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You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

You can't teach an old dog new tricks

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”

All my life I have heard people using this phrase, usually in defence of someone’s bad behaviour or as an excuse for not doing something that they don’t want to do.

For a long time even science seemed to back up this theory. It really seemed that if someone was a certain way, or had certain habits once they were fully grown, it was impossible for them to change. 

Deep down though we knew that this was hogwash, because people did change, every day. Is it easy? Not usually. But nothing worth doing every is. 

We now know that you can change the way you think and even how you think, thanks to a magical thing called neuroplasticity.

What is neuroplasticity?

I know, neuroplasticity sounds like mumbo jumbo but it is just the process of re-routing the neural pathways in your brain so that you respond in a different way to a situation.

Wikipedia defines it as: 

“Neuroplasticity, also known as neural plasticity, or brain plasticity, is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization. It is when the brain is rewired to function in some way that differs from how it previously functioned.”

By its very definition, neuroplasticity means you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.

Why am I talking about this though? 

Well, there are two times when I am quoted this most often, one is when I talk about a daily writing habit, and the other is when I talk about mental health.

Why should you write every day?

There is considerable evidence that writing, even for ten minutes, every day, has so many physical and mental health benefits. It boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure, eases anxiety and depression and even helps with asthma and cancer. With a list of benefits like that, why wouldn’t you make the effort to write? It’s only ten minutes. Everyone has ten minutes. Yet people tell me all the time that they can’t find the time, they can’t journal. Ultimately though we make time for the things we think are important. 


If you are someone who believes they don’t have time to write every day, be honest with yourself. Is it that you can’t find the time? Perhaps you don’t want to write, and that’s fine. But if you do want to add writing to your daily routine, sit down and make it happen. Within a few weeks of making the effort you will be doing it without having to even think about it. 


A new habit is one thing but changing the way you think isn’t quite so easy!

Well, actually it is. It’s the same principle. You just have to train your brain to respond in a different way to the way it always has. It sounds difficult but if you want to make the change, you can. Whether it is training yourself to take a deep breath before you respond to a situation or trying to be more positive, you can do it. 


A great way to teach yourself to be more positive is by starting a gratitude journal. Every day write out 5-10 things you are grateful for and eventually your brain will start to notice the positive aspects of life more than the negative. The research around gratitude can be found here. If you want to learn more about gratitude, why not take a look at my blog: “Can gratitude really change your life?”.

It is said that it takes 21 days to create a new habit, that isn’t long in the scheme of your life. Surely it is worth taking the time to learn something new and change your life for the better?

How do I start journaling?

How do I start journaling?

Journaling is a hot topic at the moment…

…but how do you start?

Well, before we look at how you start journaling, let’s look at why you should start. 

Here are just a few of the reasons: 

  • It increases confidence
  • Strengthens your immune system
  • Boosts creativity
  • Improves your memory
  • Helps you achieve your goals
  • Improves mental health
  • Increases emotional intelligence
  • and so much more.

All this sounds good doesn’t it? That’s a lot of benefit for just a few minutes writing a day. But how do you access all these magical benefits? Well, it is easier than you might think. 

I write a diary isn’t that the same thing?

Well, no, it isn’t. When you write a diary you write down all the things you have done in a day. You might include how you are feeling, physically and emotionally, but it is an account of a section of your life. Journaling is different. You might not write about anything that is happening to you, or you might. You will more than likely talk about how you are feeling, but it isn’t the same style of writing.

Journaling is a process

When you sit down to journal the idea is that you write and write without filtering what you write. You don’t worry about what you write, what other people would think if they read it, what your handwriting is like, spelling and grammar, you just write. 

When you write in this way your brain accesses information in a different way and you stop writing things that you are aware of and begin to access things in your unconscious mind.


But I don’t know how to start!

That’s ok. There are tools that can help you to get started. Many people use journal prompts when they first start journaling. You can find lots of examples of journal prompts if you do a quick search online or you can create your own. Prompts such as: How am I feeling today? and What am I most angry about right now? can be useful prompts to get you started.

You could also join my journaling membership, A little word told me… , and I will guide you on your journaling way.


Ways to start

  • Prompt journaling – using a prewritten prompt to get you started.
  • Gratitude journaling – writing a list of all the things you are grateful for everyday (try to write at least 5 things every day).
  • Reflective journaling – writing about all your thoughts and feelings and getting them out onto the page so you can process them.
  • Creative journaling – which involves art techniques along side written entries to encourage creativity.
  • Bullet journaling – this is a way to organise yourself where you create lists and use specific symbols to categorise items.


The key to successful journaling, for me, is carrying on writing when you feel like you have nothing else to write. Don’t stop writing, even if you have to say; I don’t know what to write, I can’t believe I’m writing this nonesense, I don’t think this is going to work, what a load of rubbish…” for a few lines. Once you get past this stage, that is when the magic happens. That is when you break down the wall between your conscious writing and real self discovery.

Are you going to give journaling a go? Let me know how you get on. I love hearing about people’s experience with this powerful technique. 

 Read more about the benefits of journaling: 

Journaling to preserve memories

Journaling for adults with ADHD

Journaling Through Challenging Times

Journaling for exam stress blog

Challenging times are inevitable. They are part of life, without those challenges we wouldn’t fully appreciate the good times. 

Often people assume that because I have such a vast toolbox of mental health strategies that I must be happy and stress free all the time. The reality of course is that I am human. I am no more immune to the stresses of life than anyone else. I do have lots of “go to” techniques that help me move through those emotions, perhaps quicker than some people, but I am not immune. 

Let’s be honest here, the reason I learned all these techiques in the first place was to deal with my own depression and anxiety. I struggled terribly throughout my twenties and just as I thought I was getting a grasp on things perimenopause came along and reminded me that these are issues that never completely go away.

I realised at this point that I had very cleverly constructed a life for myself where I was surrounded by loving and thoughtful people, I had created a career for myself that brings me joy and I am fortunate that I have a happy marriage and wonderful children. This is a fairly dangerous bubble to live in though because it means that it is easy to get comfortable in here and then every so often something, or someone, comes along with a large pin and pops it. Whether it is an unexpected bill, like the car needing work or an appliance around the house breaking, or an unavoidable issue with someone in my life it tips me off my comfy equilibrium and I have to deal with it like anyone else. 

How does journaling help?

Well, journaling is the perfect way to work through all those thoughts that fly around your head as soon as those challenging issues rear their ugly heads. Whether it is helping you to work through the solution to a problem or processing the emotions you are feeling about a friendship or family member causing you pain, journaling is a powerful and insightful technique. 


How do you journal to navigate challenging times?

This is the big question, isn’t it? Well, it is so simple you won’t believe it. 

  • Just write.
  • Grab a pen or pencil and a notebook or some paper, start writing and keep writing. Write until you have nothing else to say, and then write some more. If you run out of things to write, just write “I don’t know what to write” until something else comes into your head, it always does. 
  • Write about how you are feeling.
  • DO NOT FILTER! Write everything that comes into your head. This is important. Just allow a stream of consciousness onto the page. If you are worried someone will read it, destroy it after you have written it. It is the writing that is important, you never need to read what you have written. 

Do I have to write by hand?

No. You can type or even dictate if you struggle to write by hand. However, there has been research to show that writing by hand connects parts of your brain that aren’t connected through other forms of communication. If you can manage to type without filtering though by all means type and of course, if you are unable to write by hand then use whatever method you usually use to record things.

I have worked through so many challenging times over the years by writing things down. As a teenager I used to pour my heart out into letters to my many penfriends, I have kept diaries and journals and even when I write articles like this I am using a similar process. I write in a very intuitive way and rarely filter what I write. It is such a powerful method and it really does help you make sense of situations and often even give solutions that you weren’t consciously aware of. If you haven’t tried journaling before, I urge you to give it a go, particularly if you are having a difficult time at the moment.

A tour of my writing desk

Tour of my new desk

A writers desk is one of the most important tools of the trade. 

Where you sit to write can have such an impact on your concentration, how comfortable you feel, and so much more. I thought I would give you a little tour of my new desk and also explain why I felt the need to change my desk recently. 

Why does where you’re sitting have such an impact on your writing? 

Well, there are lots of reasons. It is important to be comfortable, physically and emotionally, when you write. If your desk and chair aren’t the right height, if your back isn’t supported adequately, if the light isn’t right, if there is a draft… it will make it harder for you to sit and write for long periods of time.

Equally, if your desk isn’t in the right place it can make a difference. I know lots of writers like to have their desk against a window. I would love that too, to sit with the light streaming through, but I know myself well enough to know that I would spend all day daydreaming, so I have to have my desk against the wall. Considerations like this are important when you are running a business. As lovely as it would be to spend all day gazing out of the window, I really do need to get things done!

My old desk…

 When I was 40 my husband bought me all new office furniture. He had been saving because he knew that I was making do with hand-me-downs and charity shop finds. My business was just taking off and it was impacting how “professional” I felt. We did what so many do, and headed for IKEA and bought everything to match. 

I LOVED it! It felt clean and bright and had the professional feel I was craving. 

my old desk

Fast forward a few years and I have changed a lot, as has the nature of my business. I grew increasingly aware that my desk wasn’t serving my needs any more. It was too bright. It felt cold all year round. It had no personality, no soul. 

You can see on this photo that I tried everything to make it feel “better”. I bought desk pads so that the area I was writing on was darker and warmer, but I never quite achieved what I was craving.

I started looking for a wooden desk around Christmas time. I needed it to be exactly the same size as my existing desk and be in my budget. It was not an easy task. Then a couple of weeks ago I found it. It was on ebay so there was no quarantee that I would win it, but fortunately it was due to come up at 8:30am on a Saturday, so I had a good feeling about it. Better still, on that particular Saturday I had to be up at 5:30am to drive my son an hour and a half away to volunteer at a football tournament so I knew I would be up and awake!

I sat in the car park in Ludlow with my phone signal dipping in and out, praying that I would have enough signal to make the last minute offer I wanted to make. 

The relief I felt when I won it was immense. Then I had the worry about collecting it. It was about 45 minutes from my home and I wasn’t 100% sure it would fit in my car. 

The fates aligned though and as it happened, my lovely husband was doing a job in that area the following Friday and taking a van, he could collect it. It was all arranged and less than a week later I was sitting journaling at my new desk. It was perfect.

My new desk

It’s a work in progress

Today is the first day I have sat at my new desk to work, I have been setting it up and doing my journaling on it over the weekend, but it is perfect for my needs. One of the biggest issues with my old desk was that I had to have the legs extended so it was high enough for me and whatever I did, however carefully I measured, it always cockled, which is so distracting when you are writing by hand. This is a steady as a rock, the perfect height and just feels right.

It feels warm and welcoming and I couldn’t wait to get into my office this morning.

What do you think?

I thought I would give you a little video tour so you can really see it in its full glory. My new desk is a 1950s Abbess desk, and judging by the amount of chalk dust at the back of the drawers I think I can safely assume it was originally a teacher’s desk, as many of this make of desk were. I love it so much. I recorded a little video I hope you enjoy it.

Writing helps you release negative emotions


Negative emotions can be very damaging

When we hold on to negative emotions the impact on our mental and physical health is huge. It is so easy to walk around carrying those heavy weights, ruminating on things which have upset or hurt us. 

It may be an argument you had with someone or a hurtful comment that was made in passing that has stuck in your head. Before you know it, it is eating away at you and you are obsessing. 

Before I continue I would like to qualify that actually I don’t believe any emotions are “negative” because they all serve to show us things and teach us about ourselves, but for ease of discussion I am going to call them negative in this article.


What are the physical consequences of carrying negative emotions?

Well, they are pretty significant. We know that people who tend to be more negative and who spend more time experiencing negative thoughts are more likely to have cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, degenerative brain diseases, they suffer more from stress, struggle with hormone imbalance, compromised immunity and they take longer to recover when they are sick. These sound like things we would like to avoid in an ideal world, don’t they?

How can writing help?

Well, since writing is proven to lower blood pressure, boost your immune system and reduce anxiety and depression, just by writing anything you will be improving many of the things on that list.

There are some specific writing activities which will help you go even deeper and allow you to really work through those difficult emotions that you are carrying around with you. 



Writing activities to release negative emotions

Write in your journal

When you write about how you are feeling it allows your unconscious mind to process events in a different way and may allow you to see things from another person’s perspective, or to be more objective when thinking about a situation. Write for as long as you can, and then write some more, and see what appears on the page. Don’t be afraid to be 100% honest, you can always burn or shred the paper afterwards, no one else ever needs to read what you write.

 Write a letter

Writing a letter to someone who has upset you or made you angry is incredibly therapeutic. The clever thing about this activity is that our brain can’t differentiate between a letter that you write and send and one you write and don’t send. Write everything out and destroy the letter. You will feel so much better for having got it off your chest and it will stop you from ruminating on all the things you should have said. 


Where can you feel it in your body?

Often you will feel negative emotions in your body, either as a tightness in your stomach or perhaps in your shoulders. Take a moment to think about where you are feeling this emotion and then write about that and how it feels.

 Write a frustration list

This is the opposite of a gratitude list. Write a list of all the things that are annoying you, causing you grief or frustrating you in some way and get it all out of your head. Then turn it around and write a gratitude list. 


It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but 5-10 minutes writing out your emotions could change your whole attitude. It could help you move through some tough emotions. Because emotions are transient. They don’t last for ever. But they can feel like they do when something really upsets or angers you. You go round and round and round and after a while it’s hard to get off the merry-go-round of negativity. As you go round next time, grab a pen and a piece of paper and try one of the techniques above and see how your mood can shift and those negative feelings move on and past and you can start to see the blue sky appearing from behind the big black clouds again.

Give it a try. You won’t regret it.

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