Essay: Why writing about your life can help turn it around

Jul 30, 2013 by

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For the past three weeks, after years of false starts, I’ve finally managed to sit down and meditate nightly. I had a heart-to-heart with my partner and came amicably to a decision we’d been batting around for months. I have been actively cultivating a sense of gratitude. And I’ve had a hugely productive run at work. I credit these improvements to several hours spent writing about my past, present and future using a curriculum called “Self-Authoring.”

Autobiography, memoir and diary-keeping are thought to be acts of pure self-involvement or, at most, rarefied literary pursuits. But a Canadian psychologist thinks that writing about one’s life in a structured way can be a potent and cost-effective path to process emotions, relieve stress, improve health and boost cognitive performance.

Self-Authoring is a series of guided writing exercises developed by Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto that is sold online for $29.90.

You write about your past, your virtues and your faults, and envision possible good and bad futures as in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. You then make specific plans to reach your goals. The output is several thousand words, and the results can be dramatic.


In Peterson’s initial study of 85 McGill University students on academic probation, the group that completed these specific writing exercises boosted their grade-point averages by over 25 percent and lowered their dropout rate from 30 percent to zero compared to a control group. For the past three years, Self-Authoring has been a mandatory part of the curriculum at Rotterdam Business School in the Netherlands, which reports similar results—increasing the GPA and number of credits earned by entering students by over 25 percent, lowering dropout rates by more than 20 percent and producing the highest-performing cohorts in the school’s history. A new version of Self-Authoring for high-school students, updated with video-game-like features, is currently being designed and will be tested starting this fall.

Peterson has a longstanding research interest in the relationships among narrative, mythmaking and brain functions. His 1999 book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, is a blend of neuroscience with Joseph Campbell and a dash of Carl Jung; he appears often on Canadian public television discussing topics like “Reality and the Sacred.” Peterson based Self-Authoring in part on the work of James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who designed experiments to test some of Freud’s claims that expressing repressed emotion could be curative. “The mere act of disclosure is a powerful therapeutic agent,” Pennebaker has written. “The writing paradigm is exceptionally powerful.”

Essay: Why writing about your life can help turn it around | Hechinger Report.

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    Yesterday I decided to join the Self Authoring program. After years of watching Prof Peterson’s lectures online, I feel this tool will make a big difference in my life. Certainly it will help me articulate a better story of who I am.

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