Keeping a scratch pad saved my business and my relationship.
I need to get my thoughts out of my head. They’re not helping.
You don’t know me. You might think you do, from reading my blog posts, but you’ll never truly know me until you’ve had to deal with my inconsistency, my mood swings and my inability to focus.
My partner has had to deal with those every day for the past 4–5 years. My mind isn’t calm, no matter how much I want it to be. It’s not empty, and there’s no serene waterfall. My mind is a chaotic mess of thoughts.
And they’re not always positive thoughts, or happy thoughts, or cheerful thoughts. They’re stressful, and they’re emotionally exhausting. Today, I was eating pancakes and reading through an incredible submission for the Voidist. I felt good.
My girlfriend showed me an article about Mark Zuckerberg. Suddenly, I was freaking out and panicking because I haven’t achieved anything in my life, compared to him. I immediately started tearing apart every idea I’ve ever had.
Out of nowhere, my publication sucked, and the content and PR lab that I’ve been giving hours of my time to for the past year had no point or purpose. And my life felt meaningless and wasted.
That shift happened in the space of about 30 seconds. It happens all the time. It wears me out.
Thankfully, I have an answer to it. It’s not a perfect solution, and it’s certainly not a cure. There’s a very good chance this won’t work for you, and that’s okay. It’s a practice that my therapist taught me, a few years back.
I keep a scratch pad. It’s just a notebook, small enough to carry with me at all times, unobtrusive enough to fit in my wallet and scribble in when I’m at my desk, when I’m breakfast, wherever I am when my mood shifts and I panic.
Recently, it’s been a Field Notes book my brother gave me from the US. Gorgeous little notebook, highly recommended.
As soon as it happens, the scratch pad comes out and I write. I write down every worry, and every thought, and everything that’s making me feel as though my work sucks and my world is crumbling. I write with total abandon, and no thought to sentence structure or form. It’s almost a complete rant.
9 times out of 10, this is literally enough to calm me down. It’s enough to allow me to take a step back from those thoughts, expel them from my brain, and put some distance between us.
Once I’ve done that, they tend to lose some of their power. Not all — but enough that I can get back to what I’m doing and stay productive, without those thoughts turning into the voices of a hundred assholes whispering nasty shit in my ear.
I have a stack of these pads and notebooks and sheets of paper in a box under my bed. They’re full of reminders, about who and what I used to be and could have been. They’re everything that I’ve slowly pruned, every poisonous weed that’s wrapped itself around my brain.
I can honestly say that doing this has saved my business and my relationship. It’s a habit that I’ve kept in earnest for the past few years and I honestly believe that I wouldn’t have accomplished anything over the last 12 months without it. Because when I let those thoughts stick around and settle in, I have a bad habit of giving up. Rage quitting. Walking away.
I’ve done this with creative projects. I’ve done it with businesses. I’ve definitely done it with relationships. And it’s always been the same pattern — things start going well, I start achieving and accomplishing, and the negativity and panic sets in.
My scratch pad has changed my destructive patterns. It’s enabled me to keep building a small business practice, doing what I love. It’s enabled me to grow my blog on Medium from zero followers, back when I wrote my first ever article, to the amazing readers and community members that I have now.
Keeping a scratch pad has enabled me to keep my relationship with Emily. She’s the love of my life, and I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have her.
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I’m Jon Westenberg. I’m passionate about writing, business and creativity. I founded The Voidist, a new media publication, and Creatomic, a content and PR lab.