Proprioceptive writing

proprioceptive writing

How can you use writing to get to know yourself better? The basis of this method is to quietly and calmly write down what comes to mind, asking yourself questions about what you actually mean. You do this in three steps. Wies Enthoven, who works with this method, explains step by step.

What is Proprioceptive Writing?

To start with the name: Proprioception derives from the Latin word proprius, which means ‘one’s own’. When you write in this way, you become aware of everything that goes on in your mind — pictures, feelings and ideas — that you normally wouldn’t be aware of throughout the day. Only when you listen to yourself calmly and write down what is there can you really reflect on your thoughts.

How do you write with this method?

Simply put, you sit quietly at a table with a blank page before you. For about twenty minutes, you ‘listen’ to your thoughts and put them down on paper, all the while asking yourself questions. You follow three important steps:

1. Write down what you hear.
2. Listen to what you write.
3. Ask yourself: What do I mean by…?

Step 1: write down what you hear

All you want to do is write down what you think. It sounds simple — and it is — because many thoughts are likely to be shooting through your mind all day long. And although you may not always think in words, you can give words to the images or feelings that come to you. There are no rules for what you are or are not allowed to write: Anything goes, because they are your thoughts and feelings. You’re probably not used to being constantly aware of your thoughts. So sit down and take your time.

Thoughts are like voices

To make it easier, you can imagine your thoughts as spoken words. Every thought is connected to a voice. In this way, you hear a thought as a sentence that you could also speak aloud. For example, the voice that says, ‘I still haven’t made an appointment with the doctor’. Usually there is another voice that says something very different, such as, ‘What’s the point of going to a doctor, I just have to take it a little easier’.

Most of us have various voices that all want to tell us something, but they don’t always get the chance: One voice is more dominant than the others. Often the predominant voice is the one that wants to make a ‘polished’ or ‘clear’ story; this voice is formed by what society expects of you and it wants you to narrate something that others can understand. Now you are reflecting on what you think — there is no right or wrong. Listen to yourself. Hear the things you want to complain about: that’s how you can explore your thoughts.

Often you’ll get further by daring to confess the things that you think you are the only one to have. You won’t solve a problem by acting as if it’s not so bad or doesn’t even exist, and you’ll never discover anything new. So ignore the one that says in advance that your story should only be nice.


Step 2: listen to what you write

You can train yourself to listen to your own thoughts. It is an intense, focused way of listening that requires curiosity, patience and even-handedness. Do not judge what you think: write it down and do not revise it. Do not read it back while you are writing. Because all you want is to explore what you think.

American author and educator Linda Trichter Metcalf, who invented this way of writing, calls this your ‘hearing intelligence’. Everyone has it, you just have to open yourself to it. For example, by thinking: This is interesting. I want to know more about that. So aside from writing down all the thoughts that come to mind, you are also the one who is examining these thoughts. Compare yourself with an archaeologist: While you are digging and thinking, you come across something that makes you stop. Use your lamp to discover exactly what it is.

Here’s another example: You think of the blue chair in your grandmother’s house, and suddenly a conversation comes to mind, one you had years ago with your grandmother when she was sitting in that chair. If you want to find out how that conversation went, let the voice that tells that story speak, and listen to it. It only works if you don’t listen to another voice at the same time.


Step 3: What Do I Mean By…?

To check that you are really listening to yourself candidly, you have a good tool at your disposal: the question, ‘What do I mean by…?’ In place of the dots, you fill in the word or part of the sentence that catches your attention. Ask that question several times while you’re writing: Whenever a certain word or part of a sentence catches your attention, wonder what you mean. The question never changes, only the word or phrase that replaces the dots.

Using this question, you investigate what a word means to you. Sometimes words bring up memories or feelings that only you have; they are specific to your life. So you don’t have to define the word in a general way, as in a dictionary.
You just want to know exactly what it means to you. For example, if you are afraid of heights, the term ‘ski lift’ will have a different charge for you than someone who glances down from 2,000 meters without a care in the world.

Slow down your thinking, write down the question

In order not to jump from one idea to another, write down both your question and answer. You’ll notice that you rarely go slowly enough. As an example, say you write, ‘I love my mother a lot’. Then you can ask yourself the question, ‘What do I mean by “mother”?’ And you write that down. Maybe that’s why the memory surfaces of how you walked hand-in-hand with her on the beach when you were younger. It might not seem like such an interesting event until you start to remember more and more about that walk. How safe it felt with your hand in her hand, for example. Or how you longed for the contact you had then, because you’ve lost touch over the years. Give yourself the opportunity to question and write down everything that bubbles up.

Text Wies Enthoven  Photography NeONBRAND/