Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash
Have you ever thought you’ve changed, but then you kept making the same mistakes?
Chances are that pains from the past still linger in your body — even when your rational mind has moved on.
To truly let go and become your Future Self, both your mind and body need a reset.
In fact, research shows that when you combine journaling and bodywork you’re more likely to you reduce stress, create a sense of control, and move on with optimism.
I learned this the hard way.
After the Covid-19 lockdowns, constant worries occupied my head, and they showed up in my body as neck pain, heart palpitations, and stomach ache. I read all the books, and tried to change my thought patterns — but the only thing that truly helped was bringing my body on board: breath work, exercise, and moving my body in any way I can.
Here’s a simple exercise to try this out. You need pen and paper, and a space to stretch.
Step 1: Journal & high-five your wins
“Immediately, I felt my chest loosen, I squared my shoulders, and I cracked a smile…”— Mel Robbins, The High Five Habit
- Mind: What are your wins over the last quarter (or 12 months, if it’s the end of the year)? Write down every small and big achievement you can think of.
- Body: Now, bring the body on board. Read through your list, give yourself a high-five in the air, or shout woo-hoo and smile. Studies show that gestures of praise (like a high-five) increase motivation and feeling connected in children and athletes (there are even scientists building robots who can high-five!).
Step 2: Write and body-trace your pain
“It takes only ten seconds to locate and acknowledge a feeling in your body such as sadness or fear.” — Guy Hendricks, The Big Leap
Go back to pen and paper and answer the next questions:
- Mind: What didn’t work for you in the last quarter (or 12 months)? Where did you get stuck or frustrated? Write down all the events, moments, and feelings. Then put pen and paper aside.
- Body: Take three breaths and trace where you can locate negative emotions trapped in your body. Scan from head to toe, and linger at places of tension, pain, or uncomfortable sensations. Breathe into these areas and whisper “I see you — now I’m letting go.” (If you struggle, try a guided meditation by Paul Sheppard)
- Mind: Go back to your pen and paper and write down what lessons and insights arise from your challenges. What might you stop, start, or continue doing as a result of your reflection and body scan?
I will stop…
I will start…
I will continue…
Step 3: Say thanks and feel it
“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late.” — Byron Katie, A Thousand Names For Joy
Gratitude is something you can not only write but also feel in your body.
- Mind: If you could thank your Past Self for all the achievements and efforts (even if they failed sometimes), what would you say? Write down a few lines of thanks with this prompt:
Dear Past Me, thank you for…
- Body: Now, feel the gratitude in your body. Take a deep breath, smile (even just a little bit), and think about how amazing you are. Hug yourself by wrapping your arms around yourself. You’re doing a hard thing, as Glennon Doyle says, and your body needs to know that you know it.
Step 4: Shake the past off — with pen and body
“Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are.” — Paul Coelho
Let’s shake off the dust of the past! Grab a pen and paper, and have your favourite song ready to play.
- Mind: What will you leave behind to change into the new you? Answer this prompt:
I’m letting go of ______ to make space for _______.
- Body: Put on your favourite song(s) and dance around the room (or on your chair). You can also stretch, wriggle, shake, etc. Anything that makes your body move!
Uncomfortable truths I learned
I’ve recently gone through the steps in a workshop with clients. We journaled, we cried, we danced, we high-fived — we felt awkward, but it afterward, the participants felt “free.”
Here’s my personal list of “failures” that I made as a writer and coach:
- In the last 12 months, I did not finish my book. But I did finish a little book and a planner that thousands of people downloaded. That’s not bad at all if you think about it — doing a high-fived helped me realise that.
- I learned that it helps me to do 1 thing, in baby steps. Everything else triggers my perfectionism (and with it, anxiety and neck tension). Moving forward, I’ll continue picking one thing to do per day — and go “all in.”
- I will stop beating myself up and overworking. I’ll keep shaking and nurturing my body, instead of trying to “write it all out.”
- My mantra for the new me:
I’m letting go of perfectionism to make space for love, abundance, and creativity!
It took me all that shaking, self-hugging, high-fiving, and dancing to not only think these things but feel them in my body.
Your body is not the enemy
Remember: Your body is not the enemy. It’s sometimes holding you back with pain and tension on purpose — to help you see that something needs to change.
As Pema Chödrön says, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”
When your body stores negative feelings, it’s really trying to help you — now’s the perfect time to listen.