Building Structure and Keeping a Journal

Regardless of the time you take between jobs, it’s important to build an interim structure to your day in order to replace the old patterns of work. The brain functions best when there’s structure. Make a schedule that you honor every day. Get up at a regular hour, get dressed, exercise, get adequate sleep, and keep a journal. The journal is particularly important as a way of dealing with the emotional upheaval of the transition. It gives you a place to vent, with no judgment about what you’re saying or feeling, and it allows you to process your experience. It also takes that top layer of what you’re feeling—all the obsessive thinking—and moves it onto the page. I suggest writing early in the morning—maybe a page or two—to capture dream fragments, hopes, and fears.

Don’t write off this exercise as just New Age hokum. In Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions (Guilford Press, 1997), author James Pennebaker reported on a study in which unemployed people were asked to write down their deepest thoughts about job loss in a journal. Eight months later, they had more than twice the success in finding a job than those who just wrote about job-seeking plans. There is also some evidence that writing about stressful life experiences boosts emotional health. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper than seeing a shrink.

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