“All thoughts belong on paper.” That’s what the speaker and author Byron Katie used to say when I studied with her back in 2004. Katie teaches something called “The Work,” a simple but powerful method of self-inquiry that transformed my life when I discovered it 16 years ago. “The Work” is a way of identifying the thoughts causing you suffering and then shifting them, and it all starts with putting your thoughts down on paper — a practice that I’ve continued to this day and still find incredibly transformative.
Our minds are very creative by nature, and if you allow all your thoughts to stay in your mind, they tend to take on a life of their own, weaving and waving their way into infinite stories — usually stories of doom and gloom, most of which we know never come to pass.
Think about it: How many times have you made up a wild story in your head about a situation that turned out to be totally untrue? It starts with one random thought, like “Did I forget to turn off the stove?” or “Is my boss mad at me?” and before you know it, you’ve descended down a wild spiral of worry and anxiety for no real reason at all. Often our minds run away with a tall tale before we even get a chance to reason with them. It’s a scenario that’s all too familiar for so many of us, especially right now during this time of uncertainty and widespread fear and panic.
In my experience, one of the best ways to really help a chaotic mind is to write down every thought that you have. Think of it as a brain purge. For some people, this takes the form of daily journaling; personally, I don’t journal on a daily basis, but whenever I’m in between a new stage in my life or when things seem really chaotic, I put all my thoughts on paper — then I can get them out of my mind and examine them from a more objective perspective.
A dear friend of mine I’m currently quarantined with recently took me through an exercise like this, based around the fears and limiting beliefs I have about writing my life story. First he asked what I was afraid of, and we listed out every single fear — no matter how big or small — on paper, from “I’m not a good writer” to “What if no one reads it.” Then we went through and confronted each one, questioning if it was really true or not. Wouldn’t you know it, every single one of them turned out to be unfounded and I was able to cross them off the list! How freeing. I was then able to channel all that energy I was spending on fear into figuring out what I truly desire and how to create it.
Right now during this pandemic is a great time to harvest all of those thoughts that you may be having — all of your fear thoughts, all of your worry thoughts, and any anxiety you may be having. Write them down and see them for what they really are. Putting those worries on paper can help you spot themes and patterns in your thinking and to recognize them for what so many of our thoughts actually are, which are simply stories that we tell ourselves based on our past programming and experiences.
You’ll be amazed to see that the very act of committing a thought to paper can transform it completely; once you see it in black and white, many of those worrisome thoughts will lose their power altogether.