Can Changing Your Story Change Your Life?
Here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I love narrative psychology, and teach it to my clients and students as a powerful change tool. This burgeoning field of study is based on the idea that the stories we tell about ourselves and each other shape our identity, determine how well we access our resources, and contribute (or take away from) our ability to create positive change.
I have my story and you have yours. I hope yours empowers you, inspires you and enlivens you. The nature and impact of your story is really up to you. And if the words and pictures you use to describe what you’ve experienced and to determine your behavior and reactions in the present and future don’t serve the life you want to live, you have the creative authority to change the words and pictures and get a different result.
Consider this. Everyone has a story. And every story we tell ourselves is useful. We know this is true because if it didn’t serve some purpose somewhere in the timeline of our lives, we’d never have bothered learning to believe it and to tell it.
I tell my clients and students that when people tell you their story, you don’t have to believe it, but it’s a good idea to believe that they believe the story they tell. That’s because, ater telling it to themselves for awhile, almost everyone believes their own story. For some, it’s a tragic story. For others, it’s a practical story. For others, it’s a romance. Some are the stars in their own story. And some minimize their role in their own story. Some tell the story as a ‘spiritual’ one, in which they surrender to some higher power and then gain revelation after revelation; others as a material one about living and struggling in a material world. For some, their story makes them victims of circumstance or gives all the power for change to some outside agency; for others, their story makes them special, or a resourceful hero, or a powerful agent of change.
Changing your story has the potential to change your life. You can do this entirely within yourself. I’ll come back to that idea in a moment. But you don’t have to do this all on your own. You can let another’s story influence your own.
Adopting someone else’s story to inspire yourself is another way to change your story. Think about it. Ever met someone or learned of someone whose story touched you in a deep way? Ever changed your course because of something you learned in someone else’s story? If you have, then you know how powerful our encounters with others, in person, through books, or through the stories told to us, can be. That’s what happened to me when I learned the story of Buckminster Fuller. That’s what happened to me when I read everything I could about the life and times of Thomas Jefferson and John Lennon. Their experiences helped me make sense of my own in a new and more compelling way than the sense I had made before making contact with their stories.
There are other ways to change your story. One of the simplest: Simply notice that the story you tell yourself consists of generalizations, distortions and deletions. In other words, it’s not what really happened that you turn into a story. It’s the selective set of details that you handpick to support the story you choose to tell. Challenge the generalizations, include something you left out, or turn one thing into another by explaining it a different way. Suddenly, your whole story can be different.
That’s the beauty inherent in the design of life: Whatever you tell yourself is true, you act like it’s true and then look for proof so that you can be right about it. Every story we tell, if we tell it with conviction, is a self fulfilling prophecy. Change your story and you change your life. I’m living proof! (Is that true? It is in the story I choose to tell, and nobody can tell me different!)
I’d love to hear your feedback, comments and insights on the impact of storytelling on our psychology and physiology!