Many years ago when I was working as a marriage counsellor I was faced by complex patterns of issues within a marriage. Not only were there different issues but these interlocked in several ways. How to sort all this out or, more importantly, how could the dysfunctional couple understand what was happening and what had to change?
I adopted the technique of Mind Maps (to which I had been introduced by Tony Buzan in his book Use Your Head). Put simply, you grabbed a sheet of paper and scribbled the major issues down – each within its box. You could add new issues as they came to mind. Then, thinking about an issue , you could put in the elements, and sometimes the elements in the elements. But the effect went beyond increasing clarity, it seemed that the very process of writing it down enabled the clients to observe and mark the connections between the issues and free their brain sufficiently to start
tackling the problems.
Some years later, when such cognitive behavioural methods had become orthodoxy, I noted that writing things down (keeping a diary of relevant incidents, for example) was often the means through which the client could grasp the essence of the problem in a new and constructive way. It has become a major element in therapy, and has its own name: Journaling. It appears, though I do not know the process yet, that somehow the brain understands or reacts in a different way when a record is actually written down. (Anyone have ideas on this?)
I have had recent personal experience. I found that I was not getting easily to sleep. When I turned my light off, various little activities required for the next day would crowd into my mind. Pointless, of course, since I could do nothing about them from my bed at night. Even though commonsense told me that they were not threatening, they still threatened. The worst threat was that my consequent loss of sleep would make the tasks harder.
It then occurred to me that what I had used to help others might actually help me. So I grabbed a lined pad and a pencil and I speedily wrote my thoughts on the matter in the random order they came to me. I censored nothing. There were 11 statements but it could not have taken more than five minutes.
The result was amazing. That night, clicking off my light clicked off my brain. If I sensed a thought coming I rejected it before my brain could even formulate it. But more importantly, this was several weeks ago. Throughout those weeks I have fallen asleep almost immediately every night. Looking at my old scribbled list I note two thoughts which seemed most important.
1 Anxiety about sleep prevents sleep.
2 I cannot fall asleep as long as I am watching for sleep to come.
Neither of these were news to me but it seems that deliberately specifying and writing them down made them stick and become realities in my brain.
I would be interested to read contributors’ experiences of not falling asleep or of reducing insomnia.