Students write a reflection to themselves on a problem where they need wisdom.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • Pen and Paper


  1. Begin by asking the participants if they have ever noticed that it’s so much easier to give advice to another person than to one’s self? When another person is struggling, we can often proffer wisdom. Why is that? Participants will probably have a number of answers: One of the main responses is because we have distance from their problem. It’s much easier to have a detached perspective.
  2. Tell everyone the following: “There’s a way to provide this wisdom to ourselves. This is a writing practice that many people have found to be extraordinarily effective. “The idea is to have an imaginary conversation with someone we respect, and whose wisdom we appreciate. It doesn’t have to be someone living. It doesn’t even have to be a real person; it could be from a work of fiction. The idea is that you are asking someone who has wisdom and perspective that you feel like you lack, because you are too close to the problem. “Some people choose wise ancestors – perhaps parents or grandparents who have passed away. Others choose to have this conversation with religious figures. (Some even choose to talk to God.) Others might choose to talk to someone renowned for their sagacity; these could be living or dead: anyone from Abe Lincoln to Malala. It could be a therapist or counselor. So long as it’s someone whose insights you respect, this activity will often prove powerful. “This will be completely confidential and private. You will not be turning this in, and you do not have to share anything about it with other participants. (After the activity is done, people can volunteer to talk about their experience with writing if they volunteer, but nobody will be asked to talk about the content of what they wrote.)”
  3. When everyone has understood those directions, you can move on to the actual exercise
  4. People start writing down their problem, as if they were talking to this wise person. So, for example, they might write to Eleanor Roosevelt: “I’m feeling lost. I’m really struggling. I am doing poorly in school, I have no direction, and I can’t pay my student loans. I need your help.” Whenever the person feels like he/she has gotten to the end of their statement, they then turn it over to the voice of wisdom. Whatever are the first words that come up in their mind, they start writing. “PERHAPS YOU NEED TO CHANGE YOUR COURSE OF STUDY. YOU’RE NOT REALLY HAPPY STUDYING CHEMISTRY AND BIOLOGY. YOUR FAMILY IS PRESSURING YOU TO GO INTO THESE SUBJECTS, HOPING YOU WILL BECOME A DOCTOR. BUT YOU KNOW THAT’S NOT REALLY WHAT YOU WANT. IT’S NO WONDER YOU CAN’T FIND THE MOTIVATION TO DO IT.”
  5. Tell the participants to allow the two voices to have a conversation for about 20 minutes. Even if they think that they have run out of things to say after 10 minutes, encourage them to keep going. If they think they have solved the problems within the first few minutes, they can do this again with another problem until they have reached 20 minutes.
  6. Give everybody notice when there is just about 2 minutes left so that they can wrap up. Then, after you call time, it’s time for the reflection and discussion.
  • When they are writing to themselves, we recommend that people do the “voice of wisdom” in CAPS, so as to differentiate between their own confused self and the deeper wisdom within themselves.
Have a tip?

Submit your tip and we will review for some language about the process.


Ask the group members how they feel after doing this exercise. Did they tap into surprising wisdom? Did it feel good to write to a voice of wisdom (even if it’s admittedly just an imaginary exercise)?

You can share with the participants the scientific evidence behind this activity. (See theory below)

You can ask the students why they think that writing about the struggles and adversities is so therapeutic. They may give a number of answers. One of Pennebaker’s theories is that it gives the person distance. Reflecting on the event with distance, they are able to invest in with meaning and purpose. For example, some people who have suffered violence or abuse then go on to devote their lives to helping prevent this same sort of terrible treatment towards other people.

Wrap up the debrief by reminding participants that this is an activity that they can do at any time in their lives when they are struggling. Countless people have found it to be helpful to tap into this inner wisdom.


University of Texas professor James Pennebaker has discovered that writing can be powerfully cathartic. When people have struggled with traumas and terrible adversities, a single intervention of writing 20 minutes per day, for three consecutive days, can help them. Even though many people became quite emotional and even cried when writing about these difficult times, they ended up feeling like the process was healing for them. Indeed, months later, the students who had participated in this exercise were healthier than randomly selected students who had not done the exercise.


Transformative Action Institute, based on traditional writing exercises