Write Your Own Story: Don’t Let Your Story Dictate Your Life!
We all love a good story. I know I do. I love a well-written book, movie, or TV show. I even love a great story that a friend shares over dinner. One of my greatest early memories of my dear partner Kim is watching her present. She was and still is an amazing presenter. In this memory, Kim weaved her presentation with story after story, enrapturing her audience for the entire time. Kim may not have been consciously aware of her power of storytelling. However, she knew that was what she and her audience connected to.
There is a reason why we humans connect to stories. Our brain reacts well to them. If you think about it, storytelling is part of our history from the beginning. As Leo Widrich (2012) notes in a blog post: “For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.”
Let’s look at the science briefly and then take a look at why this is so important to our personal growth as human beings. According to the 2012 piece “Your Brain on Fiction,” Annie Murphy Paul, author, journalist, consultant, and speaker:
Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.
Researchers have long known that the “classical” language regions, like Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, are involved in how the brain interprets written words. What scientists have come to realize in the last few years is that narratives activate many other parts of our brains as well.
Now, that we know what the science behind and the benefit of storytelling might be, let’s take a moment to look at how the brain will create its own stories in the absence of knowing the truth. We do this all the time. I am guilty of this as much as the next guy. I have coached many people whose brains are constantly making up stories in their heads. This is OK except when we believe that these stories are true and we don’t check in to see if they are. This can cause amazing suffering. For example, one client who had started seeing an amazing man convinced herself that she would only be able to have a satisfying, loving relationship with a fellow artist. Therefore, her new relationship could only go so far because he was not an artist. He would not be able to connect or understand her on a certain level. She was ready to walk away. I am happy to report that this client decided to investigate her story and came to the conclusion that her brain was making up a story that was not in fact true.
Another client, who is planning on retirement, was sure his spouse was very unsupportive of his decision. When we explored this together, asking the direct question “Has your spouse actually stated to you that she is unhappy with your decision to retire?” he honestly answered “No!” This was a story that he made up in his head. This story caused him tremendous stress about his decision to retire. He didn’t know if he had made the right decision. However, when we uncovered this reality, it became clear that this could be cleared up easily by having a direct conversation with his spouse.
The lesson in both stories is to investigate the story that your mind is making up. Examine the facts. Notice the feelings that the story is generating in you and your body. Determine how to get to the truth. It could be as easy as doing thought work on your own or with a trained life coach. It could also be as easy as having a conversation with a key person in your made-up story.
The moral of this message is that stories are powerful, which is both good and bad. The bad news is that due to the fact that our brains are wired to connect to stories, they will make up their own in the absence of facts. The good news is that we have the power to write our own story at any given time and change our future.
Try it! Take any story that you are telling yourself that is having a negative impact on your life. Challenge yourself to write the story down. Then underline the facts. Discover what’s true! You may be surprised to discover that there are very few facts in your story. Then challenge yourself to rewrite the story with just the facts. For fun, write the new version of the story from the perspective of a hero, an adventurer or a comedian! Have fun with this activity! In other words, use the power of storytelling to support you as opposed to maintaining your suffering. Have fun and feel free to share with me your progress. If you want some support as you discover your real truth please feel free to reach out to me. I would love to support you on your journey!
I find it fascinating that I wrote about the power of stories and shortly afterward I received an email from Brené Brown advertising her new class on the wisdom of story that she is co-facilitating on her website with Glennon Doyle Melton. It looks like a great class! Keep in mind this appears to be one of those classes that will be available to you forever once you have paid for it. That’s a beautiful thing. It’s a great resource for you whenever you make the time to sit down and participate. I don’t know about you, but I love that concept.
You can find out more about the class and enroll here.
It seems only fitting to end with two quotes. The first is celebrating and owning our stories. The second is directed at the stories that our brain makes up in the absence of the truth. Remember to check your stories at the door to see if they are causing suffering or if they are supporting you to live your life to the fullest.
Until next time,
Safe Space Life Coaching