What if we could tap into our unconscious mind to help us analyze what we really think? I’m going to share a practice called proprioceptive writing that will help you access your unconscious mind to find new ideas and solutions.
First, here’s the backstory.
Earlier this year, I desperately needed to solve a problem that had been plaguing me for months—-what do I write about for my own website and newsletter? I understood the discrete topics, including content marketing and thought leadership, trends, newshacking, etc. but I also wanted to write about my experiences and interests in behaviour change, anti-hustle culture, wellness, etc.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t pull together a coherent plan for my writing work. This gap kept me stuck, preventing me from writing anything of value and I was publishing next to nothing, except for the occasional, random LinkedIn post or Instagram caption.
I write for a living full-time, yet writing for myself was difficult. Painful, really. I would feel massive amounts of friction when I sit down to write—the chatter in my head telling me I wasn’t an expert, I didn’t want to contribute to the noise, and who was even going to read my work?
Added into the mix was a deep sense of shame: how could I call myself a writer if I didn’t have any work to show others? No personal essays, or pithy articles to showcase my work on my own site. I can write up to 25,000 words a month for clients, but when it came to writing for my own site, it was full of blank spaces. Like tumbleweeds in the desert. (What’s the writing equivalent of parched? I was thirsting for words.)
These are the same things I help my clients solve, so why was it so difficult for me?
I tried journal writing and several attempts at mind mapping, but nothing worked. I needed a different approach.
Breaking Through Writer’s Block
When I talked to my friend Jane Watson about my frustrations, she introduced me to a writing practice that knocked me sideways with its insightfulness. I had never heard of proprioceptive writing, but I had learned about proprioception from yoga training—it’s the awareness of how your body moves in space (also referred to as kinesthesia). Some describe it as a “sixth sense” that helps us understand what our bodies are feeling and experiencing.
Proprioceptive writing, first developed by Linda Trichter Metcalf in the 70s, creates the conditions for opening up your mind to new possibilities. It feels like you’re opening up access to a new part of your brain where better decisions and clearer insights can be found. I know this sounds precariously close to magical thinking or the world of “woo” that I tend to avoid, but trust me when I say, this practice is powerful.
Proprioceptive Writing—Writing To Connect To Your Subconscious
In her book Writing The Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice, author Trichter Metcalf describes proprioceptive writing as “the sound of your voice thinking.” At various points, she shares that people have described it as everything from integrating ideas and emotions, process for insight and understanding, to a “tool of self discovery.”
I first tried it in March when I was on a ski trip with my family and set aside time every morning to do the practice. My partner and teenage sons are always on the hill by 8 am for “first tracks” (they love being first ones to ski fresh snow, but I prefer “first coffee” instead) so having the room to myself created the perfect conditions to test it out.
I was trying to figure out what the focus of my writing should be for my new website. I knew all of the work-related topics, like brand messaging or content strategy, but what else would be interesting? How do I connect the widely disparate topics from my experience and interests into a cohesive mix that will resonate with readers?
Pages and pages of writing poured out of me in every writing session, even though they were just 25 minutes each. I found myself going down unexpected rabbit holes with questions like, “do I put too much pressure on myself?” and “why does ‘mattering’ matter?” and later, “what do you want to be seen for? Truly seen?”
I was able to answer these questions and many others. It’s a practice I continue to use from time to time, whenever I need to understand my deeper thoughts and feelings on a topic and I’m thinking about how to make it a more consistent practice in the year ahead.
Step-by-Step Instructions For A Proprioceptive Writing Session
I’d love for you to experiment with proprioceptive writing as well; here’s exactly how to do it.
I say “exactly” because the instructions are intended to be followed word for word to create the desired effect. (To be honest, I don’t always light a candle and it still works well, so I suppose there’s some flexibility but try to adhere to it as closely as possible.)
How To Conduct A Proprioceptive Writing Session:
- Grab several pages of paper and a pen (Trichter Metcalf suggests unlined paper but I use lined and it’s fine)
- Pause for a moment with your eyes closed and consider, “what do I want to solve today?”
- Write the question you want to solve at the top of the page
- Turn on baroque music (you could likely swap to any classical or instrumental music); I used noise-cancelling headphones to block out other noises but I don’t know if that matters
- Light a candle – this signals to your mind that you’re opening the space
- Set your timer for 25 minutes
- Write whatever comes to your mind in answer to the question you’ve written at the top of the page; as you write or if you draw a blank about what to write next or find your mind wandering, ask yourself, “what do I mean by ____?” from what you see on the page so far (I also use, “and what else?” as a prompt)
- Continue writing until the timer buzzes; blow out the candle (not just safety, but this signals the end of your session)
- After your session, answer the following four questions:
- What thoughts were heard but not written?
- How or what do I feel now?
- What larger story is this writing part of?
- What ideas came up for future writing sessions? (Trichter Metcalf calls these sessions “writes”)
I’ve shared this practice with a few people and each time, they’ve later told me how helpful it was in unlocking a problem they’ve been struggling with for a while, or for helping them see new possibilities in their life and work.