Jackee Holder has kept a journal of her day-to-day life for the past 25 years. It’s her safe space, her place to vent. It also enhances her ability to really show up as an executive coach. Clients and supervisors can feel the benefits, too.
Over 25 years, I have filled close to 100 notebooks with thoughts, reflections, experiences, inspirations, ideas and aspirations. My journal has been a safe and confidential space, devoid of judgment, in which to vent, to rage, siphon off fears and daily dramas and all the things that get in the way of us showing up.
Journal writing is like playing the violin, as writer Kim Stafford describes in her book, The Pen and the Bell: “a violin played every day will keep the vibrations of the music in its body, even while lying still and silent. If it is not played every day, the vibrations dissipate and the wood grows lifeless.”
In my work as an executive coach and coach trainer, journal writing is an integral part of my continuing personal and professional development.
It’s a practice that I believe can benefit coaches, coach supervisors and clients.
Journal writing activates reflection – the ability to step back and pose an enquiry or questions about why things are done in a particular way, and then come to a better understanding of self in the process.
Research from the University of Minnesota showed that workers who write down the day’s events in the office experience a lowering of stress levels and blood pressure. They also experience improvements around physical symptoms and mental health, and the ability to switch off from work, for example (Metro, 2013).
Other benefits include:
- Increases in communication, self-understanding and wellbeing (NHS Estates, 2002)
- Alleviates stress and anxiety (Anderson & MacCurdy, 2000)
- Improvements in physical health and immune functions, better grades and reduced visits to the doctor (Pennebaker, 1997)
- Faster times to getting jobs among senior engineers (Spera et al, 1994)
- Writing may benefit men more than women (Smyth, 1998).
My writing practice
I carry a notebook everywhere I go. If I’m in a rush, I use the Notes app on my iPhone. I record thoughts, feelings and observations. I jot down ideas, quotes and facts from a range of sources as I go about my everyday business.
In essence, my journal pages represent a living, creative laboratory.
Most mornings I set the timer and write for seven minutes (enough time to make a connection and find some flow). Normally, I write for much longer. Journal writing often reveals things to me I didn’t know, clears mental clutter, frees head space and enhances my ability to be awake, aware and really present as a coach.
I see journal writing as a continuous loop that links our personal and professional lives. As writer Laurie Wagner says: “Who you are on the page is who you are off the page” (2013).
Below are some quick and easy journal writing practices for you and your clients.
Write a short five-minute check-in: what’s going on, what’s happening at work or what do they most want to talk or think about today?
Many coaching conversations start with a problem or a challenge.
Why not take a different approach and write about good stuff that has happened in your day or week?
Free write or write a stream of consciousness for seven minutes. Write fast, with no editing or attention to punctuation or grammar. Next, write about what you have just written. Pull out words or sentences that stand out and use as writing prompts for future practices. Use coloured pens to make this exercise fun and more engaging.
‘Journal’ on the move and in empty spaces during your day, such as when waiting for an appointment or using public transport.
Create a portable writing kit: use coloured pens, index cards and Post-it Notes for coaching sessions.
Write for five minutes before the start of a coaching session, as a clearing process/mindfulness practice, and then at the end of the session as a reflective process.
When time is an issue, write one word in your journal that captures the core theme or essence of what the day represents for you. Elaborate on the word at a later date.
Building reflective practice and self-supervision/coaching
Therapeutic writing has an important role to play in self-supervision and the validation of the inner coach/supervisor, offering us a tool for use in the long gaps between supervision sessions for us to process immediate emotions and feelings.
Caroline Wilson, a writing therapist who has worked in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit, developed her own professional practice. She shares: “I felt in need of supervision after nearly every shift – so I would write to my inner supervisor, telling her about what had happened and how I felt about it. She would write a letter back commenting on how I handled the situations, suggesting other things I could have done. She was tremendously supportive and encouraging, though she often saw things that the conscious Caroline had missed….” (Hay, 2007).
Journal writing and establishing a reflective practice go hand in hand. As Hay (2007) suggests, “coaches who reflect are better prepared for supervision”.
Most journals, says Patricia Hampl, are “passionately written but virginally unread” (Johnson, 2009). However, re-reading is an essential part of embedding understanding and taking action. It is about retrieving the insights and information that journal writing offers when reflected on. Personally, I’ve found that going back and reading through journal entries has illuminated my reflective and coaching practice on many levels. Connections and links are constantly made, content is generated for a range of writing- and work-related projects, and I have a safe space where I can be myself and get to know me in-depth.
Establishing a regular practice of journal and therapeutic writing is the way forward to becoming a more conscious, aware and mindful coach. It will take you consciously from what you do to who you are being. It is a wholehearted way to embody your greatness, and help your clients do the same. n
Executive coach and coach trainer Jackee Holder is founder of www.writeyourselfwell.com and director of coaching and training services consultancy Life Work In Progress (www.jackeeholder.com). Jackee is author of 49 Ways To Write Yourself Well; Be Your Own Best Life Coach and Soul Purpose. She was ordained as an interfaith Minister in 2002.
Write a letter…
After a coaching session, write a letter to yourself from your inner coach/supervisor. Begin the letter with: ‘Dear … (your name)’. Share your comments and reflections about the session. What did your inner coach supervisor observe? What feedback do they have for you? What was missed that he/she picked up on? End your letter with ‘…. lots of love, thanks, gratitude (your name)’.
Case study: Conflict
Recently, I was working with a manager called Anthony who was experiencing a conflict at work with a colleague. I sensed from the tone of his voice that he was in danger of hooking back into a familiar pattern or way of exploring the topic, which relied heavily on verbalisation of the issue.
I followed my intuitive hunch and offered him the option to write about the issue for seven minutes before he talked it through, free-writing his perspective and ‘take’ on the conflict, then writing his view on the other person’s perspective. Obviously, one aspect of this process involved shifting perceptual positions, although this was far from my mind at the time. More importantly, was the invitation to slow down and, in the course of writing, step back, reflect and see what emerged.
As writer Elaine Trevitt discovered, “Clearly, the writing had information for me. It had something to say to me, rather than being something I had to say” (Bolton, 2011).
I didn’t remain a passive observer, but wrote down my thoughts and feelings at the same time, which we discussed together at the end.
What came out of the writing sessions was surprising and unexpected for both of us. The writing took us in a new direction, breaking through psychological and emotional barriers, throwing light on the things initially we did not know were there and taking us far more quickly to the truth. It got to what therapists in a workshop led by reflective practitioner Gillie Bolton, described as “…surprising, enjoyable, unsettling, exposing even, that they wrote things they did not know were in their heads” (Bolton, 2001).
Case study: Trauma
Justine, an early years practitioner, shared a traumatic work incident she had experienced with a family, for which she had not received emotional and psychological support. It was still weighing heavily on her mind. I shared the research of Dr James Pennebaker, carried out at the University of Texas, and suggested she try this:
For the next four days write about the incident or trauma in your journal or notebook. In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has had an impact on you. Write continuously for 20 minutes and then stop.
When I saw her again she shared that she had found the activity cathartic because it helped her gain a better perspective on the issue.
She also found the writing calming.
On some days she said she wrote for longer and she had not always stuck to the suggested guidelines. I assured her that this was fine and that she was in charge. A common fear writers often share in workshops is that we won’t be able to cope if we write about difficult and painful feelings. In my years of teaching therapeutic writing, that has never been an issue.
G Bolton, The Therapeutic Potential Of Creative Writing: Writing Myself, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999
G Bolton, Write Yourself: Creative Writing and Personal Development, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2011
G Bolton, V Field and K Thompson (eds), Writing Routes: A Resource Handbook Of Therapeutic Writing, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2011
J Hay, Reflective Practice and Supervision for Coaches, London: Open University Press, 2007
J Holder, 49 Ways To Write Yourself Well: The Science and Wisdom of Writing and Journaling, London: Step Beach Press, 2013
A Johnson, Leaving A Trace: On Keeping a Journal, New York:
Hachette Book Group, 2009
Metro newspaper (accessed 24 September 2013)
B Miller and H J Hughes, The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World. Boston, MA: Skinner House Books, 2012
J Pennebaker and J D Seagal, “Forming a story: the health benefits of narrative”, in Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1999
L Wagner (15 August) 27 Powers: Writing True Life www.27powers.org/blog (accessed 16 June 2013)
Coaching at Work, Volume 9, Issue 2