National Eating Disorders Association

Writing Daily Details Doesn't Shine Light on the Bigger Picture (But a Few Steppingstones can Illuminate a Lifetime)

Carolyn Jennings

In my own biweekly journaling, I need to run the daily details through my pen to make sense of and absorb them.  And sometimes, there are times when I need the clarity and guidance of a long-scope overview.  I recently looked back at the Steppingstones of my life, which showed my entire life's path spilled out in a list of twelve items on a single page.

Steppingstones were developed by Dr. Ira Progoff as part of his Intensive Journal™ process.  He defines Steppingstones as “...those events that come to our minds when we spontaneously reflect on the course that our life has taken from its beginning to the present moment.”1

Beginning recovery at an eating disorder clinic in my late 20s was # 7 on my Steppingstones list.  The list illuminated that before recovery, all my life's “choices” or activities were for others; after recovery, my life became truly mine, unfolding beautifully, each event or decision leading to a more authentic me who could then make the next more authentic choice.  My life and my self co-created each other over time.  The Steppingstone list documents this before and after, as dramatic and distinctive as any TV makeover.  (But this change is more than skin deep, and it lasts!)  The list is a reassuring view that I'm on the right path even as I muddle through the next steps of my days. 

If you think seeing the Steppingstones of your life would help to give you some clarity, I encourage you to try the process.


With your writing materials nearby, close your eyes.  Relax with deep, slow breaths.  Invite the movement of your life as a whole to reveal itself to you.  Dismiss judgment, comments, clinging and blame.  Allow the circumstances and situations of your life to present themselves.  Progoff instructs  “Let them be free and undirected so that they can shape themselves into whatever form truly reflects their basic qualities...”2

When you feel ready, list eight to twelve Steppingstones.  Writers are often tempted to record a much longer list, but the bare bones bring more clarity.  Note each Steppingstone briefly—a single word or short phrase—a sentence at the most.  Write them in any order and without editing.  Progoff explains, “...those that are called up to our minds are the ones that are meaningful to us in the context of the present moment of our lives.” 3 Your list would differ if you did it at any other point in time.  Trust today's list for the revelations you need now.

When your list is complete, number the items chronologically.  Read them in chronological order.  You might even want to hear yourself read them aloud.  The reading is, per Progoff,“ feed back into yourself the experiences of your own existence.”4

After you read your list, write your observations, thoughts and feelings about the list and reading it.  For me, this piece can be emotional and thought-provoking.  I felt both tender and awed when I looked at my list, feeling again the often-tough transitions my life has taken me through and being amazed at how it has all come together in ways I could never have predicted. Progoff writes, “The very act of listing our Steppingstones reshapes the context of our life, and thus draws us a step further into our future.”5

My Steppingstones give me confidence to move forward into whatever my future holds, seeing my life as a path lovingly laid just for me.  I believe that working with Steppingstones is a chance to look at our lives through the eyes of wonder, stepping out of the swirl of days to see who we are becoming and how our lives our unfolding. 

What gifts or lessons will your Steppingstones hold for you?

The material about Steppingstones is taken from the book At a Journal Workshop: Writing to Access the Power of the Unconscious and Evoke Creative Ability by Ira Progoff, Ph.D.  More information about the Progoff Intensive Journal® Program for Self-Development can be found here.

1.    At a Journal Workshop, p. 76, Tarcher/Putnam, 1975 revised 1992
2.    At a Journal Workshop, p. 78
3.    At a Journal Workshop, p. 81
4.    At a Journal Workshop, p. 82
5.    At a Journal Workshop, p. 89

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