"Dear Me": Writing Letters to Yourself

When was the last time you wrote a letter? Emails don’t count. A real letter. You know, like when you did during class to a friend, folded in a super secret way or to your parents during your two week stint at summer camp, filled with all the fun things you had done but pleading to come back home to your warm bed and better food. Okay, so maybe you all get the idea. Now, when was the last time you wrote a letter to yourself?

Bet you’ve never done that before. I know it sounds silly. But when you’re journalling and looking to find your voice, writing letters to yourself filled with advice or pep talks, daily musings or past recollections or even just simple one statement reminders that you are worthy and loved can help you when you least expect it. I hereby to give yourself permission to take out your journal or a sheet of paper and do just that.

I was 16 years old, at summer camp and our counselors sent us off on our own, out into the wilds of Colorado, with a paper and pencil. The sun was just beginning to set as I sat down on the small wooden bridge next to a trickling brooke. The paper was blue and the pencil had a blunt edge. And there, on that small bridge, with nothing but the sound of the water soothing my nerves and the sounds of hawks in the distance, I wrote my first letter.

Dear Me, I started. The counselors had asked us to write a personal letter to our selves. I was supposed to write down something for my future self to read and reflect upon. And I thought it was silly. I figured that there was no way that all these letters, carefully written would ever get back to us. I remember seeing everyone else around me roll their eyes back deep into their skulls. But there I sat; thinking about the future. About my junior year in High School and what advice I could give myself there that would help me. And then, I wrote the date and started my letter.

Writing to yourself is a great journalling activity that allows yourself to be open and honest with what is going on in your life. We love to give advice to our friends and family but this exercise gives us an opportunity to listen to our inner dialog and write down exactly what we’d say to ourselves as if we were that outsider. Now, after all these years, I semi-regularly write myself letters of encouragement and advice. I’m going through a hard time right now with my job and I had made a difficult decision. Even after asking friends and family about my decision and whether or not it was “right” I’m still feeling a bit torn. I needed to know, from inside, whether or not I had truly made the right decision. And when I got home, just before I wrote this article, I wrote myself a letter. A pep talk about why doing what I was doing is a good idea and that it was okay to feel what I was feeling.

Letter writing is as easy as speaking to your best friend, only they’re not on the phone or on IM. And you don’t need to be connected to a computer or a phone when you write a letter either. All you need is to rip out a sheet of paper from your journal or a sheet from the stack of unused stationary you got from your last anniversary and write today’s date on top. Open the letter with a “Dear” followed by a me or self or whatever personal nickname you may have. Then, start writing. Allow your heart and mind and soul to dump onto the page and get whatever things you feel your self needs to hear on the page. Your letter can be short and simple or long and drawn out, just as long as you get all the emotion down on page.

If all you want to do is remind yourself about watering the grass over the weekend, write it down. If you’re thinking about quitting your job, describe what is going on to make you want to quit; pretend you are listening to your best friend talking and give them advice. Scribble and doodle sketches and drawings. Remind yourself about all the little simple pleasures (rain, chai, sleepy kitty) that make you happiest in your life when you are down and all the dreams and plans you want for your life. Pretend you are writing to a future you. What advice would you give that You? What about when you were younger and just starting out; what advice would you have liked to hear back then? When you are done, end the letter with “Love” or “Sincerely” or whatever closing you’d normally give to a friend and sign it.

Whether or not you actually take it somewhere and mail it back to yourself, I’ll leave that decision up to you. But I do recommend that you place that letter in an envelope and seal it. Hide it somewhere where you could forget about it for a little bit. Maybe tuck it inside the next book on your stack of things to read. Or lose it in your in-box, for rediscovery down the road. Then, when you get to it, it’ll be a nice surprise to yourself; a gentle reminder of what you need to get done, what new discovery made you happy, or advice on what you need to do to get you where you want to go next in your life’s journey.

So what happened to my first letter? Well, after I had signed it, folded it into the envelope, sealed it shut and addressed it to myself I figured that was the last I’d ever see of it. But I was wrong. Sometime in late October or early November the letter arrived. Only I had forgotten about the whole day in the summer with me sitting by the water, under the sun. My first thought was “What the heck?” followed by an “Oh yeah,” when I remembered why MY handwriting was on the outside of an official summer camp envelope. Instead of going back to the warmth inside, I opened the letter right then and there and smiled when I read the wisdom my “past self” reminded me of. To “not let those who teased me in school get me down and always remember to follow your bliss.”

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What a neat idea. Letter writing is definitely one of the lost arts.

On a similar theme, a number of years ago I discovered a website (http://www.timecave.com) that would let you send an email at some specified time in the future, so I sent myself an email that would arrive in 5 years time. It wasn't a very soul searching email; it just described what I was doing at work, how old my kids were, and asked whether I was still in the same job. Of course, I forgot all about it, until it arrived a couple of weeks ago. It was quite odd to receive it, but I did wish I'd spent the time to have written something a bit deeper than I did!

Neal | http://porkpop.blogspot.com/

This is therapeutic and emotional

Hello everyone,
I became interested in this because yesterday I found some stuff that I wrote about 5 years ago about how my life was different, a year after an Anthony Robbins seminar. It was sad, funny (OK, I made fun of accountants) and strangely revealing, about a self I had forgotten because I had now evolved. I also wrote about some wisdom I gained from watching "Matrix Revolutions" (remember that? Me neither. It was all about the first Matrix right? We finally got to see Zion and boy was I disappointed)

I'd say go for it. Do it. Send it off and open it a week later, even if you get it back tomorrow. Write about what you want, advise yourself and console yourself that things will be better. Even if you think it's stupid, at least you can say "I've written a letter to myself" on your deathbed. GO!! Stop reading this and do it NOW!!

PS: I think it's better if you use pen and paper rather than type it out. It's more personal.