or purpose. If the latter point resonates, take some of these ideas on your next walk in the wild.

  • Experiment with leaf rubbings
  • Revisit a special spot each week for a year and note the changes the seasons bring. Make measurements. Note changes of color. Observe plants going to seed or just about to blossoms. Sketch or write about the processes at play.
  • Keep a catalog of birds, flowers, trees and insects you spot. If you see something you can’t identify, snap a photo or make a sketch. Bring home the picture and look it up.
  • Carry an animal tracks identification book and follow wild “footsteps” through snow and mud. See where they take you, and write about the places you wind up.
  • Create nature stamps with goodies collected on your walk. Decorate your journal with them.  
  • Bring a question on your walk or a problem you are wrestling with. Walking in nature provides new clarity. When you are able, write down what you discover.

Nature Journaling with Children

Nature journaling is a way to get outdoors with your child and connect them with the environment in meaningful ways.

This moment together can be relaxing and grounding. It will evolve naturally with little preparation on your part. There’s no need for much structure or planning. Rather it’s a time to move slowly with your child—or to race through a nature-made obstacle course if that’s their thing! It’s a moment to wake up to the amazingness of everything that surrounds us.

Help your child see what’s happening beneath their feet and high above their heads. Guide their eyes toward the complex ecosystems that surround them. Count how many shades of green and brown your child can see. Encourage the use of all five senses as they walk. What do they see, smell, touch, hear, and (if you know how to safely identify wild foods) taste?

When your child is ready to rest, find a warm sunny patch of grass. Drink some water, and then pull out those journals. You may be amazed by the ways your child fills the pages.

Journaling to the Rescue, with Lucia Capacchione, PhD

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From the moment our interview with today’s guest began, it was clear this would be the first conversation of many. Lucia Capacchione, PhD, ATR, REAT is an extraordinary thinker, art therapist and pioneer in the fields of expressive arts therapy and journal therapy. Her knowledge of these topics is wide and deep.

Lucia is the bestselling author of 23 books on journaling using drawing and writing. She originated The Creative Journal method and bilateral journaling: drawing and dialoguing with both hands. Her books include The Creative Journal, The Power of Your Other Hand, and Recovery of Your Inner Child. She has created Creative Journal programs for schools (K – 12), cancer support groups, and trainings for educators and mental health professionals. Lucia has a private practice and is director of Creative Journal Expressive Arts Certification Training for Professionals. 

We sat down to discuss how journaling with our non-dominant hand can help address anxiety, stress, relationship dynamics, and physical pain.

To learn more about Lucia’s groundbreaking work, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


Journaling to the Rescue, with Lucia Capacchione, PhD


From first-hand experience, Lucia knows the power of journaling, and she credits the practice with saving her life. At age 35, Lucia became so ill she was bedridden. The medications prescribed did not help, and her condition remained a medical mystery for many years. In desperation, she turned to the journal she’d just begun keeping.  It was there that she could unload the anxiety and confusion she was feeling.  

Lucia began to write her feelings out and grew fascinated as she realized the ways journaling contributed to her growth and understanding.

In time, the source of Lucia’s ill health was discovered. She recovered and went on to become an art therapist. When she began this work, she immediately started assigning clients journaling prompts as a means to tap into their subconscious. Her book The Creative Journal features the prompts she used along with art from her students and clients.

Journaling Improves Health

Having survived her own health crisis, Lucia became interested in James Pennabaker’s ground breaking research that showed journaling’s impact on the immune system.

Dr. Pennebaker asked one group of people to journal about trivial events while a second group was asked to journal about personal crisis and trauma. Blood tests were administered before and after the writing sessions. Those who wrote about a crisis were found to have heightened immunity whereas no changes were detected in the blood of those who had jotted down trivial events of the day.

Since this finding, there have been a multitude of studies that show the impact of journaling on physical health, including one that showed patients who journal before surgery heal more quickly. Lucia explains that when our emotions are not released they become somatized. Journaling helps us connect with and extract strong emotions so that they do not make us ill.

Writing with Your Non-dominant Hand

Lucia explains that the value of journaling with the non-dominant hand is it provides access to the right side of the brain which specializes in emotional expression and intuition. She contrasts this with the left hemisphere which is the verbal center of our brain.

The limbic system is the part of our brain that controls our physical and emotional responses to stimuli.  Lucia describes this region as a gating mechanism and explains that using the non-dominant hand, unrooted in verbal expression, helps us access this system and get to the heart of the issues we need to explore.

When we write with our non-dominant hand, we use both side of the brain. Lucia explains how we pull words and language from the left brain and run it through the corpus collepsum which is the part of the brain that establishes communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. In effect, we are synthesizing language and our deepest thoughts and emotions.

Manage Stress

In her book, Drawing Your Stress Away, Lucia provides journaling and drawing prompts to help us manage stress. She shares an example.

  • Scribble your heart out. Start scribbling on scrap paper. Begin with your non-dominant hand. Use crayons and fat markers. The stress you carry will begin to pour out. Do this for as long as you like. Note that it’s the movement on the paper that releases stresses.
  • Dance on paper. When you feel finished with the first step, put on some calming music. Use both hands and imagine they are performing a duet. Resume scribbling, but this time allow the music to flow through you and inform the movement and markings you make on the paper. Avoid the temptation to draw pictures. Leave only tracks that represent the movement of the music through your body and onto the paper. Feel the stress leaving.

Lucia notes that this can be a meaningful exercise to practice with children. It’s applicable to people and at any age.  

Manage Anxiety and Depression

Lucia’s work proves that strong emotions and feelings can be released by drawing them out.  To combat anxiety and depression she suggests drawing a picture of the issues you wrestle with. Do this with your non-dominant hand.

For example, a person who is feeling boxed in, Lucia suggests, would draw an image of themselves in a box. Next, they engage in a dialogue with the image.  It would look something like this:

Dominant hand writes: What are you?
Non-dominant hand answers:  I’m you stuck in a box. 

Dominant hand writes: How do you feel?
Non-dominant hand answers: I feel shut down. I feel locked up.

Dominant hand writes: What’s making you to feel this way?
Non-dominant hand answers:  You are putting me in all of these different boxes and schedules. I’m tired.

Dominant hand writes: How can I help you?
Non-dominant hand answers: I want to stop doing things that don’t fulfill me. I want to start exercising and painting.  

Manage Your Health

Lucia recommend similar methods when addressing physical health. She shows how we can talk to individual body parts to manage symptoms.  

  • Lie down. Notice the areas of your body where you experience discomfort.
  •  Draw a picture of your body, and color the areas where you eperience pain.  
  • If there is pain in your shoulder talk with it:
    What are you?
    What’s causing this?
    What can be done about it?

Manage Relationships

In her book The Power of Your Other Hand, Lucia explains the physiology of writing and growing with your non-dominant hand and shows how this can impact our relationships in significant ways.

  • Sit down and imagine you are having a conversation with someone significant in your life.
  • With your dominant hand, express your feelings: “I’m angry that you walked away in the middle of our conversation last week.”
  • Put the pen in your non-dominant hand and write what the other person would say. “I left because I was scared. I thought you were going to start blaming me.”

In her work, Lucia has observed that all kind of insights come up using this method to help us better understand another person’s perspective. 

The Future of Journaling

If journaling is a tool you rely on, you are not alone!  With happiness, Lucia predicts the future for journaling is bright. “I do book signings, and when I am in bookstores they always put me in front of a wall of blank books. I always tell my audience that when I started speaking about journaling many years ago, there weren’t any blank books in the bookstores. You had to go to an art store to get something to journal in. Now there are all these beautiful options.”

It’s Lucia’s dream to take journaling to public schools. The research shows that journaling helps students manage disruptive behaviors, test-taking anxiety, and positively impacts the social atmosphere in classrooms.

Your Action Plan

If you found this conversation helpful, you might also enjoy our conversation with Deborah Ross in which we discuss journaling’s effects on the brain.

Walking and Writing Among the Trees, with Jackee Holder

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Over time, social media shapes the ways we think about issues and impacts how we perceive who we are. Today’s guest, author Jackee Holder, shows how journaling, walking, and time spent in nature help counter this imbalance by revealing and reflecting genuine thoughts and beliefs. These practices, Jackee observes, help us evolve into the most authentic version of our selves.

To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.


Walking and Writing Among the Trees, with Jackee Holder


Jackee is passionate about walking, trees, writing, and journaling. Author of four non-fiction titles as well as a host of e-books and the curator of over one hundred journals, she has a committed and ongoing practice of pen to paper and feet to the ground. Jackee holds a Master’s degree in creative writing and personal development from Sussex University in the UK and a Postgraduate Diploma in Psychosynthesis Counseling. Through both personal and professional experience, she has benefited from the healing and therapeutic properties of her weekly urban city walks and thirty-year practice of journaling.

An Introduction to Psychosynthesis

When we talk about Jackee’s experience in the field of psychosynthesis, her enthusiasm shines. Boiled down to simplest terms, she describes psychosynthesis as a spiritual approach to psychotherapy developed by Italian psychiatrist, Roberto Assagioli. This approach aims to develop the whole Self, with a capital “S,” which Jackee explains is different from our day-to day self. In this context, Self describes the part of us that often emerges during difficult times to rise above challenges and to walk the path we’re meant to travel on. Self is the essence of our authentic selves.

Journal to Connect with Your Self

Jackee describes herself as a prolific journaler and remembers how writing down thoughts and feelings was especially important when she became a new mother. After her baby was born, Jackee noticed the ways her journal writing grew more intentional and focused. The pages of her journal provided precious space to write about all she was grappling with during this significant new season of life. Through journaling, Jackee crafted a narrative that helped her to realize who she was becoming and where she wanted to go next.

Journaling helps us get closer to our Self by cultivating:

  • self-discipline
  • self-management
  • and connection with our own ideas and beliefs.

Jackee’s Journaling Tips and Techniques

Jackee’s journals aren’t limited to text. Lists, doodles, and ideas framed in shapes converge to represent a landscape of her ideas.

To overcome fear of the blank page and to keep your pen moving, Jackee recommends:

  • Jot down a single word or simple sentence that feels meaningful.  Let this be enough when you are beginning.
  • Write down observations. Note your response to what’s happening around and inside of you.
  • Use journal prompts. This practice can help ease anxiety that may surface when faced with the blank page.
  •  Write as fast as you can. Outrun your inner critic, and disregard concerns about grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. The point is to get your thoughts down onto paper.
  • Make a list. Sometimes this will feel more manageable than writing a complete narrative. If you like, you can return to the list later on to further flesh out ideas there.
  •  Draw and doodle. Try anything that allows you to engage with that blank page.

Walk to Connect with Your Self

Walking daily supports Jackee’s writing life. Once she begins her exercise routine, ideas begin to fill her mind. When she’s finished walking, Jackee heads straight to the café, pulls out her journal, and pours those ideas onto the page.

Much research has been done that proves the impact walking has on the reduction of:

  • anxiety and depression
  • high blood pressure
  • cardiovascular disease
  •  type 2 diabetes
  •  unhealthy cholesterol levels
  • premature deaths

Spend Time in Nature to Connect with Your Self

Nature is restorative and healing and also supports Jackee’s writing practice. It’s among the trees that many people find it easiest to connect with their authentic Self.

Jackee cites a fascinating study in which hospital patients recovering from surgery were divided into two groups. Half of the patients stayed in rooms with windows that provided a clear view of trees. The other half of the patients had windows as well but did not have a view of trees. Patients with a view of nature required less pain medication and were able to return home earlier. A number of similarly designed studies have reported the same findings. Clearly there is power among the trees!

Jackee’s Action Steps to Help You Connect with Your Self

  • Gather a lightweight notebook that’s comfortable to carry.
  • Take a walk that leads to a green space.
  • Locate a comfortable tree you can be near.
  • Journal for seven minutes about everything you see and feel inside of that green space.
  • Keep your pen moving.
  • If words don’t accurately express what your’re feeling, draw what you see and feel instead.

Final Thoughts

When asked to leave us with final thoughts, Jackee chose to quote author Julia Cameron.  

“I’m a better and more honest woman for having taken to the page today and admitted my locked away feelings of the years. I am larger and better and softer and kinder and more open than  I was resisting knowing what I knew.”

If you enjoyed this conversation with Jackee, we think you’ll find our talk with psychotherapist and founder of the Center for Journal Therapy, Kathleen Adams worth a listen. Journal Therapy: An Innovative Tool for Self-Discovery.

Experience the Magic of Vision Boards, with Dr. Lori Ann Roth

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Vision boarding is a perfect companion activity to traditional forms of journaling. We had to the pleasure to speak with Dr. Lori Ann Roth who shares how vision boarding can help you grow comfortable with new ideas, enhance awareness of potential opportunities, and crystallize a dynamic new action plan. She also shares ideas to help you start your own vision board today.

Lori Ann is a life-long learner with over 35 years of experience helping individuals be their best. She is the president of “Learning and…Reflective Growth,” a company that specializes in training and coaching, and she is the author of The Journal Book: Your Journaling Journey.

To learn how you might incorporate vision boarding into your own journaling practice, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

What Is a Vision Board and What Do I Do With It?

A vision board is a collage designed to be a source of inspiration. It usually features images, quotations, and stand-alone-words that represent the maker’s goals and desires.

An office wall can be the perfect place to hang your vision board. Let it motivate and influence your actions as you go about your day. At her former workplace, Lori Ann managed a team of employees, and they crafted boards together and hung them in a common space where they would see them each day. Alternatively, if your vision board is for your eyes only, hang it inside of a bedroom closet door to ensure that it inspires you every day!

Resource Ideas

Just like traditional forms of journaling, vision boarding does not require fancy materials. In fact, you probably already have all the materials you’ll need.  

  • Hang on to old magazines. Get out your scissors and enjoy some old-fashioned fun! Clip images that represent your juiciest goals and intentions. Look for quotations and words that inspire, and glue them onto your board.
  • Google it! Search online for specific images you desire, and print them in color on quality photo paper.
  • Grab a dictionary and thesaurus. Choosing just the right words to paste onto your board takes time and patience, but the results are worth it.

Make Your Own Vision Board

Lori Ann shares tips and techniques to help you begin visualizing your wildest dreams!

  • Set a goal. Lori Ann believes that the secret to creating a successful vision board lies in the preparation done beforehand. She encourages people to identify goals and desires in clear, comprehensible terms before moving forward. This first step, she explains, is an opportunity for deep self-reflection. This is the time to explore values and wishes and to envision the future you’re working toward.
  • Make time to visualize the life that you want. Many people create a new vision board once each year. For some, the start of the new year seems most fitting, while others mark birthdays, anniversaries, or the beginning of a new school year by making a vision board. Choose what works best for you. There’s no wrong way to do this.
  • Write it all down first. It can be a challenge to identify or pinpoint specific goals, but journaling first can help.
  • Gather and glue. Collect the images you’ll use for your board and start pasting!

What the Research Teaches  

Citing the work of Australian psychologist Alan Richardson, Lori Ann points to a study involving three groups of basketball players. The first group of players repeatedly practiced shooting hoops together. The second group did not practice; instead they visualized shooting hoops successfully. The third group did not practice or visualize throwing basketballs. Predictably, the players in the third group did not improve their skills. The players who improved most were those that practiced shooting hoops. Interestingly, those in group two who only visualized their improvement did nearly as well as the players who had practiced playing ball.

The research findings grow more interesting with a second study Lori Ann mentions involving players who combined visualization with practice. Overall, these individuals experienced the best outcomes.

From this study and others like it, Lori Ann concludes that it’s the combination of visualization and action that bring our goals to fruition.

As we continued to talk, Lori Ann shared the deep impact vision boarding has had on her personal life. After being single for 15 years, she recognized it was time for a new relationship. Lori Ann began to visualize the relationship she desired. Combing through a magazine, she even found a picture of a man who radiated qualities she was drawn to. She vision boarded this image along with other photos and quotations that evoked fun and romance. To accompany her vision board, Lori Ann wrote two typewritten pages to express her feelings and desires in words. Along with visualizing a relationship, she took action steps by going on dating sites and putting herself out there among good people she could connect with. It was through this process that Lori Ann met her husband to whom she’s been married for 2 ½ years!

Lori Ann left us with a few words of advice. A wonderful aspect of journaling is that there are so many approaches and all of them are right. Lori Ann assures us that vision boarding works similarly. Some of the people she works with take a linear approach to vision boarding. They might make boards with goals for the next six months, year, or even five years ahead. Others find this format too restrictive and choose a looser, less linear method that does not involve timelines.

Choose the method that resonate for you. The important thing is to be open to the messages your board reveals and to take the steps that turn vision into action.

Your Action Plan

  • Connect with Lori Ann on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Also visit her website.
  • Read Lori Ann’s new book, The Journal Book: Your Journaling Journey.
  • Listen our conversation on The Power of Journaling podcast.
  • Start work on your own vision board today!

If you enjoyed our conversation with Lori Ann, you might enjoy our article “Walk the Five Paths of Journaling.”

How to Get Started Travel Journaling, with Lauren Hooper

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We talked with Lauren Hooper, podcast host and seasoned traveler, to discover how journaling and travel make a perfect pairing. We are certain Lauren’s insights will inspire you to take along a journal on your next big adventure.

Lauren is a crafter, adventurer and storyteller who has lived overseas with her husband and pup for 6 years and created a career out of creativity and adventure. Lauren co-founded the Get Messy Art Journal program and now runs Radiant Art Retreats, hosts the podcast How She Creates, teaches online courses for creatives at lauren-likes.com, and is currently redesigning her popular travel art journal which will be available this spring. Lauren’s work explores the intersection of art, travel and good in the world.

To find out how you can incorporate journaling into your next travel adventure, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Lauren took her first creative steps as a child scrapbooking with her mom. This activity sparked in her a love of art and an appreciation of all-things creative. Growing up Lauren knew she would be an artist.

As graduate students facing the challenges of a limited income, Lauren and her husband made an amazing discovery. They did the math and realized that they would save money in the summertime if they got rid of their apartment and traveled instead. They used this time to visit with friends and see the country. A love of travel was ignited, and it became their life plan to see the world.

Throughout these travels, Lauren kept her pen moving. Filling notebooks with insights and reflections on the places she visited felt like a natural thing to do, and before she knew it, Lauren was a self-identified travel journaler.  

Lauren’s lifestyle continues to gift her with travel journaling opportunities. Today she lives on the campus of a university in the United Arab Emirates. With enthusiasm, she describes taking walks and biking in her close-knit community surrounded by desert and just a stone’s throw away from the city of Dubai. With gratitude she acknowledges, “Every day is an adventure.”

When Lauren reflects on what travel has shown her, she acknowledges, “You don’t know how much you don’t know until you know!”  She explains the ways living overseas has opened her mind up wide to people and experiences. “There is no wrong way to do life,” she tells us. Travel reveals the different ways a life can be lived well, and Lauren finds herself excited by the opportunities this mindset makes possible.  

Lauren is an avid journaler who speaks of her practice with contagious enthusiasm. “I love journaling. I love that it has so many levels and facets. This morning I did morning pages. Later I got out my art journal where I sprayed ink and glued pictures. Maybe I’ll add some writing to it.” Lauren uses a variety of journaling methods and embraces opportunities for creative play, experimentation, and variation.

The Benefits of Travel Journaling

The journals Lauren creates yield enormous benefits and enrich her travel life in meaningful ways because travel journaling:

  • facilitates deeper learning and reflection by keeping you present in the moment.
  • cements memories and helps the brain process “newness overload” often triggered by travel.
  • slows you down to help savor each minute.
  • helps replenish energy which in turn enhances the travel experience.

Don’t Forget Your Camera

Photos improve our memory of events and Lauren considers her camera an essential tool. Telling stories with pictures is one of her favorite things to do, and she encourages journalers to take photos. Lots and lots of photos. While traveling, Lauren suggest jotting down a few notes on a phone app that coincide with the pictures you’ve taken. At the end of the day, with very little effort, you’ll have captured the details you want to put into your journal.

Travel Journaling Tools and Tips

When it comes to travel journaling, Lauren’s focus is on simplicity and fun. She cautions journalers not to become overwhelmed by the process.

  • Make a plan. Decide what you will journal about. Keep it simple. You might try something like the top three highlights you enjoyed today.
  • Gather materials. Again, Lauren encourages sticking to the basics. A journal, a pen, and maybe a glue stick or a stapler will get you started. To add a splash of color, Lauren recommends carrying along a small watercolor set or colored pencils.  
  • Establish a set writing time. It might be before bed after a long day of travel. If it’s helpful, set an alarm so you don’t forget.

Once your pen is moving, Lauren suggests a concentrated focus on themes such as gratitude or storytelling that hones in on the highs and lows of the day. Go deep, she encourages. Unearth all of the details. You’ll be so grateful for the memories. Above all else, she reminds us, travel journaling should enhance the trip and not become another checkbox.

Create a Keepsake

Online services make it easier than ever to organize your journals and transform them into keepsakes. Lauren mentions a service called Chatbooks that will compile travel photos on Instagram into one attractive book. Lauren uses this feature often to pull together photos from her own travel adventures.

A Dream Comes True

When spring rolls around, Lauren will see a dream long in the making come to fruition, and we can’t wait to see the results!  Early in her travels, Lauren spent hours preparing for trips by making customized journals full of colorful prompts and paint. Doing this preparation in advance meant all she had to do on the road was get the words down. There was no need to concern herself with layout details she didn’t have time for. Not surprisingly, people noticed these journals and began asking for their own.

Soon, Lauren’s journals will be available in print. Lauren describes her guided journals as “books full of prompts that tickle the artist’s brain and help them express what they see.” Lauren’s goal is to provide a tool that inspires creativity and eliminates overwhelm.

Lauren left us with final thoughts we hope you’ll take to heart. “Take your journal and write about whatever is bubbling up in your heart and mind that day. Write about the most beautiful things, the hardest things, the memories and moments that come together to create this beautiful travel life soup.”  Yum! Doesn’t she make it sound so delicious?

Your Action Plan

If you enjoyed this conversation with Lauren, you’ll find my interview with journal art expert Caylee Grey full of inspiration.

Discover Legacy Journaling, with Merle Saferstein

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Our guest today, legacy journaler Merle Saferstein, discusses writing techniques to help you extract your journals’ deepest insights and share them with the younger people in your life. We think you’ll find the process she describes inspires an experience as meaningful for the writer as it is for the recipient.

Merle was the director of educational outreach at a Holocaust Center in South Florida for twenty-six years. When she retired in 2011, she developed and currently teaches a class entitled Living and Leaving Your Legacy®. She lectures on the subject of legacy nationally and internationally, trains hospice staffs on how to do sacred legacy work, and works with individual patients at the end of their lives. She is the author of Room 732, is a council member of the International Association of Journal Writers, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post and Thrive Global.

Merle provides tools to craft an enduring gift for your loved ones. She also shines new light on how you’ll think about your own legacy. Great stuff here! To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Defining Legacy

Merle is a vibrant, engaging speaker. She’s got the spirit of a storyteller and understands the long lasting impact one’s stories have on future generations.

Legacy journal writing is defined by Merle as “words written specifically for the benefit of others.” This form of writing has benefits not only for the recipient but for the writer as well.

The Benefits of Legacy Journaling

A life-long journaler, when Merle began her own legacy work she was struck by all that she’d processed through the act of writing. “I consider myself a very positive person, but when I sat down to work on this project and reread all of my notes, I realized I’d wrestled with a lot of tough feelings and emotions, and my journal was the place where it all went. It was through writing things down that I was able to maintain the positivity I associate with myself.”

Merle points to the ways legacy journaling enriches our lives by providing:

  • an opportunity to impart wisdom.
  • new insight into a specific moment in time.
  • deeper understanding of important people in our lives.
  • historical documentation that can be passed on to future generations.
  • preservation of important times and places.
  • clarification of values and beliefs.

Legacy journaling enables Merle to maintain meaningful records for her grandchildren to hold onto. Since their births, Merle’s journaled about their shared moments. She also writes about specific subjects she wants her grandchildren to consider, and periodically offers a life lesson for reflection. Merle has not yet decided how or when these journals will be presented to her grandchildren, but she’s confident in the connection she knows they will foster.

In addition to this gift for her grandchildren, Merle has taken on an ambitious and significant legacy project that grabbed our attention. Merle has filled over 360 journals in her decades of journal writing. That’s right, 360! Years ago, she decided to glean highlights from these pages to put into a format she could share with her family.

Marriage was the first topic Merle dove into. The timing proved perfect as she’d just been asked to officiate her great niece’s wedding.  Merle’s own marriage of 52 years, and all she’d written about it, proved to be the perfect primary source. The entire process entailed boiling 100 pages down to just 12. “I needed to excavate those ideas most worthy of sharing,” she explains.

One pearl of wisdom Merle chose to include was her take on the old adage she’d been told years ago. Never go to bed angry. 45 years later, Merle recognizes that emotions run deep and that sometimes we need time to sift through strong feelings in order to make meaningful peace with them.


The wisdom that comes with living is a gift to share.

Merle Saferstein

Project Ideas

In workshops, Merle guides students through the different forms their legacy journaling can take.

  • Legacy love letters. So often our hearts and minds fill with thoughts we forget to express. Merle suggests marking graduations, birthdays, and other special days with a legacy love letter. Here important sentiments, wishes, and values can be poured onto the page in a memorable way.
  • Ethical wills. Those wishing to pass on life’s lessons and dreams for loved ones may compose this spiritual document meant to be shared after the writer has passed. The ethical will does not contain directives and is intended to read as a hopeful, positive piece of writing that recipients can hold onto.
  • Memoir, autobiography, scrapbooks, and oral history are other popular forms Merle encourages.

Legacy Journaling Tips

When it comes to process, there’s not one “right way” to approach legacy journaling, but Merle shares her own methods to help you get started.  

To begin extracting gems from her personal journals, Merle broke the project down into manageable stages she shares below.

  • Identify your intended audience. Deciding who this writing is for helps you hone in on what material is especially relevant.
  • Read. Spend some quality time looking over your journals. Reread pages carefully and immerse yourself thoroughly. Give new awareness a chance to spring up and present itself.
  • Identify the themes you want to share. Use stick-it notes to mark ideas and topics.
  • Organize the text.  In Merle’s case, she identified 70 topics she wanted to cover. She made files for each on her computer and put relevant text into corresponding files.
  • Edit and synthesize the text. Keep on refining until you have the product you want to pass on to family members.

Merle summed up our discussion with words that truly resonate.  “The wisdom that comes with living is a gift to share.”

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Merle’s work. Visit her online.
  •  Listen to my conversation with Merle.
  • Get started on your own legacy journaling project today. It’s never too early to start.

If you’ve enjoyed this conversation, you might also appreciate our interview with Brenda Hudson, author of Story by Story: 15 Projects to Write Your Family Legacy.

Capture Your Family Stories in 15 Minutes or Less, with Brenda Hudson

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Tis the season for family gatherings and small talk around tables. What will these conversations look like in your home? Do you wish the talk ran deeper? Have you ever wished for a way to preserve memories of Uncle Bob’s one-liners or the aroma of your grandmother’s pies? How well do you know your family’s stories? Our conversation about family legacy journaling with author Brenda Hudson can help you maximize your time with loved ones and ensure their stories are told and preserved.


Brenda is a teacher, editor, certified journal facilitator, author, and creative writer. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Writing Studies. She leads writing workshops where participants create unique stories and books of themselves using journaling and book arts techniques. Her how-to book Story by Story: 15 Projects to Write Your Family Legacy is based on her successful legacy writing workshops.

To learn more, listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

What Is Family Legacy Journaling?

Although oral storytelling is highly satisfying, writing down rich details increases the likelihood they’ll be passed on to new generations. Brenda delights in helping people preserve their family stories through a method she calls family legacy writing. She describes this method as “a written conversation among family members and across generations.”

Family can be defined however you like. The term “legacy” alludes to the notion that you’re capturing special moments to ensure they live on. Brenda teaches that this form is different than memoir writing which is typically told from a single perspective. Instead, family legacy stories resemble conversations where multiple interpretations unfold to craft a story told from a variety of vantage points.

Studies have found that family bonds are strengthened when you know your family history.

Brenda Hudson

Getting Started

Sitting down to a blank page can be daunting, a truth Brenda acknowledges with empathy. “Getting started can be intimidating. I really want to help people get right in there to have some fun.”

Many of Brenda’s new students communicate feelings of anxiety and offer disclaimers like, “I’m not a writer but I want to tell my family’s story.” Brenda points out that by our very nature we are all storytellers. She jokes, “When was the last time someone stopped you in the middle of a conversation to announce you weren’t telling a story correctly?”

Her book, Story by Story: 15 Projects to Write Your Family Legacy, offers story-based project ideas to help get you started. By breaking the process into manageable bits, you can dive right into story telling with minimal preparation or worry.

Projects to Try

Each of the activities Brenda has designed works as a stand-alone project. She shares a few favorite ideas below:

  • Family sayings. Is there an expression that comes up often when your family gathers? It might be funny or cautionary. Who says it and under what circumstances? How do other family members respond?  Does this expression state a sentiment shared by others? Put these expressions under a lens to learn more about your family. You might enjoy compiling the sayings you collect into a family notebook.
  • Juicy questions. Is there something you’ve always wondered about? A special mealtime when everyone is gathered can be the right time for research. Be sure to ask a question with an answer you’re genuinely interested to hear. Ask everyone assembled the same question and note the range of responses you receive. Write them each down.
  • Family photos. Bring a picture to a family event. It might be formal image or a fun candid from your phone. There are no rules. Set the timer and invite your family to freewrite about the photograph for ten minutes. Offer a prompt like, “This is a story of…” When the time is up, everyone who wishes is encouraged to read the story they’ve recorded. To spice things up, participants might choose to read each other’s pieces aloud instead. Again, the wide range of responses will inspire a lively follow-up conversation. Be sure to record what you hear. 
  • Record special moments. Audio recordings of young and old voices storytelling together make extra special heirlooms.

Above all else, the objective of Brenda’s projects is to get the memories down on paper. Along the way, take note of unexpected discoveries and forgotten moments that the activity retrieves. These are the gems you’ve been digging for.

Compiling the Details

Brenda shows there are a number of ways to assemble your family’s story.

  • Gather family vignettes into a self-published book to gift family members with.
  • Post the stories on a family blog.
  • Create handmade books full of photos and relatives’ handwriting.
  • Make a family trivia board game.

We get so busy living our lives that it’s important to remind ourselves to pause and capture these moments before they are forgotten.  Writing your family story, says Brenda, lets you live each moment twice and also provides a gift to share with future generations.

Family legacy writing helps us grow strong roots to connect us to the places we’ve come from and provides a way to relate more deeply with the people we love.

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Brenda’s writing and teaching on her website www.voicedlife.com. While you are there, sign up for her monthly newsletter.

  • Read Brenda’s book, Story by Story: 15 Projects to Write Your Family Legacy. (We love her book so much, you’ll soon see it appears on our 2020 list for best ~ coming out in January.) Try out each of the 15 innovative projects ideas she shares, and be sure to let us know how it goes. We’d love to share your projects with the Journaling.com community.

  • Gather with loved ones and let your curiosity shine. Ask big, bold questions and record all of the answers you are gifted with.

  • Listen to our conversation with Brenda.

If you enjoyed this interview, you might enjoy our conversation with Shelby Abrahamson, art journaling expert and blogger at  https://journaling.com/articles/journal-to-increase-your-productivity-and-creativity-with-shelby-abrahamsen/ Founder of the blog, Little Coffee Fox.




Fun Ways to Combine Art and Journaling, with Caylee Grey

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My conversation with artist and journaler Caylee Grey is a reminder that the best way to journal is to use whichever tools work best for you. Some of us are most at ease with words. Others feel best with a paintbrush in hand. Some of us enjoy using both. There are no rules. Your journal won’t mind!

Caylee is the host of a kind and enthusiastic art journaling community on the internet called Get Messy. She believes in the habit of art, dancing naked in perfectionism’s face, and the magic of connection. She squeezes her own creative time in during her tiny human’s naps, and helps other artists find the time in their own busy lives to create.  

Listen to our interview, or read below to see highlights from our talk, and discover why the art journaling community refers to Caylee as the “Fairy Art Mother.”



Pair Your Art with Your Writing

Caylee is an inspired journaler. The 100 completed journals she’s created so far are proof of this! Art and writing have become so intertwined for her, she no longer bothers to separate the two. 

“I’ve kept journals forever. I tried to do a word-only journal once thinking that was how to make a “real” journal. Very quickly though, I started doodling in the margin and pasting things inside, and I finally gave up on keeping a words-only journal.”

Why Art Journaling Works

Caylee is a dynamic, energized speaker, and her enthusiasm is contagious when she talks about the benefits of art journaling.

  • Pushing paint around on a page helps express emotions that words cannot always access. Caylee recalls a challenging time in her own life when the simple act of applying black paint on her journal’s pages got to the heart of an issue words couldn’t touch.
  • It’s not complicated. Caylee reminds us art is in everything and we can use it to tell our story. Just pasting a receipt or putting a business card on the pages of a journal she explains, provide abstract ideas with meaning and form.
  • Everything is art. Even a shopping list in your own handwriting is a form of self-expression.
  • Art journaling is calming. “It’s like meditation,” Caylee notes, “but requires less discipline!”

Get Messy!

The name of Caylee’s dynamic online art community, Get Messy, is personal. “I’m a perfectionist. Getting messy makes me uncomfortable. Coming up with this name was like a challenge to myself to ignore perfectionism, and to let go and just make a mess!”

Caylee works tirelessly to empower the artists in her Get Messy community to let go of perfectionism.

It’s the Process Not the Product

Caylee gives a shout out to one of Journaling.com’s favorite artists, Amy Maricle, who speaks to the value of “the process over the product.”  In her own creative work, Caylee’s noticed that if the focus is on “messing up” in a positive sense, the inner critic is silenced which leads to extraordinary creative outcomes.

This idea has ramifications for other parts of our lives. Caylee connects the dots and explains that when we let go of perfectionism in our art, we eliminate this tendency in other facets of our lives as well.

Establish a Routine to Maximize Creative Moments

Caylee describes herself as routine driven. She believes and commits to doing something creative every day. Whether that’s drawing a line in her journal or spending four hours on a page, she prioritizes these moments. “Showing up every day is where the magic happens. It’s about waiting for the magic and being prepared for it when it comes.”

The notion that good art comes from bursts of electric inspiration is one Caylee has moved past. Instead, she’s discovered, it’s through small repetitive practices every day that substantive creative goals are achieved.

“I have a rule that I can go two days without creating something. Otherwise, I make something, even if I don’t feel like it. I know that even if I’m tired, even if I create rubbish, at least I’ve shown up, and I can come back again and try something different. Showing up and a little risk leads to magic.”

Tips for Travel Journaling

“When you take time to journal what you’re feeling and seeing around you, there is something magical about it.” Caylee regularly talks travel journaling with her followers, and she considers this medium the perfect tool for capturing the essence of a trip.

There is something different about journaling when compared with photography, Caylee notes, and she’s found herself lately taking trips with the sole purpose of journaling. “My travel journals are my favorites. Photos are how everyone sees the world. My journal reflects the ways that I see it.”

Journaling Tips to Take On Your Travels

  • Mix words and images any way you choose.

  • Collect papers, ticket stubs, and other finds you spot, and arrange them in an appealing way.

  • Take the picture no one else would think of and tuck it inside of your journal. If you visit the Eifel Tower, for instance, take a close-up shot. Capture a small detail others might overlook.

  • Look for and use materials that evoke memories of textures, sights, and sounds from the place you’ve visited.

  • Write about the small details. The menu at the café you adored. The conversations that buzzed around you. These memories are rich and will transport you back to special places for many years to come.

Your Action Plan

  • Listen to my conversation with Caylee.

  • Connect with Caylee. Visit her online at the Get Messy Art Website and at Get Messy on Instagram.

  • Connect with a like-minded arts community. Join https://getmessyart.com/

  • Start collecting and creating elements that reflect your life. These might be your own words, the words of others, drawings, or miscellaneous items you affix to the page.
  • Caylee’s favorite supplies are the moleskin journals she keeps on hand. But she recommends you grab whatever is most convenient in your house at this moment. Choose the resource that will get you started journaling today!
  • Establish a regular creative routine that is free of judgement.
  • Let go of perfectionism. Get messy!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, check out our conversation with Amy Maricle where we discuss five fabulous tips for art journaling.

Ideas and Insights from the Creator of the Bullet Journal, with Ryder Carroll

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Ryder Carroll’s bestselling book The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future has transformed the journaling landscape. Ryder’s innovative approach to productivity and mindfulness, through a method he calls Bullet Journaling, has contributed significantly to the rising number of people journaling today. He’s been featured by the New York Times, LA Times, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Vogue, Bloomberg, and others. If you aren’t already familiar with Ryder’s groundbreaking work, you are in for a treat. It is a huge pleasure to welcome this visionary thinker to Journaling.com.

You can listen to his interview by pressing the play button below, or continue on to read the highlights of our conversation.

The Early Beginning

Ryder describes Bullet Journaling as “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.” Interestingly, when Ryder set out to develop this system, mindfulness was not foremost on his mind. Growing up with a diagnosis of ADD, Ryder often struggled to keep up with peers. This challenge eventually inspired him to design a productivity system to assist with becoming more efficient and better organized.

The methods Ryder developed helped him attain his professional goals. But despite numerous work-place achievements, Ryder recognized his accomplishments weren’t yielding personal fulfillment. “I realized a lot of my goals were appropriated from the world around me—namely peers and media. I never asked myself what I wanted or what was important in my life.”

A New Direction

Ryder returned to the productivity tools he’d developed and began to use them for inward self-reflection. Bullet Journaling, he discovered, not only helped increase productivity, it also provided a foundation for rigorous self-examination. And that, he tells me, is when things got interesting!

The words we write down are experiences waiting to be born.

Ryder Carroll

A New Approach to Task Lists

Ryder observes, “We live in a time when productivity is worshipped.” Indeed, we oftentimes equate a mile-long to-do list with our level of significance in the universe.

As our to-do lists grow, so too does our anxiety. This insight led Ryder to ask, what if the task- list were to become part of an “existential” exploration that assesses the quality of experiences that fill our days?

Today Ryder helps others contemplate their task lists in order to maximize their time spent tending to activities that provide fulfillment and meaning. He explains to his readers, “I can’t tell you what will make your life better, but from my own experiences, I can share ways of thinking that may help you find those answers for yourself.”

Shift Your Perspective

Ryder’s message to journalers is an uplifting one. “The words we write down are experiences waiting to be born not just a list of stuff we have to do. Our task lists are a preview to the life we are building.”

When we think of to-do lists in this new light, it helps us to:

  • ask why we do the tasks we do each day. In turn, we become more selective in choosing which tasks we can commit to.
  • clarify what’s important in our lives on an ongoing, regular basis so that we focus on tasks that have the greatest meaning and value in our lives.
  • reengage with the content we write down in meaningful, deeper ways.

Ryder’s Tips for Reengaging with Content

Your journal is a treasure chest filled with nuggets of wisdom and insight. Reengaging with your journal’s content on a regular basis helps you assimilate deeper understanding.

  1. Keep your journal nearby:  Throughout the day, jot down tasks, ideas, and questions to pursue later on. These notes can be brief. The goal is simply to capture these thoughts on paper in order to preserve them and to free up your mind for other thoughts.
  2. Daily Reflection:  Before bed, review the content you’ve written down that day. Use this moment to observe and clarify how the day’s tasks moved (or didn’t move) your life in a meaningful and desirable direction.
  3. Monthly Migration: Once a month, review the previous week’s journal entries. After some contemplation, rewrite only those words that still have value and purpose in your life. Vital tasks and thoughts will migrate with you into the next month. Leave unnecessary obligations and distractions behind by omitting them from this migration process.

Evaluate Your Task List

We are a culture on auto pilot trying to accomplish an infinite list of tasks. Streamlining task lists so they are an approximation of the life we want to cultivate is vital. To help with this process, Ryder recommends considering these questions:

  • How do the tasks on your list make you feel?
  • Which of these responsibilities do you want more or less of in your life?
  • Of the tasks you completed today, which ones were essential? Which provided you with fulfillment, pleasure, and meaning?
  • What would have happened if one of the tasks on your list was not completed?
  • Which of the items on your list could be eliminated without any negative consequences?

Put your To-Do List into Context

Whether or not an act is vital is sometimes unclear. To help untangle this ambiguity, Ryder uses the example of washing dishes. Theoretically, this task is not vital. Nothing catastrophic will happen if you never wash a dish again. You could simply use paper plates or eat all of your meals in restaurants. But context, Ryder explains, is what matters here. If you live with someone you care about who cooks dinner every evening, in this context, washing dishes is vital because it’s a way for you to reciprocate that person’s act of kindness.  

Seeing a task in its own unique context, Ryder points out, infuses even our most base chores with new meaning.

Why It Matters

In the midst of crisis, people are often compelled to face life’s “big questions.” They ask themselves what in my life matters most to me? What are my regrets? Who do I love, and have I adequately cared for these people? Have my actions made a difference in the world?

Instead of waiting for a moment of crisis to contemplate these issues, checking in regularly, asking these questions frequently, alleviates pressure and makes these inquiries less daunting.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Fancy

We see them on Instagram and YouTube all the time—those gorgeous Bullet Journals that make us swoon. Elaborate interpretations of the bullet journaling method are great fun to look at and can be a tremendous source of inspiration. But Ryder wants to be sure users remember that Bullet Journaling is based on particular methods that do not rely on looking a specific way. “Bullet Journaling is a paper mirror there to reflect your choices, responsibilities, and the things that matter back at you.” How this paper mirror looks is not an important part of its functionality, Ryder reminds us. Instead, he insists, your Bullet Journal should look however you need it to. Every life has unique requirements and so a journal should be customized for the individual it serves.

Your Action Plan

Start your own bullet journal with help from the official Bullet Journal notebook which was designed by Ryder to support your individualized needs.

  • Listen to our entire conversation on our podcast, The Power of Journaling.
  • Make space in your writing life to integrate Daily Reflections and Monthly Migrations.

In talking with Ryder, it became clear that a productivity system is only as effective as the level of mindfulness it inspires. How does mindfulness inform your own productivity? We’d love to hear all about it. Reach out to us on Facebook.

Five Ways Journaling Boosts Happiness & Well-Being, with Nancy Scherlong

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Happiness and a sense of well-being; it’s what we all want. In our podcast interview with therapist Nancy Scherlong, we discuss the variety of ways journaling helps to cultivate these feelings. Nancy affirms the transformative power of journal writing and provides uplifting new ideas to contemplate.

Nancy is a licensed clinical social worker in the states of CT and NY, a positive psychology coach, journal and poetry therapist, and expressive writing workshop facilitator.  She is also trained in the action methods of psychodrama and interweaves different creative art forms in her teaching, training, and workshops. She is an adjunct instructor for several Master’s in Social Work programs on the East Coast as well as a core faculty member of the online training school, The Therapeutic Writing Institute and the online platform Journalversity. She provides training and supervision to trainees in the field of journal and poetry therapy as well as consults with groups and organizations offering wellness programming and retreats.

To learn more, listen to our conversation on our podcast, The Power of Journaling, or read below to see highlights from our talk.

Nancy’s work as a positive psychology coach dovetails beautifully with the goals of expressive writing. For a long time, Nancy explains, psychology emphasized pathology and everything that was wrong in peoples’ lives. Positive psychology strives to put the focus on everything that’s right.

Good gardeners know if you aren’t pruning and cutting away the things that aren’t thriving or useful, your plants or flowers won’t be as vibrant. We need to prune our thoughts in the same kinds of ways so we are growing our most vibrant parts. What we focus on is what will grow.

Nancy Scherlong

Resist Negativity Bias

In order to identify potential threats, our brains are hardwired to focus on negativity. Vigilance is a biological defense, and so it takes concerted effort and intention to notice what’s “right” in our lives.

Journal writing can help us tune into what’s right and to reframe what feels wrong. Nancy shares five writing tips to help us resist negativity biases and boost feelings of happiness and well-being.

  1. Practice Gratitude:  Harvest and Cultivate the Good From Each Day

    Nancy encourages us to take an inventory of whatever it is that’s working well in our lives.  To cultivate this practice in her own life, she uses The Five Minute Journal by Intelligent Change.  Here’s how it works:
    – In the morning, read a quotation or affirmation that inspires. Envision what will fill today with joy and meaning. These actions are like a reset button for the day ahead.
    – At night, reflect on what went well that day, and determine what your role was in making it go well.
    – Craft a plan to make tomorrow better.

  2. Journal to Be in the Here and Now

    – We know that when we live each moment deeply, we are happier.
    – Write what you smell, taste, and hear. Notice the birds that are singing or the aroma of the soup on the stove. Writing down details engages our senses and helps us to be in the moment.
    – Write with pen and paper to integrate body, mind, and emotions.

  3. Change Your Narrative

    – Cultivate self-forgiveness. The more we forgive ourselves the more we can be in the present. A focus on the negative is a pull from the present leading back toward regret and the past.
    – Write down how you talk to yourself and be deliberate in interrupting negative messaging. Rewriting the script helps us to change the stories we tell about ourselves. 

  4. Identify a Vision and a Goal

    – Nancy acknowledges this instruction can seem like a contradiction to mindfulness. Aren’t we supposed to be living in the here and now? But she explains that when we work toward visions and goals, we live our way into the future by the way we conduct ourselves in the present. In other words, if we are in touch with and practice the things that light us up–our passions–we find our vision naturally. Having goals and vision is a key point of happiness.
    – Make a vision board with words that project your goals. There are no rules; there’s no need for complete sentences. Use words, phrases.

  5. Practice Affirmative Writing that Inspires Resilience

    – Affirmative writing is the bridge between our current reality and our desired outcomes. It helps us identify a goal along with the actions that move us toward the goal. 
    – As you write, reflect on tough times from the past that you’ve worked through successfully. Difficult days survived are resilience markers reminding us of our capacity to overcome challenges.
    – Write in the present tense as though the future you desire is happening now. Nancy provides an example.
    – Let’s imagine it’s your hope that in six months’ time you’ll be an amazing chef.  Write as though you’ve already achieved this goal. Flesh out the vision in the present tense and claim success as if it’s already happened. Write about the classes you took, the people you talked with, and the resources you’ve consulted to get to this place. In doing so, you’ll come up with a game plan that leads you to actualize your vision.
    – Writing like you have what you want rather than transcribing a sense of longing is a radical shift in mindset that leads to happiness and well-being.

Nancy points out that our brains are highly capable of growth and change and that affirmative writing stretches our minds and establishes increased neural plasticity.

Your Action Plan

  • Learn more about Nancy’s work. Visit her online at www.changeyournarrativetherapy.com, on Facebook, and at the Therapeutic Writing Institute .
  • For more practical suggestions and inspiring ideas, listen to my interview with Nancy.
  • Establish a writing practice that works for you.  Devote ten minutes each day if you can. Pick materials and a schedule  that works with your personality not against it
  • Practice affirmative writing.

How will you implement these suggestions? Share your ideas with us on Facebook.