Way back when I was writing “The Forbidden Book of Getting What You Want” I set out to do a test of my will. A simple proposition was made: that no sentence written within the book will begin with any word starting with “I”. That meant no first person pronoun “I” and no other words beginning with “I” were to start a sentence. This rule had no dramatic effect within the book but it did have an effect on me.
My awareness became flooded with how often I start a sentence with “I”, as if all the world wants to know about what’s going on in my narrow little reality. Over the writing of the book following this self-imposed restriction became easier and easier, but it had a more lasting effect on my communication in general. By following this restriction it forced me to think of other ways to say things and, in turn, improved my writing. Also improved was my ability to express myself in words.
The change that I didn’t expect was how much more aware I became of my ego and sense of identity. By simply starting a sentence with “I” the focus of that sentence is turned to me and not the reader, and it’s the reader who is the beneficiary of the the book, not me. The exercise forced me to think about 1) the reader and 2) the information I’m want them to receive.
Since that time that restriction has been more actively enforced in the things I write. You will find exception for sure, but the mindfulness it forces on my have their benefits. As a game it’s a fun test of ones creativity. The test has even extended into my private journal writing for no other reason than it being a fun challenge.
Here are a few creative ways to follow the “No-I-at-the-start-0f-a-sentence” rule:
- Rephrase questions. A question starting with “Is” can be changed to “Does” or “What” or “How”.
- Reconsider the subject of the sentence. Were a sentence to begin with the pronoun “I” as the subject, switch it around and talk about the object first. Example: “I learned something that has benefited a lot of people” can be changed to “A lot of people have benefited from this lesson”.
- Make this a game. There are many more words than you can imagine that start with “I” and they easily can fall at the first word of a sentence. Don’t get frustrated. Creativity will always find a work around.
- Consider how “I = Ego”. There is nothing wrong with ego. Ego is there to keep each of us focused on what we believe is important. Ego can also blind us to considering other possibilities. By recognizing how often we write and say “I” we become more mindful of the incredible power ego has over us.
- Keep writing. Yes, just keep writing. Whatever skill I’ve gained from writing didn’t even start until my late 40’s. By keeping a journal you will eventually gain a more inward looking insights into your life.
This exercise has been limited solely writing. There is a long history of spiritual acsetics who practice a discipline that restricts their speech. When trying to apply this exercise to speaking I consistently fall short. Speaking is second nature for us and we easily speak without much forethought. The effort can be exhausting and frustrating because failure is so easy. Nonetheless, it’s fun to try.