A 12-Minute Writing Exercise to Purge Emotions

Written by: the Editors of goop


Updated: January 15, 2020

A 12-Minute Writing Exercise to Purge Emotions

Unless you’re new here, you know that at goop, January is detox month. (If you are new here: Hi, hello. Welcome.) It’s a time when we like to hunker down and try to let that sh*t go.

We asked Habib Sadeghi, DO, a cofounder of the integrative health center Be Hive of Healing, to share one of his favorite tools for an emotional detox: purge emotional writing. It’s step three in his twelve-step program, outlined in his book The Clarity Cleanse: 12 Steps to Finding Renewed Energy, Spiritual Fulfillment, and Emotional Healing, which is now out in paperback.

And it’s as satisfying as it seems.

The Power of Words

By Habib Sadeghi, excerpted from The Clarity Cleanse

Words have tremendous power, and whether their effects are positive or negative depends on how we choose to use them. I can’t express how powerful a tool free-form writing is to expel negative energy from our minds and hearts. I used it daily during my recovery from cancer. I also return to it whenever I’m feeling emotionally oversaturated. No matter what’s happening in our lives or what condition we suffer from, I firmly believe in the transformative power of writing to heal us from the inside out.

I’m not the only one who believes this. It’s one of the reasons people have kept diaries and journals for generations. There’s also ample scientific research to back up the idea. As psychologist Karen Baikie and psychiatrist Kay Wilhelm wrote in their article “Emotional and Physical Health Benefits of Expressive Writing” (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, August 2005).

Over the past 20 years, a growing body of literature has demonstrated the beneficial effects that writing about traumatic or stressful events has on physical and emotional health…The immediate impact of expressive writing is usually a short-term increase in distress, negative mood and physical symptoms, and a decrease in positive mood compared with controls. Expressive writing participants also rate their writing as significantly more personal, meaningful and emotional. However, at longer-term follow-up, many studies have continued to find evidence of health benefits in terms of objectively assessed outcomes, self-reported physical health outcomes and self-reported emotional health outcomes.

Those kinds of benefits to our physical and emotional health are what we’re aiming for with the PEW 12 exercise. Here’s how it works. Every emotion has a charge, and the positive or negative energy an emotion generates has a real and measurable impact on our bodies. The act of writing allows us to physically release some of that charge much in the same way we release tension during sex. Burning the page, which happens at the end of the exercise, allows us to purge even more of that charge and serves as a symbol of letting go. If you can release negative energy on a regular basis, it doesn’t accumulate. You could look at this exercise as an act of freedom. Whenever you release your emotions, you lighten your burden so you don’t have to carry it with you to your next experience.


Purge Emotional Writing (PEW 12)

This exercise works best if you just keep writing and don’t stop to think about what you’ll write next or self-edit. Forget about punctuation or making your handwriting pretty, even legible. In fact you may get to the point where your emotions are flowing so fast and furiously that you can’t even write real words. That’s great. Just keep the pen in contact with the paper and let the thoughts roll out of you. This isn’t a time to be polite or fair. This is your side of the story. Also, at the end of the exercise you’ll be destroying the pages you’ve written, so as you write there’s no reason to worry about anyone else reading them.


  • 1. Before you begin, get a notebook and pen and find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit down and set a timer for twelve minutes.

  • 2. Open your notebook and simply start writing about whatever is disturbing your peace. It could be your health, job, finances, personal relationships, or anything else. Don’t think about it too much—just start.

  • 3. At the end of twelve minutes, stop writing. Immediately take the pages to a secure, nonflammable area like a concrete patio, your driveway, fireplace, or barbecue and set them on fire. Don’t just tear them up. Fire is transformative and cleansing. Your goal is to neutralize the negative energy, and fire does that by changing the chemical composition of the paper to ash.


  • • As you finish each writing session, don’t read over what you’ve written! To do this is to reinfect yourself with the negative energy.

  • • Don’t do this on a computer or other electronic device. You want a physical energetic connection between you and the materials you’re using—the pen and the paper—so that you can expel as much of the emotional charge as possible. That’s why this exercise must be done in your own handwriting.

  • • You may use lots of powerful, negatively charged words during this process to discharge pain, but remember to never direct them toward yourself. Be kind to yourself and know that you have every right to feel what you feel.


    Do this every day for five days before moving on to the next step. Even after five days, it’s a great thing to work into your morning ritual as a way of regularly purging negative energy and maintaining clarity. Think of it as practicing good psycho-spiritual hygiene in the same way you practice good physical hygiene by bathing, grooming, and brushing your teeth.

    Excerpted from The Clarity Cleanse by Habib Sadeghi, DO. Copyright © 2017 by Habib Sadeghi, DO. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

    Habib Sadeghi DO, is a cofounder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center in Los Angeles, and the author of The Clarity Cleanse: 12 Steps to Finding Renewed Energy, Spiritual Fulfillment, and Emotional Healing.

    This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.