How A Mere Pen and Notebook Can Be A Useful Tool After Redundancy
Redundancy can be a shock to the system and it’s not unusual for our thought processes to feel fuzzy or a little confused for quite a while after. One of the issues my clients often share with me is that they can’t stop thinking about something, and yet never come to a decision. Another complaint I hear again and again is that people are feeling overwhelmed, and spilt in multiple directions.
While it’s easy to nod sagely and put it down to shock, this doesn’t help address the problem. One thing that can help, however, is a method of writing fashionable last century, a style adopted by such respected names as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf: stream of consciousness. Don’t let the association with such weighty names or the cumbersome title put you off. Stream of consciousness writing is excellent for helping clear rumination (the same thoughts over and over again), focus thinking and even help inspire creativity. If you’re looking for a bit of an edge when it come to your covering letters, or even some space to ponder a change of direction, this is a practice I can thoroughly recommend.
What is Stream of Consciousness Writing?
In novels and stories, it’s a style of writing that basically allows us to see characters’ thoughts as they come up: unedited, messy and all over the place. It feels disorganised and disordered, but also truly authentic. “Stream of consciousness” was first used by psychologist William James to describe writing that was a flow: unedited, and raw.
The idea is that you write whatever comes into your mind, as it happens. A typical example might be:
“I’ve got to stop talking to Helena that way, it only puts her on edge, I can tell, and it never works but I need to get the chicken out of the freezer before I leave and my knee is hurting again maybe it; because I haven’t been swimming for a while so when can I fit it in oh it’s Ben’s birthday on Saturday, that will be great to see everyone I haven’t been out with the for a while, maybe Helena would like to come with me and we can have a chat on the way there”
Applied to ourselves, it’s a way for us to get our thoughts out of our heads and down into paper. Yes, it will seem messy and all over the place, but the true value is what stream of consciousness writing can do for us.
1. It helps us sort out problems
By letting our mind flow, uninterrupted and unedited, we basically give it free range to sort out issues, a bit like a psychoanalyst who just nods and doesn’t say anything. You may well veer off track and start thinking of getting the chicken out of the freezer, but in the meantime the mind is thinking about what you said and may go back to the subject with another thought or even solution.
There’s a really interesting neuro science study (https://neurosciencenews.com/worriers-stress-expressive-writing-7487/) that talks about how getting your worries out of your head and onto paper frees up your brain to think about the things that matter. It frees up cognitive space so you can concentrate on the task in hand. The other side-effect is that this also reduces stress at the same time.
You may also notice that patterns or certain issues crop up again and again. The very fact of spotting them may be enough to move them to resolution. If not, writing around and on those topics in this free form way may help.
2. It’s good for us
Stream of consciousness can provoke feelings of “Flow”, something Positive Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi noted promoted feelings of health and well-being. Flow happens when you’re completely absorbed in an activity. Time falls away and you lose focus on everything else.
Provoking a release of dopamine, it makes us happy. Unlike the happiness we feel through our relationships or downing a gin and tonic, we can access this happiness whenever we want, with no side effects. Flow is also associated with higher self-esteem and more resilience.
3. It promotes creativity
If you’d like to be more creative, you can do the same exercise but make it more fictional, perhaps writing a stream of consciousness around a rose you’ve brought in from the garden, or a fictional dinner party. Writing, unedited and with no intention other than to get the words out, frees up the mind. There is no judgement, no writing for anyone else’s eyes. It is liberating. If you really want to engage the right hand, creative side of the brain, try writing with your non-dominant hand. There has been research that suggests that when we use our dominant hand, as we do most of the time, we are mainly using one hemisphere of our brain. However, when we move to our non-dominant hand, it provokes us to use two hemispheres, promoting new thinking and creativity.
How to Do It
There is no wrong or right way. You can dip in when you need it, or create a daily habit. You can do it in a dedicated notebook, or just use plain paper. You can use a biro, fountain pen or even coloured felt pens. The few rules there are say:
1. To get the best out of this, do it by hand. It’s the physical mind to hand activity that stimulates the brain and gets it working.
2. Practise no judgment. It doesn’t matter if you spend all your time writing about the fact you want a cigarette but you can’t because you’ve given up. It doesn’t matter.
3. Give yourself a target. This could be 3 pages of A4, or a time limit of 20 minutes. Experiment and see how long/much you need to write to get you into the flow and feel a benefit.
4. You can save the pieces and look through later, or chuck them. The advantage of the latter is that you don’t have to worry about your handwriting. When I do mine, I literally don’t take my hand off the page so all my words run together. I find this helps me write faster and keep up with my brain.
Stream of consciousness can be powerful, but it can also be fun and hugely enjoyable. I encourage you to try it for yourself at least three or four times to see what it can do for you.
Paula Gardner is a career psychologist and coach and the founder of The Redundancy Recovery Hub. Author of The Career Pause and Pivot, Paula regularly coaches clients around moving forwards after redundancy. Having changed career mid-life, and previously ran her own PR and marketing agency, Paula’s USP is her real life experience as well as psychology and coaching know how.
Look out for Paula’s psychology based tutorials, or book a one to one at members’ rate here.