Sentence Completion I

Instructions for Sentence Completion Programs

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.

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.”



Week 1

  • If I bring more awareness to my life today…
  • If I take more responsibility for my choices and actions today…
  • If pay more attention to how I deal with people today…
  • If I boost my energy level by 5 percent today…


Week 2

  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my important relationships…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my insecurities…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my deepest needs and wants…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my emotions…


Week 3

  • If I treat listening as a creative act…
  • If I notice how people are affected by the quality of my listening…
  • If I bring more awareness to my dealings with people today…
  • If I commit to dealing with people fairly and benevolently…


Week 4

  • If I bring a higher level of self-esteem to my activities today…
  • If I bring a higher level of self-esteem to my dealings with people today…
  • If I am 5 percent more self-accepting today…
  • If I am self-accepting even when I make mistakes…
  • If I am self-accepting even when I feel confused and overwhelmed…


Week 5

  • If I am more accepting of my body…
  • If I deny and disown my body…
  • If I deny or disown my conflicts…
  • If I am more accepting of all the parts of me…


Week 6

  • If I wanted to raise my self-esteem today, I could…
  • If I am more accepting of my feelings…
  • If I deny and disown my feelings…
  • If I am more accepting of my thoughts…
  • If I deny and disown my thoughts…


Week 7

  • If I am more accepting of my fears…
  • If I deny and disown my fears…
  • If I were more accepting of my pain…
  • If I deny and disown my pain…


Week 8

  • If I am more accepting of my anger…
  • If I deny and disown my anger…
  • If I am more accepting of my sexuality…
  • If I deny and disown my sexuality…


Week 9

  • If I am more accepting of my excitement…
  • If I deny and disown my excitement…
  • If I am more accepting of my intelligence…
  • If I deny and disown my intelligence…


Week 10

  • Self-responsibility means…
  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for my life and well-being…
  • If I avoid responsibility for my life and well-being…
  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for the attainment of my goals…
  • If I avoid responsibility for the attainment of my goals…


Week 11

  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for the success of my relationships…
  • Sometimes I keep myself passive when I…
  • Sometimes I make myself helpless when I…
  • I am becoming aware…


Week 12

  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for my standard of living…
  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for my choice of companions…
  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for my personal happiness…
  • If I take 5 percent more responsibility for the level of my self-esteem…


Week 13

  • Self-assertiveness means…
  • If I lived 5 percent more assertively today…
  • If I treat my thoughts and feelings with respect today…
  • If I treat my wants with respect today…


Week 14

  • If, when I was young, someone had told me my wants really mattered…
  • If, when I was young, I had been taught to honor my own life…
  • If I treat my life as unimportant…
  • If I were willing to say yes when I want to say yes and no when I want to say no…
  • If I were willing to let people hear the music inside me…
  • If I were to express 5 percent more of who I am…


Week 15

  • Living purposefully to me means…
  • If I bring 5 percent more purposefulness into my life…
  • If I operate 5 percent more purposefully at work…
  • If I operate 5 percent more purposefully in my relationships…
  • If I operate 5 percent more purposefully in marriage…


Week 16

  • If I operate 5 percent more purposefully with my children…
  • If I were 5 percent more purposeful about my deepest yearnings…
  • If I take more responsibility for fulfilling my wants…
  • If I make my happiness a conscious goal…


Week 17

  • Integrity means…
  • If I look at instances in which I find full integrity difficult…
  • If I bring 5 percent more integrity into my life…
  • If I bring 5 percent more integrity to my work…


Week 18

  • If I bring 5 percent more integrity to my relationship…
  • If I remain loyal to the values I believe are right…
  • If I refuse to live by values I do not respect…
  • If I treat my self-respect as a high priority…


Week 19

  • If the child in me could speak, he/she would say…
  • If the teenager I once was still exists inside of me…
  • If my teenage self could speak, he/she would say…
  • At the thought of reaching back to help my child self…
  • At the thought of reaching back to help my teenage self…
  • If I could make friends with my younger selves…


Week 20

  • If my child self felt accepted by me…
  • If my teenage self felt I was on his/her side…
  • If my younger selves felt I had compassion for their struggles…
  • If I could hold my child self in my arms…
  • If I could hold my teenage self in my arms…
  • If I had the courage and compassion to embrace and love my younger selves…


Week 21

  • Sometimes my child self feels rejected by me when I…
  • Sometimes my teenage self feel rejected by me when I…
  • One of the things my child self needs from me and rarely gets…
  • One of the things my teenage self needs from me and has not received is…
  • One of the ways my child self gets back at me for rejecting him/her is…
  • One of the ways my teenage self gets back at me for rejecting him/her is…


Week 22

  • At the thought of giving my child self what he/she needs from me…
  • At the thought of giving my teenage self what he/she needs from me…
  • If my child self and I were to fall in love…
  • If my teenage self and I were to fall in love…


Week 23

  • If I accept that my child self may need time to learn to trust me…
  • If I accept that my teenage self may need time to learn to trust me…
  • As I come to understand that my child self and my teenage self are both part of me…
  • I am becoming aware…


Week 24

  • Sometimes when I am afraid, I…
  • Sometimes when I am hurt, I…
  • Sometimes when I am angry, I…
  • An effective way to handle fear might be to…
  • An effective way to handle hurt might be to…
  • An effective way to handle anger might be to…


Week 25

  • Sometimes when I am excited, I…
  • Sometimes when I am aroused sexually, I…
  • Sometimes when I experience strong feelings, I…
  • If I make friends with my excitement…
  • If I make friends with my sexuality…
  • As I grow more comfortable with the full range of my emotions…


Week 26

  • If I think about becoming better friends with my child self…
  • If I think about becoming better friends with my teenage self…
  • As my younger selves become more comfortable with me…
  • As I create a safe space for my child self…
  • As I create a safe space for my teenage self…


Week 27

  • Mother gave me a view of myself as…
  • Father gave me a view of myself as…
  • Mother speaks through my voice when I tell myself…
  • Father speaks through my voice when I tell myself…


Week 28

  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my relationship with my mother…
  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my relationship with my father…
  • If I look at my mother and father realistically…
  • If I reflect on the level of awareness I bring to my relationship with my mother…
  • If I reflect on the level of awareness I bring to my relationship with my father…


Week 29

  • At the thought of being free of Mother psychologically…
  • At the thought of being free of Father psychologically…
  • At the thought of belonging fully to myself…
  • If my life really does belong to me…
  • If I really am capable of independent survival…


Week 30

  • If I bring 5 percent more awareness to my life…
  • If I am 5 percent more self-accepting…
  • If I bring 5 percent more self-responsibility to my life…
  • If I operate 5 percent more self-assertively…
  • If I live my life 5 percent more purposefully…
  • If I bring 5 percent more integrity to my life…
  • If I breathe deeply and allow myself to experience what self-esteem feels like…