21 minutes to rewrite your life — do it!

When you’re done reading this post, get your notebook, grab a pen, and write your own story. You’ll master a lost art: the ability to self-reflect. You need it — to correct the course of life, to be happier and healthier, to find passion and purpose. To unlock your potential. Now read on — and then on to writing!

The rapid pace at which we need to communicate, interact, or make decisions in today’s world has fundamentally challenged a key aspect of human behavior. It has crowded out the human ability to self-reflect. Our dilemma is that in order to grow and succeed in this world we need self-reflection in order to find our identity, unlock our potential, and live a happier and healthier life as a result.

Write it down!

Expressive writing is a powerful tool to foster self-reflection. In simple words, expressive writing is a form of writing about yourself. What might sound like your old-school diary is far more than that. You are writing about your experiences, your impressions, your thoughts — but in a way you get to shape your story and express who you are or aspire to be. It doesn’t matter as much what, where, or how you write — the fact that you do will force you to self-reflect, and hence find passion and purpose.

My journey of expressive writing started with poetry and a few short stories at the age of 16 when I first moved to the US. I later turned toward shorter novels and ultimately a book about my current job that I still write to this day. Throughout this process my focus shifted from creating stories and personas to reflecting upon myself and the reality surrounding me. It helped me redefine my goals in life, identify true sources of happiness and inspiration, shape and create healthier relationships with friends and family, and grow at what I do day in and day out.

What it takes? 21 minutes

I don’t seem to be the only one for whom expressive writing is working. Here is some hard evidence: Several studies have linked expressive writing to boosted memory, generally improved health, reduced symptoms in cancer patients, and improved mood disorders. Additionally, independent studies by the Universities of Duke and Stanford have attributed writing with the power to evolve behavioral changes and improve happiness. Dropout rates among college freshmen dropped from 20% to 5%. The overall marriage quality of 120 couples improved by spending 21 minutes writing about their relationship — per year! 21 minutes per year to save a marriage. Potentially 21 minutes per year to rewrite your life. I would invest those 21 minutes! Wouldn’t you?

Obviously, writing doesn’t solve every problem and it doesn’t do the work for you. But as the leading researcher in the field, Dr. James Pennebaker, said:

“It is about getting people to come to terms with who they are, where they want to go.”

Think of it as a course correction for life. For example, when I was younger I had always wanted to be an investment banker, working on the toughest M&A deals. Writing about my experience in investment banking helped me realize what I enjoyed about the work and what I didn’t — and to understand that just because my peers thought it was a brilliant idea to do investment banking it was perfectly ok for me to do something else.

Knowing your next move

Reflecting also meant dissecting these experiences, which was essential in knowing what my next move should be. Looking at myself in writing has enabled me to play to my strengths in many aspects of life and has radically improved the quality of major life decisions. Having a clear image of yourself allows you to evaluate opportunities as they arise more effectively — regardless of whether it’s in your private or professional life. We have all had that one friend call us and tell us about their idea for a startup, why it will be the next big thing, and why you’d be a great fit.

Are you ready to leave your current job?

Does this new opportunity take you a step closer to where you ultimately want to be?

Are you truly passionate about the idea and the industry?

Are you comfortable in fast-paced, dynamic, uncertain, and ambiguous situations like running a startup?

The answers to questions like these, as well as the opportunities in which we will fully immerse ourselves and realize our potential, lie in our writing. Finding these opportunities is what Sir Ken Robinson refers to as “the element.” These are the things that challenge and push us just a bit beyond our comfort zone, that we are intrinsically passionate for, and that we are good at.

You can only find these through self-reflection. Your key is expressive writing and spending 21 minutes a year to find a lifetime of passion and purpose. What are you waiting for? Grab a pen and start writing.

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