(ESL learners – click on the bolded words to see explanations and notes. Try the exercise at the bottom after! 🙂 )
I’m not a professional writer. I write this blog for fun, in my free time, and I don’t expect to get any return from it other than the fulfillment of helping ESL learners and fellow self-developmentalists hopefully get a little bit closer to their goals. Since I don’t do this for money, I’m very attuned to even the subtle benefits that writing can bring to our lives.
I’ve started using writing for nearly all parts of my life. Organization, brainstorming, goal tracking, and even healing.
I’m not talking about writing novels or poetry. I’m thinking of a much more misunderstood form of writing: introspection.
Some people call this journaling. I call it cleansing.
I’m talking about taking those thoughts that you’re too scared to share with anyone — the words that embody your deepest vulnerabilities, regrets, and fears — and give them a visible form. Making them eternal, at least temporarily. (Until you shred the paper to bits or hit delete.)
Lots of people say meditating on your feelings is therapeutic. Writing is even more so. Writing has this fluid yet rigid quality to it that stretches and compresses your mind all at once. To have to take something so complex as a feeling — that tangled web woven out of all your memories, assumptions, hopes, and disappointments — to take this, and bind it with the limits of English verbs, subjects, and prepositions… it is a challenge, and an art. Most of all, it is a healing process. It liberates you and your feelings. Through words, your feelings are not imprisoned only to your own heart and mind. Through words, your feelings can cross worlds, they can reach any other speaker of your language. If you’re going through something rough, you have to find an outlet where you can let those emotions go. It’s impossible to let them go if you don’t give them anywhere to go.
But don’t take this from me — the benefits of writing are proven by studies, as explained by Richard Wiseman in 59 Seconds:
“All of us will experience unpleasant and traumatic events during our lives: perhaps the break-up of a long-term relationship, the death of a loved one, being made redundant, or, on a really bad day, all three. Both common sense and many types of psychotherapy suggest that the best way forward is to share your pain with others. Those adopting this ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ approach believe that venting your emotions is cathartic and helps you release negative emotions and move forward. It is a nice idea and one that holds tremendous intuitive appeal. Indeed, surveys show that 90 percent of the public believe that talking to someone else about a traumatic experience will help ease their pain. But is that really the case?
“To investigate Emmanuelle Zech and Bernard Rime from the University of Louvain in Belgium carried out an intriguing, and important, study. A group of participants were asked to select a negative experience from their past. To make the study as realistic as possible, participants were asked to avoid the trivial stuff, like missing a train or not being able to find a parking space, and think instead about ‘the most negative upsetting emotional event in their life, one they still thought about and still needed to talk about.’ From death to divorce and from illness to abuse, the issues were serious. One group of participants were then asked to have a long chat with a supportive experimenter about the event, while a second group were invited to chat about a far more mundane topic – a typical day. After one week, and then again after two months, everyone went back to the lab and completed various questionnaires that measured their emotional well-being.
“Participants who had spent time talking about their traumatic event thought that the chat had been helpful. However, the various questionnaires told a very different story. In reality, the chat had had no significant impact at all. Participants thought that it was beneficial to share their negative emotional experiences, but in terms of the difference it made to how well they were coping, they might just as well have been chatting about a typical day.
“So, if talking about negative experiences to a sympathetic but untrained individual is a waste of time, what can be done to help ease the pain of the past? As we saw before, trying to suppress negative thoughts can be just as bad. Instead, one option involves ‘expressive writing.’
“In several studies, participants who have experienced a traumatic event have been encouraged to spend just a few minutes each day writing a diary-type account of their deepest thoughts and feelings about it. For example, in one study participants who had just been made redundant were asked to reflect upon their deepest thoughts and feelings about their job loss, including how it had affected both their personal and professional lives. Although these types of exercises were both speedy and simple, the results revealed that participants experienced a remarkable boost in their psychological and physical well-being, including a reduction in health problems and an increase in self-esteem and happiness. The results left psychologists with something of a mystery. Why would talking about a traumatic experience have almost no effect, but writing about it yield such significant benefits?
“From a psychological perspective, talking and writing are very different. Talking can often be somewhat unstructured, disorganized, even chaotic. In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that helps people make sense of what has happened and work towards a solution. In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion while writing provides a more systematic, and solution-based, approach.”
As a final comment, I’ll just add that writing all your thoughts down will at least give you the satisfaction of knowing that you’re putting in some concrete, measurable effort into listening to yourself, valuing your feelings, and helping yourself move on.
ESL Notes (15 words / expressions)
Fellow: used to refer to someone who has the same job or interests as you, or is in the same situation as you. In this case, I mean that I am a person interested in self-development, and I hope my articles can help other people who are in the same “group” as me, that is, others who are also interested in self-development. Note that “self-developmentalist” is not a normally used word, in fact I’m pretty it’s not a real word, but it’s the easiest way to express what I mean. (Back to the text)
Brainstorming: to suggest a lot of ideas for something very quickly before considering some of them more carefully. For example, “The team got together to brainstorm (the project).” (Back to the text)
Think of: A lot of ESL learners confuse “think of” with “think about” and use “think of” all the time. Think about is the common form of the verb think. Think of is very specific. In this type of context, it means either imagine or remember. In my text, it means imagine. Here are some more examples for both meanings: “Chuck sat quietly for hours staring into the distance, thinking of what might have been.” (remembering)
“I thought of you immediately when they said they wanted someone who could speak English.” (remember) “I have an exercise that will help you relax: think of a quiet, warm beach.” (imagine) (Back to the text)
Embody: to represent an idea exactly, or be a symbol of it. For example, “She embodied good sportsmanship on the playing field.” “For twenty-nine years, Checkpoint Charlie embodied the Cold War.” (Back to the text)
Regret: This is both a verb and a noun. The verb means to feel sad about something in the past that you wish you could change. Some examples: “I left school at 16, but I’ve had a great life and I have no regrets.” “He regrets saying all those mean things to her.” (Back to the text)
Shred to bits: to shred means to cut or tear something (usually paper) to small pieces. Adding “to bits” (meaning to little pieces) just emphasizes that you shred a lot, to make very many and very small pieces, so it emphasizes or “exaggerates” the action. This verb is often used in cooking (without the “to bits”): “Shred the lettuce and arrange it around the edge of the dish.” There are also machines that can shred (destroy) confidential documents for you, called shredders. (Back to the text)
Woven: this is the present perfect form of the verb to weave (weave, wove, have woven). It is also the adjective form. “Weave” is what you do to strings to make them into a piece of fabric. I use it metaphorically in my text, saying that your memories, hopes, etc. are like the strings that make up the fabric of your emotions. (Back to the text)
Rough: synonym for difficult, in this case. Some examples: “He’s had a rough year, with the divorce and then his father dying.” “It must be rough to have two kids and nowhere to live.” (Back to the text)
Outlet: a way for something to go out, usually a pipe or hole for gas or liquid to go out. The picture below shows an electrical outlet, which is how electricity goes out of the wires in the wall and into your appliances. (Back to the text)
Being made redundant: If you are made redundant, it means you lost your jobs because your employer no longer needs you. This isn’t because you did something wrong or made a mistake, but because there is not enough work for you to do. Therefore, you were “redundant” (excessive, extra, not needed). For example: “To keep the company alive, half the workforce is being made redundant.” (Back to the text)
Put in effort: to dedicate or invest effort. You can also put in time or work. Another example: “She’s put in a lot of effort on this proposal.” “She put in a lot of work to make the project a success.” “They put in countless hours to make sure there were no errors in the documentation.” (Back to the text)
Want to start using these words and make sure you don’t forget them? Try this exercise! Think about these questions (discuss them with someone) or write down your answers, using the word or expression in your discussion or answer.
- Do you think you’re particularly well attuned to people’s feelings?
- At work, does your team brainstorm ideas together when you have to make group decisions? What about at school? What do you think is a good way to brainstorm? (using images, or writing things out, or making a list, etc.)
- If someone tells you to imagine an outfit that makes you feel confident, what items of clothing do you think of?
- Do you think your country’s flag embodies the spirit of your country effectively?
- What is something you regret doing? Do you think that people shouldn’t have any regrets?
- Have you ever written something on a piece of paper and shredded it to bits? Do you think doing this can help release angry emotions and move on from the past?
- Do the wires of your technological devices (television, computer, etc.) ever get tangled? Do your earphones get tangled? What do you to do keep them untangled?
- What is a rough time that you experienced in your life?
- Do you think that painting or drawing is a good outlet for your emotions?
- Have you ever been made redundant? Do you know someone who has? How did you feel, or how would you feel if you haven’t?
- Do you put in a lot of effort to become better at your job? Do you ever put in overtime hours at work to show your boss or team that you are committed to your work?
- How long do you think it takes to move on after a breakup?
Feel free to try writing some more sentences, or a text, of your own to practice some more.
Thank you for reading! These ESL notes, links and exercises each take several hours to make, so if you found this useful, the kindest thing you can do is to like the post, leave a comment, or share with anyone who needs it. Have questions about any other words? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to reply! 🙂