Have you ever created a time capsule―a collection of objects representing a moment in life that is stashed away to be retrieved at a later date? I’ve enjoyed―and gained personal insights from―a similar exercise, but it uses letter writing to capture specific moments.
My first encounter with this exercise was in elementary school, when my fifth-grade teacher had the class write letters to ourselves at the start of the school year. I remember writing a list of questions to “future me” and sealing them carefully in an envelope. Our teacher returned those notes to us at the end of the year, and it was a delightful surprise. Opening the notes felt like an exciting archeological discovery, because we had completely forgotten what we had written. It was a powerful lesson on growth and reflection, and provided insights into memory and the passage of time.
This exercise can be valuable and relevant to people of all ages (not just children). Research shows that structured writing can help people cognitively process stressful events, while also building awareness of the more positive effects of those events. Other research suggests that expressive writing can be a helpful way to integrate experiences and create meaning. Mainly, I just think it’s fun, and it gives me a chance to re-experience specific moments from a new perspective.
The recent birth of my son inspired me to restart this “time capsule” letter-writing practice. I thought it’d be a great way to capture what the early months of his life felt like for later reflection, and maybe someday my son will be interested in reading what his dad was thinking about, too.
The new year, which is just around the corner, is another great opportunity to pause, take stock, and reflect. Here’s how to get started:
1. Select your medium.
I recommend writing your letter by hand. All you need is a pen and a piece of paper. Researchers say writing by hand slows you down, which leads to more thoughtfulness and greater creativity. But, of course, you also can use a computer.
2. Choose your prompts.
Any subject, big or small, is worth writing about, but if you need some help getting started, consider these prompts:
- Ask yourself a question, such as, “What is one personal goal that you hope to accomplish by the end of the year”?
- Describe something current that you want to remember, such as a recent experience or an insight.
- Make a prediction about the coming year. What do you think might happen?
- Use a meQuillibrium activity as a prompt and work on your resilience at the same time. Some to consider include: Observe Your Thoughts, Practicing Forgiveness, and Write Down Three Great Things.
3. Seal it up and set a reminder.
When you’re done, seal the letter in an envelope and hide it in a special place. Then set a reminder to open it at a future date (and maybe include where you hid the letter―just in case you forget). The exact duration of time is up to you, but I recommend starting with 6 to 12 months. An automated calendar invite is a simple way to schedule your reminder. If you wrote the letter on a computer, you can send it to yourself in an email that is scheduled to be returned to your inbox after a set amount of time.
You can make as many of these letters as you want. I personally like writing multiple letters designed to be opened at different time increments. Regardless, I encourage you to give it a try. Writing is a valuable means of growth, and a way to share moments and memories across time.