Memory Jars and Milestones

Anyone who follows this blog will know that, occasionally, it veers into the personal – how can a blog about writing not be? – and that the last few years have been very up and down for me. A lot of good things, yes, but some pretty spectacular lows. I’ve written about these before, and included what I hope were helpful coping strategies, so I thought I’d share another one, that I posted on Facebook this week and got a lot of response to.

One of the things about going through a bad patch – or even being more generally prone to anxiety, worry or stress – is you tend to focus more on what’s going wrong (or what could go wrong) and forget all the good things that have happened. So a while back, I read about the idea of a Memory Jar in some self-help post (I forget where, but if it’s your idea, post in the comments) and, having voiced that it seemed like a good idea, one of my friends bought me this, a lovely, hand painted glass jar. The original idea was that whenever something good happens, you write it down and put it in the memory jar, and on New Year’s Eve, you empty the jar and read all the good things that happened during the year.

Although I’ve altered that slightly (I have better things to do on NYE*, and the jar, happily, fills up so quickly it wouldn’t last a year), I’ve started doing this myself, and found it serves several purposes. One, it makes you pay attention to the good things – you’re looking for something to write, even something as small as a free cup of coffee, or a fun night out with a friend – so that attunes you to be more grateful, and to focus on positives. Two, reading them all out when you empty the jar really does give you a nice warm glow. But what perhaps surprised me most was that the jar itself serves as an ongoing reminder that Not Everything is Shit. Even if I’ve had a bad week, I go into the kitchen and I see that there’s paper in the jar, and even if I can’t, at that moment, recall anything to be pleased or grateful about, I can see that, unarguably, there were things I was pleased about not that long ago. If you respond to visual prompts, it’s especially useful. (Also, while I don’t have kids so wouldn’t presume to advise anyone on childcare, some of my friends, having seen my FB posts on this in the past, have got these jars for their kids – nothing fancy, often just old jam or sauce jars, that they let them decorate themselves – and say it’s a useful tool, particularly for anxious or worry-prone children.) So why not give it a go?

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On a sort of related note – as the jar is about celebrating small things, and one of my resolutions is to celebrate milestones and achievements this year – I had something genuine to celebrate this week, as the theatre magazine I write for, Exeunt, for turned 5. It’s easy to forget the impact something can have on your life, and it was nice to have a chance to reflect on what Exeunt – a site I have been writing for since its inception – has meant to me. It steered me towards theatre writing – something I’d done little of, but have discovered I enjoyed enormously; it’s given me the opportunity to see shows that, on my own dime and with my own organisational skills, I’d never have seen. Most importantly, it introduced me to a bunch of wonderful, passionately creative people, many of whom have become good friends – so it was nice that we all got to get together and celebrate it. Plus, there was cake, which is always good.

*Obviously I am lying about having better things to do on New Year’s Eve.

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