Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Journaling as a Therapy Practice With Lori Gottlieb
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 396 of Live Happy Now. If you’re looking to make changes in your life, well, Maybe Yoxu Should Talk to Someone. I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m sitting down with Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist, author, and podcast host, whose book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, became a runaway best seller and, as you’re about to hear, is even being made into a television series.
Now, Lori has developed a guided journal based on the immense feedback she received on her book. Just like therapy, this journal walks users through the transformation process one weekly session at a time. She’s here to tell us how the book and journal came about and what she hopes to see happen as a result. Let’s have a listen.
[00:00:47] PF: Lori, thank you so much for being on Live Happy Now.
[00:00:50] LG: Oh, well, thank you so much for having me.
[00:00:52] PF: It’s such an honor. You are doing so many wonderful things, and I’m super excited about this interview. Obviously, we’re here to talk about your journal, which is based on your book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. So before we jump into the journal, let’s make sure we talk about that original book, the OG that started this whole movement.
[00:01:11] LG: Yeah. So Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is really an interesting book because it follows the lives of four of my patients, as I help them through their struggles as their therapist. Then there’s a fifth patient in the book, and that is me, as I go through my own struggle at midlife, and I go to seek therapy with a therapist. So it’s kind of looking at how we get through the difficulties and the challenges in our lives from both sides of the couch, as they say.
But really, it’s not so much about therapy, it’s about the human condition, and it’s about the universal challenges that we all go through. But it’s also a very funny book, and there’s a lot of humor in it because being human is sometimes ridiculous and funny, and all of that is in there.
[00:01:58] PF: I think that’s what’s so important to know is it doesn’t read like a therapy book. It’s a storybook. It’s the story of humanity, and it’s incredibly well written and so thoughtful and engaging. So people don’t need to feel intimidated by this idea of eavesdropping on therapy.
[00:02:17] LG: Right, right. It’s kind of like what you don’t get on social media. On social media, we get the curated version of people’s lives. We get the highlight reels. What you get in this book is you get the things that everybody wants to be talking about, but they don’t know how to bring up those topics or how to start talking about them.
[00:02:35] PF: How did you choose who you would focus on because, obviously, you’ve seen a few patients in your time? How did you think like this is really what embodies what someone needs to learn and grow from?
[00:02:47] LG: Well, what’s interesting is that I think that every single person that I see in therapy, even if they come in with something that seems specific, is really universal. You find those commonalities. I feel like we’re all more the same than we are different. Even at the beginning of the book, I say my greatest credential is that I’m a card carrying member of the human race. I know what it’s like to be a person in the world. So it was hard to choose which stories to include because there were so many that I wanted to.
But I wanted to choose people who seemed very different from one another on the surface, meaning you would say, “Oh, I don’t relate to that person at all,” or, “I really relate to that person.” By the end, you say, “I see myself reflected in every single one of these people.” I think that that helps us out in the world when we feel like, “Oh, I don’t know if I’m going to have anything in common with that person.” After reading this book, I think you see, “Oh, I’m going to find my shared humanity in pretty much everyone I meet.”
[00:03:41] PF: Yeah. That’s a beautiful way to look at it. Did you have any reluctance at all to share your own self and your own journey? I mean, that’s really vulnerable. What was your thought process going into that?
[00:03:52] LG: Well, absolutely. In fact, it’s really interesting because – And I write about this in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. I was supposed to be writing a book about happiness, and the happiness book was making me depressed. I could not miss the irony in that, that I was trying to write a book about happiness, but it was making me miserable. It was very clinical. It was about all of these studies. I feel like as a therapist, what you see over time, the more people you see, is that happiness as the end goal is kind of a recipe for disaster. We all want to be happy. But happiness by finding connection and meaning, that’s what we want. That’s where we find our happiness.
I decided I wanted to bring people into the therapy room because I feel like that is the key to what is going to help us find meaning and purpose and connection in life. I’m very privileged because I get to have these conversations with people. Most people never get to have these kinds of real, intimate, deep conversations with people in the numbers that I get to. So I feel like I get to see humanity from a very different perspective that I think a lot of us would benefit from.
Originally, when I said I don’t want to do the happiness book, I want to just bring people into the therapy room and let them be a fly on the wall, everyone said, “Oh, no one’s going to read that.” The publishers said, “No one’s going to read that book.” So I thought, well, that’s okay because for the three people who read it, it will really change their lives. So I was really open about my part of the story because I thought, well, no one’s going to read this. No one I know is going to read this. So it’s okay. I don’t care. It’s not going to be embarrassing for me.
Then, of course, now it’s sold almost two million copies, and lots of people have read it. I’m glad that I didn’t know how many people would read it because I think I would have had the instinct to kind of edit myself and kind of make myself look a little bit better, a little bit cleaner, a little bit more together. I just presented myself really authentically, and I think that’s why so many people have read it because they relate to the authenticity.
[00:05:49] PF: Yeah. I was going to ask if you thought that that was one of the reasons that it resonated so well is just because it is so honest. Like you said, it’s not a Kardashian selfie. It’s just a real photo of us as people.
[00:06:02] LG: Right. It’s really a snapshot of what we all go through at different times in our lives. I think it’s about the triumphs as much as it is about the struggles. I think you root for every single person in the book because you’re seeing yourself reflected in that you’ve either had that experience or you know someone who’s had that experience. I think that one thing we’ve learned, especially through COVID, is just how important connection is, how important it is to feel like we are seen, heard, understood. I think that this book does that for so many people.
[00:06:33] PF: Very well, very well. So you say you didn’t expect it to take off. When it started taking off, what were you thinking? Obviously, this was a surprise, and that interests me that you said that because as authors, people, we go in thinking, “I’m going to sell a million copies.” They’ve got the sticky notes all over, like the affirmations, like, “We’re going to do this,” and you’re like totally the opposite, like, “That’s all right.” So when it started taking off, what were you thinking?
[00:07:00] LG: It was interesting because so many people wrote to me and told their personal stories. So many people were sharing things with me. All over social media, everyone was recommending it to everybody else, and people were talking about just how funny it is too. I think that we don’t see the humor in our lives enough. That, of course, there are things that are painful and difficult and challenging. But I think that it helps us also to see the joy, and I think that that was part of it. That I was really glad that people could see the ways in which it showed the full spectrum of our lives.
I think, especially as women, we don’t focus a lot on our joy. We don’t focus a lot on our desires. We don’t focus on what we want, and we don’t really get to say all the things that maybe we think we shouldn’t be saying, and that all happens in this book. I think that, vicariously, a lot of people really enjoyed that and then maybe started doing that in their own lives.
[00:07:57] PF: Yeah, yeah. Now, I understand that you’re talking about making a TV series about this.
[00:08:01] LG: Yes, yes.
[00:08:02] PF: How does that work?
[00:08:04] LG: Well, I’m very excited about that because I think on TV and in movies, therapists have always been portrayed as either the brick wall who doesn’t say anything, right? Nobody wants to go and talk to a brick wall. Or they’ve been portrayed as sort of the hot mess, the person who just doesn’t have anything. They’re breaking rules. They’re being unethical. Their lives are falling apart. They’re addicted to things. Whatever it is, they’re really, really struggling.
I’m just portraying a normal person who’s going through normal stuff, and I think that’s really refreshing that your therapist is just a human being. They’re just like you. They’re not a hot mess, and they’re not this person who has everything figured out. They’re just a person who is trained to help you through what you’re going through.
[00:08:48] PF: That’s excellent. Well, so what was your inspiration then for creating a journal? I know that you created a workbook, and I’d like to talk about the difference between the workbook and the journal. But then what was it that made you decide like, “Hey, let’s get this journal involved too.”?
[00:09:02] LG: Right. The journal, it was actually created by popular demand, in the sense that everybody who read the books so many times, people would say, “I highlighted. I underlined. I have quotes from the book pinned on my bathroom mirror, on my desk, all those things.” I would love a place where I could kind of, in a guided way, focus on many of the themes and many of the things that resonated with me. That would be so helpful for me to have that in one place, and if there could be some structure to it.
That’s exactly what I did in the journal. I structured it like therapy sessions. So you go to therapy. We always say that insight is the booby prize of therapy, that you can have all the insight in the world. But if you don’t make changes out in the world, the insight is useless. So someone might say to me, “Oh, I understand why I got into that fight with my spouse the other day, right?” I’ll say, “Great. Did you do something different?” They’ll say, “No, but I understood why.” I’ll say, “Okay, that’s a good first step. But now, you need to do something different.”
I think what I want to do with the journal is I want to structure it like therapy, where you come in. You’re thinking about something. You’re given a prompt every week. Like what was kind of the moment that made you think about something differently? Then you have seven days. They have the days in between to kind of noodle on it, to kind of think about it, and every day to kind of expand upon that. What is the change? How do you think about it differently? What is this going to do moving forward to the next session?
When I do it different ways, there are prompts. There are kindness check ins because especially as women, we can be incredibly self-critical and unkind to ourselves. There’s a weekly wrap up. There’s coloring pages because sometimes we think in visual images, as opposed to written words. What I like about a journal is that you get to see your progress. So a lot of times, in therapy, people will say, “I don’t know that anything’s changed in the last three months.” I know it has because I take notes after people’s sessions.
But I have to remind them of that. When you have a journal, you can look back and say, “Look at where I was five months ago, and look at where I am now. Or look at this thing that was so difficult for me to do five months ago. And now, I’m getting better at setting that boundary. Now, I’m getting better at saying no. Now, I’m getting better at speaking up at the time, as opposed to waiting three weeks and then being resentful and exploding, right?” So these are the things.
Or now, I understand more about the relationship with my child or the relationship with my parent that I didn’t understand back then. So I think having a written record is really helpful for us to be able to reference.
[00:11:40] PF: Yeah. The prompts are really good too. Can you talk a little bit about those, and what kind of thought process went into the order in which they’re presented?
[00:11:49] LG: The order was so important because I wanted each prompt to build on the one from before. So every week is very intentional in terms of the order. That’s the structure that I wanted to give people. It’s like here’s the theme. Let’s build on that theme. This will help be the building block to this next thing that we’re going to explore the next week. It’s very much structured with absolute intention. It took so long.
I thought, “Oh, I know, all of the different prompts and quotes that everybody’s responded to that have resonated most strongly. This isn’t going to be so hard to put this together for people.” It was really hard because I gave so much thought to what is the exact order that this should be in to give people the experience that they’re asking for.
[00:12:33] PF: It is so well done, and it walks you through this process. The great thing is it’s not dated, so they can jump in at any time and start doing this.
[00:12:42] LG: Yes, yes. You can go at your own pace. You can come in any month that you want to come in. You can write as much or as little as you want. But I think the thing about journaling, and the reason that a lot of people feel like, “Oh, I’d really like to do that. But it might be too much for me to do,” is because they don’t understand that it literally can be five minutes a day. That’s it.
So some people like to journal in the morning to kind of clear their heads before the day, and they find it really helpful because you wake up, and you have all these things on your mind. So if you just sit there for five minutes quietly, have your coffee, have your tea, just sit quietly for five minutes, and do the prompt, that’s a great way to start the day. Other people like to do it right before they go to bed because they’ve got all the thoughts from the day. When you put your head on the pillow, you want to kind of release that. So a lot of people release it into the journal, and then they put their head on the pillow, and then they sleep well.
[00:13:35] PF: As a therapist, as a practitioner, what kind of changes do you see in people when they start being intentional about their journaling and really start just putting their feelings down on the page?
[00:13:47] LG: Well, one thing is they stop avoiding things. So we say avoidance as a way of coping without having to cope.
[00:13:54] PF: I like that.
[00:13:57] LG: I think when you actually write something down, it becomes real. Once it becomes real, you can deal with it. If you deny that something is happening like, “Yeah, maybe I’m sad, or maybe I’m anxious, or maybe I’m having trouble in this relationship, or maybe I’m drinking too much,” or whatever the thing is, you don’t really have to deal with it, and it doesn’t get better. It just keeps getting worse, and so nothing will change.
If you want to make change, and there’s a chapter in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone called How Humans Change, it goes through stages. One of the stages is that you have to acknowledge that the thing exists. So writing it down helps you in a non-scary way. I think sometimes, we’re so afraid to just acknowledge that maybe this is a problem. Well, write it down, and it’s not so scary. You see it on the page. You’re like, “Okay, there it is. That’s okay. That feels better. Now, it’s out there. Now, I don’t have to just sit with it in my body, where I feel it, and I just feel the anxiety all the time.” One thing is you avoid avoidance.
The other thing, when you journal, is that you clarify your thoughts. So, often when the thoughts are just spinning around in our heads, we can’t really make progress with them because they’re just coming at us from all directions. There’s no organization to them. So when you write it down, you clarify, oh, this is how I feel about that. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. So you start writing about it. By the end of the week, you’re pretty clear. Oh. Now, I understand where I stand on that. Now, I know where I need to go with that.
[00:15:28] PF: What I like about your journal is – Obviously, so many different kinds of journals, and some of them are just – There might be a writing prompt, and you just kind of go for pages. Or there’s no guidance at all. It’s just whatever you would like it to be. What I love about yours is the way that it does kind of bring it back, closes the session, and gives you something to think about, and then guides you into the next week.
So how is this book in particular helpful for someone who say they don’t want to seek therapy? They don’t want a therapist. Talk about how this can really help maybe move them along in their process.
[00:16:01] LG: Yeah. So one of the things that I tried to do with everything I put out there is give people the experience of healing, self-reflection, living better. So it really doesn’t have to do so much with therapy. It’s really about sometimes we are holding so much inside and just to have the outlet of, oh, there I am. I found myself on the page.
I think, especially as women, and again, this is a generalization, but we have so much responsibility in terms of taking care of other people that sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves. I think the journal is a concrete way that you can take care of yourself. You can say, “Oh, wow. All this stuff has been – I’ve been holding it all inside, and this is a place for me to just spend a little time with myself, understand myself better, see what I need, see what I want and relax.” It can be really relaxing. Just pen to paper can be so relaxing.
The fact that it’s private, that it’s just for you, is another thing. We don’t have a lot of things that are just for us. Things are moving so quickly in the world. We have so much to do every day. This is a space that is just for you.
[00:17:12] PF: So people don’t need to have the book to go through the journal. That’s really important too.
[00:17:16] LG: They don’t. No, they don’t. It’s a standalone. So if you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize a lot of the prompts. But if you have not read the book, and you just want to start the journal, it’s the same experience of just go right in there. The prompts will stand alone.
[00:17:32] PF: Terrific. How is it different from the workbook because you also have a workbook that goes with it? Can you talk about that?
[00:17:36] LG: I do. Yes. So the workbook, as the name implies, is actually a lot of work.
[00:17:43] PF: So if you’re lazy, if you’re feeling lazy, don’t get the workbook.
[00:17:47] LG: The thing about the workbook, so I gave a TED talk, which is about how we’re all unreliable narrators and how we walk around with these faulty narratives and how changing our stories can actually change our lives. We walk around with these stories like, “I’m unlovable, or I can’t trust anyone, or nothing will ever work out for me, or nobody understands me,” or whatever our story is. These are old stories. These are stories that someone else told us about ourselves that are just not true. But we did not understand that.
Now, here we are as adults, but we’re still thinking that we don’t believe those stories. Yet we do because we act them out in our relationships all the time. We act them out in terms of what we think we can have, what kind of life we can have, what kind of relationships we have, how we get along with people, professionally, what we can do.
So the workbook takes you through the process of looking at the stories that you carry around and then editing those stories so that they’re accurate, and then helping you to take action based on what you now know. It’s great work. It’s deep work. I’m getting so much good feedback about that. This is, again, for people. Maybe you don’t have access to therapy. Maybe you don’t have an interest in it. This is exactly what we would be doing in therapy. But again, you don’t have to be interested in therapy. It’s more about are you interested in kind of editing those stories that you’re carrying around that maybe are keeping you stuck and holding you back. The workbook is a very in-depth structured way of going through that process.
[00:19:22] PF: Excellent. I think it’s so interesting, the way that you have unwittingly built this empire around your book, when you really thought nobody was even going to pay attention to it. What does it feel like now when you sit and you look at what all you’ve created, and there’s more to come? How does that strike you? How does that land with you?
[00:19:43] LG: Well, I think it’s exactly why I wanted to write Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. I had a feeling that this is what people were really craving, especially in this world of social media, where people are not really connecting in those ways. People will post on social media something like, “I’m being really vulnerable here, and I I’m going to share this.” But it’s with a lot of strangers and not face-to-face with someone that you’re actually in a real life relationship with, right? So it’s different from sitting next to somebody and saying, “I’m going to talk to you about this thing that feels very vulnerable to me.”
Or I’m not really talking about something between us that’s an issue in our relationship. How do we talk about that? I feel like people really want that and crave that, and that’s why I also put out this podcast called Dear Therapist, where I have a fellow therapist –
[00:20:32] PF: We got to talk about this. Yes.
[00:20:34] LG: It’s kind of like people, when they read, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, said, “I wish I could hear the sessions.” Guy and I, we decided that we would do sessions with people. We do these live sessions with people. What we do, though, is we want to show people – I think there’s this big misconception about therapy that you go to therapy, you talk about your childhood for years, and you never leave. That’s not what therapy is. It’s very active.
[00:20:55] PF: Like a hostage crisis.
[00:20:57] LG: Right? It’s very active. It’s very much about like, yes, we want to know how the past is keeping you stuck in the present or causing difficulty in the present. But then we want to focus on the present and the future for you. So we want to show people that even in one session, people can make really important changes in their life. So what we do is, at the end of the session, we give them advice because we both have advice columns. I have an advice column called Dear Therapist in the Atlantic. He has an advice column for Ted called Dear Guy. So we come together, and we do a session as therapists.
Then at the end, we give them homework, and they have one week to complete the homework. Then they come back, and you hear it all in one episode. But they come back after one week, and they tell us how the advice went. Did they do the homework and what happened? Then we also follow up with them a year later so that you can hear, wow, how did their lives change. Not only in that week because there’s such significant change in one week, which is always great to see. But then what’s happened a year later?
I think that so many people relate to that because so many people really do want to hear the stories because they see themselves in them, and they get really good advice for their own lives as well.
[00:22:08] PF: Yeah. I think everyone’s looking for that. We’re looking for more direction. People are in a challenging spot in a post-COVID world and so much uncertainty, a lot of fear, a lot of trauma that’s happened. So I think this is so very timely for us to be able to explore that.
As we go into the New Year, it’s a time when people are starting to think. We just tend to think more it’s a new beginning, and we tend to think differently. So why is that a great time to really sit down and start journaling? Two-part question, then how do you kind of set an intention for that year to know what direction to go with it?
[00:22:43] LG: I think that when people make New Year’s resolutions, the reason that they don’t work, generally, is that people think that you just make a decision like Nike. Just do it. Then that’s your decision, and that’s going to last. It doesn’t last because that’s not how change works. There’s different stages to change. There’s pre-contemplation, where you don’t even know that you’re thinking about making a change. There’s contemplation where you’re contemplating it, but you’re not really ready to do anything about it. There’s preparation where you’re preparing. You’re like, “What do I need to do to make this change? Is it looking for a new job? Is it doing something different in my relationship? Is it I’m going to be healthier, and this is what I’m going to do?” Then there’s action where you’re actually taking the action to make the change, and people think that’s where change ends. It is not.
The next phase is the most important, which is maintenance. How do you maintain the change? The big misconception about maintenance is that it’s not as if you slip back, and then you failed in making the change. Built into maintenance is that it’s kind of like Chutes and Ladders. Remember that boring game? So it’s like you’re going to slip back because if change is unfamiliar, change is hard because we have to do something that is not familiar.
The reason that people stay in like relationships too long or jobs too long or a bad situation too long is because it’s familiar to us. Even if we’re miserable, at least we know it. So when you make a change, you have to do something different. In maintenance, you’re going to slip back to the familiar thing, and that’s okay. We need to have self-compassion. We need to be kind to ourselves. Just because you have self-compassion doesn’t mean that you’re not accountable. So self-compassion comes with accountability.
I always say to people, think of it like this. If your child comes home from school and says, “I did really badly on this test,” are you going to scream at them? Or are you going to say, “Let’s look at what happened, and so that you can do something different next time. Did you not understand the material? Do you need to talk to the teacher? Do you need to study harder? Do you need to study more in advance? Is there a different way of studying? What can you do?” Then the kid will probably do better on the next test. If you just scream at them, they may or may not do better on the next test, but they’re really not learning anything, and it’s not going to last.
So we need to be kind to ourselves and know that when you have compassion for yourself, you hold yourself accountable. They’re not two mutually exclusive things. When you want to start a journal, a lot of people think, “Oh, I’m scared to start a journal because I may not keep up with it. I might not do it every day. I don’t know if I have the self-discipline.” You can do it any way you want. It’s up to you how you do it and what you’re going to get out of it.
The great thing about starting the journal is know that you don’t have to be hard on yourself. Use it as you want to use it. Try to find a consistent time because I think that helps people. Again, like some people like doing it in the morning. Some people like doing it at night. Just see how it helps you. The more that it helps you, the more you’re going to want to do it.
Main thing is, and these are built into the journal, again, there are these like self-compassion, check-ins and kindness check-ins, I think it will help you to be kinder to yourself overall. It’s not so much about whether you write every day because that’s beside the point. It’s about how you use the journal in a way that works for you.
[00:25:56] PF: Well, excellent, Lori. I thank you so much for being on the show. I know this journal is going to be as life-changing for those who use it as the book has been, and I just really look forward to seeing what else you’re going to come up with because I know that you’ve got so much more new as well.
[00:26:13] LG: Oh, well. Thanks so much for the conversation. I really enjoyed it.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:26:20] PF: That was psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, talking about her book and journal, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. If you’d like to learn more about Lori and her books, listen to her TED Talk, check out her podcast, or follow her on social media, visit our website at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.