Change your Story, Change your Life

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Change your story, Change you life

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What stories do you tell the world about yourself?  If you changed it how would your life change?

What is a story and how can it make a difference?  Here is a life-story in 87 words:

I was born in the north of England in the 1970s during a time of economic turmoil.  I never really felt comfortable or confident as a child, and I was bullied by the other kids in my neighbourhood.  At school, I did reasonably well, somewhere in the middle.  I stumbled my way into an ok university, again with average results.  When I graduated, through sheer desperation, I took a job with an accounting firm – certainly not what I was passionate about, but frankly about what I deserved.”

  • How do you respond to this story?
  • What sort of person do you think this is?
  • How do you think they feel?
  • How would you respond to this person if you met them?
  • What lasting impression would you have about them?

In less than 60 seconds, this story has set the foundation for how you relate to someone, and we all know that first impressions are hard to change.

This, of course, is my story. Or more importantly, one version of my story.

Everything in this story really did happen to me.  If someone asked me to “tell me about yourself” I could choose to tell this story.

Two truths about storytelling

Two things that happen when we tell stories:

1) We choose which “facts” to include in the story.

The building blocks of stories are experiences and memories, which we often think of as “facts”. When we tell the world our story, we have literally billions of these building blocks to choose from.  In my story I count somewhere in the region of 16 that I selected to let you know about me.

You may think that your story is your story – yet you choose the building blocks in every story you tell yourself or anyone else

2) We add our own editorial.

We choose how to present these “facts”.  We pick the tone and the editorial direction.

Clearly in my story, I’ve chosen to tell a hard luck story.  At every turn I am playing my little violin.

I was born in a time of economic turmoil” – really?  I was 1 year old at the time and my parents both had jobs.  Yet I chose to add this little zinger in.  I’m trying to make you feel sorry for me.

I never felt comfortable or confident.”  Find me anyone who can’t say something similar about parts of their childhood.

About what I deserved” – now I’m busy making judgements about myself.  I’m telling you that I’m not self-confident, that I feel pretty worthless and inviting you to feel the same way.

In storytelling, the narrator chooses whether to create a hero, anti-hero or villain.  We have the choice on HOW to tell the story.

Our life is little more than the sum of all our experiences.  When we tell others about who we are, we tell them our story. We weave together some selective memories from the past, and bind them together with our interpretation of those “facts”.

Choice is good

The important thing is that we always have a choice when we tell any story.  We can pick the building blocks and we have a choice over the narrative glue we use to stick them together.

Once we become aware of what stories we tell and what impact that has on us and the world, we can start to tell stories that we love and stop telling stories that drag us down.

Here is my story again in 87 words:

I grew up in a happy home and went to a school that I loved.  I thrived and was able to study history at a great university, after travelling the world in my gap year.  I met and married my soul mate along the way.  I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and live in different cultures.  It took me a while to find what I love to do, however now I’ve found my vocation and am thriving by helping others live life to the full.”

Ask yourself the same questions about this person that you did about the first story.

When we change our story, we really can change our world.  We also change how the world around us responds.

Even writing the first story, I could feel myself getting drained of energy.  I literally slumped in my chair, and felt overcome by worry.

Writing the second story, I felt my energy growing.  I felt great about myself, clear and confident.

In my mental spring clean, I’m going to look at the stories I tell the world.  For each story, I’ll ask:

1) Choosing Facts

  • What facts did I choose to share?
  • Why did I choose these facts?
  • What other facts could I have chosen?

2) Narrative / editorial

  • What kind of story am I try to tell?
  • What is this story telling the outside world about me?
  • What is this story telling me about me?

3) Alternatives / changing the story

  • What do I really want to tell the world?
  • What other stories could I tell that would serve me better?

If you are taking part in spring-cleaning your mind, ask yourself the same questions.

Good stories to look at include

  • How you introduce yourself at a work or networking function
  • What stories you tell at a job interview
  • What stories you are telling on your resume
  • What stories you share with your friends
  • What stories you tell your family, what stories you tell your other half and if applicable children.

I know I’ve found some stories I love and others that need junking.

Try changing your story and see how your life changes.

Next time – we’ll look at the stories we tell ourselves.

Picture credit : Victoria Peckham (From Flickr Creative Commons)

Related posts:

  1. Thinking Big – The Story of the Orchard
  2. The Lost Art of Being Happy – 5 Steps to a Happier Life
  3. Think Big – Four Steps to get unstuck and start living life to the full
  4. Life's Too Short to be Ordinary
  5. Spring Clean your Mind

Comments

  1. Phil
    March 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    What stories do you tell about yourself? Which “facts” are you choosing and why? What is your editorial? How could you change your story and change your life?

  2. March 26, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Phil, I found this very useful and some parts very funny. Thank you for calling us on our bs. I love how you masterfully de-bunked the first sob and if I may, pathetic-leaning story. While I found it very real (haven’t we all heard this story many times before), it immediately put me in nurturing mode thinking this person may have confidence issues and I should treat him in a gentle manner.

    I believe in the power of words and I think it’s true that through our stories, we can choose to inject others with a boost of inspiration or we can choose to spread doom and gloom. Thank you for showing us a very simple and easily executable way to do the former. Love it! Can’t wait for the next one!

  3. March 27, 2010 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Found my way here via Ruth’s and I’m so glad I did.

    I have often heard “you can write a different story” many times but never took it to mean writing a different editorial on our life lived so far. It is a choice of words and how we perceive ourselves or wish to be seen both by ourselves and others.

    Bravo! It’s not the future you are writing but also your past. Love it. Thank you
    .-= Valentina´s last blog ..WordPress Direct Review =-.

  4. March 27, 2010 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Found my way here via Ruth’s and I’m so glad I did.

    I have often heard “you can write a different story” but never took it to mean writing a different editorial on our life lived so far. It is a choice of words and how we perceive ourselves or wish to be seen both by ourselves and others.

    Bravo! It’s not the future you are writing but also your past. Love it. Thank you
    .-= Valentina´s last blog ..WordPress Direct Review =-.

  5. March 27, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    Phil, I am catching up on commenting – thank you for this insightful post. Don’t you think that so many of us choose the “pity me” version of our story because we are so out-of-love with ourselves we believe that drawing on the violin strings is the only way to make people respond to us? We have learned to think small – we draw the lines that limit and constrict us – and we replay the same story over and over again in our personal cage.

    Once we realize who we truly are -and of course this realization seems to be one of the most difficult awakenings we face – we become able to step into the mythic dimension of our story – and what we see and say about ourselves is transformed.

    Your important reminder shows that we actually choose the facts of our story. There are other facts we can choose. And that makes another story entirely. All of us need to become much better storytellers, if only to give the ears of our listeners a break!

    And speaking of personal story, you might enjoy a simple exercise I just posted on my latest blog post from Japan. It demonstrates how the words and intention we use can direct change even in our physical energy field, so I hope you will make time to try it and tell me what you think! Morning greetings to you from the mountains in Japan – Catrien Ross.
    .-= Catrien Ross´s last blog ..Catrien Ross on Stretching Your Potential Through the Real Power of Intention to Direct Your Energy Flow =-.

  6. March 30, 2010 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    wow Phil, this is my favorite post on your blog now, LOVEd it, very inspiring and powerful! I am going rethink my story right now.

  7. March 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Phil, your post really made me think of how I go about telling my story. As soon as people notice my wheelchair they tend to pity me. I am most definitely not looking for sympathy by sharing my story but rather intend to allow people to look at life through different eyes – to be more grateful and to take nothing in life granted. I strive to make a positive contribution to this world. I am most definitely going to take more care when choosing my words in future. You have so eloquently pointed out the power of the written word.

    Thank you!
    .-= Tracy Todd´s last blog ..How Do I Write? =-.

  8. March 30, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Hey Phil,

    This is so true! We can tell our life story from a variety of vantage points, depending on how we feel about ourselves and how we want others to feel about us. The comments are equally awesome.

    My story used to be that \"I was shy.\" Only, that wasn\’t my story it was the story \"sold\" to me after I started wearing glasses. I refused to wear them and it altered how I \"saw\" the world and \"interacted\" with folks.

    I took on that label and started to believe I was shy. It took many years and an incident that forced me to step out of my alleged shyness to take that label and crumble it up!

    Unless it\’s your own label that you stick on your own forehead, question it …

    Much thx, G.

  9. March 31, 2010 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Oh gosh….the first version was really depressing. When I read it, I could feel my heart sinking. Thanks for pointing out that we can choose to focus on the better parts in our life to tell a better story!
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..5 Lessons From How To Train Your Dragon =-.

  10. March 31, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Great Article Phil and a very poingnant message about how we choose to tell our stories whether that be to ourselves or other people

    When telling the story to others sometime it’s good to start the story with the struggle part and end in the triumph. That way people will naturally relate it to their own life and inspire hope within them. The problem with positive stories is that I’ve found they don’t evoke much reaction or dialogue, so I throw in some humour or even tell my heartbreaking story with a bit of a cheeky undertone so to deliberately ellicit a reaction…it’s a good way of engaging people.

    Love article, love the meaning behind it! :-)
    .-= Amit Sodha – The Power Of Choice´s last blog ..Video – How To Find The Blessing In Even The Worst Of Situations =-.

  11. April 1, 2010 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    I love the second version of course and that is the whole point of the exercise – how to present a story to make it sound compelling, while still staying true to its essence. This is an extremely good talent and skill to build in life and in our careers because story telling is key to everything we do and can take what we do so much more effective. People love stories, and your story is a great one. Enjoyed this!

  12. April 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I’m a fan of using stories to drive my day, my week, my year, my life.

    I like the way you spelled out we choose the facts and we add our own editorial. That’s where I think the metaphors and language we choose really shape our lives.

  13. April 14, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Hey Phil
    this is wonderful. It is like our stories that we tell the world become our very own self fuffilling prophecy. I resonate well with this concept. This is an empowering post that describes clearly the power of our words in creating the reality we choose to live in.

  14. April 19, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    That’s amazing – got deja vu from the above. I gave a talk on this topic, using identical interpretation almost to the letter! Great minds, huh? And yes, totally agree with everything (unsurprisingly :)

    One thing I’d add is that it is a continual process. I have to remind myself that my story versions are only stories, and retell myself the one I choose to be true when the ‘fear’ part of my brain kicks in. It’s ongoing, but very much worth it.

    Thanks for the post!
    .-= Marianne Cantwell´s last blog ..Career change story: from PA to personal stylist =-.

  15. Phil
    April 20, 2010 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Great minds think alike! Keep living your story Marianne!

  16. April 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    I really enjoyed this article… probably couldn’t have said it any better myself. Well done, Phil!

One Trackback

  1. By How to Kick Your Bad Habit for Good on April 20, 2010 at 9:34 am

    [...] concludes the Mental Spring Clean!  We’ve looked at Changing the Story we tell the world, the Games we play and how to win them, Beating the Gremlins in our head and changing habits.  I [...]

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