On Paper: How Writing Can Lessen Overwhelm and Confusion

”The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” – Gustave Flaubert

The next time you feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do, grab a pen and paper.

Not your phone, not your computer. Old school pen and paper.


As the Roman poet Horace observed two thousand years ago, “The pen is the tongue of the mind.” Meaning, the act of writing gives you greater access to your thoughts.

Of course, they didn’t have phones or computers when Horace penned these words, but the act of physically writing has been shown to slow down your brain, giving you time to order your thoughts.

Putting thoughts on paper also gets them out of your head and puts distance between you and them. Once they’re out there, it’s easier to look at them more objectively and examine them for truth and consistency.

They’re also less scary when they’re not lurking in your head with everything else going on in there.

One of the things that causes confusion and overwhelm is the existence of contradictory thoughts and beliefs, which we all have on different subjects. This is because we form certain beliefs ourselves, based on personal experience, and we also pick up beliefs from other people in our lives, based on their experiences.

As an example, I want to believe in the idea that “Done is better than perfect,” especially when I’m crunched for time or experiencing self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy.

And then I hear my mom saying (because her father said it to her), “A job worth doing, whether large or small, is worth doing well or not at all.”

While that thought has its place – mostly, I think, when parents are assigning chores to children (wink) – when I step back and look at these two thoughts objectively, I’m in a position to choose the one that will be most helpful to me in the moment.

The next time you're stressed or confused about something, grab a pen, and get the thoughts swirling in your mind on paper. With less clutter, less fear, and more awareness, you're in a better position to examine your thoughts and your options, and you're better equipped to act.

And if you'd like help exploring your thoughts and options in a coaching call, you can schedule time with me here


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