What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do - Five Minute Journaling Exercises To Diminish Anxiety and Take Action

I found out earlier this week that my cushy full-time position would not receive funding past December 31, 2017. While this news was somewhat expected, it still left my heart racing and my mind scattered. What am I supposed to do next? Should I pursue freelance graphic design full-time? Look for another full-time job and look further into taking 3D animation courses (something I’ve been pondering for a while)? Finally invest in a screen printing setup and launch a live screen-printing gig? A combination of all of the above?!

When I get into this panic mindset, I always remember the tagline from one of my favorite business/career authors, Jenny Blake:

“The only move that matters is your next one.”

But figuring out your next move can be its own type of challenge. The two five-minute journaling techniques detailed below clarify immediate next steps so little time is spent feeling stuck or lost. Each technique can be used on its own, or together as a two-step process.

Step 1: Free Write

Five Minute Journaling Exercises To Diminish Anxiety and Take Action

During moments of confusion and overwhelm, I grab my notebook, and start writing. I start by freewriting, letting the thoughts and emotions flow onto the page without worrying about forming complete sentences. This process helps me detangle my web of anxiety into something more tangible. Once my fears are written out, it’s much easier to brainstorm potential solutions. Mark Levy, in his book Accidental Genius, Using Writing To Generate Your Best Ideas, argues that freewriting is the most valuable way to unlock hidden gems in your mind and generate powerful creative solutions.

“Freewriting pushes the brain to think longer, deeper, and more unconventionally than it normally would. By giving yourself a handful of liberating free writing rules to follow, you back your mind into a corner where it can’t help but come up with new thoughts. You could call free writing a form of forced creativity.”

The benefits of free writing are numerous. For me, free writing provides perspective and clarity, centers and grounds me, prompts me to think differently than my peers, and aids in accessing knowledge I’d forgotten.

Related: Fuck Perfection! How Being in a Punk Band Taught Me To Create More and Worry Less

Step 2: Write Anxieties on The Left and Solutions on The Right

Five Minute Journaling Exercises To Diminish Anxiety and Take Action

Next, I write out each of my fears and anxieties one one side of the page and then a practical solution or next-step on the other side of the page. Oftentimes, after writing my anxiety on the left, my potential solution is as simple as "this is dumb, you don’t have to worry about this right now,” or “you don’t have to take on this responsibility. What would happen if you just stopped?" 

Writing out my problems and their potential solutions is enough to let me breathe easy for the rest of the day. I spend the evening meditating on each of my potential solutions, and take action on the ones that feel most urgent the following day.

I didn’t come up with this process alone, one of my favorite bloggers Rosie Leizrowice introduced it to me, but I find it so useful that I wanted to share. This step in the process helps to clarify immediate next steps, which keep up momentum and optimism. Feeling stuck is the worst, and this technique minimizes the feeling of being in a rut.

All you need to complete these two exercises, is some paper and a writing utensil. For this reason I always carry a black notebook with me. It’s like having my own personal life coach at my side at all times. Resourceful, creative problem-solving bound into one simple notebook—sounds like a minimalist creative’s dream come true to me.

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Five Minute Journaling Exercises To Diminish Anxiety and Take Action