Reading time – 3 minutes 22 seconds
Part 2 of Spring Clean your mind – subscribe now and get a 6-step process for a clearer mind and better living delivered to your inbox
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)