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Writing Helps You Get Healthy—and Reach Your Other Goals, Too!

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The act of putting pen to paper is something most of us do every day, from making a simple grocery list, putting a reminder on a sticky note, or leaving a message for a roommate, child or spouse…to keeping a daily food diary, journal, or exercise log. Writing can help you clarify your thoughts, remember what you did yesterday, and help you get done what you need to accomplish today.

I find writing therapeutic because it helps me get clear on the patterns in my life, and I use to-do lists every day to keep me organized, manage my time, and help me remember those little things that I might otherwise forget.

It doesn’t take fancy journals or expensive pens. I write my daily list on a used envelope each morning, and at the end of the day I recycle it. The process of throwing away my task list at the end of the day gives me a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. It not only keeps clutter out of my house, it keeps it out of my head as well.

I make pro-and-con lists whenever I am in conflict and can’t make a decision about a person, opportunity, or circumstance. Taking a few extra minutes to analyze the good and bad on paper provides me with crystal clear direction, and all confusion evaporates.

I also use writing to formulate and keep track of ideas. I’ve learned from practice that I can have a great idea, but if I don’t write it down somewhere I usually forget it, and then something that could have been life changing is lost. I also do this when I wake up in the middle of a dream, even if it is midnight. Dreams often give insight on how to solve a problem or clues about what we want in our lives, but if we don’t write them down, dreams quickly fade into the subconscious.

Putting your goals into writing creates commitment. Even if your journal is completely private, it still keeps you accountable because writing by hand taps into complex neural pathways. Handwriting seems to be more powerful than two-handed computer keyboarding because writing requires more fine motor skills than tapping on keys, according to researchers from the National Center for Reading Education and Research in Norway. The researchers believe that writing helps you focus deeply, leading to greater commitment.

Now, you might be thinking, “Joel, you’re a personal trainer. What does writing have to do with health and fitness???” In fact, many of my clients feel that their commitment to exercise is more concrete when they put it in writing. And read on to see how you can use writing to help you eat better and lose weight.

The Rules

Plan on writing for roughly 10 to 15 minutes each morning and again each evening, focusing on insights, ideas and struggles. Write freely, forgetting about spelling, grammar and punctuation, and write as quickly as you can for the full time you’ve allotted. Don’t let your hand stop moving, and don’t allow your inner critic to surface. Everything you write is exactly as it should be.

In the Morning…

Take a few minutes to review how yesterday went, enjoy what went right, contemplate what you could have done better, and acknowledge that this is a new day. I like to think over anything that knocked me off center, shifted my mood, or made me struggle with energy, feelings, or food cravings. I also like to review how I slept and jot down any dreams I remember.

Next, take a few minutes to think about your plans for the upcoming day. Write out a little to­do list, then think about how you can address your day with a good attitude and an optimistic spirit. End your writing session by writing down three intentions for the day.

I often write that I will eat for optimum health…I will get in a great and energetic workout…I will focus on releasing any tension and anxiety that arises…and I will make positive connections with everyone I encounter.

At Night…

You can also use writing at the end of your day to review what and how you did. This sort of self-reflection helps me stay centered; I feel like I put the day to rest, and in the morning, I can start again with a clean slate. This cultivates self-awareness about patterns of eating, feelings and energy. I know that if I don’t take good care of myself, I won’t be any good to anyone else.

Write What You Eat and Lose More Weight

When you write something down, it works as sort of a mini rehearsal. When you write down what you plan to eat, it triggers your brain to play out this scenario. Then, when it comes time to actually eat, you’ll be more likely to eat the healthy foods you wrote down. Plus, keeping a daily food diary can double the amount of weight you lose, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. While two-thirds of the nearly 1,700 dieters in the study lost an average of nine pounds, those who kept a food diary lost up to 20 pounds, more than twice as much as those who did no record keeping.

Even though you have the idea that you’re going to eat healthy today, it can be easy to ignore this goal if it is just a thought in your head, whereas writing down every bite you eat keeps you on target.

Click here to buy Joel Harper’s book, Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life.

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