Knowing yourself: what words inspire you?


Here’s a super-simple journaling exercise that can be a quick way of reconnecting with ourselves. It’s also truly helpful for those times when we’re feeling really UNcreative.

I once did this with a class of ten-year-olds, and after I described the exercise to them, I said, “What do you think this exercise is about?”

A kid shot up his hand and said, “Noticing!”

That’s it, exactly.

Noticing words.

The words we use are important. And they say a lot about us.

I have an intention to choose my words carefully. Not out of some kind of perfectionism, but because words have power.

(I’m also noticing more and more that, often, I need to invoke the superpower of listening just when I’m tempted to throw in my two cents. Whether I’m talking to a friend or coaching a client.)

Some words feel heavy and exhausting to me. That’s not because there’s anything “wrong” with them, but because they are not in line with what inspires and activates my essential self.

Other words light me up, help me come alive, remind me of what is true and real — for me.

So here’s the exercise:

1) Make a list of words that drag you down, words that don’t light you up or that make you feel disconnected.

These can be ANY words. Adjectives, verbs, nouns. Keep listing — don’t stop until you’ve got a list of at least twenty words. (They can also be phrases or sentences you can’t stand — for example, my boyfriend absolutely hates it when people say, “Let’s do this!”)

The purpose of this is not to focus on negative stuff — any word or phrase is not “objectively” negative. This is about gaining more awareness into what makes you “you.”

2) Now, make a list of words that DO light you up, words that elevate you or connect you to who you are. Again, phrases and sentences are okay, too.

3) Now, look over both lists.

What do you notice?

Here are some examples from my lists:

Words that drag me down: overcome, overpower, world domination, should, must, crush it, anything having to do with war, get your butt in the seat, push, shove, force, conquer, rule, hard, tough, have to

Words that lift me up: discover, quest, kindness, spark, play, curiosity, adventure, fun, mischief, silky, fluid, deep, reflective, subtle, piercing, pure, intense, affectionate, compassion, journey, choose

Even if you’ve never read my blog before, you can learn a lot about me by looking at my lists, right?

It’s pretty clear that I’m not inspired by the idea of overcoming or conquering or going to war with something. I’m not inspired by pushing or forcing myself or anything or anyone else to “get it done.”

It’s not because I think that mentality is “bad.” It’s because it isn’t the way I naturally relate to the world. It’s foreign to me; it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me (though, to be honest, for many years I tried to take on this mentality because I believed I “should”).

The idea of discovery, of looking deeper, of getting curious, with lots of kindness and compassion and fun and play in the mix — for me, that’s adventure. That second list automatically reminds me of who I am and inspires me. It gets me moving.

We can also see, by looking at my lists, where my shadow may lurk. It might do me some good to notice when I’m disowning the parts of me (because they’re there!) that DO like to overcome and conquer and WIN. (These parts of me come out when I play certain video games or get into arguments with family members. Note to fiction writers: Incorporating your shadow traits into your characters can be extremely liberating.)

The thing for me to know, though, is that if I let these aspects of me run the show, I’m not going to feel in line with my essential self, and I won’t feel I’m living a life that’s truly in keeping with who I am. I don’t need to disown these aspects of myself — or of others — I just need to recognize that they don’t truly inspire me.

So, if I’m trying to get myself to do something through pushing, forcing, or the idea of “crushing it” or “overcoming,” it’s inevitably ineffective — for me. There are others who love the idea of overcoming or “heading into battle”. It gets them going and lights them up.

And that’s awesome. Because if there’s anything I believe, it’s that we all need to know ourselves well enough to keep on moving closer and closer to what truly brings us to life.

What do you notice about the words that inspire you, versus the words that deaden, disconnect you, or exhaust your energy? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Image is “Pastel Pens” © Rabbitsfoot | Dreamstime Stock Photos

8 thoughts on “Knowing yourself: what words inspire you?

  1. Great exercise Jill, and I’m sure it would also be interesting to do it more than once, maybe weeks or months apart, to see which words are still there, in either list, and which, if any, have disappeared/changed. Ok, for example, words that drown/deaden/shrink/exhaust me are – can’t, I don’t understand, power, control, I’m right, try, have to, swear words, no, just because, sarcasm…etc etc…and words that enliven and inspire me – love, freedom, peace, purpose, possibility, strength, magic, wisdom, why, help, yes, humour, compassion, kindness, playfulness, innocence, creativity, infinity, the elements etc etc…so there’s a taster. What does that say about me?! LOL:-) Have a great week my friend, blessings Harula xxx


    • I’m glad you tried it, Harula! I love your lists — I’m particularly fascinated by “just because” and “I don’t understand” on your first list, for some reason! I totally agree that it’s a good idea to do this weeks or months apart and see what’s changed — that’s a great way to keep current with what’s inspiring for us. You have a wonderful week, too! 🙂


  2. This is a really thought-provoking exercise and I might expand on it just a bit to reveal my “geeky” side. For those who have a body of work that spans more than a few pieces, it would be really interesting to write a program that analyzes what words show up in your writing the most often. I would be that these words probably gravitate more towards the inspiring list that you speak of. Those words that seem to make it into our writing more frequently are probably finding their place there for a good reason 🙂

    Words/phrases that bring me down: it’s all good (bad personal experience associated with this one), go-getter, sync-up, should, obligation, meeting, status, like my

    Words/phrases that lift me up: inspire, creative, serendipity, emotion, spark, flow, enchanting, captivating, alluring, soul, love

    The words that inspire me are not surprising. The words that drag me down, however, have helped me to recognize where some of my bitterness lies, in the restrictions and boundaries imposed by my day job in corporate America. Interesting indeed, thanks for sharing 😉


    • Dave, I love your “geeky” idea about the program that would analyze the words that show up in our writing most often. I have a hunch you’re right that they’re showing up for a reason, and I’d be curious to see what mine are! Thanks for sharing your lists — they’re terrific. And you make a really good point that the words that drag us down are revealing of the ways we struggle. I noticed that for myself, too, as I was writing this post! 🙂


  3. Jill,
    I love this exercise and I haven’t even tried it yet! I just know it could be groundbreaking and certainly eye opening. Journaling is the perfect tool for activating awareness and words DO have power. What we speak can do amazing things. Writing down what you suggest, word we like and don’t like, can truly reveal deeper truths about ourselves. I love the intuitive nature of this process that can truly direct us to Who We Are and help us Honor our preferences instead of having to defend how we feel.

    Jill, I have chosen your post, Knowing Yourself: What Words Inspire You?, as Dawn’s #JournalChat Favorite for 8/1914. I will share a link on my website, in Refresh Journal and on the social networks, including on our #JournalChat Facebook Group.

    Now on to doing this exercise myself….
    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring


    • Dawn, thanks so much! I really appreciate it. I’m so curious to see what you discover when you try the exercise! I’m actually going to do it again myself soon and see if anything’s changed since the last time. 🙂


  4. Jill,
    I did try it! I wrote a lot more than 10 words per list; once I got going, it was hard to stop! But it revealed categories of my life that need attention and that are very much on my radar. I also plan to repeat the exercise like you said you would; I think that would be insightful to see what new words show up and which ones remain resonant.

    Thanks again for the exercise. It was well worth trying. 🙂
    Be refreshed,


    • Dawn, thanks so much for reporting back on how it went for you! I love how it revealed some areas of your life that need attention. That is so cool! I agree that it can be hard to stop once you get going with this exercise. I’m glad it was good for you!


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