Saturday, July 18, 2015

Science Saturday: The Power of Writing

Of course, this is a very particular kind of writing, but it goes to show how being able to express yourself with words, even at a basic level, can help focus your thinking and build focus towards personal goals.

NPR: The Writing Assignment That Changes Lives

A summary, for the link phobic:

Jordan Peterson teaches in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto. For decades, he has been fascinated by the effects of writing on organizing thoughts and emotions.


"The act of writing is more powerful than people think," Peterson says.

Most people grapple at some time or another with free-floating anxiety that saps energy and increases stress. Through written reflection, you may realize that a certain unpleasant feeling ties back to, say, a difficult interaction with your mother. That type of insight, research has shown, can help locate, ground and ultimately resolve the emotion and the associated stress.

At the same time, "goal-setting theory" holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve.

Peterson's class based around this subject has had significant benefits. These same concepts have been applied in universities in the Netherlands, leading to a near-complete closing of the performance gap between foreign students at risk for "stereotype threat" and native and/or Western students.

I'm not at all surprised by these findings, though I do think there probably needs to be more research done? But speaking from personal experience, I've found that journaling about fears, goals, and anxieties helps me see them for what they are and develop strategies for accomplishing/conquering them. Not to mention I am an incorrigible list-maker, especially when I feel stressed and overwhelmed. There must be all kinds of stuff that lights up in your brain while you write—arguably even more when you write by hand, though of course not everyone enjoys writing by hand as much as I do—that help you calm down and think of creative solutions.

Dr. Peterson has done a lot of interesting work, but these above ideas of "self-authoring" are explored in material he has for sale (I guess you gotta make a buck where you can).

Do you do much self-reflective writing? Do you think it's helped you succeed?


  1. I probably do too much self-introspective writing and not enough doing, ha. I live in my head, I swear.

    1. You could get even more meta and write about the obstacles keeping you from doing things! Hah. Peterson's "self-authoring" writing seems to be of a very specific kind, though; I wonder what studies there are on the effect of just everyday journaling on people's well-being and accomplishments.