- As you likely know, Inner Excellence is about self-mastery, self-awareness, and self-education… and interestingly, about the pursuit of the selfless and therefore fearless life.
- We do this through one mindset, three principles, five skills, and nine disciplines.*
- In the pursuit of self-mastery, it’s crucial to examine your life regularly, and deeply, at least once a year. Winter break is the perfect time to do this.
- There’s a tool/practice that Dr. Andrew Huberman from Stanford calls a critical-foundational-pillar-practice for improving mental and physical health.
- The practice is called expressive writing or therapeutic journaling. I’ve adapted it to Inner Excellence for you.
Note: Please continue to pray for and donate to humanitarian organizations like rescue.org to help those suffering and dying in Gaza as well as Ukraine and East Africa. ___________________________________________________
There’s been over 400 scientific, peer-reviewed studies on a type of journaling advanced by a psychologist at the University of Texas Dr. James Pennebaker. (Where, coincidentally, I am this week, working with an amazing group of Longhorns, as well as a Gamecock and Fighting Irish. )
Huberman calls therapeutic journaling so powerful for mental and physical health that it can “lower anxiety, improve sleep, improve immunity, reduce autoimmune disorders, improve memory, and on and on…”
Because this type of journaling has many similarities to the work I do and I believe in the benefits, I’ve adapted it to Inner Excellence. Please note that while I’ve not taken anything away from the scientific protocol, I’ve added some thought exercises to consider that I believe will enhance your experience. You can listen to Dr. Huberman talk about it here (he discusses the specific scientific protocol at 12:45).
The Inner Excellence Ultimate Dream Journal
You’re going to start to put together your life story, particularly focusing on the low points, to help you process them, and your dreams, to help you clarify them. The purpose of this exercise is to help you construct a meaningful story from your past, to let go of any mental blocks or things holding you back (which you may not be aware of), and clarify the vision for your life. In an email from Dr. Pennebaker (who developed the protocol), he said, “The goal is to help you identify important issues in your life that may weigh on you—especially things you haven’t talked about in detail with others.”
We’ll start by writing about a topic that was painful or troubling, ideally the most painful or troubling experience of your life. This whole exercise is only for yourself, no one else to see. You’re going to translate your feelings into written words to help you process your life story. You’re also going to write about your fears and dreams, what you want most, and why—all to help you process your past and empower your future.
You’re going to write for 15-30 minutes, once a day for four days straight.
This exercise will help you get aligned with your true self, so you can see your story unfolding in a meaningful way, to help clarify the vision and remove mental blocks.
When we don’t translate feelings into language we can process and understand, the subconscious will often hold on to painful memories to try to protect us in the future. It does that be clinging to the pain and the context of when and where it happened, and what it sounded and felt like. Then if the subconscious ever comes across a similar context (through any of our senses), it warns us with the feeling of anxiety or fear.
So let’s take the warning so we can allow the subconscious to let go of the self-protecting anxiety.
What to write about
Think about the most painful experience of your life. This is the ideal topic. If you’re not sure what it is, think about how you don’t want to feel, (i.e. anxious, fearful, alone, angry, etc) and see if you can get that feeling. Then write about whatever memories come to mind associated with that feeling.
Note: Dr. Pennebaker also shared this with me: “In your writing, you might tie your writing to things that happened in your childhood, issues with your family or friends, your current or past relationships, or things going on right now. You might want link the topic with your future [of for your group, about your physical and mental health, your team, your future in athletics]. You might want to write about who you want to become in the future, who you were in the past, or who you are right now. The important issue is for you to really let go and explore you very deepest emotions and thoughts…”.
1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
2. You’re going to write nonstop for 15-30 minutes, once a day for four days straight. (I.e try to keep all writing breaks less than a minute). 15 minutes is just as good as 30. Don’t be concerned about grammar or re-readability.
3. You can write about the same thing each day or different topics. Although the study Huberman shares says to write about the same thing every day, Dr. Pennebaker told me that’s not necessary if you find your thoughts going elsewhere. “The goal is for them to identify important issues in their lives that may weigh on them — especially things that they haven’t talked about in detail with others.”
4. Start with just the facts of the situation, without your opinions or feelings. Dr. Pennebaker told me, “Very often people will start writing almost randomly and chaotically and then will gradually start pulling things together. I think this can be an important part of the healing process.” And thus you don’t need to include this objective fact-based writing rule if you don’t want. In my experience, I found it helpful to separate facts from feelings, so do as you feel best.
5. Next write down how it felt when it happened (and perhaps before, during and after). What were your thoughts, concerns and emotions? Acknowledge those emotions and give voice to those feelings.
6. Write down what beliefs may have been formed at the time about yourself and the world (ie. I’m not enough; the world is a dangerous place) and then write down the truth about yourself and the world (I.e. I’m a child of God and the world is filled with abundance).
7. Write what your biggest fears have been and how it feels to write about all this.
8. Now write about your ultimate dream. That is… What do you want most in your life? Why do you want it? What it will give you? For example, I want to be world champion or CEO or an amazing mother. I want it because I feel it will give me “__.” And if I have __, then that will give me ___.
Note: Items 6, 7, and 8 are IX additions.
There’s been a lot of scientific research that show the benefits of expressive journaling, developed by Dr. Pennebaker (a professor at one of those Texas schools – I think they’re called the ‘Horns?!) and Beall (see the study here).
Here’s a summary of some of the findings:
• The human mind naturally tries to understand the world around it. One reason people often obsess about a disturbing experience is that they’re trying to understand it. An efficient way to understand something is to translate it into words.
• Confronting painful experiences and emotions can have remarkable health benefits. Not allowing thoughts and feelings about stressful experiences to be expressed can be detrimental to mental and physical health.
• Benefits include a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression, stronger immune system, and greater clarity and focus.
• If we keep ruminating about it, we have fewer mental resources to think about other things.
• By writing about a painful experience, we’re translating the event into language. Once it’s language-based, we can better understand the experience—and therefore better understand ourselves—and put it behind us.
Note: Some researchers have found that some participants feel negative or down in the hours or days after writing, but there’s still long-term benefits like everyone else.
Huberman, Andrew, PhD. A Science- Supported Journaling Protocol to Improve Mental and Physical Health. (Specific protocol starts at 12:45)
Siegel-Acevedo, Deborah. Writing Can help Us Heal From Trauma. Harvard Business Review. July 1, 2021.
Mirgain, Shilagh A, PhD, and Singles, Janice, PsyD. Therapeutic Journaling. UW Integrative health.
Pennebaker, James W, PhD, and Smyth, Joshua M, PhD. Opening Up by Writing it Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain. 2016.
I’d love to hear what your experience was like if you do the Ultimate Dream Journal exercise.
*Here’s the Inner Excellence IX basics:
I compete to raise the level of excellence in my life, to learn and grow, in order to raise it in others.
The Three Principles
- Everything is here to teach me and help me, it’s all working for my good.
- Everyone does the best they can with what they have in their heart.
- Selfless is fearless.
- Self-mastery is mastery of the ego
The Five Skills (to learn)
- How to believe in your dreams
- How to compete with freedom and passion.
- How to focus (be present – fully engaged).
- How to relax under tension and stress.
- How to adapt to any situation (or person). Behavioral flexibility.
The Nine (IX) disciplines
- Examine your life.
- Simplify your life
- Be still.
- Speak the truth (what’s real).
- Be grateful.
- Imagine glory.
- Fuel your soul.
- Be selfless (and therefore fearless).