The Coping Kete

Tag Archives: Writing Exercise

No. 150: Make a Memory Jar

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

… practice holding onto good memories by making and using a Memory Jar. To make a Memory Jar, all you need to do is get a jar with a lid that you can fill with reminders of your positive, special or treasured memories throughout the year. Each day, write down at least one positive thing you want to remember later. Write down the small things like amazing views or scenery you have seen or fabulous food you have eaten or moments of laughter with friends as well as the big events and achievements that happen throughout the days and weeks of the year.  Some people add objects and pictures to their memory jars too – like ticket stubs from good movies and concerts, photos of friends, shells from beach trips, dried flowers etc etc. Your Memory Jar can become a real lucky dip of treasured moments that you will be able to use as fuel for feeling good in days to come.

To start with, you’ll need to get my Memory Jar ready.  Click here to see some Memory Jars made by other people. Some people decorate their memory jars – you could get really creative with this.

Next schedule in some time each day for the next week, to write at least one new memory on a slip of paper and add it to the jar.  If you have been feeling low, try to choose a time of the day when you usually feel the best. It is harder to notice positives when we are feeling negative, so if you find it tough to think of positive memories from the day, don’t be hard on yourself for it. It helps to start small with just little things that have brought us a bit of pleasure. You might find it easier to write things down as they happen or to think back further than this one day or week.

At the end of the week, look through your Memory Jar and practice remembering each of the good moments. Plan how to continue adding to your jar as you move through the year and then dip into it when you need some help to hold on to the good bits alongside the areas of dissatisfaction you carry or for those times you need some inspiration for how to feel better. It might help to keep it somewhere you will see it often. Reviewing your Memory Jar regularly will help you to get comfortable holding your positive memories in mind without cancelling them out with the bad stuff that has happened. This can help us to prevent the difficult things from taking over our whole view.

You might find yourself having pessimistic or cynical thoughts about the activity, especially if you are in a low mood right now. Finding it hard to remember positive things doesn’t mean that there have been no positive things. It just means you haven’t noticed any positive things or you didn’t count them when you did, maybe they seemed inconsequential or insignificant. Sometimes it can help to write down something you think you would find positive on a different day if you were in a better mood. By practicing the art of writing something down every day, you will practice holding onto positive memories in the face of difficulty and hardship, when it is all too easy to forget them. You’ll also have a really neat record of your year to look back on in days to come.

As you gather more and more memories in your jar, and get comfortable noticing, recording and recalling positive memories, add ‘Use My Memory Jar’ to your Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. If you are finding things hard, take out your Memory Jar and use it to shift my thoughts to good times and moments of gratitude and find some ideas for things to do in the present to shift your mood. In times of stress and distress, as well as remembering good memories, try to add one new good memory to your Memory Jar a day. Even when everything is terrible, you will be able to find one good thing to add to your Memory Jar. Doing this during tough times might help you to balance out some of your unwanted thoughts and feelings and shift the intensity of your moods a bit.

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Happy New Year from Engage Aotearoa/CMHRT and Engage Resources Ltd.

No. 130: New Descriptions Exercise

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will try experimenting with new ways of describing things. This might help me be able to express myself when I find I want to talk to someone else. But for this week, I’m just going to do it for myself. Once a day, maybe at lunch or before bed, I’ll sit down and do a word-play exercise.

In one column I will write a list of words that are nouns (names of things e.g. sadness, tree, people, day). Beside it, I will make a second column of words that are verbs (action/doing words, e.g. walks, dip, stumble, fall). Then I will mix the two colums together with joining words (‘like’, ‘and’, ‘of’, ‘but’) to make new descriptions of things. Finally, if I want, I will put them all together into a poem.

For example, using the words above… 

Sadness walks

like trees dip

and people stumble

but only

the day

falls over

the edge

~ ~ ~

I could do this with as many or as few words as I want. The point is to spend a bit of time playing around with expression each day.

Once I am a bit used to playing around with words, I will add the ‘New Descriptions Exercise’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from the present and expressing myself in moments of stress and distress. This way I can stop chasing my distressing thoughts and turn my attention to the simple task of listing words and turning them into whatever I can. It might even help me find new ways of looking at things as I go.

No. 114: List Poems

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will spend 10 – 15 minutes every day writing a list poem about the things I have seen, done and felt that day. Each evening, I will sit down with a notebook and write a list of five things I saw that day, five things I did that day and five things I felt or thought. I will try to make each item on each list different. Then I will rearrange or join the items on my lists into a poem. I might add words and images or change things in my lists as well.

In this way I will practice regularly reflecting on my daily experience and finding a creative way to express it. While I am thinking of the words to use and working on rearranging the lines, I might get a bit of time out from worrying about things. If I get distracted by concerns of the day I will work them into the list and return my focus to the creative task at hand.  By working to include a number of different experiences in the list I will practice having an expansive awareness of my day without letting one experience override everything I have been aware of.

If I felt like it, I could share my poems with someone else as a way to connect with support and encouragement, but they are really something that I will do just for myself.

Once I am comfortable making list poems about a typical day, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for distracting myself from the moment and creatively expressing myself in times of stress and distress.

Example list poem. 


The aluminium sky
the neighbour’s stray cat
my own reflection in the window
outside the path littered with petals
the wind-blown tree.

I have typed so many messages
dressed myself to match
bought new socks and worn them
cooked hot food and eaten it
peeled an orange and given you half.
My small victories. 

I was caring about everything
sadness for all the news
I thought I saw you flinch when I said that
worrying over the day’s mathematics
joy in the act of nurturing something.

 – M. Barr

No. 111: Make Someone a Card

This week, to attain, maintain, or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice turning my attention to something positive by taking time in my week to make a card for someone I am grateful to for something and deliver or post it to them. I will schedule a time later in the week to make the card, so I have plenty of time to get organised. For the next little while, I will think over the people and things that I am grateful for until I think of a person I want to acknowledge and make a card for. It could be for something big, something small, something recent, or something from a long time ago.  It doesn’t really matter, but if this kind of thing makes me nervous, I could pick something small, like a recent favour from a friend. Once I have thought of someone, I will start getting ready to get creative.

I will want to find some card or paper to make it out of and design my own image for the front – I could draw something or cut pictures out of magazines or print something off a computer – but I won’t buy the card, this week’s strategy is also about using my creativity.  Finally, I will write a short thank-you message on the inside, letting them know I appreciate what they have added to my life.  I might need to spend a little while drafting what I want to say on some scrap paper. No matter what is happening in my day this week, I will find time each day to think about or work on making my card to someone I am thankful for. It is much harder to do these things when we feel low, so I might do it in little bursts, bringing my attention mindfully back to the card and where I am up to with it, whenever I am able. 

This week, I am practicing the art of emphasising the good stuff. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to all of us, and modern life isn’t set up to help us remember to notice and highlight the things we are grateful for.

Making a thank-you card means I will practice turning my attention towards positive memories as well as get a chance to practice letting myself be creative. By sending the card, I am learning another way of sending positive vibes out into the lives of others. These are all things I could feel good about.

Once I have gotten comfortable being aware of the things I am grateful for and making a card for someone at any old time, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of balancing my attention when life seems to be throwing all the hard stuff my way. When I notice I am finding things distressing on a regular basis, I will spend some time thinking of things I am grateful for, making a card to acknowledge one, and sending it to the person. Each time I notice myself getting pessimistic, I will bring my thoughts back to my card and the meaning behind it to help balance my thoughts and remember that it isn’t all bad, all the time.

No. 97: ABC Thought Catching

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice engaging with my thoughts and how they are affecting my mood by practicing thought-catching. Being able to catch my thoughts and follow their connection to my moods is a key step towards being able to reason myself out of stress and distress when I need to. Taking a moment to be aware of the core components of my experience will help me be able to respond with awareness.

This week, whenever I notice a slight drop in my mood, I will take a moment to ask myself what just happened (A), what it did to my mood (C) and what I might have been telling myself about whatever happened to cause that mood change (B).  It is not easy to notice our own thoughts, which is why I will start out by trying to catch thoughts associated with minor changes in mood. Once I’m comfortable with that, I will move on to using thought-catching as an engagement strategy in times of stress and distress.

It is often helpful at first to use a pen and paper to note these things down in three columns.

(A) Activating event: What just happened?

(B) Thoughts / Self Talk: What might I have told myself about that?

(C) Mood Change: What happened to my mood?

In this way, I will start to build up a picture of the kinds of thoughts that make my moods swing, and the kinds of situations that trigger those thoughts. This will prepare me to be able to recognise and catch those thoughts later when they are fueling my distress.

Once I have gotten good at making myself aware of what my thoughts are, I will add thought-catching to my Personal Coping Kete. In times of stress and distress, I will be able to practice catching my thoughts and observing to myself what triggered them and how the thoughts made me feel. By engaging with my thoughts and emotions before I respond, I will be better prepared to soothe, express, distract myself from or get support with them.

No. 92: The Art of Appreciation #1

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will practice tuning my attention into positively charged events every day by writing down three things I appreciate, enjoy or am glad to see in the world.  Later, when I need to self-soothe, I will find it easier to balance negative automatic thoughts or expectations about the world around me.

During the day I will try to notice things as they happen and note them to myself for later. I might have to go searching for things to record for a while – it is quite an art to see the good stuff sometimes! Each evening I will write down the date and the list of three things for that day.

Once I have been doing it for a while and have a good list, when I find myself feeling negative about the world around me I will be able to read through the list and balance it out with some of the things I appreciate and feel good about. As I read the list, I will remember to myself what it was about each thing that I liked, what I saw in it. Eventually I’ll get good at just remembering these positive balancing points by themselves.

When times are tough I will be able to shine the light of my attention onto a bit proof that it’s not all bad out there. I let the wanted and unwanted parts of the world exist side by side without letting one cancel the other out.

If/when I find a good way to make this work for me, I will note a reminder down about it on a piece of paper and add it to my Personal Coping Kete. 

No. 82: Valuing My Values

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellness…

…I will practice using self-talk to remind myself of the things I value and care about. In this way I will give myself regular reassurance that despite how things might sometimes turn out, I ultimately have positive intentions. I can relax and let my values guide me. 

To prepare myself to self-soothe like this when I am distressed by negative thoughts about myself, I will first spend some time, maybe with a pen and paper, to think about what my values are. I will ask myself, “what is it that I think is most important in life?”

I will then practice regularly reminding myself “I am the kind of person who values…xyz… so no matter what happens out there, I am all right in here.”  

If I find that my distress stems from my doing things that don’t sit well with what I value, then I will be able to move on to a more problem-solving based strategy to discover what I could change or how I could respond. This week, I will practice seeing the evidence of my self-worth in the values that I hold, the things I believe in and strive for.

Once I am comfortable being aware of my values and trusting them to guide me, I will add this strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of soothing feelings of distress.

No. 81: Remembering Their Positives

This week to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice balancing my reactions to other people, however valid they may be, by listing to myself at least two good things that they have done or said in the past, before I respond to them.

By making sure I acknowledge the positive intentions or past actions of people, I can help balance the way I feel about their less pleasant actions.

Making myself aware of these balancing factors won’t necessarily make my other thoughts go away – they could actually be realistic! But it will make sure that they exist as part of a more complete picture of the situation. Sometimes, the things we don’t like, are a bit more bearable when we can see the good that exists around them. This week, when I notice negative reactions to the people around me, I will practice thinking of two positive things to balance it.

It can sometimes help to think of things by sitting down with a pen and paper. The positives don’t have to be significant things to ‘count’ either, it could be something like ‘they always offer me a cup of coffee when they’re making one.’

This week, I am practicing taking account of all of the information to get a balanced view of the people around me and be better prepared to respond well.

Once I am familiar with reminding myself of people’s positives, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as a self-soothing and distraction strategy for times when I find myself irritated, annoyed or upset with something a friend, colleague or family member has done or said.  If it turns out that, after trying this for a while, I notice the positive things really do not seem to balance the negative things about being around a person, I will seek support to figure out what I can do about it and turn to a different kind of coping strategy that will help me get through my feelings of hurt.

No. 79: Using the Pause to Explore

This week to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice using the pause points from strategy No. 78 to reflect on what my automatic tendency is at the moment and brainstorm alternative responses. This week is about building and tapping into my awareness of the many response options that are really available to me from moment to moment.

When I notice shifts in my thoughts or mood, I will pause myself to breathe as I did with strategy 78 and then ask myself two questions:

  1. What is my instinctive response in this moment? i.e. Right now I want to…(argue, scream, run away, hide, drink, hurt myself)
  2. What are the available alternatives? i.e. Think of a kind of expression, support, distraction, engagement/problem-solving or self-soothing.

This week, I am going to become aware of the unhelpful responses I want to change and the kinds of alternatives I could possibly learn. As I do this, I will be strengthening the habit of pausing as a first response to distressing emotion as well as learning the practice of considering a wide range of strategies. Often it is the sense that we do not have many or any options available to us that causes distress. So this week, I will be practicing the art of expanding my perception of the options available to me.

It will probably help to use a notebook to record my reflections in, because after some time I will be able to look back on what my consistent instinctive responses have been, get a really good picture of what it is that I am working to change and expand my perspective of how many options are available to me in each moment.

If I am finding it difficult to think of alternative response options on my own, I will practice referring to The Coping Kete or my own Personal Coping Kete to reflect on different options.

If ever I find my self-talk becoming critical about my way of being in the world, I will be able to soothe myself by reminding myself of how I am evolving myself and feel satisfied that I am taking positive steps in my life.

Once I am used to pausing to explore my thoughts, I will add this to my Personal Coping Kete as something to do during moments of distress.


No. 53: One of Those Regular Reflection-Points

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

I will spend some time reflecting on where I am and where I want to be. This week will be a period of planning what I want to work on next. As I move through my week, my distress responses and feelings of dissatisfaction will become useful indicators that give me clues on what I would like to be different in my life.  I will remind myself that I am a work in progress and the messy areas are simply the bits I haven’t gotten to yet.

We’ve now been posting weekly strategies for a year. Today’s post marks the beginning of the next round of strategies.

This week, I will keep a notebook on me at all times. Whenever I notice something that I would like to be better at or find easier or respond differently to, I will write it down.

At the end of each day I will spend a bit of time reading over my notes for that day. I will spend some time writing down what skills and strengths I will need to develop in order to transform these things for myself.

At the end of the week, I will look back over my reflections and select the easiest, simplest one to work on first. In the coming weeks, I will focus on practicing techniques that will help me to develop this skill.

I will add ‘A Reflect Point’ to my Personal Coping Kete and return to it from time to time to review where I am at and where I want to go.