Sentence-completion work is a unique way to raise your levels of self-understanding and self-respect. It rests on the premise that all of us have vast resources of wisdom and knowledge within us that are rarely tapped into. Sentence-completion is a tool for accessing and activating these dormant or “hidden” resources.
When doing sentence completion exercises, it is best to work with a journal or computer. That way, past entries can easily be accessed for reflection.
Instructions for Sentence Completion Programs
Instructions for Sentence Completion Programs - I
Sentence completion is a technique I have developed in my clinical practice that can be used to facilitate self-understanding and personal growth. The essence of the sentence completion procedure is to start with an incomplete sentence, a “sentence stem,” and to keep adding different endings, between six and ten, with the sole requirement being that each ending be a grammatical completion of the sentence.
I use sentence completion in therapy, where clients complete sentences orally. I have also developed multi-week, written sentence-completion programs that can be done at home. In each week of a program, you are given a block of four to six stems. Every morning, you write completions for all the stems in this week’s block. At the end of the week, you reflect on your answers for the week and perform another completion exercise to help you solidify what you have learned. The next week, you move on to the next block of stems in the program.
Suppose the first stem in this week’s block is:
To me, self-responsibility means…
In the morning, before proceeding to the day’s business, write this down in a notebook or on the computer, then, as rapidly as possible, without pausing for reflection, write as many endings for that sentence as you can in two or three minutes – never less than six, and ten is enough. Do not worry if your endings are literally true or make sense or are “profound.” Write anything, but write something.
After doing six to ten endings for the first stem, go on to the morning’s next stem, and continue until all the morning’s stems are finished.
When you are finished with the morning’s stems, proceed with your day’s business. Do this exercise every morning, Monday through Friday, before the start of the day’s business. Do not read what you wrote the day before. Naturally there will be many repetitions. But also, new endings are inevitable.
Sometime each weekend, reread what you have written for the week, reflect on it, and then write a minimum of six endings for this stem:
If any of what I wrote this week is true, it might be helpful if I…
As with the weekday stems, the trick is to work as rapidly as possible, not pausing to “think,” inventing if you get stuck, without worrying if any particular ending is true, reasonable, or significant. Any ending is fine: Just keep going.
Instructions for Sentence Completion Programs - II
The next week, move onto the next block of stems in the program.
When doing sentence completions, the idea is to empty your mind of any expectations concerning what will happen or what is “supposed” to happen. Do not impose any demands on the situation. Try to empty your mind of anticipations. Do the exercise, go about your day’s activities, and merely notice any differences in how you feel or how you operate.
The art of doing sentence completion well is to maintain a high level of mental focus combined with a complete lack of internal censorship. Doing sentence completion on a daily basis as described here is a kind of psychological discipline, a spiritual practice, even, that over time achieves insight, integration, and spontaneous behavior change. People sometimes ask, “How do I integrate the things I am learning in sentence completion?” The answer is that practice itself, done repetitively, brings about the integration. The speed of your progress depends in part on the level of focus and consciousness you bring to the work, both while doing it and later when reviewing and reflecting on your endings.
Remember: Your endings must be a grammatical completion of the sentence, and if your mind goes absolutely empty, invent an ending, but do not allow yourself to stop with the thought that you cannot do this exercise.
An average session should not take longer than ten minutes. If it takes much longer, you are “thinking” (rehearsing, calculating) too much.
General program for improving self-esteem: This program is aimed at raising your self-esteem. It focuses on helping you to practice better what I have identified as the “six pillars of self-esteem”. These six practices lead to higher self-esteem and are described in detail in my book, “The Six Pillars Of Self-Esteem.”
Program for increasing self-responsibility: This program is designed to help you take more responsibility for for all areas of your life: your career, your personal relationships, your finances, your happiness. It is based on the belief that self-responsibility is an important source of personal power. The multiple meanings and applications of self-responsibility are explored in my book, “Taking Responsibility.”
Many other applications of the sentence-completion technique, some discussion of the thinking behind it, and other stems for other purposes may be found in my book, “The Art of Self-Discovery.”